Colour In Film: A Definitive Analysis?

Listening to the imitable Dr Mark Kermode discussing The Adjustment Bureau I was struck by his claim that the film was full of 'pastel' shades, creating a 'colourful' and lively effect. This, to me, seemed odd.

On my watch of the film I was struck by its greyness. By its lack of colour. By the way the red-flecked posters seem designed to bring out how dull the main visage of the city is.

It's almost as if the makers of the film wanted the whole thing to look like it was made, or at least patrolled, by a group of men who don't really care about colour. Or love. Or other such frivolous distractions.

Perhaps though, there's a way of settling the correct visual interpretation of The Adjustment Bureau's colouring.

Ultra clever website MovieBarcode takes stills from films, compresses them in to thin, stick-like, images and makes a visual representation of the film in question. A 'Movie Barcode', if you will. To illustrate the point, here's one which represents Babel.

Actually, that's not very good is it? It appears Movie Barcoding isn't an exact science. Browsing the site you can find a lot films which just look like a dull collection of blue and grey hues, similar to the Babel effort above, which doesn't really look anything like the colour tones I remember being present in the film.

But then again, there's some great ones. Take the below example which represents Hero.

Hero is a film which - like fellow Yimou Zhang-directed effort House Of The Flying Daggers - revels in creating individual scenes which can be represented by a single colour, a fact clearly expressed by its barcode. A less dramatic, but nevertheless entirely accurate, example can be found in The Social Network's barcode.

Anyone familiar with David Fincher's Oscar-nominated film will recognise the director's palette of beige, ever-present from the opening trot through the Harvard campus to Zuckerberg's lawyer's dowdy office. Similar tones are present in A Single Man's barcode...

... although this shows how director Tom Ford uses colour to tell the story, progressing his main character from depressing greys at the film's opening to warmer tones as Colin Firth's heart and eyes are opened by his friends.

Despite the odd fairly useless effort (like Babel and Raging Bull which, surprise, is all blacks and whites) the site is an incredibly useful tool to help analyse the overall colour tone of a film. More than that, it's a veritable artist's gallery and prints are selling at a reasonable price.

A unique method of film interpretation that's both useful and aesthetically pleasing? I'm sold. But please make one for The Adjustment Bureau, hey?

With thanks to Flowing Data for drawing attention to the site.

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