Bass, Saul

Bass, Saul
(May 8, 1920–April 25, 1996)
   The art of Saul Bass graced more than 60 motion pictures-in their title sequences, posters and ad campaigns, prologues, epilogues, and “special sequences. ” Indeed, Bass achieved notoriety for having altogether and almost single-handedly revolutionized motion picture titles and marketing campaigns. His most remarkable collaborations were those with directors Otto Preminger (including Carmen Jones (1954), Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Saint Joan (1957), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Advise and Consent (1962), Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), and five others), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960)), and Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), and Casino (1995)). Like STANLEY KUBRICK, Saul Bass was a native of the Bronx. He graduated high school at age 15, then went on to study at the Art Students’ League and Brooklyn College. At Brooklyn College he was influenced by Gyorgy Kepes, who had been a driving force in the establishment of the New Bauhaus movement in Chicago.
   Saul Bass began his professional life as an art director for advertising agencies in New York. When one of these, Buchanan & Co. , moved to Hollywood in 1948, Bass moved with it. Then in 1952 he started his own design firm, Bass and Associates (later Bass/Yager and Associates). Soon after, Otto Preminger hired Bass to design a logo for the poster campaign for the film The Moon is Blue (1953), which led to a similar assignment for Carmen Jones. For the latter, Bass proffered a flame superimposed over a rose, and then proposed to Preminger that they animate the logo. This suggestion led to Bass’s first title sequence, for Carmen Jones, a job that changed not only his career, but also the film industry’s entire approach to film credits.
   Bass described the essence of his method as “graphic designs translated to film. ” Eschewing the old-fashioned marketing ploy of offering “something for everyone,” Bass strove to uncover the singular image that would stand for the film as a whole. In his own words: “I try to reach for a simple, visual phrase that tells you what the picture is all about and evokes the essence of the story. It’s like summarizing a 600-page book in six words—not the details but the fundamentals. ” Saul Bass’s credit sequence for SPARTACUS (1960) features a series of pieces of Roman statuary—heads and other body parts—culminating with a head which cracks into pieces, symbolizing the fall of Rome. In the original version that Bass presented to Kubrick, the dissolves between the Roman heads were much longer, bringing the total running time of the titles to five minutes. When Kubrick balked at the length, Bass sped up the dissolves, but he kept all the original imagery, shortening the sequence to its present length of three-and-a-half minutes. KIRK DOUGLAS and the other producers of Spartacus gave Bass carte blanche to work on any of the film’s design aspects he chose. His two other major contributions to the film were the gladiator school set and the final battle scene, which Bass sketched out and directed. While there has been some dispute as to the level of Bass’s involvement in “special sequences” of other films (notably Psycho), Film Comment avers that the fact that Kubrick asked Bass to direct the battles is “beyond dispute. ” Curiously enough, though, the geometrical, chesslike battles seem to be among the most iconically “Kubrickian” scenes in Spartacus.
   Although highly evocative of Bass’s work, BARRY LYNDON’s post-Oscar poster actually bears the signature of Jouneau Bourduge. Still, the striking design is reminiscent of Bass’s indelible Anatomy of a Murder (1959) poster image: the fragmented silhouette, from the waist down, of a man holding a pistol pointed at the ground, a red rose under his boot. This has become the film’s signature image, and indeed it strongly echoes what is generally considered the trademark Saul Bass style: a broken, disjointed, arresting image which suggests alienation and inner conflict. A few years later, Bass did give THE SHINING its haunting, unforgettable key art, the pointillist depiction of young Danny’s horrified face, trapped largely within the letter T of the title, a treatment that directly recalls Bass’s poster for Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963). Saul Bass had this to say about Kubrick: “Stanley is very monastic. He’s a great beardscratcher. He thinks, he rubs his beard. He expresses himself quietly. He’s not a yeller. I found working with him terrific. I can’t say he’s reasonable; I can only say that he’s obsessive in the best sense of the word—because reasonableness doesn’t make anything good. There has to be a certain unreasonableness in any creative work, and he is that way. ” Along with his wife, the former Elaine Makatura, Bass made several forays into directing films himself. His short film “Why Man Creates” won the Oscar for best documentary short subject in 1968. In 1974, Bass’s first and only feature was released: the surrealist SCIENCE FICTION film Phase IV.
   Outside the film world, Bass had a long career in graphic design. He was instrumental in the development of the very notion of corporate identity campaigns, and he was responsible for the ubiquitous corporate logos of AT&T, Alcoa, United and Continental Airlines, Girl Scouts, Minolta,Warner Communications, Quaker Oats, Hunt-Wesson Foods, Bell Telephone, and many others. Bass even designed a children’s playground, a multimillion-dollar pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair, and gas stations (from the ground up) for Exxon and BP-America. His work may be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Cooper-Hewitt museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Library of Congress.
   “The real job of creative people,” he told American Cinematographer, “is to deal with what we know and, therefore, no longer see or understand. To deal with it in a way that develops a freshness of view which enables us to have an insight into something that we know so well that we no longer think, or respond, or see it. It’s to make the ordinary extraordinary. ”
   ■ Bass, Saul, interview, “The Compleat Film-Maker—From Titles to Features,” American Cinematographer, March 1977, 288–291+;
   ■ Collins, Keith, “Pic graphics pioneer Saul Bass dies,” Daily Variety, April 26, 1996, p. 5+;
   ■ Hollinger, Hy, “Man With the Golden Graphic: Saul Bass Dies,” Hollywood Reporter, April 26–28, 1996, p. 1+;
   ■ Lewis, Richard Warren, “Box-Office Bait by Bass,” Show Business Illustrated, January 23, 1962, pp. 48–51;
   ■ Rodman, Howard, “The Name Behind the Title,” Village Voice, July 12, 1988, 57–58;
   ■ “Saul Bass,” Film Comment, vol. 18 no. 3 (1982): pp. 62+; Supanick, Jim, “Saul Bass: To Hit the Ground Running,” Film Comment, March/April, 1997, pp. 73–76+;
   ■ Thomas, Jr. , Robert McG. , “Saul Bass, 75, Designer, Dies; Made Art Out of Movie Titles,” New York Times, April 27, 1996; Zeitlin, David, “Seen Any Good Titles Lately?” Life, February 7, 1964.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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