George Miller’s masterpiece Mad Mad: Fury Road was recently re-released in cinemas around the world, converted in black and white, or rather black and chrome. The new version, much like the old version, is incredible, and the conversion works so well that after the first two minutes you forget you’re watching a black and white movie. There are actually scenes, like the war rig passing through the crow’s swampland, that are improved with the lack of colour. This got us thinking about what movies would benefit from the monochrome treatment and we’ve put together five here for you
Rian Johnson’s career has mostly been spent wading through the murky world of noir, adding his own twists and turns, but living in a world where Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler would feel at home. Brick and Brothers Bloom are both movies that double as love letters to the classics and who knows? Maybe his Star Wars movie will be based around a galactic murder investigation. His 2012 movie, Looper, is full of sci-fi trappings but retains that same noir spirit with gangsters, a shady hero, and big old heaping of moral grey areas. Shifting the movie to black and white enhances these elements in the early city and club scenes, and for the final part of the movie, which is set predominantly in a cornfield, it creates big infinitely bright skies and cornfields that lose their yellow and descend into murky shadow, changing the wide open spaces into places where the heroes’ pursuers could always be hiding.
Essentially, due to his mastery of light, you could add any Roger Deakins shot movie to this list. You only have to look at his work in The Man Who Wasn’t There to see how well his shots transfer to monochrome to create beautiful images that are emotionally rich and full of darkness. Fargo, for my money the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, is a noir classic that ditches the traditional murky alleys and mean city streets for long roads and snow. Switched to black and white the snow becomes oppressively bright plunging every else into shadow. Fargo is a movie about the evil things normal people do and what happens when bad people and darkness arrive in small town America, it doesn’t really get more metaphorical then shadows dirtying up freshly fallen snow.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Steven Soderbergh quite famously made a version of Raiders of the Lost Ark in black and white with no dialogue to show how understandable a movie is without lines if the shots are perfectly composed. And I think the other point was to show how incredible Raiders looks in black and white. Raiders, much like the other entries in this list, is a throwback to a previous era of Hollywood and is shot and directed as such. There are some modern twists but the movie is a homage to the serials of the 1930s that Spielberg an Lucas grew up on. The movie is mostly set in wide open desert or dark, cavernous treasure chambers, rich in beams of light and inescapable shadows. Watching Soderbergh’s version is like looking back in time as though Harrison Ford was a matinee ideal having drinks with Cary Grant and John Wayne after shooting is over. It also, somehow, elevates Raiders into something beautiful and actually quite chilling, with the darkness stripping away some of the cartoon-y elements of the colour version and enhancing some of the casual violence of the original.
Filmed entirely with natural light that cast big, arcing shadows across proceedings, The Witch was one of the best and most beautiful horror movies of 2016. To really push forward the movie’s prevailing feeling of oppression, black and white photography would really tighten the noose, making the homestead, already too small, even smaller and the sense that there is nowhere to hide from the accusative family more explicit. The characters in the movie deal in very stark morality throughout and you are either good or you have signed your name in the devil’s book. You could even say that they only see things in black and white. The colours, or lack of, would also enhance two of the characters’ most striking features. The main character, Thomasin, is pale as milk and another character is so black that they call him Black Philip. Stripping away colours would make these two characters into the sun and shadow, dominating the screen whenever they appear.
The inspiration for this article, as stated above, is the conversion to black and white of a perfect movie, so I thought I would challenge myself with another piece of cinema perfection. Carol is a controlled, beautiful dance of restraint. It constantly steps back from melodrama to have its characters engage in quiet, perfect moments. It is shot beautifully and simply. Removing colour would not harm the movie but enhance it as it would guarantee that there is nothing, not even colour, that could distract from the movie’s greatest asset: the lead performances by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. Both actresses are doing career best work and anything that keeps your focus upon them is a benefit. Also, as the movie is shot so masterfully and the period setting is so well-realised, the conversion to black and white gives the movie a classic feel, as though it has always existed, long before we were born, a vintage piece of cinema that gets shown on TV on a Sunday afternoon and turns people into instant cinephiles.
Featured Image: The Weinstein Company