Saul Bass (1920 – 1996) was an American graphic designer and Academy Award® winning filmmaker. His name and work are sacrosanct among visual arts and film students, professionals and enthusiasts.
Relocating from his native New York to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, Bass found himself designing movie posters. Director Otto Preminger was so taken with the poster Bass had done for his film CARMEN JONES (1954) that he asked him to also design the opening title sequence for the film, setting into motion an industry-altering shift in the approach to how these pivotal few minutes before a movie started would be approached going forward.
A SELECTION OF MOVIE POSTERS DESIGNED BY SAUL BASS
Certainly, there were title sequences before Saul Bass came along, the main purpose of which was to display the requisite legal jargon associated with a film’s production. Generally deemed unremarkable, they were often projected on a theater’s curtains which would open only to catch the first frame of the movie when the story ‘officially’ began.
Preminger, however, considered Bass’ opening sequences essential to the film itself. When distributing reels to theaters for THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955), Preminger demanded a note be included: “Projectionists: Pull curtains before titles!”
What made Bass’ titles different?
Conceptually, Bass approached each sequence as an introduction to the film’s narrative and the emotions it would elicit. He was welcoming audiences into the world of the film through visuals, innovative film techniques and, working closely with composers, soundtrack.
Visually, a contemporary review of Bass’ work evokes quintessential mid-century design, drawing together the diverse modern influences of Matisse’s cut-outs, the color blocks of De Stijl, Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus – contributions made courtesy of his own early mentor György Kepes who had studied under László Moholy-Nagy. Not too shabby a starting point…
Bass, working closely with his wife Elaine, produced some of the most noteworthy title sequences for such filmmaking greats as Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. Hitchcock, recognizing the depth of Bass’ talent, assigned him the role of Visual Consultant on PSYCHO. Their collaboration produced one of the most memorable moments in American cinema. Cue: shower scene.
Sit back and enjoy Gary Leva’s short film SAUL BASS: TITLE CHAMP. Set to a bebop jazz beat, this documentary offers insight into Bass’ extraordinary work. Through archival footage of the man himself and interviews with directors Martin Scorsese and Guillermo del Toro, we learn why Bass is still considered the medium’s greatest artist.