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Not all colors are created equal in the filmography of Martin Scorsese. Red has a special seat at the table.
As the video essay “Scorsese in the Red” demonstrates, the filmmaker’s corpus is a crime scene of crimson. Scorsese using red is an immediate, visual signal for violence, danger, bloodlust, and of course, lust itself. Every bar is bathed in hellish red hues, every tinted light a premonition of bloodletting to come. Not unlike the nightmarish use of ruby-red in Italian giallo films, Scorsese’s use of red colors his whole filmography and evocatively marries style and substance.
The introduction accompanying the video essay makes the case that Scorsese’s use of red can be seen as a resurrection of tinting and toning, chemical processes that rendered black-and-white film stocks in various shades before the advent of color film. Hand-tinting began in the 1890s as a precaution against piracy but eventually developed into a popular way to emphasize mood and tone, with Edison Studios and the Biograph Company leading the way. D.W. Griffith was particularly fascinated by the narrative power of color and frequently used combinations of tinting and toning to achieve certain narrative effects (if you’re going to burn Atlanta down, why not color the whole dang frame with a sea of flames?).
Which brings us back to Scorsese’s use of red. It’s a primal shade with the visual impact of a gunshot, at times filling the screen with startling monochromatic frames pooling of crimson. It’s an entire filmography soaked in scarlet.
You can watch “Scorsese in the Red” here:
Who made this?
This video comes courtesy of the fine folks over at Filmscalpel, who create and curate video essays. The video is one-fourth of a series of video essays on Scorsese, comprised of two videos (“In the Red” included) on the director’s stylistic proclivities and another two focused on his poetics and the trademark themes of his filmography. You can watch the other three videos in the series on Filmscalpel’s official website here. And you can follow their Twitter here.
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- Related: a video essay from Studio Binder on how film directors make use of color psychology