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

… continuing Color.

(This post will be text only, to “clean your eyes” over what is said, and the images presented in previous posts)

As a conclusion, I’d like to do something different (or at least think it that way).

A general consensus among filmmakers, film viewers and critics is that, even if the image may not be pristine, look professional, or even make any sense, we tend to give more importance to sound and the story of what is being shown than to the image itself. In a way, this is due to our inherent human ability of trying to find logic in everything that is presented to us (or even a meaning).

Very seldom is the image in a film something that the general public is really fixated on. Of course this isn’t an extreme reality where everyone isn’t looking at the screen but rather a byproduct of the basis in which Film is based – the moving image, an immediate perception of something, a momentary glimpse of something that repeated constantly and in order makes us see something more, something in time, something that moves in front of our eyes so, something constructed in our brains rather than static and motionless for repeated and concentrated study (a painting can be studied hours upon end while a film has to be seen numerous times, played, stopped, replayed, fast forwarded, slow motioned playing, so as to garner its complete and total potential/message).

There’s a reason great filmmakers, when talking about how they started enjoying and studying film say that they started doing it without sound, just focusing on the image and the directors ability to cut and garner the audience’s visual attention. Sound trumps Image in the medium.

Myself, as a foreigner working in Asia, was initially taught to watch animated and soft films coming from the US in the 80’s and had always thought that whatever came from that country was exuberant, extremely visually attractive and almost KO’d everything else in the world. As I grew older, I started eating everything with moving images in it, from movies from primordial cinema to recondite indie pieces coming from India and Sri Lanka, with a lot of trash, pseudo-porn and glorified amateur glossy stuff in the middle.

Everything was different, everything was strange and new and everything was thoroughly entertaining. In my eyes, American filmmaking started loosing weight compared to the originality and strangeness of everything coming outside of that continent.

But then color grading happened…

Something weird started appearing from the four corners of the World.

Homogeneity.

Movies from South East Asia started looking the same as films from European countries like Romania, Ukraine, etc.

Comedies from the US were visually (color and palette wise) almost exactly the same as Action thrillers, if not Horror porn movies coming from South America, then Hong Kong and now everything coming out from everywhere.

Everything became the same although geographically distant. Very seldom are movies getting out of the norm and actually showcasing themselves as visually differentiated or original between each other.

If a Sci-fi doesn’t look like a genre film, everyone is afraid no one will see it. The same goes to any other genre that garners to a niche audience.

Mainstream movies all tend to look the same, everyone afraid to break the mold of a standardized color correction, manipulation, “evolution”.

So, what I’d like to do as my conclusion is, to ask you the reader, a favor.

The next time you see a new contemporary movie you love, turn the sound down a little bit (not entirely so you don’t miss the story, but just enough that the image gets just a fraction more importance in your living room/cinema/computer than everything else). Turn it down and focus on the characters faces/skin color. Focus on the color of the sun, the moon and the sea. Try to see where greens appear. Try to focus on where red is floating along the screen. Enjoy the dance of blues in front of your eyes.

Now, after you’ve finished the movie, try to watch the last film you loved too. Preferably from the same year (or two). It can be from the same country, or a different one, doesn’t matter. If its from the same genre you love, or from the same director, it doesn’t matter, just watch it after the new one.

Watch it and concentrate on the image.

You will see what I’m talking about. Maybe not in a large scale or in an obvious way, but just enough that you start seeing frames that look the same. Colors that are coming from the same places. Images that are painted with the same brush.

In the past, filmmakers tried to, even though they might use their same inherent style, be different, from themselves, from everyone else. Of course there were copies and inspirations and a lot of the same people working in different films but, there was a sense of variety between everything that was made.

It is true that now there are a lot more movies coming out, from everywhere, all the time, and that tends to standardize and mechanize the images they show. Pop Art pushed it into the art world and cheap production/manufacturing costs have pushed it into filmmaking.

Watch the movies you love, over and over again. Talk about them with your friends and colleagues but, concentrate on more than the story. Watch the image. Watch the color. Watch the Medium.

Watch them and then tell me if there isn’t a Mania traveling around.


Finished… 4 Now

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

… continuing Color.


Through recent examples of good and bad (of course as everything, the term bad is relative to each and everyone’s sense of taste, but I’ll use it, hence forth, as a reference to the use of color correction in a way that doesn’t help increase the viewers or retain a well balanced movie, not making it a memorable or enjoyable piece of art/product), I will further demonstrate the U.S.’s influence over what has been done in Asia, and how, sometimes, that influence isn’t always beneficial to the receiving party.

