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Color and Empathy

Color and Empathy: Essays on Two Aspects of Film

Christine N. Brinckmann
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  • Book Info
    Color and Empathy
    Book Description:

    This book focuses on two areas of interest: the poetics of color in film and the affective responses of viewers. Each essay is built around the analysis of a particular film or group of related films, which are then used to explore a range of issues including the difference between black-and-white and color, the emergence of bold color schemes in the 1950s, and empathetic viewer reactions to fictional characters, documentary subjects, animals, and architecture in film.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-2326-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
    (pp. 7-10)
    Christine N. Brinckman
  2. Cinematic Color as Likeness and as Artifact
    (pp. 11-31)

    It is a common belief that colors can be reproduced in photography and film with utter naturalness, that they can remain legible as in reality itself and reveal the beauty and meaning of nature. But whereas the colors of the world are generally regarded as an embellishment, albeit a superficial one,¹ the color photograph that captures them is often less beautiful. What is the reason for this failure? What are the factors that so often make color photography – and even more so color film – aesthetically unsatisfying? Why is it so much easier to take a good black-and-white photograph? As if...

  3. Chords of Color
    (pp. 33-59)

    It is not without reason that we speak of colortonesand colorcompositionsin art, and of tonecolorandchromaticscales in music. Analogies and metaphors run in both directions, art borrowing terms from music, and music terms from art in order to label phenomena that otherwise have no name.

    When talking about the orchestration of color, we imagine that the colors adopt roles not unlike those of musical instruments in a concerto: they can establish relationships of tension or harmonic vicinities, can reinforce or disturb one another, take over from one another in terms of dominance, play...

  4. The Tension of Colors in Colorized Silent Films
    (pp. 61-73)

    When I was a little girl I loved coloring books, especially those with lots of human or animal figures, and I imagined that they waited fervently to be animated with color. They positively cried out for it, so that great haste was called for in coloring them and rescuing them from their plight. Completeness was the motto, but living creatures naturally had priority and came first; the objects followed, and finally the background, the earth, and the sky. This memory often comes alive when I see partially colored films. I intuitively feel sorry for the figures who were not blessed...

  5. Structural Film, Structuring Color: Jenny Okun’s Still Life
    (pp. 75-87)

    The designs and aesthetic principles of Structural Film¹ already seem part of the past, although this current of the avant-garde was very much alive into the 1980s. What is more, experimental film assisted the “other cinema” in gaining a moment of cultural recognition of a magnitude it has rarely enjoyed in its turbulent history.

    It is characteristic of experimental film that its variants are heterogeneous, displaying only distant commonalities. The films can sketch out dream visions, provide a contemplative look at a landscape, offer variations on visual themes (the view out a window, the movement of water), toy with remembrance...

  6. Desert Fury: A Film Noir in Color
    (pp. 89-107)

    Film noir owes its name not least to its distinctive, somber black-and-white photography. High-contrast shots in the low-key lighting style, in which black can swallow up entire areas of the image and prominent shadows structure the composition, became the supreme form over the course of the 1940s. The ascendancy of film noir was due to expressionist influences from European immigrants among the camera operators, but also points to an awareness of the beauties of the black-and-white film at a time when color was beginning to prevail. Above all, however, low-key lighting, which traditionally was characteristic of dark moods and whole...

  7. The Work of the Camera: Beau travail
    (pp. 109-123)

    Claire Denis is an auteur who works in close collaboration with an established team. This makes it both difficult and methodologically questionable to break down her films according to elements attributable to individual team members. Camerawoman Agnès Godard, whose work I intend to address here, has of course collaborated with other directors as well, including Agnès Varda and Erick Zonca, so to some extent one could extrapolate her personal style; and she is a highly articulate artist capable of explaining her decisions.¹ Godard has expressly emphasized that with Beau travail (France, 1999), and in other films of Claire Denis, she...

