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From Multicolor to Monochrome: The Case for Black and White Movies

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From Multicolor to Monochrome: The Case for Black and White Movies

Colorless doesn’t mean meaningless.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I don’t like black and white movies,” or “I can’t sit through black and white movies.” The fact is, a lot of people are put off by the idea of having to enter a colorless world for a couple of hours.  Most of the time, people make these claims without having given black and white movies a fighting chance.  I’ve discovered that if I simply force naysayers – like my younger sisters – to watch, say, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” they’ll be completely engrossed in Marion’s story within the first 15 minutes, all previous qualms forgotten.

Some of the greatest, most entertaining, and most thought-provoking films of all time are in black and white. The lack of color in films like “Dr. Strangelove,” “Casablanca,” and “12 Angry Men” has never lessened the impact of their masterful, poignant stories. In fact, the use of black and white often adds significance to the narrative as a whole. It can point to important thematic elements, strengthen underlying tones, and illustrate characters in ways not possible with color.

Modern film directors have made the choice to present certain stories in black and white, often for thematic or aesthetic purposes. Steven Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece “Schindler’s List” was filmed in black and white to place audiences in the somber, compassionless time of the Holocaust. When asked about his decision to remove the color from the story of Oskar Schindler, Spielberg explained: “I wasn’t around then. But I’ve seen documentaries of the Holocaust. They’re all shot in black and white. It’s my only reference point. I wanted it to feel real.”

Earlier this month, the Criterion Collection announced that the black and white version of Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-sweeping “Parasite” will be released this October. Besides an excuse to re-watch one of the best films of 2019, the black and white version of “Parasite” offers a whole new cinematic experience. “I watched the black and white version twice now, and at times the film felt more like a fable and gave me the strange sense that I was watching a story from old times. The second time I watched it, the film felt more realistic and sharp as if I was being cut by a blade,” said director Bong Joon Ho.

The video above from RocketJump Film School illustrates the history, importance, and advantages of black and white films. Hopefully, it can persuade even the most stubborn color-lovers to give the world of monochrome a chance.

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