Martin Scorsese Reflects on Design Giant Saul Bass

And speaking of movie posters, Paramount has cast wide the media net for Shutter Island, the lunatics-are-taking-over-the-asylum thriller that opens Friday. While Ben Kingsley was chatting up Maxim, director Martin Scorsese penned a tribute to the late, great Saul Bass for the March issue of Architectural Digest (the one with Jennifer Aniston and her Robert Motherwell painting on the cover). “He was an artist, and a great one,” writes Scorsese, before offering a Bass primer that highlights his iconic graphics for Otto Preminger‘s The Man with the Golden Arm and Hitchcock‘s Vertigo (that famous spiral? Based on drawings by a 19th-century French mathmatician, not an afternoon with the Spirograph kit). “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.” Of course, Scorsese is more than admirer of Bass’s. He collaborated extensively with the designer, who with his second wife, Elaine, created title sequences for four consecutive Scorsese films before his death in 1996. It went a little something like this:

Each time [the Basses] would study the film, take a few months, and then send us back a test that exceeded my wildest expectations. The simple, speeding graphic of the Goodfellas (1990) titles synced to the sound of speeding cars on an expressway…the ominous, wavering reflections in water of phantom images that began Cape Fear (1991)…the endlessly blooming flowers, like love renewing itself again and again, under layers of lace for The Age of Innocence (1993)…the form of a man falling through a neon hell in Casino (1995). These title sequences didn’t just complement my pictures, they gave them another layer, embodying the themes and the emotions in a way that led viewers into the mystery of the film without giving it all away.