ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: BLACK AND WHITE AND RED ALL OVER

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Have you ever stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, CA? Perhaps you have heard the rumors or stories revolving around the haunting by Marilyn Monroe’s ghost on the 3rd floor of the hotel. When shooting “Some Like it Hot”, a film full of illness, false accusations and other rumors, Director Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe did not exactly see eye to eye when it came to whether the picture should be shot in color or black and white. You see, Monroe’s contract stated that all of her films were to be shot in color and nothing else as this was where she shined and was most photogenic. Since Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis’ characters were more “realistic” and “feminine” looking in the black and white style, director Wilder decided to film the classic in the black and white motif. Of course, for Marilyn this was not to be. The idea of not filming her in color created a fuming argument as she cursed the set (the hotel also) and the film for years to come.

Intro to THE WIZARD OF OZ
 When color first hit the screen many years ago… they were considered quite expensive and not exactly easy to produce. The first film ever to use a hint of color was released in 1908 which was actually a short film titled “A Visit to the Seaside”. Still, audiences and studios wanted the replacement and with the introduction of Technicolor (a company which actually began in the early 1900’s) in the 1940’s well over 50% of all movies were being made in color whether with Technicolor or with Eastman (Kodak). Perhaps many of us best remember color impacting movies with the introduction of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939 with the sepia-colored tones used in the Kansas / Real-Life scenes while colors were used in three tones in the dream sequences or “Oz” scenes. Perhaps what was so amazing about “The Wizard of Oz” as a color theme was the richness of the true colors that we also saw in Demille’s classic film “The Ten Commandments”. Colorizing black and white film with the use of technology and computers just simply lacks the effect, the impact, the beauty and the soft resonance on film.

2005's GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK
Color works fine for so many films but is certainly not a requirement for films today. Filmmakers today need to take a good hard look at the material that they are placing on screen to determine if color or black and white should be implemented. That is to say, when it comes to making decisions about color today, the idea of shooting in black and white should only be used if it would some sort of emotional imagery that color cannot replace. Black and white is truly the prime format for any film-noir genre and one only needs to look back to recent films such as “Sin City” (2004) and “Good Night and Good Luck” (2005) to see that mainstream Hollywood understands the value of the old cliché “black and white with red all over”. It is the subtle use of spot color (red for blood as seen in so many black and white films) that really makes it work on another level all together, but the foundation of black and white gives the pulp feel, the gritty feel and adds a sexy and erotic feeling that only Jessica Alba could bathe in.
1980's THE ELEPHANT MAN
Remember “Clerks” in 1994? This was a film that cost about $25,000 to make and the impact and profitability from this film were phenomenal. “The Elephant Man” is another contemporary classic filmed in black and white where Lynch knew that the horrific nature of the film as well as the fact that it was a period piece could only be intensified in a black and white motif. On a final note, we look at “Raging Bull” in 1980 where Scorsese knew that the violence, the sex, and the entire cinematography could only be best reflected in black and white giving the film a rich and authentic feel.

So, this week I simply want to make the point that “black and white” is where we started and in some ways will continue to be a creative and crucial part of the future of cinema. Could you imagine if a somewhat contemporary film such as “Schindler’s List” had been made in color? It is the play on lighting, the shadows and the overall tonalities that give the film its’ mood – such a specific and vital part of the theatrical experience. I will admit that I am quite nostalgic when it comes to film and most of the time I will take a black and white film over anything contemporary - hands down. Still, the fact that it is “black and white” does not necessarily make the film better, but when used properly, there are no limits to the emotions and imagery that are conveyed.

Here is a list of black and white films that I would highly recommend for our CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT Audience. Now I appeal to you Jer…. What are your thoughts on the world of black and white film as a tool and a canvas for movies of yesterday and today? Also, what are some of your favorite black and white films over the years and in recent years (since 1980 etc.)?

