Saul Bass directed only one feature — the interesting science-fiction movie Phase IV — but worked in a wide variety of design fields. He began in the movies as a poster designer but came to be the leading name in the specialised field of designing title sequences, working in the 1950s and ’60s with Otto Preminger (The Man With The Golden Arm), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo) and Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus), and on prestige projects like West Side Story and The Big Country, contributing especially to the design of the shower murder sequence in Psycho. Decades on, he returned to the field to deliver the openings of GoodFellas, Casino and Cape Fear. It takes a major filmmaker to live up to a Saul Bass titles sequence, which perhaps explains why he worked mostly with megalomaniac geniuses: few remember anything about Edward Dmytryk’s Walk On The Wild Side after Bass’ astonishing title sequence, which follows a cat through night-time New Orleans.
Written by art historian Pat Kirkham and Bass’ daughter Jennifer, the book covers in detail each of Bass’ title sequences and the ad campaigns that spun off from them — he was a master at selecting a key image (the broken body of Anatomy Of A Murder, the kinked arm of The Man With The Golden Arm) which could be used to brand a film. The book was begun with Bass’ input (he died in 1996) and includes his own thoughts on each of the key projects, along with a host of alternative or variant designs. Aside from Phase IV, which is given slightly short shrift, Bass directed a series of visually remarkable, high-profile short films, which tend to the experimental and visionary and yet still earned Oscars: Why Man Creates, The Solar Film, Notes On The Popular Arts, Quest. On the strength of his directorial output, he counts as a major science-fiction filmmaker.
Less known, but almost as interesting, is his work in corporate design. Many familiar logos (especially to Americans) are his work, including the ’80s/’90s colophons of Warner Bros., Geffen Films and other instantly recognisable images you usually don’t think of as the product of someone’s mind. This book seemingly looks at every piece of artwork created for a vast range of products, and picks out the ineffable coolness Bass brought to packaging a pair of tights for supermarket racks as much as to crafting the opening sequence of The Age Of Innocence.
Reviewed by Kim Newman