When Cary decides to rejoin the social world on her date with Harvey, her children take notice of her red dress. In her prior social excursions outside the home Cary wore a black velvet dress more suitable to her status as a widow. The strength of the color red also functions to markedly separate Cary from other characters and from the settings of her home and the country club. She stands out as protagonist as her character progresses through the narrative.
Kay has undergone a transition from an immature and cold intellectual to a woman who is loved. Cary, having succumbed to the pressure of her children and turned away from a relationship with Ron, listens to Kay in some misery. The red costumes each woman wears stand out against the more uniform color of the mise-en-scene.
Yet these costumes also have specific meaning for the narrative and for the development of the characters of Cary and Kay.
When Cary walks through the Christmas tree lot after her breakup with Ron, men in red jackets interfere with viewer identification of Ron, who is also in a red jacket, standing on the truck. The color system of the film does not always use red to separate objects or characters from the setting in order to emphasize the narrative or to comment on ideologies. Unlike the color red, the colors blue and yellow appear to participate in more uniform color systems.
Throughout the film blue is a signifier for nighttime while yellow indicates warm interior lighting. The evening after Ron and Cary meet, Cary has placed the tree branches Ron has given her in a vase on her dresser. The deep blue from the night and the yellow from the hallway compete for viewer attention, making it unclear where the eye should go in the narrative space. This use of color complicates the otherwise realist narrative space of the bedroom. But at this point the combination of blue and yellow does not yet function as a specific signifier of narrative meaning.
The yellow from the interior and the blue from the night are visually contentious. Blue and yellow in combination complicate the realist narrative space and help to. In one scene blue comes very close to functioning as an emphasis in itself, intruding on the realist narrative space. After the Christmas scene in which Cary learns that her children have plans to live their own lives outside of the family home, Cary comes to regret her decision not to marry Ron.
She wanders around her living room and possessions. It is night and Cary pauses in an intense blue light. While this blue is not a specific signifier of narrative meaning, it does serve to capture Cary in this space. Because the intensity of the light exceeds verisimilitude, it is somewhat disruptive to this narrative space. In All That Heaven Allows , however, Moorehead functions more strongly as the source of color spectacle than Wyman does. However, using color to embed Cary within narrative space is also a subtle way of underscoring the primacy of the melodrama narrative.
Sara is separated from the background by color while Cary wears the blue-grey tones of her suburban home. However, even as the color system of All That Heaven Allows splits the functions of protagonist and spectacle between Cary and Sara, at a key moment in the film this split subverts the emotional trajectory of the melodrama. A maid is vacuuming the hallway floor in the background while Sara, in an orange dress, talks with Cary about her decision.
The color system in All That Heaven Allows is very complex whether considered within the conventions of color film practice or within the conventions of melodrama. In some very orthodox ways the color system of the film helps make ideologies visible by giving material existence to the oppositional social formations that structure the film.
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Research into the industrial conditions of production of All That Heaven Allows and other s color melodramas can further our understanding of the apparent contradictions between melodrama and studio-produced commercial entertainment. Fassbinder, Rainer Werner. Edinburgh Film Festival. Mulvey, Laura.
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Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Color. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Color, Narrative Space and Melodrama. In narrative films the meaning of color is primarily contextual, arising from the association of a color with a character, event, object, or situation that gives it meaning. To some extent, this mirrors the status of color as an epistemological phenomenon. It takes its identity, in part, from the object possessing that particular color. As an attribute of the object, it has no object status in itself in this way, it resembles sound which is always the sound of something; a color is always the color of something.
As an attribute of the purse and these other objects , yellow takes its meaning as a color from them and from its relation to other colors in the film. The color yellow is associated with the use of money to buy affection: as Bill Paul suggests, in the scene in Mrs. Yellow is used to signify the power that position and wealth gives to certain characters. The color red, however, behaves differently. When Marnie encounters red, the nature of the object that is red is less significant than the fact of its redness; she responds primarily to the color, not to the object.
Take, for example, the first bright red object — the red gladioli. However, Marnie reacts to the flowers before she knows of their association with Jesse and she clearly reacts not to the flowers but to the color red, a reaction made clear by the red suffusion over her reaction shot.
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The attribute of red functions independently of the as-yet unknown meaning of the flowers. The gladioli turn out to be an exception that proves the rule — the rule that red objects resist the obvious chain of associations characterized by the color yellow.
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The red gladioli would seem to have no apparent connection to the red ink, the polka dots, or the hunting jacket. In other words, unlike most color films, where color plays a secondary role as an adjectival property of an object which is primary and takes on the meaning of that object or chain of objects, the color red in Marnie enjoys an independent existence.
Its relation to its object is often obscure. This chapter thus argues that the color red in Marnie is more than any single object; it has a meaning that transcends the objects with which it is associated. The mystery at the heart of the film is not that of a typical detective whodunit. It is not the nominal, outer identity of the criminal that is in question but her inner identity. The mystery is not who stole the money but why.
If we can discover why she responds so to red or what red means to her, perhaps we can uncover the source of those problems and solve the mystery. As such, they are objectifications of it and of her trauma. They are signs that point to an experience that has been repressed. The red suffusions mark the return of that repressed.
Initially an attribute of an object, red becomes, over the course of the film, an object in itself. But the meaning of the color red is blocked — both for Marnie who is unable to understand her traumatic responses to the color and for the audience who, though in no way traumatized as Marnie is, experience the red suffusions as incomprehensible barriers to any access to the character of Marnie herself.
The meaning of the color red has been repressed by both Marnie and the film. It is only at the end, when the color red is reconnected with its object, that the blockage will be removed and the mystery of the color red resolved. If color, like everything else in classical Hollywood cinema, is typically characterized by transparency, the color red in Marnie is non-transparent, opaque — at best, translucent.
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Of course, the color red, especially with the value and saturation that it has been given here by the Technicolor dye transfer process, enjoys a natural, eye-catching visibility. But the red suffusions necessarily differ from red colored objects in that they are inherently expressionistic, calling attention to themselves as intrusive markers of heightened subjectivity.
They are symptomatic manifestations of the hysteria that erupts and momentarily paralyzes both the character Marnie and the normal operations of the film text itself. The red suffusions quite literally constitute a blockage that obscures meaning — they function like curtains that have been drawn at crucial points between the narrative as it unfolds and our access to it. The red suffusions with one notable exception are presented primarily as subjective, traumatic affect in reaction shots.