Ad man. Graphics guru. Iconic logo creator. Title designer. Academy Award-winning filmmaker. Saul Bass was all of these things and more. Yet, although his most memorable movie posters for Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are instantly recognisable, his name may not be.
Life And Saul Of The Party
Meet the real Mad Man
Ad man. Graphics guru. Iconic logo creator. Title designer. Academy Award-winning filmmaker. Saul Bass was all of these things and more. Yet, although his most memorable movie posters for Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are instantly recognisable, his name may not be. Born 8 May 1920 in New York, Saul spent most of his life in Los Angeles – carving out his career until he passed away in 1996.
He began his career in advertising until he got his first major break – a poster for the movie Carmen Jones (1954). The poster was a gamechanger for Saul and many were to follow in true Saul Bass style. An abstract, disjointed and choppy graphic style that was perfectly suited to the dark subject matter most of the movies covered. Indeed, it was a style that became synonymous with the great designer.
“When it comes to titles and poster design, Saul Bass used more of an iconographic approach, making a point to set the mood before anything else, which made it to where he moved away a lot from traditional narrative literacy.” (Wikipedia)
Director, producer and actor, Otto Preminger who directed Carmen Jones was so impressed with the opening and closing titles that he invited Saul to work on a number of his films, including – a highly controversial and taboo subject for its time – The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), which stars Frank Sinatra as a helpless heroin addict.
As well as Otto Preminger, Saul Bass worked with some of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood including Alfred Hitchcock (Bass even designed and invented a new type of kinetic typography for Hitchcock’s movies Vertigo (1959), North By Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960); Stanley Kubrick; Martin Scorsese and Billy Wilder.
Saul Bass was as much a sole innovator of groundbreaking design as he was a successful collaborator. Elaine Makatura co-directed and produced Spartacus (1960) with him. And the two married upon the movie’s release, and continued to work in close collaboration up until their last movie Casino (1995). The last movies they produces title sequences for were box office hits Cape Fear (1991), Goodfellas (1990), The Age of Innocence (1993) and Casino (1995).
But Saul was also a genius collaborator outside of marriage. He became part of what was to be known as ‘the holy trinity of 20th century logo design’. These designers included no less than Milton Glaser (famed for his I love New York logo), Paul Rand (who created the unforgettable multinational brand marks for IBM, ABC and UPS), and of course, Saul Bass. A few of Bass’ logos that have stood the test of time, include Kleenex; Minolta; AT&T; Warner Communications; Quaker Oats, Geffen records – the list, predominantly American but recognised around the globe, is exhaustive. Could there be a ‘holier trinity of 20th century logo design’?
Styles, fads and fashions come and go, which in turn affect the most important mark of the brand, the logo. Brand marks have a short shelf-life; they need to change with the times. But Bass was a prolific, influential and iconic logo designer (arguably the most inspirational logo designer that ever lived) – and we’re not talking one or two, he was consistently creating some of the world’s most memorable throughout his lifetime. What’s more, a perfect, professionally designed logo is said to last around ten years.
Saul’s lasted a little longer.
“Christian Annyas, a web designer, in 2011 studied Bass’ creations for longevity to discover that the average lifespan of one of Saul Bass’ logos is a staggering 34 years.” (Christian Annyas)
Until now, I’ve mentioned some of world’s greatest influencers and disruptors within graphic design. But I feel it is pertinent, at this stage, to mention a few more designers who have, and continue to, radically and often controversially change the face of graphic design, such as David Carson, Peter Saville, Chip Kidd and Rob Janoff (hey, someone had to come up with the Apple logo, thanks Rob).
I earlier stated that Saul Bass was arguably the most inspirational logo designer that ever lived. After giving this a lot of thought – there are a lot of good graphic designers out there, I’d like to say that Saul Bass was indeed the greatest the world has ever known. Why? Because, apart from all of the unforgettable, distinctly Saul style poster images and title credits, this man led the way. He was a man of many, many talents in the world of graphics. And he wasn’t creating brand marks for small, insignificant companies – if you were a major corporation and wanting a mark that stands the test of time then you better call Saul.
While researching this post there’s a lot about Saul Bass that I never knew. And I’d like to finish it on a fact that I found particularly interesting, partly because I’m a big horror fan and they don’t get much more infamous than Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).
So as we know, Saul created the title sequence for the movie. But that’s not all he can be credited for. The storyboards of possibly the most famous shower scene of all time were drawn singlehandedly by Saul and Hitchcock followed these frame by frame in his direction. Through doing so many people including critics believe it was Bass who directed the iconic scene. And it wasn’t only the opening and closing scenes that Saul drew up – there were several more. In this sense the film owes its legacy to Saul Bass, and not Alfred Hitchcock.
And the fascinating facts don’t end there. In Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Saul is of course the man behind the movie poster. But there was never just one. He created a number of options, as well as suggestions for scenes which Kubrick rejected. Kubrick was undoubtedly one of best film directors that ever lived. But how would the film look if Saul Bass, arguably the greatest graphic designer of all times, get his way? Sadly, we will never know.
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