22
Jul 04

Saul Bass at the Design Museum

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 680 views

It’s hard to watch half an hour of film title sequences without the films. It’s like foreplay without fucking, over and over again. Still, you take what you can get. This Saul Bass exhibition is well worth the effort. The denial and frustration only serve to heighten the pleasure by focussing the mind monastically on the matter in hand. Bass was the graphic designer behind the iconography of films like The Man With the Golden Arm and Vertigo. He did posters and title sequences and he never put a foot wrong. This wonderful exhibition allows us a peep at the creative process by gathering preliminary sketches and tests, as well as letting us bask in the glory of the finished products. His title sequences draw you into the story before it’s even begun. It’s like the film has a one-goal start.

Letters, press packs, photos and other artefacts illustrate the process from start to finish, making us wonder how film marketing got so hectoring and vulgar. Having said that, a Burger King Psycho Special is an enticing prospect, as is a MacDonald’s Bunny Lake Is Missing Happy Meal.

Also featured is Bass’s work on corporate identities and packaging. This is less immediately appealing, but does contain my favourite piece, a kind of proto-psychedelia meets Mr Magoo horseradish package which accentuates the presence of the word ‘horse’.

Bass moved on to make his own films, which are also seen here. A row of small screens allows the visitor to get a taste of them, but unavoidable practical difficulties mean you’ll have to get hold of them yourself if you want to actually hear the soundtracks and get the full-on experience.

The last room is devoted to the later work Bass did with his wife Elaine, much of it for Martin Scorsese, like the beautiful lace and roses of The Age of Innocence. Scorsese has supplied a kind of afterword which is well worth reading on the way out. In fact I think the style of this review might have been heavily influenced by it.

It’s appropriate that an exhibition devoted to an aspect of consumerism should have the effect of making you want to take everything home. Along with Mr Scorsese, I can’t recommend this exhibition highly enough.

http://www.designmuseum.org/designerex/saul-bass.htm

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