Part 3 - Adler and Bass

Typography in Motion -

Part 3 - Adler and Bass

Saul Bass. The name alone conjures a bevy of a logos and film titles and ads.

His work remains essential in its influence over the work of all designers. Look in nearly any design students body of work and I bet you'll find some stab at Saul's work, I know I have. However, this will not be an article on Saul Bass, as I promised last article. Instead we are going to focus on Saul's regular partner Harold Adler, who did a lot of the typography and hand-lettering for the sequences Saul worked on. Harold studied at the Frank Wiggins Trade School and the original Art Center in Los Angeles and collaborated on many film titles. Harold studied as a calligrapher and co-founded the Society of Calligraphers, which is why he is so talented at crafting the letters in his work.

Carmen Jones - 1954, Starring Harry Belefonte, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey


Carmen Jones is a retelling of the Biset opera, Carmen. It tells the story of tragic love that is destined for destruction, in the setting of an all-black army camp. The typography, is a lively serif font with an inconsistent baseline so it seems as if the words are wavering or vibrating in some way. It makes the type lively, spirited, alive is really the only word that is accurate. Because the letters are hand rendered there are small inconsistencies in the shapes that make each and every word a small piece of art. To me it seems like the letters are dancing, which is enhanced by the music of Georges Biset’s “Carmen Overture”. The typography could be best classified as humanist, owing to the fact that they were hand-painted by a calligrapher. The contrast between thick and thin varies but it never reaches an extreme, keeping in line with the humanist style of lettering. However, Adler has given the serif's a latin treatment cutting them to be angular rather than a smooth transition, but not going so far as to make them slabs either. It is a modern touch on a classical typeface, just as the movie itself is a modern telling of a classic story.  

The Man With The Golden Arm - 1955 Starring Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Eleanor Parker


I am breaking promises all over the place in this post. This isn't a film title but rather the poster by Saul, that obviously influenced the title sequence Saul would later compose. The Man With The Golden Arm is a story about a former drug addict who is rehabilitated in prison but then starts struggling with his demons when he is released. Again Adler's hand-rendered technique gives the typography a human quality that would otherwise be very difficult to achieve with normal typesetting. The main display type is large and bold geometric sans-serif with very low contrast. The inconsistencies that gave the words to Carmen Jones life and a dancing quality instead this time are jittery and frantic. They conform to the broken shape of the arm reaching down from the large black bar at the top. There is one letterform to note however, the "R" in arm has a wonderful, graceful extension to it's secondary oblique stem creates an interesting departure from the frantic nature of the display type. Adler uses this extension throughout the secondary type. The extension begins to invade the other letters space and it feel a lot like the menacing arm reaching down. The extensions are invoking the sense of pressure and frantic stress that the poster is trying to convey. It is an elegant understated but effective way to reinforce a main theme, often the perfect role for typography.  

The Seven Year Itch - 1955 Starring Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, and Evelyn Keyes

  [youtube] The Seven Year Itch is a comedy about when a man has the brief opportunity to live out his wildest fantasies of living life as a bachelor, although most of it remains firmly in his imagination when it comes to his upstairs apartment neighbour. The title sequence contains many lively coloured boxes dancing and moving around to the music, a trademark of Bass. In some of those boxes we are treated to easily some of the most beautifully hand painted, elegant, elaborate typography yet. Adler hand painted 28 individual cards for this sequence. Exquisite shapes and whimsical decoration make each letter form worthy of examination. BJuvVi6CcAAWNId.jpg-large It's been said that hand lettering and typography are two different art styles, after this analysis I would say they share a common ancestry but indeed hand lettering has vast differences to typical typography. It is far more expressive and can do a great job supporting a metaphor or design language. Next post we are going to find out about the history and style of a very famous set of title cards. It will be shaken, not stirred, in fast cars with beautiful women. We will see what goes into making the words that spell James Bond.



Getting off the damn computer and drawing something yourself!

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