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 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 10:23 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

I realize that many who post on this side of the board probably love B&W (as do I), but I was hoping that the Whippersnappers of the board would chime in. Perhaps it's a silly topic, but I have often met people, usually 35 and under- who absolutely refuse to watch a TV show or movie simply because it's in black & white. They say that "real life isn't black and white." or "Gotta have color!" or these people simply don't like black and white shows. Anyone here share that opinion? If so, why? The reason I ask is because I read that there are dozens of old TV shows that were considered classics, but since people today don't like B&W, the shows are not often seen in syndication or get a DVD release. Which, IMO is a travesty. Your erudite thoughts on this matter, please...

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 10:52 AM   
 By:   Pete Apruzzese   (Member)

A lot of it depends on what you are exposed to when you are young. I'm 45, so I grew up in the tail end of the black & white TV era (we didn't even get a color set until I was 13 or so). Black & white looks normal to me. Since my son (now 12) was born, he's seen plenty of black & white films and TV shows and has no problem with it - he even noted once how phony the 'colorization' looked on the 3 Stooges shorts. At my classic film shows, a great majority of the films are black & white and the families that come to see them bring kids and they appreciate them just fine.

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 12:00 PM   
 By:   Stefan Miklos   (Member)

I realize that many who post on this side of the board probably love B&W (as do I), but I was hoping that the Whippersnappers of the board would chime in. Perhaps it's a silly topic, but I have often met people, usually 35 and under- who absolutely refuse to watch a TV show or movie simply because it's in black & white. They say that "real life isn't black and white." or "Gotta have color!" or these people simply don't like black and white shows. Anyone here share that opinion? If so, why? The reason I ask is because I read that there are dozens of old TV shows that were considered classics, but since people today don't like B&W, the shows are not often seen in syndication or get a DVD release. Which, IMO is a travesty. Your erudite thoughts on this matter, please...



I'm 36. I used to watch television with a B&W set back in the 1970's. There were only three chanels back then. They rerun a lot of vintage series too. I watched a lot of feature films in black and white, both on tv and cinema way back. The color rejection appears in the 1980's. It is a marketing affair. Now, most channels refuse to broadcast a B&W feature film during the prime time. This world-wide economical trend has seen monstrous blasphemies like "Zorro" or "Wanted: Dead or Alive" in color and even worst: classic films like "The Asphalt Jungle" in color and my local B&W films were attacked too.
We're dealing with the integrity and the identity of a work.

From the glorious monochrome anthology "The Outer Limits":

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 12:06 PM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

Stefan: I nearly fainted when ABC aired "To Kill a Mockingbird" during a holiday a few years ago. It IS uncommon for mainstream TV to air B&W movies and shows. As for TV shows, BBC America used to only air the color seasons of The Avengers and The Saint.

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 12:12 PM   
 By:   Ron Pulliam   (Member)

Some 20 years ago, friends would come to my home on a weekend night, and each would select a film to watch.

When it came to my turn, I selected a black-and-white film. To my astonishment, there was a small uproar. "That's not realistic!" was the complaint.

I tolerated the anger and suggested the film be given a chance. After half an hour, the viewers were riveted by the film.

It was "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?".

After that, it didn't matter if a film was b/w or color.

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 12:14 PM   
 By:   Stefan Miklos   (Member)

This is how I feel when they broadcast "colorized" black and white feature films and series:

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 12:36 PM   
 By:   The_Mark_of_Score-O   (Member)

We live in an age when more and more people, to use an analogy, want to have their food cut into little pieces for them, as is done for a small child.

Black and white, like so many other aspects of filmmaking in the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, required audiences to think, and act as active participants in the storytelling process. By contrast, everything is now laid out in the most simplistic terms, a consequence, I'm afraid, of the demise of the self-censorship that the Breen Code imposed during the Big Studios' heyday).

