Richard Morrison has created the film titles for Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows.” It’s the third collaboration between Burton and Morrison, following on from the pair’s work together on the opening sequences for “Batman” and “Sweeney Todd.” The sequence was produced by th1ng, which exclusively represents Morrison for film titles design, world-wide.
Morrison and th1ng are also working with Burton on a new titles sequence for “Frankenweenie,” scheduled for release in October 2012.
“Dark Shadows” is based on the gothic US TV series, broadcast in the sixties. Johnny Depp plays a prosperous 18th-century New England merchant, who is turned into a vampire by a local witch and accidentally disinterred in 1972.
For “Dark Shadows,” Morrison worked with original footage shot by Burton, concentrating on using type to set the mood in the opening credits. Morrison explored a wide variety of styles and type, which evoked the mood of the seventies, before selecting Benguiat.
“Tim shot this long sequence where Bella Heathcote, who plays a young nanny, is travelling on a train through the New England brownwoods. It’s a beautiful bit of footage that sweeps the audience from the landscape right into the compartment of the speeding train. After looking at different treatment, we decided to keep things really simple and work with type to evoke the mood. Benguiat has a lovely feel that’s reminiscent of 70s TV shows. And together with the music score, we arrived at a very simple opening, but one that’s quite unsettling, which captures the essence of the film.”
th1ng is a leading animation and mixed media production company, creating commercials, idents and title sequences for film and TV. th1ng is pronounced “thing one “. www.th1ng.com
About Richard Morrison
Richard Morrison is one of the world’s leading film titles designers. In a career spanning three decades, he has created over 150 feature film title sequences for many of the industry’s most respected film directors and producers. www.richard-morrison.co.uk
Director: Ted Post
Writers: Harry Julian Fink (original material), Rita M. Fink
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook and Mitch Ryan
Dirty Harry is on the trail of vigilante cops who are not above going beyond the law to kill the city’s undesirables.
Original Music by Lalo Schifrin
Sarofsky Corp.’s title sequence for the Showtime series Shameless is inspired by the unapologetic tone of the show and offers an irreverent portrait of the show’s Gallagher family, whose private moments are exposed in the most unexpected place: the bathroom.
In Shameless, Frank Gallagher is the proud single dad of six smart, spirited and independent kids, who without him would be … perhaps better off. William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum star in this Showtime original series.
Erin Sarofsky, who directed the Shameless main title sequence, worked with the series creatives and cast to produce an authentic, completely original introduction to the show. The action was scripted as an intricate dance of illicit and personal behavior that was brought to life on set by the charismatic cast.
“It was rewarding to work with everyone at John Wells Productions and Showtime, as well as the amazing cast from Shameless,” says Erin Sarofsky. “Our concept focused squarely on the actions and personalities within the family. While on set, we wanted to capture everything from our complex choreography to the quirky and serendipitous tendencies innate to the characters. The actors took our direction to a new and exciting level, infusing each moment with both exceptional subtlety and electricity.”
Shooting with a RED ONE camera, Sarofsky chose to compose the scene at a lower perspective, which mostly obscures the actors’ faces and turns the viewer into a voyeur. The result is captivating and pleasingly uncomfortable.
“The Luck You Got,” by indie rock band The High Strung, is the music track.
Strike Back: Project Dawn (UK 2011) – (Strike Back UK 2010-)
Network: Sky1 / Cinemax
Starring: Philip Winchester / Sullivan Stapelton
Produced by: Left Back Pictures
Off Book is a web series from PBS that explores cutting edge art, the artists that make it and the people that share it online. They just released their newest episode of Off Book: “The Art of Film & TV
The credits are often the first thing we see when we watch a great film or TV show, but the complexity and artistry of title design is rarely discussed. Creators of title sequences are tasked to invent concepts that evoke the core story and themes of the production, and to create a powerful visual experience that pulls the viewer into the film’s world. In this episode we hear the stories of some of the most inventive people working in the field, including the creators of the iconic Mad Men sequence, the hilarious Zombieland opening and “rules” sequences, and the stirring end credits from Blue Valentine.
Peter Frankfurt and Karin Fong, Imaginary Forces
Ben Conrad, Logan
Jim Helton, Blue Valentine
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Produced by Kornhaber Brown: http://www.kornhaberbrown.com
Everyone loves Saul Bass. It’s a deserved love. He’s a design giant and designers pay the respect due. But even those amongst us who don’t get hot under the collar for fonts and logo treatments love him, whether they know his name or not. They love his his incredible title sequences for films like The Man with the Golden Arm, Vertigo, and Anatomy of a Murder. I recently came across some commercial work he’d done for television in the 50’s, and upon doing some google-sniffing to search out more information, was surprised to find none of it was already represented on the web. With that in mind please consider the following images my small contribution to the digital remembrance of all things Bass.
