135T | CCN: 33060

Selected Topics in Film

Color Theory

Instructor: Eileen Jones,

4 Units

In the introduction to Color: The Film Reader, Brian Price argues that until recently film studies scholars have suffered from “chromophobia,” neglecting to address in any comprehensive way “the centrality of color to the experience and technology of cinema”:

The neglect of color in film studies is a curious one. Color is not simply a choice a filmmaker makes at the level of film stock…[but] a constructive element of mise-en-scene, one that works alongside of lighting, sound, performance, camera movement, framing, and editing….[I]t is an element carefully considered by set designers, cinematographers and directors, all of whom must remain sensitive to the way in which color can create meaning, mood, sensation, and perceptual cues.

In this course we will examine basic color theory as it pertains to the visual arts in general and to the medium of film specifically. We will also chart the historical development of color film technology, and we will do several “case studies” of filmmakers who have arguably worked as “color theorists” themselves. These include director Douglas Sirk in collaboration with cinematographer Russell Metty (All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life); directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger with cinematographer Jack Cardiff (Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death); producer Walt Disney in collaboration with many artists such as Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle (Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty); director Alfred Hitchcock with cinematographer Robert Burks (Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo, The Birds, Marnie); directors Joel and Ethan Coen with cinematographer Roger Deakins (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?); director Wong Kar Wai with cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, In the Mood for Love); director Zhang Yimou with cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Hero); and director Quentin Tarantino with cinematographer Robert Richardson (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained).