Why Man Creates: Saul Bass’ Oscar-Winning Animated Look at Creativity (1968)

Maybe you already had a fas­ci­na­tion with Saul Bass’ cel­e­brat­ed movie title sequences, or maybe you gained one from yes­ter­day’s post about the cur­rent design­ers he’s inspired. Either way, you can round out your under­stand­ing of the man’s artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty by watch­ing Why Man Cre­ates (part one, part two), the ani­mat­ed film by Bass and his wife/collaborator Elaine which won the 1968 Acad­e­my Award for Doc­u­men­tary Short Sub­ject. An eight-part med­i­ta­tion on the nature of cre­ativ­i­ty, the film mix­es ani­ma­tion and live action, using Bass’ advanced reper­toire of opti­cal tech­niques, to look at the issues sur­round­ing how and why humans have, through­out the his­to­ry of civ­i­liza­tion, kept on mak­ing things. It begins with ear­ly hunters felling a beast and mak­ing a cave paint­ing out of it. From that cave ris­es a tow­er built out of every major phase of human civ­i­liza­tion: the wheel near the bot­tom, the pyra­mids some­what high­er up, the lit­er­al dark­ness of the Dark Ages as the cam­era ris­es high­er still, ulti­mate­ly capped by a heap of planes, trains, and auto­mo­biles. One won­ders how Bass might, in an update, have stacked his rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the inter­net atop of all this, but the sequence’s dat­ed­ness costs it none of its vir­tu­os­i­ty.

Some of Why Man Cre­ates’ sub­se­quent chap­ters, in their bold late-six­ties “trip­pi­ness,” may strike you as more dat­ed than vir­tu­osic. But it would take a hard­ened view­er indeed not to crack a smile at Bass’ Pythonesque turn when a drawn hand flips open the tops of a series of unthink­ing par­ty­go­ers’ heads, reveal­ing the empti­ness inside. In its 29 short min­utes, the film also looks at the cre­ative strug­gle in terms of the coarse­ness of eval­u­a­tive crowds, the ten­den­cy of suc­cess­ful rad­i­cal ideas to become self-per­pet­u­at­ing insti­tu­tions, and how peo­ple just like things bet­ter when they have Amer­i­can flags on them. Its jour­ney ends in an unex­pect­ed set­ting, amid the toil of agri­cul­tur­al and med­ical sci­en­tists who may pur­sue an idea for years only to find that it has no appli­ca­tion. This note of frus­tra­tion leads into a mon­tage of sun, fire, stat­u­ary, the Sphinx, can­vass­es, and rock­ets. Assem­bled with Bass’ sig­na­ture sub­tle visu­al com­plex­i­ty, it takes us from antiq­ui­ty to moder­ni­ty in a way only he could.

Why Man Cre­ates has been added to our list of Free Oscar Films on the Web as well as our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

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Comments (12)
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  • Lauren says:

    At first I thought Bass’s film would be too dat­ed to be rel­e­vant to the types of art that are appre­ci­at­ed today. Instead, his steps of cre­ativ­i­ty lead us through a series that enter­tains and chal­lenges. I enjoyed the abstract scenes such as adding milk and ice cream to the girl head-bang­ing as much as I enjoyed to the polit­i­cal com­ment about adding an Amer­i­can flag to his piece to suit soci­ety. The 8 parts do a won­der­ful job pre­view­ing just what a cre­ative mind endures in the process of cre­at­ing some­thing won­der­ful.

  • Jordan Tyjeski says:

    I don’t know what I was expect­ing from the clip, but I was just about as con­fused after I watched it as before I did. I thought it was very weird while I was watch­ing it, and even kind of point­less and dumb. After I had watched the whole video and was eat­ing lunch, I was think­ing about it, and things start­ed to make sense. It took me awhile, but I start­ed see­ing what I think Bass want­ed me to. I even went back and watched parts again, because there more I watched and thought about it, the cool­er the video seemed to me.

  • Jaycie says:

    I real­ly liked the video. I think I grasped the mean­ing and the inten­tion of the video pret­ty well. I like how the for­mat was dif­fer­ent from oth­er infor­ma­tion­al videos. I like the illus­tra­tions and the sto­ries involved in the video.I think it helps a lot to have the video sep­a­rat­ed into 7 cat­e­gories. I think it is impor­tant to remem­ber how ideas evolve and to encour­age peo­ple to keep think­ing of new ideas and ways to improve the world and this video did that.

  • Molly Hoffman says:

    At first I thought the film was very con­fus­ing and I was con­fused as to the point it was mak­ing. How­ev­er, as it went on I start­ed to under­stand some of the sym­bol­ism. I thought it was very inter­est­ing how the film mak­er showed these sym­bols.

  • Anika Sheela says:

    This video is very thought pro­vok­ing. I liked how he used ani­ma­tion, com­ic style and dif­fer­ent styles to express the def­i­n­i­tion and mean­ing of this video.

  • James Donnellan says:

    I was very con­fused through­out most of the film but i began to see the rea­sons they con­veyed, IE pas­sion or good deeds. I like how the cre­ator did­nt just lec­ture the points but instead used sym­bol­ism to allow the audi­ence to fig­ure out what he meant

  • Angelica K. says:

    I found this film to be con­fus­ing at first. How­ev­er, it made you think deep­er about what point they were try­ing to get across. It brought up mul­ti­ple inter­est­ing points on cre­ation. Things that I would have nev­er thought about with­out the films help. The visu­als were inter­est­ing to help keep the view­er enter­tained.

  • Kayla R. says:

    This film was pret­ty ran­dom, but i think the mes­sage they had was inter­est­ing. I think humans are prob­lem solvers and we make a lot of tri­al and error before we come to a good prod­uct. Most things that are found today are made by mis­takes. We all look at design in our own way includ­ing this clip.

  • Dustin B. says:

    I start­ed watch­ing this short film with no expec­ta­tions. I strug­gled at points to con­nect the dots of anoth­er per­sons thought process. Although, I think watch­ing it this way enhances the visu­al expe­ri­ence and mes­sage over­all. I enjoyed it and was cap­ti­vat­ed the entire time.

  • Elliot V. says:

    As I start­ed to watch this short film it caught my atten­tion with the writ­ing down of ideas, but also con­fused me to why things were being writ­ten down. As I con­tin­ued to watch I start­ed to under­stand the mean­ing of the film and the clips in the film. Many dif­fer­ent mean­ings how humans came to be, how we inter­act, and treat one anoth­er. It was a very strange on how things were rep­re­sent­ed but also pret­ty to under­stand after a cou­ple min­utes in.

  • Andre W says:

    I thought that this film was slight­ly con­fus­ing and dif­fi­cult to under­stand at some part. There were var­i­ous parts that made me feel a sort of aston­ish­ment at how com­plex the scene was and the type of con­nects that I made from them. There is a chance that I was con­fused by the oth­er parts because I was not think­ing deep enough, or I was think­ing too deeply.

  • AJ says:

    My 9th grade Eng­lish teacher showed this to us back in ’80. It was a tad con­fus­ing for us 14 yr olds in places, but of course we dug the humor and laughed at the parts that seemed “fun­ny.” The old­er I got, the more I under­stood it and put the pieces togeth­er. It is a PHENOMENAL, thought-pro­vok­ing film and I still go back to it from time to time. Sure, some of the sequences are dat­ed (the “gogo” scene) but if you sub­sti­tute today’s cul­ture for that, it’s absolute­ly the same. I can­not over­state how bril­liant this piece is.

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