Let’s Talk About Movies:
Color: A Storytelling Device
because the eyes never lies.
Color is a powerful communication tool. It affected our emotion, mood and behavior. In films, color is one of the most important visual device to tell a story. Adding color to films is was one of the first major development in cinema. Take a look at some of the creative use of colors in filmmaking.
In both La Vita e Bella (1997) and Titanic (1997), the color narrates the story. It marks the dramatic change of the story line. In the beginning we see the colors are bright, warm and sunny but as the movie comes to painful end, the colors are getting colder, darker and more desperate.
For a fantasy movie genre, color represent different period of time or different world. In Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Guilermo Del Toro decided he is going to do a contamination process as the 2 worlds in the movie start to come together. "We found the language we needed to help the audience understand the complexity of the movie.”
Red is a color that’s often linked with sex, but the dramatic context determines whether the red (and the sex) is seductive or repellent. In American Beauty (1999), the unhappily married protagonist (Spacey) escapes the banality of his suburban hell by fantasizing about a flirtatious teenager (Suvari). He often imagines her nude, covered with red rose petals— a symbol of his fiercely aroused sexuality, his reawakening manhood.
Spike Jonze collaboration with production designer K.K Barret in Her (2013) also focus on the color of red, it is to underscore a bright future ambience in the film setting. The key color motif is blood-orange red with a blue-less color palette. We see red in almost every frame of the movie. "It seemed to fit Theo’s temperament—his passion, compassion, loneliness, and hopefulness. Red was the perfect thing to use in the movie and we did it every which way we could." says Barrett.
Alfred Hitchcock uses the color of clothes symbolically. In Psycho (1960), Marion Crane is wearing a white underwear the moment she was introduce on screen. We can’t help but sees her as this pure, angelic, romantic woman who is in love. Once she has stolen money she wears a black bra. Our view of her shifted, Marion is not as sweet as we think we are, she is also dark, sly and her life is about to get an evil turn.
Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000) has a complex story line with several different characters and settings. So he uses color filters to help to distinguish between these groups and colour is a purposeful narrative function.
for more of history and science in color films, check out this video
Source: 1, 2, 3, and Louis Giannetti’s Understanding Movies (Ninth Edition).