The Great Film Debate: Mk 1

The Charm Of The Black And White Film.

You know it really does exist. A sad but true fact is that I generally prefer black and white films to the “new” ones – although this may be because of my rather cultured upbringing. Haha. I am aware the black and white aspect of films can completely put people off of them – but it’s such a mistake! I believe one person even said they can’t watch black and white. Sad times. It is also a rather dismal fact that most people seem to be drawn to more visually stunning pieces, and think older films too “boring”. Fair enough, film is about the visual so you want it to look good, but there are so many old films that have fantastic visual qualities that YOU should be looking at:

This excellent shot from Citizen Kane (which, incidentally, was very influential for further film-based products, using ground breaking camera techniques) is an excellent example – how it was done is anyone’s guess, as, generally for such a shot, common sense would suggest you’d end up with the camera reflected in the mirror too.

And on the right is one of my favourite shots from ‘Since You Went Away’, a 1942 propaganda film about the home front in America. This scene is taken from a dance in an aircraft hangar, which, as I understand it, used to happen an awful lot. Check out the wonderful extended shadows and the lighting just from the spotlights.

And if these aren’t effective to you, we need to have words.

As the black and white film was less reliant on CGI, huge explosions and “buses going really fast” (etc), usually there is a better story line too. For example – ‘Strangers On A Train’ (it’s an essential watch), to ‘Resident Evil’ trilogy. Actually any zombie movie – such a generic story line! And all the characters are so stereotypical it’s sickening. And boring. And not even funny because they’re so bad. Having said that, I am a Bond fan, films which seem to involve a lot of stock characters and similar story lines too…

Aside from being just as good (or better?) than some modern films, black and whites are the foundations of everything we watch nowadays on ‘the big screen’, so one can’t really knock it too much. You would probably be criticising a lot of good things without realising – Hitchcock, Olivier, Better Davis, Humphrey Bogart (*sigh*), David O. Selznick, Franz Waxman etc etc. And worst of all, generally not only do people write off all black and white films altogether, they also do it before they’ve really seen any – as such, judging an entire ‘genre’ without having anything to judge it on. Not cool.

Black and whites can also be a great study of the times, just like with any other art form that has been contextualised. Films like — and — And maybe even if it’s not contextualised: films have been affected by political regimes (usually extreme left or right ones) just as much as anything else.

You know the montage? It first appeared in a black and white film.  AND it was silent. Alas, aside from that ‘The Battleship Potemkin’ isn’t too engaging, but it’s an educational watch if nothing else.

Some of the most famous films are colourless (as it were) – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Brief Encounter’, ‘High Noon’, ’12 Angry Men’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Casablanca’ (though I’d avoid the last one as nothing happens. It’s incredibly boring), so on and so forth… At least give them a try! If nothing else, you would at least be able to have an opinion on them. And who knows, you may even like them. If you do, there’s plenty more where they came from, and people seem to like quaint, ‘quirky’ (*vomits*), English things (it’s seems ok to say “English”, but not so much “British”. The latter seems too BNP themed), which all films that came out of British studios in the 30s/40s/50s are.

If you wish for something new to watch, try some of these:

1 – ‘Night Train To Munich’ (1940)

2 – ‘Rebecca’ (1940)

3 – ‘The 39 Steps’ (1935)

4 – ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ (1945)

5 – ‘All About Eve’ (1950)

It’s true, generally black and white films rely an awful lot on their ‘quaint’, charming aspect to be popular nowadays, but if you search well, you’ll find some marvellous things you’ve been missing for a long time.


One Response

  1. I like this, good subject matter. I do have to point out however that deep focus cinematography was about beforehand, although Gregg Toland made it big with Citizen Kane. Check out Rebecca (the Hitchcock version) for a couple of really fantastic examples.

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