America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World VIII

… Color, continuing.

True Legend and The Lost Bladesman, although coming from two very different cinematographers, come from the same production country/market (Hong Kong/China) and came out within a year of each other. Nevertheless, they are two very similar movies in terms of color, grading, hue/saturation and even overall visual style.

Thematically the two movies are close, one is a Chinese legend/myth, the other, fictional musings of possible past events. They are both set in ancient China and both have a large component of martial arts and ancient theatricality. Visually though, they’re mostly indistinguishable and that’s their biggest flaw. The movies are shot as though there was some discoloration of the palette of their colors, as though there was some desaturation of the image because of the time they were presented, the problem is, that this discoloration is simply random/unrefined.

Every color is almost a pastel of itself, making them blend into each other, True Legend taking a more earthy tone and The Lost Bladesman, having a more bluish hue to the image. Every color that is, except red. The reds pop out. They are exuberant but, instead of creating a sense of confluity in the image, or even, of being a target color, their tone is so pushed into the pink, that at times, the color just becomes silly. Blood looks like someone chewed some cherry bubblegum and smeared it in the face of the actors, and the red clothes, more often than not, almost look like African clay sculptures (even if that was the point, or even to implement a sense of historical background, then the red would take an earthy tone too not breaking with the idea that the image is older than normal, as it stands, it seems as though whomever colored the clothes/image, forgot that the Vermilion pigment not only was a royal color, but that it symbolised eternity and life – not the color in which every single goon or soldier should be slain in).


There are some seasonal shadings that look really nice on the screen (the fadings of Autumn in The Lost Bladesman and the coldness of morning in True Legend), but then are completely overtaken by light that seems out of place (and hence dilutes the colors, making them seem more modern than expected). Overall, the color correction seems a bit, rushed.

Like the two movies reviewed before, Alien vs Ninja  and Future X Cops , albeit both being very strange genre selections and with stories that tend to confuse (but that’s something for another type of conversation) end up suffering with the choice to maintain their color as untouched (no visual contamination between the spectrum) and in some situations as fake as possible (the idea is that it the color is created to appeal to a “futuristic” minded person digitizing some of the normal hues and pushing all the colors to make them look as shiny as possible).

This plasticky look is often associated with children’s movies, not because the movies themselves are childish or dumb (once again, story here is irrelevant), but because this type of color stimulation appeals to a broader audience (here film – as a mass production tool with the main objective to make money by over-stimulation of the audience, advertising effect over quality, shady techniques instead of actual filmic mastery), like cartoons or slapstick comedy, by bombarding them with the existence of color and their emotional pulls.

The problem with these movies is that the color is just simply over-saturated for the sake of “comical” effect, creating a tyring image that further confuses the audience into being attracted by the explosions, blood and comic relief, rather than paying attention to the movie itself (selective color correction has the intent to avert/attract the audience’s eyes/attention to wherever the filmmaker desires, if this effect is pushed to all the colors of the visual range, all the time, then the movie becomes the equivalent of a sugar rush when its seen, only to be followed by a strong, emotional and physical letdown after its consumed), and end up let down by the movie after they’ve seen it.

Lastly, lets take a look at A Beautiful Life, the Andrew Lau directed, 2011 romantic comedy.

A Beautiful Life suffers from the “Summer Movie” syndrome of late, so well established by the American influence over what we see in the film theater between May and September every year.

Cold lights are blue (fluorescent), warm are yellow (almost orange at times), the sun is as white as possible and the night shots have a certain glow to them (wet city, soft focus shots, etc), but, amazingly, the actors skin color tends to become the same from shot to shot (an earthy beige with slashes of orange and soft cerise).

This type of color correction is a midway between a technicolor color skew and the Teal/Orange mix. A midway. Which means that throughout the movie, it itself becomes at times as inconsistent as the range of colors it portrays, looking more like we are watching a 70’s ad magazine instead of a present day set love story. The soft blues in the light make the male character seem weak at times and the pinks/beige used by the female character make her seem more like an archetypal whinny diva than a naive/world thorn socialite.

