September 2013, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Color in Film


The introduction of color film in the mid-1930s and the resulting developments in this area are some of the most significant aesthetic innovations of cinematography. Color in film is an important component of picture composition and filmic dramaturgy, as well as a fundamental aspect regarding the perception of film. Our selection of seven films, including examples of tinted silent movies as well as films made with different color material (from Technicolor to Eastmancolor), gives a small insight into the breadth of the approach to the use of color in film and the space between narrative commitment and color autonomy.

THE RIVER (Jean Renoir, F/India/USA 1951, 1. & 18.9.) is a composed Technicolor masterpiece that observes the Indian subcontinent from the point of view of English families and young girls and their desires. A young American wounded in the war tries to find mental equilibrium while staying with his cousin on the banks of the Ganges in Bengal. Three young girls compete for his favor and thus experience their departure from childhood. Simple and gently observant the film meanders from episode to episode without ever being in danger of falling apart. "The film treats a fusion of colors. The Indian national colors green and red react in Technicolor. The animated relationship between two cultures is condensed into color relationships." (Frieda Grafe)

DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE(The Joyless Street, G.W. Pabst, G 1925, 3. & 8.9., with Eunice Martins on the piano) is about Vienna during the era of inflation, when destitution and hunger caused all moral principles of the bourgeoisie to collapse. Whereas resourceful profiteers managed to profit from the economic decline, on the other side misery and despair reigned supreme. Using cross-cutting techniques, Pabst accentuated the discrepancies between the poor and the rich. We are showing the film in a version that has been restored and toned by the Munich Film Museum. Long before color was introduced, the pioneers of cinema experimented with colors and film, coloring by using stencils or by hand and tinting (monochrome coloring) and toning (chemical transformation of the film material) to bring color into early cinema. The color dramaturgy of the time followed particular codes for tinting - blue-tinted sequences indicated night shots or outdoor shots, yellow stood for interiors and red signified danger, fire or love.

TOUKI BOUKI (Djibril Diop Mambéty, Senegal 1973, 4. & 15.9.) A young Senegalese couple dreams of a better future in Paris. However, after overcoming a multitude of barriers they have to admit that life in France is only linked to a vague hope that will probably never be fulfilled. Djibril Diop Mambéty's experimental feature debut, shot in the lurid colors of the 1970s, is at once a road movie, an episode film, an initiation story and a satire. The borders between reality and imagination, documentary and fantasy are blurred. A milestone of African cinema.

MIES VAILLA MENNEISYYTTÄ (The Man Without a Past, Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/Germany/France 2002, 7. & 17.9.) A man is robbed and beaten to death but miraculously returns to life – however he has forgotten everything. Without an identity, past or memory, but with a head bandage, he starts a new life in a prefab container inhabited by homeless people and outlaws, protected by angels of the Salvation Army. He plants potatoes, is involved in an absurd bank robbery and finds love with Irma (Kati Outinen). In rich, strongly luminous colors, Kaurismaki tells of solidarity among people who are excluded and about the preservation of dignity without being at all dramatic or forfeiting his lightness or stoical nonchalance.

IMITATION OF LIFE (Douglas Sirk, USA 1959, 13. & 26.9.) A white mother and a black mother have their hand in the unhappiness of their daughters who estrange themselves from them. Douglas Sirk's farewell to Hollywood uncovers the facades of American bourgeoisie with the means of the melodrama. These include the artificiality of the interior, as well as the lighting and color dramaturgy. In the end, color plays the central role of the film, figuratively too. Sarah Jane who would like to pass for white is ashamed of her black mother and rejects her.

DON'T LOOK NOW (Nicolas Roeg, GB/Italy 1973, 21. & 28.9.) John (Donald Sutherland) and his wife Laura (Julie Christie) move to Venice after the death of their daughter in an accident. He has been commissioned to restore a church and gets more and more involved in his work, while she meets two elderly sisters, one of whom claims to be psychic and in contact with the daughter in the hereafter. John also sees things he cannot trust. The color red runs through the whole film as an uncanny, threatening motif. The bright red raincoat that the child was wearing when she drowned seems to return in Venice's dark corners and canals and does not allow the parents any peace.

FUNNY FACE (Stanley Donen, USA 1957, 23. & 30.9.) The photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) wants to transform the inconspicuous bookseller Jo (Audrey Hepburn) into a photo model for the fashion magazine Quality. Jo who is completely uninterested in fashion can only be tempted with a trip to Paris where her intellectual heroes live, representatives of "empathicalism" who dress in black and meet in dark smoky basements to discuss while smoking. This contrasts heavily with the "Think Pink!" slogan of the fashion editor that is fulfilled by the film in the greatest of colorful excesses in luminous Technicolor.