Filmic Frames of Yellow

In Hollywood, films symbolically associated with the colour yellow usually seem to refer to the period roughly 1940-1965. This is the era that we see the ‘Hitchcock Blondes’ of Grace Kelly, Eve Marie Saint, Tippi Hendren etc. The figure of the blonde has been analysed as having many meanings. Blondeness is stereotypically associated in popular culture with youth, fragility, naivety and lack of intelligence. This of course has been perpetuated by Hollywood through the film’s and perceived behaviour of the original ‘dumb blonde’ Marilyn Monroe. She is probably the most famous filmic blonde of this time, enhanced by popular images of her being recreated as seen in the famous ‘Pop Art’ Andy Warhol screen print.

The Misfits

My favourite Marilyn film is The Misfits [DVD] [1961]which was written by her soon to be ex-husband Arthur Miller (a favourite playwright of mine). The Misfits is the last film Monroe made before she died and is interesting because it shows a different side to Marilyn and I think also provides evidence that she was a good actress and more intelligent than people thought. This film is also doused in melancholy, it is shot in black and white with Marilyn playing a divorcee who seems to drift from one troubled relationship to another which Marilyn portrays extremely well, no doubt because echoes of this were found in her real life.

For more of a strong blonde figure you cannot beat in my opinion Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity [DVD] [1944] I have written about this film before in the following blog post. Stanwyck’s fierce attitude and confidence seeps through this character and though her actions are negative (manipulation, murder, deception) she represents at least a strong and intelligent blonde character in film and TV that aside from the independent sector did not really get represented in such a way again in mainstream Hollywood films. It is a great counterpoint to for instance the character of Krystle Carrington, in Dynasty – Complete Season 1-9 [DVD] [1980] who played with relish the stereotypical unintelligent and submissive blonde. Though this 1940-50s period of film noir also had its range of brunette femme fatales too seems to me to be associated with the colour yellow forever more.

In more recent times, films such as L.A. Confidential [1997] [DVD] set in the early 1950s, references the blonde as a femme fatale figure with Kim Basinger playing this role. Also suits worn by characters referencing that film noir period such as Jim Carrey in The Mask [DVD] [1994] and Dick Tracy [DVD] [1990]are bright yellow. Of course in more recent years the costume worn by Uma Thurman’s charcter in The Kill Bill Collection [DVD]  is also bright yellow but I think something different is going on with this as it is a Tarrantino movie and pastiche-y in nature this costume is clearly referencing Brue Lee’s costume in Game Of Death [DVD] his last film, especially as the character performs martial arts. I am by no means an expert on film costume and history but if you are interested in learning about this in more depth then please see the excellent website Clothes on Film which has a huge amount of information on this subject.

The Wizard of Oz

Of course one mention of the use yellow is the classic yellow brick road in The Wizard Of Oz – 75th Anniversary Edition [DVD] [1939]All of the colours in Oz are vivid, you have emerald city, the red slippers, Dorothy’s blue dress and red hair, the yellow brick road, the green Wicked Witch of the West. So in this use of colour I think it was most likely used to serve to appeal to children and as a contrast to the black and white Kansas scenes before.

Overall, then the use of yellow in films is varied and seems to be re-referenced in modern films in a kind of a cartoony pastiche-y way. If you have any examples of yellow in films or think we have missed something then get in touch.

Youthful yellow – CLC for Young People

Hello I’m Grace, I’m joining the team and I’m starting with the theme this month with the  colour yellow.

I really like the colour yellow, some shades are bright and vibrant though some are peaceful and make you want to go to sleep.

Minions, Despicable Me 1 and 2

I have thought about the colour yellow and the first thing that came to mind was the Minions from Despicable Me/Despicable Me 2 [DVD] [2013]The minions have also cast in the Minions Movie soon to be released.

Minions are a very bold shade of yellow and the are very amusing. I love them because they are meant to be evil though the minions try to be evil like Gru wants they are actually really good-hearted.

For those of you who do not know what minions are, they are stubby creatures, they wear little denim dungarees and thick, glass goggles (some of them have one eye some have two). They’re also really cute and make geeky accessories. I am thinking of being a minion for the upcoming festival, Halloween!

