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Matthew Padraic Barr

Michelangelo Antonioni Interview with Godard

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I was reading an interview of Antonioni by Godard -- unfortunately I couldn't find a

version on the web to post on here, but it's in the Criterion Collection version of

Red Desert in the booklet if anyone is interested in reading the unabridged version --

and he said something interesting that I didn't quite understand.

When talking about Red Desert and his use of color, he said, "...I realized that certain
camera movements were no longer possible: a fast pan works well if the main color is
bright red, but it doesn't work if the color is olive green, unless it is meant to suggest
new contrasts."

 

I'm not sure what he means by this. I've never experienced problems with a fast pan

when the main color is red; however, I've never shot on the film stocks and lenses of 1964.
This phenomena might only have existed in the early days of color cinematography.

Does anyone have any ideas or experiences regarding this?

 

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I'd assume it's just something specific to Antonioni's colour sensitivities rather than a reference to any general technical principle.

 

But who knows - perhaps red is something we can see better than olive, so in a fast pan we can see the movement of a red shape better than an olive one.

 

In any case it wouldn't be anything to do with filmstocks. Colours are not defined by filmstocks. Red is red, and olive is olive, no matter what material you use to create such.

 

C

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I'd assume it's just something specific to Antonioni's colour sensitivities rather than a reference to any general technical principle.

 

 

I hadn't thought of that. He might've meant that. I presumed he was talking about the

technical problems of color film since that was what he talked about earlier in the article.

 

 

 

 

In any case it wouldn't be anything to do with filmstocks. Colours are not defined by filmstocks. Red is red, and olive is olive, no matter what material you use to create such.

 

C

 

I agree with you that colors are not defined by film stocks, but we aren't talking about

the definition of color, we are talking about the reproduction of color in film.

 

There have been many iterations of color film: the early additive processes,

Technicolor's cumbersome two-strip process, the revolutionary Eastmancolor process etc.

In the early days of color film, there were many problems in accurately reproducing color,

and I wasn't sure exactly sure what process was being used at the time, especially in Italy.

Many of those iterations were short-lived due to the problems in color reproduction, so I

thought he may have been referring to a problem that arose in one of these processes.

 

In any case, this is an antediluvian inquiry since all we have are digital projectors now.

I need to just leave film behind and embrace digital acquisition.

 

You're much better off than me, Carl, in the DIT position. :)

 

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I agree with you that colors are not defined by film stocks, but we aren't talking about

the definition of color, we are talking about the reproduction of color in film.

 

There have been many iterations of color film: the early additive processes,

Technicolor's cumbersome two-strip process, the revolutionary Eastmancolor process etc.

In the early days of color film, there were many problems in accurately reproducing color,

and I wasn't sure exactly sure what process was being used at the time, especially in Italy.

Many of those iterations were short-lived due to the problems in color reproduction, so I

thought he may have been referring to a problem that arose in one of these processes.

 

In any case, this is an antediluvian inquiry since all we have are digital projectors now.

I need to just leave film behind and embrace digital acquisition.

 

You're much better off than me, Carl, in the DIT position. :)

 

 

Although I earn a living as a digital image technician, I'm also someone who works with film.

 

Regarding colour. Certainly we might speak of colour reproduction, in the sense that incoming light might be a particular shade of red, and the outgoing colour (that which we see projected in the cinema) might be a slightly different shade of red. Or it might be orange, or perhaps the complete opposite (cyan) for that matter. Or any other colour. Or monochrome.

 

So you think Antonioni might be speaking about this? About colour reproduction?

 

I'm not sure. Maybe, but I can't see how panning the camera would alter the colour reproduction.

 

There is one possibility. An early colour process involved interlaced colour where one frame exposed one component, the next frame another, and the third frame yet another. During a camera pan you would get greater separation of the colours. Since olive is a mixture of green and red it would separate out during a pan, but red wouldn't.

 

In a three neg setup, any mismatch in syncronisation of the negs would have a similar effect.

 

 

C

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and I wasn't sure exactly sure what process was being used at the time, especially in Italy.

Many of those iterations were short-lived due to the problems in color reproduction, so I

thought he may have been referring to a problem that arose in one of these processes.

 

:)

 

What?

Check your history. Red Desert was made in 1964 in monopack, as was every other film in the world after 1954. It may or may not have been shot on Ferrania and printed in Technicolor, but that didn't fundamentally alter the colour reproduction.

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I'm not sure you can infer too much semantically from an English translation of an interview that was probably conducted in French with an Italian native speaker, but it's clear enough to me that he's not talking about colour processes but about colour perception.

After all, Antonioni would paint grass green if he thought it wasn't the right hue.

Edited by Mark Dunn

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Yes, much of what Antonioni would say about colour could not in any way be reducible to any particular technical process used in Red Desert..

 

However it's not uncommon for artists to pull inspiration (or limitations!) from otherwise more technical contexts. Antonioni might very well be drawing on things seen in early colour experiments, to propose something about colours, such as red and olive green. It's particularly curious, the mention of red and olive green, because that is precisely the palette of early two colour processes.

 

Without the full context, of course, it's pure speculation here. More a set of possible leads to pursue, than any answers.

 

C

Edited by Carl Looper

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