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 Posted:   Jul 17, 2007 - 8:10 PM   
 By:   The_Mark_of_Score-O   (Member)

In some hands, yes. In others, simply a limited spectrum reproduction of the scene in view. It's fairly obvious that many mass-produced B&W films and TV shows gave no thought at all to B&W as a storytelling technique---only as a compromised budgetary technique.

Not true. Black and white demands that it be lit differently from color, in that light and shadow must be employed to define objects. if one tries to tell a "realistic" story in the totally subjective realm of black-and-white, one will fail utterly from practically the first frame.

 
 Posted:   Jul 17, 2007 - 8:11 PM   
 By:   Stefan Miklos   (Member)

.....Creative black and white is always connected to the 1920's German Expressionist cinema, isn't it Manderley?.....


Perhaps to an extent, Stefan, though there was certainly "creative" photography in US films before that, I'd say.




The great American cinematographers were under its influence, anyway: see how they used it and reinterpreted it through genre films as Film Noir, war films, horror films, and even in some western as "Pursued" (1947).
It's a tool to express madness and mental disorder (high anxiety, amnesia, fear...) and to depict a world of nightmare via odd angleshots (high, low, tilted, off-centered, splitted), low-key lighting (i.e., saturated contrast with little room for grey tones) and focused beams of light, distortions made with a wide angle lens.
Basically, directors like Hitchcock and Welles are German Expressionist-oriented.

 
 Posted:   Jul 17, 2007 - 8:26 PM   
 By:   Stefan Miklos   (Member)

This is actor Harry Guardino as Major Roger Brothers in "The Human Factor".

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 17, 2007 - 8:36 PM   
 By:   ahem   (Member)

In some hands, yes. In others, simply a limited spectrum reproduction of the scene in view. It's fairly obvious that many mass-produced B&W films and TV shows gave no thought at all to B&W as a storytelling technique---only as a compromised budgetary technique.

Not true. Black and white demands that it be lit differently from color, in that light and shadow must be employed to define objects. if one tries to tell a "realistic" story in the totally subjective realm of black-and-white, one will fail utterly from practically the first frame.


Jack Cardiff and Freddie Francis both told me they lit colour the same as they would black and white (and Cardiff was doing three strip before he ever did black and white). Granted, this is why these gentlemen (and many of their contempoaries) had a very stylish, harder lit look when working in colour, all the way up to the 1990s. Turn the colour off on Scorsese's CAPE FEAR for example, and it could be from the same universe as THE INNOCENTS or THE ELEPHANT MAN.

Stefan Czapsky's work on ED WOOD is another stand out we had not mentioned before.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 17, 2007 - 9:20 PM   
 By:   franz_conrad   (Member)

Among the recent films, I think Robert Elswitt did some very fine work on GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. Wasn't so keen on Soderbergh's lensing of THE GOOD GERMAN - though I understand there are limiting circumstances in that case, it couldn't have hurt to hire a proper DP for it.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 17, 2007 - 10:45 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....Jack Cardiff and Freddie Francis both told me they lit colour the same as they would black and white (and Cardiff was doing three strip before he ever did black and white). Granted, this is why these gentlemen (and many of their contempoaries) had a very stylish, harder lit look when working in colour, all the way up to the 1990s.....


Precisely, ahem. And nearly every other Golden Age cameraman who moved from B&W to Color and back did it the same way too. Indeed, turn down the color on 90% of these old color films and they look like they were shot in B&W.

In most of my conversations with old-line cameramen, nearly all of them thought that what we now know as "film noir" was the EASIEST kind of B&W film to shoot---a "piece-of-cake", as it were.

Almost to a person, they felt that the most difficult kind was the strong romantic drama in which a dramatic tone had to be constantly maintained, but everyone in the film had to look his best at all times. In actuality, that is incredibly difficult to achieve, particularly as people walk around in a room, have angles they think is best, flaws to conceal, and drama that moves from room to room without much cutting. That kind of photography separates the men from the boys in pure technique and skill, but it is not showy to the layman---he doesn't see or understand what is going on---and it's not obvious like the stark B&W, low-fill noirs everyone seems to love today.