*** Chazz’s Black and White Film Suggestions and Recommendations:


2005's SIN CITY
Nosferatu; Ed Wood; City Lights; Stranger Than Paradise; Tokyo Story; Ikiru; Seven Samurai; The Last Picture Show; Wild Strawberries; Some Like It Hot; Double Indemnity; Sunset Boulevard; The Elephant Man; Manhattan; Good Night and Good Luck; His Girl Friday; Psycho; Raging Bull; Schindler’s List; Citizen Cane; On The Waterfront; Jezebel; Now, Voyager; L’Eclisse; Stardust Memories; Eraserhead; Dr. Strangelove; It’s A Wonderful Life; Casablanca; King Kong; The Forbidden Zone; To Kill a Mockingbird; Sin City; 8 ½; Breathless; Metrolpolis; Vivre Sa Vie; The Maltese Falcon; All About Eve

JER:  An excellent and slightly controversial topic this week in deed, JC! I recently revisited an interview by Steven Spielberg for AFI (American Film Institute) where he was mentioning the ‘struggles’ he has within his own home when he wants to show his younger children an older film. The children’s question is always, “Is it a black and white movie?” To which Dad’s reply is simply, “Yes.” The children then argue the point that they do not want to see those kinds of films…Dad’s reply to the moaning and belly-aching? “Too bad, you are going to watch it!” Why does he say that? He wants to raise his children understanding the media and the richness of storylines…be it black and white or color.

To agree with what you mentioned earlier, JC, is that there is a capture of emotions by a mere selection of screen palates. In addition, it would seem as if black and white captures more shadows for facial expressions, lighten or darken the mood of emotions and backdrops surrounding the film and its classic use is best represented to mark an era of filmmaking.

Let’s take a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO for a moment. For a 1960 film, color was already being used for most of its films at the time. MGM was definitely making its mark with filming all of its musicals in color by the 1950’s. Hitchcock, however, saw that the need for black and white would best create the ambiance of the film. Let’s focus on the fact that this is a very popular and respected film and has been reviewed and studied throughout the years as an example of fine film making. There are some elements that equally work today as it did some 50 years ago. So much so, that director Gus Van Sant decided to ‘remake’ PSYCHO for a 1998 release. The reception was very poor and the box office receipts spoke louder than any critics’ voice could. Aside from the fact that you had contemporary actors like Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche playing the iconic roles of Norman Bates and Marion Crane originally presented onto the silver screen by Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, respectfully, it had everything to do with the fact that color was introduced to this version… in my opinion. Let’s take a closer look, shall we? Director Van Sant meticulously went into great details to shoot his remake in recreating details from the original classic. It was known that Van Sant had a DVD player on the set with the original film playing, so that he could reference sets, dialog, gestures and movements. So then, here we have a pretty accurate “carbon- copy” of the original made in color that failed with critics and the audience. It had nothing to do with the fact that the story had been tampered with, the soundtrack was ‘borrowed’ from the original Bernard Hermann score or not even that changed… I honestly will keep going back to the fact that a classic had been sacrilegiously been tampered with and the decision to go color was a failed one.

2003's KILL BILL: VOL 1
 As JC had mentioned, many contemporary filmmakers are actually embracing the use of black and white in the assisting of their story telling. Let’s recall certain highlights of black and white use from director Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL. To begin with, the film opens in black and white with a bloodied Uma Thurman lying on a dusty church floor. The dark richness of blacks used in this sequence highlights all the bruising details of our heroine’s face…blood, swellness and shadows are dramatically captured as the audience is left to gaze at the gruesome details. Another excellent use of palates is exemplified in what is known as “Chapter Five: Showdown At House of Blue Leaves” in which our heroine is armed with her trusty Hattori Hanzo samurai sword and battles an endless swarm of villains. A scene considered too explicit with a never-ending display of amputations, mutilations and a waterfall display of blood, director Tarantino felt that cutting to black and white during this sequence would lessen the display of crimson red and soften the reaction to just mere blacks and darks for blood would work best… it did. This act probably softened the blow to change the 'Board's' choice from rating this R- rated film to an NC-17.

In 2004, director Stephen Sommers would open VAN HELSING with a homage to the classic Universal Monster films of the 1930’s. At almost 8 minutes of length, the introduction of Dracula, Frankenstein and his Monster along with the laboratory, are all graphically dramatic and well executed... in black and white.

The great Cecil B DeMille realized the impact of technology when he directed a silent black and white version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in 1923 and upgraded to a rich color remake in 1956!

In 2007, director Frank Darabont brought forth Stephen King’s THE MIST to theaters… in color. However, an alternative version of the film was offered in black and white and only available for viewing on either the blu-ray disc or a special 2 disc DVD release. Having seen both versions personally, I can understand and grasp the dramatic elements presented the black and white.
 Click and enjoy director Frank Darabont's take on presenting a black and white version of THE MIST and why 

Having said that, I wonder what other contemporary films would see a dramatic difference in impact if changing from its original color to black and white appearance? Why not try this at home for yourselves? Imagine going to your television set of choice, going to your menu and selecting the color bars and turning them way down until your images go into black and white and now selecting a few movies or films that you would like to see a contrast on…

How do you think JAWS would play out emotionally? Or, what about THE EXORCIST’s tension and build up…would you feel a difference? How about John Carpenter’s THE FOG, Brain De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES or even SCARFACE? Is emotion that critical and obvious when changed by a mere stroke of a brush? A few touches of hews here and there and your view point of a film can change so dramatically?

