Many audiences are often put off by the prospect of watching a black-and-white movie — chances are, you too went through a stretch during which you viewed colorless filmmaking as perhaps dull and boring. But as most film fans have come to learn, black-and-white films not only defined an era of filmmaking, they also utilize an abundance of shadows and high-contrast lighting to create truly beautiful images to this very day.
Below, RocketJump Film School chronicles the history of black-and-white filmmaking, as well as the elements that make these films so special, in their video essay “So You Don’t Want to Watch a Black & White Movie?”
The video covers the major film movements that perfected the use of black-and-white cinematography, from German Expressionism to Film Noir, demonstrating how horror and crime served as the perfect mediums for colorless and shadowy visuals to thrive in. The video also covers the symbolic contrast between black and white, as well as the dreamlike and nightmarish qualities of the atmosphere the technique creates, while also being capable of establishing a historical and authentic feel to films, adding historical realism to movies like David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” and Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 “Godzilla” film.
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The video also explores how removing color cannot only significantly alter one’s visual experience of a film, but also change the narrative impact, as presented with examples of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Mist,” both contemporary films that prove that, while filmmakers continue to master color in film, black and white will always have a space to be loved and stay relevant. Bookended with quotes from Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, this video delivers an impeccably in-depth analysis on the importance of color (or lack thereof) in film.