Tag: colour

Cinematic complexion and “feeling” colour: Pi

pibarcode

 

I have explained in a previous post the significance of cinematic colour complexion to aid our ability to “feel” a film. You can read my entire thesis on Aronofsky and phenomenology by following this link. In my series on the use of colour in Aronofsky’s first five feature films I will conclude with the barcode of  Aronofsky’s only black and white feature film, Pi.

Although this investigation into colour excludes Pi, there are still some salient points that can be garnered from its “colour” barcode. I have illustrated that Aronofsky’s first four colour films make deliberate use of their tonal range. Pi‘s tonal range, albeit monochromatic, is also employed deliberately. Where the other films favour a hue to communicate and engage the cinesthetic subject, Pi achieves the same through the monochromatic treatment used to portray Max. For this character (who is constructed as being somewhere on the autistic spectrum), the world is black and white, reduced to a binary world of numbers and mathematical equations. Max’s world is presented in monochromatic terms. This is evident in Pi‘s “colour” barcode, with its binary nature presenting frames of deep blacks or stark whites. In Pi‘s synthetic world, black tones are either on or off, and are emphasised by chiaroscuro lighting and high-grain film (shot in high-contrast black and white reversal film stock). The feel of the film, which is insistently stark, aggressive, and high contrast, emphasises the obsessive nature of Max’s quest for a mathematical answer to the world: “I’ll find this structure, this order, this perfection.” The binary nature of Pi‘s cinematography leaves little room for the middle ground of greys and soft lighting. Grey is associated with the realm of nature, which the film only shows twice: first when Max visits the beach post-seizure, and then, significantly, at the end of the film after Max has had a mental breakdown, thus escaping his mathematical obsession. In Pi‘s final moments Max looks at the trees in blissful ignorance of the mathematical world. The trees sway in the soft greys and Pi‘s final softer tones suggest to the spectator, through cinesthesia, an experiential return to nature.

In conclusion, what is immediately apparent when examining the colour barcodes and signatures of Aronofsky’s four colour feature films is how they all differ in their dominant hue and shade. The role that colour plays in feeling these films cannot be understated. Colour not only provides a background, colouring the spectator’s mood so to speak; but more importantly, hue and shade are not static but shifting, assisting mood change. As illustrated in my previous posts, the films present the change of hue and shade deliberately — to generate a non-cognitive feeling state cinesthetically, which alters the mood of the spectator.

Cinematic complexion and “feeling” colour: The Wrestler

Whole Thesis FINAL

I have explained in my previous posts the significance of cinematic colour complexion to aid the spectator’s ability to “feel” films.  You can read my entire thesis on Aronofsky and phenomenology by following this link. Here I will illustrate this using the colour signature and colour barcode of Darren Aronofsky’s fourth feature film, The Wrestler (2008). This signature and barcoding technique offers a concise visualisation of a film’s dominant colours. The colour signature (the solid bar above the barcode) is a consolidation of all the colours used in a film and serves to distinguish a film’s propensity to lean towards a particular hue. The signature is broken down into the RGB (red, green, blue) colour-space and the values represent the brightness of each hue (the higher the number the brighter the hue). The colour barcodes (below the colour signature) represents the colour of each frame in the film. Each frame has been captured and squeezed into a strand of colour. When the colours are placed side-by-side chronologically, the result reads like a colour barcode of the film. Starting from the beginning of the film at the left, the barcode can be read as a colour timeline and indicates the dominant colours for large portions of the film.

