Please access detailed information on over 250 individual film color processes via the classification system on this page, display the Timeline of Historical Film Colors in chronological order, search via the tag cloud at the end of this page or directly on the search page, or see the contributing archives’ collections on the header slides.
This database was created in 2012 and has been developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich to provide comprehensive information about historical film color processes invented since the end of the 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.
Timeline of Historical Film Colors was started with Barbara Flueckiger’s research at Harvard University in the framework of her project Film History Re-mastered, funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, 2011-2013.
In 2013 the University of Zurich and the Swiss National Science Foundation awarded additional funding for the elaboration of this web resource. 80 financial contributors sponsored the crowdfunding campaign Database of Historical Film Colors with more than USD 11.100 in 2012. In addition, the Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts provided a major contribution to the development of the database. Many further persons and institutions have supported the project, see acknowledgements.
Since February 2016 the database has been redeveloped in the framework of the research project Film Colors. Technologies, Cultures, Institutions funded by a grant from Swiss National Science Foundation. Since 2016, the team of the research project ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors has been collecting and adding written sources. All the members of the two research projects on film colors, both led by Barbara Flueckiger, have been capturing photographs of historical film prints since 2017.
Follow the links “Access detailed information ›” to access the currently available detail pages for individual processes. These pages contain an image gallery, a short description, a bibliography of original papers and secondary sources connected to extended quotes from these sources, downloads of seminal papers and links. We are updating these detail pages on a regular basis.
In June 2015, the European Research Council awarded the prestigious Advanced Grant to Barbara Flueckiger for her new research project FilmColors. Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Aesthetics, see press release of the University of Zurich and short abstract on the university’s research database.
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Contributions to the Timeline of Historical Film Colors
“It would not have been possible to collect all the data and the corresponding images without the support from many individuals and institutions.Thank you so much for your contribution, I am very grateful.”
Experts, scholars, institutions | Sponsors, supporters, patrons of the crowdfunding campaign, April 23 to July 21, 2012
Experts, scholars, institutions
Prof. Dr. David Rodowick, Chair, Harvard University, Department of Visual and Environmental Studies
Prof. Dr. Margrit Tröhler, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Jörg Schweinitz, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Christine N. Brinckmann, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
PD Dr. Franziska Heller, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Dr. Claudy Op den Kamp, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Anton Rey, Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts
Dr. Haden Guest, Director, Harvard Film Archive
Liz Coffey, Film Conservator, Harvard Film Archive
Mark Johnson, Loan Officer, Harvard Film Archive
Brittany Gravely, Publicist, Harvard Film Archive
Clayton Scoble, Manager of the Digital Imaging Lab & Photography Studio, Harvard University
Stephen Jennings, Photographer, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library
Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Jared Case, Head of Cataloging and Access, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Nancy Kauffman, Archivist – Stills, Posters and Paper Collections, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Deborah Stoiber, Collection Manager, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Barbara Puorro Galasso, Photographer, George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film
Daniela Currò, Preservation Officer, George Eastman House, Motion Picture Department
James Layton, Manager, Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art
Mike Pogorzelski, Archive Director, Academy Film Archive
Josef Lindner, Preservation Officer, Academy Film Archive
Cassie Blake, Public Access Coordinator, Academy Film Archive
Melissa Levesque, Nitrate Curator, Academy Film Archive
Prof. Dr. Giovanna Fossati, Head Curator, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam, and Professor at the University of Amsterdam
Annike Kross, Film Restorer, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator Silent Film, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Catherine Cormon, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Anke Wilkening, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, Wiesbaden, Germany
Marianna De Sanctis, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Paola Ferrari, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Gert and Ingrid Koshofer, Gert Koshofer Collection, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
Memoriav, Verein zur Erhaltung des audiovisuellen Kulturgutes der Schweiz
BSc Gaudenz Halter, Software Development Color Film Analyses, video annotation und crowdsourcing platform VIAN, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab of Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, University of Zurich, (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD) since 07.2017
BSc Noyan Evirgen, Software Development, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab von Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, Universität Zürich (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD), 03.2017–01.2018
Assistants Film Analyses:
BA Manuel Joller, BA Ursina Früh, BA/MA Valentina Romero
The development of the project started in fall 2011 with stage 1. Each stage necessitated a different financing scheme. We are now in stage 3 and are looking for additional funding by private sponsors. Please use the Stripe interface to pay conveniently online or transfer your financial contribution directly to
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Account holder: Barbara Flueckiger, CH-8005 Zurich, Switzerland
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“Technically, The Wizard of Oz was not a full-length color film. It opened and closed in sepia (actually black-and-white film washed in a brown bath). While the technique helped establish mood – from drab reality to a candy-colored dreamland and back – it put a stress on the make-up department, as make-up for the “black-and-white” scenes was not suitable for the color portions and vice versa.
The production was a masterpiece of imaginative design, the work of art director Cedric Gibbons and his assistant, William A. Horning. To create the total illusion of fantasy, they ingeniously had their artists combine painted backgrounds, on film, with the existing sets. The result was a stunning collage that helped bring the Frank Baum classic to life.
Throughout, color was an integral part of the picture – from the yellow brick road to the ruby slippers to the Emerald City and so on. It also caused a few problems, such as finding the right shade of yellow for the legendary brick road. Said producer Mervyn LeRoy, “We tried all kinds of exotic dyes and imported paints and photographed them, and none of them looked really right. Then one morning I suggested to Gibbons that he try some ordinary, cheap yellow fence paint. He did and the yellow brick road finally looked like a yellow brick road should look.
The change from monochrome to color, in the early part of the film, had to be handled with extreme care. When Judy Garland, as young Dorothy, slowly opened the door of her home to go outside following the cyclone sequence, the exterior (Munchkinland), as seen through the door opening had to be revealed in color to keep the transition from being too abrupt. Each of the frames in the several-second scene required hand-tinting to show the visual richness of the outside fantasy world as it appeared through the opening door. From there, the screen went to full color.
The lands of Oz were constructed on the M-G-M back lot in one-fourth life size. Even so, the full set covered twenty-five acres and consisted of one hundred and twenty-two buildings. Over sixty different shades and colors were used in painting them.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 95–98.)
“In railing against Technicolor’s interference, Selznick articulated his ideas about color design. He sought color that would modulate with Scarlett’s (Vivien Leigh’s) changes in fortune. Beyond this, he envisioned a more dynamic design than he thought the Technicolor staff would allow.
For GWTW, Selznick envisioned a style that would experiment with bold color, but would do so tastefully. Analysis of the film shows that it does, at points, move well beyond restraint in making color graphically active, but these innovations are firmly rooted within established principles of binding color to story.
The emphasis here is on how GWTW made use of improved film stock and other technological developments to extend the range of cinematographic devices available to Technicolor. Through the development of colored illumination, low-key lighting, and complex facial modeling, GWTW integrated striking color effects into the classical style and brought respected black-and-white techniques more fully within Technicolor’s reach. As we will see, the film’s true contribution to the Technicolor look was in the way it bound color to light.
TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND SELZNICK’S EXPERIMENTAL SPIRIT
The film’s gains in color cinematography were made possible by technological developments that came to fruition at the end of the decade. In early 1939, Technicolor introduced an improved negative stock.
Gone with the Wind fully explores the potentials for integrating vigorous color and emulating monochrome effects. A general overview of the film’s color score helps us understand GWTW’s specific cinematographic innovations. Color design underscores broad plot articulations in the by-now-familiar manner. Most notably, the film moves between active and restrained palettes as Scarlett’s fortunes change.In one of his famous memos, Selznick described his fundamental vision of color design to production manager Ray Klune and director Victor Fleming. The producer complained that the Twelve Oaks barbecue sequences had been “so neutralized that there will be no dramatic point made by the drabness of the costumes through the whole second half of the picture.” Selznick planned to foreground hue at both at Twelve Oaks and the Atlanta Armory bazaar so that “the audience would have gasped at their beauty and would have felt a really tragic loss when it saw the same people in the made-over and tacky clothes of the war period.” For the postwar period, Selznick suggested, “the picture should, by its colors alone, dramatize the difference between Scarlett and the rest of the people – Scarlett extravagantly and colorfully costumed against the drabness of the other principals and of the extras.”41 Like a typical Technicolor score, color would chart the changing circumstances of the characters.
