Saul Bass’ Rejected Poster Concepts for The Shining (and His Pretty Excellent Signature)


Stan­ley Kubrick­’s per­fec­tion­ism extend­ed well beyond his films them­selves. He even took pains to ensure the pro­mo­tion of his projects with posters as mem­o­rable as the actu­al expe­ri­ence of watch­ing them. The poster for Bar­ry Lyn­don remains per­haps the most ele­gant of all time, and who could for­get the first time A Clock­work Orange’s promised audi­ences (or threat­ened audi­ences with the promise of) “the adven­tures of a young man whose prin­ci­pal inter­ests are rape, ultra-vio­lence, and Beethoven”? Though less often seen today, the bright yel­low orig­i­nal poster for The Shin­ing, with that uniden­ti­fied pointil­list face and its expres­sion of shock, may well unset­tle you more than even the film itself.


It came from the office of famous graph­ic design­er Saul Bass, known not just for sto­ry­board­ing Kubrick­’s Spar­ta­cus but for cre­at­ing the title sequences for movies like Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Gold­en Arm and Alfred Hitch­cock­’s Ver­ti­go (whose poster Bass also designed)North by North­west, and Psy­cho (whose immor­tal “show­er scene” Bass may also have come up with). Kubrick right­ly fig­ured Bass had what it took to deliv­er the con­sid­er­able impact of his psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror pic­ture in graph­ic form.


This poster design wasn’t a ‘design and done’ deal how­ev­er,” writes Derek Kim­ball in a Design­Bud­dy post on the evo­lu­tion of the image. “Many of Bass’ con­cepts were reject­ed by Kubrick before set­tling on the final design.” You can see three of them here in this post, and the rest there. Each one includes Kubrick­’s hand­writ­ten notes of objec­tion: “hand and bike are too irrel­e­vant,” “title looks bad small,” “too much empha­sis on maze,” “looks like sci­ence fic­tion film,” “hotel looks pecu­liar.” You’ve got to admit that the man has a point in every case, although I sus­pect Bass knew in advance which design the auteur would, once through the wringer of revi­sions, have the least trou­ble with. “I am excit­ed about all of them,” Bass writes, “and I could give you many rea­sons why I think they would be strong and effec­tive iden­ti­fiers for the film,” but one in par­tic­u­lar, “provoca­tive, scary, and emo­tion­al,” “promis­es a pic­ture I haven’t seen before.”


You have to appre­ci­ate that kind of con­fi­dence in his team’s work when deal­ing with such a famous­ly exact­ing client — and, look­ing at the let­ter itself, you real­ly have to have to appre­ci­ate the kind of con­fi­dence it takes to sign your name with a car­i­ca­ture of your own face on the body of your name­sake fish.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mak­ing of Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing (As Told by Those Who Helped Him Make It)

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Anno­tat­ed Copy of Stephen King’s The Shin­ing

Saul Bass’ Vivid Sto­ry­boards for Kubrick’s Spar­ta­cus (1960)

Who Cre­at­ed the Famous Show­er Scene in Psy­cho? Alfred Hitch­cock or the Leg­endary Design­er Saul Bass?

A Brief Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to Saul Bass’ Cel­e­brat­ed Title Designs

Saul Bass’ Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Short Pon­ders Why Man Cre­ates

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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