Feature by: Rumsey Taylor
Posted on: 08 August 2005
Features: Titles Designed by Saul Bass
One is pressed to cite an example of an active, self-contained, and characteristic credits sequence in film prior to the work of Saul Bass. Undoubtedly, there are examples that presage Bass’ pioneering work; namely, the famous final credits of Citizen Kane reprise excerpts from the film, underscoring the footage with actors’ names. Likewise, overtures frequently preceded films of the ’30s and ’40s. Many of these are visually complimented by static credits, and in some cases a montage. And despite these examples, in regard to innovation, renown, and influence, Bass’ impact in credits design remains virtually unparalleled, even to this day.
Bass’ expertise in design exhibits a range (his corporate identities and posters are also durable graphic statements), yet his distinguishing aesthetic is one of economy and simplicity. It is in this regard that his work in credits design is of particular significance—his opening for West Side Story, for example, is a solid block of color that morphs according to the overture. Elsewhere (and numerously), he employs hand-drawn type and cutout, construction paper shapes.
In 1964, after sixteen years as a collaborator, Bass began directing his own films including The Searching Eye (1964), From Here to There (1964), and Why Man Creates (1968). His latter effort resulted in an Academy Award—an appropriate gesture of recognition, as Bass may be credited for enhancing the visual strategy of cinema, assigning it another dimension.
Bass’ techniques are various and decidedly inconsistent: cutout animation, montage, live action, and type design to name only his more prominent exercises. Secondly, Bass exhibits an exemplary use of color and movement. Often sequences begin with a solid, empty frame of color (as with Exodus’ blue or North by Northwest’s green). His design tactic in this context, although characteristic, possesses subtly and variety.
Bass died in 1996 at the age of 75.
The remaining pages of this feature contain subsequent film stills; there are inherent flaws in this exhibition. The color of Bass’ work is not appropriately replicated on a computer monitor (the images are generally darker on an RGB screen), and the film stills in diminishment lose clarity. We have opted to overcorrect a few of these sequences—admittedly, such a modification may compromise the integrity of Bass’ selection of color, which is of obvious consideration. The stills are arranged in interactive galleries, and may be played by repeatedly clicking your mouse on the images.