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October 1998, Week 1


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Thu, 1 Oct 1998 09:09:38 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (67 lines)
Leo Enticknap comments on the use of color in SPR:
> > Of course, te existence of such footage still begs the question of how
> > Spielberg uses the device, but at least it's not as anachronistic as it
> > might seem!
> I would still argue that this visual device is an anachronism.  The mere fact
> that the John Ford film has been unknown about all these years seems to
> that it was never shown extensively when it was originally made.  In the
> interview I read with Spielberg, he clearly implied that "colour newsreels"
> were an established part of exhibition practice and that by attempting to
> emulate the look of certain colour emulsions (I presume, although he never
> stated, that he was referring to the Kodachrome stock used as Technicolor
> monopack), he was appropriating a recognisable visual device.
> There is quite a lot of monopack colour footage from the WWII battlefields,
> hardly any of it was released in cinemas.  And in any case, I don't think
> Spielberg's D-Day reconstruction evokes that kind of stock at all.  It's far
> too sharp and with too much depth of field.  If he were to use genuine 1940s
> Kodachrome, or something close to it, then the entrails and body parts would
> look fuzzy and unrecognisable.  And in that case, there goes the realism.
Your point is well-taken, but whatever the case about the use or
distribution of such color newsreel footage, Spielberg justifies it
(and I don't necessarily mean that in an accusatory way) by reference
to a *perception* of a historical technological fact in place of what
scholarship might actually reveal about that "fact."  Similarly, he and
Janusz Kaminski discussed the use of black-and-white stock for
SCHINDLER'S LIST as reflecting the photographs of Jewish village life
in central Europe by Roman Vishniac, even though there are not many
scenes that make a direct connection to the scenes chronicled in A
Spielberg's use of such allusions is not at all unusual.  There are
many times that directors (or for that matter, artists working in other
media as well!) will justify a particular trope by reference to some
authority or "fact."  Griffith supposedly did it by invoking Rembrandt;
Welles and Toland claimed that deep focus cinematography worked in the
same way as human vision, which is far from the case.
No matter what the artist or what the claim, it is useful to be
On the other hand, audience perceptions can work against the grain of a
film's apparent "intention."  For example, in discussing the use of
Technicolor in the original 1937 version of A STAR IS BORN, students
often suggest that color was used because it is "realistic," when in
fact the equation of color with "realism" in film did not become firmly
established until after World War II, due to a variety of factors.  But
such an equation is so prevalent now that it is difficult to get
students to see how the use of color in this particular film actually
is used to undercut realism and to reinforce the fantasy aspects of the
film as a whole.
Don Larsson
Donald Larsson
Minnesota State U, Mankato
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Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
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