Why Are Todays Directors Obsessed With Black And White?

Why go black-and-white? Nearly 75 years since colour burst onto the big screen as a newfangled gimmick, every film that opts out of it now needs an individual answer to that question. You’d find a wide range of explanations among the unusually large crop of monochrome films now or soon out, from Belfast, Passing and C’mon C’mon to The Tragedy of Macbeth, sections of The French Dispatch, and Paris, 13th District.

As an artistic choice, black-and-white signifies a few things. Generally, it’s priming us for a certain high-toned prestige. Usually, too, we’re dealing with a vision of the past (though two of the above films – C’mon C’mon and Paris, 13th District – are exceptions to that rule). But what it almost never guarantees is a hit. Orson Welles once said that every performance looks better in black-and-white; the statement explains his entire filmography, but it also goes some way towards explaining his commercially hazardous career. Eschewing colour is a risky roll of the dice.

There are exceptions. The two biggest are Best Picture Oscar winners, but notably, they’re the only two black-and-white films to have won that accolade since 1960. Schindler’s List (1993) and The Artist (2011), in their vastly different ways, managed to overcome the inbuilt resistance of mainstream audiences to monochrome. 

Many a later film, however, has struggled. For example, when Alexander Payne told Paramount he wanted to make his comedy-drama Nebraska (2013) in black-and-white, they slashed his budget; the film grossed a modest $27.7m (£20.5m), a quarter and one-sixth respectively of his earlier hits Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011), both of which were in colour. This is typical of the economic hit any black-and-white film in English tends to take.

Perhaps Nebraska didn’t make enough of a case for needing to be in black-and-white. A colour master of it was shot to appease Paramount, and the conversion was done in post-production; I think you can tell. Among the few creative missteps on Schindler’s List, by comparison, are the touches of colour Spielberg couldn’t resist splashing in, disrupting the impressively consistent docu-realism of his Holocaust epic to grope for sentiment.

Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/todays-directors-obsessed-black-and-white/

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