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Saul Bass

Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design

Jan-Christopher Horak
Series: Screen Classics
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Saul Bass
    Book Description:

    Iconic graphic designer and Academy Award--winning filmmaker Saul Bass (1920--1996) defined an innovative era in cinema. His title sequences for films such as Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959), and Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch (1955) introduced the idea that opening credits could tell a story, setting the mood for the movie to follow. Bass's stylistic influence can be seen in popular Hollywood franchises from the Pink Panther to James Bond, as well as in more contemporary works such as Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (2002) and television's Mad Men.

    The first book to examine the life and work of this fascinating figure, Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design explores the designer's revolutionary career and his lasting impact on the entertainment and advertising industries. Jan-Christopher Horak traces Bass from his humble beginnings as a self-taught artist to his professional peak, when auteur directors like Stanley Kubrick, Robert Aldrich, and Martin Scorsese sought him as a collaborator. He also discusses how Bass incorporated aesthetic concepts borrowed from modern art in his work, presenting them in a new way that made them easily recognizable to the public.

    This long-overdue book sheds light on the creative process of the undisputed master of film title design -- a man whose multidimensional talents and unique ability to blend high art and commercial imperatives profoundly influenced generations of filmmakers, designers, and advertisers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4720-8
    Subjects: History, Film Studies, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: Qui êtes-vous, Saul Bass?
    (pp. 1-32)

    The Forty-First Academy Awards ceremony took place on 14 April 1969 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, on what used to be Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles. It was the first Oscar ceremony to be broadcast worldwide and the first held at that location. As usual, it was a star-studded affair. Katharine Hepburn was nominated as best actress for the second year in a row, this time forThe Lion in Winter, an award she would have to share with Barbra Streisand forFunny Girl—the only time there has been a tie in this category. Saul and Elaine Bass,...

  4. 1 Designer and Filmmaker
    (pp. 33-70)

    One of the most striking aspects of Saul Bass’s epically successful career as a designer was that he was essentially an autodidact without formal academic training. While his official biographies note that he studied with Howard Trafton and Gyorgy Kepes (the latter a superstar designer in his own right), the fact was that Bass’s “studies” were limited to a handful of night-school courses. Bass was always very modest on this point, reminding interviewers that there were few opportunities to study graphic design in America at that time because “commercial art” was considered a lowly profession.¹ Though it is true that...

  5. 2 Film Titles: Theory and Practice
    (pp. 71-128)

    Having previously branded himself as the most innovative designer of modern Hollywood film titles, Saul Bass took a twenty-year hiatus. BetweenSeconds(1966) andBroadcast News(1987), he designed only a couple of titles for Otto Preminger, as well asThat’s Entertainment II(1976).¹ He took his name off the credits forLooking for Mr. Goodbar(1977) after a monumental fight with director Richard Brooks, but by then, title work was no longer a factor in the Bass studio business. Apparently, title work on several films in the late 1960s fell through, including a planned prologue and title forHawaii...

  6. 3 Creating a Mood: Pars pro toto
    (pp. 129-190)

    Bauhaus and Gestalt aesthetics influenced Saul Bass’s art, nowhere more visibly than in his film posters, which often reduced a film’s narrative content to a single iconic image. The designer’s later reputation as a creator of pithy corporate logos provides a clue to his method: Bass had an extreme talent for capturing the essence of a film’s narrative in a single abstract, highly iconographic image; this image, through its metonymic quality, would then become the central visual idea or logo for an advertising campaign. Most historians credit Bass as being the inventor of the film logo, which “is the figurative...

  7. 4 Modernism’s Multiplicity of Views
    (pp. 191-226)

    If one important conceptual strategy for Saul Bass’s design work waspars pro toto(finding a single image to stand for the whole), then another strategy he developed early on was creating wholes out of many individual parts. Photomontages were important in the Bauhaus, with Moholy-Nagy creating some of the most striking examples, because they taught design students about spatial proportions within the frame and the juxtaposition of intellectual content. Bass’s movie advertisements demonstrate that he was a master at both. Montage on a two-dimensional surface takes the form of a multiplicity of images often separated into panels on a...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 The Urban Landscape
    (pp. 227-264)

    Saul Bass lived in New York City until 1946, when he was twenty-six years old. At the time, it was still the most modern urban environment in the world. Indeed, going back to the turn of the twentieth century, European and American modernists considered New York the modern city par excellence. Walt Whitman sang its praises in his poem “Mannahatta,” first published in the 1860 edition ofThe Leaves of Grass: “High growths of iron, slender, strong, splendidly uprising toward clear skies.” Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, and Alvin Langdon Coburn captured not only the explosion of skyscrapers before World War...

  10. 6 Journeys of Discovery: Seeing Is Knowledge
    (pp. 265-304)

    A journey takes one to new places and allows one to see new things. Travel broadens horizons, changes perspectives, forces new points of view through the unavoidable confrontation with previously unknown geographies, environments, and peoples through the simple act of perception. Seeing is therefore a form of knowledge. Travel (whether actual or virtual) and acquisition of knowledge about the world are indelibly linked. We tend to forget that before the twentieth century, individuals who were not members of the ruling class rarely traveled and had few concepts of what the world looked like beyond their own horizon. The invention of...

  11. 7 Civilization: Organizing Knowledge through Communication
    (pp. 305-356)

    Saul Bass’sWhy Man Creates(1968) begins with an animated scene of “prehistoric” cave dwellers attempting to kill a steer-like animal more than twice their size. After the first attempt fails, because the animal is too big and they are afraid of it, they discuss the matter and decide that one of them will act as bait while the others spear the animal from behind as it chases the lone hunter. The dead steer’s image is then reproduced on the wall of a cave, like the cave paintings in Spain and France dating from the Aurignacian period onward. In this...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 357-360)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 361-368)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 369-420)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 421-440)
  16. Index
    (pp. 441-452)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 453-454)