In the finished film, color travels a path roughly similar to the one mapped out by Selznick’s memo. In the first half, the barbecue and the bazaar represent high points for color variety; each sequence arrays and balances color highlights generally as Robin Hood did. The palette contracts as the tide of war turns against the South. Important scenes are keyed to subdued colors, but some accents, particularly red and blue, crop up as ironic reminders of the change that has come over the South. This general contraction sets up the eruption of red light that accompanies Scarlett and Rhett’s (Clark Gable’s) fiery escape from Atlanta. In turn, color accents drop out almost entirely once Scarlett returns to Tara and finds it stripped of its ornaments. A final shift in color temperature closes the first half as Scarlett faces the sunrise. In a shot apparently modeled on the final composition of Snow White (1937), her silhouette appears against the peach-tinted sky. The composition echoes the sunrise-sunset motif initiated when she and her father stood before Tara at the film’s opening, and it underscores Scarlett’s fresh hope in the midst of despair.42
After the intermission, the film reverts to a relatively restrained design that accentuates the somberness of Scarlett’s struggle to keep Tara. Brighter accents generally signal a contrast to the O’Haras’ meager lifestyle. Then, as Scarlett rises in business, her costumes and environment become more colorful, culminating with the richly appointed mansion that she and Rhett build in Atlanta. When Scarlett’s closest friend, Melanie Wilkes (Olivia de Havilland), dies, the palette contracts one last time. The frame becomes nearly achromatic as Scarlett wanders through the fog back to her mansion. Their marriage finally disintegrates, and her and Rhett’s last conversation before a foggy window holds color variation to an absolute minimum. This reduction suits the tragic turn and sets up one final flourish. The film’s concluding moments reintroduce red notes, first by way of the mansion staircase and then in the deep pink-orange light of the sunrise that frames Scarlett’s silhouette in the ultimate pullback. As at the end of the first half, the strong contraction of the palette grants extra force to the return of the sunrise motif.
Beyond this general correlation of color to the narrative arc, the film’s design is noteworthy for its willingness to engage in nearly symbolic uses of color. For example, when two Atlanta matrons gossip about Scarlett’s dealings with Yankees after the war, they are framed behind a large green teapot and cup, and the back wall of their parlor is bathed in vivid green light. The bizarre emphasis on green, admittedly buried within an elliptical montage, characterizes Atlanta’s circle of society women as rife with jealous gossip. Similarly, Scarlett’s costumes are prone to carry thematic charge. The pure white “prayer dress” she wears in the opening scenes helps establish Scarlett’s youth and innocence, traits bitterly challenged by the trials of war and reconstruction. Red, then, is associated with passion and sexuality, especially in Belle Watling’s (Ona Munson’s) costumes and in the mise-en-scène of her brothel. After the war, Scarlett attempts to return to the colors of her prayer dress when she appears in white underclothes, a red bow in her hair. Rhett, though, angered by rumors of her liaison with Melanie’s husband, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), commands Scarlett to wear a burgundy velvet dress to Ashley’s birthday party. Rhett angrily explains: “Nothing modest or matronly will do. Put on plenty of rouge. I want you to look your part tonight.” Such literal color meaning isn’t a consistent feature of the film’s design. Rather it opportunistically seizes on symbolic color when it can easily be accommodated by costume or by conventions for stylization.
SHAPING COLOR WITH LIGHT: FORMAL INNOVATION IN GWTW
This general description gives a broad sense of how color fluctuates with the plot, but the film’s great innovations involve the art of lighting. Color is a more flexible element of style in GWTW than in any other film of the 1930s. As in other features, color underscores narrative, punctuates actions and turning points, builds motifs, and foregrounds spectacular graphic qualities. But here, highlight and shadow (elements of tone) are as important as color in fulfilling these functions, and lighting effects commingle with color, forging a new cooperation between stylistic resources.
Color design is built around new opportunities opened up by technology. GWTW experiments with emphatically stylized lighting effects; it is a testing ground for style, evoking something of the exploratory character of La Cucaracha or Becky Sharp. Light molds the film’s palette, and highlighting, shadow, and color temperature shape our perception of action and performance. By turns, GWTW both emulates the flexibility and precision of monochrome cinematography and reaches a new synthesis of color and light. In the remainder of our analysis, we will focus on the production’s cinematographic innovations: colored lighting, low-key illumination, and complex facial modeling. In each case, GWTW expands the ambit of Technicolor’s expressive devices and challenges us to grasp the complexity of color’s interaction with light in the cinema.
It is hard to overstate the importance of colored lighting to GWTW’s color design. Well over half the examples that William Cameron Menzies cites in his handwritten notes on expressive color in GWTW involve the color temperature of light.43 The film’s use of colored light is even more significant if one recalls how use of the technique was generally discouraged after the experiments of La Cucaracha and Becky Sharp. Twenty-one of the film’s seventy segments incorporate some degree of colored illumination or the play of color temperature.
Indeed, the contrast between cool and warm illumination is so well integrated into the film’s visual style that it forms a basic option for graphic embellishment. The 1954 Technicolor print that I viewed, the only reissue that received Selznick’s stamp of approval, is processed to emphasize the warm golden tones of candlelight. In most cases, the lighting effects are clearly motivated and redundant with other stylistic cues. To a certain extent, GWTW helps domesticate colored lighting for serious, dramatic production.
Many of these effects are simple and relatively unpronounced. For example, a burning fireplace motivates a soft glow of warm light in Rhett’s room as he awaits Bonnie’s birth. Amber lamplight adds warm accents to Scarlett’s medium close-up in the scene immediately following her attack in the shantytown. This is, in turn, contrasted with the cold blue-white highlights on Frank’s (her second husband’s) face as he prepares to join the other vigilantes. The subtle play of color temperature helps accentuate the general atmosphere in much the way small variations in lighting key would function in black-and-white. More pronounced effects mark time or location. Cold blue moonlight sets the scene for Scarlett’s nightmare in New Orleans and Bonnie’s in London.
More remarkably, the play of color temperature also serves specific expressive or dramatic functions. For instance, consider the introduction of the villain Jonas Wilkerson (Victor Jory) as Scarlett’s mother, Ellen (Barbara O’Neil), returns home during the film’s opening act. Wilkerson halts Ellen in her doorway, and color temperature creates a strong contrast. He receives very dim bluish highlights, and much of his figure is left in darkness; she, apparently lit by an oil lamp, is bathed in a warm amber key light. Ellen chides Wilkerson, telling him that Emmy Slattery (Isabel Jewell) gave birth to his child and that the child “has mercifully died.” With that, she exits, and the camera dollies toward Wilkerson. A portentously deep chord sounds in the orchestral score and the light dims, leaving Wilkerson in cold white highlights, a pronounced eye light emerging near each pupil. Color temperature conveys Wilkerson’s intrusion into the peaceful candlelit warmth of Tara’s home life. Low-key modeling and beady eye lights lend the shot a sinister quality. Of course, the shift in color is redundant given the performances (Ellen’s curt remarks and Wilkerson’s expression), camera movements (the dolly-in signals that this character will have some significance), and music. Wilkerson is a threat, and style highlights his presence, paving the way for his attempt to usurp Tara. A very definite manipulation of colored light helps amplify that impression.
GWTW employs more ornate mixtures of color temperature for striking, punctual effects. The two standout examples each heighten scenes of mourning. Scarlett’s first sight of her mother’s bier after returning to Tara depends on the contrast of warm and cool light for its impact. In a frame dominated by cold highlights and deep shadows, Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) directs Scarlett’s glance to a partially opened door through which peach-amber light can be glimpsed. The low-key setting accentuates the light, driving our attention toward the room. When Scarlett finally opens the door, an over-the-shoulder shot reveals the parlor suffused by the peach-amber light. Ellen’s body, laid out on a table in the center of the room, forms a black silhouette against the warmly lit rear wall. Two candles, one at either end of the table, motivate the color. Ellen’s face, though, is illuminated by a cold blue spotlight directed from overhead. A near-complementary contrast makes the spot of blue especially prominent against the amber background. In his notes, Menzies singled the scene out as an example of how “the arrangement of light and color values helped give a strong angular and moving composition.”45 The juxtaposition of color temperatures stylizes the composition, an effect heightened by restraint in surrounding shots. For the cinematographers and designers of GWTW, color temperature could be as central in shaping the image as highlight and shadow in black-and-white.
This blending of temperatures reaches its height toward the film’s end in a scene that recalls Ellen’s bier. In the sequence, Melanie comforts Rhett, who has locked himself in Bonnie’s room to keep vigil over his dead daughter. A bravura balance of cool and warm light sources sculpts the performances and molds the architecture of the shot. After entering the room, Melanie emerges, only to collapse in Mammy’s arms. Again, the bier is only glimpsed from the doorway, first as Melanie enters to talk Rhett into allowing a funeral, and again when she emerges. The lighting scheme is ornate, varying across four planes from the doorway into the depth of the shot: a dim foreground with amber highlights, an area of shadow and white highlights, a midground with warm and even amber light, and a background in cool blue. As characters move, the color contrasts lead the eye into Bonnie’s room while the camera keeps us at the threshold.
The area immediately outside Bonnie’s door is very low-key, a candelabrum set off to the right motivating some minimal warm highlights. When Melanie approaches the door, she moves from a warm foreground through darkness and finally into silhouette. The arrangement lets us keep track of Melanie and Rhett at the door as color contrast drives our interest farther back into the frame. Beyond an area of darkness, in the midground, Bonnie’s bed is bathed in the warm peach-amber radiance of candlelight. The white bedspread, Bonnie’s face and hands, and the red accent of her riding hat and gloves glow beneath the warm light. A chromatic gulf between the doorway and bed underlines the severity of Rhett’s isolation. Farther back, a wall in the background is washed with cold blue light so that a fairy-tale mural barely shows through. As in the scene with Ellen’s bier, the near-complementary play of cool and warm light anchors our vision to the center of the room. The arrangement of color elegantly separates planes and directs attention.46
The composition is an excellent example of how GWTW integrates color effects with virtuoso lighting, forging a link between two elements that were so often treated as opposed. Yet the pictorial effect is brief and punctual. The stylized design provides a quick visual payoff as Mammy leads Melanie to the room and gives a long description of Rhett’s behavior since Bonnie’s fall. The tactic is elliptical – typical for the second half of the film – and the glimpse of Bonnie’s room offers a short, visually rich climax that helps balance the otherwise cursory treatment of events.
