Saul Bass opening and closing titles.


Saul Bass

Born May 8, 1920
Known for Graphic Design, title designer, film director
Awards Academy Award, Best Documentary


When the Frank Sinatra film on drug addiction “The Man With The Golden Arm” opened, a Saul Bass poster dominated the cinema billboards. No words, only artwork- a jagged arm.  Saul Bass produced designs which were part of American modernism ‘s visual language in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Since then, his work on the “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) has been plagiarised. The graphics he designed, however, used the simplest and most traditional techniques-silhouette. It’s the basic icon form and Bass was a master of the form.


The Man with the Golden Arm Poster


Opening Titles

The opening title sequence of West Side Story is breathtaking in its elegance and simplicity. Saul Bass, their Creator, was a master he carries the audience forward with what ostensibly are just graphic elements. From the first moments, your attention is aroused by the shrill, sharp call of a whistle. The screen opens to a vivid yellow background with black vertical lines coming into focus. Without rushing you the iconic Bernstein composition carries you effortlessly along.  If the whistle did not get your attention, the screen abruptly changes to a vivid “red” like a  theatre light turning on. The pace of the music changes and the screen changes to a beautiful grape colour.

“This simplistic sequence is an exemplary use of color.”

Rumsay Taylor

The move towards cooler colours reflects the shift in the mood of the soundtrack.  I do not want it to end.  I notice that slowly the vertical lines are shapeshifting or is it my imagination? The music quickens, and the colours warm up, turning orange and staying in this state for some time.  The titles and music are moving forward together almost like a dance.  The pace of the music slows the screen changes to green and blue. The blue background has taken hold, and the screen begins to pan out with the title “West Side Story” positioning itself at the bottom of the screen. By the time the music has arrived at its finale. The vertical lines have transformed into the skyscrapers of a beautiful aerial shot of 1960’s Lower Manhattan.


Closing sequence contrasts strongly with the conventional ending credits that most films of the era used. Rather than scroll, vertically before you the camera moves and closes in on a graffiti-covered wall. The camera pauses and then moves onto the particular credit of interest and then moves out and continues its journey. There are still vertical movements,  however, the camera is finding the text rather than the text just presenting itself. The wall changes to a crowded and cluttered confusion of text and meaningless scribble. The viewer’s interest has already been piqued, and one is actively looking for any text that is legible. The movement of the camera while helpful still allows you to discover the film credits by yourself.


teamSimon is a Sydney based digital designer. He is the Director of a boutique digital design studio, Bailey Street Design located in the vibrant inner west suburb of Newtown.  Simon studied graphic design at Shillington College and specialises in web design for small and medium size businesses.  Simon and his team (Toby the studio dog) are passionate about visual communication in the digital environment


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