“I want to make beautiful things even if no-one else cares.”
Saul Bass, the award-winning graphic designer who has held a pivotal role in the creation of some of cinema’s most memorable moments, hasn’t always received the credit he deserves.
Having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick and more, Bass’ ability to sufficiently visualise a screenplay saw him work on some of the most recognisable films of all time. Whether he’s forging the thankless task of creating the film posters for The Shining, or pre-planning the filming process if Hitchcock’s iconic ‘Shower Scene’ in Psycho, Bass has had a definitive say in some of Hollywood’s most prestigious pictures.
Despite his success, the discussion around his contribution to the highly confusing Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus remains a source of debate for all cinephiles. The film, which ultimately won four Academy Awards and became the most profitable film in Universal Studios’ history, was shrouded in off-screen issues after Kubrick was hired following the firing of the project’s original director—marking the first time creative control wasn’t in the hands of the filmmaker. For Bass, however, he’d been involved in the project prior to Kubrick’s arrival which resulted somewhat in a sharing of visions.
“Although hugely successful, Spartacus was a troubled production from start to finish,” Fionnuala Halligan writes in the 2013 book Movie Story Boards: The Art of Visualizing Screenplays. “The project was generated by the actor Kirk Douglas, and the original director, Anthony Mann, was fired a week into shooting. He was replaced by Stanley Kubrick, who generally avoided storyboards in his later career; the movie was filmed using the 35mm Technirama format, which was blown up to 70mm.
“Saul Bass had provided the boards shown here for Douglas as the films’ visual consultant, and designed the film’s quietly powerful title sequence, which still feels modern today. Stanley Kubrick shot the battle sequences depicted on the boards (the final battle between the slaves and the Romans) in Spain, but due to their ferocity many sequences were cut and do not survive today.”
Halligan added: “Saul Nass’s storyboards for the battle between the slave and army and the Romans convey both the scale and the ferocity of the conflict, the diagonally slashing spears imbuing the artwork with an irresistible energy.”
To capture the moment appropriately, Kubrick recruited no fewer than 8,000 extras to act the scene, shooting for a gruelling six weeks. See the pre-planned storyboards, below.