Saul Bass worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese and famously story-boarded and directed the Janet Leigh shower scene in Psycho as well as the disjointed rushing text in that film’s influential title sequence.
Bass was a highly successful graphic designer and I met and talked to him when he gave a D&AD lecture in London not long before his death.
‘Design is thinking made visual’ he famously said and although he was a film maker himself he will be remembered as a pioneer of film title sequences and the film posters to accompany them.
The word iconic can’t be overused in describing Saul Bass’s work. The graphic simplicity he developed in his commercial design for corporate clients he applied to his title sequences turning them into self-contained art forms. Were it not for the fact that he worked with many of the greats of the twentieth century his titles could have easily overpowered the films themselves.
Bass stripped everything down to simple elements and made them move enthrallingly to set the tempo and the scene. Take ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ (above) as an example. Simple sans serif text combines with simple handmade blocks to graphically drive the titles, building with the music into the iconic final fractured arm finish that simply foretells the drama that is about to unfold. This is one of Frank Sinatra’s most interesting and alienating performances yet it is the Saul Bass title sequence and poster that remains forever in the memory.
The influence of Saul Bass is everywhere in twentieth century design – see the Helvetica simplicity of cool 80’s style – and is found right up to today in the opening title sequence for Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men. Thinking made visual at its iconic best.