Upon initial inspection it would appear that The Wrestler employs minimal colour manipulation, due to its realist sensibilities. However, the intentionality of the film is still significantly expressed through its use of colour, in particular red and green. Of the five films studied, The Wrestler is clearly Aronofsky’s most realistic in terms of story and setting, which is supported by an aesthetic that uses a more natural palette. The film’s complexion is lighter than that of either The Fountain or Black Swan, although the colour barcode exhibits oscillating patterns of lighter and darker periods. The latter are often representative of Randy’s life outside of the ring and are located at the seedier or more depressing moments in the narrative, such as Randy’s trailer park home, the strip club, and Randy’s troubled moments with his daughter, Stephanie. The colour signature indicates a dominant green hue that reflects Randy’s work-place in and around the wrestling ring, whereas his life outside of the ring often contains a higher instance of the red hue. Perhaps the most notable example is the strip club where Cassie (Marisa Tomei) works, which is heavily saturated with red. This colour is diametrically opposed to the green hue, largely associated with Randy’s life as a wrestler. What is evident is the play between green and red, where red codifies Randy’s life outside the wrestling ring and green codifies his life inside the ring; red is also the dominant hue in the darker periods and green is dominant in the lighter. Furthermore, the concluding chapter of the film combines the two colours as Randy’s two worlds come together. The ensuing muddy green/red hue is a colourific manifestation of the film’s final concern. This final mélange expresses the anguish over Randy’s decision to wrestle despite his heart condition; hence red or green equates to stop or go, to wrestle or not. Phenomenologically, the bringing together of these diametrically opposed colours provokes an anxiety in the cinesthetic subject that matches the film’s ambiguous ending, where the spectator is left to decide whether Randy suffers a second and fatal heart attack or goes on living.

Cinematic complexion and “feeling” colour: The Fountain

FountainBarcode

I have explained in my previous posts the significance of cinematic colour complexion to aid the spectator’s ability to “feel” films. You can read my entire thesis on Aronofsky and phenomenology by following this link. Here I will illustrate this using the colour signature and colour barcode of Darren Aronofsky’s third feature film, The Fountain (2006). This signature and barcoding technique offers a concise visualisation of a film’s dominant colours. The colour signature (the solid bar above the barcode) is a consolidation of all the colours used in a film and serves to distinguish a film’s propensity to lean towards a particular hue. The signature is broken down into the RGB (red, green, blue) colour-space and the values represent the brightness of each hue (the higher the number the brighter the hue). The colour barcodes (below the colour signature) represents the colour of each frame in the film. Each frame has been captured and squeezed into a strand of colour. When the colours are placed side-by-side chronologically, the result reads like a colour barcode of the film. Starting from the beginning of the film at the left, the barcode can be read as a colour timeline and indicates the dominant colours for large portions of the film.

The Fountain has the darkest complexion of the colour films studied here, as indicated by the lower colour signature values. The significantly lower blue value confirms the film’s propensity towards golden and earthy hues. Unlike Requiem for a Dream‘s changing hue, The Fountain only changes the brightness of the same hue. Furthermore, The Fountain‘s colour palette operates in the opposite temporal direction to Requiem for a Dream‘s undulating descent towards the winter of addiction. As the title suggests, the The Fountain thematically explores ascent rather than descent as is immediately apparent in the barcode’s increasing brightness from left to right. It achieves this structure through various methods. The theme of ascent is illustrated through the progression of multiple narrative arcs: Tomas’ (Hugh Jackman) progress through his quest, the completion of Izzi’s (Rachel Weisz) book, and Tom’s progress towards Xibalba. There are also visual motifs that support this theme: Tomas’ ascent of the Mayan pyramid, Tommy and Izzi’s constant gaze towards the heavens, and Tom’s vertical (as opposed to horizontal) ascent through space. These motifs dramatically illustrate the film’s progression from dark into light. However, these thematic markers require immediate cognitive assessments on the part of the spectator. Consider Tom’s ascent towards Xibalba. His journey towards this dying star represents his journey towards accepting death. The journey lasts for the entire film, and, as the spectator, I am cognisant of his progression due to narrative clues contained within the film’s script, paired with visual clues, such as stars flying vertically past the spaceship. However, the feeling of ascent is strengthened through the treatment of colour. The Fountain‘s colour barcode clearly illustrates the film’s ascent from darkness towards light. This gradual treatment of colour is something that the spectator is not immediately cognisant of. Through the use of colour, The Fountain helps the spectator to feel the theme of ascent non-cognitively, and therefore phenomenologically.

