Saul Bass (1920 — 1996) was a one of the greatest graphic designers. He is most famous for his design of film posters and title sequences. Bass worked side-by-side with his wife Elaine Bass for much of his career.
I don’t know about you, but when I see a film, I am there for the opening credits and I stay for the closing sequences.
Why isn’t there an Academy Award for Best Title Design? After all, there are Oscars given for Best Sound Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design, so why not recognize title design too? The Emmy Awards honor television title sequences. Why not the Oscars? Well, there was once, sort of.
At the very first Academy Awards in 1929, The Red Mill won the Oscar for Best Title Writing, an award that recognized the silent film with the best intertitles. But with the new talking pictures, the Title Writing category became obsolete and it was phased out the following year.
In 1999, a Best Title Design category was proposed to the Academy Board of Governors, who meet yearly to consider new award categories, but the idea was nixed.
During his 40-year career Bass worked for some of the world’s greatest filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, and Martin Scorsese. He designed his first credit sequence for Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954). He became well-known in the film industry after creating the startling title sequence for Preminger’s The Man With The Golden Arm in 1955. It’s now iconic. For Hitchcock, Bass designed effective, dynamic, memorable title sequences, inventing a new type of typography for Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), and Psycho.
Bass also designed some of the most iconic corporate logos, including the original AT&T ”bell” logo in 1969, and their ”globe” logo in 1983. He also designed Continental Airlines’ 1968 ”jetstream” logo and United Airlines’ 1974 ”tulip” logo which have become some of the most recognized logos of the 20th century.
In 1955, Elaine Makatura came to work with Bass and after the opening title sequence to Spartacus (1960), for which Elaine co-directed and produced the titles, they married. Much of Bass’s design and film work was made in close collaboration with his wife. They did promotional films for pavilions at the 1964 Seattle World’s Fair, From Here to There for United Airlines and The Searching Eye for Eastman Kodak. They made the short film Why Man Creates (1968) which won an Oscar.
He designed the segmented body motif used for Anatomy Of A Murder (1959), did that jaw-dropping aerial camera swoop across Manhattan before zooming in on a schoolyard at the beginning of West Side Story (1961) and coaxed a black cat to walk through the titles of Walk On The Wild Side (1962), for me, the greatest title sequence of all time.
In his most daring innovation in opening credits, he created for Around the World In 80 Days (1956) a 20-minute mini-film that did not run until the movie ended.
From the mid-60s to the late 1980s, The Basses moved away from main titles to focus on filmmaking and their children. Of this time, Saul has said:
”Elaine and I feel we are there to serve the film and to approach the task with a sense of responsibility. We saw a lot of pyrotechnics and fun and games and I suppose we lost interest. At the same time, an increasing number of directors now sought to open their own films in ambitious ways rather than hire someone else to do it. Whatever the reasons, the result was ‘Fade Out’. We did not worry about it: we had too many other interesting projects to get on with. Equally, because we still loved the process of making titles, we were happy to take it up again when asked. ‘Fade In’…”
In the 1990s, they were rediscovered by Martin Scorsese, who urged the Basses to return to creating title designs. For Scorsese, Elaine and Saul Bass created title sequences for Goodfellas(1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age Of Innocence (1993) and Casino (1995), their final title sequence. Saul Bass’s final commission was the poster for Schindler’s List.