This first sequence was a “corporate presentation for television” (read: mini-commercial) created by Bass for the Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. It appeared at the beginning of the series Small World, which the company sponsored. Its goal was “to indicate the firm’s range of activities through symbols.” Saul handled the animation and it was put out by Playhouse Pictures.
You can see the entire sequence in one large image by clicking here.
The second sequence was also created for Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. This time the “corporate presentation” focused on the companies range of packaging materials and their “functional suitability.” Again Saul handled the animation and it was put out by Playhouse Pictures.
You can see this entire sequence in one large image by clicking here.
It’s hard to really get a sense of these mini-commercials from a handful of stills, to tell whether they were “successful” as corporate presentations, whether they were fun, or catchy, or memorable. I suspect that they were.
It’s interesting to see, even on this limited level, how Saul approached that task which has been seemingly omnipresent since the beginning of direct advertising- making giant corporations which manufacture things like blasting powder, gunpowder, ammunition cartridges, and and endless array of deadly chemicals seem cuddly and approachable, or at very least human. This is a task advertising agencies still wrestle with today, with often cloying and nauseating results. (Think petroleum, defense, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals.)
I believe beyond his unquestionable talents Saul actually had a built-in advantage over those that wrestle with the task today. The 50’s and 60’s were an era in which the friendly, “cartoony,” hand-drawn illustration was king. King I say! It was a visual language and style that could make damn near anything seem wholesome. ?
Lastly, as a tiny bonus let me offer a few scant shots from the title sequence for the film The Shrike which Mr. Bass did and which seem to be absent from the internet as well. Here you go.
Anyhow, hope you completeists and design-folk found some pleasure in that. To the rest of you- better luck next time.
Note: all of sequence images above were scanned from the book, Design In Motion by John Halas and Roger Manvell, published 1962.
By Joseph Tabbi
Was Saul Bass a writer? Was he a poet? Given that his film title ‘texts’ are not ‘his’ – not his compositions in the accepted sense, what is his art and how can it be seen as a writer’s art, a literal art? N. Katherine Hayles, an important theorist of writing in new media, suggests that the materiality of any text, emerges as a dance between the medium’s physical characteristics and the work’s signifying strategies (personal communication). Saul Bass does this dance with words. We need, says Hayles, to follow the dance when we read and write because our moves require a ‘ media specific ’ analysis of language art. The physical characteristics of the media that both deliver and constitute writing are in flux, and writers are using novel or re-emergent signifying strategies to generate their meanings as literal art.Personal email communication with John Cayley. Here is a published formulation: ”The materiality of an embodied text is the interaction of its physical characteristics with its signifying strategies.” N. Katherine Hayles. My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 103 (emphasis in original). The work of Saul Bass re-emerges, and can be shown to underlie the so-called new.
Words move. The graphic bodies of language – from letters to words, from phrases to entire texts – translate, scale, and morph on our private and public screens in a bewildering and so-far uncatalogued array of transitions. As readers, we are more and more habituated to such literal dynamism, a kinetic textuality that is hard to square with capital-l Literature’s notions of the copy-text, the edition, the authorized textual event – all those institutionally published forms of words that transform the writer into a ‘person of letters’ – and, for example, allow her to generate royalties from licensing what has legal-magically become an enclosed property.
When did words begin to move? This question pulls me back – from a familiar, if utopic and theoretical, ‘new textuality’ rant – to the work of Saul Bass, to a history of practice. Written words first moved on film. Film titling, in particular, is where we must look for a self-conscious and aestheticized practice of dynamic typography and, indeed, of dynamic writing. This work predates the small body of video-based language work (Richard Kostelanetz), the few but significant essays of art language practitioners (Jenny Holtzer), and also, of course, what writing there is that exists in programmable media. Given that time-based, dynamic writing is here to stay, on screen or wherever it next migrates, its largely unacknowledged and little-analysed early history – in media that support its time-based properties – deserves far greater attention. And not only for a history of the form and its aesthetics – readers like you and I are now, for example, increasingly subject to advertising’s appropriation of ‘type in motion.’ To my mind, there has been a recent marked increase in high-end ads with sophisticated dynamic textuality. We need tools for its critical reading.
