July 16, 2005

The color of movies.

Martin Scorsese just came out with two lists of ten films that have the best use of light and color.
English Language Films

1. Barry Lyndon (1975, Dir. Stanley Kubrick; Cin. John Alcott)

2. Duel in the Sun (1946, Dir. King Vidor; Cin. Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, Hal Rosson)

3. Invaders From Mars (1953, Dir. William Cameron Menzies; Cin. John F. Seitz)

4. Leave Her to Heaven (1946, Dir. John M. Stahl; Cin. Leon Shamroy)

5. Moby Dick (1956, Dir. John Huston; Cin. Oswald Morris)

6. Phantom of the Opera (1943, Dir. Arthur Lubin; Cin. W. Howard Greene, Hal Mohr)

7. The Red Shoes (1948, Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; Cin. Jack Cardiff)

8. The Searchers (1956, Dir. John Ford; Cin. Winton C. Hoch)

9. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Dir. Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly; Cin. Harold Rosson)

10. Vertigo (1958, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock; Cin. Robert Burks)

International Films

1. Contempt (1963, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard; Cin. Raoul Coutard; France/Italy)

2. Cries and Whispers (1972, Dir. Ingmar Bergman; Cin. Sven Nykvist; Sweden)

3. Gate of Hell (1953, Dir. Teinosuke Kinugasa; Cin. Kohei Sugiyama; Japan)

4. In the Mood For Love (2000, Dir. Wong Kar-Wai; Cin. Christopher Doyle, Mark Lee Ping-bin; Hong Kong)

5. The Last Emperor (1987, Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci; Cin. Vittorio Storaro; Italy/United Kingdom/China/Hong Kong)

6. Red Desert (1964, Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni; Cin. Carlo Di Palma; France/Italy)

7. The River (1951, Dir. Jean Renoir; Cin. Claude Renoir; India/France/United States)

8. Satyricon (1969, Dir. Federico Fellini; Cin. Giuseppe Rotunno; Italy/France)

9. Senso (1954, Dir. Luchino Visconti; Cin. G.R. Aldo, Robert Krasker, Giuseppe Rotunno; Italy)

10. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964, Dir. Sergei Paradjanov; Cin. Viktor Bestayev, Yuri Ilyenko; Russia/Ukraine)

This is clearly a very idiosyncratic list. Just look at the dates: Scorsese is pointing to the films that influenced him in his impressionable years. We already knew how gaga he is for "Duel in the Sun" (a cheesy Western sometimes referred to as "Lust in the Dust").

Maybe in the comments you can come up with some alternatives. Is there a movie that springs my mind for its color? Not really. Those extra-vivid Technicolor movies like "Vertigo" and "The Birds" crowd out more subtly colored recent movies that I find more appealing. Any ideas?


DB said...

Godfather and Godfather II.

Mr. I said...

"Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers". "Hero" especially makes use of color in beautiful ways.

cobra verde said...

Scorcese is talking about films that both influenced his visual sensibilities before hae ever made one and then those that have impressed him since. Light and color in film can get pretty technical, like still photography but for moving pictures. There are a lot of difficult challenges and approaches to acheiving certain effects with light, with the increased use of digitization, it's fast becoming a lost art. The very first film on his list, Barry Lyndon, would be on just about every English speaking cinematographer's top five list for innovation: Stanley Kubrick had a camera fitted with a lens that was only in use by spy satellites at the time because it had a very fast lens, meaning it could be operated in very low light situations. All of the seens in Barry Lyndon are lighted using only natural light or candle light and the results are quite impressive. To film lighting technicians, this is the near equivalent to being Einstein. All this just to say that Scorcese is not looking at films like most of us would.

-Peder said...

What Dreams May Come was gorgeous.

Wm said...

"The Big Lebowski"

Especially during the opening monologue where the scenery changes from the tumbleweed on the beach to the Dude in the Ralphs. In the theater, it was pretty neat.

Dan Karipides said...

Not a movie that is going to win a lot of awards (though a great sci-fi movie) but Pitch Black makes great use of color.

The story takes place on a planet with both yellow suns and a blue sun that are up at alternate times of the day. The color of the ambient light affects all other colors.

Sissy Willis said...

Elvira Madigan . . . Or was it just schmaltz made memorable by Mozart?

Dirty Harry said...

"Amelie" used greens in a way I'd never seen before. "Million Dollar Baby" was almost completely filmed in shadow very effectively. As far as black and white films that used shadow well "Touch of Evil" and "In Cold Blood" are the best I've seen.

Most of Scorsese's American list are good choices, though I'll have to watch "Singin' in the Rain" again. I've never thought of that as a beautifully shot film -- but it may be because I get too caught up in the story to study it.

jar said...

I liked the old Manchurian Candidate. Use of shadows was fantastic.

Hollywood Freaks said...

I'd add "Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic" to the list. Wes Anderson's use of color makes every shot a masterpiece.

Robert R. said...