Friendly Floatees from Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Another thing that came to mind when I thought of the colour yellow was the Friendly Floatees. Friendly Floatees consist of a number of different plastic bath toys, the most famous of which are the yellow bath ducks. They were used by a man called Curtis Ebbesmayer who released them into the Pacific Ocean to discover the different currents of the ocean and how this would affect lost cargo at sea.

I first came across the Friendly Floatees when I watched the film Lost and Found [DVD] which is an animated version of the Oliver Jeffers book of the same name. I loved this peaceful story of a boy and his pet penguin who go to sea in a small boat and have to face many challenges in the ocean on their long journey as the boy wishes to bring the penguin back to its home in Antarctica.

So yellow reminds me of a lot of things, from small yellow computer animated characters to rubber ducks lost in the ocean. We’d love to know what yellow reminds you of in the comments below.

Yellowing pages of literature…

Yellow appears at first to be a colour associated in the human mind with sickness and decay probably due to conditions such as jaundice. In literature, yellow is a colour that heavily identifies with the late nineteenth century as seen in the lurid covers of penny dreadful and Fu Manchu novels. The first edition cover of Dracula was yellow as I witnessed in last year’s excellent Gothic Exhibition at the British Library.

Yellow seems to have a particular association with horror in that yellow eyes which are reptilian or cat-like in nature which can be alarming when seen in a human face, something used to great effect in horror stories and films in particular. Of course the obvious famous one is in the Thriller video, which uses yellow cat eyes to great effect.

I am drawn to all things Gothic in culture and have been since a child, I think that this may be due to some of my favourite books being the Ladybird Horror Classics and their fantastic illustrations which were quite scary. These are being re-issued with different illustrations though which I am guessing will be less scary. However, the Classical Comics issue of Dracula The Graphic Novel: Original Text (British English) is definitely recommended though is suitable for older children and adults (secondary school age).

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

We see this association between shades of yellow and Gothic and horror most noticeably in the late nineteenth century through The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This seminal text has been extensively studied and is heralded as a key early feminist text. I recently re-read this and though it is a short story it is a very powerful one. It seethes with the frustration and repressed anger of a woman confined to a house then a room which is covered in the most hideous yellow wallpaper. She describes the wallpaper colour as:

“…repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow…It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.” pg 13

This further cements the association of yellow and sickness. Here this association is with mental health, as the protagonist has postnatal depression and psychosis. The more that this lady is confined both physically and mentally the more that she becomes obsessed with studying the wallpaper and she starts to believe that the wallpaper is a porous membrane that smells and gets into her hair and on her clothes. She describes it as being like a fungus that spreads. More disturbingly she believes that the wallpaper moves and shakes from the force of a woman hidden behind the wallpaper and that the woman is trying to break through. She sometimes sees this woman creeping around the garden.

(SPOILER) Of course by the end of the story the woman of course has gone mad herself and what she hallucinated as seeing was in fact herself, she rips off the wallpaper from the walls and locks her husband out of the room, becomes agoraphobic and starts to behave just as she saw ‘the other woman’ doing:

“I don’t want to go outside…for outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.” pg 35

So what drove the woman to this state? Well she was ill before, but the conditions of her treatment, confining her to a room not being allowed to read or write which she desperately wants to do are seen as mitigating factors and these treatments are prescribed by her husband, a doctor who believes that he knows best and is superior to his wife in every way. He refers to her in demeaning terms such as “little girl” and tells her to “Bless her heart!” which would be annoying enough but he also tells her he knows what is best for her and that if she wants to get well, she will need to rest completely, which in his terms means to sleep excessively and to be confined to a room with no music, no literature, no exercise or fresh air. Of course,  this treatment is the very thing that tips her over edge into complete madness. I think the use of yellow as an ageing colour of fungus and decay is meant to represent the spread of insanity in her mind.

