Thursday, March 17, 2011

Black and White: The Power of A World Uncrowded By Color


Few movies have been as upfront with the use of symbolism as the 1998 film, American History X. A past of black and white against a present of color. Simplicity vs. Openness. Racism vs. Acceptance. Darkness vs. Brightness. With the widespread use of color that is placed throughout all our cinemas, highlighted on giant IMAX screens with 3D popping at our eyes, it is easy to forget the power that can be derived by using the most classic of cinematic techniques. You can transport people back to World War 2. Invest them in a world beyond imagination. Show them a man painted a freak by those who only see through a limited scope. Or just effectively use the limited resources you have available. While the world of bright colors may wow the eyes, the ability to effectively use black and white can own the mind. And for that I salute those directors that do so with such grace.


So, to beg the question - what are some of your favorite examples of modern films (for argument's sake I used 1980 as my 'base point') that use black and white to tell their tale?

17 better thoughts:

Jack L said...

One film is really missing from this list... Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, that film makes fantastic use of Black and White. The same goes for Jarmusch's Down By Law.
Also I would mention The White Ribbon.
Memento puts it to good use in some of it's scenes.

La Haine also deserves to be mentioned, it's a great film.

Lesya Khyzhnyak said...

Great question. Among those you mentioned (used images, actually), Schindler's List, Sin City. Unfortunaely, I haven't seen Ed Wood. I would also include in the list I'm Not There and Following.

Rich said...

Don't forget the Coens' 'The Man Who Wasn't There.' Great cinematography in that film.

Custard said...

"Memento" for me. I would have been lost in those alternate direction timelines with out the cue of using B&W for one and colour for the other.

American History X as you mentioned is another great example.

Nice post, that has got me thinking.

C

Univarn said...

@JackL In all honesty, I can't say I've seen a single Jarmusch film so there's the reason behind that. Memento I just completely forgot, no excuse there.

@Lesya I had to draw the line somewhere and those fell on the no inclusion side for me.

@Rich Haven't seen it, so I can't comment in that regard.

@Custard Definitely a good example, I just forgot about it when it came time to include it on the list.

Wicked Halo said...

I'd have to go with Luc Besson's Angel A...it makes Paris look gorgeous, which is kind of a cliché, but the stunning cinematography manages to make it fresh

Andrew Robinson said...

What ever happened to The Following?

Castor said...

Yea Memento is the first one that comes to mind although I think it's more of a trick, a visual aid to keep people from getting too confused ah

MERLIN EMBROIDERY said...

I'm a huge Sin City fan, but the use of color on the little girl's dress in Schindler's List is breathtaking. I'm a big fan of using color to highlight something in a black and white scene.

Univarn said...

@Wicked See, I agree Angel A is a beautiful film, but I didn't think it was a very good one....

@Andrew We 'took care of it.' If you imagine that with a thick italian mobster accent it makes more sense.

@Castor I would agree it's more of a visual aid, but still effective.

@Merlin I had thought of including Pleasantville where the blending of color and black and white was at an all time high.

Simon said...

I think Clerks just did Black and White because they didn't have money for color...

I quite like Good Night and Good Luck. Pretty, pretty pictures...

Candice Frederick said...

Ed Wood abd Sin City I think are two of my faves, for sure. it's a compelling gimmock, if done right.

Nikhat said...

Ed Wood, Control, Schindler's List, and Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes... made me see how coffee and cigarettes should only be shot in black and white.
In the colour-B&W mash-up thing, I LOVE PLEASANTVILLE...also how about the Crazy 88 scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1. It was so much more effective in B&W.

JL said...

Memento is one of my favorite movies of all time and that uses it nicely. Sin City did a great job at using black and white. And Schindler's List was an excellent use of using black and white and injecting that one bit of color. It was brilliant actually. Loved American History X as well. Overall, just a nice list.

@Nikhat
Pleasantville is another real good use of black and white as well as Kill Bill.

II thought Pi was a good black and white movie as well. Also, Good Night and Good Luck.

Univarn said...

@Simon I think so as well - but try and tell that to a lot of people these days and they wouldn't even bother trying to make the movie.

@Candice Much more compelling than 3D, when done right, in my book.

@Nikhat I was trying to find a picture of the Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill but I could only find color ones - defeating the whole point.

@JL Thanks. The red girl is so brief in Schindler's List but so perfect and powerful.

Colin said...

I'll go with The Man Who Wasn't There, The White Ribbon, Fail Safe and Good Night and Good Luck. I love Black & White movies....sigh

Tom Clift said...

What a great idea for a post. I wish more modern films used black and white photography.

I love all the examples you give, especially ED WOOD, SCHINDLERS LIST and CLERKS. Other great ones have already been mentioned by other commenter’s: MEMENTO (a visual aid, but an absolutely essential one), DEAD MAN and I think most brilliantly of all, PLEASANTVILLE. Not since WIZARD OF OZ has the transition between b&w and colour been so brilliantly incorporated from a story perspective.

From what I understand, the scene in KILL BILL is only in black and white to help the film avoid an NC-17 rating; in the Japanese release, the whole sequence is in colour. Somewhat ironically however, I agree with Nikhat in that it actually looks better in black and white

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