The same lighting situation supports Olivia de Havilland’s performance when her character collapses after exiting the room, illustrating how the play of color temperature could be integrated with an actor’s movement and expression. When she reappears at the doorway, the amber light outside the room has substantially increased. The shot begins with a medium framing, and as she opens the door, the amber light sweeps across Melanie’s figure, catching her face and shawl. The wash of blue on the back wall in conjunction with the slight white edging on her shoulders and hair help intensify the color of the candlelight through contrast. As she moves left and closes the door behind her, the camera reframes, eliminating the white highlights. Melanie is lit entirely by frontal amber light that makes her flesh tones and shawl appear luminous while the detail in her deep blue dress is lost against the nearly pitch-black background.
The composition settles on a medium two-shot: Mammy on the left, Melanie on the right, and the candelabrum between them at the rear. Melanie explains that she has convinced Rhett to hold Bonnie’s funeral, and Mammy replies: “I suspect the angels fights on your side, Miss Mellie. Hallelujah.” As she begins to fail, Melanie turns toward the camera, moving away from the amber light and into hard white illumination projected from off-frame right. Her movement casts strong shadows across the left side of her face while the right takes on bright highlights. The cold new light source flattens her skin tones to pallid gray. She collapses. This change in color temperature is set off by an otherwise static lighting scheme. Mammy remains in a low-key setting with fairly minimal highlights, a choice that helps put more graphic weight on Melanie’s side of the frame. The final shot of the sequence brings Melanie and Mammy into a medium close-up that continues the basic lighting scheme.
Colored illumination has been woven into the scene’s dramatic fabric. Melanie’s staging activates the cool light source at the moment she begins to faint. The shift in color that accompanies her turn away from the candelabrum is essential to her performance. De Havilland’s face moves very subtly from a half smile to a drawn and exhausted expression as her character begins to fade. The lighting effect signals the sudden turn in health. Even the orchestral score lags behind the color effect, turning to a new theme only with the medium close-up that closes the scene. Staging, of course, is the strongest marker of this event, but the modulation of color temperature plays a particularly significant role. The color quality of the light clearly has been figured into the scene’s staging. Within the acceptable diegetic parameters, colored lighting proved flexible enough to play a basic role in highlighting action and shaping the image.
A good number of GWTW’s shadow effects are fairly conventional for Technicolor and build on techniques developed in films like Robin Hood, Elizabeth and Essex, and even Becky Sharp. This is certainly true of the silhouette shots that stylize an image by emptying it of varied color and rendering a sharp contrast of light and shadow. During the Twelve Oaks barbecue, the reduction to silhouette suppresses and renews color. In an effect described by Menzies in his notes, Ashley and Melanie are briefly framed before a set of garden doors, and the backlight through the doors leaves them in silhouette. Then, as the couple steps out on a verandah overlooking the gardens, the frame is flooded with the bright green of the lawn and the pastel accents of costumed extras. For Menzies, this was a method of “overdoing” the brilliance of the barbecue “to contrast with the later drabness illustrating the disintegration of the south.”48 In technique and function, though, this effect reprises the silhouette-drawing scene in Becky Sharp, though more fluidly. Menzies embellishes the tactic during the scene of Melanie’s labor by throwing black silhouettes against warm yellow-orange light coming through louvered blinds in her bedroom. The production designer rightly commented that the effect “intensified the feeling of a hot late afternoon,” but the hard separation of light and shadow was hardly innovative.49 The true breakthroughs in GWTW’s lighting design involve more intricate and complex shadows that carefully modulate detail.
At several points the cinematographers reduce light to extraordinarily low levels, but they achieve many of the most interesting shadow effects in moderate illumination. They overlay networks of highlights and transparent shadows onto mid-key scenes, and an often-restricted palette lends the shadows greater emphasis. These carefully graded lighting schemes support the dramatic rhythm as actors move in and out of highlights, and the light key gently shifts to underscore developments. The expressive possibilities of this kind of cinematography are best illustrated by Scarlett’s parallel love scenes with Ashley in the first and second halves of the film. In the first, Scarlett gives Ashley a sash during his Christmas furlough, and in the second she visits him in the paddock and asks for help paying the taxes on Tara. Though shot by different directors and cinematographers, these sequences both suppress color in favor of pronounced figure modeling. The intricate play of light and shade enlivens these quiet, dialogue-heavy love scenes.
In the scene directed by Cukor and shot by Garmes, Scarlett bids farewell to Ashley before a gray rain-streaked window in Aunt Pittypat’s (Laura Hope Crews’s) parlor.50 The sequence adapts the restrained mode to more intricate modeling. Lighting contrast on the figures is accentuated by staging them before the window, which provides a backlight just below the level of Scarlett’s key. This contrast exaggerates the impression of the dark foreground. In addition, the arrangement of the mise-en-scène creates a dark border that frames the couple in a vignette. Off-white curtain sheers catch light from beyond the window, but they are surrounded by heavy brown draperies that provide rich areas of darkness at the top of the frame. A small amount of fill picks out some of the folds in the drapes, but the overall effect is to form a dark border that graphically continues the silhouettes of two chairs in the lower foreground. Cukor and Garmes ornament the composition much the way they might have in black-and-white.
In close-ups, Garmes exploits the rain to create soft, shimmering highlights in the background, underscoring the bittersweet romantic tone. Scarlett’s two final close-ups make the most of this. In the first, immediately after Ashley’s kiss, the tears on Scarlett’s face form highlights that are echoed by the raindrops in the background. The final shot dollies in on Scarlett’s profile as she stands beside the window, watching Ashley depart, and the shadows of rain droplets streaking down the window are projected onto her face. These rain effects stylize the sequence by privileging the achromatic over hue. Despite all of GWTW’s bravura color effects, one of its most important cinematographic achievements lies in bringing to Technicolor this new level of control over highlight and shadow.
Fleming and Haller handle the paddock scene with a similar emphasis on lighting contrast. The greater part of the scene is staged within a small shed that opens up onto the warm red fields of Tara. Costume colors are overtaken by shadow while the high-key background delivers a wash of reddish brown in low saturation. With highlight and shade granted stylistic prominence, shifts in lighting support the dramatic trajectory. For example, once Ashley and Scarlett have settled into a medium long shot inside the shed, he recalls the war. With the mention of battle, the orchestral score shifts to a deep, ominous theme, and the image cuts to a medium close-up that deepens shadows and brightens the highlights on Ashley’s face. A key light throws strong highlights onto the left half his face, and the right side is heavily modeled with a particularly strong shadow around his nose. The folds of his shirt, the edge of his shoulder, and the top of his hair all receive contrasting highlights. Each eye reflects two well-defined eye lights. Haller exploits high-contrast modeling to create an appropriately dramatic look for Ashley’s description of combat: “I saw my boyhood friends blown to bits. I saw men crumple up in agony when I shot them”. As in Cukor and Garmes’s earlier work, the scene integrates exacting control of highlight and shadow to underscore the action and mood.
Minute changes in light and color temperature support the scene’s rhythm. Ashley’s intense medium close-up is juxtaposed with a much softer treatment of Scarlett. Her reaction shot is much more finely graded, the highlights softened into shadow along her cheek. Whereas Ashley’s composition featured a distinctly cool gray cast (carried by his clothing and the stone columns in the background), Scarlett’s has a warm, almost rose, tint. Her background is taken up by the ground outside, which nearly matches the soft reddish tint of her calico dress. Softer treatment of the female lead follows general convention, but the lighting also helps underscore the scene’s move away from Ashley’s war remembrance and into a new phase in which he tries to comfort Scarlett. The change in color temperature amounts to trading one set of neutrals for another, but the effect is to further soften the image, making Ashley’s medium close-up appear more severe by comparison. Color gently embellishes the lighting, accentuating the change of contrast.
The precise placement of highlights also means that as characters move, modeling supports their expressions. When Scarlett exclaims that she would willingly abandon her father and sisters, she turns toward the camera and lowers her head, moving out of the range of her key light and into shadow. Then, as Ashley attempts to comfort her, and she demands that he run away with her, Scarlett quickly snaps her head upward, returning the highlights and punctuating the moment. More generally, the lighting key picks up as the would-be lovers move to the end of the shed, where they embrace and kiss. Here, fill light is more even and pronounced, setting off the kiss from the rest of the scene and allowing for a clearer view of facial detail.
