Friday, May 31, 2013

One-Shot: Dr. No (1962)

Whenever I feel the urge to write about some detail that stood out to me in a movie, my impulse to only write about it within an appropriate context often leads to my not writing about it at all. To counter this habit, from now on, I try to post such observations every now and then as "one-shot" articles unrelated to the more indepth analyses.

The other day, I was examining the parallels of DR. STRANGELOVE (Kubrick, 1964) and DR. NO (Young, 1962). During the first act, Bond (Sean Connery) meets a Jamaican called Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) who wears a red T-shirt one cannot help but notice.
The original color as seen in the film.
Everything else in the shot is muted and in the same range of blue-grey-green. Next to Quarrel's red shirt, Bond looks like a part of the scenery. It just occured to me how different this first encounter would have come across, had Quarrel worn a less conspicuous color.
Digitally desaturated T-shirt: just an average guy whose appearance goes largely unnoticed.
Then I asked myself, why red, the most alerting color of them all? Well, the answer the rest of the film seems to suggest is as simple as unpleasant:

1.) The simple one: We have to recognize him in later scenes. The film makers may have been afraid that the audience would have a hard time distinguishing various Jamaicans if not for their clothes. After all, Quarrel always wears the same red T-shirt throughout the film while the Brits and Americans are allowed to change their clothes. In fact, Quarrel is so important to the story that we do have to recognize him even at night.
2.) The unpleasant one: Quarrel is a walking stereotype. He is the typical good guy who follows instinct instead of intellect and thus is shown as inferior (even childlike in his superstition about a dragon) to all the white men in the film. And what better color than red to symbolize a person who only acts impulsively ?

He also shares the common fate of black actors (until the end of the 1960s when Blaxploitation movies started to reverse the formula): Quarrel proves a worthy subordinate partner to the white hero and therefore has to die in order to make way for his British friend to save the day.

1 comment:

Natalie Belton said...

Minorities being killed for the sake of the plot or hero was indeed unfortunately common back in the day. There is even a TV Tropes page describing the trend aptly titled, "The Black Guy Always Dies First."