But what distinguishes old-time photography of any style from today's photography, is that virtually every shot and angle in those days was re-lit, sometimes from scratch, for the best look of that angle or shot, not only of the principals, but of the set and atmosphere surrounding.

Today we often light the whole set and pop off shots all day in one lighting setup. Kinda reminds you of the days of Vitaphone or early television.

Interestingly enough, several of my friends and myself, who've been through the wars for years and years agree that, with high-speed lenses, extremely fast films and/or video recording capabilities, and lightweight hand-held cameras, the era of the cameraman is over, and there won't be one on the set in the not-too-distant future.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 17, 2007 - 11:04 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....low-key lighting (i.e., saturated contrast with little room for grey tones).....


In reality, the terms "low-key lighting" and "high-key lighting" are total misnomers.

In any film situation you need to expose the negative properly. To do that, the cameramen of yore selected their film stock, selected their f-stop (generally the same for the entire film), and determined how many footcandles of light falling on the brightest part of the scene (usually the face) would expose the image properly on the negative.
That would be their "key" light, which would be used to light the scene (with as many "key" lights of that exposure necessary to light the given set.)

Lighting with just those lights is very stark, however, and was rarely ever used, even by film noir practitioners like Alton.

And so, the "fill" light, used in degrees to fill the shadows to give the negative a less contrasty density was the single most important element in giving the film its style.

By most accepted understandings, "Low-Key" lighting really means "lower-fill" lighting, and "High-Key" lighting means "higher-fill" lighting.

(I guess we don't need to get into the concept here, and utilized very occasionally in the old days, of lighting a set very flatly, and painting in all the shadows on the walls, floor, furniture and actors faces! We'll talk about that one day. smile )

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 18, 2007 - 3:28 AM   
 By:   The_Mark_of_Score-O   (Member)

Jack Cardiff and Freddie Francis both told me they lit colour the same as they would black and white (and Cardiff was doing three strip before he ever did black and white). Granted, this is why these gentlemen (and many of their contempoaries) had a very stylish, harder lit look when working in colour, all the way up to the 1990s. Turn the colour off on Scorsese's CAPE FEAR for example, and it could be from the same universe as THE INNOCENTS or THE ELEPHANT MAN.

You can light color the way you'd light black-and-white, but you cannot light black-and-white the way you'd light color.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 18, 2007 - 5:42 AM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....You can light color the way you'd light black-and-white, but you cannot light black-and-white the way you'd light color.....


Perhaps not to your taste or mine, Score-O, but, unfortunately, most black-and-white films shot today ARE lit the way you also light color today.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 18, 2007 - 10:02 AM   
 By:   Disco Stu   (Member)

I all depends on the film itself.
Colour makes it easier to recognize things and to make an inventory of what's going on.
B&W can be crucial to the atmosphere of a film. The examples are plenty.
It can be a gimmick that kills a film immediately too. Of that there are also examples.

To not watch a film because it's B&W is utter stupidity and laziness.

Then there is the colouring in stuff. That is for children. I have the "Sledge Hammer" season 2 box and in that Alan Spencer vents his disgust of colouring in. Rightly so I hastily add. He even has the ending of an episode parodying that stuff. He was right on many things and this is one of them.
I love the Guy Williams "Zorro" tv series (the ONLY Zorro in my opinion, everything else is second class at best to me and as for the Bandeiras/ Hopkins stuff: the less said about that the better) I have the DVD box but it irritates me that it has been coloured in. Especially as it is done with 90's technology and thus it is not very good. The worst thing is that when you turn the colour down to get a black and white again, the picture is fuzzy as a result of the digital manhandling.
Discrimination is not a good thing but in B&W productions I want black and white as seperated as Cape Town in the 70's.

Kind regards.

D.S.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 18, 2007 - 7:27 PM   
 By:   ahem   (Member)

Jack Cardiff and Freddie Francis both told me they lit colour the same as they would black and white (and Cardiff was doing three strip before he ever did black and white). Granted, this is why these gentlemen (and many of their contempoaries) had a very stylish, harder lit look when working in colour, all the way up to the 1990s. Turn the colour off on Scorsese's CAPE FEAR for example, and it could be from the same universe as THE INNOCENTS or THE ELEPHANT MAN.

