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The word "credits" refers to a display of the film's title and the names of persons involved in making a film. Restricted in the earliest days of cinema to a card showing only the film title and the production company, credits have grown substantially in complexity and length.

Front credits (or main title) typically appear at, or near, the beginning of the film. Dramatic screen action preceding the credits is referred to as a "pre-credit sequence." Closing credits (or end title) is typically printed on a large roll and unwound at a constant speed from the bottom of the screen to the top, almost always over exit music, after the narrative is over. It has become fashionable among some filmmakers to include sequences during the end credits or after them, perhaps to entice audiences to sit patiently and acknowledge the many workers who made the film: an early example of this technique is Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979), in which the end credit sequence is accompanied by hilarious outtakes from the film. Rush Hour (1998) includes outtakes of flubbed Jackie Chan (b. 1954) stunts. In 28 Days Later (2002), an alternate ending is given after the end credit roll is completed.

While the end credits tend usually to be printed in a standard typeface (such as Times Roman) and to lack distinctive orthographic design, opening title sequences are typically created by a title designer, a graphic artist specializing in movie title sequences. The most celebrated title designer in film history is Saul Bass (1920–1996). Other notable designers are Randy Balsmeyer and Mimi Everett, Maurice Binder (1925–1991), who did the James Bond films until his death in 1991 (for the main title of which he used a white circular gummed label and a macrophotograph of a gun barrel matted with a shot of an actor firing a gun at the camera), Kyle Cooper (Se7en [1995]), Pablo Ferro (b. 1935) who manipulated existing US Air Force stock footage of B-52s in flight in order to make the planes appear to be copulating in Dr. Strangelove (1964), Stephen Frankfurt (b. 1931) (To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]), Richard Greenberg (The World According to Garp [1982]), and Dan Perri (Star Wars [1977]). The credits coordinator functions to collect all title information and make the necessary legal submissions to register titles for copyright and with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Typically accompanying main title sequences is a main title theme, such as Dimitri Tiomkin's (1894–1979) for IConfess (1953), Elmer Bernstein's (1922–2004) for The Magnificent Seven (1960) and To Kill a Mockingbird, Miklós Rózsa's (1907–1995) for Spartacus (1960), and John Williams's (b. 1932) for any Star Wars and Steven Spielberg film to date.


The main credit sequence in a film performs three principal functions, all of which are complex. First, the audience must be given vital information about the nature and content of the film. As narrative tools, the credits must negotiate between the demands of the story and the audience's information state on coming to the theater. For example, in Good Will Hunting (1997), Ferro wanted credits that would introduce and focus on Will (Matt Damon) and show his literacy. Second, the main title must attest to the strengths and powers of the filmmakers (during the studio era, the studio whose logo preceded the title sequence; since the 1980s, the era of independent production, it typically touts the principal cast and director). A well-designed and ostentatious title sequence acts as an advertisement for the producer and filmmakers, touting not only the film but other films made by the same people; it suggests technical know-how and a concern for audience engagement, thus constituting a basis for audience investment in other film products. Third, the main title is a kind of display board for the film workers' specific talents. In general, and at least in well-received films, the better one's card in the main title sequence (the larger the type, the better the placement), the higher can be one's asking price for future endeavors. The title is an economic asset for the filmmakers and their cast and crew, and often payment for services rendered on a project is deferred in exchange for increased visibility of one's name in the titles.

b. New York, New York, 8 May 1920, d. Los Angeles, California, 25 April 1996

Educated at Brooklyn College and the Art Students League, Saul Bass gained a reputation as the man who revolutionized film titles, with stark graphic animations deeply evocative of the sensibility of the films that unspooled after them. His first efforts included Carmen Jones (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955) and The Big Knife (1955) but it was with The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Otto Preminger's voyage to the seedy world of heroin addiction (and the first film on which a director received proprietary credit), that Bass found a style of boldly angular, semirepresentational graphics—in this case, an addict's outstretched arm—that could fragment musically into pieces that formed symbols or parts of words. Before this film, credits had been little more, as Bass once put it, than "words, badly lettered." After The Man with the Golden Arm, they became aesthetic unities in themselves.

