Saul Bass revolutionised film title and credit sequence design. He had the ability to grasp the very essence of a film and present it in such a way that in an opening sequence lasting just a few minutes he could convey the atmosphere and premise of the film to come. Under his influence the title sequence became an extension of the film, as well as an art form in its own right, with the capacity to symbolise and summarise what the audience was about to experience.

Saul Bass started life in the Bronx district of New York, born in 1920 to an émigré furrier and his wife. He followed his early creative instincts and in 1936 won a scholarship to study at the Art Student’s League in Manhattan. From here, after spending time employed as an assistant in the art department of the New York offices of Warner Brothers, he enrolled at Brooklyn College to study graphic design under Bauhaus-influenced designer Gyorgy Kepes. After a period as a free lance graphic designer Bass moved to Los Angeles, and in 1950 opened his own studio, Saul Bass & Associates.

Bass’ first foray into film title design came in 1954 with Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones, where an initial commission to produce a poster design for the film developed into a title commission after Preminger was impressed by Bass’ initial work. This sequence led to work on Robert Aldrichs’ The Big Knife, Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch and José Ferrer’s The Shrike. However it was with The Man with the Golden Arm (dir. Otto Preminger, 1955) that Bass truly made his name as the champion of title design. His bold, jagged, black and white cut outs, combined with Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score, was a modernist revelation and proved that an opening sequence could carry the power and significance to match the film content, and even surpass it.

Throughout the 1950’s Bass continued to innovate using a mix of live action, animation and bold design on such films as Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), Pride and the Passion (1957), Bonjour Tristesse (1957), Vertigo (1958), and North by Northwest (1959). It was with Alfred Hitchcock on Psycho (1960) that Bass took his first credit as pictorial consultant, working closely with Hitchcock, and storyboarding and editing the infamous shower sequence with Janet Leigh.

His title work continued throughout the 60’s – often with assistance from his second wife Elaine Makatura – on Spartacus (1960), for which he also served as design consultant, West Side Story (1961) also as visual consultant, Advise and Consent (1962), Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) and on Grand Prix (1966) again also as visual consultant and montage director. By the mid-sixties Bass was increasingly taking to the director’s chair on his own productions with considerable success, winning an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1968 for Why Man Creates, and picking up three other nominations in the following years. In 1974 he directed his first feature film, Phase IV, a sci-fi about a super intelligent race of ants threatening man’s supremacy on earth.

The following years saw a hiatus in Bass’ title work and between 1970 and 1986 he designed for only a handful of films: Such Good Friends, Rosebud, That’s Entertainment Part II, and The Human Factor. In an interview with Sight & Sound in 1995 he explained, ‘Eventually titles got out of hand. It got to a point where it seemed that somebody got up there before the film and did a tap dance. Fancy titles became fashionable rather than useful and that’s when I got out’. During this period, along with continuing his own film-making projects, Bass went back to his design roots working on successful corporate commissions for companies such as United Airlines, AT&T, Warner Communications and Bell Telephone Systems.

It was not until 1987 that Bass came back to title design at the persuasion of James L. Brooks for Broadcast News. Both James L. Brooks and Martin Scorsese were among an army of young directors and designers who cited Bass as an inspiration for their own careers and who were keen to work with the doyen of title design. Scorsese became a long time collaborator and Bass, along with partner Elaine, worked with him on Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence and Casino. This period saw Bass work on various poster commissions; in 1991 he created the poster for the 63rd Academy Awards and continued to do so for the next five years. In 1993, the same year as The Age of Innocence, Bass designed the poster for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

Saul Bass died in 1996, leaving behind a legacy of outstanding and enduring design achievements.

Filmography

1954
*Carmen Jones (d: Otto Preminger) – Titles
1955
The Seven Year Itch (d: Billy Wilder) – Title design
*The Shrike (d: José Ferrer) – Title design
*The Man With The Golden Arm (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
*The Big Knife (d: Robert Aldrich) – Titles
The Racers (d: Henry Hathaway) – Titles
1956
*Edge Of The City (d: Martin Ritt) – Titles
Storm Centre (d: Daniel Taradash) – Title design
*Around The World In Eighty Days (d: Michael Anderson) – Titles
*Attack! (d: Robert Aldrich) – Titles
1957
*The Pride And The Passion (d: Stanley Kramer) – Title design
*Saint Joan (d: Otto Preminger) – Titles
The Young Stranger (d: John Frankenheimer)
1958
*Bonjour Tristesse (d: Otto Preminger) – Titles
*Vertigo (d: Alfred Hitchcock) – Title design
*The Big Country (d: William Wyler) – Titles
Cowboy (d: Delmer Daves) – Titles
1959
*North By Northwest (d: Alfred Hitchcock) – Title design
*Anatomy Of A Murder (d: Otto Preminger) – Titles
1960
Psycho (d: Alfred Hitchcock) – Titles/Pictorial Consultant
*Ocean’s Eleven (d: Lewis Milestone) – Title design
*Spartacus (d: Stanley Kubrick) – Title design
*The Facts Of Life (d: Melvin Frank) – Title design
*Exodus (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
1961
*Something Wild (d: Jack Garfein) – Title design
*West Side Story (d: Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins) – Title design/Visual Consultant
1962
Apples And Oranges (d: Saul Bass)
Walk On The Wild Side (d: Edward Dmytryk) – Title design
*Advise And Consent (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
*Nine Hours To Rama (d: Mark Robson) – Titles
Alcoa Premiere: Flashing Spikes (d: John Ford) – Title design
1963
*It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (d: Stanley Kramer) – Titles
*The Cardinal (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
*The Victors (d: Carl Foreman) – Prologue and Title design
1964
The Searching Eye (d: Saul Bass)
From Here To There (d: Saul Bass)
1965
*In Harm’s Way (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
*Bunny Lake Is Missing (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
1966
*Seconds (d: John Frankenheimer) – Title design
*Not With My Wife You Don’t! (d: Norman Panama) – Title design/Visual consultant
*Grand Prix (d: John Frankenheimer) – Visual consultant, titles and montages
1968
Why Man Creates (d: Saul Bass)
1971
*Such Good Friends (d: Otto Preminger) – Titles
1973
*Phase Iv (d: Saul Bass)
1974
Rosebud (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
1976
One Hundred Years Of The Telephone (d: Saul Bass)
*That’s Entertainment Part Ii (new sequences d: Gene Kelly) – Title design
1977
Notes On The Popular Arts (d: Saul Bass)
1979
*The Human Factor (d: Otto Preminger) – Title design
1980
A Short Film On Solar Energy (d: Saul Bass)
1982
Bass On Titles (d: Saul Bass)
1983
Quest (d: Saul Bass)
1987
*Broadcast News (d: James L. Brooks) – Titles
1988
*Big (d: Penny Marshall) – Titles
*Dun-Huang (d. Junya Sato) – Titles
1989
The War Of The Roses (d: Danny DeVito) – Titles
1990
*Goodfellas (d: Martin Scorsese) – Titles
1991
Cape Fear (d: Martin Scorsese) – Titles
Doc Hollywood (d: Michael Caton-Jones) – Title design
1992
*Mr. Saturday Night (d: Billy Crystal) – Titles
1993
*The Age Of Innocence (d: Martin Scorsese) – Title design
1995
*Casino (d: Martin Scorsese) – Titles
The Century Of Cinema: A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (d: Martin Scorsese) – Titles
1998
*Psycho (d: Gus Van Sant) – Title design (adapted by Pablo Ferro)

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>