Bold hues mixed and matched in unique and dynamic combinations, "the 'Color Surge' trend highlights the ability for image-makers to liberate themselves from conventional color palettes and the accepted theories of ‘what something should look like,’” writes Getty Senior Art Director Claudia Marks in Getty Images’ 2017 Creative in Focus.
As the best art and cinema tends to be an honest reflection on culture and society, mirroring life and trends of the time it was made, it’s no wonder that color plays such an important role in some of Hollywood's most impactful films.
With the summer movie explosion beginning to settle, here's a look back at some recently lauded and awarded films--La La Land, Moonlight, 20th Century Women and Nocturnal Animals--and how they followed their own unique, color-forward creative paths to critical acclaim.
La La Land: Bold Primary Colors
This year’s awards darling – taking home all seven Golden Globes it was nominated for as well as six out of 14 Oscars – La La Land’s bold use of color was apparent from the film’s very first scene. Bright primary hues of red, blue, and yellow soar across the screen, arresting the senses, while bursts of vibrant shades adorn backgrounds and cityscapes.
The use of color is in part homage to old time Hollywood musicals, and also plays a pivotal role in creating the movie’s atmospheric romanticism. Fantasy and reality play out alongside one another, with color functioning as the connecting thread between both worlds. The filmmakers took every opportunity to inject scenes with color, from costumes and props to wallpaper and lighting, which – along with the sudden dance sequences – creates a lovely dream-like effect on the viewer, pulling us in by the vividness of it all.
Moonlight: Powerful Manipulation of Pigments
This Academy Award Best Picture Winner uses color in a very different, yet just as effective way. The film is based on a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, a title that infuses the story with symbolic color from the get-go. In turn, rich gem tones, high contrasts, and otherworldly greenish-blue filters all contribute to the movie’s overall visual impact, which runs as deep as the narrative.
Color haunts the film’s characters--neon pink lights appearing where they don’t belong, on edge and bleary where Chiron’s crack-addicted mother is concerned. Other visuals work to bring us as close as possible to the characters’ perspectives – like in the pale blue swimming lesson scene, for instance, where the water seems to wash right over the audience along with Juan and Little.
20th Century Women: Muted Shades & Retro Patterns
Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical coming of age tale features a beautiful rainbow of pastels and pops of color that bring his character-driven story to life. Set in the late 70s, 20th Century Women centers on three women tasked with raising a teenage boy--or helping, at least. In turn, the film’s soft, pale color palette of nostalgic tones delivers a feeling of warmth, safety, and contemporary femininity, while bursts of vibrant patterns, props, and outfits speak to the year, 1979.
Yellow tones stand out in particular, brightening the home’s kitchen, dotting Dorthea’s bedroom, and on the young yet precocious Julie, with her pale straw-colored hair. Adolescence goes by in a series of hazy, overcast, and sunny California days, punctuated by the vividness of youth’s first experiences--bright moments marked here by bottle red hair and the psychedelic color separation that surrounds the car as the kids road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Nocturnal Animals: Cold, Dark & Desperate
As a film director and fashion designer, Tom Ford is all about aesthetics--aesthetics and mystery. This modern film noir delivers. Ford uses light and darkness like a sinister Caravaggio, sometimes even swallowing characters whole in his shadows, save for their lit faces. Otherwise, Susan’s surroundings are minimal and austere, cold and blue-toned, her gallerist’s wardrobe made up of mostly black and white, speckled with the deep jewel tones of Ford’s sophisticated palette.
In a parallel storyline, darkness reigns in plot and imagery as well, creeping in from all four corners of the screen as the cruel, violent tale unfolds. And that crimson light Tony’s bathed in is no saving grace, unfortunately. In his story, the use of red can only mean this: blood, death, and tragedy.
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