Author Pat Kirkham discusses the opening titles for Goodfellas, designed by Saul and Elaine Bass, from her authoritative book Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design.
"I had a placement for the credit but didn't have the right lettering. I had the right music cue but something wasn't right. I just didn't know what to do with it. I was watching a movie called Big and I see the end credits — Elaine and Saul Bass. I said 'My God, this is great! They are working... they are still around. This is fantastic.' I said to my producer, 'Do you think we should venture to call and see if they would do this?'"
Saul's response: "Were we interested in doing titles for Martin Scorsese? You bet your ass we were."
The title sequence was resolved fairly quickly, partly because Scorsese already had an approach in mind, partly because there were no "backgrounds" to be considered, only lettering, and partly because Saul and Elaine came up with what was used after only one or two attempts. Scorsese wanted the sequence to reflect the frenetic pace of the film based on Wiseguys, Pileggi's composite biography about Italian–American mobsters, but since the credits would bookend the extremely powerful opening scene involving cold-blooded murder, Saul and Elaine were anxious not to overwhelm the action with elaborate visuals. The lean, hard-edged credits rush across the screen, blurring like a car passing at high speed just like that in which the "Goodfellas" are traveling — to a background of doppler-effect traffic sounds. Before the murder the typography is white on black; afterwards it changes to red.
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.
Title Sequence by: Saul Bass, Elaine Bass
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