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.
Subscribe to the blog to receive all the news: http://filmcolors.org/ (check out sidebar on individual entries for the “follow” button).
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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Die letzte und abstrakteste Ebene möglicher Zeichenstrukturen monochromer Farbgebung ist nach wie vor die am schwierigsten interpretierbare, auch weil nur selten zweifelsfrei nachweisbar. Die symbolische Farbgebung diente zur Verstärkung und Hervorhebung bildimpliziter Stimmungen oder zur Verdeutlichung vorherrschender Emotionen seitens der Figuren. Tendenziell bestand auch die Möglichkeit ihres Einsatzes zur Kommentierung derselben. Auch sie unterlag einem festen allgemein konventionalisierten Reglement, doch muß unterstellt werden, daß auch hier die Codes nie so weit entwickelt worden sind, daß man heute einer ganz bestimmten Farbe eine bestimmte symbolische Bedeutung zuweisen könnte. Das Klischee von den Rosarot eingefärbten Liebesszenen hält sich in manchen Historikerkreisen immer noch; wie manch andere kitschige Entgleisung hat es das im Stummfilm mit Sicherheit auch gegeben, doch eine allgemeine Regel Rosarot = “Liebe” daraus ableiten zu wollen, wäre in höchstem Maße fatal und ärgerlich. Ledig setzt in ihrer erwähnten Bedeutungstabelle “Rosa (hellrot)” mit den Konnotationen “Schönheit, Eleganz, Romantik, Liebe, Freude” gleich (Ledig/Ulimann 1988, 108).
Trotz aller Kritik: Die symbolische Farbgebung im engeren Sinne gab es selbstverständlich auch, will man nur als berühmtestes Beispiel Gances Napoléon (Abel Gance, Frankreich 1926) heranziehen, wo in den letzten Metern Film die drei Leinwände der Polyvision jede in einer anderen Farbe viragiert sind: Die linke Blau, die mittlere verbleibt Weiß, die rechte ist Rot, so daß das Bild eine gigantische Trikolore darstellt, die gegenüber den auf dem Bild ablaufenden Kampfhandlungen Patriotismus symbolisiert – mit allen Konnotationen.
Ledig, Elfriede & Ulimann, Gerhard (1988) Rot wie Feuer, Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn. Zu einigen Aspekten der Farbe im Stummfilm. In: Ledig, Elfriede (Hrsg.): Der Stummfilm. Konstruktion und Rekonstruktion. München: Schaudig, Bauer, Ledig, 89–116. (Diskurs Film. 2.).”
(Traber, Bodo (1995): Dramaturgische Funktionen monochromer Farbgebung im Stummfilm. In: Karl-Dietmar Möller-Nass Möller-Nass, Hasko Schneider and Hans J. Wulff (eds.): 1. Film- und Fernsehwissenschaftliches Kolloquium. Münster: MAkS, pp. 30–36, on p. 35.) (in German)
Virages sur mordançage sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté lavande, virage rouge-orangé (red-orange mordant toning on lavander tinted Pathé stock). Credit: Clayton Scoble and Stephen Jennings, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
I tre volti della paura (ITA 1963, Mario Bava). Credit: Cineteca di Bologna. Photographs of the Technicolor dye-transfer safety print by Noemi Daugaard, SNSF project Film Colors. Technologies, Cultures, Institutions.
The Thief of Bagdad (GBR 1940, Ludwig Berger; Michael Powell; Tim Whelan). Credit: Academy Film Archive. Photographs of the Technicolor dye-transfer safety print by Michelle Beutler, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.
“Für den Rekonstrukteur von Nosferatu (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Deutschland 1922), Enno Patalas, ergaben sich dabei aber handfeste praktische Probleme: Keine neue Farbfassung kann Authentizität beanspruchen – aber die schwarzweißen schließlich auch nicht. Rechtfertigen mag die willkürliche Entscheidung für eine, zumal zurückhaltende Einfärbung die zeitgenössische Praxis, einzelne Kopien eines Films verschieden zu färben. Es gab keinen verbindlichen Code (Patalas 1984, 312).
Vorstellungen von jenem vagen Code, nach dem illusionistische Farbgebung vorgenommen werden konnte, vermittelt Patalas an anderer Stelle:
Klar: Nosferatu muß ein Farbfilm gewesen sein […]. Erstens waren es wohl fast alle deutschen Filme zu der Zeit, zweitens braucht der Nosferatu die Farbe, wenigstens das Blau für Nacht. […] Nachtbilder, die auch im Dunkeln aufgenommen wurden, mit künstlichen Lichtquellen im Bild […], waren sicher gelb gefärbt. Die Tagesbilder stelle ich mir sepia angetont vor, die Seestücke blau, die Naturbilder grün. Dämmerungsbilder wurden damals gern rosa gefärbt, habe ich gelesen, ich glaube in Urban Gads Buch (ebd.).
In der nun fertigen Endfassung der rekonstruierten Farbkopie von Murnaus Nosferatu erschöpft sich Patalas’ Dramaturgie-Entscheidung letztlich in der Wahl von Blau für Nachtszenen und Rot für Szenen in von offenem Feuer erhellten Innenräumen; der Rest des Films ist in Schwarz-Weiß belassen. Gerade in diesem Film kommt natürlich vor allen den Nachtszenen eine besondere Bedeutung zu (nämlich die, daß der Vampir nur bei Nacht existieren kann und die Konfrontation mit Sonnenlicht ihm den Tod bringt), so daß es wirklich wichtig war, sie eindeutig von Szenen im Tageslicht abzusondern – zumal sie natürlich auch im Tageslicht gedreht sind. Jede über dieses wichtige inhaltliche Detail hinausgehende Viragierung hätte letztlich nur Verschönerungscharakter gehabt und vermutlich die Philologen erschüttert, da man keine Farbwahl hätte mit Bestimmtheit als authentisch verteidigen können.
Die illusionistische Farbgebung war auf einem Niveau konventionalisiert, das dem Techniker im Kopierwerk doch ziemlich freie Hand beim Einfärben der Szenen ließ. Solch monumentale Eckpfeiler des Reglements wie Blau = “Nacht” und Rot = “Feuer” gab es nur extrem wenige, vor allem, wenn man sich vergegenwärtigt, wie gewaltig die zur Verfügung stehende Farbpalette war. In diesem Zusammenhang überaus aufschlußreich ist die von Elfriede Ledig und Gerhard Ullmann zusammengestellte große Tabelle mit den einsatzfähigen Farben und ihren “denotativen” und “konnotativen” Bedeutungen, wie es die Autoren in Anlehnung an Umberto Eco nennen (bei uns fallen die “Konnotationen” unter Punkt 5: Symbolische Farbgebung, nach der Peirce entlehnten Terminologie; vgl. Ledig/Ullmann 1988, 108–109).
In Anbetracht der einander oftmals widersprechenden Quellen, der relativen Willkür, die beim Einfärben der Kopien in den Kopierwerken stattfand, kann es kaum sinnvoll sein, tabellarische Auflistungen der ungefähren Codes der illusionistischen Farbgebung beweisen oder widerlegen zu wollen. Auffassungen, beispielsweise Seestücke seien Blau viragiert (oder getont) gewesen, stehen solche gegenüber, die meinen, dieselben seien Grün viragiert (oder getont) gewesen. Ledig setzt in ihrer Tabelle Seestücke unter Blaugrün (ebd.). Primär kann man sich wohl darauf einigen, daß
unter dem Gesichtspunkt der Realitätsnähe eingefärbt wurde; somit sind Szenen mit blauem Wasser oder grünem Wasser (was es in der Alltagserfahrung ja auch gibt) kein Widerspruch, liegen doch beide auf derselben Seite des Spektrums und des allgemeinen Realitätsempfindens. Immerhin darf dabei nicht vergessen werden, wo die Viragierung von Filmstücken vorgenommen wurde und von wem: Von Technikern im Kopierwerk, die gewiß Richtlinien von Seiten der Regisseure hatten, aber vermutlich nie einen hundertprozentig ausgearbeiteten Virageplan (jedenfalls gibt es diesbezüglich keinerlei Hinweise, in Drehbüchern sind geplante Viragierungen fast grundsätzlich nicht vermerkt).
Ledig, Elfriede & Ulimann, Gerhard (1988) Rot wie Feuer, Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn. Zu einigen Aspekten der Farbe im Stummfilm. In: Ledig, Elfriede (Hrsg.): Der Stummfilm. Konstruktion und Rekonstruktion. München: Schaudig, Bauer, Ledig, 89–116. (Diskurs Film. 2.).
Patalas, Enno (1984) Unterwegs zu Nosferatu. Brief an Lotte H. Eisner. In: Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin / Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek (Hgg.): Dokumentation zu den 34. Internationalen Filmfestspielen 1984. Berlin, 308–313.”
(Traber, Bodo (1995): Dramaturgische Funktionen monochromer Farbgebung im Stummfilm. In: Karl-Dietmar Möller-Nass Möller-Nass, Hasko Schneider and Hans J. Wulff (eds.): 1. Film- und Fernsehwissenschaftliches Kolloquium. Münster: MAkS, pp. 30–36, on pp. 33–34.) (in German)
Red, tinted safety base. Source: Eastman Kodak Company (1927): Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film. Fourth Edition. Revised. Rochester NY: Research Laboratories Eastman Kodak Company. Photograph by Martin Weiss, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.
Rund um die Welt in 2 Stunden (na). Credit: Deutsches Filminstitut DIF. Photographs of the tinted and stencil colored nitrate film by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: Pathé (1911 onward), thin italic letters, on one edge, PATHE FRERES 14 RUE FAVART PARIS and on the other, EXHIBITION INTERDITE EN FRANCE EN SUISSE EN BELGIQUE ET EN ITALIE (partially visible). Cf. Ill.PM.6: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
“In Don’t Look Now, the colour red takes on this function as it solicits attention against contrasting tones and persists under the erosive effects of spilt liquid. This colour is glimpsed in the residual image of Christine’s little red raincoat and traces what remains incomprehensible to the spectator in the resolution of the narrative; it invites speculation – amidst the deteriorative effect of liquid – about the imaging of loss in the dissolve of the orderly world of architectural form.”
(Watkins, Liz (2015): Don’t Look Now. Transience and Text. In: Screen, 4,56, pp. 436–449, on p. 444.)
“C’est ainsi que Mizoguchi tourna ses deux seuls films en couleurs en 1955 (il mourut en 1956), l’un pour des raisons de coproduction avec Hong Kong (L’Impératrice Yang Kwei Fei, photographié en Eastmancolor par Kohei Sugiyama, et qui est considéré au Japon comme une estampe sans intérêt alors que la critique française le plaça au rang des autres chefs-d’œuvre de l’auteur), et l’autre parce qu’il était un épisode d’une trilogie historique planifiée par la Daiei, Le Héros sacrilège (Shin Heike monogatari)1. Aucun des deux ne lui parut satisfaisant en tant qu’expérience en couleurs, même si Kazuo Miyagawa réussit à conférer une splendeur esthétique certaine à plusieurs scènes du Héros sacrilège, comme l’ouverture ou la traversée de la forêt par les moines soldats armés de flambeaux: “Le Héros sacrilège était le premier film en couleurs que Mizoguchi et moi faisions ensemble, et pour moi, c’était même mon premier film en couleurs en tant que chef opérateur (…). Au tournage, Mizoguchi se servait de la couleur comme élément de mise en scène. Par exemple Kiyomori, avant de partir au combat, est très en colère: à ce moment, la porte derrière lui est d’un rouge féroce. Les grands bûchers aussi sont d’un rouge intense. Le rouge était la couleur de la colère. Le bleu [celle] de la tristesse, ainsi que le noir.2”
1 Les deux autres parties, également en couleurs, adaptées du roman d’Eiji Yoshikawa, Heike monogatari, étaient: Trois Femmes autour de Yoshinaka (T. Kinugasa, 1956), et Shizuka et Yoshitsune (Koji Shima, 1956).
2 Extrait de l’entretien avec Y. Yoda et K. Miyagawa paru dans les Cahiers du cinéma n° 158 (1964), et repris dans le numéro spécial, “Le dossier Mizoguchi” (hors-série).”
(Tessier, Max (1992): De la couleur dans les films japonais. In: Yann Tobin: Dossier. La couleur du cinéma. In: Positif, 375–376, May, pp. 121–158, on pp. 152–153.) (in French)
“At the beginning of Marnie, the heroine, disguised in a dark gray suit and black wig, walks towards the vanishing point of a symmetrical, close-framed shot of a gray station with a gray gasholder in the background against a gray sky. Marnie seems almost to disappear into the urban gray, suggesting the disappearance of identity that is the subject matter of the film.4 […]
Hot colors: the warning series
The “warning series” consists of bright, saturated, and solid yellow, orange, and red either individually or in sequence or combined in the same image to indicate progressively greater degrees of danger. Often Hitchcock’s use of these colors, especially red, is highlighted in the image via a contrast with white and sometimes blue. By using hot colors to convey caution or danger, Hitchcock is obviously drawing upon deeply embedded cultural associations that draw on the relationship between red and blood and yellow and red and fire. The basic significance of this color patterning is to create warning or danger posed within the world of the film to the central protagonist, and its use in this respect is a ubiquitous feature of Hitchcock’s color design. […]
The colors of the warning series may pervade the image, but there is also a very specific way in which Hitchcock incorporates these colors into his overall visual design. Slavoj Žižek has drawn attention to an aspect of Hitchcock’s style, first identified by Pascal Bonitzer, in which an object or detail in the mise-en-scène serves as what Žižek, after Lacan, calls a stain in the visual field that serves to reveal the spectator’s presuppositions about the world that is presented in the visual field as an illusion (Žižek 1991: 88–106). […] In the opening shot of Marnie to which I have already referred, the focus of our gaze, as Marnie walks away from us towards the vanishing point of the frame, is a yellow handbag that is tucked under her arm. We soon learn that it contains stolen money, and it resembles in its contours at once fortune cookie and female genitalia. This yellow bag, a stain in the visual field, functions as the Hitchcockian blot par excellence and we are led, as it were to this vanishing point by a red platform line along which the protagonist walks.
Over and above the role that red, and in particular red against white, plays in signaling danger, red on white is a pervasive index of the threat posed by female sexuality in Hitchcock’s films. Here, too, Hitchcock draws upon deep-rooted cultural associations and iconography that link whiteness to feminine purity and virginity and red to menstrual blood and thence to the threatening dimension of female sexuality. […]
Marnie provides the most overt and complex evocation of the meaning of red in Hitchcock’s work. Unlike Vertigo, Marnie is a story focalized from the standpoint of the heroine played by Tippi Hedren. The eruption of red on white is used expressionistically in the film, in a series of scenes of escalating intensity, to articulate the symptom of Marnie’s disturbed mental state derived from a repressed childhood trauma that has caused her to be frigid. In each scene, the sight of red causes her to stiffen with mute horror. In most cases, the link with her childhood trauma is overdetermined by other cues. For example, she responds in horror to the sight of red gladioli against white curtains when she returns to the family home. The thunder storm in the office of her suitor and self-appointed therapist Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) causes her to “see” red projected on the white curtain behind his desk that also evokes the //// motif. “Stop the colors, stop the colors!” Marnie whispers. “What colors?” Mark responds. At the end of the film Marnie returns with Mark to the house in Baltimore where she relives the original trauma. Her prostitute mother gets into a fight with one of her sailor clients who has tried to comfort Marnie during a storm. When her mother who is all tangled up with him cries for help, Marnie beats him over the head with a poker. The blood spills out from his head over his white shirt and the child reacts in horror to this red suffusion.
In his use of the color red in Vertigo and Marnie to represent the link between sexuality and death, Hitchcock explores the edges of a surrealist aesthetic that he had earlier dipped into through his collaboration with Salvador Dali on the dream scenes in Spellbound (1945). The scenes of Marnie’s return to Baltimore are marked by one of the most extraordinary compositions in all of Hitchcock’s work. Marnie enters in a yellow taxi from the foreground of the image into a corridor of bright-red brick houses that stretch back symmetrically towards the vanishing point of the image, where the black prow of a ship looms over the lip of the dock. This image of Marnie’s place of origin doubles as an image of the “primal scene.” The bright red walls of the house forming a vaginal opening, a gigantic phallic ship looming obscenely in the background, and Marnie herself “enters” the “vaginal” corridor under its shadow of the phallic ship as if she herself has taken the man’s place. The image suggests in the manner of surrealism that the true reality is a world of fantasy sustained by sexual desire that the world of surface appearances and decorum conceals. For Scottie in Vertigo, the ghostlike incarnation of Madeleine that conforms to his fantasy is more real to him than the world of the ordinary represented by his friend Midge and their failed relationship, and in Marnie the everyday world is flat and colorless in comparison to suffusions of red that overwhelm it.
Black versus white
I have already discussed the role played by black and white in Hitchcock’s films in opposition to color. However, in the context of Hitchcock’s color films, the opposition and relationship between black and white takes on its own independent significance as an element of color design. Indeed, Hitchcock’s use of black and white is arguably as central as the opposition between cool and warm colors and his use of the warning series in his overall approach to color design.
Hitchcock draws on a range of cultural associations attached to the opposition between black and white. The opposition between black and white signifies morality via its association between light and darkness: Black suggests villainy and white suggests goodness. […]
Men reveal their underlying goodness by taking off their jackets and revealing a white shirt beneath. Mitch Brenner takes off his jacket in this way in The Birds after a gull hits Melanie Daniels. At the end of Marnie, Mark Rutland takes off his tanned jacket revealing his white shirt in order to protect and comfort Marnie. […]
The signification of black and white also serves to designate gender difference as it is derived from the association of white with feminine purity and the clichéd wedding attire of white for women in the form of the wedding dress and black for men in the form of the dress suit. Marnie is amongst other things, a complex investigation of gender difference and marriage that invokes and inverts this convention. While the blonde-haired Marnie is virginal, and white at times connotes her innocence, she is also frigid and resists playing the gender role that Mark wishes to ascribe to her, where white becomes a masquerade. Marnie wears white the only time she feels herself to be a sexual being when she rides her phallic black horse Forio. She wears white on her honeymoon cruise in the scene where she is assaulted by Mark Rutland having been blackmailed into marriage. However, she also wears white the morning of their return, when she “sees Mark off to work” and when she pretends to be the perfect wife and hostess at a party at the Rutland estate. The masquerade of conventional femininity is further subverted in the film by reversing the traditional ascription of white and black to gender. In the opening scenes of the film, Marnie, dressed in a dark gray woolen suit and a black wig, looks strikingly like a man in drag. The image seems to signal that there is an aspect of gender confusion or disguise that it attached to the false identities she assumes that is linked to the “masculine” sense of autonomy and agency afforded to her as long as she is not being herself. After the debacle of the party toward the end of the film, she wears a black sweater and then she changes to black (over white) for the hunt and in her final attempt to steal money. When Marnie finally returns to the scene of the trauma, the source of her confusion is in part represented through an inverted color scheme. Mark wears a light tan (earth-toned) suit against Marnie’s black and, as I have already mentioned, when they arrive at the house, he takes off the suit and places it around her shoulders so that he is now wearing white. Marnie’s mother is dressed in a white sweater over black, and she is also dressed in black in flashback where she confronts the sailor who wears white. The conventional gender alignment of black and white is thus shown be inverted in its origin.
4 The shot seems to echo images from Antonioni’s Red Desert where the dull industrial landscape articulates the desiccated emotional life of the protagonist.
Žižek, S. (1991) Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.”
(Allen, Richard (2006): Hitchcock’s Color Designs. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 131–144, on pp. 134–142.)
In spite of Vertigo (1958), Hitchcock’s reputation is not that of a colorist. His legacy is largely in black and white – only fifteen of his fifty-three films are in color – and Psycho (1960) is not among them. Furthermore, the defining influence on Hitchcock’s style is the aesthetic of German Expressionism that is identified with the visual repertoire of black and white. Yet Hitchcock’s films represent a remarkably thoughtful and complex engagement with the aesthetics of color at the level of expression, theme, and form. Hitchcock’s films, like the work of many colorists, draw on a range of conventions that pertain to the symbolic and emotional significance of color that are deeply embedded in Western culture and the traditions of pictorial, dramatic, and novelistic representation that have sustained it.
There are two overarching assumptions that govern my approach to understanding color in Hitchcock whose justification resides in part in what one may discern from Hitchcock’s working method and in part from studying the overall relationship between narrative and style in Hitchcock’s work. The first assumption is that Hitchcock approaches his color films as blank canvases in which every element of color placed in the frame is put there for a reason. In an essay first published in 1937, well before his first color film, Hitchcock wrote:
I should never want to fill the screen with color: it ought to be used economically – to put new words into the screen’s visual language when there’s a need for them. You could start to color film with a boardroom scene: somber paneling and furniture, the director’s all in dark clothes and white collars. Then the chairman’s wife comes in wearing a red hat. She takes the attention of the audience at once, just because of that one note of color.
(Hitchcock 1995: 258)
In a later interview with Charles Thomas Samuels, Hitchcock states:
Color should start with the nearest equivalent to black and white. This sounds like a most peculiar statement, but color should be no different from the voice which starts muted and finally arrives at a scream. In other words, the muted color is black and white, and the screams are every psychedelic color you can think of, starting, of course, with red.
(Hitchcock 2003: 136)
The second assumption is that Hitchcock puts color in his films to enhance our understanding of character and story, a practice that is borne out by the comments of his long time collaborator, costume designer Edith Head, who worked on his color films Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man who Knew too Much (1956), Vertigo (1963), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), and Family Plot (1976). Head wrote:
Hitchcock thinks in terms of color; every costume is indicated when he sends me the script. … There is always a reason behind his thinking, an effort to characterize. He’s absolutely definite in his visual approach and gives you an exciting concept of the importance of color.
(Quoted in Kindem 1977: 75)
Hitchcock confirms this attention to costume detail in his own report of a shopping trip with Eva Marie Saint, the star of North by Northwest (1959). He recommends she be dressed in “a basic black suit (with simple emerald pendant) to intimate her relationship with (James) Mason,” in “a heavy silk black cocktail dress subtly imprinted with wine red flowers, in scenes where she deceived Cary [Grant],” and in “a charcoal brown, full skirted jersey and a burnt orange burlap outfit in the scenes of action” (quoted in McGilligan 2003: 567).
Hitchcock’s approach to color design is one that balances the expressive demands of color with the constraints of realism.1 Thus Hitchcock spent nine days refilming Rope (1948) in order to achieve the gradual darkening of the color scheme from day to night and to avoid lurid Technicolor.2 Just as Hitchcock’s visual expressionism in his black-and-white Hollywood films supervenes on the conventions of classical cinema with regard to the representation of space and the placement of character within it, so to, Hitchcock’s expressive and symbolic deployment of color is wholly congruent with the constraints of photographic realism. […]
However, in comparison with black and white, color yields far more choice and hence far more elements to control. Hitchcock’s approach to color design demands first imagining the location as a colorless as well as an objectless space and building up the elements of color design alongside the construction of the mise-en-scène. Within Hitchcock’s practice of “coloring” the mise-en-scène, certain objects become privileged bearers of color meaning in the sense that their color can be most readily calibrated without undermining the overall surface realism of the design. Costume in Hitchcock is perhaps the most privileged color index because it is at once attached to character and can be readily calibrated to changes and development in the story. Color in the design of costume extends beyond the clothing of the protagonists to the clothing of extras who populate Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène. By carefully controling the color worn by his extras, Hitchcock is able to control the color design of public spaces. The color of vehicles, too, becomes readily orchestrated and Hitchcock obsessively exploits the color of taxis, buses, and planes for expressive purposes. Within interiors the main bearers of color meaning that can be readily changed and be strategically positioned in a set are lampshades and flowers. […]
Hitchcock’s approach to color is highly creative in its deployment of the full expressive repertoire that color affords, and even “experimental” in the way he organizes the elements of mise-en-scène to achieve the right orchestration of color within it. However, color in Hitchcock’s film functions strictly to augment, counterpoint, and clarify narrative meaning and expression. More specifically still, Hitchcock’s use of color is calibrated in relationship to the conventional moral coordinates of the romantic thriller and the identification he invites with the protagonists of the thriller. To be sure, Hitchcock subverts the conventional meanings of color and, in particular, the conventional ways in which color and color contrasts express gender difference, and in this respect his color design is congruent with his overall aesthetic where the tension between the norms of the romance and an ironic subversion of those norms is consistently maintained. However, whether Hitchcock is asserting conventions or subverting them, and often he is doing both at the same time, his deployment of color consistently serves the amplification of character and the elaboration of story.3
As color theorists have long recognized, while colors can be uniquely discriminated and can carry symbolic value by virtue of that discrimination (for example, red conventionally means warning), colors also gain significance by their association and contrast with other colors. It is thus helpful, as Edward Branigan points out, to approach the analysis of color in terms of groupings of systems of color, some of which conventionally have contrastive or opposed meanings and all of which may overlap with one another in different ways (Branigan 1976: 26). I will identify four main color groupings in Hitchcock’s films and demonstrate some of the ways Hitchcock uses these groupings in the context of individual films.
Color and its absence
The first contrastive grouping of colors to consider in the context of Hitchcock’s work is the opposition between the presence of color, of colorfulness, and the absence of color, of colorlessness. Absence of color is, literally speaking, the use of black and white and the gradations between them as opposed to the primary colors red, blue, and yellow (and green) and their derivatives. However, if we take the absence of color less literally it is also registered by the presence of muted colors, such as pale beiges. Conversely, colorfulness as opposed to colorlessness is registered not simply by the use of color but by the deployment of a range of hues in discreet blocks of bright, highly saturated, color. This contrast between colorfulness and colorlessness invokes the emotional resonance attached to the idea of color. Colorfulness evokes in Hitchcock’s work gaiety or cheerfulness, warmth or love, depending on context. Colorlessness, which is ubiquitous in Hitchcock’s late works, evokes negative emotions such as anxiety or depression, a sense of emotional vacuity or emptiness, and the loss of identity.
My thanks to Brian Price for his helpful comments.
1 In Under Capricorn, Hitchcock worked with Powell and Pressburger’s cameraman Jack Cardiff to create what is at times a very luxuriant Technicolor feel, but while it is not “realistic,” color here is consistent with the generic motivation of the “costume melodrama.”
2 See Laurents 2000: 134, and McGilligan 2003: 414.
3 Hitchcock approaches abstraction in specific moments in his work. In a sequence early in Torn Curtain (1966), a late work which is arguably his most refined in its use of color, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) walks to a book store in Amsterdam to pick up a package for her fiancé. She walks past store fronts that are successively painted in the primary colors of red, blue, yellow, and also green. These could be motivated as the “color” of the free world in contrast to the gray colorless iron curtain, but they also appear to exceed such a motivation, as if Hitchcock is announcing the color schemes of the film rather in the manner of a modernist colorist like Godard.
Branigan, E. (1976) “The Articulation of Color in a Filmic System: Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle,” Wide Angle, 1:3.
Hitchcock, A. (1995) “Direction,” in S. Gottlieb (ed.) Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Essays and Interviews, Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
– (2003) “Interview with Charles Thomas Samuels,” in S. Gottlieb (ed.) Alfred Hitchcock Interviews, Jackson, Miss.: University of Mississippi Press.
Kindem, G. (1977) “Toward a Semiotic Theory of Visual Communication in the Cinema: A Reappraisal of Semiotic Theories from a Cinematic Perspective and a Semiotic Analysis of Color Signs and Communication in the Color Films of Alfred Hitchcock,” doctoral thesis, Northwestern University.
Laurents, A. (2000) Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood, New York: Applause Books.
McGilligan, P. (2003) Alfred Hitchcock: A Portrait in Darkness and Light, New York: Reagan Books.”
(Allen, Richard (2006): Hitchcock’s Color Designs. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 131–144, on pp. 131–134.)
“An analysis of Don’t Look Now offered by Kristi Wilson notes that the visual organization of the image prioritizes the male protagonist as a point of identification for the spectator in the articulation of gendered space. Wilson notes, however, that the reflections and refractions of light in water and mirrors establish a supplementary network of associations among the female characters. These visual effects distract the viewer’s attention and disturb the sexual indifference of a ‘historically and geographically specific space’ that could otherwise ‘be seen as a transparent’.43 The photographic effects that destabilize the male protagonist’s privileged point of view are grounded in the technological and cultural context of the film’s production and circulation. These effects operate at the level of the narrative to draw an alignment of vision and knowledge which is gendered into question. However, a subsequent reading of Don’t Look Now focuses on a chromatic ‘border of grays, blacks, browns and whites’ and the ‘moments when red enters the frame’ as coordinates of John’s perception.44
In Don’t Look Now, red underscores and disrupts a filmic system as it unfolds from the scarlet hue of Christine’s raincoat in the opening sequence and persists through the fragmentary form of associative editing. These images recur elsewhere in the film as does red in other contexts, from the detritus of photographic emulsion, lifted from the colour transparency by the water, to the russet tone of Laura’s boots, from the pattern of red flowers on white hospital curtains, seen after her collapse in a restaurant, to the red votives in a Venetian cathedral, that are interspersed with the white candles that she lights in memory of her daughter. The colour red also marks instances that envision, in turn, John’s and Laura’s perception as it directs the viewer’s attention to particular associative details such as the bright red pattern on a toy ball in the hospital, the outer edge of distortions caused by light reflecting on the camera lens, and the scarlet coat of the figure in Venice. Throughout Don’t Look Now such perceptions are sedimented as memory as they are inflected through past encounters of the film. The perception of colour is dependent on the interrelations of the seeing subject, light and the material that reflects or refracts it, and the context in which it occurs: red seeming more intense against a contrasting green hue than beside a supplementary colour such as amber. In this sense, each instance of colour and the specificity of any particular red hue is inflected by the visual and cultural connections that it makes with other reds.48 The variations that can be perceived across a film text, such as the alterations in the colour and detail of a seemingly familiar image, can be read through the analogy of a melody. This musical form is retained if all of the notes are transposed to another key in the same temporal and spatial relation, and yet the alteration of a single note can distort or transform the melody entirely.49
43 Kristi Wilson, ‘Time, space and vision: Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now‘, Screen, vol. 40, no. 3 (1999), p. 277.
44 Patch, ‘Chromatic borders’, p. 77.
48 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968), p. 132.
49 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1982), p. 49.”
(Watkins, Liz (2015): Don’t Look Now. Transience and Text. In: Screen, 4,56, pp. 436–449, on pp. 447–448.)
La Vestale (FRA 1908, Albert Capellani). Stock date 1910. Credit: Courtesy of BFI National Archive. Photograph of the nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: Pathé (1909 onward), on one edge, PATHÉ FRÈRES 14 RUE FAVART PARIS and on the other, EXHIBITION INTERDITE EN FRANCE EN SUISSE ET EN BELGIQUE (partially visible). Cf. Ill.PM.5: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
“João S. de Oliveira is director of PresTech Film Laboratories Limited, London, which was founded in 2004. De Oliveira was formerly technical manager at the British Film Institute’s John Paul Getty Conservation Centre and worked at Cinemateca Brasileira, São Paulo, Brazil, Cinemateca Portuguesa, Portugal, and as professor in the Postgraduate Department of Museology FESP, São Paulo, Brazil. He was also chairman of the Technical Commission of FIAF.
de Oliveira, João S., ‘Black-and-White in Colour’, in Roger Smither and Catherine A. Surowiec (eds), This Film Is Dangerous, A Celebration of Nitrate Film (Brussels: FIAF, 2002), pp. 117–22.
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 12 OCTOBER 2010
INTERVIEWER: LIZ WATKINS
LIZ WATKINS: The work of film laboratories such as Technicolor or Deluxe predominantly involves the repetition of one type of process, whereas it seems that, as a specialist film lab, PresTech adapts machines and tailors each procedure to deal with very specific and often historical colour processes that have their own visual characteristics.
JOÃO S. DE OLIVEIRA: Yes. Today’s bulk printing in commercial laboratories is designed to produce an acceptable-quality print based on similar materials very quickly. So they normally have a duplication cycle that goes from the original negative to render an internegative that is already colour balanced. This internegative is adequate for bulk printing at a very high speed and so there is very little light adjustment during printing. At PresTech we get 1920s or 1910s original camera negatives, or sometimes even a nineteenth-century original camera negative. This means that we adjust all our settings to accommodate what is a unique and rare artefact. We produce tests to determine the best way, the settings and levels, to print that film and produce the results we want. It’s very time-consuming, laborious work and has to be performed with all the control possible because you are handling a unique, fragile object. It’s very expensive.
LW: In an interview with Gabriel Paletz he evokes the idea of an ‘archaeology of technology’ that seems to go some way to describe your approach to restoration: identifying and adapting machines to be able to restore specific colour processes.1
JSdO: For this archaeological approach, I think, Harold Brown for me was the best example. I think I mentioned to Gabriel that this archaeological approach is a necessity because you have to have to identify the date of production for all the materials that you are handling to be able to understand the processes and then to retrieve as much of the technical information as possible.