Fortunately, the old films are here for us to enjoy, making the absence of new films that embody these old standards of craftsmanship largely irrelevant.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 12:43 PM   
 By:   ahem   (Member)

I'm a big fan as I grew up with them and don't know any better. Plus, it's FAR harder to shoot black and white than colour. If your contrast ratio is off then you are a goner, for everyone to see.

I would love to hear Manderley's comments on this, but I think if b/w was still prolific today (as much as colour), the number of cinematographers out there would go down by two thirds.

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 1:18 PM   
 By:   Stefan Miklos   (Member)

The most absurd idea is to turn Film Noir into color!
Film Noir is the essence of black and white cinematography.
They did it with "The Asphalt Jungle".
Nevertheless, nowadays, you find maverick examples of new black and white films that are considered "arty":
"Ed Wood"
"Dead Man"
"Goodnight and Good luck"
"The German Friend"


 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 1:51 PM   
 By:   David Sones (Allardyce)   (Member)

I'm 35 and, in many ways, I like B&W film more than color. B&W is more artistic in regard to lighting and shadows and atmosphere. When I was a kid, I always stayed up late and fell asleep on Saturday nights to B&W films shown on my local channel (that's how I saw all the Basil rathbone sherlock holmes films when I was in my pre-teens). B&W is cinematically and atmospherically comforting somehow...I can't really describe it.

As for younger generations, I have been told by a few who don't like B&W that they "can't relate to it"...whatever the hell that means. I think B&W requires more attention to watch. Since we see in color, B&W requires a precisive eye to really absorb everything visually...and I believe that some people, particularly those who were not as exposed to it as we were...I think they truly have difficulty seeing everything when there isn't color. It's a shame.

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 2:10 PM   
 By:   Stefan Miklos   (Member)

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 4:24 PM   
 By:   Francis   (Member)

Euhm... Regarding the older movies: black & white movies where black & white because the technology for color did not exist yet or it was too expensive to implement.

Amongst black & white movies I find that there is an equal amount of good movies and pure crap, just as there is with color movies.

The switch to color did not put a stop to beautiful contrasting images or stylish photography, it simply added a lot more artistic freedom. Imagine a movie like Suspiria in black & white, it would lose a lot of its charm!

Regarding watching black & white movies, I have no problem with doing so, as some of them have stood the test of time pretty well!

Yet a lot of B&W movies I find harder to watch because the acting is often so stiff and the music is more than often pretty dominant! But watch any color movie from the 80's and even now the MTV styles seem a little over the top smile

I understand why people like the B&W movies and that is probably why a lot film makers chose that style to film even today.

I only refuse to watch B&W movies when they're shite wink

Some of my favorites: Night of the living dead, Psycho, 12 angry men, the fly, The Call of Cthulhu, Schindler's List, Good Night, and Good Luck

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 5:38 PM   
 By:   Joe E.   (Member)

I'd be astounded to find anyone who frequents this board refusing to watch b&w movies. I'm sure there are many here who specifically like the look of such films.

I seldom or never encounter people who refuse to watch black & white. I half-suspect the reports of such people making up as much of the total collective audience as they're supposed to are somewhat exaggerated, but I certainly wouldn't assert it on the basis of my own limited experience.

NP: Ratatouille, Michael Giacchino

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 5:53 PM   
 By:   The_Mark_of_Score-O   (Member)

Euhm... Regarding the older movies: black & white movies where black & white because the technology for color did not exist yet or it was too expensive to implement.

Nonsense; hand-tinted color is practically as old as cinema, itself, and three-strip Technicolor was introduced into feature films in 1935. The prevalence of black-and-white film until the early 1960s was due both to artistic and economic considerations, though the latter was a question of whether a film's boxoffice prospects would be enhanced by color to the extent that they would exceed the extra cost, not because it was financially unfeasible.

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 5:56 PM   
 By:   Ebab   (Member)

The funny thing about good B&W cinematography, especially when projected in a movie theater, is this strange sense of depth – not as in “3D”, but rather “layered” … it’s hard to describe. Color photography of course has different and potent possibilities, but it’s rather ‘flat’ in comparison. No mystery.


