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7 Noir en couleur Color and Widescreen Today to get the public to attend a picture show It’s not enough to advertise a famous star they know. If you want to get the crowd to come around You’ve got to have glorious Technicolor, breathtaking CinemaScope and Stereophonic Sound. —Fred Astaire, “Stereophonic Sound,” Silk Stockings (Cole Porter, 1955) It has been argued that the decline of film noir is coincident not simply with the advent of the red menace and the blacklist but with the transformation of the motion picture industry occasioned by new media and technologies such as TV, 3-D, Eastmancolor, and CinemaScope. If, for example, color film stock necessitated higher, brighter key lighting and CinemaScope was premised upon opening up or elongating the standard screen (from, that is, the academy ratio of 1.33:1tothenew,anamorphiconeof2.55:1or2.35:1),thesedevelopmentsappeared to militate against the sort of expressionist devices such as low, Venetian-blind lighting and skewed, claustrophobic compositions associated with classic noir. However, a close examination of, among other things, color and widescreen in select feature films of the period suggests that film noir in the 1950s, crossing location shooting with studio-bound theatrics, canted angles with CinemaScopic effects, Technicolor hues with black-and-white “mystery” lighting, adapted to therapidlychangingindustrialandtechnologicallandscapeofHollywood,inthe process laying down the audiovisual tracks for the renascence that is neo-noir. More specifically, the stereotypical critique of ’50s noir is that, in conjunction with the exaltation of the police officer, the genre embraced the retrograde 164 New Media and Technologies politics of American neorealism at the expense of the insurgent, expressionist aesthetic that had previously defined the genre. Late, “baroque” film noirs like Touch ofEvil(1958)werethereforeanexceptiontotherule.Isitpossible,though, that this interpretation is a technologically determinist one, where ’50s noir, in a perverse après coup, is retrospectively View-Mastered through the narrow, blackand -whitelensofTV?Inotherwords,ifit’struethatcolor,widescreen,anddirectional sound were understood to promote greater realism, the new technologies were also understood to produce a “kind of excess, which in turn was packaged as spectacle.”1 Thus, if the restrained pastel palette of Black Widow (1954) can be seen as subjecting the prismatic glories of Technicolor to the exigencies of the “classic realist text,” the super-saturated colors of Slightly Scarlet (1956) can, by contrast, be said to signify excess and spectacle—in a word, expressionism. Similarly, if the relatively static blocking and immobile, mid-angled camerawork of Black Widow appear to revert to a certain theatrical tendency in American cinema, the dynamic choreography as well as axial, vertical, and lateral compositions of House of Bamboo and A Kiss before Dying (1956) disclose the expressive, spectacular possibilities of CinemaScope. Noir en couleur In “Noir in Color?” (the question mark is illustrative), Alex Ballinger and Danny Graydon claim that “dramatic contrasts of light and shade are such a defining feature of film noir, especially of those films made in the 1940s and 1950s, that the idea of noir filmed in color . . . sounds like an oxymoron.”2 This sentiment is most eloquently expressed by John Alton, who once quipped that he “could see more in the dark than [he] could in color.”3 ThegrandexceptionintheclassicalperiodhasalwaysbeenLeaveHertoHeaven (1945). About John Stahl’s picture and its desert landscape the “color of dried blood,” Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton in A Panorama of American Film Noir write that this was “the first time Technicolor [had] been used in a crime film.”4 Leave Her to Heaven’s exceptionalism can be gauged by comparing it to “another ‘limit’ work,” Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), which, according to the Warner Bros. press book, was the first film to utilize color “for a suspenseful story of murder and detection.”5 (We can attribute the difference of opinion about which film, Leave Her to Heaven or Rope, has priority to the Warner Bros. publicity department.) UnlikeLeonShamroy,whoseemsintentinLeaveHertoHeavenonmaximizing the play of the color orange, Hitchcock in Rope was determined, in his own words, “to reduce the color to a minimum,” going so far as to fire his director of photography because the orange in the New York City skyline set was “too strong”—“like 165 Noir en couleur a lurid postcard.”6 In fact, the film “maintains a polite, drawing-room atmosphere untiltheclimacticmoment,whenrepressedcolorbreaksfreeinalmostgarishform,” shading Rupert Cadell’s (James Stewart) face with a “sickly green and then with a bloody red.”7 In other words, whereas Shamroy pushes “pictorialism to the point where it dominates all other functions” (see his riposte to Darryl...


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