I am very keen on getting these archival machines. I think they are part of the way you handle the film and so part of the way that you ‘look’ at it, but they don’t ‘look’ in a way that enables you to detect the information in the film. If you view all the black-and-white nitrate films that we handle, they all have a certain degree of fading because of the composition of nitrate. You form a black-and-white image on nitrate film stock from the silver deposit, but because of the nitrate gases that are available, then very quickly, the first thing that happens to the film is that you tend to lose information where the silver deposits are most finely dispersed in the highlights. So if it’s a negative, you lose detail in the shadows, whereas if it’s a print, then visible details are lost from the highlights. But these elements – this changed stuff – is still in the film and there is a certain band of electromagnetic radiation that will interact with it even though it appears transparent. So if you have the right sensor, the right way of ‘looking’ at the film then you can locate, map, and reinstate the invisible details in a digital image. So I think this is a major possibility of digital technology. I have also started to consider the possibilities of this approach for chromogenic fading: whether it is possible that you don’t have a displacement of the dye, but just a chemical transformation of the dye that means it does not interact with light any more. That could be why it appears transparent, even though the information is there and in position. These dyes are very complex organic chemicals and deterioration can happen through many different pathways and the image, as product, will be according to the parts. So to get this done with colour, well, I think that it would be possible, but it is very difficult at the moment. With black-and-white film, however, it’s not very difficult. It would be a first stage to see what is invisible in a film and then to reinstate the original.
LW: So there’s a change in the chemical composition, but the chemicals haven’t actually disappeared or moved?
JSdO: Exactly, the information is still there, although less so if the film has been washed.
LW: Otherwise, there’s a latent image and although you can’t see it, there are other ways that it can be detected and made visible?
JSdO: Exactly, because the film, in a way, has a fingerprint in the electro-magnetic spectrum. So if you have the right frequency, you can detect it. I can remember some projects such as The Lodger (1926) that, if it were to be restored now, the work involved and the image produced would be different. Well, The Lodger has this problem. You have a vintage print that is the only survivor – or at least there are one and a half prints, if I’m not mistaken – and that print has problems of highlight fading. So we’ve lost the detail in the highlighted faces of people and the viewer has come to think of that characteristic as normal for a silent film. It is not normal. We worked on Die Nibelungen (1924) with negatives and with prints and, because a negative is the reverse of light and shadow, you can see the details in the highlights. However, when you look on the print at the corresponding reverse image then you know more about the missing details.2
LW: So the kind of aesthetic that we associate with silent films may actually be a characteristic of an image that has deteriorated?
LW: Can you tell me a little more about your restoration of The Lodger?
JSdO: I restored The Lodger at the BFI using tinting and toning.
LW: By using the actual dyes?
JSdO: With the actual dyes and toning with the salts, so producing the complexes and compounds that the original process produced. It was quite an adventure.
LW: I can imagine!
JSdO: Initially, we did not get a very good-quality result. The Lodger was chosen because it’s an important film and we had the print that Harold Brown made using tinting and toning in the 1970s.3 So without knowing it, we were both doing similar things. But it was not easy to do. This print was unique and was at the end of its viable life, so it was natural to choose this title and very important to do the tests. The tests were not very successful so we then did our own test in the archive. Well, there were lots of health-and-safety enquiries by the union, but in the end we did the film. We did a few films, including Napoléon (1927) which is five and a half hours’ long. We made two prints. So we proved the system and it works very well, but there were some health-and-safety issues and the BFI decided that we shouldn’t continue doing it. When I started here at PresTech, I immediately reinstated the process. Everything is absolutely health-and-safety sound now. It’s not an easy process if you have too many different colours.
We also investigated an application process that, instead of dipping the film in solution like with the original procedure, involved applying the solution in a similar way to that used for coating the film base with photographic emulsion. So the colour would be applied with a wheel or a spray so you don’t need to have the splices. It’s very simple, but it has to be enclosed because you don’t want to have fumes from the dye in the air. So we make a judgment based on the number of colours. In the case of Die Nibelungen, this is actually a section of the film [a strip of coloured film is placed on the table].
LW: It looks like an amber colour, but the variations under that colour name can be endless.
JSdO: This is what you look for in the print. You have maybe seven, eight different prints in the lab and, if you compare them, then no two are the same. They all have a similar colour, but they are not exactly the same. This restoration was very interesting because they had quite a democratic approach to curatorship. A group from many different institutions met regularly to debate specific tasks. The decision about colour was very mathematical because they decided upon an average of the colours. So we plotted the colour space of the different film elements and determined the centre. Then I introduced a complication that I had also done with Napoléon – that is a fantastic reconstruction by Kevin Brownlow, a brillant man. When the colour materials were found, it threw new light on the film. I then knew that the film had colours, but in the restorations produced up to 1999, there was no colour in the film because all the source materials we had previously hadn’t been coloured because they were a second, third or fourth generation away from the film.4 There are things that are really shocking in terms of quality and decomposition, but it was the only source available so we had to work with it. So we requested the prints and we organised a series of tests.
Obviously the starting point for everybody is to work toward a colour exactly like the print. The problem is that the light source had changed from carbon-arc to xenon and the lenses are all panchromatic because nowadays 99 per cent of the films screened are in colour. There are other secondary issues, but most important was to look for certain tones of tinting but you could hardly see anything on the screen. We had to calculate and emulate the colours that you would have screened from a carbon-arc lamp at the time: there’s a big difference between that and the colours that you see with today’s projector lamps.
LW: So the colour screened of a film is going to differ according to the projector lamp?
JSdO: Absolutely right. The logic behind it is that film is experienced on the screen, right? And the technology and conditions of screening change. So you then go into a very complex ethical and philosophical discussion because you probably don’t have two screenings that will be similar. There’s just a range that is more or less the average of these different projectors, light sources and cinema sizes.
LW: The distance between the projector and the screen would also make a difference to the intensity of colour required on the film strip for certain hues to appear on the screen?
JSdO: Exactly, that’s the theatre size, so I spent a long time reading the JSMPE.5 You don’t need to have the opacity very high to have a black on the screen, so in a large theatre, all of your renderings change. You have to have a much lighter print than normal. Imagine that you have a translucent material in front of the projector. The print has to be lighter for a long distance between the projector and the screen and the theatre has to be very dark. This is the other thing people don’t realise, that there is no black – you can’t project black – black is no light. So the blackest bit you have on the film is the white of the screen. It’s the difference between the lightest areas and the darkest areas that produces the image. This is a big problem: when you have a large theatre and an orchestra, then where do you have enough darkness for the integrity of the screened image to be maintained?
For every prestigious restoration, you have a big theatre because normally people like to have 1,000 people watching and you put a sixty-person orchestra with light to read music that then reflects on the screen. This is the terror of the restorer because you know, we spend a huge amount of time with this film. For the previous big restoration we did they had the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and so sixty musicians were playing. It was screened at the Deutsche Oper, which is not a film theatre, so they had to improvise a place to put a projector and there was a massive amount of light reflecting. Normally, the conductor has to be spot-lit because he has to see well.
Obviously, when you do the print for the premiere, you have to warn the client that you have to take this into consideration. So it’s not a print that would look right if you then project it in a theatre just with a pianist with just one little light, which will be the circumstances for 99.9 per cent of the screenings of the same film. So this is the thing for us, the reference or the aim would be to produce on the screen a similar experience that the original process produced at the time the film was made, right? If it were Dufaycolor or Gasparcolor, then you are not going to screen the original elements, but a new print or new digital cinema product, derived from the original. To calibrate your system then, you have to have at least one good-condition print, or, you have to find a way to produce that information.
LW: It’s quite an undertaking.
JSdO: It’s quite a challenge. So would this be always possible? With Gasparcolor the amount of good-physical-quality surviving materials is limited. Everything is too shrunk.
LW: It’s the film support rather than the dyes that have deteriorated?
JSdO: Exactly. If you look to Dufaycolor, then contrary to Gasparcolor, it was always produced on safety film, which means that it’s not at as much risk from fire. It was made on an early safety film that normally decomposes in a much more speedy way than cellulose nitrate. So you have the decomposition of Dufaycolor preventing you from screening it. I think we were reasonably lucky because we found some examples, some surplus film stock and we could extract some basic information from it. This is another part of the work that is an interesting area to investigate, that is, the possibility of recreating some control samples or new materials to calibrate and set your processes to.
LW: New reference materials that are similar to the original materials rather than simulating the screened image?6
JSdO: It sounds crazy, exactly but it’s something that then you could project, checking its limits to see how much the machine really can cope with.
LW: That question of materials reminds me of The Lodger. Did you say that you worked with Harold Brown when he was at the NFTVA?
JSdO: Well, I knew Harold Brown, I met him in 1984. He was sixty-five, because he was retiring. So I suspect that was the mid-to-late 1970s when he did this, certainly before 1984. Because of the damage and physical state of it, probably it’s more likely to be early 1970s, I would say. I think the restoration that we made of The Lodger was in 2000.
