Colored Perspectives: Shading World War II Onscreen
Films that deal with World War II—whether their narratives are concerned primarily with the war itself, the aura from which it emerged, or the ethos of its aftermath—have a particularly charged relationship to the presence or abjuration of color. As representations of a period that produced its own black-and-white archival footage, these works reckon with color not simply as an aesthetic choice, but also as a tool through which to define their own relationship to perspectival subjectivity and claims of historical authenticity. By examining the role of color in three vastly different World War II films—Andrzej Wajda’s black-and-white 1958 rendition of the war’s last 24 hours in “Ashes and Diamonds,” the Harlequin prewar chaos of Bob Fosse’s 1972 “Cabaret,” and the delicate balance of color and black-and-white characterizing the postwar divided Germany of Wim Wenders’ 1987 “Wings of Desire”—we may access a richer understanding, not simply of the films’ stylistic approaches, but also (and perhaps more significantly) of their relationship to both their origins and audience. Color, that is, acts in these three films as a chromatic guide by which to untangle each respective text’s take on both subjectivity and objectivity.
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