Q: What’s Black and White and Read All Over? A: This Thread

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furbicide
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Q: What’s Black and White and Read All Over? A: This Thread

#1 Post by furbicide » Tue Oct 19, 2021 2:09 am

Gregory wrote:
Sun Oct 17, 2021 4:04 am
What B&W Films Should Have Been Shot in Color?
I happen to love black-and-white for its own silver-toned luminosity, but every so often you say to yourself “good as it looks, this monochrome film would have been fascinating in color.”

Howard Hawks‘ Red River is at the top of this list. I would have dearly loved to see Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Boulevard in Techniolor…how could it have been hurt by that? And speaking of Hawks, Only Angels Have Wings and Bringing Up Baby would have been glorious in color. Which others?

The second excerpt is typically obnoxious and racist, but I must confess I don't see the issue with the first one – it's kind of an interesting question, isn't it?

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colinr0380
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#2 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Oct 19, 2021 3:15 am

It is a bit reminiscent of Ted Turner. Or that tannoy announcement in Gremlins 2 about a new restoration of Casablanca that is: "In color, and with a happier ending!"

MongooseCmr
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#3 Post by MongooseCmr » Tue Oct 19, 2021 8:28 am

It’s kind of a genre or historically illiterate question. Red River obviously works in color because color westerns existed for decades. But Sunset Boulevard being in color is such a wild aesthetic change that I can’t even picture it, or understand why you’d want it.

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Gregory
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#4 Post by Gregory » Tue Oct 19, 2021 12:11 pm

For my own sanity, I very rarely spend time reading HE. I stumbled across a mention of "What B&W Films Should Have Been Shot in Color?" on Twitter when someone mentioned one of his other meltdowns about color/B&W. Going to HE to see the actual post, I then saw his latest post about how the sound the "coarse Latinos" make in a neighboring building is "hell."
The B&W one is likely not even in the top 300 of his most ridiculous posts. I included it because it seems like one of the most (many adjectives could apply here) lazy things to say about the cinematography of Hollywood canon. How could Sunset Boulevard have been hurt by being filmed in color? he pleads.
He's also insisted that Hawks made Red River etc. not in color for the sole reason that there wasn't the budget for it. Cost was sometimes a consideration for sure, but he suggests that the monochrome was implicitly some huge missed opportunity. This is the last thing I'd think of when watching a great Hawks film. I love Bringing Up Baby as much as anyone, but the idea that it'd be just "glorious" in color is silly.
I wish the post had been longer so he could have named lots more classic films that should have been made with pretty colors.

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colinr0380
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#5 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Oct 19, 2021 1:03 pm

It does make me wonder what his opinion of Duel In The Sun could be. Would he rate it higher than Red River just because it was in colour?

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furbicide
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#6 Post by furbicide » Wed Oct 20, 2021 12:39 am

MongooseCmr wrote:
Tue Oct 19, 2021 8:28 am
It’s kind of a genre or historically illiterate question. Red River obviously works in color because color westerns existed for decades. But Sunset Boulevard being in color is such a wild aesthetic change that I can’t even picture it, or understand why you’d want it.
Fair enough! I do find it interesting to think about how a number of low-budget post-1960s films that seem made for monochrome and are practically inconceivable any other way; for instance, Eraserhead and Pi are two films that were, if I recall correctly, merely made in black-and-white as a cost-saving measure (with the implication being that Lynch and Aronofsky's artistic preference was to make them in colour). It's fair to presume that the same is true for the vast majority of classic Hollywood films, which were made at a time when colour was a rarity and, as black-and-white was the norm, the idea of it as a conscious aesthetic choice presumably didn't yet exist, so on that basis one has to judge it far more likely than not that Sunset Boulevard and Casablanca would have been shot in colour if their respective budgets had allowed for it.

On that note, it'd be interesting to read how far back that practice can actually be traced, and what might be pointed to as the first film made in black-and-white as an explicit artistic preference.

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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#7 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Oct 20, 2021 5:22 am

It is hard to imagine Psycho being in colour, despite its 80s sequels being made that way. And that was Hitchcock returning briefly to black and white in features, though that might have as much to do with it being made around the same time as his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show. Even so it contrasts starkly against the often delirious colour of his surrounding feature films. Was that a conscious aesthetic choice, or practical one? Or a bit of both?

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Dr Amicus
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#8 Post by Dr Amicus » Wed Oct 20, 2021 10:33 am

I always understood it was a practical one based on cost - IIRC the crew were primarily from Hitchcock's TV series as well to minimise the costs.

