Monday, 15 April 2013

One Hour Photo (Romanek 2002)

One Hour Photo is a character psychological horror by director Mark Romanek, featuring one of the best performances of award winning actor Robin Williams who plays Sy, a character as far away from his typecast as possible. Sy is a neurotic and lonely character who, through photos, creates an emotional attachment to the Yorkin family. One of the most important and interesting things to look at throughout the film is the colour, not just specific colours but the overall colour scheme and shifts in white balance and warmth that emotionally punctuate the story.

As we start we have a narrative frame of Sy in an interrogation asked why he hates Mr Torkin so much, although this is just a frame for us to expect the worst the colours are important from the very start and Sy's relation to the colours blue an white are instantly cemented.
The blue in the background matches the bag Sy usually carries and the waistcoat he works in and the general colour scheme associated with his character. Along with the white of his home, workplace and interrogation room all balanced to be tinted a little blue or completely neutral we get a feeling of sterility, it is almost like a hospital in its colouring, through this we get no emotional hints about Sy's character, he is blank and sterile himself. The colour isn't so much cold as it is bleak and the extreme use of a pure white is unsettling, the pollution of a colour generally associated with good things.

Here we come to the lighting change featured in the film, whilst the lighting doesnt change a large amount it is significant and signifies darkness, the other side of the mall and the other side of Sy.
The idea of what happens after the lights go out, what Sy does when he isnt under scrutinisation of the public is extremely important to the film which hinges on the idea that Sy wants to bring things that he figures out in the shadows to the light of the mall.

This is accompanied by a momentary change in white balance from white to a more neutral yellow:
At this point Sy is living out a fantasy in which he is a member of the Yorkin family, looking at their photos he tells the waitress they are his family. The yellow balance both symbolises fantasy and works as a bridge between the sterile life of Sy and the vibrant warm colours used in the Yorkin home and photographs. This colour awareness is clear, in the film Sy himself sees it as his job to make the Yorkin home warm and beautiful, when the colour goes .3(minimal) blue he prematurely gets a technician out who refuses to fix it. This is one of the angriest we see Sy, it is clear that getting into and preserving the warmth of the Yorkin home is his wish, this colour balance is half way there as Sy fantasises and lies as though he is already completely there.

The difference in colour balance is most noticable in this scene, Sy's white home is intercut with the Yorkins, his home is silent and lonely, white, silver and transparent. It is blindingly pbvious when intercut with the Yorkins warm, populated, vibrant and happy household.
This colour balance is again compromised as the camera pans from the beige nothingness of Sy in his chair to the wall full of Yorkin family photos, as the camera gets closer the wall literally gets brighter and warmer showing that the photographs and the Yorkin family are where Sy steals warmth and builds emotional connections.
Sy's second fantasy involves him imagining he actually walks around and lives in the Yorkin house, whilst the colour scheme isnt as warm he actually alters his clothing, wearing a blue jumper signifying strength and comfort instead of the beige nothingness of his cardigan.
The next significant image is interesting, it involves a lot of green and is one of the few images in the film that does. It seems somewhat honest, pure and innocent maybe because it is between Sy and Jake, the scene represents the innocent and kind side of Sy which is usually hidden by loneliness or social structures. This is possibly the last time in the film that things could go well, however Sy oversteps his mark and Jake wont take a toy from him. This realisation and the discovery of Will Yorkin cheating on his wife present one of the turning points of the film in which Sy decides to bring to light from the "dark" information in the form of photos.
This red scene is actually the first time we actually see a full character in the "dark room" at the photography booth, the colour red symbolises rage and anger, Will has everything Sy wants but is throwing it away and the rage inside Sy needs to come out.

A long tracking shot follows Sy's decision to stir things up, the photos were not enough so he has to take further action, after being fired a long tracking shot keeps Sy in perspective as he walks through the store, the shelves envelope and tower over him. As the music swells he takes a knife from a cabinet and stuffs it into his bag. The long tracking take forces the viewer into Sy's mind, we are towered over and pulled in sympathising with his decision despite its insanity.

Sy's inner conflict swells, after falling asleep during The Day The Earth Stood Still the dialogue "Your choice is simple, join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration". This represents Sy's decision to commit social suicide and commit himself to the white nothingness of his dreams to "wake up" Will Yorkin and show him the same choice. The white and red in his dream clearly signify Sy's realisation that he will never be in the Yorkin family, that dream is now dead.
He wakes from his nightmare he has a shower, a classic sign of a characters change in perspective in films, and it is clear that the colour pallet has changed from a white blue to a calmer softer white signifying Sy's acceptance.
We even see Sy's wall again, this time however the room is neutral and the cold daylight shines on the dead wall.
I am surprisingly going to ignore the climax of the film, apart from a small section in which Sy runs away through a room of red, then blue, then red again mimicing police lights and signifying his imminent capture the colour pallet is the same beige nothingness from the rest of the film. That nothingness is what Sy is pushing Will away from and sacrificing his own warmth in exchange for the cold white of the police interrogation room.
The only spurt of colour in the room is the red chair, it is the exact same colour as Jake's jumper and represents Sy's empty memories of the Yorkin family however there is still some hope in his mind that he is still in some way "Uncle Sy".
This fantastic slow fade shows that he knows what he has lost, and understands that his body is trapped, but he might have kept the Yorkin family together and for that he allows himself a little bit of warmth.
It is clearly shown throughout the whole film and through these images themselves that white balance, colour schemes and warmth are extremely important to the narrative of the film. In a reflective way Sy himself is meticulous about the colour of his prints, this film proves his point that colour is one of the keys to emotion and the films use of colour keeps that in mind, manipulating and unlocking our emotions at perfect points.

1. One Hour Photo (2002), Romanek M., USA ,Fox Searchlight Pictures
2. The day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Wise R., USA, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation 

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