 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 6:05 PM   
 By:   Francis   (Member)



Nonsense; hand-tinted color is practically as old as cinema, itself, and three-strip Technicolor was introduced into feature films in 1935. The prevalence of black-and-white film until the early 1960s was due both to artistic and economic considerations, though the latter was a question of whether a film's boxoffice prospects would be enhanced by color to the extent that they would exceed the extra cost, not because it was financially unfeasible.


Well you are right about the switch taking quite some time but even when most studios had the capabilities to make color films, they were not wildly popular at first because early tinting techniques and Technicolor film left much to be desired.

It is also reasonable to presume that a lot of film makers did not like the change and were pretty skeptical of it at first.

Anyway, the artform is not lost so we can now enjoy both.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 6:18 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....I'm a big fan as I grew up with them and don't know any better. Plus, it's FAR harder to shoot black and white than colour. If your contrast ratio is off then you are a goner, for everyone to see.

I would love to hear Manderley's comments on this, but I think if b/w was still prolific today (as much as colour), the number of cinematographers out there would go down by two thirds.....



OH DEAR!

I LOVE Black-and-White films from the Golden Age. They "seem" to have an artistry not prevalent in color films---probably because they use "hard" light as their key ingredient---which creates hard-edged shadows and highlights which contemporary color films using softlight or reflected light can't, in the same way. But this kind of hard edge lighting CAN also be done in color films, and I've always felt that LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, ELMER GANTRY, and SLIGHTLY SCARLET, are good examples of color films of the past which had noir underpinnings insofar as the lighting goes. There are many others, of course.

Probably my favorite cameramen are ones who worked in the Golden Age in B&W, or at least started there. The last---to me---well-photographed B&W film was IN COLD BLOOD (with an additional nod to YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.) I really wanted to like DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID---and I did like the movie itself---but I felt the cameraman, even though he attempted valiantly to match to the old style, really didn't understand how that style was mechanically accomplished, and was filtering it through his contemporary understandings. One of my old friends photographed RUMBLE FISH, and I thought that was also a valiant attempt to bring back the past style, but it was severely hampered by today's technology and budgets, because the studio "printed" the B&W film on color stock to save money and time (as is often done today).

Many years ago I worked on a project in which I was the cameraman, and Ernest Haller---one of Warner Bros. great cameramen who shot many of the Bette Davis B&W films as well as being the top cameraman on GWTW---was brought in as a consultant. I had been trained originally in B&W only, by several of the best, and it was a special experience working with Haller, and learning even more "old" tricks.

At that time, it must have been the late '60s, GONE WITH THE WIND had recently been released, the image cropped for the big screen, and projected in 70mm. I was young and more idealistic then, and when we sat down to lunch together, I started talking to him about this film, and how I was really upset at how they had compromised the original imagery he had worked so hard to accomplish. I was, therefore, stunned to hear him say, "Gee, I liked it." He felt that, considering what they intended to do, they had attempted to do it in the best way possible, and that, in his estimation, the close-ups and long shots were well-handled, whereas the medium shots were difficult to fit into the frame (though the choices they had made were correct.) I couldn't believe I was hearing this, but as I've thought about it over the years, I realized that cameramen, as well as being artists, were always looking toward new things---from finer-grained negative film stocks so you wouldn't see the grain, to sound, to better printing stocks, to 2-color, then 3-color, then color negative, to wide-screen and CinemaScope and 70mm---and on and on. My whole outlook changed and although I tremendously enjoy the old concepts, I am more accepting of the new, in many cases. I also remembered how "archaic" I had found silent films to be when I was younger, and I still find the poorer ones hard to watch today.

AND SO.....MOST OF YOU MAY WANT TO STOP READING HERE.





I like colorization.

Not the cheap stuff most of us saw at the beginning, of course. The "Color by Colorization" company developed the first viable process---it was first used by the extant Hal Roach company in the '80s on the Laurel and Hardy shorts and TOPPER---and was excruciating! Colors were badly chosen, didn't follow the outlines, sometimes dropped out on on individual frames, and couldn't properly track moving action.

