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It Don't Matter if It's in Black or White

View Chris Kavan's Profile

By Chris Kavan - 07/03/10 at 10:03 AM CT

Shooting in only black and white is not only risky, it can be downright dangerous. Heck, people made good money colorizing older films, why would audiences want to go back to the old ways? Still, black and white can be powerful - it can convey a period of time or a way of life. Not too many modern films use black and white - but the ones that can pull it off are quite memorable.

8) Pi - Darran Aronofsky's number-based sci-fi thriller is all about paranoia. The use of black and white not only heightens the tension and fear, it feeds it. I'm sure the low budget was also a factor, but for a first effort, it's superb.

7) Clerks - Speaking of first efforts, Kevin Smith's look into the lives of a convenience store and video rental shop in New Jersey was perfect in black in white. It felt more realistic, just like you were part of these people's lives - juvenile and witty at the same time. Smith made a career out of his Jersey story, and it all started here.

6) Sin City - A comic book come to life - literally. Just like Frank Miller's original graphic novels, the movie is all sharp contrast black against white with the occasional red or yellow thrown in for great effect. With all the gritty violence and hard-boiled talk, it would have been criminal to have it any other way. Time will tell if a fabled sequel will ever emerge.

5) Man Bites Dog - A mock-doc following a serial killer as he shares his views on life, art and anything else all while killing, raping, stealing and disposing of bodies. The best part of this fearfully all-too-real look into detached society is when they stumble upon another camera crew doing the same thing - only one team can survive. Is this a very dark comedy or a scathing attack on modern life? You have to watch and be the judge.

4) Young Frankenstein - Mel Brooks spoof on the classic monster tale is filmed just like a classic monster tale. Yet for all its classic appeal, the modern humor makes it stand out - watch for Gene Hackman in the soup scene - now that's entertainment.

3) Ed Wood - Tim Burton's look into the life of the world's best director of the worst movies is picture-perfect in black and white. Johnny Depp plays Ed Wood with over-the-top gusto and Martin Landau deserved the Oscar he got for his portrayal of the finals days of the drug-abusing Bela Lugosi. It's mad and beautiful and one of Burton's best.

2) Raging Bull - The finest sports movie ever made and remains one the greatest films by Martin Scorsese. With Robert De Niro playing boxer Jake La Motta, this is not a feel-good boxing story. This is realism - the fight scenes are incredible, the home life even more so. The amazing editing combined with the right director and cast make this a must-watch drama, regardless of your feelings on sports.

1) Schindler's List - An unparalleled drama and an unflinching view of the horrors of the holocaust, this is Steven Spielberg's greatest achievement. The emotional impact it has is only heightened by the stark look of the film.

Some movies almost made the cut - like Eraserhead, and The Mist (released in color, but the B&W originally-planned version is still amazing) some didn't make it simply because I haven't seem them yet (Elephant Man, The Man Who Wasn't There, Good Night and Good Luck, amongst others). But modern black and white is still rare enough that films that incorporate it are taking a big chance. What's your favorite?

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