LW: That film is part of the BFI National Archive’s restoration programme again now, isn’t it?
JSdO: Well, now with digital technology, work is coming back to the treasures that people tend to revisit and this is why it’s so crucial to preserve the originals, it’s because technology evolves. You aim to give the next generation of colleagues the chance to do better what you did in your time.
LW: Do you make a preservation copy of the source materials as you find them and then you begin work on a restored print?
JSdO: The interventions that are normally carried out to stabilise the film have to be very carefully balanced, chosen and researched so that you could use the ones that you know are reversible. If possible, you don’t cause a permanent change to the source material. If you have to modify something, it’s better to modify the film equipment that you are using to suit the film, than to modify the film to suit the machines.
This, I think, is crucial: to make sure that they will last. The Lodger was done totally photochemically and the intertitles were very poor quality. They were damaged but they were the only fragments that we have of some of these.
LW: Are there examples of anomalies as we might think of them today that were actually part of the production of the film? How would you discern between anomalies that occurred in the initial production of the film and those that accumulate through deterioration?
JSdO: I’m going to a less complicated scenario. What you’re saying is very valid and very important. I’m saying that you have to look to the film without any speculation and your task is to reproduce this colour film exactly as it is with this available film stock. So, let’s say you have a print and the contemporary film stock is expecting to register an image from a new camera negative or a new reversal colour print, which has a certain magenta dye and a certain distribution across the colour spectrum. In this case, the film stock is contemporary to the negative and so it is designed to be in that range so together they produce a perfect or a reasonable duplication. But what happens with obsolete film stock, for example, English processes such as Dufaycolor that are different, is that the chromogenic film stocks are not designed for these obsolete films. So the chromatic range of Dufaycolor might be completely invisible to the chromogenic film.
[…] There’s another film, another example from when we did the restoration of Alice in Wonderland (1903). Here and now we are going to do a toned version of that film and it’s quite exciting. There are two colours that are not difficult to produce, but to approach it exactly as the original is difficult. So it takes time. Now we find that we have a bit of space, so we are going to do it now.
LW: You’ll do the actual toning?
JSdO: Yes, the toning of the film is blue and red/sepia. The blue toning is normally Prussian blue and that’s easy to do. It’s actually, well, let’s say its older name is potassium cyanide and it does have the word cyanide and potassium in the archive.
LW: It’s poisonous?
JSdO: There are regulations. The sepia, well, the red is sepia, which is a more challenging colour to achieve. Toning is very particular and it’s difficult to try to study the difference directly by the size of the silver filaments and the silver particles or grains. This is something that film restoration doesn’t like to acknowledge has changed a lot from 1903 to today. There is a side to colour that is dependent on what materials you use. Metallic silver obviously absorbs all the light, so you will replace that so that little else than blue, so only a bit of red, a bit of green are absorbed and you will produce the colour that you see. But there is another component of the screened colour that is given by the size and distribution of the silver grains, by the way that they are organised on the film.
LW: Like a cloud formation?
JSdO: It has very fine separation and that it’s a three-dimensional system is the very thing, but imagine hundreds of thousands of molecules: they are distributed and light scatters in between them. That there is a certain cast to a certain emulsion matters. So in 1903, fine-grain emulsion was not available. After 1947 you only had fine-grain emulsion. So you have to sort of navigate around that. You have to remember that these were industrial processes and not done manually, so you had a machine doing it and controlling it. Sometimes that control is in the lab allowing us to find a way to do something that the machines are not designed for.
LW: So you’re looking to modify the machines to do something they weren’t designed for? There are lots of manuals just telling you how a colour process should work, but in restoration you need to adapt to accommodate the differences between the film stock and the photographic emulsion to produce a viable image?
JSdO: Yes, it’s like music where silence is so important. You’re right I think that we don’t so much want the things that work as also the things that don’t. That’s the side that personally interests me. It is to find or learn or do something new in this situation and get new things to think about and to resolve. There is so much to be done in this field. I’m convinced that many silent films are showing something that is not quite right for the presentation of black-and-white film.
LW: It’s interesting because in a way that’s exactly what is invoked in the marketing of digital viewing as something that allows us to see more. It’s happening again with HD, but actually there’s so much information in a photochemical film: from the history of that individual print to the changes in physical composition and re-editing over a series of releases. Even when information, as you say, isn’t immediately visible, there’s still some latent image, there’s some residual information that invites analysis.
LW: So film materials seem to contain a lot of information that a digital facsimile doesn’t necessarily allow you to uncover.
JSdO: Yes, I think it’s another interesting point, that we believe that all of the photochemical film elements are the same. If I make a print of the film, then the information is limited in comparison to what I can get if I analysed the original negative. So it’s the problem of the copy; the copy is never a real clone. The digital has the concept of cloning, because they always think digital to digital, it’s a number so here some matrix registers one-one or one-five, I have a value, zero or one and it’s mathematics and it’s absolutely right. In copying photochemical film, you imagine you are producing a clone, but if it’s a digital copy then you get the compromise of compression. It’s a question of what can you lose? What is not considered important? Whereas for restoration and the lab everything is important. If I ask you to decide what information you are going to throw away, well, it might be irrelevant now, but two days later it might be totally relevant and fundamental to somebody else that has a different methodology or that requires a different selection of information. That’s why I think the preservation of the original is vital. Everybody knows and everybody says that; that is not new. Everybody agrees today that we have to preserve the original materials and that’s for sure.
LW: Okay, maybe that’s why I initially questioned the reason that archives would restore the same film again and again, like with Red Shoes or The Lodger, but in a way it allows you to see how restoration…
JSdO: Evolves, yes.
LW: If they’re such popular films, it also raises the profile of the archive and of restoration work. It’s been strange sometimes when I’ve heard of another restoration of the same film when it seems there’s so much other work to be done.
JSdO: I totally agree with you.
LW: So you’re preserving it for the next generation, not forever.
JSdO: Yes and these issues are important everywhere but, regarding the economic scale in some cultures, although the very same work needs to be done, they need to use the money to eat and to do other things. In the 1970s and 1980s the transfer of nitrate to safety film was a subject all over the world because you had the concept that the nitrate could ignite and burn all your collection so it would be more responsible to preserve the films by transferring them from nitrate to safety film rather than keeping it.7 For lots of people, that we had instructions to burn the films was an abomination, so we would work very, very slowly. Then we had a vault in which to put the films that we had made duplicates of. Lots and lots of films that were ‘preserved’ were burned. Of course, in a transfer an enormous loss of information happens. If you have very, very good contemporary equipment you can do it, but sometimes it was not possible to do that. You have to remember that the idea is to expose the film to the biggest number of people possible, but it is also important that the original artefact survives.
There is a difference that I think you know between the viewer of the films and the viewer of the archive and that lies in the concept of the film as a single object. I think it’s necessary to review these things because the conceptual definition of an element in a collection can change due to its perceived cultural importance. More and more, the archive is going with all this effort toward sub-zero storage and so in the direction of very low deterioration. In many ways, this is perfect, but I feel a bit concerned that then we will not be able to see what we want to see. The administration of collections can postpone work that has to be done because of the excuse that no more damage will be caused while the film is in cold storage. But I prefer a generation to have access. The right of public access to a national collection is a social right I think. It is a public collection and access is important because the author of the work planned it to be viewed, that is, the flow of feeling, of the stuff that can come from a painting, from music, from films. But it is going very well. I now have experience of thirty-five years’ work in film archives and preservation and we have come a really long way.
1 Gabriel Paletz, ‘The Finesse of the Film Lab: A Report from a Week at Haghefilm’, The Moving Image vol. 6 no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–32; Paolo Cherchi Usai, Ulrich Rüdel and Daniela Currò, ‘The Haghefilm Foundation, Amsterdam: A Learning Laboratory’, Journal of Film Preservation no. 82, 2010, pp. 87–93.
2 Anke Wilkening, ‘Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen: A Restoration and Preservation Project by F. W. Murnau Stiftung, Wiesbaden’, Journal of Film Preservation nos 79–80, 2009, pp. 86–98. See ‘Restoration – Die Nibelungen‘, PresTech Film Laboratories, www.prestech.biz/restoration.html, accessed March 2012. The restoration was undertaken by PresTech for the F. W. Murnau Stiftung. The source material consisted of prints and some of the camera negatives. The restoration project took four years. The F. W. Murnau Stiftung’s editing list informed the reconstruction of the film. The archival gala screening was held at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin in April 2010. A hybrid process was used to restore the film: contact printing as in the production of the 1920s print; liquid gate printing to reduce the visibility of scratches; digital technology to stabilise intertitles from the effects of deterioration and shrinkage.
