A Single Man has a particularly good use of colour. It is integral to relate the feelings of the main character to the audience. George (Colin Firth) is not an open book. He hides away a huge part of himself in order to be accepted in the time he is in. He has just lost his lover and he can not even mourn openly.
Take a look at the shots below. They are similar in terms of subject and frame but the mood couldn’t be more different. In the second frame it is difficult to determine George’s expression, but the warm colours hint at energy and determination as opposed to the helplessness in the blue frame.
George’s life has been shattered by the loss of his lover. The initial scenes are a desolate blue, which then fade into muted colours and George attempts to continue in his daily life.
Occasionally something catches his attention for a moment and colour floods into the frame. Using the moviebarcode again we can see the shift in mood throughout the film.
‘Well, it was to help us understand what George was feeling. At the beginning of the day he’s depressed. Everything is flat. Color is flat. He’s not seeing color. His flashbacks are vivid in his mind because there are moments when he’s alive and so when he’s thinking about to these moments, even the terrible moments like when he hears that Jim’s died there is color because it’s vivid in his memory, other than the one that’s in black and white. The reason that’s in black and white was that he was taking the pictures of Jim that day in black and white. He was thinking in black and white and so for him that entire memory is black and white. The color heightens when George really starts to look at thing and the beauty of things starts to pull on him. I had a friend who was dying of cancer and I remember him telling me that snow didn’t look like he’d ever noticed it looking, everything, because he was seeing these things for the last time and he knew he was going to die. Things took on an almost surreal quality. So I wanted the audience to feel that, to experience what George was feeling and as the beauty of the world starts to pull on him, by the time that we’re at the end of the film he’s living in Technicolor, very vivid. That was the point of the color.’
– Tom Ford
The film has a grainy quality that comes from Eduard Grau‘s (director of photography) use of the old Kodak film stock, 5279, which is not commonly used now. The entire film was shot on 5279 35mm and then the colour was altered digitally.
Eduard Grau also did the cinematography on Buried (2010), which is another brilliant but devastating film.
The production designer, Dan Bishop, is known for his work on the television series Mad Men (2007 -) and Carnivàle (2003-2005). I thought that the meticulous nature of George’s character was really well thought out.
‘George is a character who keeps himself together by keeping his outer world in order. This is how this man exists. This is how he gets through the day. On the worst day of his life he’s polishing his shoes. He’s putting on his tie. He’s just being held together by the surface and by the order of everything…He feels that if he can keep his outer world together that he won’t collapse inside. Colin’s character has a veneer but just inside is this romantic guy who’s suffering so much and it’s right behind the surface.’