You can light color the way you'd light black-and-white, but you cannot light black-and-white the way you'd light color.


I don't mean to go all "Thor" on us here, but I think that is a dubious statement. Guys like Raoul Coultard were using more naturalistic, lower contrast approachs with soft bounce lighting in black and white in the late 50s and into the 60s- Watkin on THE KNACK too. Gilbert Taylor was getting into it with his work HARD DAYS NIGHT as well as the Polanski pieces he shot. Much of that stuff was with available light and into the David Bailey/Terence Donovan approach for cinema- handheld Arri cameras, pushing the film, shooting wide open and blowing the windows out- a much more seemingly "improvised" approach, but the results often beautiful. Then when these same guys like Watkin went off to shoot anamorphic colour work (like CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE)- there was nothing else like it at the time. Haskell Wexler as well to some degree as his VRIGINIA WOOLF stuff was much lower contrast and softer lit (though still hard in places) than the average Hollywood studio movie of the time.

There were many conservative American cinematographers who faded into obscurity from choosing to turn their noses up at the idea of soft light. This was the danger with being too religious to their b/w contrast ratio training ("no control or skill with softlight"). Lucien Ballard, Phillip Lathrop for example, whose stuff had ended up horribly artificial and flat in the 60s, and by the 70s their work was interchangable with the worst lit episodes of QUINCY.

There were other DPs though like Douglas Slocombe who were still conservative, but kept pushing to improve their older school craftmanship- Freddie Francis too. These guys were making epic anamorphic movies look slick yet easy at the same time. Then there were older guys like Geoffrey Unsworth, Freddie Young and Oswald Morris who were embracing the new techniques but marrying them with all of the older tricks.

The real danger was that after that explosive period of change in the late 60s through the 70s (the transition of hard and soft lit stuff), there was going to be a generation that wouldn't know any better. That's where we are now, sadly, a land of shallow focus soft light as a rule, or just pastiche. However, there are really great DPs out there like M David Mullen, who like Geoffrey Unsworth, goes out of his way to know all the tools of the timeline, to use them as and when required. His anamorphic work with the Polish Brothers particularly is just exactly how films should and use to look.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 18, 2007 - 7:40 PM   
 By:   shureman   (Member)

I prefer watching B & W movies; 90% of my DVD collection is B & W and I love all of them, providing they're well mastered......

 
 Posted:   Jul 21, 2007 - 12:30 AM   
 By:   TominAtl   (Member)

I love a good black and white film as much as color. But my partner HATES them! In fact he hates to watch almost any "old movie" made prior 1980, particularly if they are sci-fi.

Yes, I do color him funny.

Tom

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 21, 2007 - 3:36 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

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!

(clip)

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

(clip)


Thank you for bringing some sanity to tthis "B&W Movies Made You Think And Were ART!!!" fantasizing. (Yep, them Three Stooges sure made ya think! BOINK!)

When I read the title of the thread, I was intrigued--how could a thinking person refuse to watch B&W??? Of course, no thinking person would.

But the thread has turned into a moldy oldies backslapping session: "Let's talk about our superior tastes!"

Thinking about some recent films like SIDEWAYS and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, I have to wonder where this fantasy of B&W movies being the exclusive providence of The Thinking Moviemaker comes from. MOST B&W movies are shit--outdated and boring, not because of the introduction of color or self-censorship or whatever, but because a lot of garbage was made by The Golden Age Filmmakers.

If I had to come up with a list of my 100 favorite films, I can guarantee the huge majority would be in color. How many B&W films lived up to the standards of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, GUNGA DIN, TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, KING KONG...? Hell, not many color films do.

But B&W movies are FILMS because, well, they're old and stuff, and everything was great BACK THEN and sucks now.

Bull.

For every SECONDS there existed two dozen programmers no one has seen since they were projected.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 21, 2007 - 3:38 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

Manderly wrote:


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.



