Black and White Cinematography (17 replies and 9 comments)
Hello Mr. Deakins, I'd just like to say that I'm a huge fan of your work! I'd like to know what your thoughts are on cinematography in black and white films. What do you think are some black and white films that revolutionized cinematography be it creative ways of using lighting, camera movement/placement, new technology etc? I'm trying to watch more black and white films from the earlier days of Hollywood so I'd like to know what you think are films from that era that changed cinematography. Thank you!
In no particular order these are some of my favorite but not just from Hollywood: 'Ugetsu Monogatari', 'Sancho the Bailif', 'In Cold Blood', 'Hud', 'Ivan's Childhood', 'Battleship Potemkin', 'Kamaradshaft', 'Nosferatu', 'On he Beach', 'Out of the Past', 'Dr Strangelove', Ashes and Diamonds', 'Citizen Kane', 'The Magnificent Ambersons' etc. I will have to think which might have been the most 'influential'. 'Citizen Kane' is the one always quoted but everything is built on what has gone before!
Hey there, Prenav and Mr. Deakins. I hope you don't mind me inviting myself to the conversation, but I highly recommend the 1931 German film "M", directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. A wonderful black and white film about paranoia in the face of a serial killer on the loose and dripping in gorgeous German Expressionism.
Additionally, one of his previous films "Metropolis" is a visual feast as well, exhibiting not just German Expressionism, but the architectural style of Brutalism, which was showcased beautifully by Roger himself in Blade Runner 2049.
I just recently bought the criterion edition for M, looking forward to watching it for the first time! Another great film from the silent German Expressionism era is The Last Laugh by F.W. Murnau.
To Roger's list, which is close to mine, I'd add some of my favorites:
1920s: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Sunrise, The Last Laugh, Passion of Joan of Arc, Napoleon
1930s: All's Quiet on the Western Front, Shanghai Express, Scarlet Empress, The Bride of Frankenstein, Midsummer Night's Dream, Alexander Nevsky, Wuthering Heights, Le Jour Se Leve
1940s: Rebecca, The Grapes of Wrath, The Long Voyage Home, How Green Was My Valley, Casablanca, Jane Eyre, Mildred Pierce, Beauty and the Beast, Great Expectations, The Fugitive, The Third Man
1950s: Sunset Boulevard, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Sweet Smell of Success, Rashomon, Othello, Seven Samurai, The Apu Trilogy, The Seventh Seal, Throne of Blood, Wild Strawberries, Touch of Evil, The Cranes Are Flying, The Night of the Hunter, Tokyo Story
1960s: Last Year in Marienbad, Psycho, Yojimbo, I Am Cuba, 8 1/2, Hard Day's Night, Red Beard, Persona, The Innocents
1970-90s: The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Eraserhead, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Rumblefish, Schindler's List
We watched 'On Dangerous Ground' the other night. Of course I have seen it many times but not recently. It's magnificent. Also 'The Asphalt Jungle'. Not just the lighting but the shot construction in this film is sublime. The last scene is just beautiful. It is a film with something to say and with a real 'heart'. They really don't make them like that anymore.
‘Sterling Hayden’ One of the most intense actors who never really wanted to be and actor. A very complicated person if ever there was one, willing to talk about anything providing it’s not the film business. Highly intelligent and very close to insanity. Very explosive performances when called for making him a very desirable property. Very difficult man to direct I would imagine But still a stunning actor imo.
"Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" certainly has heart and something to say.
And I'm going to check out the 1989 B&W Hungarian film "My Twentieth Century" later in the week.
I would add Cat People by Jacques Tourneur as it redefined psychological drama in the 1940s and it was all done with a minuscule budget for RKO Pictures by Val Lewton who was the producer of many psychological dramas. Curse of the Cat People is my favorite of his films. Also Gaslight directed by George Cukor, it’s where the term “gaslighting” came from and a psychological film that is still studied until this day. You will find that classic cinema is what defined movies and elevated them into works of art.
I wouldn’t necessarily undermine modern cinema. Though my tastes have veered into modern action films like Tomb Raider, John Wick, Atomic Blonde, The Matrix... what most would consider drivel, I consider interesting. I am embracing color and intricate camera movements. I just find action presents the viewer with more stimulating cinema, that you can’t find in the past. A kind of adrenaline that is fast-paced and deeply unreal. And synthetic music, I am embracing the future. And the future is colorful and fast, like electronic music. It’s all in the rhythm of things, that’s what cinema is to me, it has become... it’s just a different perspective. I cannot bear slow films anymore. It has to be fast.
the more I think about cinema, they’re part of a conscious whole, they are like perpetual revelations of dreams and illusions, different dimensions, a time machine of sorts to where the contents cannot be changed, but every view becomes a process of discovery, a different perception, a new realization of the contents. We just observe them from afar, but I believe future films will become interactive mazes, with the inception of AI, we will be able to live out our deepest illusions and dreams, perhaps a form of inter-dimensional travel. With cinema you achieve higher consciousness, it makes you alive, aware that there is more to this fades circus we call life.
Personally, I would hope that cinema again embraces the challenges we face as a society rather than the fantasy of Superheros or inter-dimensional travel. But I am not a subscriber to string theory or the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory, neither of which we will ever be able to prove one way or the other.
Whether or not String or M Theory is true or not, it's a problem to spend a lot of time on a model for the universe that cannot be tested, though who knows what test future scientists will come up with. Basic quantum mechanics is already weird enough... on another group, we were discussing how light is slowed down in a medium like glass or water, when someone had to remind me that actually at the quantum level, there isn't a single photon traveling through a medium, it's all about the average of probabilities of where the photon can exist at any point, which is always a bit mind-blowing.
Yes, we are all a wave form of probabilities and, sad to say, some of us are more probable than others! If there is a infinity of worlds then why am I in this one? Why can't I be in one without 'you know who'? To my mind Lee Smolin has a more sane reading of reality. Some things just are!
I'd like to mention "The Third Man". When I first watched it, I was just blown away. I never saw such an impressive B&W picture before. Spectacular lighting, unusual angles...
Even though they are far from being from the earlier days of Hollywood (quite the opposite actually), I would definitely recommend “ Ida” (2013), “Cold War” (2018) – both directed by Pawel Pawlikowsky, and have Lukasz Zal as DP – and Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece “Roma” (2018).
One great exercise for me is trying to visualize in which ways their cinematography is inspired by the classics and in which whey they are seeking to develop their own visual style.