Friday, September 13, 2013

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design
by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham
Foreword by Martin Scorsese

Laurence King Publishers
(distributed in the U.S. by Chronicle)
Hardcover, 428 pages
October 2011
ISBN: 9781856697521

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound
Powell's

I was so excited when Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design came out. I anxiously waited for a good deal and when I found one I immediately bought the book. As with most books I get really excited about, it quickly got queued along with a lot of other books that were begging for my attention. My Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge was just the swift kick in the pants I needed to devote some time to it.

Many people will buy this book, flip through the pages, ogle at Saul Bass' many gorgeous designs and display the book proudly in their homes. But this book deserves so much more than to just be another adornment on someone's coffee table for cursory perusing. It's a beautiful book meant to be slowly consumed with just as much time spent reading the text as looking at the designs.

The book starts off with a foreword by Director Martin Scorsese, a preface by design historian and Bass family friend Pat Kirkham and an additional preface by Saul Bass' daughter Jennifer Bass. Her preface is very touching and reads like a love letter to her dad. It's not to be missed. Right from the beginning we get the sense that Saul Bass didn't do this alone. He collaborated with his talented wife Elaine Bass and had the support of a team that grew to over 50 employees. Bass worked tirelessly up until his death in 1996.

Pat Kirkham wrote most of the text and Jennifer Bass worked on the design and layout of the book as well as curating all of the design work that is so lovingly displayed. Saul Bass had intended to write a book of his own but had to abandon it while in the middle of the process. Many of the writings in his early draft can be found within the pages of this book. It's divided into 6 chapters: 1. From the Beginning; 2. Renaissance Designer, 3. Reinventing Movie Titles, 4. Beginnings, Middles and Ends, 5. The Wheel Comes Full Circle, 6. Corporate Identity, 7. Personal Handwriting. This structure isn't immediately intuitive but works chronologically through Bass' life and career and the necessity for this structured flow becomes apparent as you work through the book.

Saul Bass' work is vast and encompasses many formats and mediums. He did movie title sequences, movie posters and ads, corporate logos, album covers, food and product package designs and he even designed buildings. His portfolio of logos for companies and organizations such as AT&T, The Girl Scouts, The United Way, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Dixie Cups, Warner Communications, etc. is remarkable. He and his wife Elaine also directed short films, commericals and one feature length film Phase IV.

His movie title sequences are what I think most of us are enchanted by and we get to ogle at screen shots of his collaborations with directors such as Otto Preminger (they worked on 13 films together), Alfred Hitchcock (did you know that Bass "designed" the famous shower sequence in Psycho?) and Martin Scorsese (who gave Bass complete creative control).

What's really wonderful about this book is not only are Saul Bass' designs presented to us in a visually appealing format, we are also given the history, context and meaning behind each design. You'll learn a lot about why Bass decided to go with a certain look or design element. He was incredibly thoughtful and retentive and each design, no matter how simple, is packed with meaning and symbolism.

My only very slight criticism of this book is that it is presented with bias and definitely glorifies Bass and his work. His talent was incredible and after reading this I wonder if he was super-human and almost without fault? Who knows, maybe he was? Otherwise, this book is a glorious tribute to an incredibly talented man. I love the last chapter which includes quotes, reminiscences and advice from the man himself.

Here are some quotes from Saul Bass and from the book in general along with some of my favorite Saul Bass designs. I also included a making-of-the-book trailer from the publisher. This is my sixth and final entry for my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.



On Movie Title Sequences - "... the nature of films was changing, partly in terms of content but also because of competition from television - opening up new possibilities for designers like Saul." - pg 16
On Creativity - "Interesting things happen when creative impulse is cultivated with curiosity, freedom and intensity." - Saul Bass
On Conformity "... Saul noted the links between creativity and non-conformity, pointing to the fear of risk-taking and the stigma attached to failure in a success-oriented society." - pg. 32
 On Criticism -  "You see an artist, a creative person, can accept criticism or can live with the criticism much more easily than with being ignored. Criticism makes you feel alive. If somebody is bothered enough by what you have done to speak vituperatively about it, you feel have touched a nerve and you are at least “in touch.” You are not happy that he doesn’t like it, but you feel you are in contact with life.”- Saul Bass
On Movie Title Squences - "Saul believed that a film, like a symphony, deserved a mood-setting overture, and used ambiguity, layering and texture as well as startingly compact imagery to reshape the time before the film proper began.” p. 106
On the Care and Feeding of Creative People - "When a client repeatedly rejects good ideas the effect on creative people can be devastating. Joy evaporates, motivation diminishes. Conversely, when a client recognizes and supports excellent work, the motivation to be even better is enhanced.”- Saul Bass
On Saul Bass’ ideal title – “a simplicity which also as a certain ambiguity and a certain metaphysical implication that makes that simplicity vital. If it’s simple simple, it’s boring.” pg. 107 

Title sequence for Ocean's 11 (1960)



Title sequence for The Man With a Golden Arm (1955)


Cover of the music album Tone Poems of Color conducted by Frank Sinatra


Corporate Logos by Saul Bass


Anatomy of a Murder (1959) movie poster


Bonjour Tristesse (1958) movie poster




2 comments:

  1. I loved your review and would love to read this book!

    I had no idea Saul Bass was the creator behind the TONE POEMS OF COLOR album cover! That tidbit particularly fascinated me.

    Congrats on achieving your sixth review! I'm going to be working on mine later today. :)

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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  2. What a great review! It really made me want to go pick up a copy to learn more about Saul Bass and his work.

    There's an interesting little feature on the Vertigo Blu Ray that explores some of Saul's work and his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, definitely worth checking out.

    I agree with Laura congrats on the making it to your 6th review, it is so impressive. I'm so jealous that you got so much reading done over the summer. This has been a great series, hope you do it again next summer!

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Leave me a comment! If it is a long one, make sure you save a draft of it elsewhere just in case Google gobbles it up and spits it out.

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