Book Review: Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design

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Publisher: Laurence King Publishing

Release Date: November 9, 2011

Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design is the first book dedicated to one of the greatest American designers of the 20th century. Saul Bass created some of the most compelling images of American postwar visual culture. Having extended the remit of graphic design to include film titles, he went on to transform the genre. His best-known works include a series of unforgettable posters and title sequences for films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. His work for other directors was equally iconic and will remain cemented in pop culture history. Bass also created many recognizable logos and corporate identity campaigns, including those for AT&T, Quaker Oats, United Airlines, Girl Scouts of America, and Minolta.

His wife and collaborator, Elaine, joined the Bass office in the late 1950s. Together they created an impressive series of award-winning short films, as well as an equally impressive series of film titles, ranging from Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus in the early 1960s to Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear and Casino in the 1990s.

The book was designed by Saul Bass’s daughter, Jennifer, and written by distinguished design historian, Pat Kirkham (who knew Saul Bass personally). It contains 440 pages of information and graphic art. One shouldn’t expect the book to serve as a traditional biography. Instead, it serves as a visual study of Saul Bass’s eclectic oeuvre. A lot of the contextual information is provided using extended quotes from Saul Bass and many of the people that worked with him. This gives the book an autobiographical flavor. Like an autobiography, one must be on guard for false information. Bass’s claim that he directed the shower scene in Psycho is repeated here, even though this has been proven untrue. (He drew the storyboards.) He also refers to Kim Novak’s character in Vertigo as “Julie” instead of “Judy.” I suspect that there were other issues along these lines, but none of these issues decrease the book’s enormous value. This value lies in the book’s numerous illustrations. It could have been titled “Eye Candy.” Readers are given a glimpse at a great many graphic designs, and over half of the book focuses on his film posters and title sequences. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to put down. Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design increased both my respect and my understanding of Saul Bass’s output.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock Interviews

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Publisher: The University of Mississippi Press

Release Date: April 15, 2003

“He is one of the most over-interviewed people imaginable…” –Janet Maslin (Boston After Dark, 1972)

Janet Maslin’s statement has the ring of truth. Hitchcock had even developed a repertoire of standard answers to feed journalists. Of course, certain interviewers caught the director in a more articulate frame of mind than others would. Journalists certainly didn’t make this difficult for Hitchcock. Why should Hitchcock have to provide original answers if journalists weren’t willing to provide original questions?

Luckily, Sidney Gottlieb’s collection of interviews provides readers with some rare nuggets of information. Many of the interviews were from the 1970s (a period not covered by the Truffaut book). This isn’t to say that some of these selections don’t tread the same territory as Truffaut’s book. Actually, there are moments of repetition within the 20 interviews in this volume. One simply doesn’t mind the repetition. These pages are filled with information that is of enormous use to scholars, but the conversations are so engaging that it also serves as a fun source of entertainment for those of us that still read. There should certainly be enough room for this volume on any cinemaphile’s bookshelf.

 Review by: Devon Powell

 

Book Review: Hitchcock’s British Films

Hitchcocksbritish 2Publisher: Wayne State University Press (2nd Edition)

Release Date: October 11, 2010

In 1977 (when this book was first published), critics tended to overlook (and even discount) the films from Alfred Hitchcock’s British period. This tendency seems especially short sighted. The formative years of any creative artist deserves analysis and in-depth study. Yacowar was a single voice of reason. Hitchcock’s British Films challenged popular critical rhetoric and provided a resource for the further study of this important period in Hitchcock’s career.

This second edition has brought a pioneering text that was out of circulation for decades into the hands of scholars and film fans alike. While Yacowar’s essays are mostly concerned with theoretical analysis, there is the occasional nugget of ‘behind the scenes’ information. The text is essential because many of these films are so often neglected. For instance, Waltzes from Vienna is given its own essay. How many essays have been written about this film? Usually the film is given only a brief mention (along with Hitchcock’s quote about it being the “lowest ebb of his career”). These under-studied movies are presented as more than merely unimportant footnotes in the career of an important director. Yacowar provides a serious study of each of these films and one could recommend the book for this reason alone.

Review by: Devon Powell

 

Book Review: Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie

9780252078248_lgPublisher: University of Illinois Press

Release Date: October 1, 2011

Nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America in the category of Best Critical/Biographical, 2012.

Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick’s Scripting Hitchcock explores the collaborative process between Alfred Hitchcock and the screenwriters that he chose to write the screenplays for Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie. Drawing from extensive interviews with the screenwriters and other film technicians who worked for Hitchcock, Raubicheck and Srebnick illustrate how much of the filmmaking process took place in the scripting phase of production.

One might assume that the book simply treads a path that is covered in detail by Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Tony Lee Moral’s Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie, and Moral’s follow-up The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds. However, Scripting Hitchcock proves to have much to contribute to the study of these films. It makes an excellent companion piece to the other publications, but also stands on its own as a decisive look into Hitchcock’s relationship with his writers. It manages to educate the reader while enhancing their appreciation of the films in question. What else could anyone ask?

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Hitchcock’s Ear

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

Release Date: March 22, 2012

Expectation has a way of painting shadows upon a text that can easily doom the reader’s enjoyment. Certain readers might be disappointed with “Hitchcock’s Ear” if they are expecting an in-depth ‘behind the scenes’ study of Alfred Hitchcock’s incredible use of sound. This book has other agendas. David Schroeder’s analytical book is an in-depth study of the possible influence that music may have had upon Hitchcock’s film work (including mise-en-scène and montage). Instead of focusing on Hitchcock’s use of sound and music in his work, this text instead focuses on how the director’s musical influences affect his particular style. There are certainly major exceptions. One of the book’s highlights is a chapter that discusses Franz Waxman’s score for the film. The disintegration of the relationship between Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock is also discussed at length. These chapters are both interesting and informative as they offer an alternative viewpoint about these particular topics.

Schroeder uses specific examples in exhaustive detail to illustrate his points. Because of the tireless detail presented here, the text has a great deal of value to learned scholars of Hitchcock studies, film theory, and music. However, one wonders if certain points will be made clear to individuals that do not have a basic understanding of music and music terminology (as well as a familiarity with various musical compositions). One imagines that Schroeder’s meaning will be lost on a great many people. This makes it rather difficult for a reviewer, because the book’s strengths are directly related to the weaknesses. The book’s sole weakness is that the reader’s enjoyment and understanding of the text is contingent upon his or her knowledge of the subject prior to reading the book. Even if this is an issue for certain readers, it should be said that Schroeder’s text provides an extremely new and interesting method of analyzing the “Hitchcock” film. It should provide scholars with an essential reference for future studies on the master’s oeuvre.

 Review by: Devon Powell