Requiem for a Dream colour analysis

RequiemBarcodeI have explained in a previous post the significance of cinematic colour complexion to aid our ability to “feel” a film. You can read my entire thesis on Aronofsky and phenomenology by following this link. Here I will illustrate this with the colour signature and barcode of  Aronofsky’s second feature Requiem for a Dream.  The colour signatures are a consolidation of all the colours used in a film and serve to distinguish a film’s propensity to lean towards a particular hue. The signatures are broken down into the RGB (red, green, blue) colour-space and the values represent the brightness of each hue (the higher the number the brighter the hue). The colour barcodes represent the colour of each frame in the film. Each frame has been captured and squeezed into a strand of colour. When the colours are placed side-by-side chronologically, the result reads like a colour barcode of the film. Starting from the beginning of the film at the left, the barcode can be read as a colour timeline and indicates the dominant colours for large portions of the film.

Requiem for a Dream operates within a relatively cool and light palette. As the colour signature shows, it has the highest values along all of the RGB hues, indicating that it is the brightest of Aronofsky’s films. Of the three other colour films studied, the value of the red hue in Requiem for a Dream is higher than the green and blue hues. In particular, the red hue makes a stronger representation in the darker tones. However, Requiem for a Dream indicates a relatively higher propensity of blue, in relation to the other two hues. Requiem for a Dream changes hue throughout its timeline, and this change takes inspiration from the seasons. The chapters of summer, autumn, and winter are used to mark the harmful progression of addiction and also provide a context of time in the narrative. The colour barcode illustrates how the colours match both the seasons and the film’s metaphoric descent into winter: summer is dominated by warmer reds; autumn by earthy hues; and winter with “cold” colours, such as blues, purples, and greens. The film is able to utilise colour to make us feel seasonal variation. This operates on a phenomenological level and allows the spectator to feel the anxiety of descent — a feeling inextricably tied to addiction. Throughout Requiem for a Dream, the seasons are not expressed explicitly through traditional representations, such as the cracking ground of summer, the falling leaves of autumn, the snow of winter, and so on. Instead, the camera is firmly fixed on the protagonists as the denizens of artificiality. The protagonists are trapped within man-made environs, and by proxy the spectator is also trapped within this synthetic environment. Yet a sense of seasonal change is still experienced beyond what the signposted inter-titles indicate, and the seasons are felt through the use of colour. The spectator’s embodied cinesthetic experience allows the colours of Requiem for a Dream to be felt non-cognitively, allowing for the onset of mood before proceeding with cognitive assessment using Ihde’s fourth rule (which prompts the embodied spectator to seek out structural or invariant features) and fifth rule (which prompts the embodied spectator to ask why these structural or invariant features affect him or her).

Cinematic Complexion and “feeling” colour

I have always been fascinated with colour how it is used in cinema.  Specifically how the use of colour can be a powerful tool to convey “feelings” in film. The following is an excerpt from my thesis that discusses the relationship between cinema and colour. Here I define the term “cinematic complexion” and discuss how it facilitates “feeling” the film, often evoking new meanings and subtexts.  In the coming days I will give brief accounts of how “cinematic complexion” reveals ways of viewing Aronofsky’s films that are often at odds with the narrative.

complexion

The Fountain (2006)

The Affective Image

The relationship between colour and mood appears to share a natural connection. Colour has the capacity to reach into my lived body and alter the way I feel. Notably, it can do this without having direct access to my physical body. It presents the same paradox as music, affecting my mood yet not having direct access to my somatic levers. This conundrum raises many questions, which I will explore in this chapter. Indeed, how can the colour of a film make me feel a certain way and alter my mood? Why does the changing complexion of Requiem for a Dream give my body a sense of morbid descent, and yet The Fountain makes me feel quite the opposite? Here, I refer to the term “complexion” as the film’s holistic colour — that is, the film’s dominant hues that coalesce over the length of the film to bring about its collective colour identity, or complexion.

