Color, the new dimension

Color film had been around for decades before Antonioni shot his first color feature, Red Desert, in 1964, using Technicolor. He switched to Metrocolor for Blowup, Zabriskie Point, and The Passenger. I consulted Steve Neale’s 1985 essay “Technicolor” (from Color, The Film Reader by Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price) for some history on the subject of coloring films and it was interesting enough that I thought I’d summarize it a little here.
Technicolor (the company formed in 1915) had developed by 1932 a three-strip process that improved upon its former methods. The Technicolor cameras used three negatives and three filters for the light, one each for blue, green, and red (previous methods used only two colors). This yielded much higher-quality prints made with incredibly expensive cameras that studios rented for color productions (and Technicolor’s secrecy allowed it to hold a monopoly on the color industry despite the cost of its cameras). Eastmancolor, Technicolor’s main competitor, released a much less expensive method in 1949 that combined the three strips into one roll of film that could be used in a single-lens camera. It was less expensive, but Technicolor’s more complicated process has proved more durable; Eastmancolor films faded more over time. Eastman Kodak didn’t improve the quality until the 1980s.
As Antonioni used Metrocolor (a trade name of Eastmancolor) for three pre-1980 films I’m studying, I’ve become slightly concerned about the quality of the color I’m trying to analyze. I suspect it’s all right, because the DVD copies I’ve used don’t seem wrong. It’s unnerving and irritating when sources disagree about the films’ colors, but as I noted in my last post, color can be very subjective and difficult to reach a clear consensus on — even in differentiating colors. For example, Rifkin in Antonioni’s Visual Language argues a character’s “purple” handbag is a significant purple moment in Blowup, but I’d have called it magenta. (103) And when I clearly see a pink handbag instead of the purple someone else is writing about, I’m going to wonder if my version looks the way it was intended.

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Antonioni’s color: post #1

“There are scenes and dialogue in my films which would not have been possible without the presence of walls or backgrounds of particular colors” — Michelangelo Antonioni *

Blow-Up (1966)

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