Quick, how many title sequence designers can you name? I’m willing to bet most of you got no further than Saul Bass, which says more about him than it does about us — the man responsible for some of the most ubiquitously reprinted poster and credit designs in film history may never have made a feature, but he’s acquired the kind of hushed, revered status most cinephiles reserve for auteurs. (He did, however, direct several shorts, nabbing an Oscar for one of them.)
Even those of you who don’t know his name know his work: the credit sequences of “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “West Side Story” and several 1990s Martin Scorsese pictures; multiple iconic posters, ranging from “The Man With the Golden Arm” to “The Shining”; away from the movies, the corporate logos of AT&T and Kleenex. I have little choice but to think of Bass at least once a day: a poster storyboard of his opening titles for “Anatomy of a Murder” adorns my living room wall. As the son of a graphic designer, I was raised to be hyper-aware (not to mention hyper-critical) of movie credits: Bass, I was taught, was the gold standard. 16 years after his last film job (the title sequence of “Casino,” released one year before his death), he remains so.
Bass would have been an ideal candidate for an honorary Oscar in his time; it’s a shame the Academy never got around to it. They are, however, doing their bit now by hosting a tribute evening to Bass with New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “Saul Bass: A Life and Film and Design” will take place on Monday, and coincides with the publication of the book of the same title. From the Academy’s press release:
Beverly Hills, CA – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will present “Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design,” celebrating one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed designers, on Monday, November 14, at 7 p.m. at MoMA in New York City. The evening’s special guests will include design historian Pat Kirkham; designer and writer Chip Kidd; and graphic designer Kyle Cooper, who has created title sequences for “Seven” (1995), “X-Men: First Class” (2011), the “Spider-Man” trilogy and others. The event is part of To Save and Project: The Ninth MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation, and will also feature the premiere of the Academy Film Archive’s new restoration of Bass’s Oscar®-winning short “Why Man Creates” (1968).
Bass, who created some of the most compelling images of postwar visual culture, often in collaboration with his wife Elaine, permanently transformed the worlds of corporate identity and graphic design. He is also widely known for his design work in film, particularly his iconic title sequences, and for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorsese. Bass died in 1996.
This presentation also marks the publication of a new book, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, designed by Jennifer Bass (Saul’s daughter) and written by Kirkham, who knew Bass personally.
Tickets to “Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design” are available online at http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/films/1210. Tickets are $12 each. MoMa is located at 11 West 53rd Street in New York City. For more information, visit http://www.oscars.org.