Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Noteworthy: The John Doe Notebooks from Seven


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If you’ve ever seen David Fincher’s 1995 psychological thriller Seven, I’ve no doubt that certain imagery from the film has stuck with you over the years. (According to the Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, Seven is a brutal, relentlessly grimy shocker with taut performances, slick gore effects, and a haunting finale. From personal experience, it is not a film for the faint of heart.)

In Seven, (aka Se7en) Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play homicide detectives who become deeply involved in the case of a serial killer whose meticulously planned murders correspond to the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy. – per Wiki 

Storyboard image for Seven opening sequence by artist Wayne Coe
Storyboard image for Seven opening sequence by artist Wayne Coe

An interesting aspect of the movie is its opening sequence. This sequence according to Art of the Title is a short story told in fragments and vignettes, following the hands of an unknown man — presumably the antagonist, John Doe — as he makes entries in his diary alongside clippings from books, self-developed photographs, and found images and objects, giving the audience an intimate look into the mind of a serial killer obsessed with religion and, more to the point, attrition.

The notebooks themselves were created by designers Clive Piercy and John Sabel, who filled the pages with large blocks of text, broken only by the occasional macabre photograph or ambiguous artifact taped in place. In “The Notebooks” featurette (from the 2010 Blu-ray) Piercy noted that “they wanted this kind of obsessive quality to the handwriting…”.

In 2011, IFC ranked Seven as the third greatest title sequence of all time, (behind Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night and Saul Bass’ Vertigo) and the New York Times credited it as “…one of the most important design innovations of the 1990s.”

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