Graphic designer Saul Bass was born on May 8, 1920, making this year the 94th anniversary of his birth (Bass died in 1996). Before we look at the Bass/Hitchcock connection, let’s take a look at what made Bass’s career so memorable.
You may have never heard the name Saul Bass before, but you are definitely familiar with his work. Bass designed dozens of corporate logos, many of which became iconic over time. Everything from the AT&T “bell” logo, to the Warner Brothers’ “W” logo, and many others that you would instantly recognize, all were created by Saul Bass.
Take a look at the following corporate logos, all designed by Saul Bass. How many do you recognize? This is just a small portion of his total output over a 40 year career.
Saul Bass was so good at marrying a logo to a brand, creating “brand recognition”, that it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling, asking Bass to design movie posters. Saul Bass designed dozens of iconic movie posters over a span of 4 decades. Let’s take a look at just a few of his many memorable posters, including three that he designed for Alfred Hitchcock.
Saul Bass’ most significant contribution to movies was not his iconic posters, however, but his title sequences. Movie directors began approaching Bass in the 1950’s to create innovative and memorable opening title sequences for films. Bass’ first title sequence was for the 1954 movie “Carmen Jones”, and his last was for Martin Scorsese’s 1990 release “Casino.” Within that 36-year span Saul Bass created many ground-breaking title sequences. It is not an understatement to say that Bass single-handedly changed movie title sequences.
This is what Saul Bass had to say about creating a title sequence: “My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”
Saul Bass created three title sequences for Alfred Hitchcock: for Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. All three of his sequences are pitch-perfect; all succeed in “setting the audience up”, as Bass once put it. It is worth noting that all three of these films were scored by Bernard Herrmann, and in each instance Saul Bass’ title sequence works in unison with Herrmann’s score to put the audience in a particular frame of mind, a particular emotional state, before seeing one image of Hitchcock’s movie, or hearing one line of dialogue.
Saul Bass’ legacy lives on beyond his death. Not only are many of his corporate logos still used today, but his movie posters are collectors’ items, and the title sequences he designed are seen every time somebody watches one of the classic films he was involved with. Below you can watch Bass’s unforgettable title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Note how in sync Bass’ title sequence is with Bernard Herrmann’s beautiful score. (All rights to the movie Vertigo are owned by Universal Pictures.)