One of the many things spectacular about last year’s Oz The Great and Powerful was the transition from the grainy black-and-white visuals to the absolute riot of colours that streamed through the screen beyond the 3D glasses perched atop my normal ones. It was like a bleak colouring book, with a very imaginative child at its helm. And that made me wonder – exactly how frustrating is it not to be able to see colours on the big screen? How on earth did my grandparents manage?
And then I am reminded of The Artist and I nod to myself.
Colour films have been around since the early 1930s but many a work of sheer genius is still recognised through the starkness of the two shades. Black and White. Despite the transition into the world of colour, the occasional black-and-white still hits the screen, mostly as a differentiating factor, and rarely as a budgetary requirement. In this age of ours when we hold sacred things such as The Bride’s honey-bee yellow ninja costume, I could still discover a list of the top black-and-white movies worth spending your time on…
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
One good reason to watch this is that it’s a Coen Brothers’ creation starring Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco and James Gandolfini and a small appearance by Scarlett Johansson. True to the Coen Brothers style, the story flows leisurely, at the narrative pace, using Thornton’s rich, deep, yankee drawl. The only complaint is with the length of the movie, but then with the Coen Brothers, style surmounts a racy plotline. Billy Bob Thornton put in a stellar show as a quiet, bored, chain-smoking barber in the 1950s, and Joel Coen won the Best Director Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival for this one.
Sin City (2005)
This one is like watching Kill Bill in black-and-white. Except if Kill Bill was made that way, Uma Thurman’s famous ninja suit would still be yellow, just like the disturbing red of the splattering blood so copiously used in Sin City, amidst the starkly contrasting black and white of figures and shadows. Directed by Frank Miller (whose graphic novel is the inspiration) and Robert Rodriguez (the Spy Kids series), it’s a violent movie with a Tarantino-esque touch (he was a guest director after all) that should not be missed, especially with the second part on its way.
Control is a biopic on Ian Curtis, the much celebrated English musician and lead singer of the band Joy Division. Superbly acted by Sam Riley as Curtis and Samantha Morton as the character’s wife Debbie Curtis, Control is basically a very well-shot musical documentary which explores with a calculated aloofness, the tribulations of the legendary singer. Worth mentioning is the brilliant performance of Toby Kebbell, who played the band’s manager, Rob Gretton.
OK, this one isn’t fully black and white, and for a few, this isn’t the best of Christopher Nolan, but then you wouldn’t find a movie quite like Memento, ever, and so I simply must mention it. It has vastly entertaining characters, most of whom are quite shocking, and there is a lingering tension, like some prickling in the back of the neck. Guy Pearce does a good job in a movie which is more notable for its style and a slightly confusing plotline that forces you to pick your own brains. True to Nolan’s intelligent movie-making style, the movie abounds in clues which, if paid attention to, would help you decode the movie early on. And colour, or the lack of it, is a major clue.
Schindler’s List (1993)
The most haunting scene in this black-and-white depiction of the gut-wrenching times in World War II and the Holocaust, is that of the little girl in the red coat. Schindler’s List, in my opinion, is one of the finest and most touching creations of Steven Spielberg. The lack of colour does not necessarily take away the sting, but the appearance of a solitary red coat stumbling in the panicked street feels like a stab in the heart. This is a very humbling movie, with a very clever use of the colour palette at the most meaningful times, leaving the brutality in the rest of the movie to soak through the relative blandness.
The Artist (2011)
This one is the poster boy of black-and-white silent movies in our generation. In its defence, The Artist won the Academy Awards for the Best Picture, the Best Actor, the Best Costume and the Best Original Score. Also in its defence, the movie is lovely, purely by virtue of the oozing old world charm. The Artist is unlike any of the other movies listed here, there is nothing dark about it. What is lacking by way of dialogues is more than made up by the absolutely smashing, genuine performance of the lead actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo and Uggie (!), and the very authentic late 20s setup.
So do you agree now, eh, for black and white may just be the colours of the day!