Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saul Bass and the Art of the Title Sequence

For a blog dedicated to art that appears in movies, I made one great shameful mistake. Thus far, I've neglected to mention one of the great artists of the last century, the graphic artist, Saul Bass. Besides, designing some of the most iconic logos of our time, Bass completely redefined the idea of the title sequence. You could say his work can be overlooked in all the action of the film, but I don't think that's true. Instead, his art seamlessly becomes part of the film.

I saw a documentary once that included clips of Bass discussing his work. He said that he saw the opportunity to set the mood of the piece in the very first seconds of the film with an exciting title sequence. And in movies like, The Man with the Golden Arm (his first big movie success), Vertigo, and Psycho, he certainly accomplished this. The list of movies that he helped advise artistically and did the title sequences for is truly impressive.

Not only did he create some of the most iconic movie posters for movies, he did the title sequence for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Around the World in 80 Days, Anatomy of a Murder, among many more classic films. His late collaborations included Age of Innocence, Cape Fear, and Casino. Hitchcock was a great fan of Bass's, but the Master of Suspense cannot be given credit for discovering Bass. His work was first utilized in film by Otto Preminger, but really he was a very successful graphic designer and artist on his own.

Many of these have the same iconic Bass look: a simplistic, but elegant, design that echoes the design trends of the late fifties and sixties. Bass seemed transfixed by simple shapes and lines and employed them with surprising diversity and success in his title sequences. His credits could contain the same excitement of the movies, or capture the same mystery, in the case of many of his Hitchcock collaborations.

One of my personal favorite Bass introductions is The Man with the Golden Arm. In that movie, all the elements work together in the credits sequence to make this really thrilling (and I'm not just throwing around adjectives- those titles are exciting) scene, if you will. It captures the movement and even some of the disjuncture natures of the movie's themes.

I've included a number of Bass's posters and scenes from the title sequences for your enjoyment. He is my favorite graphic designer by far, and I just love all his work. Of course, I'm not really alone in that sentiment. He's influenced generations of graphic designers and many title sequences borrow from his basic ideas and designs (think, Catch Me If You Can).There are tons of magnificent tribute posters and even title sequences for modern movies that fans and artists have created that are just fun to look at and enjoy.


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