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Crystal Lindsay

Saul Bass at the Design Museum

Once, a film’s titles for cast and crew were projected onto a cinema’s fire curtain and only then, with the curtains rising, did the real action begin.

In the 1950's, Saul Bass caused the packaging or the ‘look' of a film to become part of its very identity. A poster and an opening frame can do everything to capture our attention and anticipation for the cinematic ‘dream' to follow.

Otto Preminger's ‘The Man with the Golden Arm' carried Bass' jagged silhouette of an addict's arm and it became so expressive of the film that posters could appear and carry no wording. Hitchcock's ‘Vertigo' takes a mesmeric hold from the starting credits, with an woman's eye superimposed upon a vortex before the film itself unfolds, with the central character falling further and further into fantasy.

Saul Bass (1920-1996) was one of the twentieth-century's finest graphic designers, whose strong line and talent for collage made him a compelling living, whether in film or commercial advertising. Bass could represent with an image, a whole sceneful of intentions and was responsible for tipping us headlong into that other Hitchcock classic, Psycho. The intercutting lines and titles racing to the sound of stabbing music confirm the central contribution that others made to the film's audacious success.

Bass was even said to have set up the shower scene himself, splicing savagely short cuts of limbs and water for a harsh and unpredictable tale. He was to create his own films over the span of his life, before returning in the 80's to his undisputed domain in a collaboration with Martin Scorcese including ‘Goodfellas' and 'The Age of Innocence', in which 19th century repression is expressed in expanding rosebuds, captive in calligraphy and lace. Scorcese calls Saul Bass ‘a giant in the field' and this exhibition makes a fascinating tribute to an exceptional designer.

• Saul Bass is at the Design Museum until Sunday 10 October; admission £6 (conc £4).

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