A renaissance in film titles | Saul Bass

This article started as a reaction to reading a post on Creative Review’s wonderful blog and thinking about sharing it.

The more I watched the film titles, I remembered my love for the work of Saul Bass. When I first learnt about his work, YouTube did not exist, so it was hard to find clips.

Thanks to YouTube, this man needs no introduction, because there is a short interview to start with:



Let us start with a well-known title sequence – The man with the golden arm (1955). Otto Preminger’s film starring Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. After seeing Bass’s poster for Carmen Jones (1954), Preminger asked Bass to design the titles for his new film. These titles have Bass’s now-famous thick lines used entirely as the illustration for the sequence. Composing each scene using the same tool. I love this sequence.



Alfred Hitchcock called upon Bass to create the sequence for Vertigo (1958). This time Bass used film with his simple graphic formula. I always felt that this was too far from Bass’s usual work, but it is an important piece in the story of his career.



Preminger used Bass on further titles, such as James Stewart’s Anatomy of a murder (1958). Literally taking a body shape and using this as the illustration for each scene, Bass created something that is very similar in style to ‘The man with the golden arm’, creating this style which is much copied today.



Bass created the titles for North by Northwest (1959). This is a great introduction to the film, and even stars Hitchcock at the end of the sequence. It takes you from a very graphic beginning, through to film and leads nicely up the first scene of the film. The music works very well with the sequence keeping the pace up throughout, building tension and anticipation.



We could not forget the sequence for Psycho (1960). Back to where Bass started with thick lines to create the introduction. Again working very well with the music, this sequence is as well known as the film itself.



I am going to finish this epic post now. Whilst Bass might have worked on some horror film sequences, not all were so dark. Bass created the sequence for It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world (1963). This continues Bass’s two-dimensional work in film titles.



Later, he would go on to change this style as the industry demanded more polished introductions, but these sequences above reflect the genius that is Saul Bass.

Further reading:


Having worked in design for the past decade, Daniel started ateliertally.com as a discussion of timeless, modernist product design. Trained as a graphic designer, he also has an avid interest in typography. You can follow him on Twitter @ateliertally.

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