19 Feb

Black and white films

Unfortunately, I found myself pulled into the irresistible FOPP, recently, where – predictably – I had a film binge (£3 each, no P & P, all cracking films).

There are many films I come across and think ‘why haven’t I watched that yet?’
One of these – which I stumbled across in FOPP – was La Haine, which I bought.

It caused quite a stir when it first came out, in 1995. It was shown at Cannes Film Festival and picked up an award for ‘Best Director’, and it was noted for its depiction of brutality and racial tension in France.

I watched it, and it didn’t disappoint. It was brutal, unflinching, thought-provoking, and the characters were entirely believable.

One thing that struck me though (and I knew this before I started watching it), was the overall effect on me, as a viewer, of the film being in black and white.
This made it grittier and far more intense. It drew me in. I’d even go as far as to say that La Haine wouldn’t pack as much of a punch if it was in colour.

I got to thinking of other black and white films I’d watched (all filmed in the era of colour film); Raging Bull, White Ribbon, Schindler’s List, American History X (bits are in b/w), El Violin.

For some reason, these films seem to carry an extra potency, purely for being shot in black and white, and not just in an ‘art house’ way.
Is it something about monochrome (specifically, black and white) that makes you focus more centrally on the story and the characters, rather than the myriad of distracting colours (in which case – in terms of character focus – why haven’t the Coen brothers produced a b/w film?) ?

Why do these films seem ‘grittier’? Why do they seem to be award-winners? Why are they so intense?
In some ways, details in black and white can be more powerful (even sickening) than in colour. Think, for example, of the black splodges of blood on the boxing ring ropes in Raging Bull (3:47), near the end of the film. Maybe it’s so shocking because we imagine the vivid red if it were to be shot in colour.

I’m not quite sure of the exact answer as to why black and white films appear more intense than their colour counterparts. Maybe someone with a little more knowledge than me can tell me why. Please feel free to leave answers and comments below.

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