Black and White

This is the place to talk about films from around the world.

Black and White

Postby Curt46n2 » Sun Nov 17, 2002 5:31 am

I just finished watching Kurosawa's RAN. One of the most striking things about this movie was its use of vivid, beautiful colors. I feel that it really added a lot to the film, and, for lack of a better word, "illuminated" Kurosawa's visuals. Actually, illuminate is the perfect word for the purpose color serves.

This got me thinking about people who prefer black and white visuals to colored. Jimmy Stewart went to congress to prevent old films from being remade with technicolor. I can't think of a single advantage of black and white visuals. Why didn't Kurosawa and other directors use color after it was available?

Re: Black and White

Postby wvq » Sun Nov 17, 2002 2:56 pm

I'll admit I'm not expert in this area--am I anywhere?--but I think the last question is fairly easily answered in some cases: some directors probably continued to use black and white, since it was cheaper. That, I suppose, was a primary motivation in a lot of decisions to use black and white rather than color.

The debate about whether black and white is better than color strikes me as about as pointless as the debate about whether silent film is better than sound film. The categories seem largely incommensurable: each has its benefits and drawbacks, and they do quite different things. It appears one would have to appeal to some overarching normative theory about film aethetics to make an argument on behalf of either black and white or color, and the arguments I've heard on this matter have all been quite jejune and unconvincing (e.g. film creates a dreamscape, and so black and white is better; film ought to be realistic, and so color is better; and so on). I'm sure people have come up with better reasons than these, but I've yet to encounter them.

Here's the only method I'd suggest for settling this (I think, silly) debate: go and look at the films themselves. To my eye, there are some visually magnificent color films that would gain nothing by being in black and white, and there are some equally beautiful films in black and white that would gain nothing from being in color. Take some lovely black and white films--for instance (and in no particular order), Ordet, Day of Wrath, Andrei Rublev, Queen Kelly, The Scarlet Empress, The Magnificent Ambersons, Ivan the Terrible, The Night of the Hunter, Sunrise, Tabu, L'Eclisse, L'Atalante, Last Year at Marienbad, Sansho the Bailiff, Ugetsu, The Life of Oharu, etc. Would they really gain anything by being in color? I fail to see how, and, moreover, I think they'd be likely to lose a lot of what is most distinctive about them--at least visually.

The evidence of the value of black-and-white cinematography is there on the screen. Just look.

Re: Black and White

Postby Gaz » Sun Nov 17, 2002 6:18 pm

I suppose it's easier to misuse colour film. I'm personally a big fan of black and white films. Part of their appeal is undoubtedly nostalgia for the past, but this is surely not the only thing that marks them apart from colour. Not being an expert (like wvq), I'd like to see what others think.

For a direct contrast, Lindsay Anderson's If.... is a film which intercuts b/w and colour film to remarkable effect - and reputedly because of restrictions on the film's budget. If you don't know it, check it out.

For me, colour is not at all essential to make a film enjoyable.

Re: Black and White

Postby katsuben » Mon Nov 18, 2002 7:30 am

i don't know if nostalgia is necessarily a function of B&W photography. Watching Bogie, for instance, has to deliver more nostalgic sensation than, say, watching Peter Coyote (in some b&w neo-noir that i fear to look up).

Re: Black and White

Postby Bacchus33 » Sat Dec 21, 2002 11:33 am

The argument that black and white film and lack of sound is a drawback to cinematic art is nonsensical.

Re: Black and White

Postby bigpoppa_2059 » Tue Jan 07, 2003 5:51 am

I CAN'T believe someone wanted to make certain classic B&W films and make them Technicolor or tint them with color. Can you imagine "Trouble in Paradise", "The Big Sleep" or "The Third Man" in color? Just breaks my heart to think of it.

Re: Black and White

Postby john-5 » Tue Jan 07, 2003 5:16 pm

Not for the first time, i'll second wvq- in support of b&w, and some excellent examples given (eg Dreyer and Mizoguchi). Watching the impeccable subtlety in the shades of white, cream, grey, exceptional lighting (and compositions) in Ordet again recently was an awe-inspiring experience. As Angelopoulos said of it, how can such perfection exist?

Would Raging Bull and Manhattan have been as good in colour? Doubtful.

Tarkovsky made superb use of a mixture of colour and b&w (and desaturation..)- i'm surprised that relatively few directors have followed his example.

Of course, i love the use of colour, too, by directors like Godard and Rohmer- glorious primaries. Kobayashi's Kwaidan, and Mizoguchi's Tales of the Taira Clan are also wonderful to behold. Surely there's room for all the possibilities of cinema being explored, nothing excluded.

Return to Film Talk

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest