Gary Oldman and Jamie McShane in Mank
The last time I wrote about film colors for this magazine was about combining 35mm footage and digital color in Uncut Gems and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to create contemporary looks that are heavily with the past connected, which could result in a look "More cinematic than film." David Finchers Mank, together with a second season of the Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian, offers the opportunity to consider how digital and celluloid tendencies combine from the opposite direction – both were digitally recorded and then rated in such a way that they are explicitly reminiscent of celluloid . Once again, color corrections and recording formats compress our sense of history and time, but here the results are “out of time”, more sinister and perhaps more focused than they are now.
The Mandalorian's approach is simple: the series rates its photography to mimic the colors obtained by 35mm footage in each major entry in the Star Wars trilogy of trilogies. (The most recent stand-alone films at times dispensed with a classic celluloid look that was more in line with contemporary trends, with Solo in particular scurrying through a remarkable number of color styles.) As a reserved, deliberately simplified series that brings Star Wars to the point Mandalorian follow the example of its western western tropics. Watch an episode of the series and the look matches up pretty well with the rest of the Star Wars live action canon, with saturated midtones and cool highlights, warm skin tones and bright reds that often make the image in lasers, flames, Underline logos etc. Text and characters. It's not the highly saturated, high-contrast look of some Marvel TV series that are getting their lower budget by using a few splashes of bold color to mimic the bright, bubbly look of their higher-budgeted theatrical siblings. Nor does it often lean towards the one- or two-tone blue and orange schemes associated with contemporary action films (a widely noticed but effective phenomenon that is used to put different computer and live action elements in a flashy frame Mix). In contrast, the Mandalorian is simply using a clean version of the classic Star Wars palette, the muted tones of which may have something to do with the newer style of shooting, which uses a motion-tracked camera against live animated LCD panel CGI on backgrounds Set. You see everything in the last seconds of the season before the second season begins: a sunset sky of purple and red, the crackling of a lightsaber and fire, the rich skin tones of the series villain.
It's not celluloid, however, and some things cannot be mimicked – the highlights in particular quickly fall into pure whites, giving them the flat, cold digital look associated with Fincher. What is alien, however, are the blacks. Inexplicably, they are almost never anywhere near true black throughout the show, rather they are significantly lighter and grayer than what is seen on film or digital recordings (aside from the early years of low-budget HD, which are more often associated with Sundance narratives) . The first episode is mostly set at night, which makes it particularly clear and odd that the blacks are more like light gray-yellow-green and never get anywhere near real black, but you see the same thing in the final sunset shot of season one. It's an odd choice where the images remain strangely flat and one-dimensional, despite their considerably high production gloss and lean production sets and backgrounds. For a contemporary observer, milkiness suggests a kind of “impoverished aesthetic”. It is a washing out of the picture that is more often associated with necessity than selection. Regardless of the cause, an image emerges that keeps the viewer away. The raised black tones give the picture a feeling of weightlessness. While this is likely not due to household issues, it's a decision that alienates us from image – maybe heighten the sense of imagination, maybe lower the stakes, and leave us with a series that feels rather light and whose images rarely impress us much. Perhaps this is to create a more playful feel to the series and to reflect its deliberately lower narrative stakes. It conveys a feeling of distance, of cold, but also of coolness in the sense that what culture calls “cool” is often slightly cool. It's not constant, but it's common. In any case, it's an odd choice, especially when used alongside a class of colors that is heavily reminiscent of the 1950s adventure films that gave birth to Star Wars and that gives us a strange, timeless feeling – Star Wars from the time, Star Wars As an endless adventure, Star Wars dragged itself as a past into an eternal present of the digital age, beautiful but slightly distant, a gimmick.
David Finchers Mank, a black and white biopic about Orson Welles 'screenwriter' Citizen Kane, also floats in time, but in a much more explicit and seemingly deliberate way. In keeping with the filmmaking of the Hollywood world of the 30s and 40s in which the film is set, the film was shot on extremely high-definition black and white digital and then heavily post-processed to resemble a variety of classic black and white films with grain, scratches, and even completely redundant cigarette burns in the upper right corner that would be used to signal the projector to transition between reels on a 35mm print but obviously not required for a digital movie being streamed and / or streamed digitally screened . On the one hand, Fincher's decisions are most likely just practical for him – he is known to love shooting at extremely high resolution so he can recreate a shot in post-production and add pans and frames that weren't included on the set. At the same time, Fincher, DP Erik Messerschmidt, and colorist Eric Weidt decided to color digital footage so that it looked like a movie as much as possible, emulating a wide range of black and white looks that went beyond the classic Hollywood look or that of Welles. characteristic high-contrast chiaroscuro and creating new looks that would have been absolutely impossible during the filming of Citizen Kane. As a side note – despite the name, color grading is just as important for black and white films as it is for color films. Even if the image does not contain any color, a "colorist" still has to adjust each shot in order to decide where the blacks, whites and grays should fall in relative brightness, and this for all the shots in a scene. You can make adjustments to different segments of the image relative to the others and choose the look like highlights and lowlights blown out or fall off.
An opening title sets the scene, with the classic Hollywood title geographically off-axis, the diagonally inclined crew and the cast titles penetrating deeper into the frame from left to right, and their aggressive positioning reflects the opening of Panic Room – the film is an exercise to feed classic looks through modern tools and styles, updating, reformatting and recontextualizing. We have classic Wellesian shadows at a dinner party at William Randolph Hearst's Palace, but Fincher picks Amanda Seyfried's Marion Davies from her co-stars with a blissfully white light and classifies them as crisp white in a dark set. When it's first featured on a Hearst set, we get a glamor take with clean, even grays and few highlights and blacks in the classic Von Stroheim signature (which the director saw before), but instead of the blown warmth These recordings give us Fincher's famous digital crispness. Elsewhere there are allusions to the European art films by Antonioni or Fellini, with the heavily textured darks and strong skies of Antonioni appearing in allusion to his iconic shots of industrialized landscapes with oil derricks in the background of the frame and with the cascading blowouts of on- Set lights of 8 ½ are used throughout. Either way, the color timing makes them a bit more, a bit crisp, blown out, sleek, and always with that digital hyper-crispness sticking out from behind its added grain. These reinforced classic looks are all unmistakably Finchers, with his signature love of pillow-like, but neatly delineated whites and dark, enveloping shadows.
On one level the effect is simple – William Randolph Hearst's attempts to swing a choice through his control of Hollywood media contain obvious contemporary echoes of our outgoing U.S. government – on another level it enables Fincher to switch his film between the classic Welles studio world is inhabited and the Netflix-enabled world Fincher has entered cautiously. It sits uncomfortably on the fringes of color classes and lighting patterns that span the entire realm of film history, a confident 1940s look that is hopelessly contemporary at the same time. We indulge in nostalgia in the look, but the film keeps telling us in subtle ways that this is a digital creation of the 2020s. Nostalgia for the glory days of Hollywood is not an easy thing in Mank, because when you look back here, you have to grapple with how the present future warps the past. When the Mandalorian's hue puts us in a cool approximation of the desire of the Star Wars audience, Manks creates a more difficult relationship with history – torn between times to reach for new shapes pulling out of the past. Digital colors and their celluloid ancestors are a long way from established media, especially as celluloid is once again a resurgent recording format. Mank lets the tension reel off.