One of the most striking features of the new film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s acclaimed Young Adult novel "The Giver," which hits theaters August 15th, is its blend of black and white and color cinematography. In the film, a grayscale color scheme is used to indicate how protagonist Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) views his futuristic world before The Giver (Jeff Bridges) gives him memories of what the world was like before his society outlawed strong emotions and young man begins to feel for the first time in his life. But “The Giver” isn’t the first film to contrast black and white and color as a narrative element, as seen with these five stylish films.
American History X (1998)
Directed by Tony Kaye
Former neo-Nazi Derek Vinyland (Edward Norton) tries to stop his troubled younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) from following his hateful footsteps. “American History X” became one of the most controversial studio films of the late ‘90s because of its incendiary depiction of race relations. With the controversy now in the past, the film is a gorgeously shot, full-throated rejection of racism that tips its hand well before its tragic finale by featuring a number of flashbacks to Derek’s white supremacist past where the world was presented in stark black and white.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is a mixed media piece that chronicles the “rip roaring rampage of revenge” that the Bride (Uma Thurman), a former assassin, goes on after being beat her into a coma by her ex-lover Bill (David Carradine). The formally ambitious film includes an animated segment, a split screen Brian De Palma tribute and a black and white battle royal between the Bride and dozens of masked gangsters that works as a tribute to the Shaw Brothers’70s martial arts epics and a clever way of getting buckets of gore past the MPAA’s censors.
Sin City (2005)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
Adapted from selected volumes of Frank Miller’s acclaimed comic book series of the same name, “Sin City” is an anthology film about the killers, scoundrels and thugs with hearts of gold that inhibit the perennially rainy noir nightmare called Basin City. Directors Rodriguez and Miller shot “Sin City” in color, decolorized the entire film in post-production and digitally painted in certain elements – the icy blue of a young sex worker’s eyes, and the blazing cherry red of a police car’s siren – to stunning effect. While the film never fully transitions into color, it rarely spends much time with a strain of color, making it an anomaly among films that feature black and white and color elements.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Chris Nolan’s second film follows retrograde amnesiac Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) as he tries to find the man who murdered his wife. Though “Memento” is often described as unspooling in reverse, it actually splits its narrative between two timelines; a full color story that plays out in reverse and a parallel story which unfolds linearly in black and white. In one devastating sequence, the two timelines merge as it becomes clear that the film is much more morally ambiguous than it first appeared.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Directed by Victor Fleming
When bright-eyed Kansan Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) finds herself transported to the magical Land of Oz after a tornado rips through her small town, she sets off on a life changing journey to get home. As Dorothy was transported from drab depression era Kansas into the gleaming wonder of Oz, she also transitioned from a world of drab black and white to one of brilliant Technicolor. While full of stunning visuals and wonderful performances, the scene where Dorothy enters OZ is the film’s most indelible moment. And as with “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Giver’s” transition from black and white to color also signifies that the protagonist has entered a world full of heretofore unimagined dangers.
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