Final Post / Summary

I wrapped up my research on Antonioni’s visual style a while ago; I have now completed a bibliography and have annotated the majority of the sources. I have included it below as a Word document.

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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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Abstract: Color in the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960-1975

I will study the evolution of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s visual style across seven of his films from 1960 – 1975, focusing on the influence of color on his filmmaking techniques. My study covers Antonioni’s first color film, Red Desert (Il deserto rosso, 1964), his three immediately prior black and white films, and three subsequent color films. Part of my research will cover Italian history at the time to understand the historical context of the films, but I will focus my research on the way color affected Antonioni’s filmmaking style. Besides my own observations from viewing these seven films, my research will be through scholarly articles and books, using William and Mary databases and the Library of Congress.
Scholars commonly group six of Antonioni’s films into two “trilogies.” The Adventure (L’avventura, 1960), The Night (La Notte, 1961), and Eclipse (L’eclisse, 1962) constitute the “Trilogy of Alienation,” named for their common themes of alienation. Blowup (1966), Zabriskie Point (1970) and The Passenger (Professione: reporter, 1975), each in color, form Antonioni’s Color Trilogy. Red Desert falls somewhere in between, thematically linked to the Trilogy of Alienation, but filmed in color. Antonioni utilized color to strengthen his films’ themes (e.g. the stark contrast of industrial architecture’s artificially bright colors with muted earth tones, in Red Desert). My objective is a thorough investigation of how Antonioni’s visual style evolved under the influence of color filmmaking.