written by:
January 17, 2012

In our February issue, on newsstands now, we celebrate the life and work of the great graphic designer Saul Bass on the publication of a new monograph Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham. Better yet, though our Take Me Home contest, you can win a copy of your own, making your coffee table the envy of all your pals. Though we love the logos, type, and printed matter that made Bass one of the titans of mid-century design, the man's true genius lay in the movie title sequences he did in the 50s, 60s. We count down the top five movie credits of his career, essentially the best in all of film history.

5. Anatomy of a Murder

The titles for this 1959 Otto Preminger thriller manage to be at once macabre and playful. Leave it to Bass to use abstracted body parts to such comic effect.

 

4. The Man With the Golden Arm

This sequence for another Preminger film was the one that put Bass on the map. Here he goes for pretty stark abstraction and a largely typographical approach. Fitting for a flick about a heroin-addicted jazzman. 

 3. West Side Story

In the end credits to West Side Story Bass uses graffiti to great effect, foregoing the stylized modernity of some of his beloved typefaces for something grittier and right off the streets of New York. The camera itself is used to greater dynamic effect in these credits than those above, and it's clear that Bass didn't need to rely on black and white to create a mood.

 

2. Spartacus

Classical script and sculpture never looked so portentous or abstract as in Bass's epic opening titles for the sword-and-sandal gem Spartacus from 1960. Alex North's rousing, alarming score doesn't hurt either.

 

1. Grand Prix

The opening credits to this 1966 John Frankenheimer classic are Bass at his most filmic. Montage, close-ups, dialogue, and the sound effects of the preparation for a Formula 1 race are married in what is probably the best opening sequence ever. Further race montages in the film are equally as good, making Grand Prix Bass's best work.

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