IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE – RICH PASCHALL

If you have stopped by in recent months you have seen some music and movie lists to help you pass the time during our quarantine days. My top 20 Coming of Age movies included the 1971 B&W feature, The Last Picture Show. The top 20 LGBT movies In The Mainstream included the 1961 B&W classic, The Children’s Hour. Films All Guys Should See included a half-dozen black and white films among my Top 20, including a couple mentioned below.

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, The Lion King, Toy Story 1, 2, 3, and/or 4?  Maybe Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America or Captain Marvel?  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?

casablanca-poster

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 film 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, perhaps you know of or have seen the 2012 Academy Award winner for Best Picture The Artist, filmed in black and white to recall another age.

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 movie 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 a 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, songwriters 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, in my humble opinion, but paradoxically, one of the great closing lines of all time. Altogether, it’s a must-see movie.

 

Related:
Coming of Age,” Serendipity, August 9, 2020.
In The Mainstream,” Serendipity, June 14, 2020.
Films All Guys Should See,” Serendipity, March 29, 2020.



Categories: Cinematography, film, Media, Movies, Rich Paschall

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. The movie that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up was House of Wax.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love black and white movies. I wonder if people who grew up with black and white TV have an easier time or more affection for this format…

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband loves black & white. It’s very moody. They still make b & w movies today. Some movies seem to call for shadows and dark alleys. It depends on what kind of fan you are, too. If all you ever watch are cartoon movies, then it’s all special effects without even a decent script to follow.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I think that would be true. We were so used to B&W that seeing a movie in black and white in the theater never bothered us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We’ve gone to see a few classic B&W movies — Casablanca, for one — in the movies. it’s quite a different experience, too, seeing it on a big screen. For one thing, you aren’t writing a blog at the same time, or getting up and down to make supper, so you’re really paying attention to the dialogue. For another, the bigger screen seems to “wrap you up” in a way that televisions don’t — not even really big ones. Maybe it’s that pause button? At least not yet. I think what I need is a bigger room. I’ve always wanted a room that I could turn into the movie theater, popcorn machine and all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have not seen Casablanca on the big screen, just my current 40 inch TV, and smaller before that. I have not been following what, if anything, has played at the Music Box this year since I would not go anyway. I saw a lot of movies there as a kid, and a few in recent years.

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