The major exposition of Saul Bass’s graphic and film title work at London’s Design Museum was, therefore, essential. Saul Bass was the first film title designer to be given a screen credit by the Director’s Guild of America (for Preminger’s Carmen Jones 1954) and remains an all but uniquely name-checkable artist in the film titles field. Yet his fame derives equally if not in greater measure from his related, more purely graphic work, where he is a central figure in that late-50s, early-60s school of jazz-rhythmic, cool, flat, monochromatic design, with a clever use of abstraction that allowed for significant interaction between normally distinct representational modes: paper cut-out silhouettes become body parts, become an assembled corpse, become (once more) a potential and actual surface for writing (see his titles for Anatomy of a Murder 1959, with the process I’ve just described encapsulated in the film’s famous posters). Many visitors to the exhibition will have gone there simply to revisit one source of a perennially hip graphic style.
Anatomy of a Murder, 1959 (Director: Otto Preminger; Design: Saul Bass; (c) AMPAS)
Nonetheless the film title work is crucial. Certain aspects of the style I’ve characterised are also vital to the dynamic writing of Bass’s most important titles. Specifically, we must try to understand the distinct ways in which Bass plays with abstraction; how they carry over from his graphic work and become, as it were, played out and dramatised in his time-based titling. Bass uses abstraction in a manner that recalls Scott McCloud’s brilliant sketch of the subject in Understanding Comics . For McCloud, the disjuncture between visual abstraction and written language is a creative problem. He suggests a continuum from the extremes of graphic abstraction to conventional signs of writing. The folk etymologies of pictorial word-signs (early letter-forms, hieroglyphics, Chinese characters) lend their evocative history to a range of suggestive procedures. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not (and neither is McCloud) a theoretical naive, or wedded to an orientalist hallucination of ideography. The disjuncture between language and graphics remains clear. The two practices are materially distinct because their signifying strategies and physical characteristics are radically different. Nonetheless, suggestive links are links, and such links may signify. They can do more than this. They can constitute a rhetoric and materiality of their own, a trans-medial art practice.
Like McCloud’s ‘invisible art,’ graphic design, particularly typographic design, is a trans-medial art par excellence, part of an engaged project which strives to make the visual and sub-linguistic aspects of writing signify. Graphic design proceeds to set out writing’s ‘paratextual’ properties – conventional and creative aspects of writing’s layout and framing – and render them not only aesthetically but substantively meaningful. How else can the performances of typography be appreciated? What need of typographers otherwise? Saul Bass, through the reality of the once-new technology of film and its illusion of animation, gave us the first literal performances of this necessary and vital interplay between language-as-visual-form and language-as-symbolic-representation. He animated the bodies of words along with their paratextual demons and familiars.
Bass achieved this during the second half of the 1950s, in his groundbreaking titles for films from The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) through Psycho (1960), and, to a certain extent, Spartacus (1960). The latter marks a distinct shift in his practice, after which, in the 1960s and 1970s, he turned away from film titling and worked more directly with the visual imaginary of cinema, as then understood. Spartacus uses photorealist images of objects – especially a bronze bust – but shot such that they hover on the edge of the silhouette-abstraction that had become a Bass trademark. From Spartacus on, the actual words of his titles are distinct typographic forms floating over or through the visual imaginary that they caption. In Spartacus, a letter-edge might still have caught on the edge of a silhouette. By contrast, none of the words in the titles for Cape Fear (1991) would share a surface with the water and shadow over which they move.
This more familiar, later work – in what has become the establish mode of film titling – sets the innovations of Bass’s 1950s work in sharp relief. The typographic ‘rule’ – typically a printed bar of ink – was an important trans-medial element in his film titles of the time. Rules are quintessentially paratextual. They share the surface of writing and they share its graphic materiality – particularly contrasting monochrome colour. They manage and marshal the spaces in which writing is set, but they are not writing in the strict sense of symbolic representation. At one and same time, rules are also lines, lines that may shape themselves into abstract visual representations.
The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955 – two versions (Director: Otto Preminger; Design: Saul Bass; (c) AMPAS)
Titles for The Man with the Golden Arm demonstrate this perfectly. A single heavy rule sweeps down to mark the director’s credit; three more are propagated and, while introducing the names of the (three) lead actors, suggest, to my eye, walking legs. Three of the four vanish leaving one upper rule, with the three now returning, sweeping in from the other screen edges, to set out the superbly composed spaces of the film’s title. The same rules go on to marshal and punctuate the remaining credits, suggesting more visual forms and spaces, and also, I would argue, letter forms, before finally and infamously combining to become the jagged silhouette of the ‘golden arm’ itself.
