Words form gunfire, liquid poured into Molotov cocktails: Saul Bass and the art of the motion picture title sequence…
I started editing ONLY CHILD, the next Evelyn Avenue feature, this week, and already I’m thinking about a credits sequence. In the past I’ve handled credits in a pretty straightforward way, providing them over the action of the film. For ONLY CHILD, I want to do something a little more old fashioned, not just because the movie is inspired by some of the noir films of the ’50s and ’60s but because I admire this sort of formal introduction to a cinematic narrative.
Saul Bass is one of my favorite designers of these old credit sequences. His art graced everything from match canisters (above) to corporate brochures and letterhead. He did memorable work for films like AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, SECONDS, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, and SPARTACUS. Some of his most iconic sequences were for Hitchcock, including VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and maybe most famously, PSYCHO. A lot of these credit sequences are available on youtube, and a great book on Bass called SAUL BASS: A LIFE IN FILM AND DESIGN provides interesting if nowhere near exhaustive background information on the film work he did.
About COWBOY, above, the book says: “Color is strong and bright, mainly in ochers, reds, oranges, and lavender. A musical score, composed of a potpourri of Western folk themes, is closely cued to visual mood changes in the title.”
VERTIGO, above, features music by Bernard Herrmann, and spiraling figures created by French mathematician Lissajous (more of these images below) and discovered in a remainder bin science book by Bass.
SECONDS, below, recalls the work Bass did for VERTIGO six or seven years earlier, heavily featuring distorted, disembodied facial features to suggest a disordered mind. The images look like the result of expensive special effects but were achieved using aluminum reflectors.