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Mind Boggling Sci-Fi – PHASE IV

PHASE IV is a quirky, highly magnified meditation on evolution.

In my last post I reviewed Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three, and featured the poster designed by Saul Bass – an interesting figure in filmdom, who began as a graphic designer (creating AT&T’s globe logo), then became a highly sought after poster designer, and who would later create the modern title sequence, changing it from the static billboards of old Hollywood into the artistic vignettes you find in most films today. In some cases his intricate title sequences were superior to the movies they opened (I’m looking at you, Edward Dmytryk‘s target=”_blank”>Walk on the Wild Side), but they always helped brand the movies they were part of, sometimes working as extensions of the poster and promotional campaign. Bass worked with many of the greatest film directors of all time, including Robert Wise, Martin Scorsese and Otto Preminger, and was a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock’s, for whom he (allegedly) designed the shower sequence in Psycho. And yet for all his visual acumen, Saul Bass only directed one movie, 1974’s Phase IV, an excellent science fiction mood piece that tells the story of two scientists at war with a rapidly evolving colony of ants. It’s an unusual movie, beautifully shot, which moves at a slow pace yet taps into some intriguing concepts regarding the nature of consciousness, not unlike Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – substituting cryptic ant-designed chimneys for Kubrick’s mysterious monoliths. A commercial flop long misunderstood and unjustly maligned (including a skewering by target=”_blank”>MST3K) Phase IV is a film that deserves a second chance, especially for fans of cerebral sci-fi, or simply of movies that try something different. It’s a shame Bass never got to make another movie – who knows where his own directorial evolution could’ve taken him!

A great poster (albeit misleading), ironically designed by someone other than Bass.

Here’s a short film by Saul Bass, written by Phase IV writer Mayo Simon, called “Why Man Creates,” which won them an Oscar.

and to find a documentary on Bass’s title work follow this link.

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