Are the films we love, the artwork we’re drawn to, or the entertainment we ‘choose’, less of a choice than we think?
Recently I began to explore the underlying reasons why I love the films that I do. I can explain why I think certain cinematographic choices are good or bad—this framing subtly reinforces the film’s message, this choice in set design serves as a portentous omen, etc. But why do I enjoy them? Why do I like films with longer takes more than those with heavy cuts? Is it because I find them more dreamlike? More realistic? I’m not quite sure, but these thought experiments have given me the chance to think more deeply about the films I love, which I find invaluable.
But when it comes to color, there is a more easily identifiable reason, and it’s caused a great deal of existential worry.
I love films that experiment with color and shades, both those which assign artistic meaning to color and those which use color to appeal to cineaste’s soft-spot for visual bliss. One of my favorite cinematic choices ever is Douglas Sirk’s costume changes for the white characters in Imitation of Life, which I’ve previously discussed here. I’ve spent multiple hours reading scholarly articles just about the use of green in Vertigo (highly recommend it). I went out of my way to go to a theater to RE-watch an obscure film from 1945 (Yolanda and the Thief), just because it was showing on 35 mm from a copy of the original Technicolor negatives. I think every film should be required to use Minnelli yellow. The reds of Le Mepris haunt my dreams:
In summation, I LOVE to look at color in film. The richer the better.
But, as many people in my life already know, I am colorblind. I have trouble distinguishing subtle differences in shade, I can’t tell the difference between certain colors, and colleagues have to “color check” graphs I make at work, so I don’t send lime green bars to the VP. Hang this image on a wall (as one roommate of mine almost did):
and all I would see is an abstract collection of dots [hopefully my editor didn’t change the image just to fuck with me]. This is a genetic trait, one I’ve had since birth. The only form of vision that I know is one with deuteranomaly.
So it begs the question: do I love rich, saturated colors so much because of my colorblindness?
As far as scientists are concerned, yep. Us colorblind tend to like yellow way more than the rest of y’all, and we tend to favor things we can see well, as one study found “colors named more accurately and quickly being more preferred”. The richer the color, the more it pops out, and the easier it is to identify. It follows that my colorblindness has directly influenced my preference for rich colors.
I found this nugget of research profoundly disappointing when I first read it. We don’t often think about the origins of our preferences, and for some reason I found it disconcerting to think that I love the things I love thanks to a blip in a genetic code. That the emotions roused in me by a lush cinematic landscape were merely an accident of nature.
The idea of nature vs. nurture has been *ahem* in our culture’s DNA for a long time; often as a point of debate against asinine socially conservative bigots. But it’s fascinating to consider just how much our genetics influence the things we think are wholly of our own accord.
Certainly our experiences shape our reactions to art. I can attest to that fairly easily. After my father died I was much more susceptible to tearing up at father-son stories. I read The Road about a year later and it immediately became one of my favorite novels ever. Would it have made the same impact had I not experienced that loss? Perhaps. But I doubt it.
People intuitively understand this. The events of our lives—both momentous and trivial—mold our outlook on the world, and it follows that what we like and dislike fits into that mold. It is far more difficult to grasp that something as personal as what gives us pleasure, what speaks to us, or what we hold dear could have been decided before we were sentient.
If you’re anything like me, you’re scared that if you think too hard about this you’ll come to hate the things you once loved, all thanks to some colorblind jackass with too much time on his hands. I know when I first realized just how much my colorblindness influences my taste in films, I found it profoundly unnerving. But I’ve come to love this circumstance of my birth.
You see, it gives me a unique perspective which allows me to appreciate beauty in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. I consider myself lucky. It’s possible that I would never have fallen in love with color in the same way I have without my colorblindness. I think of the joy that the aforementioned screening of Yolanda and the Thief gave me, and how I wouldn’t get the same rush of abject pleasure if I saw colors ‘correctly’. Would I still love it? Maybe. But it wouldn’t have been quite the same. Indeed, I first saw Yolanda in a course at college, and the overwhelming sentiment of my classmates was “Yeah the colors popped. So what?” I suppose we saw things differently.
Everyone is born with a perspective all their own. We can all find beauty in our own way, and the art that we are drawn to all speaks to us differently, even if these differences are minuscule.
Think deeply about the things you enjoy, and why they bring you happiness. Whether gathered by experience or encoded via genetics, they are what make you distinct, and they allow you to have an outlook that can only be your own. Every time someone shares the perspectives that make them unique, the world becomes a better, more colorful place.