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The Work Of Saul Bass Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1165 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Moving and animated sequence titles are common to us nowdays. When we go to the cinema, play DVD or watch a movie in TV, we always know that there will be some. But what we do not usually know is who stands behind this mini-genre. No doubt, the man who is responsible for invinting the opening credit sequences as a free-standing movie-before-a-movie (Thomas, 1996) is Saul Bass, an American graphic designer and director. This essay will decribe his life and his most important outputs.

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Saul Bass was born on eighth May in 1920. As a kid, he was growing up in Bronx in New York. (Thomas, 1996; Brown, 2002) After graduating from high school, he studied Graphic Art at Brooklin College. Afterwards, he left New York for Hollywood and moved to Los Angeles. (Nourmand, 2000; Thomas, 1996) Initially, he was producing print work for film ads. For instance he created posters The Moon is Blue or Love in the Afternoon. In 1954, Otto Preminger approched Saul Bass and asked him to create a poster for his movie Carmen Jones . Saul Bass designed the poster with a strinkingly simple flaming black and red rose. (Nourmand, 2000). Otto Preminger liked Bass s work so much and decided to collaborated with him on the title sequence as well. (Brown, 2002) This was an important moment of Saul Bass s career. He recognised that graphic design and film design are closely related. Movie s first moments are very important and they create identification for movies. Otto Preminger liked Bass s sequence title and therefore, one year later (1995), he called him on again to create a visual identity for The Man with the Golden Arm which experienced a great success. (Lamster, 2000, 129) Working on this project, Saul Bass got an idea of the title sequence which would be moving. He created the famous jagged arm design, suggesting the jarring and disjoined existence of drug addict (Nourmand, 2000) Usually titles named only movie, artists, director etc. Suddendly, it turned into an animamated event. Afterwards, Bass said (Lamster, 2000, 130): there was a time when titles were very interesting, going back to the early 1930s or even the late 1920s. Then it bogged down and became bad lettering produced by firms that ground out titles. What I did was reinvent the whole notion of using a title to create a little atmosphere.

The idea of titling movies through animation became a classic mini-genre (Thomas, 1996). It influenced many artists and Bass s film-within-a-film (Neef et al., 2006, 166) became very popular. Not only Otto Preminger saw Saul Bass s potencial, Alfred Hitchcock asked him to design stuff for his movies as well. (Nourmand, 2000) Titles for Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960) were all created by Saul Bass. (Kolner, 2004, 104; Thomas, 1996; Nourmand, 2000) Saul Bass s sequence titles spoke to the audience in a familiar language (Brown, 2002) Neverthless, it always reflected the true complexity of the movie and drew out the most important features of the other s work. (Woloski, 2005) In Vertigo, Bass summates Scorie Ferguson s descent into an obsessive hell with the austere and hypnotic image of a spiral (Woloski, 2005) and Bass s title sequence for Psycho was created by linear movement of the black-and-white, horizontal lines, the more phallic orientation of Psycho s particular brand of violence (Kolner, 2004, 108) In Bass s titles for Hitchcock, he presented the director as a star and as an attraction, which made the hidden presence of Hitchcock even more felt. (Neef et al, 2006, 173-174). Regarding Psycho, Saul Bass collaborated with Hitchcock as a directors as well. He drew some sketches for the Psycho s scenes (Kolner, 2004, 17-24). Moreover, Psycho s title music which was composed by Hermann was actually inspired by the Saul Bass s animation. (Tonks, 2001).

Saul Bass s techniques were various. He employed visual imagery, hand-drawn type, pictographs, construction paper shapes, cotoun animation, montage, music and many others. Moreover, he used colors and movements precisely and very effectively (Taylor, 2005; Haskett, 2005, 64) With his title sequences which we can describe as a visual references, he developed a new part of the modern business and commercial world . (Brown, 2002) Therefore, he won sich a wide accleim that he was sometimes called the Picasso of commercial artists . (Thomas, 1996)

Furthermore, Saul Bass worked also as a director. To his movies belong The Searching Eye (1964), From Here to There (1964), Grand Prix (1966) and probably the most popular one called Why Man Creates (1968) (Lamster; 2000, 134; Taylor, 2005). In 1968, the short movie Why Man Creates was awarded as a Oscar-winning short film. (Lamster, 2000, 134; Thomas, 1996)

Besides creating design for movie and directing movies by his own, he was a very a famous graphic designer of logotypes. He devised trademarks and corporate identifications for firms such as AT&T, United Airlines, Bell System, Minolta, Quker Oats, Warner Communications, General Food and many others (Haskett, 2005, 64; Thomas, 1996; Economist Books, 2003, 117). We can claim he was a corporate identities genius. His trademarks were extraordinary, clean, legible, readable and symbolic. In the 1960s he created logotyped for lot of the biggest American companies. (Nourmand, 2000)

Regarding his personal life. He was married twice. First marriage ended by diverce. His second wife, Elaine Makatura was initially the first employee of his own studio (Thomas, 1996)

This versatil and innovative graphic designer died at the age of 75 at Cedars-Sinai Medal Center in Los Angles. According to family, he died on non-Hodgkins lymphoma (Thomas, 1996; Taylor, 2005; Nourmand, 2000)

Saul Bass s reputation as a designer of film is legendary. He has left his incredible signature on a number of pictures by Preminger, Hitchcock, Kurbick, Wyler among others. (Need, 2006, 166-168) We remeber his handwriting from title sequences for The Man with the Golden Arm , Psycho or for example from his Academy Award-winning short movie Why Man Creates. His output is so broad and large. He created many posters, title sequences, movies, visual identities, corporate logos etc. He brought a new innovative thinking and working to Hollywood. His innovation created an army of imitators, many of whom have carried his ideas beyond his original conception. (Thomas, 1996). Such was an impact of his work that his style became alsmost a clich of the mid-fifties through the sixties because of how often they were imitated. (Lamster, 2000, 133). In my opinion, the work of Saul Bass contributed to the modern art very significantly and left behind a great heritage not only for design but also for movies. His ideas and new style of creating posters and titles brought to the art industry a new broader dimension. He definitely influenced the contemporary art.


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