Starting with good examples of how appropriate and how color correction increases some movies appeal on an audience, I have chosen the movies – Aftershock, Love in a Puff, Detective Dee, Under the Hawthorne Tree, The Stool Pigeon and Monga, The Man from Nowhere and 13 Assassins.

All of these movies are from the last 3 years (production and release) and are all from several countries from Asia (Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong). All have been shot on film or digital (with the Red, the Alexa or Panavision cameras, etc), and all have been shot by very different Directors and Cinematographers. Some are technically groundbreaking, others help the Asian market fight with its American and European counterparts at a level playing field for an enthusiastic but growingly judgmental audience.


Let us start with Aftershock.

The movie is set during the Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 to the “present day”, so, even thought its set in the recent past, the collective memory of the public is still highly influenced by photographic and video depictions (here by the quality of cameras existing in China at the time and not in the rest of the world) of that single event.

The movie is shot in an extremely somber grey/brown color palette with its main focus, the destruction evidenced by a catastrophic movement on the earth’s core and the somber reality lived by the family after the earthquake and the choices made during it.

This visual choice makes the image and story on the screen become stronger and more appealing to the public as they are not being visually manipulated into feeling excited or vulnerable or tired over seeing a devastating event and ensuing suffering through manipulative color aberrations.


Using earth tones and softer graded greys even helps the filmmakers in some scenes (where some of the effects or time transitions may feel artificial) get away with pretty much anything throughout the more dramatic/death infused scenes. This monotonic color scheme ends up hiding some otherwise evident mistakes as the audience isn’t being blasted by vibrant and distracting colors (if an explosion happens with vibrant reds, yellows and oranges, but isn’t to the liking of the audience, their attention is easily lost in unnecessary effects shots, or even necessary but unattainably better shots).

There isn’t any doubt why Aftershock did so well in the box office and dvd sales in Asia, as it is a very solidly constructed film, from its incisive story line to the evident control of every detail in color, cinematography and tone and its team’s decisions to make the movie more event grounded over visually “vibrantly” appealing.


At the other side of the box office success pool we have Love in a Puff. The movie was in all accounts a disaster when it came out but, through very good word of mouth and reviews, the movie ended up making its fair amount of money to support its makers, becoming a weird conundrum in the Hong Kong internal movie market.

One of the most common reviews and criticisms (from professionals and viewers alike) was that the movie, even though it had its faults, it “spoke real” to people. This term is widely used when talking about documentaries and extremely visceral, dramatic movies, but Love in a Puff is a somewhat quirky comedy where smoke and the relationships ensuing over its, now recent, social persecution, takes the center stage.

The creators nonetheless, instead of adding immense quantities of smoke and making the image bland and with a small color differential (here maybe realizing that a flat approach on the color spectrum would surely repel the viewers, as the Hong Kong smog is itself already abundantly evident on a day by day basis), went in a different direction, and tried to make the movie color intuitive with a palette closer to the Technicolor scheme of the Kodak years, but toned slightly down (exuberant highlights but a color scheme that appreciates the colors instead of blowing them).

This decision, makes for simple, calm and perfectly lit scenes on the outside (here the white color of the sunlight and the clean darks of the city, make for a beautifully romantic city, where its main characters find companionship even in the supposed dark corners of the streets), and vibrant and soft coloring/lighting on the inside scenes (the purple, blue, black and grey, aren’t excessively contoured or selected in the frames, but are evidently apparent during the scenes, and make for a very appealing mise en scène).

These two examples, even though coming from different sides of the production reel, and from two “largely” different markets, showcase how a carefully controlled and decided color scheme/cinematography, further increase a movies possibilities over its fledgling although highly competitive markets.

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).

_

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 II

… continuing Color.

Color, has always been associated to states of mind, or even emotional reactions purported through imagination and art.

Some blatant examples of color saturation in movies, create a certain emphatic response to those movies, and moreover make them temporal classics of world cinema history (movies like Wizard of Oz, The Godfather or even Farewell my Concubine).

Each color has its own value on the screen.

I will only use the 3 most prominent colors in film (Red, Green Blue), and further ad their influence and manipulation through the changing of opposite/contrast colors (different palette selection and adulteration or the Cyan/Teal, Magenta, Yellow evolution of the 3 color scheme).

