Tuesday, December 16, 2008

5-4-T: Colorfully Colorless

There are some people I know that refuse to watch black and white movies. It isn't simple prejudice. Generally it's because they don't want to watch anything older than the 1960s. Heck, maybe most of them won't watch anything older than the 1990s, but whatever the reason, the lack of color turns them off right away. In today's Five For Tuesday, we examine modern movies left intentionally colorless, and the impact of that decision.

Honorable Mention) Clerks
Really, I just wanted to include the below scene. Obviously this was done for cost reasons, but if the movie were in color all the amateur acting would have stood out that much more, right?

5) Good Night and Good Luck
When they showed test audiences screenings of George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, they felt the actor portraying Joseph McCarthy was overdoing it, stretching the bounds of believability. Unfortunately for history's sake, that was no actor, but actual footage of the senator from Minnesota. Had this film been in color, all verisimilitude would have gone right out the window. To correctly place the events in their time in history, B&W was the only way to go.

4) The Man Who Wasn't There
The Coen Brothers have long traded in the world of Film Noir, but in their purest homage to the genre yet, they chose to limit Roger Deakins' considerable talents to blacks, whites and grays only. That didn't harm Roger at all as he won the AFI award for cinematography and was still nominated for an Oscar. Given Billy Bob Thornton's bland main character, removing all the color from the film put all of his minimal actions (mainly just sitting there and smoking) in stark relief. It also effectively placed the film in 1950s America.

3) Manhattan
One of Woody Allen's most acclaimed features, Manhattan is part ode to his city and part lament for all the humanity residing there just trying to get through it all. The opening montage shows off the city in glorious fashion, but when the characters are forced to deal with one another and their own failings, the lack of color makes it seem all the more personal and intimate. After all, "we're just people."

2) Schindler's List
Putting the film in black and white not only effectively entrenched its place in historic terms, it made it more palatable. Because had all its gruesome details played out in color, it would have been far too much for most filmgoers to take. Black and white in this case allowed viewers to witness the film as the episode in history it was intended to be and be detached enough to make their way through it.

1) Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks has plenty of fans. I'm honestly not one of them. But in Young Frankenstein, he struck gold. His most hilarious movie from start to finish, it's one of the best spoof pictures ever made. In color, the film would have failed to adequately set up the gags. In an oblique way, the movie feels like it could have been made right after the 1931 classic.

So what's your favorite modern-day B&W movie?


David K Roberts said...

You HAVE to include Darren Arronofky's pi as one of the freat modern day Black and White...

an honorable mention is Nadja... a vampire movie starring Christopher Walken with Portishead songs for most of the soundtrack

Reed said...

Pi was on the maybe list, but I made the (perhaps incorrect) assumption that it was B&W because of budgetary reasons (much like Clerks). Hardest cut for me was Dead Man. Hmmmm. Never heard of Nadja, but you certainly make it sound intriguing.

Kozy said...

I think this list is right on, with the exception of The Man Who Wasn't There. I know you like this flick, but it left me unaffected. I found it slow and boring.

My suggested replacement is Sin City. A beautifully shot film that is both exciting and groundbreaking.

Overall a good list!

Reed said...

Sin City was on the short list, but didn't make the cut because they did put some color into it, so it didn't qualify. Excellent suggestion, though.