Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design
Saul Bass died more than 15 years ago. At the time he started working on a book about his own life and career. Eleven years ago Bass’ daughter Jenny took over. Due to copyright issues the book never saw the light of day. Thanks to the assistence of Martin Scorsese that changed last weekend, when Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design hit the shelves.
I haven’t seen the book yet, but since it’s written by Pat Kirkham it has to be good. A good example of her writing style and research capabilities is this fantastic 9-pages-long article: Reassessing the Saul Bass and Alfred Hitchcock Collaboration. A must-read if you’re interested in cinema and/or design history.
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
The cover of the book sports a detail of the design Bass did for the Otto Preminger movie ‘The man with the golden arm (1955). When Bass 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, a window card, trade ads and magazine ads.
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.
The images on this page show how the initial design changed according to the shape and sizes of the items it was printed on. The first image is Bass’ initial design, before it was ‘diluted’ by the studio. It was screen printed during the 1980s. Rich or generous people can buy me a copy here. The last poster is the version that was used for the re-release of the movie in 1960.
The design also appeared on the press book and soundtrack album covers (three different versions). I don’t own a copy of the press book, which makes it impossible to tell if this collection of movie marketing material is complete.
According to Kirkham Bass was credited as art director and artist for most of the advertising campaign but award citations (almost certainly supplied by him) credit him as both art director and artist, plus Phyllis Tanner, Al Kallis, and Maury Nemoy as artists. Nemoy worked with Bass on the lettering.
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
“PROJECTIONISTS – PULL CURTAIN BEFORE TITLES”.
This is the text of a note that was stuck on the cans when the reels of film for “The Man With the Golden Arm” arrived at US movie theatres in 1955. Before the mid-1950s, all credits were shown at the beginning of a film. These sequences were often quite static. Audiences resented them and projectionists only pulled back the curtains to reveal the screen once they’d finished.
“‘The man with the golden arm’ woke everybody up and said: “This is what the potential is for main titles. You thought this was just a throw-away kind of thing where we just put the type up and noone really designs it.” And Saul Bass said:“Hey, wait a minute designers, directors, here’s an opportunity for us, to take advantage of this real estate at the beginning of a movie and use it to help tell the story or just use it to make something real interesting or beautiful,” and everybody woke up.”
— KYLE COOPER, designer of the Se7en title sequence, in the documentary “Saul Bass, title champ,” 2008
Visit the Movie title stills collection to view stills and the video of the The man with the golden arm (1955) title sequence.
The title sequence cost $3,500. It catapulted Bass to international fame and he would continue to design great posters, logos and title sequences.
Want more Saul Bass? Buy the book: Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design