When color film emerged, Hollywood looked like it would never turn back. Audiences flocked to see the vibrancy of color. It was literally like when Dorothy crossed into Oz. But as time went on, filmmakers still chose to use black and white film on occasion.
Now, nearly 80 years later, we still see major motion pictures (and some TV episodes) shooting in black and white. There are lots of reasons for these choices, and they vary depending on the filmmaker.
Check out this video from In Depth Cine, and let's talk after.
How Do Modern Movies Use Black & White?
One of my favorite quotes about black and white in movies comes from Kevin Smith, who tells the story of a critic after Sundance lauding Clerks because the black and white film stock they used gave the movie a voyeuristic quality, evoking the security cameras in the store. But he said that he chose black and white because it was the cheapest, and just ran with all the subliminal ideas other people said, to make the choice sound better.
I sort of feel that way with a lot of filmmaking choices. We often read into them much deeper than intended, but I actually think Clerks is the exception to the rule here.
Most filmmakers who choose to shoot in black and white now are doing so for a distinct reason. The rise in digital and the advent of the iPhone has made shooting stuff easier and cheaper than just buying black and white stock.
When you're using it today, you're making a statement.
You might be pushing a narrative that needs to evoke the past, like how Mank uses black and white to tell us about classic Hollywood. Or maybe you want to highlight tones and moods, sort of how George Miller uses the "Black and Chrome" version of Mad Max: Fury Road. Frances Ha was shot in black and white as part of nostalgia to the French New Wave.
But it's really hard to get Hollywood on board with these kinds of plans today. Fury Road had to make its version a special feature, though they did do a limited release.
When it comes to Frances Ha, writer/director Noah Baumbach told IndieWire, "It's near impossible to make a movie in black and white in the system. I wanted to reinvent how I could make a movie and with technology, as it is, there was an opportunity for it. The material felt black-and-white to me."
Though it should not be a controversial choice, many studios see black and white and worry that it will only appeal to old people and hipsters. Now that streamers have come into play, I think you could see a whole new wave of black and white hit. It'll be interesting to see which filmmakers embrace the look and feel and if any of them have ways to subvert our expectations.
Are there new ways to shoot black and white?
Let us know what you think in the comments!