27 December 2016

Saul Bass:
A Life in Film and Design

Saul Bass

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design, the first book devoted to the work of Saul Bass, is a comprehensive monograph on one of the greatest graphic designers of the past century. Alongside Paul Rand, Bass reinvented American corporate branding, though he is best remembered for his groundbreaking film title sequences: “With his work in titles, Saul would elevate the opening of Hollywood films to the status of an art form.”

The title sequences and posters for Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder were revolutionary. For each film, Bass created a deceptively simple graphic silhouette: a hand and forearm for the former, and the outline of a body for the latter. His poster and title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo maintained the concept of a single motif (in this case, a spiral), though Bass achieved a kaleidoscopic effect in the animated opening titles.

Bass also designed the title sequence for Hitchcock’s Psycho, and he received an additional credit as pictorial consultant. The extent of his contribution to the film has been in dispute ever since: Bass drew storyboards for the shower scene, and later claimed that he was largely responsible for filming the sequence, though Hitchcock’s other collaborators have refuted this. (Some of the Bass sketches for the shower scene are also reproduced in The Art of Movie Storyboards.)

In the Bass/Hitchcock debate, the book sides squarely with Bass: “It is time for Saul’s contribution to the shower scene to be acknowledged”. The authors even suggest that Bass had artistic control over the scene: “After the sequence was shot, Hitchcock insisted on two inserts... Trusting Hitchcock’s vision Saul agreed.”

The book, written by Pat Kirkham and designed by the designer’s daughter Jennifer, includes a preface by Martin Scorsese, who describes the “beautiful nightmare vortex” of Vertigo. Kirkham interviewed Bass for Sight and Sound magazine (February 1994) and wrote a thirty-page article on Bass and Hitchcock for the journal West 86th (Spring 2011); she also co-edited the magnificent History of Design.