HOW TECHNICOLOR CHANGED CINEMA
Updated: Mar 11
This is an article “How Technicolor Changed Cinema” by Marc Primo Warren
Remember when tycoon Ted Turner attempted to colorize Citizen Kane and other classic black and white films in 1989? What followed was an immediate backlash from film fans, the Orson Welles Estate, and the Directors Guild of America who saw the move as cinematic bastardization and sacrilege. As it appears to film enthusiasts, adding color to a classic film is tantamount to putting makeup on an ancient Roman statue. Eventually, we all went and agreed that films prior to the birth of Technicolor should remain as they are with every detail preserved as they were intended to be appreciated.
Fast forward to today and the question: How come many of us find it hard to go back to black and white movies after Technicolor?
Iconic 1920s director Albert Parker shared the same impression about colorizing films as how actress Mary Pickord felt about adding the talkies. Back then both were shifts totally unheard of that could affect how filmmakers approach their respective storytelling techniques. In other words, not everyone was very welcoming when film first transitioned to the way we know them these days.
Parker was clear on his position that color should never dominate a film’s narrative. However, this poses a big question about how effective scenes like Stanley Kubrick’s flood of blood in The Shining, or Danny Boyle’s gloomy white and blue take on the ‘meet me at Montauk’ scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Wes Anderson’s sepia tones in Moonrise Kingdom could pan out without the use of their distinct color palettes. Certainly there’s a high degree of aesthetic element that adds to every story when color is added in live action films and, most especially, in animated features. They help convey messages more clearly and effectively, and that even includes those shot in monochrome.
In the old days, color on film was considered violent. The shower of prismatic hues that viewers see onscreen can be deemed as distracting and stimulating to the point of being too graphic that filmmakers always tried to avoid them. But when Technicolor was introduced in 1915, directors and cinematographers were given a new license on creative signatures, making films post World War II more experimental despite only having a limited two-toned capability. Some found it absurd while others saw it as an innovation. And as Technicolor evolved into showing more hues on the silver screen, many were ready to accept that it was more than just a passing fad.
Once Technicolor evolved into a multi-color spectrum as done in the ironically titled The Black Pirate by director Douglas Fairbanks in 1926, audiences began to appreciate its merits and clamored for more similar masterpieces. By the 1930s, the innovation had integrated color psychology into the process which became an essential element in drawing out emotions from the screen and allowing viewers to absorb them more easily. By then, greys and blues were more associated with drama while orange and red were widely used in comedies.
Later on, color was used by filmmakers as a device to support their narratives. A creative technique that benefits multiple facets of the craft from directing, to camera work, to costume design. Perhaps one of the best uses of Technicolor in its early years can be seen in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz (Richard Thorpe). Audiences marveled at how Dorothy left her sepia-colored world for the more colorful land of Oz. The film soon became a benchmark of succeeding Technicolor films.
In today’s modern cinema, color is such an essential part of every film that viewers know how to distinguish the works of various directors apart just by studying a scene. Modern filmmakers like Boyle, Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro, and Tim Burton all have their own color and cinematography combinations that largely contribute to their respective brands of storytelling. Thanks to Technicolor turning out to be the proverbial Pandora’s Box of cinematic possibilities, viewers of all genres can now enjoy a wider range of masterpieces that do not rely on just a single standard in terms of telling worthwhile stories with different themes. If you want to find out more about Marc Primo Warren our services or just say hi, please reach out here.