Oi Polloi

Bass Notes: The film posters of Saul Bass

Published: Tue Mar 01 2011

If the name Saul Bass isn’t familiar to you, his imagery will be – some of most iconic graphic design produced for film, most notably the output of directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Stanley Kubrick.

Kemistry Gallery is currently holding an exhibition of his work entitled ‘Bass Notes: The film posters of Saul Bass’, with some limited edition screen-prints on sale. The show was put together by Jim Northover - a designer, writer and co-founder of the Lloyd Northover design and branding consultancy, who were responsible for the donation of the posters exhibited to the BFI Poster Archive in 2001.

The following text explaining the show is his… over to Jim:

“No graphic designer has made a greater impact on the world of film than Saul Bass. This exhibition brings together a collection of his film posters, film titles and film festival posters from the Lloyd Northover donation to the British Film Institute. The BFI’s Poster Archive has kindly loaned the exhibits to make this show possible.

Saul Bass’s work is instantly recognisable for its directness, its simplicity and the way it makes its meaning felt. Breaking all conventions in the 1950s and 60s, Bass virtually invented film titles as we know them today, and he was the first to synthesize movies into compelling trademark images. In a period when graphic imagery can be so easily manipulated electronically, Bass reminds us that a strong idea is always at the heart of a great design. His work, as reflected in this exhibition, is as refreshing today as ever.

There’s a backstory to the origin of the posters. This piece I wrote for the exhibition tells the tale:

A year or so after Saul’s death in 1996, I got a call from a headhunter in the States saying that she had a brief to find someone to take over the Saul Bass studio in Los Angeles. Herb Yager, Saul’s partner, no longer wanted to run it himself, but was keen for the business to continue. Since we had been looking to set up an office in the US, this seemed like a real opportunity. After Herb was reassured that he had found suitable inheritors, the business was acquired. We celebrated the event at a dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Herb, Elaine Bass (Saul’s widow) and some of the team.

A few months later we found we had inherited something else. A travelling exhibition of Saul’s film posters had been doing the rounds of film festivals all over the world. One day it arrived back in London. We had to store it and look after it. We soon realised it was too big and expensive a task to keep it properly, so we handed it on to the British Film Institute, requesting that it should not be lost from public view, and hopefully shown from time to time.

The posters on show, thanks to the BFI, are the very same ones that formed part of the travelling exhibit. They were produced by the Saul Bass studio in the 1990s to celebrate Saul’s work. Many air miles later these historic originals are now on show.”

Image credits: The British Film Institute / Saul Bass Estate