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Colors, Narratives and Nostalgia

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We have been talking about Traffic 2000 and here colors are not employed to suggest temporal difference, but a spatial difference. So, colors mark different narrative strengths, indicate a spatial differences. Benicio Del Toro’s story is set in grainy, washed out yellow, bleached out yellow of Mexico. However, Traffic basically deals with what? Drugs, drug trafficking and how drugs influences families or businesses or politics even. For the Michael Douglas story and Michael Douglas and his family; Steven Soderbegh used a blue palette, steel grey, blue and for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid we get a sun drenched full color, set in San Diego. We were talking about surrealism. So, what is surrealism, let us talk about. The other day while discussing realism we talked about magic realism, surrealism. So, what is surrealism?A sub-conscious state of mind, a dreamlike state of mind.Who was the master surrealist, most well-known? Salvador Dalí, Dali collaboratedwith Bunuel in Un Chien Andalou; the movie which we were discussing the other day, ahand splicing an eye ball. So, Salvador Dalí actually collaborated on that film in creatingthese very gloomy, bleary and dreamlike state images.Taxi Driver, when Robert De Niro is on a killing rampage when he shoots every possiblevillain and pimp in a brothel where Jodie Foster is kept; by the end he is so pleasedwith himself, he has this delusion about himself as a kind of a one man army, a hero.Whereas, Martin Scorsese quite ambiguous about his state, about his position. He is not reallya hero for Scorsese. He is just a deranged highly disturbed man.But in his mind he is a hero.And then you have the shades of very saturated red, trickling down the wall, tricklingdown the Travis Bickel's own head and all over the place, pools of red, very saturated, notreally a very realistic red but saturated red.Filmmakers also make use; this is another symbol to lend very, again we are talkingabout delineation of characters, so how colors delineate characters.So, you have a Jim Carry playing The Riddler in Batman forever, and of course you have a Heath Ledger doing hisJoker in shades of purple green and other. So, colors are important, colors tell us about the character.Colors may also evoke nostalgia,and when nostalgia is evoked we do not havesaturated colors, we have soft muted colors in soft muted glove. So, one good example is Cinema Paradiso;a wonderful Italian film. So, everything is tinted with fond memories for the protagonist.Can you think of more nostalgic films? Think nostalgia and you willalways have soft muted colors.Which is that? Anything else? There is a Jim Carry movie,I do not know how many of you are aware of that Early 2000 is called, The Majestic;it is all about the movie theater which he tries to restore for someone who mistakes him forhis son for his lost son. And it is also a beautiful movie, short and very soft and muted colors.We often talk about black and white films.So, black and white, I do not know how many of you still watch black and white films,but there are occasional black and white films which you know which gets release once ina while and people talk about it. So, many notable examples; Woody Allen’s Manhattan 1979,Scorsese after Taxi Driver and saturated color resorted to Raging Bull which won RobertDe Niro his first academy award, no sorry second, first was for God Father Part two.Steven Spielberg’s Schindler's List, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood which is a biopic of a failed filmmaker;it is a very interesting movie watch it. Jim Jarmusch again is an expert,is very fond of making black and white movies, he is indie filmmaker.Dead man with Johnny Depp, and he has also made an anthology,a very famous anthology; Jim Jarmusch, which is it, good, Coffee and Cigarettes.It has beautiful segments, particularly with Alfred Molina and Cate Blanchett.George Clooney’s drama Good night and Good luck is based onthe McCarthy period and you know, the communist witch hunting so called; it is set in, setduring the McCarthy period, early 50’s late 40’s and was released in 2005, a beautifulexample of black and white movie. Sin City of course, it is based on a graphicnovel and it is very faithful to the novel; and most recent successful example,The Artist, 2011. Would you like to add to this list?It is a graphic novel. So, graphic novel isstay true to their concept, so therefore black and white. What effect, can you just takeany movie and forget the films which are based on graphic novels, but why do you think weneed to have Raging Bull in black and white?Too much blood but then there was too much blood in Taxi Driver also.Student: Psychological change.Exactly, so in Taxi Driver the violence is psychological in Raging Bull it is very physical.And Scorsese wanted to avoid all that blood flying around. Instead of showing red