The love scenes between Scarlett and Ashley are good examples of how GWTW developed the range of Technicolor lighting. In each case, the play of color is subordinated to lighting contrast. Though this had become a hallmark of the restrained mode, GWTW’s lighting schemes are more complex, and the staging within them is more fluid, than earlier efforts. The effects that I have described may not seem particularly innovative in the context of monochrome cinematography, but for Technicolor they represent striking gains in the flexibility, precision, and intricacy of lighting style.
Convention may have guided both Cukor and Haller, and Fleming and Garmes, to make similar choices in staging and lighting.51 Both the organization of highlight and shadow and the movement between soft and hard modeling are efficient ways to add variety and to underscore visually the character interactions in emotionally charged scenes. These techniques recur when Scarlett bars Rhett from her bedroom, when Rhett forces himself upon her, and, later, when she desperately tries to save their marriage as he packs his things. Melanie’s attempt to comfort Rhett after Scarlett’s fall down the mansion stairs follows the same protocol, including another rain-streaked window to provide backlight. This mode of lighting enlivens stormy romantic encounters and emphasizes brooding or sentimental dialogue sequences. And this style was adaptable. Since it does not reduce illumination enough to obscure details, the balance of shadow in mid-key sequences offered a practical option for more modest productions, films without GWTW’s stake in mannered, or pretentious, low-key effects.
GWTW also carries forward the strong experimental bent of Selznick International, and the filmmakers engage in far more adventurous lighting schemes, reducing illumination well below the stock’s apparent threshold for rendering detail. At its extreme, the effect shrouds the image in darkness and obliterates color. The most fully developed sequence of deep chiaroscuro occurs at the end of the film’s first half. As noted earlier, Scarlett’s homecoming and her discovery of her mother’s bier feature definite low-key that helps flatten out color. Things get even darker when Scarlett confronts her father in his office, and then, at the close of part one, wanders out to the garden, where she makes her oath to “never go hungry again”. These scenes illustrate Selznick International’s proclivity for pushing the boundaries of Technicolor lighting, and they help us pinpoint the gains achievable with the new stock and new lighting technology.
Cinematography during the office scene most thoroughly emulates black-and-white by nearly completely eliminating color from the frame. The first shot places emphasis entirely on highlights within a darkened frame. Gerald (Thomas Mitchell) is framed in medium long shot, seated before a large window, and after a gentle dolly forward, Scarlett enters and takes a drink of whisky from a decanter on her father’s desk. The frame is lit entirely from behind the window by a cold white source that throws strong highlights on the left edge of Gerald’s face, catching his silver hair. Once Scarlett enters, she picks up just enough highlights to distinguish her from the background and to catch some details of her dress and face. The familiar backlighting technique has been made more conspicuous by eliminating the frontal fill. Except for Ellen’s jewelry box, which, glimpsed low in the frame on Gerald’s desk, reflects just enough backlight to reveal its red color, all hue is reduced to a range of black and gray. The composition is more than a brief establishing shot; it runs a fairly lengthy forty-two seconds before the cut to medium close-up introduces more even illumination.
In the shot described above, the edge light on Gerald generates a bright highlight along the edge of his face, and then softens into a dim shadow area within which his eye, nose, and cheek are distinguishable before they drop into blackness. Similarly, the shadows that cover Scarlett’s face still allow a very minute highlight to distinguish a lock of hair on her cheek. When Scarlett walks toward the background and takes a seat next to her father at the end of the shot, she never once moves entirely out of highlight. The fine-grained differences between low-key in A Star Is Born and in GWTW specify what Haller meant by the increased “shadow speed” of the new stock. Gains in film sensitivity opened up new possibilities for staging in low light.
With this suppler control over tonal variation, directing viewers’ attention becomes a matter of arranging highlights. When Scarlett learns that her father has saved only Confederate bonds, she lowers her head and turns back toward the window. This softens the light on her face; in the foreground, Gerald glances toward the left, picking up sharp, strong eye lights. The actors’ movements briefly drive the highest point of contrast forward to Gerald. He scolds Scarlett for her comment about the worthless bonds, glances down, and then looks back into the eye lights when he suggests, “We must ask your mother.” Scarlett, upon recognizing her father’s dementia, raises her head toward the camera and into fuller facial light. As she glances forward, she catches her own eye lights at just the moment Gerald looks down. For an instant, the point of high contrast shifts back to Scarlett as she reacts. Gerald then glances up again, moving back into his highlights. The lighting scheme has pinpoint precision: the eye lights conduct us through the dark frame and buttress the scene’s dramatic rhythm. Technicolor had never more closely approached the exactness of black-and-white cinematography.
The severe chiaroscuro of Tara’s interior accentuates the burst of colored lighting as Scarlett steps out onto the porch and into a fairly strong red-orange key light. The spectacular return of color functions symbolically. It cuts through the murky gray and black low-key, signaling the onset of sunrise and recalling the motif set up at the start of the film. Conventional associations of dawn with renewed hope are layered with the graphic power of colored light. Music, too, stresses the moment, returning to GWTW’s main theme just as Scarlett comes into the light. All these stylistic registers coalesce to launch the climax of the film’s first half. Low-key cinematography, however, remains unabated. Scarlett’s oath before the rising sun is remarkably dark. As she rises up into a medium close-up, fill light provides barely enough illumination to reveal the contours of her cheeks and forehead. The shot juxtaposes strong shadows against the light, warm sky, but allows barely enough light to keep track of Scarlett’s facial features.
The choice is exceptional for the final close-up before the intermission, much less for the composition that covers one of Scarlett’s most important monologues. The shot sacrifices skin tone and facial detail in order to support the pictorial motif of a silhouette against the rising sun, a motif fully realized in the famous pullback that follows this close-up. The radical underexposure in this shot exemplifies GWTW’s testing of the new stock. The filmmakers seem to have overreached the system’s sensitivity, producing a dim, murky image. But their willingness to shoot at the very margins of the system’s latitude also marks a culmination of one trend in 1930s Technicolor design. The production is a testing ground for low-key, an experiment in trying out black-and-white techniques with the Technicolor camera, something from which most subsequent productions would retreat.
While many of GWTW’s lighting techniques emulate black-and-white effects, several sequences build a new kind of partnership between chiaroscuro and color. By spotlighting a piece of colorful mise-en-scène within an otherwise darkened frame, the filmmakers grant color a particularly powerful role. The technique may flag an important prop, as with the jewelry box on Gerald’s desk during the office scene. The same device works expressively when Melanie visits Belle Watling, madam of the local brothel, in her carriage to thank her for harboring Ashley and Rhett after their raid on the shanty town. The carriage interior is black, as are the costumes, and this drives attention to Belle’s Teaberry red lipstick and the shock of red hair that peaks from beneath her shawl. Highlighting makes these colors luminous in the darkness; their saturation is exaggerated by the low-key setting. The dialogue is an occasion for Belle to progressively reveal more and more color. As she discusses her child, she gradually parts her cape, revealing the bright Mandarin Red trim on her dress. Then, when she passionately denounces Scarlett as a “mighty cold woman,” Belle removes her shawl, opens her cape, and begins powdering her chest. The action exposes her vivid Hyacinth Violet taffeta dress and red hair. Belle’s half of the frame is deluged in saturated highlights as she bursts the confines of reserve and propriety. Color underlines character contrast, and the chiaroscuro lends it such exceptional intensity that it overwhelms the image.
This combination of low-key lighting and strong color culminates in the near abstraction of scenes staged on the Crimson red staircase of the Atlanta mansion. In low-key, the stairs offer regularly patterned alternations of deep, saturated Crimson and dark, impenetrable black. In reducing the palette to red and black, the staircase scenes capture the vigor of a high-contrast monochrome image, but with vivid color. This scheme first punctuates the shot of Rhett carrying Scarlett upstairs during his forceful seduction, but it recurs more powerfully when she collapses at the film’s end. The camera dollies in from a long shot after she crumples on the stairs in her black dress, Rhett having finally left her. The stairs dominate the frame: their treads generate striking bands of color yet their risers are lost to shadow, creating a striped effect. Scarlett’s dress forms an inky mass that interrupts the patterning of highlight and shadow. She buries her face on her arm, eliminating all flesh tones except for one hand that peeks out from her side.
The camera movement intensifies the monochrome color effect by filling the frame with Crimson and black as the voices of Rhett, Ashley, and Gerald (in an audio montage) beseech Scarlett to return to Tara. The reduction of color and light cooperate to make Scarlett’s rise into close-up a brilliant revelation of light and texture. In lifting her head, she dramatically reintroduces flesh tone and engages sharp eye lights, punctuating her moment of decision. Color and low-key are equal partners. It seems fitting that a film so invested in expanding the ambit of Technicolor lighting should conclude with an exercise in combining color with shadow and shifting the key of illumination.
It is also appropriate that the GWTW’s penultimate shot showcases Scarlett’s close-up, slowly revealing her face until her gaze locks on the brilliant eye lights. We have repeatedly observed the importance of appropriately lit facial details for reinforcing mood, performance, and character psychology. In the classical Hollywood style, there is nothing unusual about this emphasis on the close-up. For Technicolor, however, the precision and control of facial modeling here is just short of revolutionary. More than any color film of the 1930s, GWTW places graphic emphasis on the close-up and on the lighting of faces. We have already noted a good deal of detail about facial modeling, but a brief discussion of a few important techniques can help us understand GWTW’s innovations in this area.