Your posts and those of others with real understanding of the subject of B&W have made this such an enjoyable thread.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 21, 2007 - 3:41 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

A dislike of black and white films is an indication of underdeveloped tastes, if not outright stupidity (by the time adulthood is reached).

No more so than a dislike for surrealism is indicative of underdeveloped taste in painting. How is not liking a B&W film an indication of "stupidity" or immaturity?

I don't like reading subtitles, either, btw.

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 21, 2007 - 3:44 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)


if one tries to tell a "realistic" story in the totally subjective realm of black-and-white, one will fail utterly from practically the first frame.


So much for all those black and white documentaries...

 
 Posted:   Jul 22, 2007 - 4:14 AM   
 By:   Essankay   (Member)

...if one tries to tell a "realistic" story in the totally subjective realm of black-and-white, one will fail utterly from practically the first frame.

That may be true today, when most of the audience has far less experience with black-and-white, but in the early days of color it was quite the opposite. In those days color was almost exclusively the realm of musicals and costume dramas. Dramas and melodramas, documentaries and newsreels were exclusively filmed in b&w, and the lack of color signaled "realistic" to audiences (regardless of how unrealistic they may in fact have been).

Of course, today everything is in color, even documentaries, and b&w means "artistic" to the modern audience.

 
 Posted:   Jul 22, 2007 - 4:33 AM   
 By:   Essankay   (Member)

I love black-and-white films, especially the unlikely combination of wide-screen b&w. I'm just mesmerized by films like Rossen's THE HUSTLER and Bunuel's DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID.

There's also an aspect of black-and-white which hasn't yet been discussed here - b&w nitrate. Black-and-white nitrate prints are as unique a viewing experience (perhaps even more so) as Technicolor IB prints. They have a luminosity and depth which is apparently unobtainable on safety film stocks. I remember when the late Ron Haver was in charge of the film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and he programmed some of the most astonishing studio retrospectives I've ever seen - many of them included nitrate b&w prints which were a revelation. I particularly recall a nitrate screening of Welles' MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS which left me breathless.

There can't be many members here who have had the luck to view b&w nitrate - Manderley (surely), and perhaps Ray Faiola, Ron Pulliam, John Archibald, and Mark-of-Score-O (I'm guessing).

 
 
 Posted:   Jul 22, 2007 - 6:39 AM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....There's also an aspect of black-and-white which hasn't yet been discussed here - b&w nitrate. Black-and-white nitrate prints are as unique a viewing experience (perhaps even more so) as Technicolor IB prints. They have a luminosity and depth which is apparently unobtainable on safety film stocks.....


Original nitrate B&W prints ARE certainly an exceptional viewing experience---there is so much silver helping to formulate the image.

But, since nitrate prints are also part of an era generally before 1950, one of the other (and major) things about release prints of this era is that virtually all of the original print run of 200-400 prints was usually made directly off the ORIGINAL CUT CAMERA NEGATIVE.

That means that you are seeing a first-generation print, with no intermediates (fine grains, dupe negatives, lavenders) in-between. (Timed dailies printed off the camera negative were a special delight to those rare technicians and studio personnel who viewed them first in the studio screening rooms!)

The immediate pictorial quality of these original release prints was spectacular, but, unfortunately, it meant that if the original negative was scratched, ripped, or otherwise damaged, further prints were made from dupes, and that is pretty much what we have today when we see projected prints of films from this period.

(Fortunately, in many cases now, the studios---particularly Warner Bros---are finding at least some of the original camera negatives of these early films in the vaults or archives, and are making high-definition digital transfers from the originals, further cleaning them up digitally, and then distributing them on DVD or high-definition digital television. Off the top of my head, several notable examples of these rare transfers are FORTY-SECOND STREET, THE CHAMP, MARIE ANTOINETTE---all of which are quite beautiful.

Sadly, the silver content of the original prints was quite valuable, and the studios had a regular process of destroying the used prints and reclaiming the silver, particularly during WWII when it was vital to the war effort.

 
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