I recently stayed at a beautiful hotel in Italy, a small 1851 palazzo for a noble family, carefully restored to retain the ambience of a home. The huge entrance doors of intricately carved wood with brass fittings were beyond human scale and while they welcomed a visitor they also revealed an arched entrance hall, beyond that gardens and courtyards and elevated ceilings with elaborate frescoed borders. There were rich, dark furnishings and contemporary light fittings in burnished copper that made the Italian plaster walls glow.
Contrasted with the historic architecture of the external facade were the modern internal bedroom fittings. Rooms were true to their original proportions with high ceilings and large windows, but the thing that I mused on was the number of ‘permanently on’ lights that glowed in the night. There were three colour ways – red, green and blue. The television, do not disturb switch, door key smart card and ceiling smoke alarm were all bright points of red. The air conditioning switch at the bedside and the emergency exit in green and my phone charger flashing steadily in blue.
I was reminded again of this chaos of colours after I saw The Artist, a glorious black-and-white film homage to the golden age of Hollywood, directed by Michel Hazanavicius. The Artist conjures a world without sound, commenting on the success of silent movies and the introduction of ‘talkies’: only some actors could make the creative transition to sound. The film tells the story intelligently, referencing classic elements of films like A Star is Born and Sunset Boulevard and induces the audience to suspend a need to have all senses stimulated all of the time. As the film revealed its story it played with my own senses. It is visually splendid with lush and moody cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman and glowing with elegant sets and costumes. It is a love story free of irony and when sound is finally used it adds great poigancy and creatively intensifies the storytelling. My biggest surprise was the moment I emerged from the cinema onto the streets of London only to be assaulted by blasts of colour that for 100 minutes I had completely forgotten.