The female protagonist (of whom we never learn her name to show her powerlessness) clearly knows that this treatment is not right but she cannot protest too much against her husband as he is dominant and clearly has more power. You can see why this text was ‘re-discovered’ during the 1970s feminist movement, and as we know today the value of occupational, art based and other therapies for those that have mental health conditions we can clearly see how a ‘treatment programme’ such as this would tip people over the edge. Another reason that this book is interesting is that it seems to say that no matter how rich a woman was it did not make her free if she was married and a mother, where she was chained to her husband and children.

So yellow, has many connotations with the Gothic in literature and a particular affiliation with the late nineteenth centuries. If you agree or don’t then please get in touch and let us know.

“Yellow” in History

Yellow is a bit of an paradox. On the one hand, it is often seen as the colour of warmth, the colour that is most associated with the sun. It is a colour of the leaves changing with the seasons, a colour of autumn. The other side is a colour of danger, with warning signs often employing the use of it. It is also associated with negative traits such as with the slang term “yellow-bellied” meaning coward. With all these different associations it may be interesting to look at cases in history where it has been used.

Yellow for good: Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

It may be taken for granted nowadays with an extensive array of colours available for even the amateur artist. However, it was not always the case, with many colours being unavailable or a lot more expensive. It was thanks to chemists of the 19th century that discovered the colour Chromium Yellow, as well as other newer pigments that gave new creative possibilities for the artist. Chromium Yellow, was a key colour in the painting of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Sunflowers. The painting shows a great use of the colour and gives the picture quite a striking warm feel to it. The sunflowers appear to have a warm glow to them that evokes in the viewer a great impression of the flowers. In a perhaps unlikely pairing it appears the new technology of the time gave new tools for artistic expression and made this painting, amongst others, possible.

Van Gogh created quite a few different paintings of sunflowers, one of the most famous (shown below) can be seen in the National Gallery in London.

Vincent Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1888
Vincent Van Gogh. Sunflowers, 1888

Yellow for bad: “Yellow” Fever

Yellow is also seen in a bad way. This is especially true in the case of “Yellow” Fever. A virus with a survival rate of only 50%! Thankfully, now, there is a vaccination that people can have, but it was not always so.The prevalence of Yellow Fever comes from the time where there was an emerging contact of European people with indigenous people in tropical places of the Americas. It was mainly European who experienced the lethal effects of the disease as indigenous people had a natural resistance to this disease, and would only experience relatively minor symptoms of it. It was a considerable problem for many settlements and outbreaks would happen for several years, a notable example being the outbreaks in Buenos Aires in Argentina. Outbreaks being in 1852, 1858, 1870 and 1871.
Often the problem of the disease worsened over time; as the area became more developed the disease often became more prolific as de-forestation would impact the environment by reducing the natural predators of the disease-harbouring mosquitos.
It would not be until 1937, when Max Theiler would develop a vaccination for yellow fever which would prevent the disease from being caught by many people.

Juan Manuel Blanes. Episode of Yellow Fever, 1871

Final Thoughts

Yellow has both good and bad connotations in history. It would be interesting to hear what you most associate the colour yellow with. If you know of any historical associations with yellow, please let us know in the comments below.

“Yellow” in Gardening

When we contemplate yellow we feel it represents hope, warmth and promise. Yellow is a warm colour; in nature it is flaunted by the rising sun, golden fields of ripe wheat and bold, beautiful sunflowers.


Because of Yellow’s associations with wellbeing, good fortune and wisdom it is a colour which is much loved in the gardening world.

Being displayed by many flowers, plants and of course by the sun it becomes clear that yellow is an abundant colour throughout the year but as we now begin to head into autumn many leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs will now be beginning to turn yellow as they start their winter rest.

This autumn time of harvest and reflection on the growing season coming to a close allows us to take stock of how certain plants have performed, how some have exceeded our expectations and how others have failed to meet them. However its vital that we stop and take a few moments to appreciate the autumn colours we see around us in parks and gardens especially at this time of year.

Despite yellow being rather plentiful in the garden throughout the year it is probably autumn when it is most apparent.


Yellow creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) has a reputation for being invasive but despite this they have vivid yellow flowers that in many ways are quite beautiful.

Overall yellow has a long history and appears in many aspects of nature.