Bass designed credits for more than fifty films, including Trapeze, Johnny Concho, Around the World in 80 Days (all 1956), Bonjour Tristesse and The Big Country (both 1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Exodus, Ocean's Eleven, and Spartacus (all 1960), Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), Seconds (1966), Alien (1979), Broadcast News (1987), GoodFellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), and Higher Learning and Casino (both 1995). But Bass's most celebrated collaborations were with Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he designed the swirling, multicolored, shape-shifting vortex superimposed over a macro-close shot of a red-filtered human eye in Vertigo (1958), a sequence that disoriented audiences even before the story began; the black-and-white schizoid words that morphed, split, and shuffled like playing cards in Psycho (1960); and the skittering emerald green lines that raced down the screen in North by Northwest (1959) to form the main title, then transformed themselves into the skyscrapers of Madison Avenue. For Psycho, Bass is reported to have storyboarded a number of scenes, including Marion's shower, which required seventy-eight camera setups.

In 1974 Bass directed and titled Phase IV, a film about desert ants going to war with humans. After 1987, his main titles were designed with the assistance of his wife, Elaine, who also codirected a number of films with him, including the short Why Man Creates (1968), for which he won an Academy Award®.


The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Vertigo (1958), Exodus (1960), Psycho (1960), Why Man Creates (1968), Phase IV (1974)


Benenson, Laurie Halpern. "The New Look in Film Titles: Edgy Type That's on the Move," New York Times, 24 March 1996.

Rebello, Stephen. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. New York: Dembner Books, 1990, and St. Martin's Griffin, 1998.

Murray Pomerance

Front credits are nowadays invariably briefer than end credit rolls. Aside from the title of the film, the main credits typically name the principal cast; the writer(s) of the screenplay; the author(s) of the material from which the screenplay has been adapted, if any; the cinematographer; the composer; the designer (or art director); the costumer; the editor; the producers; the director. In the studio era—roughly 1930 to 1960—each of these aspects of filmmaking was handled by a specific studio department, and the head of each of these departments was

named in the credits, no matter who did the actual work. At Paramount in the 1950s, for example, the name of Hal Pereira (1905–1983) appears as art director on virtually every front credit the studio produced; at MGM in the 1940s, the name of Cedric Gibbons (1893–1960); at Twentieth Century Fox in the same decade, the name of Lyle Wheeler (1905–1990). Contemporary main title sequences are sometimes strikingly abbreviated for dramatic effect. Steven Spielberg (b. 1946), for example, typically runs his credits only at the end of his films, retaining the actual film title card—if that—at the beginning. Because audiences are somewhat less likely to read titles at the end of a film, this practice, while modestly withholding the director's credit until the first position after the finale, also reduces the billing of actors and crew (an effect somewhat mitigated by the intensive advertising that all new blockbusters receive). The end credit roll, which originally repeated only the names of the principal cast ("A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating," end credits at Universal Pictures uniformly began, starting in the early 1930s), now tends to contain all of the members of the cinematographer's gaffing crew and the grip crew that handles the camera; all of the carpenters and painters who work for the art director; everyone involved with sound, dialogue, and foley track recording, as well as those who cater, chauffeur, assist, insure, negotiate, supply, and in any other way are connected with the film. At the end of Titanic (1997), the extensive end credits include "inferno artists," "water systems engineer," "etiquette coach" and a "thanks" to the Mexican Minister of Tourism.

In 1942, an attempt to do away with full end credits proved unsuccessful. By law, copyright acknowledgments for all songs and musical tracks used must be included by producers in the end credits. With productions becoming increasingly more complex and involving more and more workers, end credit sequences have become notoriously extensive. For Superman (1978), 457 end credits roll for twelve minutes, about one-tenth of the entire film's length. In Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968), the end credits take up more than twelve minutes. The end credits of Jurassic Park (1993) list 519 names.


