Graphic Designer Saul Bass and his Foray into Movies

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Saul Bass is a graphic designer whose work is far more popular than his works. His work appears in movies by many great directors such as Martin Scorcese, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger. If you have seen “Catch me If you Can”, Mad Men, or any other movie with a title sequence then you have seen Bass’s influence.

Throughout his 40 year career, Bass was a perfectionist in the graphic design and title sequence industry. Before he got involved in the film industry, title sequences consisted of text in front of a less than a static background, followed by credits, music and then the film.

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Bass thought the process was such that the movie starts when the projector starts rolling. Where before the title sequence was merely used to introduce the characters, the cast and the title, which the audiences already knew, Bass used the title sequence to introduce the film’s themes and moods.

Kepes who was Bass’s teacher in college believes in the philosophy of “visual language” which is a good entry point into the work of Bass.  In his seminal book “Language of Vision,” Kepes writes:

The visual language is capable of disseminating knowledge more effectively than almost any other vehicle of communication. With it, man can express and relay his experiences in object form. Visual communication is universal and international: it knows no limits of tongue, vocabulary, or grammar, and it can be perceived by the illiterate as well as by the literate. Visual language can convey facts and ideas in a wider and deeper range than almost any other means of communication. It can reinforce the static verbal concept with the sensory vitality of dynamic imagery.

Kepes message, while it might go a little far is clear: the visual is a more far reaching, democratic, and more accessible form of communication than written communication is.

Bass clearly incorporates Kepes words in his own work. In his two-minute title sequence for Preminger’s 1959 “Autonomy of a Murder,” bass interpretation of a body being broken down and deforming into its constituent parts and reforming again, captured all the courtroom drama in its essence, that is, a lawyer piecing together constituent parts to assemble a case in which, quite literally, a body is at stake.