3 Harold Brown, ‘Trying to Save Frames’, in Roger Smither and Catherine A. Surowiec (eds), This Film Is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (Brussels: FIAF, 2002), pp. 98–102. Previous restorations include Harold Brown’s 1984 work on The Lodger and that undertaken by de Oliveira. Brown’s work is noted in Paul Read, ‘Tinting and Toning Techniques and Their Adaptation for the Restoration of Archive Film’, in Luciano Berriatua (ed.), All the Colours of the World: Colours in Early Mass Media 1900–1930 (Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, 1998), pp. 157–67. The Lodger was also restored and preservation masters produced by the BFI National Film Archive in 2011–12. See the interview with Kieron Webb.
4 Kevin Brownlow, Napoléon: Abel Gance’s Classic Film (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1983), details the previous restoration under this title.
5JSMPE: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers.
6 Robert M. Fanstone, ‘Experiences with Dufaycolor Film’, British Journal of Photography, 7 June 1935, pp. 358–9. Dufaycolor is characterised by a réseau.
7 David Francis, ‘Preserving the Past’, BFI News, September 1975, p. 3.”
(Watkins, Liz (2013): Interview. João S. De Oliveira, Hon. FBKS. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 171–185, on pp. 175–185.)
La Vestale (FRA 1908, Albert Capellani). Stock date 1910. Credit: Courtesy of BFI National Archive. Photograph of the nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: Pathé (1909 onward), on one edge, PATHÉ FRÈRES 14 RUE FAVART PARIS and on the other, EXHIBITION INTERDITE EN FRANCE EN SUISSE ET EN BELGIQUE (partially visible). Cf. Ill.PM.5: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
L’Antre infernal (FRA 1905, Gaston Velle). Credit: Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art Department of Film. Photographs by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: PATHÉ FRÈRES PARIS 1905 (partially visible). Cf.: Ill.PM.3: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
Virages sur mordançage sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté lavande, virage rouge-orangé (red-orange mordant toning on lavander tinted Pathé stock), backlight, Swiss collector’s copy. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
“For Suspiria our first shot was the only sequence with daylight. Two actors sit on a bench, talking about witchcraft. Then all the externals, and, first and foremost, the beginning of the story. An excellent opportunity in fact to define right from the start the ABC of the film’s colour. As we know, transatlantic flights to Europe arrive in the morning, but Dario, very shrewdly, postponed till evening the arrival of Suzy Bennet, a young American dance student, giving me an extraordinary chance. I immediately decided to make that place the borderline between reality and abstraction. I imagined that the passengers unwittingly had to cross through a violent red light, created by an intended over-exposure, immersing them, together with the young American, in a world of extreme colours and unnaturally – supernaturally – coloured rain, with blinding and mysterious chromatic variables.
I sought to achieve a solid exposure, right in the middle of the sensitometric curve. As a consequence, I had a properly exposed negative, which means a great deal, since in most cases I had made it a rule not to shoot with full aperture. Actually, like most of the league of major photographers, I dislike using out-of-focus.
The technique used on location at Munich airport was to have a lot of sidelights and to colour with gelatine not only our own lights, but also those of the airport itself. I coloured the airport to such an extent that – I was told – on landing one alarmed pilot asked the control tower “What’s happening? Is it a fire? An explosion? We have different codes… Whatever sort of code is this… It’s not in our manuals…”. “Calm down… This is Code Suspiria!” the flight controller is said to have replied. Needless to say, I found this little story highly gratifying!
The first step was to colour the great indicator board for departures and arrivals. An image of an affligeant banality, as the French say, which can’t be more neutral, so I decided to make it abstract and colour it, just as I did immediately afterwards with the airport exit and the passengers, with a flood of red. Why colour this banal indicator board? Why a red light, multiple and over-exposed, unreal? Because I thought that not a single shot should be without the mark of that witch Suspiria. In the case of the indicator board, I used an oblique red light and, for contrast, a bluish one. Furthermore, the airport had a lot of ordinary neon lights and we couldn’t switch them on and off entirely. I had to compromise by entering the airport just a maximum of 50 metres. On this side of that line however, Munich’s airport became the airport of Suspiria.
In this sequence what stands out is the use of the wide-angle lens and, obviously, the lighting of the rain and the presence of coloured lightning flashes
We made selective use of lenses, with a preference for dollies rather than zooms. I also amused myself with the rain, which is always difficult to film. Once we had decided that our rain was going to be coloured, I found myself free from the obligations of realism! There’s one shot that’s particularly successful, the one in which Suzy comes out of the airport, amidst wind, lightning and rain providing a not particularly auspicious welcome! This scene gives us the first flashes of lightning, which then reappear at the end of the film, in an orgy of colours. In cinema a flash of lightning is by convention white, just as moonlight must be blue. In actual fact, the reflected light of the moon is grey and not blue, and the lightning flash has a colour that varies while it lasts. On one occasion, for a French film, I experimented with frame-by-frame, at night, for several hours, instead of going to bed, and in the end I realised that the night lighted by the moon is essentially grey. A beautiful grey, extraordinary. In cinematographic convention, however, it remains blue.
The close-up of Suzy inside the taxi was shot later, at the studio. The complexity of this frame is easy to imagine, with the richness of colours that outline the actress’s face truly beyond any possible realism
The close-up inside the taxi was really too complicated to do in real life as regards the lights I wanted to use. After rapid consultation with Dario it was decided to shoot it later at the studios in Rome. Once there, I constructed drums of plywood, with a radius of three metres each and a height of one metre and a half, with a fixed white light inside. I placed them one on one side and the other on the other side of the car, and made slots in them. In each slot, I fixed an intensely-coloured gelatine, using different colours. These two cylinders turned and, as they turned, the light changed colour, filtered by the different gelatines. The red gelatine produced a red light on Suzy’s face, the blue gelatine a blue light, and so on. The light changed at random. We added the rain and made the car shake slightly to suggest it was moving. Of all my films, this is the least conventional lighting ever achieved for a close-up. We were greatly helped by the look of fascination in the actress’s eyes, very large eyes everlastingly amazed. Jessica Harper’s skin was very clear and the light reacted very well on it. Sometimes a face rejects a certain colour. Jessica’s face was always ready for them all.
These images of Suzy’s face in the taxi, owing to their beauty and their significance in the film, have become key iconic images in any reading of Suspiria
If I’m allowed to mention a name compared to which I’m merely a tiny grain of sand, Vincent Van Gogh used to say, “Je me suis foutu carrément de la vérité de la couleur” (“I never gave a damn about the truth of colour!“). I wanted simply to play with lights on that innocent face, without any realistic obligations.
It is raining and the rain is red like blood. One begins to perceive danger looming.
It’s the first symbolic frame in Suspiria. When you see the coloured rain, especially the first blood-red downpour, you understand that we’re in another world, far from so-called reality.
How did you shoot the rest of the sequence?
We started with a camera car, followed by a tank truck that shot rain over the taxi. Along the route I had prepared coloured lights, so that the rain appeared red and green. There are colour effects even in the wood, aimed at making the frames more interesting, conferring a sense of anxiety and mystery, until we reach the school’s red façade, the red building that becomes the protagonist of the film.
In the first overview of the school entrance from inside, intentionally without shadows, I tried to create depth, enhancing in particular the geometric wedge-shape that almost weaves into the door at the centre of the set. This sufficed to give great depth to the sequence. In this room and in that of the predestined girl-victim, I used lights like the future Kinoflo ones, i.e. commercial neons, with the support of some reflected light from above, off-set. In the whole sequence I never once used a directional Fresnel projector. Suspiria is a film of extremes! Either Brutes with a complex system of frames in front of them, or else simple commercial neon tubes. If I had used Fresnel projectors, which produce shadows, I would have introduced a theme of contrast between light and shadow, and would have produced a total clash with the set design, which I would define as “tonal”, flat, clear geometric surfaces. The images of the girl, so luminous, with a very clear dominant, were obtained using neon tubes very close to her face. The electricians, with these lights in hand, moved around the borders of the field in harmony with the camera, perfectly intuiting the limits of the frame. It was a sort of elegant dance with three protagonists. The actress, the camera and the lights!