The billing in a motion picture is a set of hotly negotiated and legally contracted formulae that dictate the size in points of a screened name relative to the size of the name of the film. The names of actors and technical personnel must appear on posters and all other advertising for the film and in the opening credits. Other considerations include the individuality of a credit—that is, whether the worker's name appears alone onscreen or along with others'—and the placement of the contributor's credit within the syntax of the credit sequence, relative to the name of the film. Writers' credits—awarded onscreen since 1941—are interesting in this regard. A film "Written by Joseph Jones and James Smith" is one in which the principal writing, the bulk of the writing, or the dominant writing was done by Mr. Jones; however, a film "Written by Joseph Jones & James Smith" is one in which the two writers equally shared in the creative process. Regardless of its point size—and this usually matches that of the principal stars—the director's screen credit has been mandated by the Directors Guild since its 1939 agreement with motion picture producers as the final credit to appear before the action begins. As of 1972, without a specific waiver from the Directors Guild, no film could credit more than one director. Sometimes a director wishes in the end to dissociate himself from a film; traditionally, the credit "Directed by Alan Smithee" has been used to signify this. Actors have also employed this credit.

Since the mid-1990s, directors and writers have been wrangling over what is known as the "possessory" screen credit, one frequently received by directors like Rob Reiner (b. 1947) and Ridley Scott (b. 1937): "a film by Rob Reiner"; "a Ridley Scott film." Screenwriters have argued that the director's possessory credit reinvigorates the notion of the auteur, in a production era in which no one person can reasonably take credit for all of what is onscreen. Stanley Kubrick's (1928–1999) credit in 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968) as not only writer and director but also special effects designer caused some dissension in the film world. By the 1990s, however, four out of five films had some kind of possessory credit, even though fewer than a fifth of these were directed and written by the same person. On the other hand, some filmmakers are multi-talented and can reasonably take credit for more than direction. The director of Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) received a main credit that reads, "Shot, Chopped, and Scored by Robert Rodriguez." Rodriguez (b. 1968) also produced and designed the film, as well as designing its special effects.

A celebrated star with considerable box-office draw often negotiates for billing "above the title"—that is, an explicit reference to the position of the performer's name in print or poster advertising; in main titles, it signifies that the name is to precede the film title on the screen. The process of billing competition has been described by Danae Clark (1995) as labor fragmentation: above-the-title billing emphasizes not what screen actors have in common with one another but how they can be seen as different, thus isolating them in the bargaining process. Stars, for example, have large credit billings or names above the title, while character actors and extras emphatically do not. Credit billings are negotiated by the casting director in the producer's stead, and agents representing actors and technical personnel exercise considerable emotion and energy in securing advantageous ones—this because billing can be tied to future earning capacity. Occasionally, pressure may be mounted by technical personnel or actors themselves to lobby for a colleague's screen credit: in 49th Parallel (Michael Powell, 1941), for example, the British actor Eric Portman (1903–1969) was to receive second billing, but his screen partners—Leslie Howard (1893–1943), Raymond Massey (1896–1983), Laurence Olivier (1907–1989), and Anton Walbrook (1896–1967)—insisted that he share main title billing with them.


The main title was originally produced as a lantern slide for vaudeville theaters and the nickelodeon that showed the first films. Such slides named the film (framing audience response), filled in gaps in the narrative and dialogue, and addressed the audience directly about film-watching etiquette. As Charles Musser (1990) points out, the main title card frequently identified a pro-filmic event familiar to audiences, thus instantly aligning their orientation to the screen narrative. Biograph films from 1896 on relied on lantern slides to effect continuities between shots, sometimes bridging ellipses and pointing to the unfolding character of the story. In July 1903, Edison's Uncle Tom's Cabin introduced the filmed title card (as opposed to a title on a slide provided by the exhibitor), which appeared between and labeled each scene. Around 1905, Musser notes, Edwin S. Porter (1870–1941) used animated, filmic intertitles, with swirling or moving letters that formed words against a black ground. Some "head titles" for early films were supplied by the film exchanges (early distribution facilities), not by the producers.

