Red

When the newly appointed American cardinal Edward Egan returned home from his investiture in Rome in 2001 he sported a red silk hat, signifying that the Pope had made him a prince of the Church. ‘What does the red symbolise?’ a New York reporter asked him. Cardinal Egan said it meant you had to be so willing to protect the faith that you would even go to death. Mary Queen of Scots might have agreed. On the day in 1857 she was fated to meet the hooded executioner she chose to wear a black-and-red dress. The black was for her death, but the red dye (no doubt made with beetle blood) symbolised, or perhaps summoned her courage meeting it.

For many cultures red is both death and life- a beautiful and terrible paradox. In our modern language of metaphors, red is anger, it is fire, it is the stormy feelings of the heart, it is love, it is the god of war, and it is power (130).

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They didn’t always listen, the Great Masters. Turned had been warned many times not to use paints that faded, but that day in 1835 or so when he was gazing at his workbox thinking of the pink sunset and a violent sea, he chose his brightest red, even though he knew it would not last. Or perhaps he even liked the idea (125).

Victoria Finlay

Colour: Travels through the Paintbox

Eastman Color lacked Technicolor’s rich saturation, transparent shadows, and detailed textures. Still, the monopack stock was easier to use with widescreen dimsensions of the day. Unfortunately, Eastman images tended to fade — especially if the footage was hastily processed. By the early 1970s, many prints and negatives had turned a puttyish pink or a sickly crimson (301).

Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell

Film History: An Introduction (third edition)

Long faded crimson dreams in J.W. Turner’s Waves Breaking Against the Wind

4 responses to “Red

  1. I was thinking of some way to contribute to this line of thought, and it occurs to me to prompt you to say something about analogous developments in our own time, cinematically.

    For instance: the whole sort of ‘digitization’ of contemporary cinematography, even in films that aren’t digital (?)– and the way the sort of gangrenous lighting Darius Khondji made so popular with “Se7en” has taken over film, as you can see by comparing, say, Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts” with his “Valmont” or “Amadeus”, or Argento’s films of this millennium against “Suspiria” et. al. It seems to me that digital cameras accelerate this corpuscular style of lighting/texture in its omnipresence, and vice versa.

    Or the way that many established directors have become compelled towards shooting their films with speed. Bertolucci parted with Storarro in his effort to break from his ‘symphonic’ way of choreographing his shots– by “Beseiged” he had developed (some of us would say triumphantly) a new cinematic language for himself. David Lynch swears he’s a convert to digital– thus with “Inland Empire” he could do everything himself (witness the credits!)– he says it’s unthinkable to him to go back to shooting the old way; yet one only has to read David Foster Wallace’s essay on the filming of “Lost Highway” to know how much time and patience Lynch was willing to expend on every shot (or just watch the movies!).

    Or, again, the digital-manquee style of photography Kubrick employed on “Eyes Wide Shut”, so that he could shoot alone with the actors. Or Rohmer’s embrace of digital technologies on “The Lady and the Duke”.

    In short: there seems to be a sort of zeitgeist, independent (at least in some considerable part) from economic prompting that makes so many heavyweight filmmakers, who came out of the ‘old methods’ quite desperate to embrace shooting on the wing with digital cameras– and willing to accept the new aesthetics demanded by the medium, which of course are (as most any cineaste will admit) still *quite* different from the riches of celluloid past– and not just the Technicolor stuff.

  2. For comparisons’ sake, I haven’t seen any of Forman’s or Argento’s new films, so I can’t quite compare them at least. I know the style you are referring to with Se7en though, and it is terribly executed in about 90% of the attempts. I can’t quite think of a film that does it well, just a few that don’t do it horribly. The Constant Gardener was not so bad if I remember, at least visually, though it employs a similar digital effect.

    I’ve used digital, and it is incredible how much easier it is than celluloid and at this point how close it is to achieving the same effect. The “great” filmmakers who have embraced it have embraced it’s new-ness, in the right sense I believe… many filmmakers are holding out to switch to digital until digital is able to replicate celluloid perfectly (it’s well on its way). Many of the auteurs you have already discussed however are not waiting, not because they are impatient or cheap, but rather because they see the potentials of the new “medium” and are willing to embrace its strengths and weaknesses. I think people should approach digital as someone would approach acrylic paint versus oil. The ends are more or less the same, and they are both essential tools for the artist, but the effect will be different, and they each have their own set of aesthetic capabilities.

    As much as I love the rich compositions of Lynch’s previous efforts, I think in the case of Inland Empire, the digital effect only contributed to the horror he was creating. He used it marvellously. On the other hand, someone like Mann uses the same digital medium, and creates a new kind of “beauty” cinema. We are familiar with the standards of visual beauty in celluloid and Mann is able to create a new set of expectations with digital, working within what is traditionally an extremely mainstream genre.

    I think digital is offering the freedoms in the 21st century that hand-held cameras offered at the midpoint. There probably would not be a French New Wave without hand-held cameras, then again, that is almost the anti-thesis of what is happening now. It’s not a bunch of young creatives making a new cinematic language, it’s a bunch of old staples taking on what is new and making it their own. It’s kinda fascinating. Then again, you have to take into account that nearly every aspiring filmmaker right now is probably working in digital… so we’ll just have to wait and see where digital takes us. It should be interesting, hopefully.

  3. I daresay I’d use digital if/when I ever “take up filmmaking” (!) but, besides the probable lack of commercial merit in any story I might want to paint in light, there’s also the fact that I’m impatient and a lazy-bones, and I’ve long since given up any pretensions, even inside my own head, of being the next David Lean!

    I think some people are taking digital towards a naturalism in lighting that is refreshing, but my concern is more about ‘texture’– I’m not convinced yet (neither are the people at “Sight & Sound”, at least some of them I’ve read) that it will ever quite close the gap where we could have a digital equivalent to “The Sheltering Sky” or something of that magnitude of celluloid richness. It’s analogous, I suppose, to the Eastman Color issue you cite above. Then again, I’ve never really felt that “Doctor Zhivago” suffered from being 35mm against “Lawrence of Arabia”s 75mm, even though I acknowlege, at a certain level, that DZ looks “older” and so on. Of course Lean was doing a bit of his, superior version of what I was calling ‘corpuscular’ photography, so I think he got what he wanted (he even fired Nicholas Roeg from the film so he could get it!).

    More than anything, I want Khondji’s dreadful influence to finally have a stake driven through it. He’s a gifted, even brilliant man, but I think he’s been a curse to cinema. It’s like a hysterical contagion; he was helping Fincher ape Ridley Scott (which dp Alex Thomson did better on Alien 3 anyway) and now Scott himself, and so many others, can’t seem to shake his style. I think Michael Balhaus’ Hollywood work, like Dracula and The Age of Innocence, was problematic too. –and I’m not sure about Mann these days either!

  4. I realize what you mean in terms of texture, and no, I doubt it’ll be useful for recreating the kind of warmth or earthiness of celluloid without heavy fiddling in post-production. A new kind of richness will enter the field, but there will be a period where you will have artists and/or technology and excels, while others will inevitably end up ugly or dated.

    I had to look up Khonji, I am not particularly familiar with him, but I think I have an idea of what you are referring to as far as his style and influence…

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