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Sampling some (Saul) Bass

August 11, 2010

While browsing on iTunes, I noticed that they had added the soundtrack for Vertigo for $3.99. That was irresistible; I’ve always remembered Bernard Herrmann’s score as one of the greats in movie history, and, sure enough, the 16 tracks sound great by themselves as well.

I then started thinking that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie. I still haven’t watched it recently, but I searched for and found the opening sequence on YouTube. The sequence is designed by Saul Bass:

Saul Bass has a unique place in movie history. He was a graphic designer who designed title cards for movies. Not only was he the most famous person in his field, I would say that he’s the only famous title card designer in movie history.

Bass is best known for his work he did with Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo was followed by North By Northwest and Psycho) and for Otto Preminger. For the latter, here is Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959:

Famous may not be the right word; he’s not James Dean-famous, but his worked has endured to an incredible extent. There are roughly a BILLION tributes/parodies on YouTube. Here is one of the best known:

I was little surprised by how much of his work was on YouTube, but I shouldn’t be; his title card sequences were 2-3 minutes long, are their own self-contained pieces of art, and are perfect for sites like YouTube. Here is the sequence for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, 1960:

The internet has, of course, become a perfect medium for movie trailers. Saul Bass’ title card sequences are similar, except that they’re way better. Will title cards make a comeback? If I were trying to use social media to promote my film, I’d much rather use one of Saul Bass’ works than a movie trailer, which all seem the same and rarely generate much buzz.

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, 1991:

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