Instead of viewing GWTW as breaking radically with standard practice, we should see it as refining and expanding this approach to facial modeling. Garmes, Haller, and Rennahan used the new stock to further extend the tonal range of their modeling and to integrate shifts in lighting more fully with performance and staging. Many of the specific techniques appeared in earlier films, and GWTW does rely on soft, simple, fairly pedestrian modeling for routine sequences. Yet the film also consistently brings forward more complicated designs, especially for Scarlett.
Virtuoso low-key effects are reserved for dramatic turns, but when the situation calls for glamorous effects, the new stock allows for exceptionally rich modeling. The formal elegance of Scarlett’s close-up as she naps with the other belles at the Twelve Oaks barbecue signals a considerable advance in Technicolor lighting. Ernest Haller suggests an off-screen window blind by casting three diagonal shadows across Scarlett’s face: one along her upper forehead, another from her right eye down across her nose, and a third along her chin. Alternating with these delicate shadows are soft highlights, an unprecedented use of diffused modeling lights in Technicolor. As Scarlett raises her eyes and glances left and right, she engages eye lights that create brilliant highlights near the center of the image. These lights help signal Scarlett’s decision to sneak downstairs and corner Ashley. In its delicacy and exactitude, this lighting scheme far outstrips anything achieved in earlier three-color features. Of all of Scarlett’s close-ups, this shot most clearly lends credence to Haller’s claim, cited earlier, that the faster stock let the cinematographer use “little tricks of precision lighting he has used in monochrome to glamorize his stars.”53
Performances are transmitted through meticulous facial modeling, especially eye lighting. One of the basic schemes of facial modeling for color or black-and-white, and the one preferred for Scarlett, places the key light quite high and to the left, creating a bright triangular highlight directly below her right eye. This scheme forms a starting point from which expressive variations depart. When Scarlett discovers the burned-out remains of Twelve Oaks, for example, the triangular highlight is exaggerated by the elimination of fill along her right cheek. A fine network of cast shadows drift across her face as she glances around the great hall. Shading molds her face to suit the mood of the scene without straying too far from the standard beautifying lighting setup.
This scheme is repeated with greater precision when Scarlett steps forward to the ruins of the great staircase, her eyes filling with tears. The deep shadows of the banister posts pass over her face as she walks toward the stairs. Once in close-up, the right side of Scarlett’s face is lost in darkness, aside from the highlight beneath her eye. Then, as she glances leftward, up the stairs, she turns more fully into the key light, moving out of shadow. The action also engages two pronounced eye lights in each eye, briefly illuminating her tears. Finally, she returns to the original position, darkening her face as she mutters, “The Yankees, the dirty Yankees”. As Vivien Leigh moves fluidly into and out of shadow, Ernest Haller orchestrates low-key facial light, varying the composition and shifting highlights in rhythm with her performance.
This brief discussion should give some idea of how facial illumination was developed in GWTW. In fact, the increased flexibility of lighting seems to have coincided with a special emphasis on facial detail. Sequences routinely culminate in close-ups of Scarlett, often with effects like those described above. Consider the persistence of this strategy in the first half of the film: Scarlett stares teary-eyed through a window at the end of the Twelve Oak’s barbecue; her wedding concludes with a medium close-up of Scarlett crying; she watches Ashley return to battle after his furlough in medium close-up through a rain-streaked window; she curses her promise to care for Melanie in a close-up that accentuates the sweat and tears on her face, closing the sequence before the siege of Atlanta; she steps into an extreme close-up and into fairly intense eye lights as she climbs the stairs to Melanie’s room to help her give birth; her discovery of the ruins of Twelve Oaks ends with the shot described above; her discovery of Ellen’s body concludes with a heavily modeled medium close-up; and the penultimate shot before the intermission is the extremely dark close-up of Scarlett’s oath in Tara’s garden. Such emphasis on the star is common, but GWTW capitalizes on the classical convention with particular insistence. The film is a veritable workshop on the vicissitudes of the Technicolor close-up. Again, we can see GWTW as a culmination of the trend in 1930s Technicolor cinematography toward closing the gap between monochrome and color.
THE LIGHT AT THE TURN TO TARA
In attending so closely to the cinematographic developments in GWTW, this analysis may seem to underplay the role of color. Certainly, an extended discussion of either the Twelve Oaks barbecue or the armory bazaar would reveal careful staging and the organization of a broad palette on par with the most skillful passages in Robin Hood. However, GWTW’s most formally adventurous sequences elaborate lighting innovations by emphasizing colored illumination. Hence, we should close this chapter with a short consideration of the flight from Atlanta, the visual apogee of the two-hundred-and-twenty-two-minute film. Specifically, Rhett and Scarlett’s iconic kiss at the turn to Tara fully combines the tonal control that this analysis has focused on with unusually intense color.
The action is staged before a backdrop glowing with brilliant red-orange light, overturning the Technicolor convention for keeping backgrounds in unobtrusive cool colors. An establishing shot sets up the scene’s basic palette. The extreme long shot frames Rhett and Scarlett’s cart from a low angle as it works its way up a hill. Lining the roadway are several trees and a low fence, rendered in black silhouette against the red-orange sky. Billowing smoke, superimposed at the far left, serves as a marker of the characters’ distance from Atlanta and a reminder of the diegetic motivation for the fiery sky. The sky itself modulates in value from a lighter tint near the ground to a deep, almost gray-black at the top of the frame. Though the frame is almost completely saturated in red with touches of black, Rhett’s shirt and forehead catch white highlights. The color difference accents the main characters within this remarkably vivid setting. Subsequent compositions expand this palette only slightly by adding touches of cool blue modeling light.
The play of color temperature and shadow is fundamental to the closer shots of Rhett and Scarlett. Once Rhett steps off the cart and faces Scarlett, he is fully illuminated by a red-orange key light, and she receives minimal fill and some white highlighting along her face. Rhett’s close-up uses a hard orange key light from off left so that the right side of his face is strongly shadowed. The top of his head and the backs of his shoulders are lit with contrasting cool, bluish white light. Scarlett’s reverse shot, on the other hand, presents her shoulders and hair edged in red-orange, and her face is modeled by a steely white fight from the right, leaving her left profile strongly shadowed. When the camera repositions behind Rhett, the juxtaposition of temperatures becomes more striking. Scarlett’s coolly lit figure is sandwiched between vivid warm accents at fore and rear. The color temperatures reinforce each other. Contrast both makes the colored illumination pictorially forceful and visually translates character conflict.
Rhett and Scarlett’s kiss forms the scene’s climax, and the mixture of low-key lighting and projected color heightens the moment. The camera dollies forward to a medium-long shot of the couple, the fence railing a dark mass in the foreground. Rhett’s facial modeling is provided by a red-orange source that highlights his forehead, the edge of his nose and mouth, and a patch under his eye, but leaves the rest of his profile in rugged shadow. As before, cool white light reflects along his back. Scarlett, facing right, is lit in red along her back and receives small highlights of white along her profile. It is true color chiaroscuro.
A cut in to a medium close-up places more weight on.this facial modeling. When Scarlett resists Rhett’s advances and turns away from him, she dodges out of her highlighting and is enveloped in shadow. Then, when Rhett declares his love, he grasps Scarlett’s face, moving her so that the bright cool highlights return and she engages an eye light. The difference in color between the white highlights and the warm red-orange surroundings amplifies this play of facial modeling. Minute movements have consequences not only for tonal values but for hue as well. Shifting colors and highlights track the power struggle between the lovers.
After a third cut to a tight close-up, the hot points on Scarlett’s face are softened to retain flesh tone, but they take on even greater graphic prominence. With nearly the entire frame in red and black, Scarlett’s forehead and the edge of her nose, mouth, and chin receive the greatest contrast in the image. Indeed, they are the only sources of properly registered flesh tone. When Rhett kisses her, he blocks out these highlights and tilts Scarlett’s head back so that she is suffused with the red-orange light. His movement forward into the key light creates a brief surge of red at the center of the frame. Each cut inward places successively greater stress on facial detail and the play of light. The strategy gives remarkable force to shifts in color, punctuating Rhett’s kiss.
In stylizing this scene, GWTW’s production crew push color forward more forcefully than at any other point in the film. Ronald Haver reports that Fleming, Menzies, and art director Lyle Wheeler had to persuade Selznick not to reshoot the scene.54 Selznick likely objected to color’s obtrusiveness, its dominance over facial clarity. In a sense, this use of hue is a descendant of Robert Edmund Jones’s early attempts to make colored light expressive. Red stands for passion in this scene in the same way that it connoted rage at the end of La Cucaracha or danger in the ball sequence in Becky Sharp. In those films, the technique of flooding the frame with red light is used only briefly, and uniformity of color creates a look that resembles a monochrome scene that has been tinted or toned. But in GWTW the color effect is integrated with more conventional expressive techniques of low-key modeling. By incorporating white and bluish highlights, and manipulating deep shadows, the cinematographers accommodate traditional methods of shaping the image within the red environment. The turn to Tara boldly brings together GWTW’s experiments in tonal control and colored illumination to showcase color as an expressive and pliant element of style. For once, one of Hollywood’s best remembered images seems worthy of its repute.
