How I met Saul Bass

Today, in a social media context devoted to film titles and the iconic work of Saul Bass, I was asked to tell the story of how I met Saul Bass. My quickly scrawled reply ended up being this. I figured I’d share it.

My father was an advertising guy–creative director, writer, etc.–and they were friends and colleagues. I was introduced to Bass on a couple of occasions, casually, when he and my dad and/or others were getting together for social events, but my best experience was in the spring of 1985 when my dad arranged a meeting for me with Bass, at his Sunset Blvd. office in Hollywood about possibly doing an internship in his office.

Walking in to that office by myself as an 18 year old is an indelible memory. When you first walked in, there was no hint you were walking in to a design studio. Rather, it felt like walking in to a museum. The entry corridor was maybe a dozen meters long, and there was a shallow flight of low stairs. Directly in front of me on the end wall was the beautifully lit alcove of incredible African sculptures Bass had collected–he was known also for his appreciation of African sculpture. The background behind the pieces was lit a brilliant scarlet red, but the pieces themselves were perfectly lit in clean white light. They were gorgeous, among the finest sculptures I’d ever seen.

To gain entrance to the office itself I approached the sculptures, then turned left through an open portal in to the main room. It was open plan–not a big office by any major standard–and there were a number of people working in different areas, at desks, drafting tables, etc. 

The receptionist greeted me–I was alone–and walked me up three or four more broad, shallow steps to his office, and he welcomed me and we sat and talked for a while, he offered some advice, etc. He was an incredibly genial, kind man. His office too was a bit of an extension of that entry hall, although it was clearly a working space.

I ended up doing an apprenticeship that summer with a big commercial photographer here instead, but I was honored and grateful that he gave me some of his time.

The odd epilogue to this is that some years later, in 1997, when my dad died, my siblings and I were reaching out to his colleagues and friends who didn’t immediately know. I called Saul Bass’ office, and it was an initially awkward conversation, as I explained to the woman who answered the phone who I was and what I wanted to let Mr. Bass know, and then she told me that Mr. Bass had also died a couple years prior. I had no idea.

Years before that meeting, my dad used to praise the genius of Bass. He’d routinely point out commercial graphic designs of his to me–logos, etc. That’s how he really came to fame, industrial design.He also showed me Bass’ documentary from the late 60s. And of course he schooled me in the title sequences of Saul and later Elaine Bass as well.I remember their return to titles, I believe with Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence,” and I swear, half the reason I ran out to see that upon release was because of those titles.

Verisimilitude in war films

For reasons not worth explaining, I’ve seen the 2014 movie Fury, which follows a Sherman tank crew behind enemy lines in the waning days of WWII.

I wasn’t impressed.

The ‘morning after’ sensation is even worse.

The quest for authenticity and realism in combat does not get us closer to truth.

The quest for authenticity and realism in depictions of combat does not inherently multiply a film’s ability to mean.

I trace the modern version of this quest back to the execrable, lamentable, unwatchable Platoon. I distinctly remember conversations about its authenticity, based on the fact that its director served in a platoon in Vietnam. Later, the equally unwatchable, and equally manipulative Saving Private Ryan continued the trend of amplifying the aesthetics of authenticity–which is a laughable conceit given the essential artifice of filmmaking in the first place–with a particular emphasis on the realism of the D-Day landing. No punches pulled, apparently.

Fury takes its cues from both of its predecessors, and attempts to raise the stakes again, and to me, mostly plays as an empty exercise in style, abetted by abundant, and not always terribly convincing CGI.

But audiences will have their guts.

They will have their guts, accurate depictions of what exactly a .50 caliber round does to an ankle, their wonderfully mesmerizing cascades of rainbow hued tracer fire, pancaked, incinerated human bodies, and particles of flying flesh, god help them.

Theorizing a future

This’ll be unruly, but after reading the preceding David Graeber piece last night, I thought of the work of Timothy Morton and Derrick Jensen, and the thought occurred to me that these three are helping to articulate something like a practical philosophy well-suited towards creating a pro-humanity, pro-life, anti-capitalist, anti-growth future.

In trying to do a quick online search of something related, I landed on this page, devoted to what it positions as five essential texts on Radical Environmentalism and I’m absolutely delighted by the unexpected choices contained therein, most especially so by the inclusion of Ralph Ellison and Emily Dickinson.

Dickinson in particular I have adored most of my adult life, and celebrated as one of our most profound poets and thinkers–through her writing.

The Argonauts crossed my path just yesterday, in this interesting piece on Heteropessimism, by way of a friend. I must confess to not recalling or having been aware of Maggie Nelson’s book, but given Indiana Seresin’s description as “a book once so rabidly popular among women and queers that my first copy was swiped from my bag at a dyke bar in 2016,” I’m very interested.

Additionally, I admire the writing of Solnit, and anything thoughtful, theoretical, and useful on anarchism is 100% up my alley.

David Graeber

Freedom has become the right to share in the proceeds of one’s own permanent enslavement.

Graeber, nearly as always, speaks more closely to my core inclinations than just about any other public theorist and activist.

My FB comment in response to the friend who shared it:

Shatteringly correct.

I’ve read him as much as I can, and one evening had the pleasure of actually talking with him about exactly what he’s written about here.

So much that’s written here is what I struggle with on a nearly daily basis–how to actualize and disentangle myself/us as far as possible from capitalism and all of the insidious social structures he’s described.