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December 12, 2006

Saul Bass: The Hollywood Connection

 

Saul Bass - Copyrighted material

Source: Skirball Cultural Center - Left: Saul Bass in his studio, circa 1974; courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. - Right: Saul Bass–designed poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo; © Paramount Pictures.

 

Saul Bass: The Hollywood Connection, an exhibition focusing on the graphic designer’s acclaimed work for the American film industry, was presented at the Skirball Cultural Center from January 4 through April 1, 2007. The exhibition included more than 20 movie posters and six soundtrack-album covers designed by Saul Bass for such films as Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Exodus (1960) and In Harm’s Way (1965). It also featured, on continuous loop, a rare 22-minute montage —edited by Saul Bass and his wife, Elaine— of many of Bass’s motion-picture title sequences, from The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) to The Age of Innocence (1993). These are recognized as among the most innovative title sequences ever produced in Hollywood. Alternately screened with the montage were Why Man Creates (1968), the Oscar-winning short documentary Saul Bass produced and co-directed with Elaine Bass.

SAUL BASS (1920–1996) attended the Art Students League in Manhattan in his native New York. He then studied at Brooklyn College under the painter, designer and educator Gyorgy Kepes, a Hungarian émigré who had collaborated with Bauhaus artist and professor László Moholy-Nagy in 1930s Berlin. Gyorgy Kepes introduced his student to the Bauhaus movement and to Russian Constructivism, the styles of which influenced Saul Bass’s art.

Following his schooling, Saul Bass began working as a commercial artist in New York, but he felt constrained by the creative limitations of the city’s advertising agencies. Saul Bass moved to Los Angeles in 1946 and opened his own studio, Saul Bass & Associates, in 1952. During his distinguished career, Saul Bass became a graphic-design legend for conceiving the corporate identity packages of such companies as AT&T, Warner Communications and United Airlines. The logos he created for these business giants are considered among the most instantly recognized in 20th-century American popular culture.

Award-winning filmmaker Otto Preminger was the first to offer Saul Bass the opportunity to design a title sequence, for the film Carmen Jones (1954). Saul Bass approached the formerly unremarkable moments before the film began as an opportunity to set audience mood and enhance entertainment value, not just list credits. The following year, for the opening sequence to Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, Saul Bass used an animated paper cut-out of a disjointed arm, which helped draw the audience into the film’s tale of drug addiction from the very first frames. On view will be the now-famous and often-imitated title sequence for The Man with the Golden Arm along with the poster and soundtrack-album cover, both of which repeated the disjointed-arm motif. Taken together, these works reveal the visual identity Saul Bass created for the film as a whole.

From this groundbreaking early work, Saul Bass would eventually work with illustrious filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, John Frankenheimer, Billy Wilder and many more. These directors valued Saul Bass’s innovative use of animation, live action and dynamic typography. Saul Bass —who, beginning with Spartacus (1960), worked in collaboration with his wife, Elaine— created more than 50 title sequences and fully integrated advertising campaigns for such celebrated films as North by Northwest (1959) West Side Story (1961), Vertigo, Exodus and Grand Prix (1966). The title sequences for these films were featured in the exhibition’s montage. For Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Saul Bass not only contributed the title sequence but helped to storyboard the film. A reproduction of Bass’s storyboard for the film’s classic shower scene were also displayed in the exhibition.

After winning, in 1969, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subjects, for Why Man Creates, an animated film exploring the nature of creativity, Saul Bass took a nearly decade-long hiatus from film work and focused on his landmark graphic-design campaigns for companies worldwide.

The Basses returned to the movies in the 1980s, producing the title sequences, among many others, for Danny De Vitos’s War of the Roses (1989), Billy Crystal’s Mr. Saturday Night (1992) and Martin Scorcese’s GoodFellas (1990) and Cape Fear (1991). The montage in the exhibition includes these later works. In 1991 and 1993–1996, Saul Bass designed the official posters for the Academy Awards, all of which were displayed in the exhibition. Saul Bass had served as a member of the Academy’s Board of Governors for nine years.

Saul Bass: The Hollywood Connection was on view in the Skirball’s Ruby Gallery and Hurd Gallery. The exhibition was presented as part of the Skirball’s Our California series, exploring the changing cultural, social and civic forces that have shaped California.

Related film screenings: During the run of Saul Bass: The Hollywood Connection, the Skirball presented free Tuesday afternoon screenings of the following films for which Saul Bass created the title sequences and advertising campaigns: Psycho (January 9) Vertigo (January 23), Anatomy of a Murder (February 6) and Bonjour Tristesse (February 27). The Skirball also showing Phase IV, a rarely screened science-fiction film directed by Saul Bass (February 22).

 

The Exhibition was developed with the curatorial guidance of the FILM ARCHIVE OF THE ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES.

 

SAUL BASS: THE HOLLYWOOD CONNECTION
January 4–April 1, 2007

SKIRBALL CULTURAL CENTER
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049

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