Friday, March 26, 2010

Ford's Colour-Rich 'A Single Man'

If a film were a painting, it would be A Single Man. The Tom Ford drama is a colour-rich tableau of 1960s design elements. From the mauve cigarettes, to sixties fashion, the film is all about colour. Using colour to highlight emotions, the viewer is lured into the layered narrative of the film through its rich palette of sixties hues. This is exactly what happened to me. I found myself captivated by the surreal quality of the film. Ford added colour to scenes of happiness, flirtation or poignancy, with a distinct greyness dominating moments of melancholy. This masterful colour awareness tells of Ford's profession as a fashion designer, with A Single Man marking his first foray into writing/ directing.

After my ranting about colour, I should probably talk about the film itself! A Single Man is based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood. It is the story of a middle aged College English professor in LA, George Falconer, who desperately seeking to inject some colour back into his life, so to speak. George, a native Englishman is played by Colin Firth. The actor leaves his stereotype of the desirable rom com hero behind in this role, embodying this tormented, yet passionate character. George's partner Jim (played by the gorgeous Matthew Goode) has recently died in a car accident, and his life has become one of monotony and recluse. Even his past love Charley, played by the wonderful Julianne Moore can't bring him out of his melancholy. Charley is a middle-aged divorcee, who looks like what a go-go dancer would be, some twenty years after their time on stage. Her perfectly coiffured hair and elaborately painted face mask a complex and deeply sad individual. Ford's masterly of colour and design are exemplified in his characterisation of Charley, with her mauve cigarettes and exotic boudoir telling of her dramatic personality. The same technique is used to convey the image of George as a more structured personality. The film opens with him dressing himself in the morning. George speaks about how his identity is constructed each day, carefully and slowly, before being shown to the world around him.

Colour is drawn on by Ford to tell of George's character. As he is in a state of depression, George is shown as a grey figure, with his business suits and static image conveying a sense of routine and unhappiness to the viewer. This is not just in his clothing, but in his complexion. Each time he experiences happiness, like watching the kids next door playing or talking about literature to one of his students, his cheeks become flushed. This subtlety tells of Ford's awareness of the power of colour as a marker for expression. One of my favorite scenes is when George goes for a late night swim with one of his students at a Californian beach. The most intense hues of blue fill the screen - midnight blue in the sky, a luminescent moonlit sand, framing a rich blue ocean. The shot is so powerfully, with this power conveying the significance of this event in George's life.

In essence, this film is about dealing with the daily routines of life. Routines that, for ambitious or creative types, signal a life of mediocrity. George's solitude, and friendship with a young student, who has the same curiosity that he once had, are used to explore the ways in which our lives turn out differently to anticipated. George, having planned to spend his life with Jim, is forced to contemplate a different future. A grey future, solitary future. The prospect of this seems too overwhelming and lifeless for George, who instead seeks escape from it. Colour and design are used to subtlety reinforces these themes. The spilled ink that marks George's bedsheets and leaves stains on his lips symbolises his personal deluge. This draws on the ways in which we associate certain shades with certain emotions. People wishing for an idealised life speaking of looking at the world with rose-coloured glasses. In A Single Man, Ford adopts glasses of all different colours, revealing the many shifts of perspectives inherent in society.

All in all, this is an excellent film!


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