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September 2, 2015

Six Feet Under: The opening titles - VIDEO

by Jane Boursaw, posted Jul 4th 2008 11:03AM
Six Feet Under - Season 2 DVDOne of my favorite parts of Six Feet Under is the opening titles. When I get ready to watch the show, I don't turn it on and do other things while the opening titles play. I sit down and watch the titles from the beginning. It prepares me for the show ahead.

As I learned from watching the behind-the-scenes featurette on the season one DVD set, when a show is created, the opening pictures are usually done first and the music added later. That wasn't the case with Six Feet Under, mainly because creator Alan Ball had no idea what he wanted to do with the pictures. So he had composer Thomas Newman -- whom he worked with on American Beauty -- score the music first.

Digital Kitchen, a film production company, then drew up storyboards for the sequence. "We wanted to tell the story of what would happen after a person is placed into a casket and goes into a hearse to the cemetery," said designer Danny Yount.

It's true -- the titles really transport you into that surreal world of death. You see the stark tree on the barren hill, the hands coming apart, the hands preparing to work with the body, the body on a gurney going down a tunnel towards white light as a lone body stands in the background, the embalming fluid, the flowers wilting, the casket being unloaded from a hearse, the gravestone, vintage photos on a desk, the crow flying into the air, and then back to the lone tree. It's all a big circle.

Just for fun, let's pick it apart a little:

The hands separating. The music fits here perfectly, because as the hands separate and go into slow-motion, the staccato notes of the string instruments kick in. It's beautiful and heartbreaking, because, as Alan Ball says, you know that once the hands separate, there's no going back.

The gurney.
Ditto on the music here -- everything is precisely timed. When the wheel on the gurney turns, the percussion track kicks in and the instrument begins playing -- I think it's an oboe, which has an ethereal sound to it.

The crow. It's actually illegal to film true crows in the United States for commercial purposes. So what you see in the opening titles is a pied crow with a white chest that's been painted black. It's a subtle nod to the darker feel of the show.

The flowers. Digital Kitchen rigged and photographed the arrangement over a period of ten hours to capture the wilting process. When the flowers didn't turn brown, they had to add color in postproduction, then speed up the shot to make the flowers wilt rapidly. Again, the music fits here perfectly.

The tree. The lone tree on the flat, barren hillside became the show's logo. Digital Kitchen searched far and wide for a tree that would fit the bill, but finding that tree in the dead of winter in Seattle proved challenging. They ended up paying $400 to dig up an unwanted tree from someone's yard, then place it on Kite Hill. An Internet search revealed that this hill is often used to fly kites. Death and kites. Yeah, I can see it.

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Tess - Lol! Too funny.

Karen - I have no idea! Good question, though. Anyone know the answer?

July 05 2008 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tess Capra

One-time TWoP recapper Aaron wrote lyrics to the theme, only half of which I remember. They go like this:

Death! Death! Death!
It happens to us all.
In your home or at the mall.
Don't even try to hide. Alan Ball will be your guide. Sex and death will soon collide. The irony just won't subside.

on this show, you'll never know,
who's going to go, with tag on their toe.

July 05 2008 at 6:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've always really loved the opening music for this show--so haunting, so lovely--and it's very cool to learn that it came first in the planning of the titles sequence. They were pretty clever with the images.

But...it's illegal to photograph crows?? WTF? Why? Are they all in Witness Protection?

July 05 2008 at 5:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Karen's comment
The Pepto Pimp

It's part of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, signed by US, Canada, Russia and Mexico. It is illegal to use crows, ravens and other migratory birds for commercial purposes.

July 07 2008 at 10:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The last time I heard music fit a story so well was Tubular Bells in the Exorcist.

July 04 2008 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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