Early titles were made on a copy stand, and, in a 1911 encyclopedia, a tabletop method is given with illustrations. During World War I, Barry Salt (1983) notes, the practice of carrying the narrative action through dialogue titles became established in American cinema. D. W. Griffith (1875–1948) continued it into the 1920s. Some lines of dialogue were not carded, prompting the audience to participate in forming an understanding of what the characters were saying. Title cards containing illustrations or designs began in 1916.

In the 1930s and 1940s, cinema frequently was marketed on the basis of its attachment to popular and high-brow literature; a main title sequence for such films could establish the prestige-bearing literary connection in more ways than by simply listing the book from which the movie had come. For example, in The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949), the names of Gary Cooper (1901–1961) and Patricia Neal (b. 1926) appear on what appears to be a title card with a sketch of skyscrapers in the background; one of the buildings suddenly rotates to reveal itself as the spine of a gigantic book, The Fountainhead, the "pages" of which systematically open to reveal the principal credits—prominently featured among which is a card of attribution to Ayn Rand (1905–1982), the author. The central character in Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1946) is an author, and the main title is an artist's rendering of his book cover. By contrast, the main credits for There's No Business like Show Business (Walter Lang, 1954), aim to reflect vaudeville as a principal source of twentieth-century show business: here, flamboyant gold lettering is superimposed on plush red velvet theater curtains.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, main titles often showed filmic background action or scenery under the title cards. One example among thousands is Out of the Past (1947), in which the main credits are backed by stationary and panning background shots of bucolic countryside. Titles of this sort were produced early on through matte photography, with optically printed split-screen technique debuting in the 1960s. Relatively elaborate main title sequences began in the 1950s to add attraction to motion pictures, largely in response to the rise of television and the Paramount Decree, which curbed the big studios' ability to succeed in exhibiting their own films.

Saul Bass was the principal agent of this first design wave, especially, although not exclusively, for the films of Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) and Otto Preminger (1906–1986). In the 1960s, Stephen Frankfurt's (b. 1931) eerie and elegiac sequence for Mockingbird was the first main title in which loving attention was paid to the details of objects (through macrophotography). Blake Edwards (b. 1922) commissioned Warner Bros. cartoonist Fritz Freleng (1905–1995) to design the cartoon opening sequence for The Pink Panther (1963), a sequence audiences adored because of its goofy animated pink cat and Henry Mancini's (1924–1994) sophisticated and bouncy theme. The split-screen technique is masterfully shown in the title sequence of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), where color still frames appear against, and move around on, a black screen.


In elementary matte titling over a pictorial background, two identical mattes of the printed and designed title cards were produced, one printed black on white and the second white on black. When the first was exposed in an optical printer against the background footage the director or producer wanted used under the titles, what resulted was an image of the background with the text initially represented as a blank area in the image corresponding to the precise shape of the lettering on the title card. The second matte was then printed optically over the picture, with its white (or sometimes colored) text now perfectly registered with the blank areas of the picture. This second optical pass printed or colored in the words of the title, frame by frame. The main title of Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), for example, unfolds over a screen-sized matchstick blind slowly being raised on picture windows that look out on a Greenwich Village courtyard (the largest and most complex set ever constructed on a soundstage to date, dramatically revealed to an eager audience when the matchstick curtain "goes up"). Matte titling was a laborious process demanding extremely precise registration of mattes and background plates.

Nowadays, virtually all feature film titles are produced on the graphic designer's computer, using a graphics or animation program, and then transferred directly to 35mm film. This procedure has made possible the design of increasingly dazzling and optically challenging main title sequences, such as Gary Hebert's main title for The Bourne Identity (2002), with its superimposed, horizontally racing type. Ironically, it is possible to design title sequences in such a way that viewers become so stunned and incapacitated by what they see that they cannot read the credits.