Nevertheless, it does look beautiful. A Beautiful Life as a frame by frame picture exhibition could perfectly reflect some of the problems we see in filmmaking nowadays but it’d never be a dull or even inexpressive exhibit. That’s exactly its problem. There’s too much happening in the image, too much manipulation, too many ideas floating around. Its a patterned correction, a commonly used color grading, beautiful for stills, tiring, flacid and common in filmic form.

A Beautiful Life is manipulative color correction at its best, the problem is, it detracts from the movie. We as an audience are constantly thinking – “Oh, they look so beautiful… Oh that’s a beautiful shot”, instead of actually watching the movie.

Color continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World IV

… continuing Color.

Movies essentially based or situated in the past, also have this chromatic influence, but they go the extreme way, by completely making the image desaturated and dying it down to its bare essentials (tone, light/shadows, etc), making it look like the movie is a Black and White representative of the era it is based on (mimicking the movies from that era and how people perceived them).

Taking Black and White as a chromatic pattern (and not the absence or existence of the reflection of light – which by definition denominate the two values as achromatic representatives of the visual spectrum), gives us some leeway in expressing its influence in film and its power over the audience.

Such films like Schindler’s List, Good Night and Good Luck, City of Life and Death, Tetro, The White Ribbon, Control, The Good German and Devil’s on the Doorstep are important examples of this, and most of them, even though being Black and White in their entirety, still enjoy subtle details of the power of Color Correction (the Red Windbreaker from Schindler’s List, the tinting of the image to red in the end of Devil’s on the Doorstep, the filming of The Good German in extremely poppy image, just to have it turned Black and White in Post to accentuate the blacks over the Whites in the film giving us a sensation of actually watching color – a psychologically manipulative trick created by our tuning to the shades in the image and interpreting them as color).

Shades of Grey, sometimes communicate more than a dégradé of colors can. Black, with its unforgiving depth, makes the audience become uneasy over its presence in the screen. White with its purity and flow of peacefulness, the opposite. But, putting them together on the screen creates something different. It creates a sense of nostalgia, of memory, of remembrance and adversely, of reality in the image.

The audience then, when watching a recent film shot/color corrected in Black and White is visually taken to the past, not only by the story or the time that the image/characters represent but, by their memory of what the past presented – Black and White images. The movies selected above could all have been shot in color, some more or less saturated, each having its meaning in the film but, the filmmakers chose to make them Black and White. This choice sometimes boils down to artistic integrity, other times, by complete control over the message.

People don’t remember the past because they lived it and further in life remember that specific moment as a momentary “flash of self memory logging”. They see an image from that time and they “travel” to their past memories.

Black and White creates this sensation in the audience, and even though most haven’t lived through or even seen examples of what had happened in the reality now portrayed in the movie they’re seeing the image, it makes it dawn on them, that what they’re watching must have happened, must be true.

In Black and White, the power of Color, is in reverse (objectively).

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But these are all, mostly, examples of films created, studied and developed in the United States, the worlds most prolific and influential creator of cinema, since its studio system of the 1920’s.

With its strength over the distribution, marketing and developing of film, in their country and their biggest and sometimes direct competitors (Europe till the 70’s, Japan through to the 90’s and now the counter-cinema of Asia and South America/Europe), the US has slowly created a sense of homogeneity in what Color Correction has become.

The United States has created a language in what color is concerned, but that language has been backed by decades of studies, tests and programing/counter-programing strategies. The rest of the world though, have been influenced by the US’s ability to manipulate through color, but, most countries, haven’t had the backing/funding, to actually further develop their own language in the realm of the image (color, etc).

Just as a quick and basic example, the French and the Italian have always been great fans of color, updating their films with Technicolor, Kodachrome, Cinecolor, the Eastman profile, color schemes, saturating (or even over saturating) whenever it is/was possible, their images but, their approach on the color they use, is more connected to their relationship with paintings and the color studies of mood, attitude, etc, not trying to ad color to the frame, to transmit/influence the audience into, for example, buying a Coca-Cola bottle at the end of the movies (The Coca Cola case being one of the World’s most famous cases, where by using subliminal manipulation throughout the movies at theater houses, Coca-Cola increased their sales immensely, sometimes upwards of 50%, by simply incorporating fractional – subliminal – images of bottles at specific times of the movies, and increasing the saturation of red afterwards).

