Sunday, November 30, 2003

Black (and white) is beautiful!

The use of black and white film was so important in the history of cinema. Color was actually invented fairly early on, but many films continued to be shot in black and white, as it was considered to be the proper medium for certain kinds of films, particularly the more "serious" stories.

Film noir would never have happened without black and white film. Can you imagine "The Maltese Falcon" or "Kiss Me Deadly" or "The Third Man" in color? The palette of grays reflected the darkness of the world and the souls of the characters. The world of color is a happier world, a more beautiful one -- the world of cartoons, fluffy comedies and musicals. The world of black and white is a world of pain, misery and despair.

There are so many more...the great films of Orson Welles ("Citizen Kane," "Touch of Evil," "The Trial") and Alfred Hitchcock ("Shadow of a Doubt," "Notorius"), classic westerns like "Stagecoach," "Rio Bravo" and "Red River"...even holiday gems like "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street."

Not a one of those films was harmed by being shot in black and white -- they're helped by it! And let me say again, for virtually all of those, the director (and cinematographer) made a conscious decision to use black and white rather than color. They knew the film would work better that way.

For a more contemporary example, look at "Raging Bull," the only film that truly captures the brutality of boxing and the men (and women) who inhabit that world. In color, you have "Rocky" black and white, you have a masterpiece.

You'll never see a mainstream film in black and white these days. (Only Spielberg and Scorsese have gotten away with it in the past 20 years.) That's a shame, too. But the great unwashed won't go see least that's what the Hollywood suits tell us.