It would seem logical to affirm that different colours encourage certain moods; a “vibrant” yellow encourages quite a different mood from a “gloomy” green. Here, I am mindful of my subjective use of descriptive terms. Such terms should not be dismissed due to their lack of objectivity. Instead, they provide an important descriptive tool that can be used to express an embodied experience. To describe colour using terms such as “vibrant” or “gloomy” is an appropriate way to apply Ihde’s second hermeneutic rule: “Describe, don’t explain.” As art theorist W.J.T. Mitchell suggests:

Figurative labels (“blue” moods and “warm” colours) apply as firmly and consistently as literal ones and have as much to do with actual experience. That images, pictures, space and visuality may only be figuratively conjured in a verbal discourse does not mean that the conjuring fails to occur or that the reader/listener “sees” nothing. That verbal discourse may only be figuratively or indirectly evoked in a picture does not mean that the evocation is impotent, that the viewer “hears” or “adds” nothing in the image (2009, p.119).

As with music, colour does not offer a definitive or tangible form of representation and objectification. Nevertheless, colour still has the power to affect our mood. The suggestion I make here is that colour in the cinematic model operates with a similar currency to that of the musical score, by providing emotionally appropriate objects. Kivy’s (2007) model of musical emotion can be applied to the use of colour; emotions are often stimulated by colour itself, suggesting that colour itself is the object. For example, we may be agitated by the sudden shift in a film’s complexion from an uplifting colour to an aggressive one, perhaps foreshadowing an unpleasant turn in the narrative. These emotions are stimulated by colour and are often narrative signposts  or colourific cues that can sometimes take precedence over other narrative devices. In Black Swan colour is used to signpost a narrative turn during a night-club scene. Unbeknownst to Nina, her drink is drugged, leading her evening down an unscrupulous route. As she descends into her drug-addled haze, the film illustrates this by bathing the mise-en-scène in a deep red. This colour is used to visually emphasise a shift in narrative as well as illustrate the darker side of Nina. It also foreshadows the film’s climactic ending, where Nina’s darker side is fully realised through use of the same colour.

Furthermore, cinematic colour paradoxically operates beyond the visual realm. As an embodied spectator, my experience of colour informs my other senses. As Vivian Sobchack posits that “We do not experience any movie only with our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being, informed by the full history and knowledge of our sensorium” (Sobchack, 2000).

Aronofsky’s first five feature length films utilise colour (or lack of, as is the case with Pi) to assist in the creation of mood. This is perhaps an unsurprising statement given that most directors have a colour scheme as part of their mise-en-scène. However, I want to stress the attention that Aronofsky gives to the complexion of each of his films. Moreover, I will investigate his intention to utilise this as a tool to alter the way the embodied spectator feels. I will avoid the question of how colour should be interpreted, thus avoiding psychoanalytical tropes, but rather ask: how does colour in his films make me feel and why? Like Jenefer Robinson’s audible odours (discussed in Chapter 2), colours operate in a similar fashion, cross-pollinating with other senses. A reddish hue might make me feel warm because of my memory of the colour’s natural occurrence within nature. Likewise, a bluish hue might make me feel cold because my natural experience of it is with cool items such as ice. Furthermore, these feelings are reinforced by signifying curators such as advertising, film, television, and other forms of media. That is, I see white and blue and feel cool not only because of my experience with nature but also because of its culturally appropriated representation in, say, a toothpaste advertisement. This cross-pollination of senses allows for the lived body experience of cinema. A question still remains: how does one feel colour? How does vision become a tactile experience? If, for example, I see a scene that is strongly tinted with orange, how does this imbue a feeling of warmth, or a blue scene imbue a feeling of cold? In order to answer this I will now return to Sobchack, whose phenomenological approach has been the philosophical backbone of this investigation.

