Serious good films = less colour?

Andy in Sig

Vice President in Exile
The two most thought provoking films which I've recently watched are George Clooney's Good Night And Good Luck and Das Weisse Band (released in the UK as The White Ribbon). Both happened to be in black and white, both were serious and highly moral films but cracking cinema nonetheless and both, particularly the latter, have led to long, thoughtful conversations amongst people who would not normally talk about such issues.

That got me wondering: could it be that black and white lends itself to serious cinema more than colour? Does colour detract from the subject matter? Consider even Saving Private Ryan - the colour is relatively muted, which sort of makes it less flash Hollywood and more a worthy film.

This is just a subjective impression and I've not arrived at an answer yet and I was just wondering what others think.
 

summerdays

Cycling in the sun
Location
Bristol
I certainly love black and white photographs of people ... I find that you see the person, their expression etc rather than being distracted by what they are wearing and the background etc.
 

Norm

Guest
But is it cause or effect? Does Hollywood make its "serious" movies in dull colours or do dull colours turn a film into a more "serious" movie?
 

Ste T.

Über Member
It could well be...
There is a school of thought in photography that if colour is not relavent to the image then it only detracts, and that most serious images should be shot in mono.
I'm not sure I would go that far, but I can see the point
I would certainly say that of the cinematographers art, Carol Reeds 'The Third Man'
is, imho, the best British movie ever made. Reed was absolutly at the of his game. The use of light and shadow was stunning. Can you picture the same movie in colour?
Even with that wonderful soundtrack, it would have been just another British post war thriller, good , but not outstanding.
 
OP
Andy in Sig

Andy in Sig

Vice President in Exile
I agree entirely about The Third Man.

In still photography I think if you are trying to emphasise structure, then you probably need black and white.

But in film, I wonder if the use of black and white reduces distraction and creates room for meaning to come through.
 

Globalti

Legendary Member
I've pondered this question for years and never really come to a conclusion. I do agree with everything above but do also I think that the classic B&W photos and films that survive are genuinely extraordinary and have survived because of their quality, which possibly blinds us into thinking they survived because they are B&W. Not very well explained but I hope you see what I mean.

To try to explain: the script and acting in a film like Brief Encounter are true classics and I don't think it would harm the film at all if it was re-shot in exactly the same way, with the same actors but in colour.
 

Norm

Guest
Globalti said:
Not very well explained but I hope you see what I mean.
I do, certainly, and this was the thinking behind my question. We have become accustomed to B&W work being "art" so when we see something in black and white, we are more likely to view it as such.

Film makers (and photographers) have capitalised on this, as removing the colour makes it easy to get across that a film / image is meant to be clever rather than entertaining.

IMO, it's circular, cause and effect. Black and white was art so art became black and white.
 
OP
Andy in Sig

Andy in Sig

Vice President in Exile
But that would indicate that virtually no directors think they are making serious films i.e. very few are in B&W. I suspect that directors probably have to fight to get films made in Black and White.
 

Norm

Guest
I'm not sure that "very few" are in black and white, but I'll agree that very few which come out of Hollywood are serious films.
 

ASC1951

Guru
Location
Yorkshire
Globalti said:
I've pondered this question for years and never really come to a conclusion. I do agree with everything above but do also I think that the classic B&W photos and films that survive are genuinely extraordinary and have survived because of their quality, which possibly blinds us into thinking they survived because they are B&W.
I think that is spot on.

I suppose it also depends on what you mean by a serious film. If you mean something that makes you think for weeks afterwards about the plot or the issues raised, most of the directors capable of such work would mute the colours and the contrast - my example would be the Three Colours films. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Colors_Trilogy - for the obvious reason that they don't want you distracted.

But there are other serious films which depend for their effect on 'atmosphere' and there colour and image can be used extravagantly. My examples would be
Apocalypse Now, 2001 and possibly Blade Runner - all by British Directors, I see. [Given that he did all his major work in England, that includes Kubrick.]
 
OP
Andy in Sig

Andy in Sig

Vice President in Exile
That's a good point: colour certainly added to Apocalypse Now. Maybe it is a question of how skilled and thoughtful the director is in that a good director will manipulate the medium exactly according to his purposes.
 

Globalti

Legendary Member
I agree that with films of that quality colour is an important element but I would still maintain that the writing and the plot are the first elements followed by the directing/acting.

Apocalypse Now is a great film, I agree. Nothing conveys the madness and chaos of war better. But it is based heavily on Conrad's dark and disturbing novel Heart of Darkness, itself a classic. How much of the quality of the film is derived from the quality of the original book?

Another example: Last of the Mohicans: visually spectacular but based on the epic novel of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper. Dr Zhivago... the list goes on....
 

Flying_Monkey

Toll Collector on the Road to Nowhere
I think we notice B&W more these days and that says 'quality' to us - in some ways it is quite a cheap and unsubtle way to mark out a film as 'different'. But there were plenty of really bad B&W films made when B&W was the norm.

The reason B&W films say 'quality' though is because they are clearly a step away from the hyper-real, the heightened super-HD, 3D, everythingD but actually incredibly bland norm of contemporary mass-marketed Hollywood cinema. Sound is the same. You notice film with interesting sound tracks or effects, because most of Hollywood's output is so pumped up.

But while I appreciate the premise of the OP (and many of my favourite films are B&W), I think it's not entirely correct. There are multiple styles and eras of colour too. Think about the glorious Technicolour of the late 50s, the sun-saturated concrete and deep blue shadows of LA films of the early 1970s (e.g. Point Blank), the natural tones in Kore-Eda Hirokazu's contemporary Japanese films, the gorgeous symbolic colour in Chinese cinema (in lurid extremes in Hong Kong historical kung-fu films), or the sepia tones of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou (in fact all the Cohen Brothers work which draws on Roger Deakins's outstanding cinematography)... and so much, much more.

Don't let the flashy mainstream distract you!
 

marinyork

Resting in suspended Animation
Location
Logopolis
I did think Good Night and Good luck was quite good. On the topic of classic feel I don't think it's always good, I found it very irritating when the opening sequence of Casino Royale was shot in black and white.
 
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