IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE

Thoughts on colorful movies shot in B&W by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

If I asked you to list your favorite movies, what would they be?  Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Transformers?  Maybe Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man or Captain America?  Is it a 3D Surround Sound, computer enhanced spectacular? Or just fast and furious?  Do special effects and color make a movie great? Or might it be a brilliant script and amazing performances?

If you’re under 30, does your list include anything in black-and-white?  If you’re under 20, have you seen a black-and-white movie?

That’s right, black-and-white movies, like black-and-white photographs, have no colors, just shades of gray covering the gray-scale. It may seem to some that black-and-white movies were only made because color was not perfected until later, but that’s not true. Long after color was standard for all kinds of film, some directors chose black-and-white.

Some shot in black-and-white to evoke a feeling of another time and place. Raging Bull, the break-out performance for Robert DeNiro in 1980 was shot in black-and-white to evoke the era of Jake La Motta, the boxer and film’s subject.

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning Schindler’s List was done in black and white not only to make it feel like a World War II movie, but also to emphasize the darkness of the subject matter. American History X, Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories, The Elephant Man, all were made in black-and-white for effect, for mood, for a certain cinematographic grittiness. If you never heard of any of the aforementioned, in 2012, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to The Artist, filmed in black and white to recall another age.

casablanca-poster

Here are my top 5 black and white movies. These are required viewing before you report back next week: Casablanca is definitely number one. I know some will tell you that Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time. I watched it. I liked it. I have no need of seeing it again. I could watch Casablanca over and over.

Set during World War II, it’s the story of an American (Humphrey Bogart) who fell in love with a beauty (Ingrid Bergman) in Paris.  Forced to flee when the Nazis invaded, he is stood up at the train station by the woman he loves as the rain pours down. He winds up running a casino in Casablanca amidst a cast of shady characters … when guess who shows up? The movie includes one of the great movies songs of all time, As Time Goes By. And before you ask, Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.”

As a child, Psycho scared the heck out of me in the theater. It was one of many Alfred Hitchcock classics filmed in black-and-white. Anthony Perkins gave a deliciously creepy performance as the proprietor of the Bates Motel. If you have seen any other version of this classic, you wasted your time. See the original! Perkins reprises the role a number of times in sequels after he was typecast as a weirdo psychopath. Too bad; he was a solid actor.

When the Music Box Theater in Chicago was restored and started showing vintage movies, I took my mother to see Sunset Boulevard. We had both seen it on our wonderful 19-inch, black-and-white television. This was a chance to see a restored print in a restored theater. Writer William Holden is found dead, floating in a swimming pool. The story plays out mostly in flashback.

Silent film star Gloria Swanson, appropriately plays a former silent film star and manages to chew up the scenery in a fabulous performance. A list of Hollywood notables make cameos, including H.B. Warner in the Paramount film, song writers Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who wrote music for the movie), and Cecil B. DeMille. As Norma Desmond would famously say, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

highnoon2

High Noon is everything a western should be. The town marshal is going to resign — on his wedding day — when bad news arrives. A dangerous outlaw is coming to town, and the new marshal has not yet arrived. The old marshal appears to be no match for the younger guy he had earlier put in jail. Gary Cooper distinguished himself as the sheriff willing to face down the bad guy even if it costs him his life. An A-List of Hollywood stars passed up the chance to make this movie for which Cooper won the Academy Award.

The movie genre that used black-and-white, light and shadows for maximum effect was (is) the detective story. The shine of a street light through a window that throws a shadow on the floor which contains the lines of the window frame and perhaps the detective’s name help to create the scene. Black-and-white emphasizes composition, shadow and light, contrast and mood in ways color can’t.

Top movie of this type is The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart chasing his partner’s killer and the elusive Maltese Falcon. It costars Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, both of whom will turn up a year later with Bogart in Casablanca. The ending has one of the dumbest movie speeches, but paradoxically, one of the great closing lines. Altogether, it’s a great movie.

Stay In The Car and Other Classic Lines – Marilyn Armstrong

In the spirit of clichés that pop out of the mouths of Our Heroes with alarming frequency, despite the fact that they have become standing jokes for the audience (apparently nobody mentioned this to the script writers), our personal favorite in this house is “Stay in the car.”

On the NBC TV series “Chuck.” it’s a gag line. Unfortunately, on most shows it is supposed to be real dialogue  and not cause hilarity … but it does. Every time.

I checked on Subzin, a movie database that lets you enter a piece of dialogue, then reports in how many and in the specific movies where you’ll find it. According to Subzin, “Stay in the car”  can be found in 356 phrases from 296 movies and series. Yet, they continue to use it.

Lethal Weapon 2: (1989)

uses the line a lot.