Over sixty years after its release, GWTW is popularly regarded as innovative in its use of color, though the exact nature of those innovations remains obscured by generalizations.
GWTW relies on techniques that we have already encountered. In a sense, it combines the restrained mode’s power to develop chromatic motifs, exemplified by a film like A Star Is Born, with the emphasis on variety and ornamentation so vividly demonstrated by Robin Hood. More importantly, color design in GWTW was reconceived in relation to new cinematographic opportunities, and so it can best be understood in relation to lighting. The film’s most vital innovations with regard to color lie in the way its cinematographers exploited technological gains to increase the precision and range of their lighting techniques.
Selznick saw a more varied lighting as tightly linked with color design. Carefully directed pools of light could imitate candlelight and tone down or accentuate specific elements of the mise-en-scène. Certainly, the front hall of the Atlanta mansion, with its massive red-carpeted staircase, benefited from a lighting scheme that could modify its appearance. Gains in lighting facilitated greater control of set and costume color.
GWTW’s most notable manipulations of color involve colored lighting. In simulating lamp-, fire-, and moonlight, the film makes color temperature a more pronounced element of style than earlier three-color features did. Colored lighting adds a new variable to highlight and shadow for shaping the image; it brings color firmly within the realm of the cinematographer’s craft. In this area, GWTW follows the path opened by Robert Edmond Jones in La Cucaracha. But while Jones’s designs forced color forward to serve broad expressive goals, GWTW usually tempers the device by providing a more plausible diegetic motivation and by reducing the range of hue to an opposition of cool and warm light. This is a familiar pattern of development for color style. Early experiments present a range of devices that are then reclaimed for feature production when they can be clearly motivated and made to work with established techniques. With the help of technological improvements, projected color is rendered more flexible; warm and cool components intermingle, often amplifying the kind of tonal contrast valued in monochrome. GWTW creates a new alliance between light and color at the level of cinematography.
In some cases, the film gives unusual precedence to projected color, though usually, as in the sunset and sunrise scenes, the effect is relatively brief and punctual. GWTW also experiments with its stylistic innovations by making them prominent for extended scenes. But color showcasing does not mean a loss of stylistic flexibility. The cinematographers effectively incorporate modeling effects that highlight performance and action. The tactic is indicative of GWTW’s experimentation with Technicolor style. At several points in the film, the filmmakers test limits to find the maximal level of stylization that can still accommodate standard functions of classical style. In Selznick’s terms, the film indulges in “artistry” while striving to maintain “clarity.”
To overemphasize GWTW’s most experimental or stylistically adventurous moments, however, would be misleading. At the time of its release, the film was praised not only for its spectacular effects, but also for controlling color and blending it with the narrative.
The film’s continued popularity as a Technicolor classic can obscure its place in the ongoing effort to secure a role for color during the 1930s and 1940s. Viewing GWTW as a milestone of color filmmaking does not acknowledge the way it builds on conventions and methods of earlier productions, nor does it help specify concrete areas of innovation. Like Lonesome Pine or A Star Is Born, GWTW helped demonstrate that color could serve drama and be integrated with respected formal techniques. From the perspective of this book, GWTW seems especially important for extending to Technicolor lighting a degree of flexibility that had previously been the province of black-and-white. If, as Technicolor declared, its process did not claim “more than its rightful share” of attention, this was, in part, because color could better cooperate with highlight and shadow.
41 Selznick to Klune, March 13, 1939. Selznick Production Files, GWTW – Technicolor.
42 In a memo to Menzies, Selznick urged his production designer to see Snow White particularly for “the last shot of Snow White and her prince riding off.” In the film, they are silhouetted against a strong sunset. From David O. Selznick to W. C. Menzies, May 12, 1939. Selznick Administrative: Production Files, 1936-1942, Gone with the Wind – Art Department (Memos to William Cameron Menzies &# [sic]), 177.9. David O. Selznick Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (hereinafter, Selznick Production Files, GWTW – Art).
43 William Cameron Menzies, “Notes on Color in Gone with the Wind.” Selznick Administrative: Production Files, 1936-1942, Gone with the Wind – Menzies, William Cameron, BK359, 185.8. David O. Selznick Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (hereinafter, Selznick Production Files, GWTW – Menzies).
45 Menzies, “Notes on Color.” Selznick Production Files, GWTW – Menzies.
46 Ray Klune complained to Selznick that Fleming wasted an hour and a half rearranging the furniture in Bonnie’s room for this shot after rethinking the setup he had approved the night before. Ray Klune to David O. Selznick, June 4, 1939. Selznick Production Files, GWTW – Art.
48 Menzies, “Notes on Color.” Selznick Production Files, GWTW – Menzies.
50 Cynthia Molt, “Gone with the Wind” on Film (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990), 275.
51 For a discussion of the film’s stylistic consistency, see Vertrees, Selznick’s Vision, 53-115. Vertrees convincingly argues that Menzies’s designs were but one element that Selznick used to control and shape the film to his conception. Very few of Menzies’s storyboards were adopted unaltered into the final production.
53American Cinematographer, “Faster Film,” 356.
54 Ronald Haver, David O. Selznick’s Hollywood (New York: Knopf, 1980), 296.
American Cinematographer. “Faster Color Film Cuts Light a Half.” August 1939: 355-356.
Corliss Mary, and Carlos Clarens. “Designed for Film: The Hollywood Art Director.” Film Comment, May-June 1978: 25-59.
Eiseman, Leatrice, and Lawrence Herbert. The Pantone Book of Color: Over 1,000 Color Standards, Color Basics, and Guidelines for Design, Fashion, Furnishings, and More. New York: Abrams, 1990.
Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick’s Hollywood. New York: Knopf, 1980.
Molt, Cynthia. “Gone with the Wind” on Film: A Complete Reference. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990.
Technicolor News and Views. “New Negative Is Predicted.” November 1939: 2.
Vertrees, Alan David. Selznick’s Vision: Gone with the Wind and Hollywood Filmmaking. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1997.
David O. Selznick Collection. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. University of Texas at Austin.”
(Higgins, Scott (2007): Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow. Color Design in the 1930s. Austin: University of Texas Press, on pp. 174-207.)
“The history of Gone with the Wind (1939) strikingly illustrates how precarious the color image can be and how changing aesthetics can influence a film’s look. A victim of its own success, Gone with the Wind underwent a long line of reissues and rereleases, all of which sought to “improve” on earlier versions.20 For this book I studied two noticeably different versions of the film: MGM’s 1954 reissue, approved by producer David O. Selznick, and Warner Bros.’ Technicolor restoration, released in 1998. Neither version can claim to recreate the colors of the 1939 original; each is a creature of its aesthetic context.
Richard May, Warner Bros.’ vice president of film preservation, explained that each reissue attempted to increase the saturation and vividness of the production’s color in order to keep up with audience expectations. If a contemporary audience were presented with a print that duplicated the 1939 version, he speculated, “I think they would see that absence of color and ask what we did to the picture.”21 For the 1954 version, in keeping with the then-current standards of spectacle, MGM released the film in “widescreen.” Several key compositions were cropped, and projectionists masked the film so that it appeared to have a CinemaScope aspect ratio. The handling of color, though, in this version is not without merit. Robert Harris, the film restoration expert renowned for his work in color and large-format films (most famously Lawrence of Arabia and Vertigo) calls the 1954 version “the Rosetta stone for Gone with the Wind.” 22 This version was processed to emphasize the design’s rich, warm reds and browns. Scarlett’s prayer dress in the opening scene, for instance, is reproduced in a sumptuous pearl white, very warm, with a soft near-yellowish cast. One effect of this printing choice is to accentuate the warm glow of simulated candlelight that Selznick had worked so hard to achieve in 1939. The fact that Selznick also supervised and approved this version of the film lends authority to its look.
The 1998 Technicolor reissue renders colors quite differently. This version was derived from a 1989 Eastmancolor restoration. May explained that the 1989 restoration team timed the new print to achieve good flesh tones and neutrals, and that the colors probably approximated those of the original, scenes as staged before the Technicolor camera. Scarlett’s dress, in that version, is a crisp, clean white. The aim, May suggests, was to create a print that would meet contemporary standards of color rendition and quality. The look clearly departed from the 1954 version and almost certainly was different from the 1939 original. In all, the colors are cooler and clearer, and perhaps they are truer to the original staged scenes. This technical polish raises questions, however, if we assume that GWTW was designed with the capacities of the 1939 Technicolor process in mind and that Selznick may have viewed that process as a creative tool to help stylize the film.
