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Saul Bass Goodfellas 1990 title sequence

Goodfellas (1990)

Directed by: 
Martin Scorsese
Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco
Title design: 
Elaine & Saul Bass
Fonts used: 

Related: an overview of almost all Saul Bass title sequences

‘GOODFELLAS’ was the fourth of ten titles Saul Bass designed with his wife Elaine and the first of five designed for Martin Scorsese:
Goodfellas (1990) + Cape Fear (1991) + The Age of Innocence (1993) + A personal journey with Martin Scorsese through American movies (1995) + Casino (1995)

“I read early in my career that Saul Bass said that a main title sequence is supposed to be a metaphor for the movie. I worked on Life lessons for Martin Scorsese – one of the first titles that I did – and I was trying to come up with an idea for Goodfellas.

Through R/Greenberg Associates I was meeting with Martin Scorsese. I was very young in my career, I went to the Brill Building in New York and I went in with my storyboards. He was sitting behind his table and he had a little dog. He was petting the dog and I spit out all my Goodfellas metaphors: I had mafia people and organized criminals and he kept saying;”I don’t like that, that’s not what I’m looking for, that’s not what I’m looking for.”

He showed me the beginning of the movie and if you remember it has Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro and they’re in a car and they’re like:”What’s that? what’s that?” you know, they hear something. Ray Liotta pulls the car over, they open the trunk and there’s this guy Batts in the trunk that’s all bloody.
Thelma Shoemaker was there showing me on the flatbed thing and I’m like:”Oh they found the guy, they can help him! They’re gonna help him, they’re gonna get him out of the trunk!” Joe Pesci pulls out a meat cleaver and kept stabbing the guy. I was all white. Martin Scorsese looked at me and said:”It’s good, right? You like that, right?”

I kept showing him stuff but I wasn’t watching the first scene. The first scene has a car, it has that supplementary murder and then it has Ray Liotta who opens the trunk, a red light comes out when they’re gonna go bury Batts and the music kicks in “I’ve gone from rags to riches” and I didn’t watch that. I, as a graphic designer – sort of self-indulgent – was trying to think of what the metaphor for the movie was without watching the first scene of the movie. Martin Scorsese one day got tired of us pitching stuff he didn’t like and he said:”I like those things that Saul Bass used to do” and I said “Oh, he’s in L.A., he’s still around” thinking Martin Scorsese maybe thought he wasn’t alive or didn’t work.

So I got fired.

Saul Bass did an opening sequence which has nothing to do with a metaphor with a metaphor for the movie – an I’ll argue with you about that if you like – it’s panning type of cars going by. It works perfectly because they’re in a car and it’s intercut with driving footage. It has nothing to do with what happens in the movie, it has nothing to do with organized crime, it has nothing to do with a metaphor for the film, it has to do with the beginning of the movie.”

— Kyle Cooper, D&AD President’s Lecture 2009

I had the honor of working with Saul and Elaine Bass on the title sequences of four pictures in a row. Each time they would study the film, take a few months, and then send us back a test that exceeded my wildest expectations. The simple, speeding graphic of the Goodfellas (1990) titles synced to the sound of speeding cars on an expressway … the ominous, wavering reflections in water of phantom images that began Cape fear (1991) … the endlessly blooming flowers, like love renewing itself again and again, under layers of lace for The age of innocence (1993) … the form of a man falling through a neon hell in Casino (1995).

These title sequences didn’t just complement my pictures, they gave them another layer, embodying the themes and the emotions in a way that led viewers into the mystery of the film without giving it all away. And, of course, every sequence was different in style and approach.

There’s a story about someone seeing the titles for Wyler’s The big country (1958) and remarking to Saul that it “didn’t look like a Saul Bass sequence.” There was only the movie – not the script, but the living movie.

There was only one Saul Bass. He was a gentleman, a brilliant raconteur, a marvelous collaborator and, as I’ve said before, a truly great artist. And – let’s be honest – a giant.

— Martin Scorsese – “Saul Bass’ cinematic art”, February 2010 issue of Architectural Digest

EDIT: Available in November: Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham. Available for pre-order from Amazon
Designed by Saul Bass’s daughter Jennifer and written by distinguished design historian Pat Kirkham, who knew Saul Bass, this book contains more than 1,400 illustrations, many from the Bass archive and never published before, providing an in-depth account of one of the leading graphic artists of the 20th century. This definitive study is eagerly anticipated by design and film enthusiasts.

Hardback | 1484 illustrations, 440 pages | £48.00
More Saul Bass related articles: Saul Bass logo design: then and now + Saul Bass’ movie posters: then and now + Vertigo movie poster design

You’ll find more related titles and typography in the 1990-1994 section.