Surely everyone who visits this site regularly will have heard the phrase “fade to black” at some point in his or her life. Apart from being an oft-used tool in the screenwriter’s arsenal, a fade to black implies, if nothing else, closure. It is definitive, climactic, and cumulative, the end of the journey that a film takes you on. Thousands of films have employed this tried-and-true narrative device. But what about a fade to white? Is it the same idea, just executed differently? Or to a different end? In case you’re curious, Jacob T. Swinney’s new video essay, entitled, not surprisingly, “Fade to White,” is here to examine the effect that this particular cinematic flourish has had on some of your favorite films (even “Titanic”).
Upon watching the short video, my first thought was, “Damn, the fade to white has actually been used a lot.” And so it has. Given the evidence on display here, it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as the fade to black, but it’s also popped up in the work of directors as major and diverse as Sidney Lumet, Robert Zemeckis, David Lynch and, Darren Aronofsky. There’s something intriguingly open-ended about the fade to white. That is to say there is a distinct lack of closure, and a lingering uncertainty that can disturb and provoke the viewer upon further reflection.
It’s the perfect technique, for instance, to be used in the fevered, near-apocalyptic finish of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” as well as “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” which all but dissipates to a blinding white at the apex of what is certainly the most surreal and wigged-out ending to any Coen brothers picture ever — and I’m going to go ahead and include “A Serious Man” in that. I was also nicely reminded of the shattering climax of “Vanilla Sky,” which feels like falling at light-speed into a screaming existential void. But, you know, in a good way.
Swinney’s brief and enlightening video essay is available below. [35MM]