The best filmmakers are often steeped in film history as a matter of course: to be an artist is to know what your art form has been through and come from. That knowledge often shapes and influences their films; the best filmmakers will often include throwbacks and references to famous works that inspired them in their own films. Somewhat less often, entire films are constructed as homages to other creators, or even entire periods of filmmaking. Such is the case with The Artist, the soon-to-expand film from French director director Michel Hazanavicius. Many directors might be inspired by the silent film era, but few would have the audacity, in the year 2011, to actually make a silent, black-and-white film. Will it set the box office on fire? Almost assuredly not, but if today’s Best Picture win from the New York Film Critic’s Circle is any indication, it might be in line for a few Oscars, the Academy being, if nothing else, fond of films that recursively pay their respects to filmmaking as an art.
The notion of a black-and-white film potentially winning the Best Picture award would be astounding: the last film to do so was The Apartment way back in 1960. Still, black-and-white pictures are by no means an extinct species: many films have been made in the format since the dawn of the color era, whether due to artistic impulse or simple film-student economics (black-and-white films are easier to light, apparently, and cheaper to buy film stock for). Sitting down to watch a black-and-white movie might feel at times a consciously arty choice, but many films have made it part of their aesthetic to the point where it’d be difficult to actually imagine the film actually being in color. (Would color make Raging Bull a better film?)
This week, we’re going to be looking at the recent history of the black-and-white film, films that have chosen to eschew the proletarian application of color and instead paint their canvas with shades of grey. As such, here are a few of the articles you can look forward to for the rest of the week. Wesley Fenlon will take a look at the director’s cut for Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, which actually shifts from color to black and white as the film wears on and becomes more intense. Andrew Gray will posit “an analysis of the cinematography of bunker films,” which I personally can’t wait for. Andrew Godoski will take a look at Raging Bull and how certain scenes are more resonant in black and white. Matthew Floratos will look at the continued relevance of black-and-white while analyzing the vibrancy of one of my favorite Kurosawa films, High And Low. I, myself, will be writing something about Soderbergh’s The Good German, a financial bomb that used some of the more interesting production techniques of the last decade.
Do you have any favorite modern-day black and white movies? Do you have difficulty watching them, knowing that technicolor glory awaits you if you just pop in that latest Transformers DVD? Do you think digital technology might wind up wiping out black-and-white films altogether thanks to the elimination of any cost savings? Let us know what you think below!