The Color Palettes of Your Favorite Films: The Royal Tenenbaums, Reservoir Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner & More

We tend to think of film as rough­ly divid­ed into the “black and white” and “col­or” eras, the lat­ter ush­ered in by such lav­ish Tech­ni­col­or pro­duc­tions as Gone with the Wind and The Wiz­ard of Oz. But we also know it’s not as sim­ple as that: those pic­tures came out in Hol­ly­wood’s “gold­en year” of 1939, but some film­mak­ers had already been exper­i­ment­ing with col­or, and the gold­en age of black-and-white film would con­tin­ue through the 1960s. Movies today still occa­sion­al­ly dare to ven­ture into the nev­er-entire­ly-shut­tered realm of the mono­chrome, but on the whole, col­or reigns supreme.

Even though most movies now use col­or, few use it to its fullest advan­tage. Col­or gives view­ers some­thing more to look at, of course, but it can also give a movie its visu­al iden­ti­ty. Think of the films you’ve seen that you can call back most vivid­ly to mind, almost as if you had a pro­jec­tor inside your head, and most of them will prob­a­bly have a dis­tinc­tive col­or palette.

The most mem­o­rable cin­e­mat­ic images, in oth­er words, will have been com­posed not just with any col­or they hap­pened to need, but with a very spe­cif­ic set of col­ors, delib­er­ate­ly assem­bled by the film­mak­ers for its par­tic­u­lar expres­sive­ness.

For a few years now, the Twit­ter account Cin­e­ma Palettes has drawn out and iso­lat­ed those col­ors, ten per film, for all to see. “Though based on a momen­tary still, each spec­trum of shades seems to encap­su­late its movie’s over­all mood,” writes My Mod­ern Met’s Leah Pel­le­gri­ni, point­ing to “the somber, oth­er­world­ly blues of Har­ry Pot­ter and the Death­ly Hal­lows: Part 2, the dream­like pinks and pur­ples of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the cloy­ing­ly pret­ty pas­tels of Edward Scis­sorhands, and the earth­ly, organ­ic greens and browns of Atone­ment.”

It will sur­prise nobody to see the work of Wes Ander­son, famed for the care he gives not just to col­or but every visu­al ele­ment of his film, appear more than once on the feed. Here we see Cin­e­ma Palettes’ selec­tions from The Roy­al Tenen­baums, as well as from Quentin Taran­ti­no’s Reser­voir Dogs, Stan­ley Kubrick­’s A Clock­work Orange, and Rid­ley Scot­t’s Blade Run­ner. The project reveals an aspect of film­mak­ing that few of us may think con­scious­ly about, but nev­er­the­less reflects the nature of cin­e­ma itself: the best films select not just the right col­ors but the right aspects of real­i­ty itself to present, to inten­si­fy, to dimin­ish, and to leave out entire­ly.

Explore more films and col­ors at Cin­e­ma Palettes.

via My Mod­ern Met and h/t Natal­ie W‑S

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Film­mak­ers Like Kubrick, Jodor­owsky, Taran­ti­no, Cop­po­la & Miyaza­ki Use Col­or to Tell Their Sto­ries

“Bleu, Blanc, Rouge”: a Strik­ing Super­cut of the Vivid Col­ors in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960s Films

Wes Ander­son Likes the Col­or Red (and Yel­low)

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Obses­sion with the Col­or Red: A Super­cut

Ear­ly Exper­i­ments in Col­or Film (1895–1935)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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