Then, there’s  Last Action Hero (1993), my favorite Arnold Schwarznegger movie in which the line is understood to be a cliché , which is more than you can say for most of the places you will hear it:

But don’t feel that this is confined to modern movies. High Sierra, with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino, 1941 used the line too.
Speaking of Humph, there’s one great line in Treasure of the Sierra Madres that has become, by its utter perfection, a cliché or maybe … a laugh line?
And again, from Blazing Saddles (1974), a movie so quotable that we can recite the entire dialogue as we watch:
And then there is:
Ah, so many clichés. So little time. And then … they all walk away …

A place to rest …

Messing around with the camera this morning, trying to capture the morning light and in the midst of my artistic endeavor, I had a camera crisis. This story is entirely apocryphal and has nothing to do with the pictures. It is, however, an example of the kind of problems that result from the technology we all use in our daily lives.

Olympus Pen EP-3

I’ve been taking pictures for a long time, more than 40 years. My first who-knows-how-many cameras were mechanical cameras and used film. I did a lot of work in black and white because I could develop my own film. I also did my own printing, mounting, and framing,  though I’ve totally forgotten all of that now.

The only electronic part of the camera was the light meter, and my first half-dozen cameras didn’t have built-in light meters. I used my handy-dandy Weston Master V for years and got wonderful pictures. I still have a handheld meter, though I don’t use it more than once in a very long while.

Cameras did break and might need repair, cleaning, or adjustment, but basically, there wasn’t that much to go wrong. As long as you didn’t drop it, get it soaked with salt water, or spill coffee on it, it might last forever. There weren’t many moving parts: the shutter, the film winding mechanism which was nothing more than a mechanical wheel. You set the film speed (ISO), shutter speed, f-stop. You aimed, framed, focused, then held your breath while you pressed the shutter. Voila. Photograph.

Today, my camera wakes me in the morning and starts the coffee. If I ask nicely, it will do the grocery shopping, though it draws the line at doing laundry.

When something goes wrong, it’s crazy time.

This morning, I removed the lens cap and turned the camera on. I unlocked the lens (my Olympus Pens have retractable lenses that have to be extended before you can take pictures).

The menu came on, but no picture appeared. Flashing on the screen was something I’d never seen before. Without a clue what it meant, I double-checked to make sure I really had removed the lens cap. Sure enough, I had.

So I did what I do with my computer. I rebooted. I turned it off, waited, then turned it back on.

More flashing. No picture.

I next moved to telephone mode. I removed the battery and the memory card, counted to twenty, put them back in. Still flashing. Still no picture.

By now, I was completely panicked. My nearly new expensive beloved camera wasn’t working. I cannot begin to express the fear that gripped my heart. Finally, I checked to make sure the lens was properly seated.

Click. The flashing stopped. A picture appeared. The lens had been a tiny bit loose. I must have accidentally pressed the button that releases the lens, so it was not fully locked in place and the camera would not work.

With all the hundreds of functions built into the camera, how come they can’t have something to tell you that the lens is loose? Like in a car when a door isn’t fully closed? I felt like a moron. Then, I took some pictures.

What dreams may come?

This is my favorite. I played around with a few different combinations of filters to get the effects I wanted. It’s our bedroom.

I love our bedroom. I love our bed. It is peaceful room and although it is cluttered, it is also incredibly comfortable. I keep the blinds nearly closed so the light doesn’t wake us in the morning and also to protect the dolls from sun.

Perchance to dream …

The dolls on the shelf are my movie stars, historical characters, plus some authors. You may spot James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart up there. There are two John Wayne figures: cowboy and cavalry. My husband has Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe on his dresser. Good choices.

Under the window is my modest collection of carved geese and ducks, with a strong emphasis on loons. Have I mentioned how much I love loons? The sound of loons calling across a lake in Maine is one of the most beautiful sounds in nature.

The next pictures I take, I’ll make sure the lens is seated. Gee whiz.

Stay In The Car and Other Classic Lines

In the spirit of clichés that pop out of the mouths of Our Heroes with alarming frequency, despite the fact that they have become standing jokes for the audience (apparently nobody mentioned this to the script writers), our personal favorite in this house is “Stay in the car.”

On the NBC TV series “Chuck.” it’s a gag line. Unfortunately, on most shows it is supposed to be real dialogue  and not cause hilarity … but it does. Every time.

I checked on Subzin, a movie database that lets you enter a piece of dialogue, then reports in how many and in the specific movies where you’ll find it. According to Subzin, “Stay in the car”  can be found in 356 phrases from 296 movies and series. Yet, they continue to use it.

Lethal Weapon 2: (1989)

uses the line a lot.

Then, there’s  Last Action Hero (1993), my favorite Arnold Schwarznegger movie in which the line is understood to be a cliché , which is more than you can say for most of the places you will hear it:

But don’t feel that this is confined to modern movies. High Sierra, with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino, 1941 used the line too.
Speaking of Humph, there’s one great line in Treasure of the Sierra Madres that has become, by its utter perfection, a cliché or maybe … a laugh line?
And again, from Blazing Saddles (1974), a movie so quotable that we can recite the entire dialogue as we watch:
And then there is:
Ah, so many clichés. So little time. And then … they all walk away …