I'll add "Days of Heaven", "The Comformist" and "Road to Perdition" as movies that used lighting well. None of them are particularly favorites of mine, but they all looked terrific.

"Vertigo" belongs on the list simply for the bookshop sequence.

Ron said...

Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria"

Far From Heaven

Moulin Rouge!

The 1938 "Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn; the colors are incredibly beautiful in some scenes.

Even "Angel Heart" (with Roarke/DeNiro) has some amazing use of color for noirish effect.

Robert R. said...

"Raging Bull" also sprang to mind, but it's understandable why it wasn't listed. "Blade Runner" certainly is memorable, although lighting was only part of the visual scheme of that movie.

Michael E. Lopez said...

Lord of the Rings (recent trilogy)

The Wizard of Oz

Last of the Mohicans (1994)

Ann Althouse said...

Ron, Robert: I don't think black & white films really had a shot at this list, though they have to use light especially well.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Some great mentions on the above posts. I think "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" were both more color than story, as compared to say, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" which seemed to hold together better.

"Amelie" is another great choice, and good film, but I would add, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" with Helen Mirren. Lots of color in that one, where it is used to set the mood of each scene.

Ron said...

Ann: I don't think any of the films on my list are in black and white.

twwren said...

"edward Scissorhands'...

Xenophon said...

The Wachowski brothers make excellent use of color. Particularly in the film Bound, which is shot entirely in black, white, and red tones. It's done so subtly that you really have to be paying attention to notice. Likewise, the Matrix is shot in Red, Green, and Blue. Green is for the Matrix ... I can't remember offhand what areas the other colors were used in.

Christopher Althouse said...

Ron: Nights of Cabiria is black and white.

Ann Althouse said...

Xenophon: Yeah, I love the giant pool of white paint spilled on the floor in "Bound." I like the interesting use of color that also involves a lot of absence of color.

Joseph Angier said...

"The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" Also "Johnny Guitar" for its creative use of those cheap mid-50s color processes (in this case, Trucolor ... I think)

Ron said...

Christopher: M'bad. I meant to refer to "Juliet of the Spirits," not "Nights of Cabiria."

"Juliet" has some pretty awesome color in it!

Steve Donohue said...

I thought that the haziness in "Duel" worked very well- the lack of concrete color in the scenery and haziness of the picture gives the viewer the same sweaty feeling as the protgonist on the run from the trucker.

miklos rosza said...

I too would put Bertolucci's "The Conformist" way up there, also Bertrand Tavernier's "Passion of Beatrice."

Dario Argento's "Tenebrae" and "Suspiria" are idiosyncratically gorgeous.

Recent films which have impressed me purely for the visuals and color include "Man On Fire" and "Wonderland." "In the Cut."

XWL said...

Absolute Beginner's by Julien Temple has fantastic set pieces, gorgeous colors amazing camera work, so so story (he shot it in Technicolor and had it processed in Hong Kong cause no other place besides there and Bollywood still used that film stock or knew how to process it properly).

Blue Velvet by David Lynch uses color to set moods effectively with wildly divergent treatment of lighting and shot styles as the Kyle McLachlan character descends further into the pit that he is lead into by Isabella Rosselini's character.

And of course how could nobody have mentioned QT's Kill Bill Vol.1&2 (esp. 1).

The big battle at the end of Vol. 1, switching from color to B&W and back to color heighten the visceral response engendered by all the viscera and gore drenching the set by the end of the fight (and possibly preserved the film's R rating).

And if we are talking about a single scene in an otherwise dissapointing movie (which we weren't, but I will anyway) The opening bar scene in Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico is drenched in about a 100 shades of red and brown that would have been impossible to capture or display without using a digital camera coupled with digital projection. The lighting and color scheme of that scene acts as a harbinger of the bloody action to follow and for that it was effective and makes for a great technical demo for what digital cinema can accomplish.

lindsey said...

I've read that the decision to go to black and white in Kill Bill 1 was a ratings-based decision and that the Japanese version is all color.

lindsey said...

That scene in Kill Bill reminds me of the end of Taxi Driver where Scorsese was told the scene was too violent so he desaturated the reds and it became even more horrific.

Chrees said...

"Valmont" simply because it was visually gorgeous. I believe "Days of Heaven" was already mentioned, but I'll say the same thing goes for it. I think you could put many period pieces on the list due to the wonderful use of color (thinking of several Merchant/Ivory films here).

Another Cohn brother movie to the one that was previously mentioned, I'll add "O Brother Where Art Thou." The use of autumnal colors, particularly golden yellow, permeates the film and helps set the tone.

I'm not a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan (hopefully I came close on that spelling), but color plays a role in his movies and they are usually visually striking because of it.

And while speaking of Scorcese, I was hugely disappointed by "The Age of Innocence." Beautiful color, ruined by camera work that screamed "look at me!" Or at least that's how it came across to me.

pelonen said...

I can't believe no one has mentioned Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas" yet.

Amazing, especially in the beggining.