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The Color Wheel Move Critique


Directed by Alex Ross Perry in 2011, the movie The Color Wheel fits well within the confines of the French New Wave films. The movie chronicles sibling war between a sister and brother on their way to Boston from Pennsylvania.

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The French New Wave aspects portrayed in this film include editing, shooting on location and natural sounds, low-budgets and improvised plot and dialogue coupled with the anti-authoritarian protagonist. This paper explores the movie, The Color Wheel, based on the French New Wave characteristics aforementioned.

Color Wheel from the perspective of the French New Wave films

The movie’s plot and dialogue are poor. Scott notes that The Color Wheel “remains, in my estimation, a singularly unpleasant movie: full of obnoxious characters in scenes that seem overwritten and under-rehearsed, oblivious to the most basic standards of tonal consistency, narrative coherence or visual decorum” (48). The scenes are uncoordinated, and the actors appear to have rehearsed poorly as the audience struggles to follow the plot.

The movie seems so disorganized that the Sundance Film Festival turned it down. The story line is open-ended, and the audience cannot tell the climax or the anticlimax. Also, the structure is loose with unpolished ends, which is a characteristic of the French New Wave films. In this form of films, the characters are normally young males handling personal crises.

Similarly, in The Color Wheel, Colin is a confused and bigoted young man who does not know exactly what he wants in life. Scott observes that Colin is “a virtual caricature of male ineffectuality – whiny, passive-aggressive, and pointlessly sarcastic” (48). He does nothing for a living, and he stays at home. He taunts his sister due to her emotional attachment to her ex-lover whom she keeps on referring to as “the professor.”

The characters in the movie are best described as ‘failures’ because none of them has achieved anything meaningful in life. Even though J.R aspires to be a ‘TV girl,’ she has failed terribly. She cannot even sustain a healthy relationship, hence her fall out with the professor. In the French New Wave movies, characters are chaotic, and this aspect stands out clearly in the movie The Color Wheel as explored above.

Also, the shooting of the movie only took 18 days, which resonates well with the French New Wave movies as they are shot within short durations. This aspect explains why the dialogue and the plot are incoherent and inconsistent. Such movies are poorly rehearsed and planned, and such aspects are very clear in The Color Wheel.

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On editing, the French New Wave movies are normally disjointed. The continuous flow of events is largely missing in this form of films. This technique is deliberate as the director seeks to get the audiences’ attention through jump cuts throughout the casting. Nichols posits, “A jump cut is a mismatch, in which the shift from one shot to the next fails to maintain smooth continuity in space or time” (46).

Lanthier points out, “Perry’s films start as vague—maybe even shoddy—interpretations of other narratives before deteriorating into something that looks more like self-portraiture” (par.8). The Color Wheel takes the audience through a horrible time as one strives to understand the events. The sibling acceptance in the third scene is misplaced similarly to the high school reunion, which occurs towards the close of the movie.

Conventionally, in movies, the editing section deals with removing the unnecessary lapses and details that might have occurred during the shooting. However, in this movie, the editors did very little to edit the dialogue and the flow. Nevertheless, these aspects are expected to manifest in the French New Wave movies. Therefore, The Color Wheel fits perfectly in the definition of the French New Wave characteristics based on the poor editing aspect.

Another outstanding characteristic of the French New Wave in The Color Wheel is the budgetary restrictions. Conventionally, in French New Wave movies, budget allocations are normally low. This aspect was occasioned by the financial crunch, which swept across France after the Second World War. Due to the financial constraints, the movie industry was allocated minimal funds, and thus movie directors resorted to personal financing.

In The Color Wheel, Perry, the director, used personal savings and contributions from friends and relatives to finance the shooting. Perry decided to direct this movie immediately after school, and so he did not have the connections to get funding. Also, given the bizarre plot of the movie, most financiers would have turned him down.

Perry noted, “I’ve never understood the lack of risk-taking in this milieu of films that are self-financed…Anybody who’s asking their family or friends for help to make their film: Why wouldn’t you make that film as crazy and personal as possible?” (Scott 48). Consequently, The Color Wheel fits into the confines of the French New Wave based on its low budget aspect.

Shoot on location and natural sounds is the other conspicuous aspect of The Color Wheel, which resonates with the French New Wave techniques. The movie is shot in black and white with a natural background as opposed to the modern studio shootings. In The Color Wheel, the director chose 16mm-handheld black and white Kodak. This aspect makes the screening very shaky and unstable throughout the movie.

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At one point, the audience confuses the scenes with raw shootings from Natural Geographic filming where documentary makers have to shoot wild animals on the move. The movie depends largely on natural aesthetics, and perhaps Perry used this style to stand out from the mainstream movie making, which depends hugely on modern technology with powerful cameras and colorful studios.

As opposed to this aspect of modernity, Perry uses a simple handheld camera and shoots every scene on location without changing the background natural sound; hence, this aspect fits The Color Wheel into the French New Wave cinematography.

Finally, in the French New Wave techniques, the director doubles as the protagonist. Also, the protagonist is anti-authoritarian. In The Color Wheel, Perry, the director, doubles as one of the protagonists, viz. Colin. This aspect fulfills the first requirement of the French New Wave techniques. The movie has two protagonists, viz — Colin and his sister JR. The two protagonists are anti-authoritarian, and this aspect explains why they take on each other.

They humiliate, curse, racially abuse each other, and resort to all manner of verbal insults as each sees the other as an unnecessary authority. Arguably, JR falls out with his “professor” lover because she cannot stand any form of authority. She has failed miserably in pursuing her journalism dream because apparently, her anti-authoritarian nature cannot allow her to take instructions in a learning setting.

On the other side, Colin gives up on his writing dream, apparently for the same reasons as his sister. He cannot take instructions and even accompanying her sister on a road trip does not come naturally because to him, it amounts to giving in to some form of authority.

Arguably, Colin decides to fall in love with a lame girlfriend because, technically, he is “complete” and thus more authoritative as compared to his lover. At one point, he takes on his girlfriend by reminding her that she does not have any siblings, and thus, she cannot relate to what he is going through. Therefore, from this perspective, the movie, The Color Wheel, falls in the French New Wave category.


The movie The Color Wheel by Alex Ross Perry borrows heavily from the aspects of the French New Wave cinematography. The director is one of the protagonists, and he is anti-authoritarian together with his sister, JR, who doubles as the other protagonist. The movie’s plot is uncoordinated, as it has numerous flow gaps, and thus, the audience struggles to follow through the disjointed occurrences. Also, the movie is poorly edited, which is an outstanding characteristic of the French New Wave films.

On budgetary allocations, the director relied on contributions from friends and family members, and thus the movie had budget restrictions. Finally, the movie uses to shoot on location and natural sounds without editing. As opposed to the modern filmmaking technologies, the French New Wave filmmaking does not use colorful studios and powerful cameras. Therefore, the movie The Color Wheel falls perfectly into the category of the French New Wave films.

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Works Cited

Lanthier, Joseph. The Color Wheel 2012. Web.

Nichols, Bill. Engaging Cinema: An Introduction to Film Studies, New York: Norton, 2010. Print.

Scott, Allan. “Are we there yet? On the road, sibling rivalry that reveals no limits: ‘The Color Wheel’.” The New York Times 17 May. 2012: 48. Print.

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