Saul Bass’ title sequences.

“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.

Until then the credits were referred to as ‘popcorn time.’ Audiences resented them and projectionists only pulled back the curtains to reveal the screen once they’d finished.
Saul Bass’ powerful title sequence for “The Man With the Golden Arm” changed the way directors and designers would treat the opening titles.


In Bass’ own words: “My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”

Bass created some of the best title sequences ever for some of the best directors who ever lived (Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese) and some of the best films ever made (Vertigo, North by northwest, Anatomy of a murder, Spartacus, Goodfellas).


Related:
Saul Bass logo design: then and now
Saul Bass’ movie posters: then and now
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) movie poster design
Vertigo (1958) movie poster design


Most of the title sequences Bass designed are available on DVD. I’ve located 46 of the 55 title sequences he created. On the next six pages you’ll find an overview with links to blogposts featuring over a thousand stills and an occasional video.

15 years after his death Bass’ work is still very much alive, yet few people who claim to be inspired by him have seen much of his work. Here’s your chance to see a fraction of the work Bass has done during his long and prolific career: Saul Bass’ title sequences.

Saul Bass title sequence Carmen Jones 1954

“I began as a graphic designer and as part of my work I created
many film symbols for ad campaigns. During that period I happened to be working on the symbols for ‘Carmen Jones’ and ‘The man with the golden arm’ for Otto Preminger. At one point in our work Otto and I just looked at
each other and said: “why not make it move?” It was really as simple as that.”

— SAUL BASS – “Bass on titles,” 1977

Saul Bass The seven year itch 1955 title sequence
The big knife 1955 title sequence
Saul Bass The man with the golden arm 1955 title sequence

“‘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

Storm center 1956 title sequence
Attack 1956 title sequence