' Cinema Romantico: Thursday's Flashback to the 80s Freeze-Frame

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday's Flashback to the 80s Freeze-Frame

While “La La Land” rightfully took some shots for its tenuous grasp of jazz history, and while its main male character was perhaps not as endearing as its creator might have suspected, there was still plenty to dig, preeminently its colors, harkening back to the wondrous era of Cinemascope, when a movie need not look like Real Life. This was never more true than the rocket propelled “Someone in the Crowd” when Emma Stone’s dreamer and schemer is pulled from her apartment by her trio of friends – a pink apartment, that is, a nifty implantation of a lesser known Los Angeles locale that mixed impeccably with one of those peerless magic hour California skies, all of it brought home by the quartet’s not-matching primary color crayon-ed dresses as they sauntered down the street and (I’m quoting myself) march directly into your damn heart. Seeing that scene made me think of other moments at the cinema in which color spoke to me, like the boiling orange of the latrine scene in “Platoon”, or the Sherwood Forest of “Adventures of Robin Hood” erupting in eye-popping Technicolor. But like any dude born in 1977, “Star Wars” taught me so much, and I’m not talking about “A New Hope” in this case but “Empire Strikes Back.”

The “Star Wars” universe, with storytelling akin to the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive, is very accelerated and noisy, leaping from one of action-oriented confrontation to the next. Even its more intimate moments, like those between Luke and Yoda on Dagobah, still feel fraught with emotional weight, and its brief downtime can even be infiltrated, like that game of holographic chess while chilling out in hyperspace in the (real) first “Star Wars” ending with a threat of arms being torn out of sockets. No, the closest the series ever got to an actual respite occurred during the late stages of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

In a way, it should not be a respite at all. After all, it is right after Han and Leia and Chewie and 3-PO have evaded the Imperial Starfleet for about the 47th time in the movie by powering down the fabled Corellian frigate mid-flight and hiding on the back of a star destroyer, which puts them right there in the midst of the entire Imperial Starfleet seen moving to and fro just outside the cockpit window. One eagle-eyed Imperial lookout spots them and it’s all over for our rebel heroes. Never mind that 3-PO is, as 3-PO will, wailing non-stop. But Leia switches off 3-PO and Han dispatches Chewie to the rear of the ship and suddenly the Princess and the Smuggle have the cockpit all to themselves. He says they need to find someplace to port and calls up some sort of undefined sci-fi-y map screen on the Falcon’s control panel, a sci-fi-y map screen that bathes their faces in blue.


That blue completely flips the switch. It shuts down the engines on the movie just as the Falcon’s own engines have been shut down to evade detection. Throughout “Empire Strikes Back”, the colors emanating from the massive control panel at the rear of the cockpit cast the characters and the chairs the characters occupy in an orangeish glow. Orange, if you consult your local color aural expert, and why wouldn’t you if you are already a “Star Wars” nerd who believes in The Force, tends to represent confidence, a healthy ego, a daredevil attitude, passion, even sexual energy, which is not at all out of place in the verbal bickering of Han and Leia. But this blue softens the proceedings, communicating to them and to us, sitting in the eye of an Imperial hurricane, just after a movie-and-a-half of buildup, before another movie-and-a-half of wrap-up, that it’s finally time to take our legally mandated twenty second fifteen minute break.

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