Then along came CFT, "Color Film Techologies". This was a step up, but not much better. As with many businesses, time and detail is money and it was the same with colorization. The application of color to each frame is time consuming, and the application of more and more location points, and variations, of color to each frame is even more time and money. With a limited budget, compromises have to be made and it is usually made in the realm of how many colors will be applied to each shot and how many locations they will be applied---that BECOMES the budget. CFT was the process first used on the Turner Entertainment films. It appeared to me that the first reel or so of the films, the last reel, and maybe a reel or so in the middle were given preferential treatment and the rest sloughed off. Apparently CFT's deal with Turner was that Turner would license the films to CFT for colorization, essentially free-of-charge, CFT would colorize them on their own buck, then would air them on their syndicated color network, receiving the money from the in-place pre-sold integrated commercials in the broadcasts as their colorization fee, and Turner would receive the colorized master for their library. CFT very soon went out of business---as the costs of doing the colorization came very high, and their process was very time consuming.

Then, along came AFT, "American Film Technology", a much better, refined process, working more in the digital realm, which completed the Turner color contracts. The colorization processes of B&W films we see today are generally much more highly advanced digital versions of the AFT original concepts.

One of the drawbacks remaining in colorization today is that we have rarely seen the process used on old B&W material which has been digitally transferred at high bit-rates. But it is out there in more scattered examples. The Shirley Temple films have been colorized AGAIN, this time they look much, much better on DVD. I was always impressed with the 10-or-so B&W John Wayne films done by Republic Pictures Home Video before being taken over by Paramount. There were a number of very creative decisions regarding the color choices made in those, and I felt that it opened up the possibilities even more. The "Legend" film releases (usually released on Fox Home Video) of several Universal Sherlock Holmes films, the Ty Power MARK OF ZORRO, and the public domain films THE GREAT RUPERT and BEYOND TOMORROW, are all examples of where colorization (of B&W films) is headed, and where we still have to go. Unfortunately the costs are still high, though coming down as much technology and skills are being developed.

Some of those who don't like the idea of "colorization" probably are not aware of how much color enhancement is being done to today's film and broadcast material. Very little film and TV is now free of any color enhancement, and you see it regularly in shows like CSI: MIAMI, CSI: LAS VEGAS, and nearly every movie you can name---particularly the big-budget ones. It is often subtle, but it's still there, and I doubt that many a cameraman shooting today would be able to achieve his "style" without it.

So what's the problem? Well, mainly it has to do with today's perceptions of how the "original" artist intended it. One of the old arguments is that, "If they'd wanted it in color, they'd have made it in color." That's simply not true in most cases. Budgets, time constraints, WWII, and especially, limits on Technicolor camera bodies, dye-transfer print manufacturing capabilities, and a viable single-negative color process, held mass-production of color films down during the '30s and '40s. Once the '50s had arrived and several color negative stocks were available, the B&W film was doomed. No matter how purist you wish to be about it---color was an advancement over black-and-white---FOR THE GENERAL AUDIENCE.

And from my ancient perspective of talking with the old cameramen from this day, I'm sure from their conversations they would have been happy to have color sooner, and also to have NO grain in their film negatives (---which, in those days, was a real bugaboo, despite current purist beliefs in the "film look with grain". By their lens exposures and lighting they made as many attempts as possible to reduce or eliminate the apparent grain, and were always happy when a new, finer grain film stock was developed by Eastman, Du Pont, Ilford, or whoever.)

In one of those "looking-back-on-it" quirks of the past, Dore Schary at MGM in the early '50s continued to maintain a budget line of B&W "B" pictures for several years. During this period John Arnold, an old '20s cameraman who was later head of MGM's camera department for years and years, suggested to Schary that since they had new non-Technicolor 1-strip color stocks (....MGM had pioneered the use of Ansco color negative at their lab in the early '50s which made in-house processing and printing available easily), which could be shot in any camera, why not shoot ALL their films in color, deciding later whether to release in black-and-white or color, but always having a color film negative as a master. Looking back at this idea from today's perspective makes one think it was prescient, at least regarding today's markets, but Schary apparently felt it added just a few too many thousands of dollars to the budgets of these B's and never implemented the idea.