Rules in Bass’s work do not typically become letters, but they do interfere with the surfaces of writing – sometimes making the switch from foreground to background and becoming a newly delineated surface of inscription. This is shown, for example, if we consider the torn-out surface spaces of Bunny Lake is Missing as in some sense a special type of rule. Rules can also interfere directly with writing, which provides a reading of the titles for Psycho where they become manic and overwhelming, slicing through the caption words, momentarily allowing us to glimpse and read, before destroying legibility in a striated frenzy that is permanently linked with cinema’s most notorious shocker.
Bass’s masterpiece is the title sequence for North by Northwest (1959) where rules are present in their primary role as the squared lines supporting text. But more, in this sequence, their formation of a (archi)textual gridwork also provides a direct link to the visual imaginary, to a world of real images, a prefiguration of Bass’s personal concerns with cinema per se and also, I’d argue, an unconscious premonitory graphic representation not only of the interaction of the symbolic and the real but of the information-age virtual and the real. These titles are a ‘central processor’ of writing in new media, before its time had come.
These images of North by Northwest have been taken from notcoming.com
The sequence opens with a landscape-aspect grid receding in perspective, not yet quite recognizable as the surface of a modernist office block. Words of the titles glide in on the gridlines and, in particular, glide up and down the vertical lines where they meet and come momentarily to rest for reading. As they do so, their movements are suddenly like those of elevators in a building, giving us one of the first visual clues to a real-world referent for the abstract grid as a signifier or representation.
This resemblance of the words’ movements to elevators marks a relatively uncharacteristic evocation of Concrete poetics – bodies of words behave like objects. Words in Bass’s Goodfellas (1990) titles imitate coke-accelerated cars, but I can’t think of other prominent examples. In fact, his work is remarkable for its avoidance of Concrete. Paratextual elements, like rules, are allowed to crossover, via abstraction, into the visual, but words remain set in legibility, as tokens of the symbolic. The important thing in Bass’s titles is the continuum that is played out in literal time-based art, a continuum of rhetorical possibilities and signifying strategies that cross and recross from visual to linguistic media and back, in evocative iterative performance, without ever loosing a grip on their specific materialities.
The ruled gridlines of North by Northwest are faithful to graphics, typography, visuality, and text all at once. As the sequence progresses this becomes clear. The words of the title perform their function – we can simply read the credits – and give material pleasure in their design and movement. At a certain point the grid moves away from abstraction and is filled in with the mirrored glass windows of a modernist office block. It becomes real or rather more than real because it is a also mirror, a surface that is one particular privileged representation of the world. We see people and traffic alive and moving in the mirror-world and world of filmic naturalism. Meanwhile, the title words continue to share this same surface. They are still well-set and respectful of typographic principles but now they share a surface of visual representation that is simultaneously a real object (the building) in the (film) world. It’s a tour de force. These titles embody a continuum of signifying strategies across media that could only be performed in time.
The potential for the now familiar screenic surface of programmable media as a site of a literal trans-medial art is discovered in the titles for North by Northwest . It’s as simple and as richly suggestive as that. Where do we go from here? In his work on West Side Story(1961) Bass quietly and wittily played with real surfaces as a site for (title) writing, with the credits expressed as graffiti and intermixed with signage. One of the recognized artists in contemporary film titles, Kyle Cooper, literally etched the credits for Se7en (1995) onto film stock. Some suggestions: We continue to write with a Bass-resonant reverential materialism, with respect for the surfaces on which we make our inscriptions. We move writing from surface to surface, from media to media, with this same respect, not only from the pseudo-transparent surface of print to the screen or the virtual surfaces of artistic performance, but onto real surfaces. We do this writing in real and in human time.
*This essay has also appeared in Mute: Culture and Politics After the Net , Winter/Spring 2005 Issue 29.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Kitchen Sink Press, 1993. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.
Title sequences of the 1950s and ’60s grabbed moviegoers with psychological insights, orchestral violence and some lessons learnt from the early pioneers of animation, for whom motion graphics, sound and story were inseparable. By Joel Karamath
Title sequences have reached an unprecedented level of attention, with vast numbers of design studios dedicated to television and cinema motion graphics. Yet the history of the contemporary title sequence stretches back a generation or more, when Saul Bass and Maurice Binder laid the foundations for the modern form, and even earlier, to the short cartoon films of the 1920s and ’30s.