I’m not saying that countries other than the United States have always (or ever) treated color as a simple tool of furthering just the image of the film, and not use it as a tool to sell movies/products (there are certainly examples to prove the contrary like the Taxi film series in France or the Asterix in France/Italy), but it has been the US’s fine tuning of the technology that develops the Color Correction and its embracing of the Color Gamut Manipulation that has brought such aberrations as Orange faces and Blue trees (Transformers).

To further exemplify how these changes in movie creation have surpassed barriers and through each culture’s inefficiency of actually developing their own symbolic and color interpretation techniques, have been distorted even further, I’ll talk a bit about the existence of good and bad examples of color correction, and examples that simply show how the technology shouldn’t even be used in some circles.

Color Continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World I

The next series of articles, are a collection of thoughts and recollections of how the evolution of color correction/color study as led us, as an audience, critics, filmmakers, to discern one style of movie from another, to further enhance and comprehend the message that is being portrayed in the art-form and, in some cases, where that movie is coming from or even going to.

As an introduction, I will write about the beginning of color correction, some human principles of communication, the advent of digital color grading and, in the present, the complete and utter corruption and adulteration of filmic and artistic representations of reality.

We, as a species, can distinguish an enormous gamut of different colors, tones, etc.

That ability is determined by our extreme sensitivity to a certain part of the electromagnetic field (the visible spectrum), and its variation, the reflection, refraction, blending or bending of light that is captured by the world and registered by our eyes.

This innate ability to distinguish certain parts of reality through its visual pigment makes us, in our planet, a rare breed, and lets us communicate between ourselves, by simply combining, adulterating or even sequencing color to deliver our messages (as a part of vastly different types of communication).

Since there’s been communication, there’s been coloring.

From the different shades of black, brown, red and silver, existing in the prehistoric caves to the beautiful blending of water colors in paintings, the disturbing printings of color in propaganda posters and the corruption of realistic color palettes in modern film, Man has always put color to its vision/representation of its world.

Since there’s been a representation of reality nonetheless, there’s also been color correction, rather coloring over the visualised reality.

Color grading, or color correction as it is known to the public, is a process where by means of a digital work-flow, or analog one, the native color of an image, situation, place is adulterated into something composed.

Film, like any higher art form, has always been keen on collecting and decomposing its influences, undermining and sometimes completely ignoring, where and why they have come to be.

In film, Color Grading started when the tinting of the frame was first introduced (a process that began in the 1890’s), and later established, where by means of different emulsions of film, certain acids/bases gave the frame different color variations.

When it all started, color grading/correction, was a means to create a more realistic view of reality.

With the evolution of the art-form, grading helped propel cinema to hights of a meta art, something that as art represented not only the art and the reality itself, but another layer of interpretation of reality that made audiences infatuated with it. But, with the advent of the nickelodeon and the necessity of profit over the art, an industry was created.

That industry, like any industry after the industrial revolution, had to be as profitable, and as effective in its exhibition of message as possible. By itself, the industry needed to survive by the flow of funds, and by the ability to exhibit the product to as many people as possible, as many times as possible.

Other sophisticated tools have been created and adapted to further propel cinema as a worldwide billion dollar making industry, but color grading, being so subtle and unnoticeable, has been a tool, that can easily demonstrate the evolution of the art-form, and objectively dissect our ability to manipulate each other as a species.

Psychoanalysis and psychological manipulation through electrical currents, image shifting, color aberration theories and other scientific methods have been used since the beginning of the 20th century to study human beings, and our ability to communicate with each other.

This level of scientific research and its possible use in studying our innate reactions to centuries and centuries of patterned communication, has given filmmakers immense power over what they show, how they show and to whom they show their movies.

Color study, in labs, and later in film (controlled crowd testing, advertisement testing, etc), gives the creator an immense ability to communicate to the audience subliminally, most of the time, without the audience knowing about it.

If you have the patience, tell me or think about it.

How did the colors influence you while reading the text?
Slow start, “interesting” and “aggressive” middle and calm ending was it?
Or didn’t you even notice the colors?

Color continues…