Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s

Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s

Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s

Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s

Synopsis

Like Dorothy waking up over the rainbow in the Land of Oz, Hollywood discovered a vivid new world of color in the 1930s. The introduction of three-color Technicolor technology in 1932 gave filmmakers a powerful tool with which to guide viewers' attention, punctuate turning points, and express emotional subtext. Although many producers and filmmakers initially resisted the use of color, Technicolor designers, led by the legendary Natalie Kalmus, developed an aesthetic that complemented the classical Hollywood filmmaking style while still offering innovative novelty. By the end of the 1930s, color in film was thoroughly harnessed to narrative, and it became elegantly expressive without threatening the coherence of the film's imaginary world.

Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbowis the first scholarly history of Technicolor aesthetics and technology, as well as a thoroughgoing analysis of how color works in film. Scott Higgins draws on extensive primary research and close analysis of well-known movies, includingBecky Sharp,A Star Is Born,Adventures of Robin Hood, andGone with the Wind, to show how the Technicolor films of the 1930s forged enduring conventions for handling color in popular cinema. He argues that filmmakers and designers rapidly worked through a series of stylistic modes based on the demonstration, restraint, and integration of color- and shows how the color conventions developed in the 1930s have continued to influence filmmaking to the present day. Higgins also formulates a new vocabulary and a method of analysis for capturing the often-elusive functions and effects of color that, in turn, open new avenues for the study of film form and lay a foundation for new work on color in cinema.

Excerpt

Watching a Technicolor film from the classical era is a perceptual luxury. We are impressed with the abundance of color, and we sense that it has been carefully organized, shaped into compositions that feel complete, polished, and dramatically nuanced. Compared to our contemporary experience of color as a necessary, automatic, and all-too-often mundane aspect of the moving image, a Technicolor production engages us in the unfolding of a complex and determined design. Color is an active and significant visual element, ebbing and flowing across the film. Yet the system of color design, though sensed, remains just out of reach. Immersed as we are in the classical narrative's forward momentum and deluged with shifting visual cues, we probably find it nearly impossible to track color's moment-by-moment contributions or to grasp its overarching orchestration.

This book aims to capture color's undeniable role in shaping our experience of the classical feature film by detailing Technicolor aesthetics during the crucial era of the 1930s. in the following pages, I seek to answer several questions: What functions did color serve during the classical era and how did these functions develop? How did commercial imperatives, stylistic norms, and technological constraints shape filmmakers' options for designing in color? How does color work, generally and specifically, to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.