ColorTherapy in Film: Christmas Red

For my third annual Christmas Red piece, I thought I’d do the unusual and slide this under my film heading. I’ll start with Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, which is all the more fitting as winter approaches for its whiff of Nordic chill…

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I’ve long worshiped Ingmar Bergman as godhead, and had I met him in his lifetime would have happily kissed the hem of his garment. There’s something about the tenor of his films that relates completely to my own stoic Scandinavian upbringing, so as soon as I hit the play button it’s like a little trip home.

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Anyway, Cries and Whispers revolves around the gathering of two sisters to the sickbed/deathbed of a third. Infidelities, betrayals, lust and angst are all revealed and suppressed, with deep feelings stuffed far down below the line. Formally, the sets and characters are dressed completely in red and white; scenes fade to red instead of black. This may sound excessively stylistic to some, but for me, Bergman is the very definition of Modernism in film (form, identity, disintegration) and the color red actually becomes one of the film’s characters. Red represents the flaring up and explosion of the passions that in another sense will remain unexpressed. If I may paint a broad stereotype we Scandinavians are the polar opposite (Polar — ha!) of something like a Mediterranean culture — we don’t talk with our hands, we don’t rock the boat or reveal our deepest feelings, present company excluded. In this instance, red speaks volumes when no one else will.

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A striking example of red as the complete opposite can be found in Do the Right Thing. I’ve never really been Spike Lee’s biggest fan, but here he’s at his best. The film takes place on the hottest day of the year, and racial tensions are about to explode. There’s a Greek chorus of three old guys sitting on the street doing nothing. The wall behind them is painted bright red and it makes a hot day seem even hotter. Red here represents suppressed nothing. There’s a tension in the air you can cut with a knife, and in one sequence in particular, a cop car full of white cops drives by in slow motion with characters on both sides glowering at each other, as if they’re about to pounce. Red heats things up and pushes them to the breaking point, which is ultimately the film’s final, tragic conclusion.

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Red in film typically represents danger, blood and passion, though we see here that it can still be completely personalized to suit one’s own particular proclivities. Possible color matches: Stadium Red, Ralph Lauren TH42; Million Dollar Red, Ben Moore 2003-10.

Previous Christmas Red Posts:
ColorTherapy: Christmas Red
ColorTherapy: Christmas Red #2

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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