blood,it is better to show blood in stalk shades of, muted shades of greyand therefore resorting to black and white.However, there is a particular segment in Raging Bull also which is in color.Do you remember which?No not towards the end, there is a time when Jake LaMotta. Well,that is just a glimpse so very minor scheme but I am talking about a home video that JakeLaMotta shoots with his family. Would you like to drink water? So, there is a home videothat he shoots with his family and that is the only time Scorsese allows us to watch some color on screen.Again that is very nostalgic for Jake LaMotta, who has lost everything;his money, his fame, his family, his love, all his loving ones have left him.So, the only color in his life was his family which he loses as well. So, therefore the use ofcolor, it makes sense, it is symbolic.Clooney’s movie on the other hand is theperiod film and perhaps, he wanted to give a more realistic touch and therefore; youknow after all its talking about those time and television was in black and white,Ed Murrow is the key protagonist there. And Ed Murrow was known for his show Good night andGood luck, which was a black and white show, so therefore the necessity to show that.So, most of scholars of color theory believed that black and white even in times of coloris used to make films more elegant and often more dramatic.Directors and cinematographers are often freed from the reality of color, color binds people, constraints them.And certain kinds of theme call for black and white. For example, when you have to portraypsychological or moral conflict on screen as in Schindler’s List, when the setting ismore naturalistic not real but naturalist as in Manhattan; and then of course you aretalking about dark graphic novel such as Sin City, which has occasional flashes of yellow,am I right, red and yellow.Any comments you would like to make about color theory?Color?Any observation?Student: It is actually a slightly obscure Tobey Maguire’s a movie called, Pleasantville.So, what happened in that is they watchesthis old TV show which is in black and white, and somehow through some device which throughthey did not really explains, they end up in the TV show. So, they end up being blackand white themselves; and how they refuse to that and how towards the end of the movie,the entire place where pleasantly turns into colors as well. So there color plays a rolein the story itself, in the plot itself. Use of color as a narrative; this is the verygood example, Pleasantville. How many of you are familiar with Three Kings? Three Kingsis actually a very interesting film, if you watch it, you will understand that how thehorrors of war are muted, as he uses as David O. Russell resorts to use those bleached out muted colors.So, colors do add to the narrative towards telling a story.Student: Ma’am in LooperLooper is the very recent movie, listen to this.Student: Main character is Gordon Levitte, he takes drugs in eye drops.So, first time when he takes it, everything on the screenbecomes brighter, shows the state of mind.State of mind, good I am glad you are thinking along those lines.So, the moment he starts taking drugs, everything is sunny and bright,that is the state of mind; surrealism we are talking about. Now let us discuss a film likeThe Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.Batman begins was often in shades of, Batman begins?Student: Brown.Brown, muted oranges and yellows, earthy browns. But as the sequel progressed, the films gotmore and more darker, did you notice that? The Dark Knight Rises is also remarkable becausethis is the very first time that you see, Batman during day time. You never have daytime in Gotham city that is what the earlier versions have told us. You watch the Tim Burtonversion of Batman with Michael Keaton, and then we also had a version with Val Kilmerwhich is the fairly decent one with Nicole Kidman; batman forever. So, you never havedaytime on screen in the Batman saga. The Dark Knight is the first movie to use daytimeon screen in the batman narrative. But that is not to say that, the theme is not dark;it is, The Dark Knight as you know the film progresses, it gets darker and darker andit ends on a very pessimistic, very nihilistic note if you remember where there is a needfor hero, but such are the conditions that you cannot call the real hero, a hero.You need to create a false hero to; you know to keep that ray of hope alive in the people.And it ends on a very dark note and on very dark colors, if you watch the movie you will understand.The last part of this, you know that this is the final that is what ChristopherNolan tells us; no more ‘Batman’ which is sad for the fans but anyway cannot be addedanything more to it. So, how does that movie and I mean it starts with Batman closeted.He is beaten up, he is almost like badly need of help, you see him as he walks, walkingwith the help of a walking stick, all beaten; psychologically, physically, morally.He does not want to show his face to the