A celebration of Saul Bass in video and in print


Here’s a great compilation of Saul Bass’s title work thanks to Ian Albinson, editor-in-chief of Art of the Title. The video was put together in order to celebrate the publication of Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham. The 440-page book contains almost 1,500 images of Bass and his work.

Saul Bass is someone you ought to be familiar with if you aren’t already. He designed some of the most memorable opening credits sequences in film history. I actually remember talking to a friend about Bunny Lake is Missing a few years ago. I knew I’d seen it and liked it, but all I could remember were Bass’s credits.

Bass also designed numerous film posters and some of the most recognizable classic logos: AT&T, the United Way, the Girl Scouts of America, Dixie, and United Airlines. There have been wonderful homages to Bass over the years, including the end credits to The Incredibles, with those great angular characters coursing dynamically across the screen.

Thanks to Deadline, here is Christian Annyas’s excellent site with stills of Bass’s title sequences. After the jump, I’ve compiled a handful of Bass’s opening title sequences so you can see them in full and admire how bad ass Bass was. Some I couldn’t embed, so I urge you all to also watch the opening sequences to North by Northwest and the madcap wonder of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

[Via Deadline]

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

Watching the title sequence from Around the World in Eighty Days, I wonder how an audience today would feel about an extended sequence like this. Is there still patience enough or pleasure for this sort of thing if you’re not an old fuddy-dud like me? As a kid, it was a treat watching these longer title sequences, like in non-Bass offerings such as The Great Race, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and even Superman III. I have very fond memories of the Bond credits as well. It was all like a satisfying warm up to the movie.

Vertigo (1958)

vertigo start titles

The Vertigo title sequence is a fine marriage of sound and vision. When joined with Bernard Herrmann’s sinister score, we’re given the sense of some menacing, dizzying, paranoid mind, visualized by that hellish series of spirographs. Bass also designed the film’s poster using similar imagery. Also check out the downright eerie Bass title sequence from Seconds for another fix of inspired design.

Ocean’s Eleven (1960)

Saul Bass title sequence - Ocean's Eleven (1960)

Here’s a nice swinging, swanky opening for Ocean’s Eleven, evoking the vibe of Vegas at the time. Bass’s final title sequence was for Martin Scorsese’s Casino, much less playful than what’s here given the tone of that movie. It’s a bit like this Ocean’s Eleven opening merged with his title sequences for Seconds, Vertigo, and Exodus.

Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

On Annyas’s site with the Bass stills, there’s a telling quote about Bass’s powers as a designer. In a February 7, 1964 issue of LIFE Magazine, David Zeitlin wrote, “So important have the titles become that they can be a menace to the movie itself. The titles for the 1962 production of Walk on the Wild Side, for example, were so arresting and so widely acclaimed that the film is remembered for little else.”

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)

And so I come back to Bunny Lake is Missing, and maybe Zeitlin’s assessment was right. One day I’ll finally rewatch Bunny Lake is Missing. Maybe I’ll remember more than the opening credits. Maybe. Ask me again in a few years.

It’s fitting to close with some of Bass’s own words, also from Annyas’s site. Here’s the credo any artist ought to live by:

I want everything we do — that I do personally, that our office does — to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether a client understands that that’s worth anything, or that a client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things. Even if nobody cares.

--Saul Bass, Bass on Titles, 1977

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.