13 septembre 2011


Imagine every frame of a film cut out from the reel and stack together in a pile, and you're looking at that pile from its side, as light passes through it effortlessly. Each slice, each stripe sums up the general colour tonality of the frame, and spreads it vertically along a 1 pixel wide image. As if that frame was compressed horizontally to occupy a one dimensional space. The vertical dimension for each frame is preserved, so what is on top of the stripe is what is actually on top of the cinema screen, conversely, what is at the bottom is at the bottom. But the lateral visual information is entirely compacted into 1 pixel, so it's only the average colour that transpires on the edge of each slice, at every height. Think of it as the visual genome of a film. It shows the cutting frequency very well, the change of sets, or sets colours, with the repeat of a similar overtone, or the brutal changes in colours. We can identify clearly the chapters of a film, if they are designed with a different overtone. And we could also measure the rhythm of a narrative, whether it goes back and forth to the same places, or if it cuts endlessly to different types of frame composition.

3 Couleurs : Bleu (1993/Kieslowski) ASL=12.1"
3 Couleurs : Blanc (1993/Kieslowski) ASL=10.6"
3 Couleurs : Rouge  (1993/Kieslowski) ASL=11"
Kieslowski's colour-based trilogy is the prototypical example to show the possibilities of the barcode analytical representation. When you look at these images, you think they aren't that different, it's all dark, brownish... but compared to all the other films in the databank (movie barcodes), there is more uniformity. A random film barcode looks very chaotic, disorganized, visually at least. At closer look, we do notice the few rays of eponymous colours, and a general tone throughout the film profile. A cold brown, blueish, for Bleu. A light brown, with more exterior scenes (the stripes with a white top), for Blanc. A warm brown, redish, for Rouge. The vertical stripes are very slim for all 3 films, indicating a lot of cutting, axis changes, cutaways... (compare with CCC barcodes to see how long takes show up) while maintaining a certain visual continuity by controlling the overall colour ambiance of the set/location within each shot. Although at this scale, it is hard to really pinpoint clear chapters, or sequences, that would stand out with a special overtone, or a different cutting pace, or separate sets. However, Rouge seems to show the most long takes, apparent because of some stripes tending to "smear" laterally (horizontal continuity).

Hero (2002/Zhang Yimou) ASL= 3.3"
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004/W. Anderson) ASL= 7.4"
Delicatessen (1991/Jeunet)
Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001/Jeunet) ASL= 7.2"
Blade Runner (1982/Scott) ASL= 5.3"

Brazil (1985/Gilliam) ASL= 7.2"
Hero is a very distinctive example of colour-coded mise en scène. The successive chapters are directly visible on the barcode. Black, Red (exterior), Dark Red (either night or interior), Orange, Bright Blue (interior), Light Blue (exterior), Dark, Green, Black, Red, Black. This should describe the exact plotline (I don't remember it), as the film is intentionally designed around episodes heavily identified by one dominant colour for each sequence.
Wes Anderson also likes to insist on particular colours in his films. The barcode profile of Life Aquatic is much brighter than most other films, and the green and blue scenes stand out in the timeline (probably the underwater sequences).
By contrast, Jean-Pierre Jeunet is more of a monochrome guy, the retro look associated with the sepia tone, particularly dark in Delicatessen, and brighter, golden in Amélie. Note the relative tonal uniformity, traducing a conscious coordination between the set designer and the director of photography to sustain a certain atmosphere throughout the films.
Blade Runner is rather dark, taking place mostly at night and in dark interiors. But the neon-blue hue, characteristic of Ridley Scott's retro-futuristic outlook leaves an unmistakable signature uniformly from end to end. The bright blue sequence at the beginning must be the neon-lit frozen lab. But what is the light brown scene right at mid-film?
Brazil also shows a stratification in "colour chapters", instead of the uniform dark brown overtone other movie barcodes feature. I'll have to check but it seems 5 or 6 dream sequences appear with a light blue tone. There are 5 other sequences with a earthy monochrome (red-brown). And also 5 grey parts. 
Again examples of films with normal cutting, with an Average Shot Length ranging from 3 to 7 seconds.

2001 : A Space Odyssey (1968/Kubrick) ASL= 13"
A Clockwork Orange (1971/Kubrick) ASL= 11.5"
Aguirre, the Warth of God (1972/Herzog) ASL= 11.8"
The long takes are more apparent on these three than in Kieslowski's trilogy, even though their ASL hits the same range. 
2001 opens and end with long credit sequences in pitch black. We can see the gold tone of the apes in the long desert opening scene, followed by the famous space station docking scene (pitch black), and the space station interiors in reddish tones. We can spot the confrontation with HAL in the computer core room, bathed in red light, towards the end. Later, the gold shots of Jupiter, and the multicoloured trip sequence (in bright blue). Then the scenes in the alien reconstituted bedroom (grey and light blue tones).
A Clockwork Orange changes a lot of dominant colours, and shows a lot of noticeable long takes (horizontal continuity).  
Aguirre is entirely shot outdoors in the forest, the greenish-beige overtone is consistent throughout the film, alternating brighter and darker shots, without any remarkable chapters identification.

Dogville (2003/LVT) ASL= 6.8"
In The Mood For Love (2001/WKW) ASL= 12.4"
Lost Highway (1997/Lynch) ASL= 7.2"
Essential Killing (2010/Skolimowski) 
 Source: Movie barcodes

We know Dogville takes place on a black soundstage and we see it on the barcode. But it doesn't appear as monotonous as we would guessed it. There are flashes of light marking different chapters.
We might remember the vivid colours of In the Mood for Love, but they are only touches within the frame, and the general overtone remains a pretty uniform brown (because of interior scenes). The red opening title sequence and closing credit sequence stand out in plain red. And the white cartons introducing the 2-parts story, one after the opening credits, and one right in the middle, divide the film very neatly.
Lost Highway is also a 2-parts story, but we cannot as easily denote its partition in visual terms. I suspect the swap to occur at the very thin blueish line, in the prison, followed by the outdoors scenes of the car mechanics sequences. 
Essential Killing's barcode reads like a book. The opening sequence in Afghanistan (sand canyon). Followed by a dark-blue sequence of the interrogation and transfer by plane. A white seizure (was it the dream sequence?). Then the escape by night. And the middle half of the long chase in a snowy landscape appears in light grey, with one brief interruption during a night scene I suppose. The last fourth goes back to nightscape, before the ending in the snow again.


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