Born: New York, New York
“My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”
– Saul Bass
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Saul Bass was born in May 8, 1920 in New York City. He studied at the Art Student’s League in Manhattan until attending classes with Gyorgy Kepes at Brooklyn College. He began his time in Hollywood doing print work for film ads, until he collaborated with filmmaker Otto Preminger to design the movie poster for his 1954 film Carmen Jones. Preminger was so impressed with Bass’s work that he asked him to produce the title sequence as well. This was when Bass first saw the opportunity to create something more than a title sequence, but to create something which would ultimately enhance the experience of the audience and tell the beginning of the story within the opening credits. Bass was one of the first to realize upon the storytelling potential of the opening and closing credits of a film.
Movie Title Sequences
Bass became notorious in the industry after creating the title sequence for Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). The subject of the film was a jazz musician’s struggle to overcome his heroin addiction, a taboo subject in the mid 50’s. Bass decided to create a controversial title sequence. He chose the arm as the central image, as the arm is a strong image relating to drug addiction. The titles featured an animated, black paper cut-out arm of a heroin addict. As he expected, it caused quite a sensation.
For Alfred Hitchcock, Bass provided effective, memorable title sequences for North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho. Bass famously claimed that he directed the highlight of Psycho, the tightly edited shower-murder sequence, though many on set at the time (including Janet Leigh) dispute this contention.
It was this kind of innovative, revolutionary work that made Bass the revered graphic designer he is today. His later work with Martin Scorsese saw him move away from the optical techniques that he had pioneered and move into computerised titles, from which he produced the stunning sequence for Casino.
He had been designing title sequences for 40 years before his death in 1996, from films as diverse as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) to Casino (1995). He also designed title sequences for films such as Goodfellas (1990), Doc Hollywood (1991), Cape Fear (1991) and The Age of Innocence (1993), all of which feature new and innovative methods of production and startling graphic design, and all of which attempt to tell some of the story, be it introducing characters or giving plot clues, in the first few minutes of the film.
He also designed the Student Academy Award for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 1974, Bass made his only film as a director, the visually splendid science fiction film Phase IV.