I then discovered that if the camera moves, the light can also be moved, which provides a certain freedom, especially if you haven’t got a mania for realism, verisimilitude. In each film the rules change, every time the rules negate themselves in order to be reborn. In that sequence, I wanted to give the images an abstract look, because usually the light doesn’t follow the actor, unless the actor is carrying a torch. At the moment when the girl’s face is crushed against the glass, the lights – placed outside and at angles, so as not to reflect in the glass – emphasise the terrible deformation of her face. I never had problems with light sources. The light had to reflect the altered world of Suspiria.
What do you think of the principle that light “acts” according to people’s psyche?
I like the idea of a girl bearing within her some sort of predestination and the colour of her face expressing a premonition of her tragic destiny. In particular, I am thinking of that frame where she comes to the window carrying the table lamp. She’s a predestined victim, so sophisticated and beautiful! I liked that girl very much and I lighted her as though she had a phosphorescent light coming from inside, from her soul. The hand-held neon lights followed her as she followed her destiny. There was no shadow in which she could take refuge. There was only that black hole of the window, so disquieting, so attractive. Her disturbed mind was magnetically attracted by her destiny. The annihilation of female beauty has always poisoned history.
In the sequence of the Red Room used as a dormitory, there is an interesting play of shadow puppets. The space is multiplied by what is behind and in front of the screen, managed from different points of view and characterised by the colour red, which makes this sequence the core of the film. The result is a girl-witch dualism. Can you tell us how you constructed it?
I’ve been fortunate in working with directors with precise views on framing, who liked managing it themselves. I stood beside Dario, I watched, I listened. In Suspiria as in the other two films we made together, it was quite naturally Dario who designed the frames, movements, the position of the actors. I have always found that quite normal. On the other side, there’s freedom in lighting, in the exposure of the negative, in the cinematography of the film, in short. In the dormitory sequence, I had the not-easy task of transforming an enormous room, by means of hanging sheets, into a disquieting world, with monstrous presences and laments. I was on a loose rein. I would light a lamp and Dario knew in what direction I intended to move.
Why does everything go red when the lights are switched off?
Quite simply for variation as compared to the blue nights in the film. ‘Simply’ seemed to be right. There’s a lot that’s instinctive in Suspiria. The idea of the dead white of the half-shadow bothered me, also because it’s very difficult to photograph. White is beautiful if it’s over-exposed, everything in different tones of white, as often so masterfully done by the American photographer Harry Callahan. Usually, on set, to avoid the fear that white may be ‘striking’, white fabrics are soaked in tea. The specialists had already prepared the magic tea potion to attenuate the white of the bed-sheets, but I said, “Don’t use anything… leave the white as it is… I’ll colour it myself… I need maximum transparency“. No one was happy about this decision. In such cases, I withdraw and shut off communications, focusing on the idea of light and colour that’s working in my head. For me, those white sheets were a magnificent screen for projecting shadows and (my) colours. Then it became a single colour, albeit with many variations of intensity: red, again paying tribute to the principle that dullness doesn’t belong to the world of Suspiria. Creating an interesting and blurred backlight was not so difficult. What was very interesting is what Dario added to the sequence with the soundtrack.
The sequence of Sarah’s flight establishes itself as one of the great moments of using colour for emotional and narrative purposes.
It’s one of my favourite sequences. There’s the opening, seen from below, in which Sarah opens a hatch between red walls, with an extraordinary chromatic effect. It opens a ceiling of colour. If I had to do it again, I doubt I’d be able to give that extreme vibration of the two colours spreading over the whole image, modifying the physical margins of the images. I’ve often tried to remove physical borders from colour, the frame that imprisons it. We were photographing a real setting in a natural manner, with its precise angles and three-dimensional forms, but in the picture the angles no longer appear. They become pure chromatic material, pure vibration. This was the colour cinematography I had been dreaming of for years. Ernst Haas, with his extraordinary work on blurs – first with Kodachrome film and then with Ektachrome – had greatly influenced me even then, suggesting to me that the essence of colour is not that of a surface, but of an infinite world to be discovered. In Haas the blur produced a loss of detail. Since then, I have always attempted, within the limits given by the film I was making, and in Suspiria to the highest degree, to push to colourto the utmost as a tendentially blurred element that, rebelling against its preordained confines, expands like oil over actors and set. A colour that in some way becomes a stream of lava, a blurred colour but also extremely incisive. Practically a contradiction, besides being a highly difficult mixture, very seldom experimented with.
The light from the small window in the wall is also very particular
Sarah takes refuge in an attic room, from which she tries to escape by piling up the old trunks to reach the little window. There’s a dominant cut, an absolute key light: blue, cold (a 10KW incandescent Fresnel filtered with heavy blue gelatine), for once at right angles to the wall, and therefore essentially flat, with the beam cut by flags or humps of black plywood creating strips of shadow and light spaces. From the small window comes a warm, reassuring light, whereas the setting dominated by blue anticipates the cold steel of the blade that fatally arrives. Sarah climbs, terrorised, tries to clamber toward this small window. The girl jumps into the next room where terrible coils of steel wire await her, imprisoning her inexorably, torturing her. An image on its own is worth ten treatises on the subject of panic. The idea of this warm light from the little window as a symbol of possible salvation that turns out to be illusory is a perfect example of what Michelangelo Antonioni calls the dramaturgy of colour. Colour as the protagonist of the story.”
(Stagni, Piercesare; Valente, Valentina (2018): On Suspiria and Beyond. A Conversation with Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. Artdigiland Edition, on pp. 67–80.)
“At the end of shot 1, a lighting effect is used to underscore the moment. With Madeleine in profile, the general lighting of the blurred red restaurant walls behind her head (especially that portion to the right of the frame) becomes brighter. It serves to give a visual uplift, a small background effect which subtly enhances the emotional high-point to which this scene was leading.
There is then a cut to Scottie, from over his right shoulder (shot 2). The side of his face is visible and his eyes move away from the camera and down to the bar (Figure 5.2). The highest note of the music’s melody is reached at the very end of this shot and bridges the cut to the next image of Madeleine in profile (shot 3). This is the moment when it still seems possible their eyes might meet. It is as if they already know one another, but this must not be publicly acknowledged. It is a painful, heart-breaking moment which pre-figures both their future love and its tragic demise.
A few frames into shot 3 and the moment swiftly dissipates. Madeleine’s forward-facing gaze is broken by her distracted look down and to her right, towards (but not at) the camera. Immediately, the strong lighting on the red wall begins to fade. The highest note of the music’s melody ends and the notes tumble down the musical scale. The heightened tension, created by the possibility their eyes might meet, blowing Scottie’s cover (and maybe Judy’s), dissipates as the next images depict their lack of eye contact.
In shot 4, Scottie looks away until only the side of his nose is visible. He looks down at the bar once again. At this moment the camera’s view of Madeleine is most at odds with Scottie’s own physically possible optical POV. Despite having presented his optical POV, the camera has gone on to break from a realistic depiction of it. Instead, it supplies idealistic images of Madeleine as a vision of nervous beauty, unapproachable yet vulnerable. These images are created by a camera fulfilling Scottie’s inner desires rather than his vision. The camera is working on behalf of Scottie, seeing Madeleine as he wants to see her. This is why the profile image of Madeleine, which Scottie could not physically see, is available for him to recollect as he looks at the ‘Portrait of Carlotta’ in the gallery catalogue: the scene implicates him as the co-creator of its images of Madeleine.
In addition, the alterations in sound echo the images. The soundtrack moves from a believable representation of the restaurant environment to the mysterious-romantic music which peaks at the moment when Scottie’s half- imagined view of Madeleine is most vivid. The soundtrack draws attention from the scene’s restaurant setting when the images are closely aligned to Scottie’s inner desires, across shots 3 and 4. Taken with the visual rhetoric of the bright red walls and their increased illumination, it is clear we are being encouraged to view this moment as within the realm of imagination, rather than a faithful depiction of a narrative event.
In this scene, an ‘imaginative’ POV is used at its emotional high-point, the moment when Scottie’s and Madeleine/Judy’s gazes almost meet. The images are more felt by Scottie than viewed by him; the shots are more a reflection of his character, his thoughts and emotions. The camera takes over his optical POV, then stretches the physical possibility of this view. Despite the supposed break from depicting his optical POV, the camera captures a key image in that part of the scene which Scottie later recalls from his mind.”
(Potts, Neill (2005): Character Interiority. Space, Point of View and Performance in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). In: John Gibbs and Douglas Pye (eds.): Style and Meaning. Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 85–97, on pp. 93–94.)