  8. Empathy with the Animal
    (pp. 125-133)

    In her short story “Painwise,” the science fiction author James Tiptree, Jr.¹ describes creatures endowed with an excess of empathy. These “empaths” seek to be exclusively in the presence of happiness, since they immediately assume both the pleasurable and the painful feelings of others. They often struggle to distinguish their own thoughts from those of other beings, and they say what their dialogue partner was in fact going to say or wanted to say. There are three kinds of empath: the golden-yellow bushbaby monkey, soft, relaxed, and pliant, like a child in a fur coat too large for it; the...

  9. Motor Mimicry in Hitchcock
    (pp. 135-143)

    Various new publications in the field of cognitive theory of the audience¹ have encouraged me to contribute my own findings regarding a certain phenomenon in the work of Alfred Hitchcock: the prominent placement of moments that trigger motor mimicry in the viewer. Using myself as a kind of guinea pig, I observed my personal reactions while watching one Hitchcock film after another, until a pattern emerged.

    My project had a dual focus. It was intended, on the one hand, as a contribution to Hitchcock scholarship, in particular to Hitchcock stylistics; on the other, as a study of motor mimicry in...

  10. Abstraction and Empathy in the Early German Avant-garde
    (pp. 145-171)

    Seen in terms of film history, “abstract” or “absolute” film seems to have emerged from out of nowhere in the early 1920s.² At any event, it was not rooted in the fiction films or documentaries shown in the cinema, even if the artists were quite familiar with developments in the medium. Nor was the aim to create a counter-cinema. The brief, non-representational, painterly-musical films of the early German avant-garde did not seek to compete with commercial film production but were conceived as art. If shown at all, they were screened at special exhibitions.

    I have chosen three films to explore...

  11. The Role of Empathy in Documentary Film: A Case Study
    (pp. 173-197)

    The following essay is a study of the processes of viewer empathy and associated feelings while watching a documentary. To my knowledge, the numerous studies on and theories of reception that have been published in the past ten years are almost exclusively based on the model of fiction. Noël Carroll, Dolf Zillmann, Murray Smith, Ed S. Tan, Alex Neill, Torben Grodal, Carl Plantinga, and Hans J. Wulff,¹ to name just a few, all consider the fiction film when they record, analyze, and differentiate the complex processes of sympathy and empathy, viewer allegiance, participation, central and acentral imagining, emotional contagion, autonomic...

  12. Genre Conflict in Tracey Emin’s Top Spot
    (pp. 199-219)

    My approach to this text began with two theoretical issues. One of them concerns the observation that we react differently todocumentary personsorsubjectsthan we do tocharacters in a fiction film.¹ How can these differences be described, and what are the reasons for our genre-specific response?² The other issue concerns the question of so-called F emotions (which result from fiction) and their potential conflict with A emotions (which result from the nature of a work as artifact). What happens if different kinds of response assert themselves simultaneously? And what happens to A emotions in non-fiction films? Can...

  13. Viewer Empathy and Mosaic Structure in Frederick Wiseman’s Primate
    (pp. 221-239)

    In what follows I will attempt to describe the empathetic processes that (presumably) take place in the audience while watching Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Primate (US, 1973). Whereas many studies have been undertaken to analyze viewer responses to fictional films, studies on the effects of documentaries are still rare. Documentaries and fiction films have a lot in common, of course, and many findings can be transferred from one field to the other. But the genres also differ in significant ways, as most documentaries do not follow scripts, are not staged, and do not use actors. The lack of scholarly interest in...

  14. Casta Diva: An Empathetic Reading
    (pp. 241-258)

    Casta Diva is the first film by Belgian director, screenwriter, novelist, film theorist, and archivist Eric de Kuyper.¹ Produced on a tiny budget and with the help of his friends – a work ofcinéma copain– Casta Diva is now considered an original masterpiece of the queer avant-garde.

    The film hardly fits into any conventional genre categories. Vaguely fictional at best, it is neither documentary nor lyrical, neither autobiographical nor an essay; rather, this is a show – consisting of episodes, like acts in vaudeville, or song-and-dance numbers in an American musical. There is no single main character, central conflict, or conclusive...