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GaryC
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#9 Post by GaryC » Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm

furbicide wrote:
Wed Oct 20, 2021 12:39 am
On that note, it'd be interesting to read how far back that practice can actually be traced, and what might be pointed to as the first film made in black-and-white as an explicit artistic preference.
Fred Zinnemann's comment when colourisation became a possibility was that if he'd wanted High Noon to be in colour he'd have made it in colour.

Eric Rohmer and Nestor Almendros had a rule when they made the black and white My Night at Maud's in that in a black and white (by choice) film such as this, there would be no references to colour other than black, white and grey. So characters would drink water or vodka rather than crème de menthe, say. It's surprising how many black and white films violate that rule. Jezebel is an obvious example, given that the plot turns on Bette Davis wearing a red dress to a ball. I spotted one in Girl with Green Eyes, when Peter Finch's character asks Rita Tushingham's and Lynn Redgrave's characters which of them has green eyes and which of them has blue. Presumably he can see that for himself, though we can't as the film is in black and white?

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Mr Sausage
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#10 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Oct 21, 2021 3:08 pm

You can add Kurosawa’s Red Beard to the mix. High and Low manages to get around a similar problem with a brief splash of colour.

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The Fanciful Norwegian
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#11 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Thu Oct 21, 2021 5:03 pm

GaryC wrote:
Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm
Fred Zinnemann's comment when colourisation became a possibility was that if he'd wanted High Noon to be in colour he'd have made it in colour.
He also said he had to persuade Harry Cohn to let him make From Here to Eternity in B&W, as Zinnemann felt that "color would have made it look trivial."

Supposedly Fox tried to switch A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (filmed in 1944) to a color production after seeing the first dailies, but Kazan insisted on sticking with B&W.

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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#12 Post by knives » Thu Oct 21, 2021 5:23 pm

GaryC wrote:
Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm
furbicide wrote:
Wed Oct 20, 2021 12:39 am
On that note, it'd be interesting to read how far back that practice can actually be traced, and what might be pointed to as the first film made in black-and-white as an explicit artistic preference.
Fred Zinnemann's comment when colourisation became a possibility was that if he'd wanted High Noon to be in colour he'd have made it in colour.

Eric Rohmer and Nestor Almendros had a rule when they made the black and white My Night at Maud's in that in a black and white (by choice) film such as this, there would be no references to colour other than black, white and grey. So characters would drink water or vodka rather than crème de menthe, say. It's surprising how many black and white films violate that rule. Jezebel is an obvious example, given that the plot turns on Bette Davis wearing a red dress to a ball. I spotted one in Girl with Green Eyes, when Peter Finch's character asks Rita Tushingham's and Lynn Redgrave's characters which of them has green eyes and which of them has blue. Presumably he can see that for himself, though we can't as the film is in black and white?
Lord Love a Duck has a lot of fun with this.

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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#13 Post by domino harvey » Thu Oct 21, 2021 5:32 pm

The world wasn’t ready to experience periwinkle pussycat in all its glory

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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#14 Post by MichaelB » Fri Oct 22, 2021 6:15 am

furbicide wrote:
Wed Oct 20, 2021 12:39 am
Fair enough! I do find it interesting to think about how a number of low-budget post-1960s films that seem made for monochrome and are practically inconceivable any other way; for instance, Eraserhead and Pi are two films that were, if I recall correctly, merely made in black-and-white as a cost-saving measure (with the implication being that Lynch and Aronofsky's artistic preference was to make them in colour).
Although it was definitely a conscious decision to make The Elephant Man in black and white, not least because they hired one of the all-time great masters of black-and-white widescreen to light it - which was a gamble in itself as Freddie Francis hadn't worked as a cinematographer for something like fifteen years.

Having Mel Brooks as executive producer made all the difference here - someone else might have baulked at black and white 2.35:1 for a 1980 release, especially given how essential TV sales had become to a film's overall revenue by then, but Brooks personally rang the relevant TV buyers and convincingly argued that Young Frankenstein (then a comparatively recent film) hadn't suffered commercially in any way from being in black and white, and so neither would The Elephant Man.

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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#15 Post by dadaistnun » Fri Oct 22, 2021 9:52 am

I'm always fascinated by color set photos of black and white films, especially those made after color was the norm. The set photos from Last Year at Marienbad were very interesting in that regard, but I was really thrown by the ones from L'amour Fou shown in the Bulle Ogier interview on the Celine and Julie disc.

