A five-minute clip from graphic artist Saul Bass' Oscar-winning 1968 documentary Why Man Creates made its way to You Tube this fall. Bass sketched the "edifice" of human progress as a towering work of architecture—from cave dwelling to pyramid, Greek temple to Roman arch, Gothic cathedral to modernist box—each layer providing a humorous frame in which to view the evolution of innovation. The clip counted more than 20,100 hits at press time.
Nearly four decades after its original release, Bass' 25-minute classic still makes a good argument for stepping outside the box. In a segment devoted to ping-pong balls, one ball bounces so high it is expelled from the factory assembly line, only to disappear in a burst of exuberance in the uncharted freedom outdoors.
A humorous take on serious questions is ageless and typical of Bass (1920-1996), who created original title sequences for such films as The Man With the Golden Arm and North by Northwest. In Why, he used a variety of low-tech techniques to convey the euphoria of the eureka moment and the frustration of research thwarted. Human progress is condensed into a fantasy of steam engines, light bulbs, and jet planes. As the trappings of modernity pile on, a mushroom cloud emerges from the pinnacle like a gasp of exhaustion. But Bass, an optimist, shapes the cloud like a well-leafed tree.
Researchers note that people who take creative leaps can be making a radicalbreak with mainstream expectations and societal responsibilities. Bass doesn't flinch. Instead, he argues for expressing one's uniqueness, to declare, "I am." That, Bass says, is why men and women create.
The price of creativity: Why Man Creates, a 25-minute documentary by Saul Bass, is available as a DVD from www.pyramidmedia.com for $125.