There are some people out there who wonder, “If color film has been around for so long, why would you ever shoot your movie in black and white?” Now, these people would probably ask the same thing of the 2012 Academy Award for Best Picture, The Artist, and its (almost) complete lack of sound. Those of you who have been following along from the beginning know that I briefly touched on movies that either use the addition of color or the separation of color and black and white to help the filmmaker tell a story. However, this week I’d like to examine films that were made entirely in black and white for a purpose. And while the purpose of making a film in black and white may vary from artistic direction or as an homage to films that had no full color options, there were still valid reasons that they should be filmed in this fashion.
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours
While not entirely shot in black and white, Raging Bull does stand out as a great example of a movie that almost needs the monochromatic treatment. There have been a few ideas as to why this film needed to be shot in black in white. One thought is that the color of the boxing gloves didn’t look quite right to director Martin Scorsese, which led him to make the whole movie in black and white. Another thought is that since boxing can be a very violent sport, the excessive amount of blood involved with making this movie wouldn’t have allowed it to be released, which led to the decision to shoot in black and white. At the very least, Raging Bull was definitely shot in black and white for a reason.
I certainly consider this to be Martin Scorsese’s best film (of many great films). Raging Bull chronicles the life of Jake La Motta (Robert DeNiro). Throughout the film, we watch Jake’s rise through the ranks of middleweight boxing. We also get a look into his tumultuous personal life, in conflict with his wife (Cathy Moriarty) and brother (Joe Pesci). Stylistically, this movie is beautiful, shot completely in black and white (for the aforementioned reasons). Somehow, this style intensifies the fights in the ring, producing some incredible fight sequences. But even with all of his success, Jake ends up working a nightclub, quoting Marlon Brando’s famous speech from On the Waterfront.
Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours
On the flip-side of the black and white coin is a film that takes the route of the homage. Those who are familiar with Mel Brooks films know that most of them take a particular genre and create a comedy based on that theme or style. Young Frankenstein is just one of those movies. The choice to go with black and white for this film was because the original set of films (Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Ghost of Frankenstein, and House of Frankenstein (1944), etc. etc. etc.) were all shot in black and white because it was the easiest medium to film in at the time they were made. In order to more fully mimic their style, Young Frankenstein kept with tradition and filmed in black and white as well.
The story of Frankenstein is certainly timeless, which is why Mel Brooks can poke fun at it so easily. Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frankenstein, but not the one originally famous for the re-animation experiment. No, he’s the grandson of that Frankenstein. When he inherits his grandfather’s castle, he goes up to check it out. Inside he finds an array of odd characters including a hunchback assistant named Igor (Marty Feldman). Even though he passed off his grandfather’s experiment as crazy, he eventually ends up doing it himself anyways. Taking bits and pieces from all the classic Frankenstein movies, Young Frankenstein is almost a Frankenstein monster of itself, but a laugh riot and a must watch nonetheless.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 monochromatic masterpieces