I was at a summer program a couple of years ago where I stayed at a University for five weeks and had tons of different things to participate in. Every Sunday after the first week, they had a film screening, and the very first one was Dr. Strangelove, which was my first experience with a black and white film from that era. I remember being taken by the cinematography, especially the lighting in camera angles within the war room. So began my love for black and white films. After I came home, I found my Blu-Ray of Logan and realized that the Blu-Ray contained an alternate cut of the film that was edited to be in black and white, titled Logan Noir. I had already seen the film in theatres, and it’s still one of my favorite films, and the black and white aesthetics add so much to Logan for me. I adore the contrasting shades in the shots, and quiet moments feel quainter. James Mangold’s film started as a tribute to the Western genre, and the black and white edit makes the movie feel even more like a western classic.
Roma Roma, photo by Carlos Somonte, courtesy of Netflix
I think modern filmmakers underestimate what a monochrome approach can add to your film. Sure, not every modern movie would work in black and white, but so many could benefit from the atmosphere, tension, or charm that’s brought with the removal of color. Schindler’s List perfectly captures a dark retelling of truth, and the black and white palette (with a little color to highlight essential figures) transport the viewer to this despairing historical setting. Roma dives into the life of a woman through a somehow transparent lens, the intimate tale is told through a relentlessly distant eye and blank color. In contrast, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War captures a quaint, fantastical love story in the era of Polish Communism with stark black and white cinematography. The monochrome palette in all of these films add depth to realism as well as create a fantastical, golden-age cinema tribute.
The horror and thriller genre, however, could especially benefit from a return to monochrome. Frank Darabont’s The Mist, a passion product he spent decades dreaming of creating, has been overlooked since its release, with Stephen King fans (and King himself) championing it and the cinema-savvy only familiar with it thanks to its notoriously tragic final moments. The film is already haunting and tense, yet a true love letter to the movie monster craze of the 1950s. Then Darabont released his Director’s Cut of the film, which was simply the same movie with a monochromatic edit. The black and white cut added another sinister layer to the proceedings. The monster effects looked better, the mist itself was somehow scarier, the lack of color in the bright supermarket that once was made it feel even more isolated. I knew when I watched the black and white cut that this was Darabont’s true vision, and The Mist is undoubtedly his masterpiece.
The Mist, courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Often, producers believe that audiences just don’t want to see black and white films anymore. The past few years have proven that wrong. With Roma and Cold War, as well as monochrome rereleases of Logan and Mad Max: Fury Road all receiving high praise from fans, it’s hard to argue against the continuation of black and white cinema. Whether you use the color technique to tribute the bygone eras (see Ed Wood and The Artist) or to add an extra layer to your own ideas, narratives, and motifs (see The Mist and Memento). Monochrome is making a big comeback, and I hope audiences grow to appreciate its ability to shape a film. I know it’s grown on me, and I hope I can make a great black and white movie someday.
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