I, too, would like to end my saying with a few recommendations of my own.

*** Jer’s Black and White Film Suggestions and Recommendations:

1950's SUNSET BLVD.
 SCHINDLER’S LIST, MANHATTAN, SUNSET BOULEVARD, RAGING BULL, PSYCHO, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, ED WOOD, THE ELEPHANT MAN, CITIZEN KANE, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, THE MALTESE FALCON and CITY LIGHTS

Another topic gets placed in the books and another chapter is done. Stay tuned for next week when I (JER) take a whack at the piñata of cinema to see what gifts and treats come pouring out.
Until then, we will always SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

11 comments:

  1. @ Cinema Counterpoint: Hello, I posted a comment on your blog a while back and saw this weeks' topic. Immeditately to mind for me when I think of the best black and white films are: 'High Noon'; 'Casablanca'; 'Citizen Cane' and 'Rashomon'. Modern films today as you both said sometimes add the touches of black and white, but it doesn't seem to have the same impact on me. (Seth, Wilmington NC)

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  2. Great choices made here, Seth. It is agreed that there are some excellent films out there and some people can be totally turned off to the viewing of such because of their preferences of either black and white or color! Thank you for sharing!

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  3. BLACK AND WHITE MOVIES ARE WAY, WAY BETTER THAN ONES WITH COLOR. I MEAN, SOME OF THE MOVIES OF THE PAST 50 YEARS HAVE BEEN REALLY ENTERTAINING, BUT NOTHING COMPARES TO THE CLASSICS. :-) JOYCE, ROCKVILLE MD.

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  4. Agreed, Joyce. It is a shame to see most of these films get the colorized treatment they got in the late 80's by Turner...that was just horrible! Thanks for sharing!

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  5. @ Joyce: I completely agree that the 80's colorization was uncalled for and almost ruined the films for what they were. On a side note, I thought your (site critics) selections of SCHINDLER'S LIST, SOME LIKE IT HOT, MANHATTAN, ALL ABOUT EVE AND CITIZEN CANE were excellent choices. As for turning JAWS into black/white, I don't think it would have the same effect, but a film such as THE EXCORRCIST might be even better. - Arsenio (SAN ANTONIO, TX)

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  6. Thank you, Arsenio! I can see THE EXCORCIST working out well... it would be a play on certain films to see how the "de-colorization" would work or not work on your films! Interesting...

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  7. hello cinema counterpoint; the topic of black and white films is one that i had to write some papers on in film class. Some of the movies that we watched are included on your list and even the foreign ones like l'aventurea and breathless. Citizen Cane is another great one and so is Psycho and To kill a mockinbird. Teddy, Chico California.

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  8. Hi everyone - There are so many black and white films that can make the "A" list but some of the ones mentioned on this blog are definitely a must-see. "Manhattan" was a great piece done in the scheme by Woody Allen and was a nice break from his usual style. Also, you both mentioned Ragingg Bull and City Lites which were both tremendous black and white productions for their time; and they were many years apart. You guys also listed other films that I have always appreciated in the black and white format including Bette Davis' "Now Voyager" and "L'eclisse" from Anontioni. One movie that I would really enjoy seeing in the black and white scheme would be the 2007 winner "No Country for Old Men" since that would work on many levels in black and white with the violence and the emotions running through the whole movie. (STEPHEN from Lompoc California)

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  9. Thank you Teddy and Stephen for your comments:

    Stephen, I love the idea of a black and white version of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN! WOW! That would be a great one, for sure!

    Teddy, we hope you enjoyed our choices and continue to enjoy some other recommendations we made!

    Thanks again

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  10. The black and white 'Some Like it Hot' with Matilyn Monroe and Billy Wilder a direction was so good in black and white and if it was in color I think it would be corny. I think that a really cool movie to put in black and white might be Stephen King's prom horror 'Carrie' which is so good. The other movies you two critics listed are also really good but I have not seen a lot of them. Thanks so much - Kimberly @ Jackson, Mississippi.

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  11. Hi Kimberly, wow, a great suggestion with CARRIE going black and white! Please find the time to visit some of our recommendations to enjoy some great classics sans the color!

    Thanks...

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