In her article for Senses of Cinema (2000), Sobchack explores the relationship between the sensory experience of the spectator and the film.

We are in some carnal modality able to touch and be touched by the substance of images, to feel a visual atmosphere envelop us, to experience weight and suffocation and the need for air, to take flight in kinetic exhilaration and freedom even as we are relatively bound to our seats, to be knocked backwards by a sound, to sometimes even smell and taste the world we see on the screen (Sobchack, 2000).

Sobchack’s comments are not meant metaphorically. That is, our “need for air”, or to “smell and taste”, are not mere thoughts but tangible urges — physical responses to what has been presented before us. However, how can I smell, taste, or for that matter feel, when I am as Sobchack states, bound to my seat? When a film only presents itself within the sensory modes of sight and sound, how can this affect my other three senses? When I watch Tom (Hugh Jackman) eat the Tree of Life’s bark in The Fountain, I taste what I imagine the bark would taste like. When I watch Randy cut himself with a razor in The Wrestler, I feel what I imagine the pain would feel like. I hear the bark being cut and chewed by Tom, and I see Randy cut himself. Yet somehow my body responds to the sights and sounds presented with the senses of taste and touch.

Sobchack offers an explanation for my responses to this phenomenon. She argues that the spectator does not experience a film exclusively through the sensory modes of seeing and hearing, but instead with their entire “bodily being”, claiming that there is a dominant “cultural hegemony” of vision that prevents many spectators from fully experiencing film. She sees the sensory model as a series of interconnected modes rather than isolated senses, claiming that “vision is only one modality of [the] lived body’s access to the world” (2004, p.64).

Sobchack explains this interconnection of sensory modes through a concept she calls the “cinesthetic subject” — a contrivance born out of synaesthesia and coenaesthesia. Both of these conditions involve the interconnection of senses. Synaesthetes experience one sense as another, for example, sound is experienced as a colour, or a colour is experienced as a taste. Coenaesthesia refers to the spectator’s perception of their senses as a whole. Sobchack uses the example of the new born baby, who is only aware of his or her senses and has not yet been influenced by a cultural hegemony that privileges one sense over another.

Through these two conditions, Sobchack arrives at the “cinesthetic subject” — a constructed spectator whose senses inform each other, enabling and offering a reason why, as a spectator, one can touch, taste, and smell the cinematic image. Consequently, the borders between the senses are blurred as the cinesthetic subject experiences film through their lived body, not just through vision and hearing. Sobchack argues that the lived body coalesces the senses in a “cross-modal sensory exchange” (2004, p.69).

The cross-modal sensory exchange is processed by the spectator instinctively, through a form of “primary engagement” with the film. Sobchack explains that through this process, the lived body subverts the divide between the spectator off-screen and the character on-screen. That is, the spectator’s engagement with the film unsettles the established cinematic relationship between the subject (the spectator) and the object (the character). The lived body supplies a conduit for the cinematic experience as the spectator responds, thus blurring the boundary between spectator and character. The spectator feels what the character feels. For example, in Requiem for a Dream Harry lies on a prison floor suffering from a badly infected arm. His infected arm becomes a sensory experience that goes beyond mere sight and sound. My lived body becomes aware of Harry’s pain as I suddenly become conscious of myself rubbing my arm in response. Therefore, my skin is now not exclusively my own but has become part of an embodied experience, which is also Harry’s skin. In her phenomenological analysis of The Piano (1993), Sobchack experiences a similar affect, stating that “my skin is both mine and not my own” (2004, p.66). Thus, the spectator feels what the character feels through a reversibility of perception between the cinesthetic subject and, as Sobchack explains, the screen’s “figural objects of bodily provocation” (2004, p.79).