Bass’s titles for director Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) emerged at a time when popular music was consolidating its position as the dominant art form of the twentieth century. The musical impact of both films reflects the zeitgeist of the post-war era that marked the advent of commercial television and advertising – the engine room of consumer society in the us. Television advertising, like the title sequence and the radio ad before it, was defined by music. Yet the influence music had in shaping visual culture on the screen predates this golden age of consumerism.
Sound had always been a goal for mainstream cinema: even in the days of the silent era, sound was unavoidable, complementing and enlivening the screen action via a cinema pianist or, occasionally, a full orchestra. Warner Brothers’ first “talkie” The Jazz Singer in 1927, was a famous success, but it could be argued that the first truly successful marriage of sound and image came with the animated shorts produced soon afterwards, and typically shown as part of the exhibition programmes (feature, b-movie, newsreel, cartoons) to which audiences flocked at that time. One only need look at the names the studios gave their productions to see their debt to music: Merry Melodies, Happy Harmonies, Loony Toons, Silly Symphonies.
Max Fleischer, MGM, Disney and Warner Bros relied heavily upon music for the structure of their short cartoons. Disney’s first major success Steamboat Willie (1928) was Mickey Mouse’s debut in a skit that derives much of its humour from the surreal visualisation of musical cues. In one instance Mickey turns the tail of a goat to the accompaniment of a barrel organ, while in another he plays a cow’s teeth to the sound of a xylophone. When he pulls the string of the boat’s whistle, the instrument forms a mouth and blows.
The most prominent use of music as a catalyst for character and plot visualisation stemmed from Warner Bros, one of the most productive studios (known as “Termite Terrace”), with a huge staff that included some of the greatest animators of all time. Throughout the studio’s heyday in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950 the prime focus point for artists such as Jones, Avery, Freleng and Clampett would often stem from the sound department, where specialist Mel Blanc created the voices for Bugs, Daffy, Porky et al, and composer Carl Stalling (who had previously worked for Disney on Steamboat Willie) scored the music. While Blanc largely delivered voiceover dialogue and jokes to a script, Stalling was engaged at all stages of production: the interaction between his music, producers such as Leon Schlesinger and animators such as Chuck Jones resulted in a unique body of collaborative work.
The avant-garde films of that time were produced by visual artists who treated the new medium of film as an extension of their respective disciplines: artists such as Man Ray, Ferdnand Léger, Dudley Murphy and Len Lye worked to existing music or silence. Stalling and, similarly, Scott Bradley, head of music at mgm, had helped to create something that was, like the Bollywood musical and the pop promo today, much more than film with musical interludes. It was a specific form, just as grand opera is distinct from opera, or pantomime from dramatic theatre; something that Hollywood would not begin to amend, with the shift from non-integrated to integrated musicals, for over a decade. Further still, these cartoons were products in which the music was both non-diegetic score and diegetic sound effect at the same time, compounding their innovative uniqueness.
Through its publishing division, Warner Bros had an extensive music catalogue, affording the animation studio access to some of the most popular tunes of the day. So it was also the first to seize upon the opportunity of promoting its records visually. The sight of Tom (of Tom and Jerry) crooning Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” marks a marketing strategy that predates MTV by decades. The immediate artistic and commercial success of the animated short in integrating sound, vision and movement supports historian Eric Hobsbawn’s assertion that with the “failure of modernism” advertising and cinema became the true avant-garde.
Stalling retired in 1956 just as television was beginning to usurp the big screen. As genres such as the newsreel and the short moved to the small screen, animation suffered a drastic drop in funding. The elaborate music arrangements of Stalling and Bradley, hitherto scored individually for each production, were replaced by cheaper generic mood pieces, sterile melodies dropped in behind impoverished visuals.
THE START OF A FRANCHISE
As television heralded the demise of quality mainstream animation, cinema began to find a new outlet for the amalgamation it had spawned: the title sequence, which set the mood and provided audiences with a taste of the narrative to come. For the movie-going audience, the title sequence filled a gap left, after the demise of the old exhibition package, by the absence of newsreels and animated shorts.
The way in which this symbiosis between title sequence, score and story can be used to establish motif and character traits is exemplified by the James Bond series (nearly twenty “official” Bond films), started by Dr. No (1962). The Bond title sequence and theme tune are two of the most instantly recognisable cinematic signatures. Despite the obvious impact and lasting impression of Binder’s work, the highly complex mixing and layering of his sequence for Dr. No almost renders the Modernist ethos of his mentor, Saul Bass, redundant: it foreshadows a postmodern tendency to mix and match.
