Black and White or Colour?

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December 22, 2012 by bck1402

It may be over a year ago, but this little bit just came to my attention.  So director Steven Soderbergh watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark in black and white. Five times a week. I think the five times a week isn’t a big deal, Raiders is a great adventure movie that warrants countless revisits. It was the black and white viewing that was intriguing.

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The nature of taking a modern movie and deciding that it’s better in black and white isn’t really an odd thing to me. When director Frank Darabont made The Mist, the eventual home video release presented the movie in two formats. The cinematic version that was commonly seen, and, as a bonus, a black and white version of the film – the director’s preferred version of the film.  Several directors do chose their mediums and Steven Spielberg did make Schindler’s List in black and white (for the most part). Then there was Good Night, And Good Luck, Sin City (with occasional dashes of colour) and most recently, The Artist (which went so far as to be a silent movie in this day and age). Christopher Nolan still prefers the grainy texture of film over digital film-making, while Peter Jackson is pushing for HFR 3D Digital film-making.

Of course, Douglas Trumbull was way ahead of them all with his Showscan concept. (see here for an example and here for a report from 1984) Something he tried to employ in BrainStorm,  but was unsuccessful.

It’s not that I make it a habit to turn the colour off when I’m watching a movie. I don’t mind black and white movies, especially if they were made that way. The original version of The Haunting (1963) is beautiful in black and white, as are the usual classics- Psycho, Citizen Kane, The Third Man, even Raging Bull and more.

In any case, after having a look at those for images from Raiders in black and white (and the accompanying video) I decided to check it out for myself. Instead of starting with Raiders, I popped in Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom into my player first. I got the movie going and muted the colour completely… and I couldn’t take my eyes of it. There wasn’t very much going for the opening scenes in Shanghai until they hit the streets, and we get a rather noir feel. Once we get to India, the stark black and white image really stood out, even more so once we head into the underground caverns of the Temple of Doom. Where reds ruled, we got high contrast black and white, and an old-fashioned pulp adventure going on. The cinematography of Douglas Slocombe practically sparkled with life.

When I moved on to Raiders of The Lost Ark, I became acutely aware of the mise en scène, the balance between light and dark, the back-lighting – and to think Slocombe didn’t use a light meter while shooting the movie. It was a whole other experience and not to say if it’s actually better or worse. It’s simply a different way of looking at the movie. Do I prefer it this way? Well, I have an appreciation for it. I did black and white photography in school, so I might be a little more aware of the nuances. Not to say that I don’t appreciate colour in a movie.

From an artistic standpoint, colour is varied. there are so many shades to play with and various emotions attached to those shades, but few movie-makers really employ colours as part of the narrative these days. The few that come to mind include the Three Colors Trilogy (Blue, White, Red) by Krzysztof Kieślowski, Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and of course, Zhang Yimou’s Hero. The last movie where the colours stood out was War Horse, although it was mostly towards the end with our characters silhouetted against  the majestic sunset sky glowing away. Not exactly narrative, but emotionally effective for the most part.

Still, I suppose that some movies are better in black and white.  Flavorwire has a list of some movies that are better in black and white, and I might agree on some of them. I know Out Of Sight is amazing, and the cinematography would benefit greatly by being in black and white. Can’t really say much for the others, but I might want to check them out. While Halloween is listed, I think John Carpenter’s The Thing would be a much better choice.

In any case, it’s an excuse to revisit a bunch of old movies.

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One thought on “Black and White or Colour?

  1. […] about Steven Soderbergh and his preference of Raiders Of The Lost Ark in black and white, that was back in December 2012. Well, Soderbergh has gone one further now in discussing cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s […]

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