Saul Bass: Film & Design
Saul Bass (1920-1996) was one of the best, beloved and prolific designers of all time. When he worked for film studios he offered them a package: main and credit titles, a symbol or trademark, a screen trailer, posters (half sheets, one sheet, three sheet, six sheet, twenty-four sheet), an insert, lobby cards, trade ads and magazine ads.
Until today I had never seen all of Bass work for the film in one place. I just assumed everything would be slight variations of the one sheet poster.
Thanks to Jennifer, Saul Bass’ daughter, who was so kind to send me most of these images, I can now offer you an almost complete picture of the Anatomy of a murder marketing campaign.
I never imagined there would be so many variations and iterations.
Posters, inserts, billboards, at least eight different ads, stationery, an album cover, a title sequence, and everything is different!
I don’t see any studio doing that today.
Related: Saul Bass’ movie posters: then and now
Bass created identities for movies. A brand. One single designer who was responsible for the look and feel of the entire marketing campaign of a film. Today it’s different. Various companies are hired for the design of posters, trailer and commercials. The industry has become so fragmented that the amount of movies with a recognizable identity is decreasing each year.
Related: Saul Bass logo design: then and now
Pat Kirkham, auther of the book Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design explains the concept of Bass’ design:
Saul’s pun on anatomy aligns the dissection of a human body with the dissection of a body of evidence in a court of law. The abstraction distances the viewer while the figuration pulls in the opposite direction. Here, as elsewhere in his work, we see Saul’s fascination with the “primitive”; each piece looks as if it has been cut out by an untutored hand. The hand lettering in various sizes and forms signals inconsistency; every version of every letter is different, just as every version of events is different in this film about a lawyer who comes to doubt his client’s story.
Saul Bass about logo design:
“If I do my job well, the identity program will also clean up the image of the company, position it as being contemporary and keep it from ever looking dated”.
This could have been about movie poster design as well if we replace ‘company’ with ‘movie.’ Seventeen years after his death much of Bass’ work still looks contemporary or timeless. His work is like good movies like Anatomy of a murder: it keeps getting better with each viewing.
The movie is made available on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection and features Bass’ one sheet poster design.
Related: The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) movie poster design + Vertigo (1958) movie poster design
The red version is the original concept Bass created for the film. It was privately in a limited edition.
“Working closely within the framework of a fine contemporary jazz score, the title sequence had a staccato and fragmented style. The various pieces of the segmented figure quickly form its total configuration after which arms, legs, head, body and hands pop on and off in counterpoint with the appearance of the various credits… finally, a pair of hands appears with quick, successive jumps forward, obliterating and blackening the screen. At this point the first scene of the film begins.”
Don’t forget to visit my collection of (almost) all title sequences designed by Saul Bass, from Carmen Jones (1954) to Casino (1995).