Until the mid 1950’s, walking into a movie theater and seeing the opening credits scrolling across the silver screen meant you still had time to run back to the concession stand and snag some popcorn and soda before the movie really got going.  This changed in 1954 -55 when designer Saul Bass began working on the title sequences of Otto Preminger’s films.

In 1938, Bass began his career as a Graphic Designer (otherwise known as a Commercial Artist in those days) in the New York office of Warner Bros with very little formal schooling.  Six years later, at age 24, he enrolled at Brooklyn College and two years later, moves to LA to work with a different agency, bringing the New York school of design to the West coast.  In 1952 he opened his own design studio and two years later began his massively innovative work in the film industry.

When I began to do titles many, many years ago – the dark ages, when designers lived in caves – I went though a very intense learning experience with some extraordinary film makers,” Saul Bass – 1996

Bass brought two ideas to the table when dealing with film that had never been considered before.  First off, he felt that title sequences were an untapped outlet for expression.  He used opening sequences to get the audience into the appropriate mood  and set the tone for the film they were about to see.  Secondly, he unified every element of advertising for film including logos, posters, opening sequences and even stationary.

Man With the Golden Arm - 1955

Saul Bass took a lot of inspiration from the works of Paul Rand.  They both relied heavily on simplified shapes, but were far more expressive that minimalist design seen in constructivism.  Bass cut shapes out by hand to assemble his designs leaving uneven edges and corners which added a casual quality to the forms.  His ability to evoke strong emotions from simplified forms is most apparent in the crooked arm from his work on “The Man with the Golden Arm,” the hands reaching for a rifle in “Exodus,” and the dismembered body from “Anatomy of a Murder.”

Although Saul Bass is mostly remembered for his innovative work in the film industry, his logo work is just as unforgettable.  Much of his work has withstood the test of time such as logos for United Way, Girl Scouts of America, Dixie, and AT&T.  Honestly, the fact that Saul Bass designed the first AT&T globe logo makes receiving my monthly cell phone bill a bit more bearable (even thought the logo has been updated since then.)


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