Spotlight on Cinematography: Seeing Red

It’s no secret that I love red on the big screen. It’s my favorite color to watch be utilized, largely because it elicits such specific reactions from viewers, consciously or not. I just shared a post about the red dress in film, and how it can be used in such a variety of ways to achieve different thematic results. Someone recommended I do a similar post, but without the fashion aspect. So here we are! I have an extensive folder filled with my favorite red frames, so it was loads of fun to go through them and pick selections for this post. Enjoy!

Desire — Amélie

There was a summer of my life where I watched this movie on a weekly basis. I relate to Amélie on so many levels, and the whimsy that takes a front seat in the story truly delights me. While I’m not a huge fan of the overall color palette in the film, there are a couple of color choices that were really brilliant, and this frame is one of them. The overhead shot adds to the effect of Amélie being lost in a sea of red, which helps to increase the mood of aching desire that is so important throughout this movie.

amelie
Amélie (2001) || Bruno Delbonnel (DP)

Love — Captain Fantastic

This was one of my favorite films of the entire year, and I could honestly write an entire blog post about what made it so successful to me. It’s such a tender story about a father doing his very best by himself after his wife is no longer in their lives. It is clear from the very beginning how much he relied on her throughout his life and that they were two sides of the same coin. After their untimely (and unwanted) separation, we see Viggo Mortensen wearing his one suit—a red one. He wears it twice throughout the course of the movie, and both times are to bid her farewell. It was a stellar costuming choice, largely because it is such a visceral and vivid color, one we traditionally associate with romance and passion. As he tells her goodbye for the last time, his suit manages to feel like a torch, a beating heart, a love letter.

captain fantastic
Captain Fantastic (2016) || Stéphane Fontaine (DP)

Longing — Atonement

I include frames from this movie so often in my cinematography posts, and with good reason. Seamus McGarvey is one of my favorite cinematographers, working on projects from Nocturnal Animals to We Need to Talk About Kevin. He has a real knack for setting up frames to convey varying emotions and moods (and in movies like We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is especially crucial). He’s a master of building tension through angles and symmetry, and the below frame is no exception. Atonement is one of the most heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen, with a plot twist that literally took my breath away. There is a tangible undercurrent of longing that the entire film is built upon is and relies upon, and I don’t think it would have been as successfully felt if not for McGarvey. Here, the pairing of the red curtains and the sliver through which the character is looking work together to emphasize the “outsider looking in” nature of the entire story. You can physically feel how badly she wants to be on the other side, to move forward.

atonement 2
Atonement (2007) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)

Scheming — Big Eyes

This is a pretty recent viewing for me, and one that was largely fueled by Christoph Waltz’s presence (I’m not a big Amy Adams fan). He tends to just play variations of himself, but he’s one of my favorite villainous actors of all time because of his charismatic nature. There’s something extra sinister about a bad guy who comes off as so appealing. In this scene in Big Eyes, the character is not only lying in wait for potential clients, but he’s also about to pass off someone else’s art as his own. The red glow of the hallway makes the cheerful club seem a bit more ambiguous, and serves to hint to the viewer that someone is up to no good.

big eyes
Big Eyes (2014) || Bruno Delbonnel (DP)

Passion — Chicago

I feel like this cellblock tango scene is probably on some “Top 100 Most Iconic Scenes” list somewhere. Even people who haven’t seen the movie can often recognize this frame. This entire song/dance number is lit in red light (with one important thematic exception) which ramps the sensual and passionate nature up to 100. It’s no coincidence that this scene is all about women murdering their husbands—crimes of passion, as it were. The red light helps to convey a lot of that important passion and heat to the viewer.

chicago
Chicago (2002) || Dion Beebe (DP)

Anxiety — Neon Demon

For the sake of transparency, I’m going to come right out and say that I did not finish this movie. I found very little about it enjoyable, aside from some of the visuals. It’s the kind of movie that benefits from being watched in a theater—so much of it was shot in low lighting, making it hard to see on a smaller screen or brighter room. However, there are a lot of strobes and colored lights throughout the film, all of which serve to ramp up the discomfort and anxiety that the main character feels over her surroundings.

neon demon
The Neon Demon (2016) || Natasha Braier (DP)

Tumult 

Is there anyone with quite as much angst as the Kylo Ren? Rian Johnson did a splendid job of playing up Adam Driver’s acting chops by choosing to bathe so many of his scenes in red. The scene in Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room is a particularly apt example of this. In this scene, Kylo is fighting a mental battle on just about every level. He is trying to choose who to help, and pondering how that will change things moving forward. This frame shows him with a bowed head against a field of red. The huge amount of the bloody shade in this frame screams at the viewer that Kylo is facing a brutal struggle.

last jedi
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) || Steve Yedlin (DP)

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