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The Saul Bass Touch

collection of Saul Bass graphics

As we mentioned in a previous post, a local movie theater was showing Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic “Psycho” on Halloween night, which seemed to us to be the perfect way to do the holiday. While watching the opening credits, we suddenly remembered the connection that renowned graphic artist Saul BassĀ  (1920-1996) on the movie’s production.

Bass was possibly the preeminent visual designer of his time, and you’ve probably seen his work. He created logos for AT&T, United Airlines and Kleenex, among others. He also mastered the art of the illustrated poster, a few examples which we’ve posted here.

He frequently devised opening credits for several mid-century movies, including “Psycho.” But Hitchcock had other ideas for Bass’s expertise.

In his book The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower, author Robert Greysmith described the painstaking process Hitchcock went through to shoot the movie’s landmark shower scene. He had hired Bass to design the movie titles and then had him storyboard the shower sequence. It was Bass who envisioned the “bloodless murder” depicted in a series of quick cuts showing suggestions of a woman being stabbed without actually showing a knife, wounds, blood or much skin. It’s a remarkable achievement, actually, sketched out by one master and directed by another.

According to Greysmith, Bass used screen tests with a model to develop the sequence, which Hitchcock reviewed and approved. It was only then that actress Janet Leigh was brought in to rehearse the scene and shoot it. Hitchcock estimated it would take 80 camera setups for less than one minute of action.

The result of all the work was a stunning scene that shocked movie audiences no end. Watching it even now, in this day of truly gruesome horror movies, is both gripping and horrifying. You can’t turn your eyes away, even though it’s not your eyes that see the murder — it’s your imagination.

The showing we attended was full, and there was a spontaneous round of applause at the end. That is the ultimate complement to two artists who collaborated on a thrilling masterpiece.

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