If the spectator is in an exchange of sensual connection with the character, to what extent does this exchange occur? Clearly I will not feel the same physical trauma of Sara Goldfarb’s electrotherapy, Max’s seizure, or Harry’s infected arm (all in Requiem for a Dream). To do so would create an untenable experience for the spectator. However, Sobchack suggests that the cinesthetic subject does at least to some extent experience the character’s physicality, due to the structure of subjective interchangeability with the character. This helps to explain why, upon seeing Harry’s infected arm I feel a discomfort in my own and am provoked to rub it. Jennifer Barker (2009, p.12) suggests that as a cinesthetic subject, I am engaged in “fleshy, muscular, visceral contact” with Harry; I feel a portion of his pain, and thus express a physical reaction to this pain by rubbing my arm.

Requiem1Sobchack’s cinesthetic subject can bring about acute sensory awareness and experience. However, there are multiple factors at play. Scenes concerning Harry’s infected arm are made up of many sonic and visual components that help provoke a bodily experience in the spectator. I am not just presented with an infected looking arm, but rather I am presented with Harry’s arm through the cinematic optic of the mise-en-scène. Elements such as music, colour, and composition perform functions that operate within the visual and acoustic realm but manifest as felt experiences beyond just sight and sound. Consider the scene of Harry lying on the prison floor, writhing in agony with an infected arm (see Figure 3.1). The mise-en-scène consists of the blue and grey hues of Harry’s prison attire and the prison floor. These hues are contrasted with the warmer skin tones of Harry’s arm and face. The colour complexion enhances the spectator’s engagement with the visceral nature of this scene. The blue/grey hues command the greater portion of the screen’s real estate and therefore create a cold environment. However, the contrast between these hues with Harry’s pale pink skin highlights the infected area of his arm. This contrast brings the infection to the forefront of the spectator’s attention, highlighting the pain and allowing the spectator, through cinesthesia, to feel a portion of the same. I am mindful here of colour’s power to influence the spectator. It is worth noting that colour alone does not produce such responses, but must work in conjunction with other cinematic elements of the mise-en-scène such as sound, performance, and framing.

Requiem2I have adjusted the original still (Figure 3.1), adding browner hues (see Figure 3.2), and have found the result to exhibit a different set of qualities. The cold tonal range is greatly reduced and the scene feels warmer and less hostile. Harry’s pale skin now looks more healthy. This small colour grading adjustment illustrates how the complexion of a scene has the potential to alter spectatorial response and engagement.

In her analysis of Derek Jarman’s monochromatic film, Blue (1993), Sobchack argues for a multi-sensory experience, despite the fact that Blue contains no image other than the unchanging titular hue for the entire film. The experience of a single hue, Sobchack argues, affects the embodied spectator profoundly when one chooses to experience the film phenomenologically:

The phenomenological method ‘fleshes out’ our initial interpretations and reveals that Blue is not only objectively about the richness, complexity, and sensuality of audiovisual perception [but also] reveals that Blue is performative: through its seeming ‘minimalism’, subjectively constituting for its viewers/listeners a meaningful experience of extreme self-reflection on the dynamics, habits, creativity, and plenitude of their own embodied perception (2011, p.204).

Blue may be an extreme case, and the assaultive experience of being subjected to a single colour for the entire length of a feature film is perhaps unsurprising. However, Sobchack’s approach can be extended to considering the dominant and holistic hues of standard cinematic fare, as will be demonstrated. When one considers a film’s complexion phenomenologically, it provokes a primary response, one that has no immediate cognitive assessment. Consider Aronofsky’s first five feature-length films: I am immediately aware of their chromatic complexion after a single viewing. I feel that The Wrestler is green, and The Fountain is gold, and so on. The impression that colour indelibly stamps on us as embodied spectators, encourages feeling states and leads to the onset of mood.

You can read my entire thesis on Aronofsky and phenomenology by following this link.