Study Guide

An American in Paris Production Design

Production Design

Technicolor

When it comes to color, An American in Paris really pops. Makes sense, right? After all, it's a movie about a struggling artist living in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

"In Glorious Technicolor"

The cinematic color palette in An American in Paris oozes tone and mood, and most of it's thanks to Technicolor, a dye transfer printing process that was all the rage in Hollywood from the 1920s to the 1950s. Nowadays, you rarely, if ever, see mention of a movie's filming process in its marketing, but back in the '50s, Technicolor was so drool-worthy that films like An American in Paris advertised it on their posters right alongside the film's stars. In An American in Paris, Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron bring the dancing, Oscar Levant brings the witty one-liners, and Technicolor brings the brilliant, saturated tones that make the movie sparkle.

The Alton Effect

Props for the rest of An American in Paris's glittering, gleaming color photography belong to cinematographer John Alton. Can you believe that he'd never worked with Technicolor—or much color at all, for that matter—before An American in Paris? You're shocked, we know.

Alton made a name for himself shooting gritty, black-and-white film noirs. You know, gangsters and detectives and shady ladies lurking around shadowy cities; films with titles like He Walked By Night and Bury Me Dead.

For those flicks, Alton's color palette was limited to only three colors—black, white, and gray—so he had to get creative. He got so creative, in fact, that he invented a new lighting system that generated super-high contrast shots (source). When he signed onto An American in Paris, he translated his innovative film noir skills to Technicolor.

Ultimately, Alton's lack of experience with Technicolor was his ace in the hole: he wasn't limited by any preconceived notions about what a cinematographer could, or could not, do with it. The result? A moody, striking film that dazzles your eyeballs.

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