Thursday, March 23, 2017

Black and White

Although film makers were attempting to make colour films during the early 1900s (further information from the dubious world of Wikipedia...), it wasn't proven to be hugely successful until the late '30s with mainstream movies like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. Throughout the following couple of decades, studios toyed with both colour and black & white and, quite often, it was more a case of budgetary constraint rather than artistic choice to plump for the standard monochrome.

Below are just a handful of films made in the 1960s and beyond whose directors and producers deliberately chose to film in black & white for varying reasons. The lack of full-colour does not distract from the drama, excitement or entertainment one jot. (This is a mere selection of a multitude of monochrome movies from the last sixty years. A list of films from 1970 and beyond can be found here.


Alfred Hitchcock - 1960

An absolute masterpiece. Hitchcock made this film on a budget with the television crew from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His reasons for filming in B&W were partly for budgetary constraints but also to get away with bloody murder in the shower scene (censors were less squeamish if they couldn't see red!)


Roman Polanski - 1965

Polanski's first English Language film and, to my mind, another masterpiece. Yes, the choice for B&W was to keep the costs down, but the coldness and bleakness convey the isolation and sexual apprehension of Carol Ledoux (played to perfection by Catherine Deneuve).

Ed Wood

Tim Burton - 1991

Without doubt, Tim Burton's best film. It's a love letter to Hollywood and the dreams of a desperately eager yet pitifully untalented fellow. The lack of colour merely pays tribute to the era.

Schindler's List

Steven Spielberg - 1993

This story just had to be B&W. It's bleak. It's harrowing. It's cold. The flash of red we see in the form of the little girl's coat highlights the individuality of the lives lost rather than just see the holocaust as a faceless blanket of death.

The Mist

Frank Darabont - 2007

It was always Frank Darabont's wish to have this Stephen king adaptation seen by audiences in B&W but the fearful, greedy studios were concerned about the box office. Thankfully, the blu-ray release has Frank's original vision in tact. I refuse to watch the colour version.

The Elephant Man

David Lynch - 1980

David Lynch is synonymous with eerie and dreamlike storytelling. His other films are incredibly colourful and the spectrum for each movie plays an integral part of the narrative. Surprisingly, it was the film's producer, Mel Brooks, who persuaded Lynch to do this film in B&W.

Down by Law

Jim Jarmusch - 1986

I only saw this film for the first time a couple of years ago (thanks to the insistence of my friend Dan). To be honest, I don't know exactly why Jim Jarmusch chose to film in B&W, but I am so glad he did. The monochrome (again) evokes the isolation of the main characters and also brings that jazzy New Orleans vibe to life.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Robert Aldrich - 1962

Another classic. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford loathed each other in real life and that dramatic tension was brought to the fore in this grand guignol chiller. Once more, the B&W gives it the Hollywood homage tone and also highlights the duality and contrast between the two leading roles... and all the grey in between.

The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius - 2011

This one is pretty self-explanatory, I think. A sort of distant cousin of Singin' in the Rain and an absolutely beautiful tribute to the silent era of Hollywood. Pure magic.

Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks - 1974

One of Mel Brooks' most loved films and a joyful comedy played to perfection by the leads. Again, it doesn't take much imagination to consider why Mel chose to go with B&W here...

Night of the Living Dead

George A Romero - 1968

Yep. I think it's safe to say budget played a huge part here - but how serendipitous. Just like Hitchcock, Romero used chocolate sauce for the blood, so in the cases of this and Psycho the monochrome disguises the charade and the effect is crucial.

There are so many more one could mention but this is a mere selection. Who says black & white films are boring, eh? Fools, that's who!

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