To further understand the influence that color can have in film, and how its manipulation in American cinema has changed our perception of Movies (and further, wrongly adulterate and distort the films of the rest of the World), I will briefly exemplify how the 3 main colors influence us the audience when presented with extreme saturation of the selected visuals on the screen.

Red is a color that, when used correctly in a movie, can increase the dynamic response of the public to what they’re seeing, can encourage the emotional and physical side of the audience to accept what they see in the screen, and is a vastly and a almost instantaneously identified color. It is also the color of power and manipulation, and through its variations of orange tinges can be a more subdued and a innocent emotional triger, or with its stronger purple/pink addition become a fatal and sometimes extreme danger warning (in Run Lola Run its perfectly exemplified as a emotional trigger for the audience, and as a pattern of uncontrollable power and speed expressed “by” Franka Potente) .

Green is the color that our eyes are most in tune with. Millenia of evolution in the wilderness has made the human retina capable of identifying and subtle and extreme variations of this chromatic element and hence it is one that is very carefully structured and presented in movies.

As a color, vibrant, saturated green can motivate and increase the audiences sense of direction/attention in a movie. It can pop out extremely in the screen or if carefully manipulated, can blend into the background without us noticing it, but being intensely influenced by its presence. It can represent thoughtfulness, intelligence or disambiguation, or when small quantities of blue are added to the original color, can mean peace, and relaxation, and safety.

Shocking green can motivate envy, fear or the uncommon reactions to a poison that is seen but not felt (contortion of the muscles, skin irritations and increased palpitations).

It is a very diatomic color, symbolizing the ambiguity of trust and doubt, safety and danger, pain and relief.

Blue on the other hand, is one of the most abstract colors in film.

Depending on how the filmmaker develops his chromatic symbolic on the screen, blue can be used as an inhibitor or a restricting element of the frame. It means knowledge and can represent visual infinity. As a strong color, it is mainly used to declare itself as clean and pure, pushing contrast to every other color in the screen.

A lot more can be represented and studied over the influence of these 3 colors (and many books have been written on the subject), but it is with these main emotional triggers on us, that these 3 colors are mainly used and abused in films.

Furthermore, these 3 colors have in the visual spectrum, 3 other specific and direct contrasting colors, creating then, by groups of 2, very strong chromatic relationships that are, perfectly balanced in modern day cinema.

These 3 primary colors (RGB) combined with the secondary spectrum of color (CMY), give us a color palette and wheel of combinations that can transmit or detract from the image, emotions and reactions, all dependent on the knowledge or power of those who correct films during the post production work-flow (further enhancing the message of the story visualized during the film).

On of the most famous, recent, adulterations in American film that has transfused itself into mainstream international cinema is the dual correction of the Teal/Orange palette, homogenizing the American blockbuster to a visual style that satisfies a wide and carefully selected audience.

This color swatch (the Teal/Orange color combination) and image distortion principle it portrays is based on the peacefulness and infinitely possible distortion of the combination of these 2 secondary colors, that by being directly connected without (almost) no use of the Green visual section of the spectrum (but rather “connect themselves to our tuning of the color, and further create a more physical and hence innate affinity to the combination), augment the audience’s attention over what is presented on the screen ( increasingly being that since green is the most easily identifiable color on the screen, its two complimentary colors, will be “blessed” with an immense power over our perception of the chromatic reflections on screen).

This attention is then further enhanced with visually saturated elements (red and orange explosions and exuberant blues), that constantly attract the audience to the screen, without being able to avert their eyes to what is happening.

The problem with this is that the Teal/Orange combination that appears on our screens is an adulteration of our percepted reality. Its a fake, manipulated and abused distortion.

(didn’t know people were supposed to be orange…)

Color Continued…

Great moments in Cinematography I

Hi,

This will be a periodic blog post on my perspective of great moments in film and their visual artists.
The selection will (most of the times) be based on the quality of the cinematography and the emotions that the scenes evoke on us, the viewers and admirers.
I won’t try and analyze them, define or criticize them, I’ll just leave that to you.
When possible, I thoroughly recommend seeing these scenes and their movies, on BluRay, or when possible, in the theaters.
Hope you guys enjoy them.

First great moment:

By Roger Deakins

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The first and only robbery of the movie.

This scene creates an aura of myth around Jesse James and his men. A mysticism that is effectively captured by Deakins on Camera/Cinematography and by Andrew Dominik’s selection of shots.

(no copyrights over the link or its contents)