The visual aesthetics of black and white films present an entirely different, and beautiful, form of art by utilizing the monochromatic spectrum in a unique manner. Contrast, texture, lighting, and detail become fundamental in order to deliver a powerful cinematic production.
As the evolution of film continues to improve with high-definition and 4K resolution, movie making relies more on post-production manipulation in order to awe audiences. During the 1930’s, Universal Studios produced a collection of horror films we have come to know as the Universal Monster movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Wolf-Man, The Creature of the Black Lagoon, and Bride of Frankenstein (just to name a few) have not only been known for their special effects, but for effectively setting the cinematic tone for terror. This was accomplished by employing more theatrical scenes by use of lighting techniques, dramatic close-ups, and musical score. Within the previous five years, horror cinema has produced an impressive catalogue of films shot entirely in black and white. Using similar techniques as those listed above, these films go beyond the cinematic gloss of color by immersing the viewer into the world of terror.
Released in the U.S. in 2016, American horror film The Eyes of My Mother utilizes a spine chilling narrative by means of shock value. As the dark tone is established early in the film, viewers are led to evolve with the central character’s decent into madness following the death of her mother. Set in a remote farm, the scenery is picturesque. The scenes of the film shift between the landscape, the home, and the barn. Cinematically, The Eyes Of My Mother is a beautiful film that captures the terrifying atmosphere so effectively. The contrast and detail are sharp, making use of focusing the attention where needed. For The Eyes Of My Mother, the scenes become much more dramatic, adding a sense of terror sans the distraction of oversaturating colors.
Just one year prior to The Eyes Of My Mother’s release, a filmmaker named Mickey Keating (director of Carnage Park) directed the poignant feature, Darling. A haunting ghost story set in a New York City apartment, a newly hired caretaker is cautioned about the apartment’s past. According to director Mickey Keating, the choice for filming Darling in black and white was to emphasize the alienating atmosphere. The use of surrealism reveals the caretaker’s decent into madness through hallucinations and dramatic devices such as non-verbal “aside” (when a character speaks to the audience while looking directly into the camera, or spectators). The haunting atmosphere in Darling underscores the effectiveness in Keating’s choice to shoot entirely in monochrome.
Persian language film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, competed heavily in the modern vampire market with movies such as Dracula Untold, Vampire Academy, and What We Do In The Shadows (a personal favorite of mine)—all released in 2014. As an interesting side-note, the vampire folklore shares its history in the Mesopotamian region, most notably Iran-Iraq territory, with some sourcing it as the origin of vampire mythology. Ana Lily Amirpour‘s debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night narrates the relationship between a lonesome female vampire and a young man named Arash. The film explores particular themes of isolation, addiction, as well as the repercussions of one’s choices and their effects on others. The monochromatic tone compliments, and even perhaps emphasizes, such themes to accentuate the atmosphere as well as the inner struggles of the characters. The lighting is definitely something to admire in the film as the difficulty in achieving great shots during night scenes can present quite a problem when lighting is low; even more evident when filming sans color. Yet Amirpour captured the nature and tone of the story by making use of black and white film.
There is much to appreciate and admire about the achievements these three films were able to accomplish—utilizing the tools necessary in achieving an evocative cinematic presentation by utilizing techniques necessary to producing an insightful picture. Show them some love.
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