The congested complexity of the Dr. No titles is simplified on subsequent films in the Bond series by separating the original sequence pattern into two individual entities. The opening sequences for From Russia With Love and Goldfinger separate two musically led graphic segments with an opening action scene (unrelated to the movie’s plot) that reduces the harsh juxtaposition of competing graphic images and music of Dr. No . The use of very specific title songs in the Bond movies, as with Goldfinger, also created a separate (and marketable) product.
THE COLLABORATIVE AUTEUR
The postwar period saw a marked shift in film scoring, when composers such as Elmer Bernstein and Bernard Herrmann began to develop a dramatic style that Bernstein described as a move towards a more “emotional . . . inner psychological state”, which relied not so much upon a series of themes as “creating atmosphere”, often without resolution. The brutal violin shrieks of Herrmann’s score for Psycho stand out as one of the most memorable sounds in the history of cinema. Herrmann began his film career with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) and died shortly after completing Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). At the hub of an exemplary career in the movies was his eleven-year, eight-film partnership with Alfred Hitchcock. Herrmann’s conception of cinema was an interpretation based upon the balance between sound and image: “The moment that you do a story on film, music becomes almost imperative . . . It is in the nature of cinema that it needs music, theatre doesn’t need music really.”
Herrmann’s statement certainly rings true in relation to the role of the title sequence and is best shown by his work with Saul Bass for Hitchcock, at the end of the 1950s. The collaboration between the three men, though short-lived, was extremely fruitful. Hitchcock is often spoken of as the auteur’s auteur and while there is no doubting his influence on everything he touched, it is equally important to acknowledge the contributions of his regular production crew: Robert Burks’ cinematography, George Tomasini’s editing and the costumes of Edith Head. As much as anything else, Hitchcock’s genius lay in his ability to relay his messages to and through others, most specifically through the work of Bass and Herrmann.
Their first film titles together, Vertigo (1958), provide a perfect example of Hitchcock’s communicative powers, with Bass and Herrmann working separately through the director, Herrmann later scoring to Bass’s visuals. The final construction, like the movie itself, is a slow-moving and uncannily evocative piece that transcends the sum of its melodramatic and repetitive parts.
Vertigo, often considered Hitchcock’s finest work, was quickly followed a year later by North by Northwest, another thriller based upon identity, though not nearly as dark or brooding as Vertigo. Cary Grant’s lead makes play with a witty and romantic script by Ernest Lehman. Bass, Herrmann and Hitchcock conjure an opening score and title sequence that work as a mini-prologue to the film, engaging the audience with related plot themes from the outset. Herrmann’s score is simple and to the point, reflecting the juxtaposition of humour and suspense in the movie with a mixture of high and low notes (flutes to timpani) that represent the opposing forces at work in the film. It has a lighter tone than his score for Vertigo, including a “Gershwin-esque” homage to New York where the film starts, and an exhilarating theme for the chase that covers half of the us.
Bass’s titles are equally engaged with the plot through the use of an animated grid: the names of the stars and production staff follow each other vertically on and off the screen in a game of cat and mouse, prefiguring the precarious positions in which the main characters find themselves. A final twist comes when the grid fades into a shot of a skyscraper, its windows reflecting the street below, a distorted vision of an everyday scene that primes us for a tale of mistaken identity.
Vertigo may be Hitchcock’s most critically acclaimed work and North By Northwest one of the most entertaining but Psycho (1960) is his most notorious, ushering in a new era of film-making and spawning the “slasher movie”. Made on a low budget, in black and white without major stars, it is one of the most influential and imitated ever. Despite several radical changes in production methods, he hired Bernard Herrmann as composer and Saul Bass for the titles. (Bass is also credited as “pictorial consultant”.) Psycho has a special place in twentieth century culture, honoured by several “sequels” with the late Anthony Perkins, a much-derided scene-for-scene 1998 remake (in colour!) by Gus Van Sant and an installation by artist Douglas Gordon, whose 24-hour Psycho clicks slowly through each frame of the original movie.
The film’s content is anticipated in the opening title sequence by the violent music (a string chamber orchestra that Herrmann chose to reflect John L. Russell’s monochrome cinematography) and the slices made in the block capitals of the director’s name, closely followed by the pattern made by slicing a series of vertical bars.
