Saul Bass had a pretty hefty resume with his design work on logos and films but did you know that he helped create what would become the film musical with the most Academy Awards? That’s right, Mr. Bass helped make "West Side Story."
It starts in Manhattan, on a hot day when the Jets and the Sharks are harassing each other. A game leads to a brawl and a brawl leads to the beginning of the famed Stephen Sondheim musical. Bass filmed the prologue and drew the storyboard for the first dance sequence. The choreographed basketball game and the first street fight – that was Bass’s work.
Bass also created the end title sequence for "West Side Story." After the tragic ending of the modernized "Romeo and Juliet," the screen fades to black and then a wall, covered in graffiti, appears. It was a variation for Bass, whose title sequences had already won him critical acclaim.
Instead of his usual minimalist sequences that were seen for "Vertigo," "Anatomy of a Murder," and "Psycho," Bass went with a filmed title sequence. The graffiti wall, which could have been deemed as “busy,” instead further emphasizes the urban backdrop for the story. The cast and crew’s names are highlight for the sequence but in the background, viewers can catch glimpses of the actors’ on-screen counterparts.
And Bass’s work with "West Side Story" didn’t end there. The famed graphic designer created the iconic red poster for the film. The poster, unlike the title sequence, was very much in the typical Bass-manner.
From company logos to some of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history, Bass had a career that would (and did) make many designers jealous. His ability to, in his words, “symbolize and summarize” made him a master at his craft.