It’s interesting how certain colors affect certain responses from us. I’m told that fast food companies are encouraged to decorate in yellows, oranges, and browns because those colors elicit hunger, even if we’re not hungry. It seems odd, and yet those McDonald’s commercials always make my mouth water … and I don’t even *like* McDonald’s.
However, the use of color to elicit certain emotions has gotten far more sophisticated over the past century. Last night I watched the first half of Gone With The Wind with a friend of mine who is teaching it for a class. He was pointing out certain underlying imageries (which existed, I imagine, in the book as well) that romanticize the antebellum South. I, however, was acutely aware of the colors.
For example. Scarlett has dark hair. As does, for that matter, Rhett Butler. Scarlett, the flirtatious, jealous, selfish, stubborn girl; Rhett, the dark, mysterious womanizer. Ashley Wilkes, on the other hand, has blonde hair. So did, for that matter, Charles Hamilton. Ashley, the dashing, charismatic war hero; Charles, the kind, gentle, but somewhat foolish boy. I did find it interesting, however, that the actress who played Melanie Hamilton Wilkes was not blonde – my only explanation is that the filmmakers made her dark haired to mute her. After all, she did not have the raven colored hair that Scarlett did, but a mousier, duller brown.
Now, notice the colors they wear. Scarlett is often dressed in green (at least, throughout the first half of the movie – I did not get to watch the second half), which represents jealousy. In fact, in certain shots where you’re supposed to know she’s fuming over Ashley’s choice of wife, you can’t help but notice her green eyes sparkle. Melanie, on the other hand, is always wearing muted colors. Her shoulders are always covered with a dull colored shawl. Her hair is done up in a less-than-striking way. You’re meant to notice Scarlett, but you’re meant to think of her as a “bad girl.”
I use Gone With The Wind, because it’s fresh in my mind, however an even better example of this is Oklahoma!. The use of color in that movie is even more obvious.
For example, we have our heroine, Laurey, with long, curly, blonde hair. Oh, yes, curls – they represent “good” and “innocence” also. In fact, even our hero is named Curly! And he, too, has curly, blonde hair. However, the evil farmhand who tries to rape Laurey, Jud Fry, has dark hair and dark skin. So does, for that matter, the traveling salesman that tries to woo Ado Annie.
Of course, you may point out that Annie wasn’t “bad,” but she didn’t have blonde hair. No, she did not have blonde hair … but then again, for that age, Annie’s shenanigans were considered “bad.” Sure, she had a good heart, but she was a bad girl – making red the appropriate compromise.
Now, movies tend to have more complexities with the colors chosen. Many of the stories of the silver screen have much deeper characters, with many more layers. Though, the use of hair color is not quite as obvious. After all, Jennifer Garner, a brunette, is used as a cutesy heroine (that is, when she isn’t typecast as an ass-kicking crime fighter), though then again, so is Kate Hudson. And, when have we ever seen Matthew McConaughey play a bad guy? Of course, the use of blonde hair and blue eyes as “good guys” and dark hair and dark eyes as “bad guys” (at least, as a rule) is quite frowned upon in 2007, with the development of a complex, multiracial culture.
Still, though, it’s rare you’ll see a “good girl” in a movie in something that’s too low cut (unless, of course, the character is supposed to look awkward and out of place – like Jennifer Garner in the beginning of 13 Going on 30, wearing her lingerie to work). Movies that are supposed to bring forth warm fuzzy emotions are shot in well-lit, sunny scenes. Movies that are supposed to be darker, scarier, are shot in low-lit scenes, or scenes with striking differences of dark and light. In short, the use of colors and certain imageries is still imposed upon us, however it’s done so more subtly than it was in the time of Gone With The Wind or Oklahoma.
Kind of like those McDonald’s commercials …