world. Even Bruce Wayne it is not just a Batman butBruce Wayne, and he is not the same old flam point Bruce Wayne any more.Student: Very much like Citizen Kane as well, because he is alone in the house, the waythey talk about him, nobody has seen him for a while; especially the way, the manner inwhich it shown is almost bit like Citizen Kane, and this shows in Xanadu as well.A huge castle choking with brickbats and beautiful things which are assembled in that castle,so that is the similarity he is drawing, thus the parallel he draws between Citizen Kane’sXanadu and Bruce Wayne’s Castle. But how does the movie end ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?On a dark note or on! Positive yes, because finally he has found peace, the batman isdead but still Bruce Wayne lives on. And what is the color scheme there?Student: It’s bright.Its bright, it set in Italy where Alfred’s character, Michael Kane goes to Italy,and it is unspoken bond between them, some kindof a deal between them, they would not show any recognition, they would not exhibit anyrecognition of each other, but they do acknowledge each other while sitting at two differentcorners of the open restaurant; it is not a closeted dark restaurant, but it is veryopen air kind of a place. And batman is with his lady; cat women. And it’s bright sunnyand glowing, and booth dressed up very differently the way they used to dress earlier.So, what does color signify here?A change in transition; also happy ending.So, it was good to seea Batman series ending that way on note of hope. Anything else that you can think of?Student: Ma’am, it seems that it is difficult to do black and white films in Hindi movies.Why just Hindi, why not talk about Indian cinema?Student: It is because, by culturally colors stands for so much more; like everything hassome significance, like when you said that is it more difficult to do in color; I mean non-color.But, let us assume we want to make a moviebased on a silent cinema period, 1930s or early 40s, and would not be wiser or moreprudent to use a black and white colors scheme. And they can use some smart filmmakers can use.But usually we like to play it safe.Student: ‘Mughal-e-azam’ was remade like such a classic black and white film in,And did you like it?It was remade, I think it was in Yes, yes, it was in 2005; I watched the film in color,I remember the billboards screaming at us. But did you watch the movie, and did you like that colors?Student: I preferred in Black and white.You prefer it in black and white, because of its simplicity and elegance.I think it made much more sense when it was in black and white. I do not know may be they wantedto reach out to the younger generation; and that something most of us have noticed thatwhen it is a black and white movie people do not like, especially in our country, sothey are bang on. Culturally, we do have as a nation; we do have prejudices towards blackand white cinema, especially in times of color.Why use black and white screen at all when color is easily available?So, we are used to watching color on screen, but I do notthink that internationally this practice prevails because to my knowledge, I have never seena black and white classic; Citizen Kane goes color, okay imagine, we do not want to watchthe Citizen Kane in color. It makes perfect sense in an original avatar, no need to mess up,mess around with it. So, thus a matter of personnel taste, but I do feel that classicsonce they are made, they should be restored, but not, they no need to add colors to it.That is the way they intended to be.Any comments or observations?Student: Krzysztof Kieslowski’s three colors trilogy.Color trilogy that is very important; polish filmmaker Kieslowski. So, Blue, Red and White;we will be discussing the film because that is also, there is thread running through thefilm, the trilogy, there is a theme there. We will be discussing the film soon if we have the time.Student: Kieslowski’s ‘A short film about Killling’ in that as the movie progresses,all the shade, it becomes more and more, theframe becomes more and more covered with shades than black.You know what; European cinema is much more experimental with their color pallet, andwith their innovative uses of color on screen. There is a movie called Red Balloon, and itis a very symbolic, very suggestive movie, full of a deep kind of images.So, colors do play a very important role, it is not like they just have Red Balloon there, it stands for something.So, European cinema has some kind of an ideology, some kind of a methodbehind using a particular color scheme. ‘Colors in a narrative are meant to addthe verbal communication in the sense, that certain shades of feelings and emotions areincommunicable in words, hence the employment of colors.Further, colors also elicit certain emotions or reactions in the human and also in animals.Think, showing a red rag; to a bull, so this acts as a psychic stimulant, therefore the significance of colors.’So, thank you very much and we meet tomorrow.