In this chapter I will discuss the technology of the time and beginning of the introduction of Technicolor as a colouring technique. I will explore how this was used in the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) to create a transition from Black and White to colour and also how certain choices of use of colour and shades within these tap into our cultural perception of colours to subconsciously tell us how to feel about certain places and objects.
‘When the film is duplicated they run it through a machine and that machine is basically just a light, and it shines through the negative down to an unexposed piece of print film. That piece of print film is what’s being developed. So in order to do any adjustments, what you do is adjust the light as the film goes through. (James 2008, Appendix 2a, p.xi)’
This is the process that has been in place since the 1940s, however it is not very versatile and working with lights could cause a burn in the negative or other general damage. It was difficult to make targeted adjustments to the shadow, mid-tone and highlights. The early process for manipulating colours worked by using tools to alter the voltage of the individual colour channels which would adjust for incorrect colour balance; it was possible to make adjustments to the brightness, black levels and saturation using this technique, however again targeted adjustment was extremely difficult (James 2008, appendix 2a).
The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939 and at this time only a very small number of films had utilized the technologies that allowed the creation of a full-colour image, this being Technicolor. The makers of The Wizard of Oz used this invention to render a transition from black and white to colour as Dorothy enters the land of Oz. It is a popular opinion that what people remember the most about The Wizard of Oz is the bright vibrant colours. Technicolor was a process where a specific modified motion picture camera recorded a scene trough coloured filters on three different stripes of film, which were then processed separately and used to print colours onto each finished print of the film. The use of Technicolor was an exclusive and expensive method at the time due to its complexity, the company had to lease a unique movie camera and a team of two experts to help operate the complicated machine (Ryan Lintelman, 2010). Bellatoni argues that colour symbolism was deliberately included in the costumes and set, the most notable examples being the red ruby slippers, the yellow brick road and the emerald city. He states that Dorophy needs the power of the red shoes to endow her in order to reach the Emerald city and that red is used to symbolise Dorothy’s courage and without them she will not be able to complete her journey. However it is the opinion of Micheal Patrick Hearn (2000, p 61) that there isn’t a symbolic colour scheme but rather matching up with just the colour wheel system.
“There is no great symbolic meaning to the color scheme of Oz… but it is not arbitrary either. The change from one region to another follows the principles of color theory. Each of the three major countries visited in the Wizard of Oz has a primary color, one of the three from which all others derive. Dorothy and her companions do not journey directly from one primary color to another. Instead their path passes through a secondary one. To get to the West, they must go through the green countryside around the Emerald City, merely a link between the blue land of the Munchkins and the yellow WinkieCountry. They also traverse from the Winkie Country to Glinda’s Castle in the red South by way of the Emerald City; the wild countryside they visit before arriving in the Quadling Country is brown. It is made from all three primary colors or mixing green with red. The standard color wheel puts blue to the right (East), yellow to the left (West) and red at the bottom (South) like the Munchkins, Winkies, and Quadlings.” ( Michael Patrick Hearn 2000, p.61)
I think it significant that colour is reflected through not only the destinations but also Dorothy’s Journey through the land of Oz, she follows the yellow brick road through blue country side in order to find the wizard, who resides in the emerald city. However when analysing distinctive parts of the film such as The Red slippers, the yellow brick road, the blue monkeys and the green witch and city it is easy to place colours with meanings.
The Ruby Red slippers are iconic and a main focus for the film, despite the shoes being for adults they fit Dorothy. It shows that Dorothy is ready to grow up and take responsibility for others, they give her the one thing she needs in order to travel down that yellow brick road, power. This enables Dorothy to ward off the scary trees and flying monkeys that she will face along the way, the light blue of her gingham pinafore doesn’t send a strong enough signal to do this. Red is her visual courage. Bright red can make you aggressive and anxious, it doesn’t come with a moral imperative. Depending on the needs of a story, red can give power to the good guy or the bad guy, after all both the wicked witch and Dorothy were able to wear the slippers. Dorothy has been wrenched from her Kansas home and feels powerless and lost in this strange world of witches and munchkins. In 1939, when the film was made, the audience was only used to seeing films in black and white and so to be exposed this in the beginning of the film meant that they could experience the shock of the brilliant colours that Technicolor bought to that world alongside Dorothy. Much like how Dorothy felt vulnerable and uncertain in Kansas there were similar feelings rumbling through 1939, the people wanted to feel strong and invincible just like Dorothy. It was a powerful concept that a small house from Kansas could squash a wicked witch, allowing Dorothy to have the shoes and in turn the power and strength to make it to the emerald city. (Bellatoni 2005, p.2)
‘The yellow brick road, the emerald city, the ruby-red as impressed as clichés in our consciousness. It’s because those specific colours send specific signals for specific intentions in the story.’ (Bellatoni 2005, p.3)
The colour yellow is greatly associated with warmth, brightness, and happiness, it’s a colour that tends to draw the eye and takes over the visual field. It appears to come forward in our vision, we “see” it first, which is why it is often used to signify caution in traffic signs. It is because of this that the Yellow brick road not only leads the way to finding happiness but also holds a warning and caution for Dorothy of the obstacles that she will have to face on the way.
Not only do the colours themselves signify meaning but also the shade and intensity, The pale blue of Dorothy’s pinafore gives off a lot less power and strength than that of the very cold and bright blue of the flying monkeys. The garish shade of blue used for these monsters is the coldest colour on the spectrum and particularly in it’s most saturated form is not associated with emotional warmth, empathy or compassion. Combined with their gargoyle-like faces it creates something quite threatening and nightmarish for an audience who are not used to seeing colour as it is on screen.
The colour Green used in The Wizard of Oz is shown on The Wicked Witch of the West, whose face was frightening enough as it was in the black and white version of the world as Miss Gulch. Our reaction as humans is programmed at a deep level, mimicking the colours of venomous reptiles crawling out of slime, she is presented as evil incarnate and our aversion to her look is a response that we cannot help. The Green of the Emerald city however, having used a different shade of green was not something we recoil from but rather become mesmerized with as if it were a beautiful jewel, it presents the wealth of the land but this in itself could be seen as a bad thing, as with this comes jealously and a thirst for power.
“Green…is used to express both the curse and the blessing of youth” (Faber Birren, Colour)
Despite being a difficult method to work with the Technicolour approach to colour grading was effective in creating a vibrant and colourful world of Oz. Having an audience not used to seeing many colour films at this point it could be seen that quite obvious and simple colour symbolism, particularly that of primary colours, were used in order to subconsciously use people’s instinctive and cultural perception of colours to guide them through the narrative.