Author Pat Kirkham discusses the opening titles for The Cardinal, from her authoritative book Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design.
The beautiful live-action title sequence for this story of a priest who rises to the rank of cardinal reveals a remarkable sensitivity to light and pattern. A commanding piece of photography and editing, its elegant restraint counterbalances a majesty and beauty that might otherwise overwhelm.
The sequence locates place, time and character: a young priest at the Vatican, the physical and spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Church, in Fascist Italy in the 1930s. A series of cross fades of steps, columns, mosaic pavements and surrounding spaces produce visceral visual pleasures. The powerful shadows and the slow movement of a solitary silhouette across a landscape, at once speciﬁc and abstract, suggest a darker side to this apparent serenity.
The obligations and control — from which the main character never quite escapes — are suggested by the length and strength of the cast shadows. The darkness of the shadows is still in the mind when the camera moves to grafﬁti, with its abrupt reminder of the greater shadow of Fascism. Jerome Moss's score highlights the isolation of the priest and hints at tensions between him and his Church.
It was easier to come up with a title sequence for this ﬁlm than it was to ﬁnd a symbol. Saul stated, “No matter how I tried to pictorialize it, I always wound up [with] a kind of ecclesiastical character in the graphic material, which tended to type it as a religious ﬁlm or dull documentary. What I wanted to advertise was the ﬁlm's general dramatic quality, with a sense of strength and impact.”
In the end, the symbol was created out of the name of the ﬁlm, using lettering to convey a sense of monumentality. Imposing in its own right, the size and importance of the word "cardinal" is greatly reduced in signiﬁcance by the power and towering presence of "the," the structure of which symbolizes a greater power than that of the Cardinal, namely the Vatican.
Pat Kirkham is Professor in the History of Design, Decorative Arts and Culture at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design & Culture, New York. She has written and edited a number of books, including Charles and Ray Eames (1998) and Women Designers in the USA 1900–2000 (2001).
©2011 Laurence King Publishing Ltd. Used with permission.
Titles: Saul Bass
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SAUL BASS: A LIFE IN FILM AND DESIGN
By Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham