Bass relief


The start of the Bass-Preminger collaboration…


Title sequences by Saul Bass. It’s interesting that Otto Preminger, something of a control freak one might think, was happy to basically hand over the openings of his movies to somebody else to direct. I mean, no doubt Bass and Preminger discussed these sequences intensively. But they still smack of untrammelled creativity, so it would be astonishing to me if Otto interfered much after the concept was agreed.

But then, Otto was also able to collaborate effectively with some great composers, and of course there again the filmmaker must entrust a large part of the movie to somebody else, somebody who cannot be directed in quite the same way as an actor or cinematographer…

SAINT JOAN. Impressive how Bass’s hip work merges so well with the period flavour.



EXODUS. “Otto, let my people go!”


“When the Saul Bass credits conclude with the dome of the Capitol lifting to reveal Preminger’s name, the limitations of the whole enterprise are already apparent.” ~ Jonathan Rosenbaum.

THE CARDINAL. Again, simple but stunning due to the careful design of action and lettering together.

IN HARM’S WAY. Just the placement of the words over the image is beautiful, it makes it inexplicable why so many title sequences don’t seem to bother with composition at all.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING. Probably my favourite late Preminger, of those I’ve been able to see in decent form. The best ever Olivier film performance, and a superb turn from Noel Coward.


Preminger, a useful combination of artist and huckster, undoubtably borrowed from Hitchcock’s zesty promotional gimmickry, pushing himself forward as a personality, as a bigger star than those in his films, and even narrating his own movie trailers in a lugubrious fashion (Hitch was way better at that though). But Preminger was the first to use the iconic Saul Bass as titles designer (unity was achieved by having Bass design ALL the publicity material as well).

6 Responses to “Bass relief”

  1. Have you watched Mad Men at all? It boasts a lovely title sequence inspired by (copied from) Mr. Bass.

  2. Better still, here it is:

    Sorry to sully your supoib blog with dirty ‘ol telly. But it is well worth watching.

  3. These days Bass probably gets more credit than Preminger, he’s the God of ‘Motion Graphics’. The unwitting Father of a thousand annoying Flash Websites.

    I’ve never seen The Cardinal, but I’m tempted to from those credits alone.

    I’d also recommend Mad Men ….quite apart from the drama, the attention to period detail is entertaining viewing in itself.

  4. Bass could be easily seen as the most influential US filmmaker of the 50s!

    Mad Men titles are beautiful — bits of North By Northwest, Vertigo and even Casino, with that nice way of having the credits fade in under one another which is very Bass in general.

    I don’t know if I’ll watch the show though — since i cut down episodic TV I’ve been seeing more films, which is how I like things.

    I’m going to start showing more Preminger to students in an effort to revive the old-style complex camera blocking that David Bordwell mourns so.

  5. Mad Men is quite stylishly shot though. The makers have claimed it’s vsually inspired by Hitchcock. The exteriors have that sort of Douglas Sirk/ Far From Heaven atmosphere aswell.
    I’m not really qualified to tell you how elaborate the blocking is though!

  6. Well, if a shot changes size and shape, due to character/camera movement, that would qualify as pretty elaborate by modern standards!
    Story-boarders like Hitchcock are a little less inclined to do really elaborate moves like Preminger, although of course his camera movement is elegant and always expressive.

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