One morning, in the midst of what our household calls ‘rush hour’, I was preparing and packing lunches for my two daughters. It was no different to any other day, make a sandwich, throw in an apple and some snacks. I was packing Sophie’s lunch with the remaining pretzels then threw the pretzel package in the bin under the sink. After I closed the cupboard I paused then turned back to look at the empty packet of pretzels I have just disposed of. I was amazed to see the illustration on this certain pretzel package… It was Saul Bass’ Man with the Golden Arm reaching for pretzels! This may not seem the most exciting story in the universe but after doing some research on Saul Bass a few months ago for University, I recognize the ‘Bass-Aesthetic’ in different environments and question its use. Another story is when my wife and I were in Adelaide not too long ago signing documents for an investment property. We were handed the papers for the Housing Industry Association (HIA) to sign, and up in the top left corner was a little logo, it was the Man with the Golden Arm again! This time he wasn’t reaching for pretzels, he was holding the roof of a house. The reason why I found the use of the Arm’s in these designs interesting is that the original idea of the jagged arm was a metaphor of drug addiction. Obviously, Bass wasn’t the graphic designer for these products but his aesthetic is evident. Is the Man with the Golden Arm, in the case of the pretzel packet, supposed to communicate peoples addiction to pretzels? I’m not quite sure of the context when it comes to the HIA logo. These stories aside for now, let’s focus on Saul Bass and The Man with the Golden Arm along with some of his other designs.
Saul Bass was a designer of many things; from packaging, tiles, logos, title-sequences and film posters. He utilised his influences of constructivism and minimalism to create film poster designs that could communicate and connect with an audience on a film’s content. Otto Preminger sought after Bass for the poster design of his feature film, ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’. For this, Bass designed infamous ‘jagged arm’ as the focal point of the poster. The arm is symbolic and metaphoric as it represents the struggle, addiction and transformation of the main character in the film. It is bold and coloured black, which drives the viewer’s eye to it as it is placed against the negative space. The shape of the arm, type and bold shapes looks as though it has been cut-out; this is evidence of Bass’ influence of constructivism. This poster design gained Saul international recognition as Bass was able to incorporate his constructivist and minimalistic influences to communicate a film with controversial content without being overly overt.
“Saul Bass wasn’t just a designer, and he was more than a master craftsman. He was an artist, and a great one. I look at the posters he did for Hitchcock’s Vertigo or Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, and I see much more than an evocation of the film – they are dynamic responses to the heart of the picture, the essence” – Martin Scorsese.
The Anatomy of a Murder was another Preminger film of which Bass designed a very unique poster. The poster adopts bold and simple colours of red and black (the colour red communicates the murder and colour of blood), which contrasts the focal point of the dismembered body against the background. The design principle of proximity has a strong presence in this poster as the body is not whole, rather the parts of that which make the whole. The separation of the body parts were also to symbolically communicate the film’s content. “The film is all about moral ambiguity and different points of view that never converge” (Pat Kirkham). Bass applied many design principles and Gestalt values to create his designs. Sometimes he would leave elements out purposely so that it can be filled in by the viewer’s eye. The typography of the film’s title was uniquely designed to symbolise elements of the film as well. Each variation of each letter is different, “just as every version of events is different in this film about a lawyer who comes to doubt his client’s story” (Pat Kirkham).
“In the case of Anatomy of a Murder, another Preminger picture, a splayed human body is the form, black set against a yellow backdrop, the body fragmented into six pieces–it has to be pieced together, like the story behind the murder in the film itself. Of course, as I said before, Saul’s work was always dynamic, never just a dry illustration of an idea or a demonstration of pure design that veered away from the source. That was always the key – the dynamism, coupled with the artistry and the remarkable and refined understanding of the matter at hand” – Martin Scorsese.
Saul Bass was a unique designer, and ever since I became aware of the Bass-aesthetic, I see it everywhere. I would love to delve into more of his designs, but this was just an introduction into some of his poster designs, we haven’t even begun to touch on his movie title sequences or logo designs! I am hoping to write more about Saul and his work at a later date, if not sooner, I may be struck with inspiration after seeing another local business logo.
Note: Please reference any of this article correctly before you place it in an essay or academic paper for your University project or what have you. The information above was out of my research paper I wrote on Saul Bass for the subject Design Communications at Bond University. I have also referenced Pat Kirkham and Martin Scorsese, details below.