The 1989 restoration was fairly well received, but the 1998 Technicolor release met with harsh criticism. The film was meant to be a showcase for Technicolor’s reintroduction of dye-transfer printing, a system that hadn’t been used in the United States since the 1970s. Unfortunately, Technicolor distributed a set of reels with registration defects (errors in keeping the yellow, cyan, and magenta components properly lined up), and had to recall them.23 Technicolor’s president, Ron Jarvis, pointed the finger at Warner Bros. for relying on the 1989 restoration as a source, which “contaminates the color because you’re now introducing another process: Eastmancolor.”24 Even the areas in which this version is said to excel can cast doubt on its accuracy. Jarvis touted Technicolor’s new work by claiming that “the colors, the contrast, the blacks, the shadow detail, the lack of grain are big improvements over the ’39 original.”25 Improvements, of course, amount to imposing current standards on the historical artifact, and they chip away at aesthetic credibility.
20 For a detailed criticism of various attempts to restore GWTW, see Craig S. Cummings, “Tampering with Tara: The Desecration of Gone with the Wind,” Big Reel (January 1999), 122.
21 Richard May, interview with the author, Los Angeles, Calif., July 18,1996; also quoted in Bill Desowitz, “GWTW: Is Brighter Better? ” Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1998.
22 Robert A. Harris, interview with the author, Bedford Hills, N.Y., March 24, 2004.
23 Desowitz, “Frankly, My Dear, You’re a Bit Blurry,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1998.
(Higgins, Scott (2007): Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow. Color Design in the 1930s. Austin: University of Texas Press, on pp. 9-10.)
“Enluminure: la lettrine gothique fait bon ménage avec le Technicolor. Le générique est, traditionnellement, le lieu privilégié des recherches graphiques et d’une certaine fantaisie, ouvertement non réaliste. Espions sur la Tamise de Lang ou Le Procès Paradine de Hitchcock fournissent des exemples de génériques gothiques en noir-et-blanc, lointains héritiers de la gravure pratiquée par Dürer ou Schongauer18; mais la lettrine gothique est colorée avec éclat tant au générique de La Vie privée d’Elisabeth où cela peut sembler justifié par le sujet, que dans celui de Pour qui sonne le glas (Sam Wood, 1943). Appropriées à Robin des Bois, les lettrines gothiques sur fond de parchemin sont ici du plus curieux effet: leur fonction consiste sans doute (à l’instar du titre d’Hemingway, citation de John Donne) à affirmer le caractère prestigieux de l’adaptation littéraire en même temps qu’à arborer un Technicolor ostentatoire, d’ailleurs beaucoup plus discret dans le film lui-même.
La technique du générique dessiné / colorié se prête à de multiples variantes: peinture indienne de La Flèche brisée (Daves, 1930), tapisserie au petit point de Sur la Piste des Mohawks et des Quatre Filles du docteur March (LeRoy, 1949), etc. On constate qu’annoncée avec éclat par le générique, la couleur constitue un parti graphique plus que pictural à proprement parler, qu’en ce sens, il faut donner raison à Anne Hollander et déduire que le Technicolor, autant que le noir-et-blanc travaillé à la manière de la gravure, se donne davantage comme procédé de stylisation graphique que comme instrument de réalisme pictural.
On esquissera, pour conclure, deux remarques. En premier lieu, on s’interrogera sur une comparaison possible entre l’évolution du Technicolor et celle, précisément, du vitrail. Il serait absurde de s’efforcer de dégager un parallélisme strict. Mais certaines similitudes ne sont guère niables. Bichrome, puis trichrome, le Technicolor crée d’abord une esthétique cohérente à l’intérieur de ses limitations techniques; dans sa quête de couleurs naturelles, dans son désir de rivaliser tant avec la peinture qu’avec la réalité il déploie une gamme toujours plus vive et plus variée, jusqu’à aboutir à une prolifération chromatique qui suscite le désir du retour à une esthétique moins profuse, caractérisée par la réduction de la couleur (Track of the Cat, Moby Dick). De manière comparable, le vitrail médiéval, d’abord satisfait des limitations techniques inhérentes au procédé de la cuisson du verre coloré, invente une esthétique cohérente fondée sur la prédominance du bleu et du rouge; puis il cesse de développer tant la variété de sa gamme que le réalisme de sa figuration, jusqu’à devenir peinture sur verre; cette tendance pictorialiste culmine au XVIe siècle, avec les vitraux de Saint-Etienne de Beauvais, par exemple La Vision de saint Eustache, dont la composition reprend celle d’une gravure de Dürer. Après l’abandon du vitrail, une réaction se fait jour au XIXe siècle, avec Ingres (chapelles Saint-Ferdinand à Paris, Saint-Louis à Dreux) et les verriers de Sainte-Clotilde, un retour aux formules médiévales, mais non à la technique médiévale, qui détermine une esthétique du vitrail néogothique où abondent, à côté des couleurs “médiévales”, les effets de grisaille et de moire, ainsi que des teintes inhabituelles au XIIe siècle, comme le vert, le brun, le violet, le jaune pâle, le rose…19
Si le schéma évolutif est analogue, il est évident que les couleurs du vitrail gothique ne ressemblent, en aucune façon, aux tons pastel du Technicolor des années trente: la différence des techniques est ici patente. En revanche, dans une chronologie bouleversée, on note des rencontres probantes: dans la Jeanne d’Arc de Fleming, la séquence du sacre constitue un bon exemple de “néo-gothique” assez fidèlement archaïsant (le choix chromatique de Fleming est identique à celui qu’on trouve dans les vitraux de la cathédrale d’Orléans qui, datant probablement du début de notre siècle, représentent l’histoire de Jeanne d’Arc: le bleu roi, associé aux fleurs de lis jaunes, domine; les flammes du bûcher sont rouge vif); les bruns et les verts paysagistes ou “pictorialistes” de La Vision de saint Eustache, à Beauvais, composent une gamme douce, proche de celle des extérieurs Technicolor dans les années trente; les effets de grisaille et de moire, affectionnés par le vitrail médiéval tardif comme par le vitrail du XIXe siècle, sont un des procédés le plus constamment employés par le film historique en Technicolor, de Becky Sharp à Robin des Bois et à La Flèche et le flambeau.
Dernière réflexion en guise de conclusion provisoire: on est justement frappé, en dépit de la diversité des stratégies mises en œuvre, par la permanence de certains procédés. En marge de la recherche d’une couleur réaliste ou naturelle, les cinéastes n’ont cessé d’utiliser la couleur à des fins expressives, à la fois symboliques et dramatiques. Il s’agit en priorité, lorsque la couleur est réduite ou isolée, du rouge, ou du jaune ardent. Une continuité se dessine, qui mène de la Jeanne d’Arc de DeMille, avec sa flamme rousse sur pellicule teintée bistre ou sépia, à Track of the Cat et à Moby Dick, et aujourd’hui à La Liste de Schindler, où dans le monochrome scintillent la flamme claire d’une cérémonie juive ou, plus secrètement, plus fugitivement, la robe rouge d’une fillette. De même, le Masque de la mort rouge, dans la séquence bichrome du Fantôme de l’opéra, porte en germe le premier acte du Baby of Mâcon, saturé de rouge sanglant. De même encore, le codage du film historique en Technicolor figure dans une œuvre récente qui est aussi l’hommage d’un cinéphile au film de cape et d’épée hollywoodien ou italien, La Fille de d’Artagnan de Bertrand Tavernier. La Femme en rouge, avec son chapeau à plumet, connote le danger, face à un cardinal Mazarin également vêtu d’écarlate. Aramis arbore un plumet violet, couleur ecclésiastique et d’une élégance raffinée. La Fille de d’Artagnan (Sophie Marceau) présente au jeune roi ses appas moulés dans une robe jaune vif. Le pictorialisme se donne libre cours tant dans les extérieurs que dans les intérieurs, avec des harmonies, claires ou foncées, où les gris voisinent avec les bruns et les rouges sombres et qui évoquent le chromatisme des caravagesques ou de Velâzquez (la Vénus Rokeby).
18 Autre exemple de générique à lettrines “enluminées”, La Merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d’Arc, de Marco de Gastyne (France, 1928, teinté).
