This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is black and white movies made since 1970. Black and white photography is often associated more with the early days of both photography and cinema. Many old pictures and movies were made in black and white. This included many early films (barring a few specific auteurs, like Georges Méliès, who actually took the time to literally paint their films frame by frame). Colour was experimented with in the silent period, but even in the early Studio Era it was mostly reserved for special films that the studios expected to be a success. It was not until the 1950's, with the advent of television, that colour started to become more popular (it was one of many different tactics film companies used to try and compete with the new medium).
Over the course of the 1960's it became more and more common, and suddenly things got turned around in the 70's. Where once colour had been a rare luxury, it was now common in filmmaking, and it was the old-fashioned black and white photography that proved something reserved for specific projects. As John Hurt noted in the documentary The Elephant Man Revealed, actual black and white film was very hard to get by 1980, usually only being sold to students. Shooting an entire movie in black and white is a rare occurrence now, and something generally done more as a stylistic choice more than as a way of conserving the budget.
For this week I've been tasked to find three of these black and white films made since 1970. I've been trying to find some that are less obvious. There are two really good choices (Eraserhead and Young Frankenstein) that I've already done for previous entries. What I've decided to do here is pick one good movie and one bad movie (both from the same year), and one more recent hidden gem that I think is really worth seeing..
Raging Bull (1980)
Why do people like this movie again? I had to watch it for a class once and couldn't stand it. The experience I had was a needlessly jarring and almost incomprehensible film. I took reading an IMDB synopsis even to get an idea that the basic plot was about a boxer with a really bad temper who takes out his frustrations on his family. When I did finally get forced to watch the entire thing I had to have an IMDB synopsis on hand just to keep myself with some idea of what was happening, and I still stand by my claim that this movie stole its Oscars from the other black and white period drama that rightfully deserved them. Martin Scorsese had a few reasons for shooting his film in black and white, which was mainly that he wanted to distinguish his movie from other colour films at the time. Fading colour stock was also an issue at the time, and Scorsese hoped that shooting in black and white would get around that problem.
The Elephant Man (1980)
David Lynch has actually made a few black and white films, most if not all of them comprising his early work. This includes many of his early shorts such as The Alphabet and The Amputee, but as a stylistic choice it is more commonly associated with his first two features. While Eraserhead used black and white imagery to its advantage, adding to the general unease of the film, Lynch used it to an entirely different end in his next film. The Elephant Man was the film that established him as a mainstream director, and like Eraserhead, he shot the film in black and white. The reason why he did this was because the film was a period piece set in Victorian England. Drawing inspiration from old black and white photographs, both Lynch and producer Mel Brooks (who previously made similar choices in Young Frankenstein) felt it needed to be in black and white to create a properly old-fashioned feeling and lend a sense of authenticity to the film's setting.
The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
Talk about going above and beyond. The Call of Cthulhu goes a few steps past being simply a modern black and white film. Not only did the filmmakers refrain from using colour photography, but they also presented it as a silent movie. The idea was that The Call of Cthulhu was to look as though it had been made around the same time as the original H.P. Lovecraft short story it was based on was first published (in 1927). This particular film not only manages to present a faithful and at times even chilling rendition of Lovecraft's text but also serves as a very effective tribute to the silent era. It may have been released in 2005, but it legitimately resembles a film made in the late 1920's.