Whatever Happened To Colour?

By: Pete Emslie

Those who know me well know that I am very much steeped in the popular culture of the 50’s and 60’s. In fact, most of my favourite movies were made in roughly that twenty year span. That’s not to say that I believe movies were better overall from that era in terms of writing and direction, but when it comes to colour and sound then, yes, there’s a wealth of pleasure for the senses to be found during that period.

Just the other night I put on my DVD of 4 For Texas, starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin alongside those fine Swedish and Swiss imports respectively, Anita Ekberg and Ursula Andress. To be sure, it’s a mindless piece of fluff that would never end up on any film critic’s list of all-time classics, but it’s a bit of fun and most importantly, it looks great! Like most films of that era, it is crisply lit and absolutely awash in lush colour. I know most of you likely value content in a film over style, but not me – I prefer style, critics be damned! (Of course, the goal should be to have both wonderful content and style.)

For me, a movie has to lure me through the senses – it must appeal to the eyes and ears. At one time, Hollywood used to knock itself out trying to do this, with lush Technicolor and memorable music scores. Cinematographers, art directors, costume designers – all were hired for their skill in bringing aesthetic appeal to meet with the director’s vision. Scenes were beautifully lit in order to showcase the attractiveness of Hollywood’s leading stars of the day, with their warm, tanned flesh tones and well-tailored wardrobes.

But not now…

Hollywood has decided that we can’t have beautiful imagery anymore. These days, it seems that the default look for most (if not all) movies is like this – colours drained of all their bright hue and given an overall dull blue tinge:

It’s bad enough when horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies seem to slavishly adhere to this unpleasant template, but even mainstream adult dramas like Up In The Air and Fair Game (both of which are films that I would otherwise like) are being drained of all their colour in post-production. This unfortunate trend in dreariness also lessened my enjoyment of last year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech.

Recently, I did some searching on Google to find out whether others are equally disturbed by this ugly trend in today’s films. Sure enough, I turned up this article that helps to explain what is going on. It’s interesting to read the numerous comments afterward, as there are many, like me, who abhor this unpleasant trend, while others defend it as being true to the director’s “vision”. Though they may like to think of themselves as unique visionaries, most directors working today merely conform to one basic template of mediocrity that the Hollywood studios all decree must be followed. Because of this trend toward the drab and ugly, I find myself seeing fewer and fewer films with each passing year. Perhaps Hollywood should realize that many older moviegoers are used to far richer looking movies from the more glorious past – today’s films just turn us off. BLECCHH!!

Here’s a final parting shot. Compare the dreary, blue-tinged Russell Crowe 2010 Robin Hood to the lush 1938 Technicolour classic starring Errol Flynn:

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