Project 9: Light and Colour – Viewing

Viewing- Light
Look for examples of light levels changing radically within a scene. How are these changes
justified or motivated?
Some common examples to look out for are:
• The source is shown in shot, for example we see a lamp being switched on or clouds
passing over the sun.
• An action motivates the change. We see the cause in a previous shot, such as a hand
going to a light switch, the countdown to the explosion or a character taking off
• Represents an abstract or emotional state, for example a moment of realisation or a
character fades away.
Add any good examples or observations to your blog.
Paranormal Activity ( 2007, dir. Oren Peli )
A fabulous use of  light to create atmosphere in horror films, especially, is the turning on of a light source, to almost relieve the audience of dread in night or dark scenes. Often, once an onscreen character finds the light switch, the terror is either thwarted or suspended to a further moment in time.
However in Paranormal Activity, there is a particularly effective scene where a couple  have been filming their sleep periods due to ghostly apparitions in their house. On one particular occasion, the downstairs light is switched on by something halfway through the night time. An effective scene, setting the following sequences up perfectly, allowing a creepiness to take hold gradually over time. (1)
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Close Encounters of the Third Kind ( 1977, dir. Steven Spielberg ) is a light-show of a film, where effective usage of light to convey atmosphere and tell key plot points, is abundant throughout. The particular scene below is awash with simple but extremely powerful frames using lights as the symbol of the visiting UFOs. As the protagonist Roy, ( Richard Dreyfuss ) is out at work, responding to reports of energy blackouts, he discovers phenomena that is beyond explanation.(2)
Agent Cooper ( Kyle MacLachlan ) is shot and is left lying on his hotel room floor, when an apparition appears in front of him. A giant ( Carel Struycken ) tells him three things related to the case that he is investigating. Bright white spotlight is used to represent the limbo state that Cooper lies within. Cult TV mystery Twin Peaks ( 1990-91, dir. David Lynch ) is again reliant on powerful light symbolism. Various changes in light, almost dream-like in their way, dictate the action. (3)
Viewing – Tone and Colour
Look for examples of use of colour in film to represent:
• change of atmosphere between scenes
• emotion of a character
• general mood or atmosphere of the film as a whole
• a range of feelings, emotions or atmospheres such as love, fear, power and joy.
Add your observations to the blog.
Brian de Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel Carrie ( 1976 ) used an overpowering red hue to enforce the powerful third act climax. Carrie ( Sissy Spacek ) has been humiliated once and for all by her classmates at the senior prom, as she was falsely voted queen and drenched in pig’s blood. Red is a symbolic colour throughout the film ( her first period, her rage, her mother’s fear of Satan, the colour of blood – that is also let in abundance as her revenge is executed – and finally the fire that engulfs the school hall. When the scene turns red in the split scenes used in the climax ( from 02:02 ) on this clip sequence, we know that the chocks are away and that Carrie will get her long overdue vengeance on the oppression that she suffers. Its a very astonishing scene, and one that takes a lot of casualties in emotion. (4)
Enemy ( 2013, dir. Denis Villeneuve ) is presented in a constant mustard yellow hue. Set in Toronto, a teacher ( Jake Gyllenhaal ) becomes aware of his double after watching an actor in a dvd movie. This leads to an increasingly nightmarish scenario of cat & mouse and of confusing timeframes or character twists. It’s an intriguing and disturbing narrative where the colour hues are a definite atmosphere booster. The colour tone is stifling after a while and this adds to the suffocating tone of the story, as the web-like narrative traps the characters inwards. Spiders are a feature throughout the film, ironically. ( The director allegedly  made the cast and crew sign a confidentiality agreement to prevent them discussing the symbol of spiders in the film, although, the general thought is that they represent the main character’s fear of women, ie, the black widow analogy, his wife is pregnant, and perhaps he fears the commitment of responsibility, envisaging this as a web entrapment ) (5)
The intriguing Lost River ( 2014, dir. Ryan Gosling ) uses colour hues to determine multiple layers within the character/ plot development. A single mother desperately seeks work to make ends meet ( superbly played by Christina Hendricks ), represented in a red to magenta hue. Forced to use her physical self to perform in a seedy sado-masochism nightclub, she is the pivotal, central protagonist.


Her eldest son, Bones ( Iain de Caestecker ) scrounges lead or other metals to sell at a local scrapyard. ( natural colour hues, green, brown, yellows )
His girlfriend, Rat ( Saoirse Ronan ) trapped in a life looking after her hoarder grandmother, dreaming of a future, lives in a bubble of cold blue hues.
The town they live in Michigan is dead on its feet, houses crumbling and derelict and business and industry long gone. A neighbourhood nearby has been flooded to make a reservoir, which is the MacGuffin of the story, intrigues Bones to seek his rite of passage, defeating the antagonist Bully ( Matt Smith ), symbolically by name and by nature.
A film suspended on visual metaphors, colour being the operative tool, it is a great example of storytelling by synesthesia. (6)
Peter O
(1) Paranormal Activity on IMDB – accessed on August 11th 2016
(2) Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind on IMDB – accessed on August 11th 2016
Twin Peaks on IMDB – accessed on August 11th 2016
Carrie (1976) on IMDB – accessed on August 11th 2016
Enemy on IMDB – accessed on August 11th 2016
Lost River on IMDB – accessed on August 11th 2016

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