The pinnacle of Bass and Herrmann’s collaboration with Hitchcock would come with one of the most memorable scenes in movie history. The condensed montage of shots in the shower scene – which took the best part of a week to film, placing the camera in over 70 positions – is on screen for little over a minute. It was storyboarded, shot and edited by Bass, who also had to persuade Hitchcock to include Herrmann’s score: the director had originally intended to screen the scene without music (see extract on p41). Less than halfway through the movie, they created a cinematic climax that has never been bettered.
ALL THE ANIMALS COME OUT AT NIGHT
Psycho marked the apex and the conclusion of the collaboration between Hitchcock, Bass and Herrmann: the three were never to work as a team again. Bass and Hitchcock (whom Bass said had “taught him the art of film-making”), would fall out, some say over their differences on Psycho. Hitchcock’s next picture, The Birds (1963), featured a title sequence by James Block and electronic music by Oskar Sala. (Herrmann acted as a consultant.) A few years later he would be removed from his position as the composer on Torn Curtain (1966) by Hitchcock, never to work with the director again. All three continued to produce good work, but never quite reached the symbiosis of their work on Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho. Bass went on to produce two of his most outstanding creations, Walk on the Wild Side (1962) and Nine Hours to Rama (1963), soon after the split from Hitchcock, yet these movies highlight the pitfalls of working outside the confines of a tight team. Both sequences are superbly crafted entities (working with scores by, respectively, Elmer Bernstein and Malcolm Arnold) that work as separate narrative interpretations and represent their films’ stories in miniature. Yet Bass’s titles are considered by some critics to be more memorable than the films.
Herrmann’s final score for Taxi Driver symbolises the gothic sleaze of mid-1970s New York. Without overtly graphic titles, the saxophone-led cues intensify the glaring montage of traffic signals, street signs, cinemas, theatres and storefronts in Manhattan, while the more orchestral passages glance back to the emotional turmoil of Scottie in Vertigo. The parallel nature of Herrmann’s work to Bass and Hitchcock on Vertigo was best summarised in reference to a composition made over twenty years later. When Martin Scorsese was asked about the importance of Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver, he said: “It provided the psychological basis throughout . . . a vortex that never comes to completion. Just when you think it’s finished it starts all over again.”
Both Bass and Herrmann worked best with visionary auteurs brave enough to let them interact with their work on a intellectual, physical and emotional level, enabling them to create work that not only complemented but raised the films on which they collaborated to new levels of emotional richness.
Title sequence from Dr. No, 1962. Design: Maurice Binder. Music: John Barry and Monty Norman. Animation: Trevor Bond. Director: Terence Young. Producers: Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli. © 1962 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation.
In Dr. No Maurice Binder sows the seeds for what was to become the classic Bond opening: a white circle appears on the screen, to the accompaniment of primitive electronic music – simple bleeps like test tones. The circle manifests itself as the spiral of a gun barrel (or the iris of a lens) in which “Bond” is focused. He beats his would-be assassin to the draw and with a single shot turns the screen red. This screen fills with flashing multicoloured dots (animated by Trevor Bond) that finally form the title of the film and serve as an accompaniment for the main actors’ credits. The third segment of the titles introduce the cavorting silhouettes of go-go dancers that later became a Bond hallmark. Here they are intended to evoke the “exotic” Caribbean, where the film is set, and London in the swinging 1960s. There is then a dissolve to the fourth and final segment as the dancers fade into the silhouettes of three “blind” men loping across the screen from left to right, which in turn dissolve into the live footage of the same three characters, soon to be revealed as vicious assassins, as the story begins.
The four sections of Binder’s opening are paralleled by four distinct soundtrack segments. In the first part, Binder’s dot logo is seen accompanied by high-pitched electronic test tones (which, like the dot, establishes a link between Bond, the film and the onset of the computer age). A gun shot then ignites the dot-matrix spectacular, introducing the title of the film, in the second segment, along with Monty Norman’s Bond theme, arranged by the hastily recruited John Barry with its long, chromatic string line and twanging guitar. Stage three uses an exotic bongo rhythm for the dancing figures, which then develops into a calypso version of “Three Blind Mice”, a tentative first use of the Bond device of using a theme song linked to the story (“Diamonds Are Forever”, “The World Is Not Enough”).
Title sequence from Goldfinger, 1964. Design: Robert Brownjohn. Music: John Barry. Director: Guy Hamilton. Producers: Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli. © 1964 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation.