19 Voir Les Vitraux de la Basilique Sainte-Clotilde à Paris, Société d’Histoire et d’Archéologie du Vile Arrondissement de Paris, 1987.”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on pp. 118–119.) (in French)
“Dès la fin des années trente, la couleur acquiert davantage d’assurance; décorateurs et réalisateurs balaient les réticences des conseillers Technicolor et se livrent bientôt à une manière de surenchère, oubliant les mises en garde de Mamoulian (lui-même, dans Arènes sanglantes  fait preuve de moins de retenue que dans Becky Sharp). A la fois technique et artistique, cette évolution détermine une nouvelle esthétique, dont les audaces sont à la fois permises et encouragées par le film en costume et la comédie musicale. Un rôle clé est ici joué par Selznick. Il est l’un des premiers à employer la couleur jusque dans des genres où elle pourrait sembler un ornement superflu (le drame avec Une Étoile est née, la comédie loufoque avec La Joyeuse suicidée); surtout, il prône un emploi de la couleur plus dramatique, plus audacieux, et ne cesse de passer outre à la timidité des conseillers Technicolor. Le 13 mars 1939, Selznick consacre à ce sujet un long mémo qu’il adresse à son directeur de production, R.A. Klune, ainsi qu’au réalisateur Victor Fleming: “Les tons neutres ont certainement leur valeur, et les tons pastel, lorsqu’ils sont utilisés à bon escient, donnent des scènes charmantes, mais cela ne veut pas dire qu’un film entier, le plus long qui existe, doive être entièrement composé en tons neutres ou pastel. Autant en emporte le vent, en particulier, nous donne l’occasion, par exemple dans les séquences d’ouverture et dans la garde-robe de Scarlett, de jeter de temps en temps dans l’œil du spectateur une touche de couleur violente, afin de souligner avec vigueur un effet dramatique… Si nous devons nous en remettre aux experts Technicolor, alors autant nous passer de nos propres décorateurs et costumiers, et laisser la compagnie Technicolor dessiner le film à notre place. Le résultat sera un de ces films en couleurs insignifiants, au contraire des combinaisons de couleurs inédites et frappantes que nous avons obtenues dans Le Jardin d’Allah et que j’espérais améliorer grandement dans Autant en emporte le vent.”9
Plus volontariste, la pratique de Selznick n’est pas, dans sa nature et sa finalité, foncièrement distincte de celle de Mamoulian, à laquelle il se réfère d’ailleurs: “La seule chose dont on parle encore dans Becky Sharp, c’est les capes rouges des soldats lorsqu’ils partent pour Waterloo.” Dans la séquence de l’incendie d’Atlanta, Selznick a recours à une quasi-monochromie rouge, jaune et noire, qui rappelle les éruptions du Vésuve peintes par Volaire et s’apparente aux procédés traditionnels de teinture, et il a le souci d’utiliser la couleur à des fins moins décoratives que dramatiques (voire dramaturgiques), prodiguant tous ses soins à la séquence du bal d’Atlanta, riche en rouges et jaunes vifs qui contrastent tout à la fois avec la robe noire que porte alors Scarlett, et avec les tons plus éteints qui caractériseront ultérieurement les Sudistes vaincus; il n’en reste pas moins qu’une esthétique de l’excès, de la saturation chromatique, se trouve ici affirmée (et récompensée par un Oscar nouvellement créé pour la photo couleur).
En Angleterre, à la même époque, Alexander Korda joue un rôle comparable, se faisant le propagandiste d’un Technicolor dont la rutilance est justifiée par l’exotisme des sujets, dans Les Quatre plumes blanches ou Le Voleur de Bagdad (Oscar pour la couleur, 1940). Coréalisateur de ce dernier film, Michael Powell poursuit cette veine avec Colonel Blimp (1943) ainsi que Les Chaussons rouges (1948).
9Memo from David O. Selznick, New York, Viking Press, 1972, p. 197–199; tr. fr. Cinéma (mémos), Ramsay Poche, 1985.”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 113.) (in French)
“Le premier Technicolor, en revanche, notamment celui des films en costume, renvoyait plus volontiers à des codes esthétiques médiévaux ou pré-picturaux: miniature, enluminure, héraldique, vitrail. Plutôt que de chercher à donner l’illusion d’un monde retrouvé, le Technicolor des années quarante propose un livre d’images à feuilleter. A l’instar du blason bleu semé de fleurs de lis, la Jeanne d’Arc de Fleming (1948, Oscars pour la photo et les costumes) est saturée d’un bleu de France aux implications clairement nationalistes; dans la séquence d’ouverture, Jeanne paysanne est (discrètement) vêtue de tricolore: bonnet blanc, corsage bleu marine, jupe rouge. Par ailleurs ressort le codage des habits ecclésiastiques: le rouge caractérise logiquement les chapeaux et les robes des cardinaux, tandis que l’évêque Cauchon (Francis Sullivan) arbore un violet assez pâle, mat et très joli. On ne distingue pas de parti chromatique tranché, sauf dans la séquence du sacre, réduite aux trois couleurs fondamentales: le bleu du manteau royal, le rouge des étendards, des costumes des soldats et des prêtres, l’or des chasubles épiscopales. A ces trois tons dominants s’ajoutent le blanc de l’hermine royale, l’argent de la cuirasse de Jeanne (dont l’étendard est blanc et or). La “clé” est donnée au début et à la fin de la séquence, grâce aux plans sur les vitraux du chevet de la cathédrale: il s’agit de restreindre la gamme chromatique à celle qui définit les vitraux médiévaux. Moins qu’au vitrail, l’effet produit fait d’ailleurs davantage songer à une miniature médiévale, comme dans Henri V (Laurence Olivier, 1946).”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 118.) (in French)
“LIGHTING FOR TECHNICOLOR COMPARED WITH BLACK AN WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY
By JOE VALENTINE
In 25 years of camera work the highest key I ever used in black and white photography turned out to be the lowest key of lighting in the history of Technicolor.
That was my introduction to color on Joan, for Sierra-RKO, directed by Victor Fleming, starring Ingrid Bergman. Far from the fancy phrases of an expert, this piece merely attempts to tell my rambling impressions on making the transition from black and white to color photography.
The first thing I discovered, in spite of the picture being in low key, was that 10 light units must be used in color for two in black and white. This produced a headache.
Color gradations change perceptibly with the slightest change in intensity of light. Overlight a face and it will film red.
Underlight it and it becomes green. I found that mood and effect shots could be made ten times as effective in color, but the intensity of light must be watched ten times as close as in black and white.
There is a scene in which a constable, in the dead of night, accosts Ingrid Bergman on the road. He holds up his lantern to see her on horseback. In black and white the key on his face could be as low or as high as we wanted it for mood. Had we keyed too low in color his face would become green and unreal.
Except for my hawk-eye on intensity, one key light is still as good in color as in black and white for modeling faces. No need to use four or five units. Not only does it serve the purpose artistically, it gives lower balance, cuts down the heat and is more comfortable on actors. It keeps them from squinting and is less harmful to the eyes.
The happiest thing about color is separation.
My daffiest moments in black and white were spent trying to separate a wall from a staircase. In color you just sit back and relax. Separation is done for you by the actual color difference of a staircase and a wall. You get what you see, you don’t have to create it. The fact that color means automatic separation is the big difference for a cameraman changing from black and white to color.
Actually you can throw a flat light in Technicolor and still get your effect and separation.
A happy discovery was that I could light to F.2, the same opening I use in black and white, and get an exceptional third dimensional quality.
A groundless fear was my apprehension about the dimmers and control of key lights.
With one exception I found the use of dimmers to be exactly the same as in black and white. When dimming low on incandescents the intensity gives more red.
Actually we used less color gelatines on lights in Joan than any color picture has used to date. Which brings up again the question of this picture having been shot in the lowest key of color history.
When I looked at the sets before the actual shooting started I thought I was back in black and white. Throughout the picture we kept the color muted. Most of the sets are drab, with an occasional touch of blue. Red was used at a minimum because it is too blatant.
At the same time we were able to make color carry the mood of the picture. The action builds from an opening low key in the enemy scorched Domremy through Joan’s fight for recognition and her victorious battles to the climax of the coronation scene which, of course, is in brilliant color.
The opening shot was in such low key that the color will be barely discernible.
Then with each new success of Joan’s, the color builds until the coronation becomes the highest key in the picture with the beautiful vestments of the priests and colorful costumes of the knights and court ladies, the many religious banners and the magnificent interior of the Cathedral.
The color drops again beginning with Joan’s capture and ending with the trial sequence and the prison at Rouen. The same low key is used as in the beginning of the picture.
Color will rise at the end only with Joan’s burning at the stake. The flames and the executioner’s robe will be the high key elements standing out in the market square.
Getting mood is the greatest thrill in Technicolor. As in black-and-white, it is a matter of lighting, but the difference is that color gives you so many more gradations and delicate changes.
For example, the picture opens at dawn.
In black-and-white dawn could merely be suggested. The atmosphere at that precise moment could not be reproduced. We could never achieve the cool pink dawn sky and the first breaking of orange light through the blackness that covered the village of Domremy. A few pink gelatins on the sky background and in Technicolor one can reproduce just those colors. A true dawn with every nuance of color, exactly as it is at four-thirty in the morning.
In black-and-white the best you can do with atmosphere is an approximation in the changing season and the changing hours of the day. You can only reproduce the broad changes, either day or night. But in Technicolor you can get true reproduction of any hour of the day and any given part of any season. You can get changes in the color of the soil, changes in leaves, in the sky. I found even in the battle scenes that we could reproduce the various colors of smoke that are part of any battle. In fact, some of the changes became so violent that the smoke colors clashed and we had to reduce them to yellow, black and grey—no white.
That is the story, except to say that I’ve been able to hold one boast good from black-and-white to Technicolor. I still come within 25 foot-candles on the meter with my naked eye, and come within 1% to 2 points printer range on the entire picture.
After all, balance is balance, whether you photograph in black-and-white or in color.”
(Valentine, Joe (1948): Lighting for Technicolor as Compared with Black and White Photography. In: International Photographer 20,1, Jan. 1948, pp. 7-10.)