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The colours of Fox and Hare

The colours of Fox and Hare

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drawing, old man
Fox and Hare (IMDB) seems to have been Yuriy Norshteyn's first work as solo director.

The English translation is my own.



In his excellent 2008 book Snow on the Grass, Norshteyn has a chapter about this film. It talks about many things, and one of the topics raised is the film's very deliberate use of colour. The text below is my translation of pages 102-103.

A little background: a couple of years ago, Norshteyn was in a lawsuit with the DVD company Krupnyy Plan; he wanted them to fix a DVD release of his films because he felt that they had done a poor job on the colours. He is still boycotting the company to this day and telling anyone who will listen not to buy his films from them. He was asked to prepare a text for the jury outlining why colours are so important (or perhaps he did it under his own initiative). Because this is a document made for the legal system, it is both simpler and somewhat drier than is typical of Norshteyn's prose (which is partially why I selected this segment to translate; I thought it might be easier).

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All the text below this point is Norshteyn's
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I'll mention this upfront: when we were working on the film, I and the artist were not thinking about the symbolic nature of colour in a theoretical sense. We did not discuss it. In developing the colour scheme, we worked from our sense of each individual episode and the palette of the film as a whole. But when I wrote my text for the court, I naturally looked into a dictionary of colour symbols and confirmed my colouring decisions on a theoretical level.

Here is the article:
Colour is an inseparable component of the dramaturgy of a film, just like music, characters, and acting. There exists this concept of the dramaturgy of colour. We are not talking here about the overall colour scheme of the film, but about the strict progression of colour through time. Colour, like smell, is capable of disturbing, but also of invoking deep contemplation. In different dramaturgical scenarios the same colour may have different meanings dependent upon the overall palette of the film. This is an axiom.
When developing a film, the creators must have in mind the overall palette. A familiarity with the literature dealing with colour symbolism is not a sure sign of success because you, the creator, will be using colour strictly mechanically. The colour spectrum must be felt by you internally and connect with the film's rhythm and progression of events. But a knowledge of colour symbolism does give an additional surety in the correct choice of palette.
The film "Fox and Hare" was made on the basis of the construction of folk art painted distaffs (that is, several pictures on one board). The film contains a strict progression of colour. The red colour of the credits is life-giving, stimulating and active. But a red sun is joy, and a red mourner's shirt is death. "In general, the colour red is considered agressive, lively, and full of strength, akin to fire and representing love as easily as the fight not for life, but for death." (''Gans Biderman''. Encyclopedia of Symbols (translation from German). M., 1996. P. 131). It must be clean, with the only difference being whether it is warm or cold. Ours is warm, but not dirty. Red is a contrast to the winter at the start of the film. Winter is a cold colour scheme, ultramarine with tinges of grey. We could have made a clean blue, but knowing that at the end of the film there must be a thick, saturated blue, we save the colour for later.
Next is the spring episode. It is pink, but not vulgar, boudoir pink, but gentle. It is pink in combination with the ultramarine winter. Let us recall: "...Well, it feels like early in the morning on a pink horse I've galloped past." ["Словно я весенний гулкой ранью проскакал на розовом коне" - part of a 1921 poem by Sergei Yesenin, which has been translated into English in the prior link]. The pink is not blatant. I'm afraid of blatant colours in general. They can be combined with a concrete dramaturgy. For example, a circus or clownery. But let us remember. A bright dash of colour must always be set in front of a background which is capable of accentuating it. Striped orange-green pants and a bright red mouth, a white face, and blue or black circles around the eyes. One can speak long and in detail about all this. The most important thing is that in any, even in the brightest spectrum of colours, there must be a palette.
Let us continue with "Fox and Hare". After the pink spring, we have the dark forest in which the wolf is supposed to eat the hare. The black-brown forest and the yellow shirt of the hare (yellow, not acrid-yellow-green-brownish). Goethe in his lesson about colours named yellow "the colour of joy, refreshing and gentle; but it is inclined to provoke annoyance, and the slightest flaw will devalue, disgrace, and diminish it" (Encyclopedia of Symbols. P. 86).
"Brown... to a psychologist means a warm, calm, motherly influence and simple truths" (Eppli, Encyclopedia of Symbols, p. 127). But I repeat once more - the colour dramaturgy is directly connected with the events which are connected to it and surround it. In this case, the dark brown colour is a concrete background for the grey wolf and the hare.
The episode with the bear is brownish, characterized by the colour which is called umbre. The smallest mess-up makes it dirty. Umbre is connected with action. We say [in Russian] "the umbre bear". For us, this colour is like a connection to the next episode with the bull. Colour almost disappears. The whole episode is penetrated with a mournful gamut. A mournful theme in the music, A mournful view. And a final condensing of colour into black, but with blue highlights, to provide a contrast to the next episode.
The new episode starts with the sun. The rooster appears. The brightest character of them all. He is on a bright, ultramarine-cyan background. And let us again turn to symbolism: "Blue... - is the colour of everything spiritual. In contrast to red, blue sways most people to thoughtfulness. Specialists in the sphere of depth psychology here find its connection to "spiritual freedom and a gentle, light and thoughtful way of life" (Encyclopedia of symbols. p. 243). The film ends with the blue night and a light from the window of the house. To ruin the colour is to ruin the emotional fabric."

Unsurprisingly, my reasonings were then not given any attention or a response. The lackeys of Krupnyy Plan won. Their advocate Semyonov recommended me to watch my films in black and white if I was not satisfied with the colour quality of "Krupnyy Plan"'s videos. And still, a positive result out of this tug-of-war came out. I myself would have never, without being forced to, opened a dictionary of colour symbolism, because I fear struggled theoretizing. All that can be formulated in the form of a rule is unsuitable for art by nature. It is necessary to have a finalized law for measurement, but not before you have mapped out the artistic space instinctively. And that's about it.
  • Should pay more attention to this blog, I feel like I've neglected it. I'll read it all over once I find the time to breathe and indulge. Or buy your book when you ever release one!

    The film was brilliant, usually I'm not one for Slavic exaggeration of patterns and colours, but here I loved the whole structure with the squares and all. In a nutshell, it was great, won't start pointing out the obvious. Thank you for sharing, again.

    As a side note, are they planning on translating the book to English eventually?
    • I do not know. I hope they are, because it is a very important work, one of the most important things that has been written about art and animation probably. It's better than any textbook on art I've ever read (and it spends a great deal of time talking about other artforms, because animation and film of course combine most of them).

      But they would need an outstanding translator who also understands the difficult and subtle concepts discussed in the book well enough to translate them faithfully while keeping it readable. Norshteyn is really not an easy person to translate, and it would be too easy to do a bad job. It would have to be translated as a work of art by someone who's a great writer (because you can hardly be a great translator unless you're a great writer).

      As for "my own book", thanks for the vote of confidence but there are no plans for that right now. :)
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