11/25/08

Fads #5: A Bad Time for Those Not Color Blind


Avocado Green and Harvest Gold - the defining home décor colors of the decade. Anyone who lived in the '70s will remember these colors well. In fact, there was a very defined set of colors during this period (rust, brick, sand, brown, gold and orange) that colorized almost everything in our world: cars, fashion, décor, appliances, you name it - they all had that distinctive color palette of the '70s. Look at the picture below. It's instantly identifiable as being from the '70s - not by the hair styles or clothes - but by the color palette. Well, the guy smoking on an airplane is kind of a giveaway... but you get my point. The '70s definitely had its trademark colors.


The San Diego Padres sported a brown and mustard color combination. I guess it was better than the infamous Astros orange rainbow jersey... then again, maybe not.

What is truly perplexing (and I have long wondered this, and will be indebted to someone who can answer it) is why movies and TV programs were also filmed in earth tones. Not only that, but they were also grainy and had the film quality of a Polaroid. How is it that older movies like The Wizard of Oz all the way up to 1969 are in vibrant Technicolor, and then as soon as the '70s start, everything becomes about as colorful as dishwater? How did film colorizing technology take a giant step backward from brilliant to washed out brown? It's almost a cliche to say something like "it has that grainy seventies feel", yet I'd like to know why everything went grainy in the '70s.

Watch a colorful episode of "I Dream of Jeannie" then watch a 1974 "After School Special" and you'll think you've developed an eye disease which renders everything in the world a muddy shade of brown. I mean, a lot of big budget movies in the 1970's look like snuff films. Why? I'm not alone in my confusion - the question was posted on Metafiler, but the answers don't quite satisfy.

Whatever the reason, by the early '80s, films regained their vibrant colors and the most popular décor colors became "Southwestern soft teal" and "dusty rose". (gag!)


A big thanks to Plaid Stallions, my favorite curator of the '70s, for inspiring this train of thought.
Additional thanks to Found in Mom's Basement and Retrocrush for a couple images.
A related post on retrospace- Historical Fact: In the 70's Everything Was Sepia

13 comments:

  1. So true! My mom still has a harvest gold chair in her house... and it's so ugly that it's now fashionable again.

    But I'm one to talk. I have avocado green glass everywhere!

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  2. TennZen - Personally, I don't share the popular opinion that 70s colors are ugly. I think we could all use a big splash of brown and orange in our lives.

    However, the whole grainy dishwater look to the 70s films I could do without. I still want an explanation as to why it looked that way. I'm probably SOL.

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  3. The 70s were the ugliest style decade. I was lucky to have been in the Army for most of the 1970s; when we look at old family photos now, I'm the only one with normal hair!

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  4. This is definitely so true. I'm reminded of how my childhood home as well as the homes of my grandparents, etc. all looked. I do wonder what it was about the colors and the 70's. I've been watching a lot of 70's movies lately. The film is so grainy and washed out compared to the movies of the 50's/60's and then of the 80's on. I'll admit that I do love the look of the 70's. I have no problem with the colors. I think they were cool. They remind me today of my childhood and the things I loved about that decade.

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  5. Buzz - Like the colors or not, you've got to at least respect that there was a color scheme to the decade. Whereas, what are the colors of the 90's or the present decade? In twenty years could I show you four colors and you tell me those are the colors of the '00s?

    There's something to be said for having a definite color and fashion - it leaves you open for criticism down the road maybe, but at least it was cool at the time.

    Keith - Yes, the grainy washed out muddy look of those 70's films remains a mystery. Wizard of Oz - crystal clear with bright vibrant colors. Then comes the '70s and everything goes gritty and brown on the big screen. WTF?

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  6. What's funny is that recently I've been wanting to redo my apartment. I've been really digging on the 70's. I would love to do my pad up like it was in the 70's. I'm really loving the look of the apartments, etc. in all those great Italian movies of the 70's.

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  7. Gilligan -- black = 1990s. My older daughter was a goth at that time. One day she came to the berakfast table wearing an olive drab top and everybody said, "Wow! What a splash of color!"

    re movie color: The classic color movies of the 1930s-50s were made with 3-strip Technicolor (TM). These cameras had 3 separate black and white negatives, one each for red, yellow, and blue. The best Technicolor prints were not simple film-to-film transfers but contact dye transfers. As a result films of that era have incredibly rich, vibrant hues and tones.

    In the 1950s, however, Eastman color and other competing color systems that were far less expensive came along. Technicolor responded by creating first a cheaper film print system, then a single strip process which, while better than Eastman color, was only a pale imitation (literally!) of the 3-strip process.

    When the original 3-strip b+w negatives were saved, films can be transferred to DVD with a close emulation of the original tones and hues. Where only an original dye transfer print exists, a fairly good copy can be made. Where there are single strip copies, the quality falls off. The best one can hope for with Eastman stock is to digitally fix the worst color mistakes.

    More and more "films" are being shot on video today, and for a wide variety of reasons video can not capture the same richness of color that film can. However, it can be manipulated and played with far more easily and can produce some very satisfying visual looks when the videographer and director know what the limitations are and deliberately design their look to fit in those limitations.

    Another problem is that most film makers -- directors and cinematographers -- of the 1970s cut their teeth in TV. Because of the speed of production, TV set-ups in the 1960s tended to be overlit and focusing and framing given short shift (though not a TV producer, Roger Corman is notorious for asking his cameramen "How long to make it beautiful, how long to make it good, and how long to make an image?").

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  8. Keith- I always wanted my place to look like Greg Brady's when he got a room of his own. Now I'm 38 and I still think it'd be cool... my tastes have apparently gone unchanged in three decades.

    Buzz- Thank you, thank you, thank you. This has plagued me for years, now I get it. However, my lack of any technical expertise in this area still leaves me a bit fuzzy on the issue. I guess it just boils down to the fact that cheaper color filmmaking tools came along that just didn't have the color richness of the old school expensive technology. Interesting. Thanks so much.

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  9. All the answers you need can be found in The Great Funk by Thomas Hine in the chapter called Knights in Green Dacron. Langdon's book Orange Roofs, Golden Arches has a chapter called The Browning Of America.

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  10. mhampton - Thanks so much for the references! "The Browning of America" sounds right up my alley - I'll have to check it out.

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  11. You people need to get your eyes and heads examined and snap out of this neo-liberal, anal, insecure, gentrification-ridden world we are living in! FYI, I am That70sM an and I go every day dressed in the 70s fashion, from platform shoes (35 pairs that I won) to bellbottoms to polyester suits, this is my religion. I also possess a 3-piece dusty rose bellbottom suit which I only wear out on special occasions! We need to go back into a simpler and more creative time period because our modern-day society is infested with so much sexual insecurity and cynicism, I do not want to be another fatal statistic! So dig THAT to your graves and let's paint our rooms with avocado green and put up wallpaper in our kitches. Peace out...

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  12. The Astros rainbow jersey was awesomely awesome! Now it is again, sort of.

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