Black and white shots for comparison are from the (only?) backchannel copy available at the moment. The third pair here is obviously not the same scene, I just wanted something that showed the wallpaper.

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Orlac
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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#16 Post by Orlac » Fri Oct 22, 2021 1:03 pm

What is the most recent B&W 35mm American film where the decision to use B&W was down to cost? The most recent example I can think of is Night of the Living Dead.

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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#17 Post by willoneill » Fri Oct 22, 2021 2:53 pm

Orlac wrote:
Fri Oct 22, 2021 1:03 pm
What is the most recent B&W 35mm American film where the decision to use B&W was down to cost? The most recent example I can think of is Night of the Living Dead.
My understanding is that Clerks was B&W due to a cost issue, specifically the cost of changing the overhead fluorescent lights in the real convenience store where they shot the film. Standard lights like that would give off a green hue on film, right?

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Re: Q: What’s Black and White and Read All Over? A: This Thread

#18 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Fri Oct 22, 2021 3:00 pm

Clerks was 16mm though. Ditto Pi, Chan Is Missing, She's Gotta Have It, Killer of Sheep, Bless Their Little Hearts, Mala Noche, Multiple Maniacs, etc. etc. Eraserhead was 35mm but I don't believe it was in B&W for budgetary reasons—there's a 1985 interview in the "Conversations with Filmmakers" volume on Lynch where he says "If something feels like it should be color or something feels like it should be black and white, then that's what I make it in. To me Eraserhead was absolutely black and white, as was Elephant Man." (He also says he shot some B&W tests for Blue Velvet but "it just doesn't feel right"; given that the title was the first thing he came up with, a B&W version of that film would've been perhaps the most flagrant-ever violation of Rohmer and Almendros's rule.)

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Re: The Jeffrey Wells Thread

#19 Post by beamish14 » Fri Oct 22, 2021 3:21 pm

Orlac wrote:
Fri Oct 22, 2021 1:03 pm
What is the most recent B&W 35mm American film where the decision to use B&W was down to cost? The most recent example I can think of is Night of the Living Dead.

That's an interesting question. For a 35mm Hollywood studio production, perhaps The Pawnbroker?

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Re: Q: What’s Black and White and Read All Over? A: This Thread

#20 Post by FrauBlucher » Fri Oct 22, 2021 4:03 pm

And to think if Powell and Pressburger made their films in the Hollywood studio system in the 40s perhaps their great color films would've been in B&W. Ugh

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Re: Q: What’s Black and White and Read All Over? A: This Thread

#21 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Fri Oct 22, 2021 4:31 pm

beamish14 wrote:
Fri Oct 22, 2021 3:21 pm
That's an interesting question. For a 35mm Hollywood studio production, perhaps The Pawnbroker?
I doubt that was purely budgetary. Lumet once said "You can't do tragedy in color," though he eventually recanted. Two years later he wanted to shoot The Deadly Affair in B&W and was overruled by the producers (the muted color palette, achieving by pre-fogging the negative, was the compromise). He made The Appointment because he wasn't comfortable with color even at that late date and hoped to learn from Carlo Di Palma.

Post-Psycho, maybe William Castle's Zotz!, which unlike his other B&W films of the period doesn't have an obvious thematic reason for the format. But maybe it was just to make the special effects more convincing, as was the case with The Absent-Minded Professor (and its sequel Son of Flubber).

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Re: Q: What’s Black and White and Read All Over? A: This Thread

#22 Post by GaryC » Sat Oct 23, 2021 1:25 am

Also, most recent black and white films aren't shot on black and white 35mm stock, and are more often 35mm colour or more recently digital post-produced in black and white. In (producer) Jonathan Sanger's book on making The Elephant Man, he says that he worked on Movie Movie (1978) in which the black and white half of the film was shot on colour stock and television showings of the film were in colour. That was one reason why if The Elephant Man was to be made in black and white, it would be shot on black and white stock so colourisation wasn't a possibility or at least more difficult.

When Alexander Payne made Nebraska, he tested four ways of shooting it - 35mm black and white, 35mm colour printed in black and white, and digital-capture on the Alexa and the Red. He eventually went with shooting on the Red because the film had a lot of night scenes and shooting digitally reduced the amount of lighting required and hence the cost - which was an issue as insisting on making the film in black and white had reduced the budget available to him.

Recent black and white films shot on black and white 35mm stock include The Lighthouse and François Ozon's Frantz, though the latter has some colour sequences as well.

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