Finally.....I've never been an advocate of substituting forever a colorized film for a B&W one, but I see no reason why they can't co-exist side-by-side, as long as the original is maintained.

It is historically interesting to note that Frank Capra was involved with the first colorization attempts on IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and withdrew his support only after, apparently, he wasn't paid the fee he thought he was due. Joseph Walker, the cameraman on the film, complimented the process, and was later roundly criticized for his approval. Recently Ray Harryhausen has lent his support and apparently, approval, to the colorization of several '30s films he worked on---all to the amazement of some stunned "film as art" observers. It is also interesting to note that the industry has always attempted to work color into films, even primitively, from the days of tinting and toning, Pathe color stenciling, 2-color Technicolor, Magnacolor, and Cinecolor processes, to the 1950s-60s experiments in hand-coloring-and-rotoscoping test reels of footage from GRASS, a silent film, and CASABLANCA.

 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 6:37 PM   
 By:   Stefan Miklos   (Member)



Probably my favorite cameramen are ones who worked in the Golden Age in B&W, or at least started there. The last---to me---well-photographed B&W film was IN COLD BLOOD (...).





It's interesting that you mention this film which was shot by the late Conrad Hall who learnt his craft with five Golden Age cinematographers in the 1950's and one in particular named Ted McCord. When Conrad Hall started in the business, he was again under the influence of Ted McCord but interpreted it his own way, of course.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 7:18 PM   
 By:   ahem   (Member)

Manderley,

I am awe. You have no idea how special all of this is to me. smile

In a way, I don't want to know your identity, because my mind would blow and I'd annoy you with career retrospective threads. That said, I have narrowed you down to one of five DPs now. wink I am also pretty sure we have crossed paths in some way or another before.

To my mind three strip and black and white proved to be the best disciplines for the cinematographers whose work has most impressed me. Of course, those who assisted during that period (and I am assuming that would include yourself) went on to define what I call the most exciting era of cinematography in the late 60s through the 70s. With the faster stocks, faster lenses, pushing, Chemtone/Flashing- but with all the classical disciplines that taught them the trade such as hard light, contrast ratios- the results were nothing we'll ever see again. A transitional period in which the best of both worlds complimented each other (even if the conservative Golden Agers hated it). However, most of the DPs I have met from that era (seemingly much like yourself) don't hold much of an affection for it- they are like you more interested in the time before them (pre and just post war) or are all read up on the RED camera. Maybe it's a generational thing...

What do you think of Freddie Francis' work on THE ELEPHANT MAN? I can't think of anything more timeless. That has all of the dramatic hard light you mention and so much more. On the other end of the (monotone?) spectrum, David Watkin's work on THE KNACK has to be my favourite for black and white soft naturalism.

PS you forgot to mention the equally blasphemous/innovative for the time tinting that Ray Mercer's company did on Giorgio Moroder's "restoration" of METROPOLIS.

Many many thanks and please post about this stuff more often!!

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 16, 2007 - 7:30 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....In a way, I don't want to know your identity, because my mind would blow and I'd annoy you with career retrospective threads. That said, I have narrowed you down to one of five DPs now. I am also pretty sure we have crossed paths in some way or another before.....

Your comments are always welcome and your remarks about your own world always interesting, ahem, but please don't get your hopes up. I am not one of the five---or ten. smile The only thing I can tell you is experiences going back many years.

To paraphrase Friedhofer, "I was a pygmy in a land of giants." But I have worked for, and among, the best.



Freddie Francis' work on THE ELEPHANT MAN was superb. Cardiff, Haskin, Neame, Francis, and others, in hindsight, should have aways stuck to photography.

 
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