Saul Bass | It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World | Grand Prix
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Mathematics and Visual Style
Starting around 1953, Saul Bass created unified promotion campaigns for films, in which posters, ads, credits and other materials would all use common logos and images. He was perhaps influenced by William Golden, who in 1951 created a unified corporate identity for CBS, centered around a logo, the CBS eye.
Some common subjects in the works of Saul Bass:
The credits are a full-scale animated cartoon. They do not have any continuing characters, however, unlike the Pink Panther cartoon credits to come (in 1964).
The credits center on a globe, symbolizing the World of the title. The globe is another of Bass' circles.
The globe splits in half, at some points. This recalls the round dome of the Capitol opening up, in Bass' logo for Advise and Consent. The credits often center on ways that the globe becomes open, releasing its contents.
Towards the end of the credits, the drivers start suiting up: putting on helmets, gloves, face masks and goggles. Some of these seem to form series of related objects, such as different kinds of racing gloves. Such series are found in the films of Agnès Varda. Also in the experimental film Lost Book Found (Jem Cohen, 1996).
We see every type of circular equipment: car parts, clocks, round mirrors, loudspeakers. This includes the lenses of cameramen snapping photos of the drivers.
Hero James Garner has striking flared regions on his helmet. I don't know if Bass had anything to do with this design. But it is consistent with his skill in creating simple-but-memorable shapes. It also anticipates the flared lines in Bass' logo for Continental Airlines. The helmet is white and the flares are red and blue: perhaps making the colors of the American flag (Garner's character is American). Bass used red-and-blue for his United Airlines logo.
Split screen effects in the Grand Prix credits sometimes create multiple identical copies of images. Bass has these arranged into large rectangular grids of sub-screens, each with the same picture.
The casting of leading man type Wallace Reid as a race car driver was archetypical. Ever since, race car movies have usually featured good looking, romantic lead male actors who don't usually play violent or dangerous men. They are a way for Hollywood to add some machismo to these actors' image, without casting them as a violent cop or gunslinger. James Garner and Yves Montand in Grand Prix are direct descendants. Grand Prix allows them to play men who are "macho but non-violent".