27/3/12 – Film Theory Notes

While reading through notes for Film Theory, a friend recognised the image from the film Psycho (1960) and believed that the corpse in black and white has more of an impact upon the viewer compared to colour. I began to speculate whether colour or black and white significantly influence the representation of the skull.


Over the past few weeks, I have recognised that the image of the skull in Popular culture is predominately black and white, especially the Jolly Roger, which is another popular representation. Has colour dissociated the skull from the concept of death? Does black and white intensify the image of the skull? Does the Day of the Dead festival use colour to combine humour with death? Have the choice of colours that have been used for mexican sugar skulls eliminate fear or uncertainty surrounding death?

Stanley Brandes argues that  the Day of the Dead festival provides an optimistic perspective of death and the deceased. The celebration also initiates a close connection with the dead and the festival usually features various decorations in different styles.

In Brandes text, Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead the author suggests that the Mexican sugar skulls feature a very morbid representation of ‘mortality’. It could be argued that the style, the visual aesthetics and the dynamic composition of different shapes create a positive, comical apprehension of death.

It’s quite difficult to observe a sugar skull and feel overwhelmed or frightened, the colours and the different shapes distract thoughts or associations with the macabre. Brandes also argues that these particular representations are considered as unusual or ‘different’ within the Western culture. Although the Day of the Dead is becoming popular within other cultures, the West may find the sugar skulls very different compared to the black and white representations of the skull.

Brandes, Stanley. Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead. The Day of the Dead in Mexico and Beyond.  Australia: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. p.43-44

Alfred Hitchcock, “Pyscho.” 109. USA: Universal Studios, 1960.


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