“… through shot and shell, we’ll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.”
A few years ago I made the flags of Freedonia and Sylvania, the two fictional quasi-Eastern-European countries set to war with each other for no apparent reason in the 1933 Marx brothers film Duck Soup. Obviously the colours are conjectural since the film is monochrome. The Sylvanian colours were chosen as being akin to the flags of countries like Slovakia or Croatia, although their stripes are horizontal instead of vertical. A few Islamic countries have the Freedonian green prominent in them, but so do distinctly un-Islamic Ireland and Italy. It’s interesting that there are hundreds of real national flags but the overwhelming majority of them use the same very limited palette. The Freedonian flag appears to be a very consistent mid-grey in the film, which also suggests that it was really green. Film and television sets for shooting on black and white film were sometimes painted in shades of green because human vision is particularly good at distinguishing different hues, shades and intensities of green, much more so than shades of grey; this, plus the wavelengths to which B&W film was particularly sensitive, meant that the set designer and director of photography could be reasonably confident that they’d get the range of grey tones right on film if they’d got the green tones right on the set.
I recall scrutinising the film for the few brief, indistinct glimpses of the flags and insignia. I no longer have any idea why I did so. Maybe to do with an art project comparing the absurd war in that film to the absurd wars of our real present, something, something… I don’t know. Sometimes artistic projects get abandoned for a reason.