Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Colour in Cinema

Colour is a massive part of cinema, its one of the key aspects of mise en scene which define the mood, themes and even tell the narrative of films. We have approached colour in various ways in our film to both create coherence and to symbolise poetic and subtle meaning.

In Syntactic Role of Colour in Film by Ornam Rotem the basics of colour in terms of film and "world building" are laid out. He first talks about the "three dimensions" of colour "varying hues, as degrees of intensity or saturation and as levels of brightness." When discussing this the the Munsell colour system comes to mind as a simple visual representation. Rotem's article goes into depth about how a colour grade can create a world; "colour, in all its dimensions, plays a crucial role in being able to give a film a sense of whole". It is clear in films that often a certain tint can be added to alter the feel. Rotem talks about using the "real world" as a reference point however he more interestingly identifies the struggles with defining real, a different philosophical debate all together. In The Matrix  two clear colour tints are used as "key unifying element(s)" for the  real world and the Matrix. In the following images the green tint is obvious, all of the blacks are incredibly green, this represents the green letters on monitors and the green computer program that is the Matrix. Subtle to the average viewer the hue of the tint is one of the unifying elements of the Matrix, when taken out of it and placed in the real world the image is quite different.
In the real world a colder more metallic aesthetic is apparent, a blue is  added to the majority of the grimy looking shots. The machine aesthetic is clear however it is no longer green and artificial but real cold and blue.
Whilst neither of the worlds are the real world we see, this comparison validates the ability to compare filmic worlds and colour with real life. Most films stick to one or two tints, as Pans Labyrinth (2003 del Toro) does contrasting itself, showing two separate worlds, thematics or points of view within the film.

Another option with the overall colour wash is to subtley alter it throughout the film implying a characteristic change. This technique is brilliantly used in Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo (2002 Romanek) in which an antiseptic white becomes dulled and beige showing the characters clarity of mind despite the twisted view he has on the world. It also at times represents the fantasy in his mind and shows the settings from the view points of different characters, all elements achieved by subtle manipulation of the colour in the mise en scene.

Children of Men (2006 Cauron) uses its unifying colour scheme to represent a clear mundane and not too distant reality. All of the camera work and writing aims at realism as does the colour, a grim realism but realism none the less. However as Rotem says what is real? How do different people perceive colour? or reality? All questions on a philosophical level that question how real a films colour wash can ever be and what it can achieve.

All of the aforementioned colour schemes are clearly not all encompassing but jus some of the wash manipulations used to convey meaning and emotion and tie worlds together coherently. Rotem says that "Worlds evolve, transform and change. However we choose to talk of worlds, there seems to be no possibility of ignoring the need to recognize their marks of coherence, their internal signifiers that serve to agglutinate their disparate elements" this sums up the way "worlds" interact with colour in film and hints at the smaller, the more specific, minute objects that stand out because of colour, not world colour but specific item colour which adds completely different meaning.

When lighting our most controlled scene, the interview, we used blue gels to make the scene look as cold as possible without looking unreal. This added a harshness cold and darkness to the scene that we really loved, the light looked more like dark falloff light than actual directed light which was the intension. The coldness is the most important thing, a slightly antiseptic feel, and a really dark horrible looking room to be in.

After taking this shot we looked back at the other footage and some of it was a little washed out, we tried warming it up in the edit but decided that to build a coherent world we would make the scene a little colder with three way colour correct. This makes the whole film much more coherent and carries the cold harsh feel throughout the whole thing.

The other just as subtle use of colour is to symbolically link an item or character to an emotion. When we see colour we immediately attach meaning that is derived from what the colour connotes to you as a viewer. Some believe, like Rotem "that colours have no universal meanings and that their semantics are determined by their social and historical import". Whilst this is true it can no be disputed that in the correct environment a colour can connote something to the majority of its intended audience and therefore be used as a code to attach significant meanings to items. Context however is also important in this situation, red lips for example connote beauty however the red on a stop sign connotes danger. This simply shows that colour is part of the language film uses to suggest hidden meanings, when multiple things in the form connote the same meaning a coherent message can be read into the film.

For specific use of colour to convey subtext Brads babyish blue shows his innocence. The detective has a black and white motif showing his authority and strictness that becomes infected by the yellow folder, the point of deception and lies that corrupts his mind. The folder leads to the red evidence label clearly shows the danger to Brad.

1. Syntactic Role of Colour Rotem O., DATE!, Last Accessed 1/5/13, URL

The Matrix (1999) Wachowski A. Wachowski L., USA, Warner Bros. 
Pans Labyrinth (2006) Del Toro G., Spain Mexico USA, Estudios Picasso
One Hour Photo (2002), Romanek M., USA ,Fox Searchlight Pictures
Children of Men (2006), CuarĂ³n A., USA, UK, Universal Pictures, Strike Entertainment, Hit & Run Productions

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