Main credits need not be legible or even visible. In The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942), Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut, 1966), and M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970), the opening credits are read by an offscreen voice; in Uccellacci e uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1966), they are sung. Nor is credit information invariably superimposed upon a graphic background in what appears to be a simple textual overlay. In One from the Heart (1982), Francis Ford Coppola (b. 1939) re-creates the fabled casinos of Las Vegas in miniature, placing the opening credits on their neon marquées as the camera gently glides past. In Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994), the camera lovingly pans over a decrepit environment containing refuse and old signposts on which the main credits have been painted as a part of the scene. A similar technique is used with main titles embossed on road signs that float above tinted aerial shots of New York in Jungle Fever (Spike Lee, 1991) and on urban signage in Hollywood Homicide (2003). In West Side Story (1961), Saul Bass's main title, involving considerable aerial photography as well as tracking shots on the street, is designed with the use of graffiti on neighborhood walls. The main title ofIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is choreographed as a dance routine. Credits can zoom forward on the screen (the main title for Superman [1978]) or backward (the receding signatures of the principal cast in the end credit of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country [1991], and the receding text in the main title crawl for Star Wars [1977]). An interesting variant on the movement of text is the top-to-bottom front credit roll of Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

Not every mainstream fictional feature film has an elaborate and optically stunning main title. Since Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen (b. 1935) has insisted on the same credit sequence for every one of his films: title information printed in white on a plain black ground. Credits often imitate the style, tone, symbolism, or precise imagery of a film; in spoof films, the credits are often spoofs themselves—for example, in the end credits of the Airplane films (1980, 1982), viewers can spot "Worst Boy: Adolf Hitler" (a parody of the Best Boy credit, which goes to the cinematographer's chief lighting assistant). End credits in Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986) acknowledge not only a gaffer (a cameraman's lighting assistant) but also a goofer and a guffer; and not only a key grip (the person responsible for handling the camera) but also a key grope. The end credits of Hot Shots! (1991) contain a brownie recipe.

In experimental films, such as those of Stan Brakhage (1933–2003) or Bruce Elder, it is the norm for the filmmaker to accomplish, or at least be intensively involved with, most technical aspects of production and thus to have what may be termed a "personal" relation to the film. This is nicely exemplified by the scratched or hand-painted credits used by Brakhage. In Normal Love (1963), Jack Smith uses title cards that seem homemade, even embodied: the credits are composed of awkward squiggles of dark fluid, possibly blood, intertwined with various grasses on a pale background.

The title name credit of a film is the producer's to determine. When film distribution rights are sold internationally, as is normally the case in the twenty-first century, a film name may be changed to facilitate distribution abroad. A few significant examples: Les Deux anglaises et le continent (Truffaut, 1971) became, for release in the United States, Two English Girls, thus omitting reference to a young man from France (nicknamed "le continent") for an audience who think of a "continent" not as a person but as a place. Antonioni's Professione: Reporter became The Passenger (1975). The British film, A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell, 1946) was imported to America as Stairway to Heaven; Du Rififi chez les hommes (Jules Dassin, 1955) became, simply, Rififi. American film titles crossing the Atlantic in the opposite direction are equally changeable: The Errand Boy (Jerry Lewis, 1961) in France became Le Zinzin de Hollywood.

Main title design typically aims to be eye-catching, enigmatic (and therefore alluring), graphically exciting, and allusive, if not part of the story itself. In Walk on the Wild Side (Edward Dmytryk, 1962), to the sound of Brook Benton (1931–1988) crooning the title song, the camera shows a sleek and streetwise black cat striding across the frame in linked slow-motion shots, symbolizing the tough, no-nonsense femininity of Capucine (1931–1990) and Jane Fonda (b. 1937) and positioning the story in the vulgar "gutter of life." By contrast, for the main title of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the opening credits appear in plain, stark white letters against a cosmic scenario in which the sun, the moon, and the earth align at the moment of an eclipse. This is animated as if seen from an extraterrestrial perspective of shocking proximity, while the galvanizing opening bars of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra are performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker. The credit sequence for 2001 became both legend and the stuff of considerable affectionate parody. A similarly cosmic theme is struck in the main title of 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002), in which various graphic shots of the twin towers of light that shone nightly in New York in tribute to the victims of September 11, 2001, become background for the modestly sized principal credits. This chilling sequence prepares us for a stark tale of a sad and troubled city filled with sad and troubled characters.

