if it's purple someone's gonna die
Image by Golfer On The Moon via Flickr

If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling by Patti Bellantoni

Bellantoni examines color in movies from an artist’s perspective. Since I am neither a filmmaker or an artist, I don’t know how much I understood it. But she looks at red, yellow, blue, orange, green, and purple.

Roughly, red is high energy; blue is suppression of energy; yellow is romantic/vulnerability; orange is happiness/toxicity; green is growth/poison; and purple is mysticism/death.

The best part was her short interviews with the art designers (costume, set decoration, photography, etc.). They had some interesting insights into familiar films that I had not heard elsewhere. The worst was that you had to flip back and forth between chapters to see the full picture (I know, lame) of a particular film.

Sometimes, Bellantoni seemed to be reaching for her conclusions. Especially when the art director said what’s on the film is the second or third choice. Either way, I think I’ll look at color choices a little more carefully when watching movies now.

Here are few interesting tidbits from the book.

Green as poison shows up in Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs with that haziness that Disney uses a lot. But green represents life and the value of nature in Gorillas in the Mist.

Chocolat uses Vianne’s red cloak and shoes to signify her passion and rebellion. Jen, the poisoned dragon, in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is all about passion, rebellion, violence, anger. She is often surrounded by red.

Yellow is romantic and golden in Much Ado about Nothing but is highly threatening in Taxi.

Chicago uses purple in Zeta-Jones’ first appearance show that death, in fact murder, will be the topic. The magic mirror in Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs signifies death.

Orange is toxic in Bladerunner and Gattaca but signifies happiness in A Little Princess.

The gray-blue in Sense and Sensibility shows how powerless the women are within their culture. Rosemary wears powerless blue in a critical stage in Rosemary’s Baby.

The most intriguing critiques for me were Malcolm X, Big Easy, Romeo + Juliet and Chicago. I actually want to watch them over again just for the color.

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