Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham, foreword by Martin Scorsese; Laurence King Publishers, 440 pages ($75). Steven Spielberg gets it exactly right about Saul Bass inside this lavish, beautiful and much-overdue book: "Saul Bass wasn't just an artist who contributed to the first several minutes of some of the greatest movies in history, in my opinion his body of work qualifies him as one of the best filmmakers of his or any era."
And if that's somehow not enough, try this from Spielberg's illustrious coeval in the '70s "Movie Brat" generation Martin Scorsese: "His designs for film titles and company logos and record albums and posters defined an era." Which, for anyone in love with movies of his era, is understatement.
Bass' credit sequences and film logos were so much better and more memorable than many of the films to which there were attached. While Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and "Psycho" were far greater than anything he could possibly contribute (including, for "Psycho," ideas for the shower sequence), who now can remember anything about Edward Dmytryk's version of Nelson Algren's "A Walk on the Wild Side" that comes close to the opening sequence of Bass' black cat walking down back alleys looking for trouble while accompanied by Elmer Bernstein music?
Nevermind that our living rooms proudly displayed his movie posters, or that his work festooned films from Otto Preminger's "Man With the Golden Arm" right up through Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and Scorsese's "Casino." He designed the logos everyone remembers for Alcoa, Bell Telephone, Quaker Oats, Continental and United Airlines, AT&T, Lawry's Salt, Wesson Oil, Dixie Cups and the United Way. In other words, Bass' designs pervaded American lives, even the lives of those who weren't movie fans.
Of all the gift books included in pre-Christmas lists, this beautifully illustrated one clearly deserved recognition entirely by itself as a tribute to a singular 20th century American artist.
-- Jeff Simon