It is no surprise, then, that The Wire's opening credits are not an ordinary credits sequence, but a series of four short films that distill each season's themes, goals, and motifs. On most TV dramas the credits sequence is little more than a contractual pecking order with flashy graphics and catchy music -- examples of what job-hunting production houses would call a "sizzle reel." Even the credit sequences on HBO's other programming, which are always evocative and given a full minute to breathe, usually seem detached from the shows themselves, to the point where they work as stand-alone mood pieces. But The Wire's four credits sequences don't fit any of these descriptors; the images are taken out of context from the season's individual episodes and arranged in a pattern that only makes sense if you watch the show closely. The content changes significantly from season to season, yet each credits sequence adheres to the same basic editing rhythms and visual schemes. The theme music is always Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," but each season it's performed by a different artist from a different genre. Working in concert, the audio and the visuals create a 90-second mini-narrative that alludes to each season's victims and assailants, its legal and political strategies, its criminal schemes, its surveillance devices, and its instruments of death. The entire assemblage is scored to a mournful biblical cautionary tale about the necessity and difficulty of resisting temptation and sin.
By the way, the title of this post is a reference to the Big Time version of WDitH, what I didn't realise until recently is that it's the punchline to a story that was cut out of the CD:
Part of original verse deleted: "Have mercy… People, when I was on my way to this speech tonight, we pulled down in Dallas/ Texas. The lord loooves Dallas/ Texas. Well people, I mean to tell you the lord was working his wonders with his paint brush. All the many hues of his pallet. The almond, the many violets and the vermilion. And I was seated in Clipper Class. People I love Clipper Class! But I was seated next to and elderly Indian gentleman who was having some trouble with the tiny foil top that locks in the freshness on his strawberry preserves container. A problem we've all experienced from time to time… People I want you to know that he busted that top, till I thought he would die. And you know what I did!? You know what I did!? Well I tell you what I did! People I snatched the container from his hand, I tore open the foil top and I spread his preserves out on his toast for him! (applause)."
It's also interesting to read the debunking of the "Pregnant without intercourse" story in the notes at the bottom of that page. Dry and utterly humourless, but interesting never-the-less.