Kyle Cooper's title for Se7en, produced with rapidly shifting type and several layers of integrated design superimposed upon one another, as well as large-grain photography and image fragmentation, has come to symbolize the new wave of screen titling that began in 1990. Hard to decipher and tensely poetic, the title projects a dark foreboding to the audience. In an economical pre-title sequence, we encounter Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) dressing himself for work in the morning, attending the scene of a murder, and meeting his new partner, Mills (Brad Pitt), a slightly contentious younger man. "I want you to look, and I want you to listen," Somerset tells him. We then see him preparing to sleep, a metronome clicking beside his bed as the background fills with sounds of offscreen, argumentative voices. A clap of thunder cuts to the main title sequence, which is composed of shots glimpsed only briefly so that reading the overlaid text and the image behind it presents a challenge. A notebook, a razor blade held in fingers, blood in water are shot in macro close-up and held onscreen far too briefly to be thoroughly "read." The text is composed in what appears to be handmade scribbles whose letters sometimes jiggle and shift. Photographs are cut and pasted into a notebook, apparently badly spliced film is mixed with hand-scratched film and multiple exposures, and the musical track vibrates rhythmically with sounds that occasionally seem artificially speeded up. All of this gives us much to see and much to hear, yet at the same makes it difficult to sort out the fragments and to establish meaning. Since the film is about detectives decoding the signals left by a particularly elusive and brutal serial killer, the opening sequence functions to prepare the ground for the narrative and to establish the dark modality of the story.

Often, main titles are so fanciful that they stand alone as films-within-films. Spielberg's Catch Me if You Can (2002) opens with a charming animated main title sequence recalling both the 1950s graphic titling designs of Saul Bass and the 1960s animated main titles used for Jerry Lewis's The Family Jewels (1965), here set to the accompaniment of John Williams's jazzy tarantella. For Daredevil (Mark Steven Johnson, 2002), the film treatment of a comic book saga of a blind superhero, the main title is designed to resemble the dark and highly saturated color printing of comic book art: skyscrapers are seen at night, their various windows suddenly lit up with the principal credits in simulated Braille.

Touch of Evil (1958) opened in its first commercial release with main title cards superimposed by the studio over a much-celebrated four-minute-long sequence: a detective (Charlton Heston) and his new wife (Janet Leigh) walk through the streets of Juarez toward the US border station, while street traffic slowly swirls around them. One car is a flashy convertible, in the trunk of which a man hid a bomb in the film's first moment. The couple trades pleasantries with the border guards as the car purrs beside them. They circle the car nonchalantly. "There's the sound of a clock ticking in my head," says a woman riding in the front seat. Nobody listens to her. The car glides on. Just as the titles end, the newlyweds' romantic conversation reaches its peak, and they kiss. Boom!—there is an explosion as their lips touch. We cut to see that the car has blown up. The director Orson Welles himself regretted that the studio put titles over this sequence, because it was meant to stand independently, and the titles were to appear at the end of the movie. In 1999, on the instigation of Jonathan Rosenbaum, the restored film was released according to the director's intentions.

SEE ALSO Crew;Guilds and Unions;Production Process


Clark, Danae. Negotiating Hollywood: The Cultural Politics of Actors' Labor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Hulfish, David S. Cyclopedia of Motion-Picture Work. Chicago: American Technical Society, 1911.

Musser, Charles. The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907. New York: Scribners, 1990.

Salt, Barry. Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. London: Starword, 1983.

Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich. This Is Orson Welles. Edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Wexman, Virginia Wright. "Success Has 1,000 Fathers (So Do Films)." The New York Times, 28 May 2004.

Williams, Tony. "Wanted for Murder: The Strange Case of Eric Portman." In BAD: Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen, edited by Murray Pomerance, 157–172. Albany: SUNY Press, 2004.

Murray Pomerance