Friday, November 11, 2011

Saul Bass book finally out

In my review of the sublime Phase IV, I moaned about there not being a book on Saul Bass. Well, though years in the making, and with numerous legal setbacks along the way, the book Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design is finally available. Designed by Saul's daughter, Jennifer, with over 1,400 illustrations and 440 pages long, it's amazing that it is the first book ever published about the design legend.

A graphic designer who was equally at home designing corporate identities, film title sequences and iconic film posters, Saul Bass (1926-1996) was also responsible for the visual look of the shower scene in Psycho (some saying he even directed it) and directed the cult science fiction film Phase IV.

He designed logos for companies including AT&T, United Airlines and Quaker Oates but is best remembered for his wide range of film posters and his title sequences for the Hitchcock films Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest, as well as a host of other films from Anatomy of a Murder to Goodfellas. Indeed, just as designer Peter Saville was 'rediscovered' in the 1980s by bands such as Pulp and Suede after being in the wilderness for some years, so it was with Bass. He produced comparatively few film sequences after the mid-60s until Martin Scorsese asked him to produce the titles for Goodfellas in 1990, followed by The Age of Innocence and Casino*.

Bass's film posters used bold, simple shapes to convey meaning visually. His title sequences came at a time, the 1950s, when titles were hardly thought about at all. Bass made them seem like short films in themselves and in some cases, most notably Walk on the Wild Side (1962), his title sequence was far better than anything else in the film.

There are several comments on the Lawrence King (the book's publisher) website about the book. One person remembers picking up a leaflet about the book over seven years ago at the Design Museum's retrospective of Saul Bass (which I also went to). Another commentator, who knew Bass, mentions the book was began in 1995 but had numerous copyright issues. Apparently when Bass was alive he was allowed to publish and promote any of his own work; when he died in 1996 this right ceased. One other person, echoing many (myself included), says how they've 'been waiting for this book for such a long time'. (My only complaint is the book should have a DVD of Saul Bass's title sequences to accompany it.)

Buy it for around £30 from Amazon.

*Though he also designed somewhat uninspired titles for the Michael J Fox film Doc Hollywood (a film I guiltily love, by the way) around this time. Similarly, Peter Saville designed numerous Wham! album and single covers; something you don't hear mentioned in the same breath as his iconic Joy Division covers. But hey, these guys have got to earn a living somehow.

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