West side story (1961)
- Directed by:
- Robert Wise
- Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris
- Title design:
- Saul Bass
From “Bass on titles,” an on-camera interview with Bass, about his work on title sequences:
Interviewer: “Coming up next: the titles for West side story and It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. Each is considerably longer than most of your titles. Just how long should a title be?”
Saul Bass: “You know, Abe Lincoln when asked how long a man’s leg should be said:“Long enough to reach the ground.” Well, these titles needed longer legs than most. This is not uncommon for adaptations of stage plays, musicals. They just have to carry a double set of credits. In addition to accommodating a lot of information each title still had to deal with it’s relationship to the film.
West side story had an additional problem. The film ends with the violent deaths of major characters. It was powerful stuff. We thought the audience might appreciate the titles coming at the end so they would have some time to pull themselves together before the lights came up. It was sort of a decompression chamber. The grafitti device seemed appropiate because it grew right out of the visual environment of the film itself and could incidently also accomodate a lot of credit material.” — Saul Bass
In the credits of West Side Story, Bass inserted the initials “SB-EM,” barely visible on a wall of grafitti, but took sole credit for the title work. A Bass office press release from 1979 notes that Elaine assisted on the titles for West Side Story and Walk on the Wild Side. – Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design, Jan-Christopher Horak
You’ll find more titles like “West side story” in the 1960-1964 and 1960s trailers sections.