“Why Man Creates”: Saul Bass’s short film on the nature of creativity

By on May 9, 2015

In 1968, graphic designer Saul Bass — a master of conceptual design who is known for creating many memorable movie title sequences and cinema posters — created this wonderful short documentary on the nature of creativity, “Why Man Creates”, which has the wonderfully succinct subtitle: “a series of explorations, episodes & comments on creativity.”

The film essentially tries to answer the question: Why does man create?

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(Saul Bass, photo found here)

According to the film’s distributor, Pyramid Media, it combines “humor, satire, irony with serious questions about the creative process and how it comes into play for different individuals.”

“Why Man Creates” mixes animation and live-action, including Bass’s own archive animation and assorted other materials, film fragments and fake interviews, and is divided into eight sections: The Edifice, Fooling Around, The Process, Judgment, A Parable, Digression, The Search, and The Mark.

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“Why Man Creates” was written by Saul Bass and Mayo Simon, and directed by Saul Bass, with additional assistance from Bass’ wife/collaborator Elaine Bass, and, although uncredited, George Lucas, who was studying film at USC at the time, was the second unit cameraman.

The short film won the 1968 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. An abbreviated version of it ran on the very first broadcast of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” on September 24, 1968.

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Bass was best known for his memorable title sequences for films such as Spartacus, Anatomy Of A Murder, Vertigo, Psycho, North By Northwest, Walk On The Wild Side, and The Man with the Golden Arm, among many others. He also designed the brilliant logos for corporations and organizations such as the United Way, United Airlines, the Girl Scouts, and AT&T.

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“Why Man Creates” is one of the very few films from 1968 selected by the Library of Congress for its National Film Registry for “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.” The film was frequently screened in elementary and high school classrooms across the United States throughout the late 1960s and much of the ’70s. His influence on animation and graphic design was vast, and can be seen in examples like PBS’s “Schoolhouse Rock” and Terry Gilliam’s animation for the BBC’s “Monty Python” TV series.

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(check out the posters here)

Here’s a good biography on Saul Bass.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.