By the time of Goldfinger, which had a budget at least five times that of Dr. No, the James Bond title formula was firmly established. The short opening iris segment is largely copied from Dr. No, except that it dispenses with the electronic bleeps and uses the John Barry version of the Bond theme throughout. A four-minute plus action scene follows that establishes Bond’s credentials as a resourceful spy and “ladykiller” – glimpsing a would-be assailant in a lover’s eye in mid-clinch, he spins round so that the girl takes the blow.
The pre-credit sequence works as a mini-Bond movie that re-establishes the 007 persona for fans and provides a swift introduction for newcomers. Robert Brownjohn’s credit sequence shows scenes from the movie projected on to a woman’s golden-painted body (the villain’s nubile assistant is sadistically murdered by “epidermal asphyxiation” early in the plot) to the accompaniment of Barry’s theme song, with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse sung by Shirley Bassey. This was the first Bond movie to feature a full-blown song over the titles – From Russia With Love uses an instrumental version of the theme song. Goldfinger could be seen as the first complete Bond sequence, as well as the aesthetic pinnacle of the franchise, setting a template for the series that, though often imitated, has rarely been surpassed.
Title sequence from Vertigo, 1958. Design: Saul Bass. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. © Universal Studios.
In Vertigo, the acrophobic protagonist Scottie (James Stewart) obsessively recreates Madeleine, for whose suicide he feels responsible, in the person of the living Judy (Kim Novak). Bernard Herrmann scored the “Prologue” music to Bass’s visuals, constructing an uncannily evocative piece that far outweighs the sum of its parts. Indicative of what David Toop described as the “intellectual” impact of images and text in relation to the “emotional” content of music, the sequence manages to convey issues inherent in this slow, complex film through simple means.
As the studio logo fades we hear a harp initiate a repetitive melody which is taken up by the violins. Bass’s images enter at a point where low strings have just introduced a sense of foreboding. Bass crops Novak’s face tightly, employing what film-maker Barney Cokeliss described as a “cinematic blazon”, a technique later deployed to great effect by Scorsese at the start of Taxi Driver, when Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is introduced through the window and rearview mirror of his taxi. With his Vertigo titles, Bass suggests the notion of a constructed woman, giving us fragments rather than a whole. Herrmann’s melody continues, but is interrupted by a Wagnerian surge of horns, as credits for the lead actors, director and title appear, before returning to its melancholic cycle.
Appropriately enough for a film about image and identity, the title appears over a full frame of Novak’s eye. As we are drawn into the centre of her iris a small, animated vortex begins to spiral and grow until it engulfs the whole screen, undergoing a series of colour changes. This spiralling icon, coupled with the repeating melody, provides a theme that runs throughout the movie: that of revisiting and re-inventing the past. The spiral represents Scottie’s vertigo, the coil of hair on a woman’s head in an oil portrait, a bouquet of flowers and the winding wooden staircase of the bell tower from which Madeleine falls to her death. Bass’s colour changes for this graphic are equally significant. The icon first appears in Novak’s eye tinted red before trawling through the spectrum, a cue to the importance Hitchcock gives to colour throughout the movie as Scottie, the ultimate fall guy, is sucked into an emotional void.
Title sequence from Psycho, 1960. Design: Saul Bass. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. © Shamley Productions.
Psycho will always stand as one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces but there can be few of his films which have had such a direct, creative input from outside sources. Without Herrmann’s score, Psycho would be something completely different, something less, while Bass picks up all the themes that are established in the opening credits, right through to the midpoint climax of the movie. Paul Hirsch commented that “the extreme emotional duress is due entirely to the music”. What we see is not just heightened by the music – it is taken to another level. The shrieking violins are the externalisation of Norman Bates’s internal angst. Hitchcock’s brief to the composer, for a light jazz score, was thankfully ignored.
As with Vertigo and North By Northwest the score sets up a repetitive momentum that keeps bringing us back to the same place over and over again, but unlike the two previous films, there is no genuine respite. The introduction is abrupt and jumps in almost with a climax; everything about the score is an attack. The repetition does not take us around in a circle but is a constant onslaught, wave after wave that cannot be resisted. Visually, the violence to come is relayed in the opening sequence by horizontal slashes that rip through the pure white titles and credits on screen. As in The Man With The Golden Arm, solid white bars appear but they offer little defence from this attack. The Powers of Ten-style zoom into the doomed heroine’s bedroom window implies that this is just one of many stories in this particular naked city.
First published in Eye no. 39 vol. 10, 2001