I was flipping through the channels the other night when I saw that EPIX was showing Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.” It was one of my favorite movies from last year, and I was excited to catch a little bit of it again for the first time since I saw it in theaters. But to my horror, when it popped up on my screen it was not the same film I saw last November – it was in color. “Nebraska” was released in theaters as a black and white film, but as recent articles revealed, a color version had been made for some foreign markets and for possible TV runs, despite Alexander Payne’s hopes that this other version would never be seen.
This is a disappointing example of the bias there is against black and white films. Color films have been the predominant form for the last 50 years or so and as a result there are large numbers of people who have little to no exposure to black and white films, and therefore believe the style of filmmaking to be inherently boring. Of course, that is ridiculous. One example against that off the top of my head is the brilliant closing act from John Ford’s 1939 film “Stagecoach.” Watch that and try to not be enthralled despite the lack of yellows and greens.
Another misguided sentiment is that people that film in black and white are doing it just to be different than for any particular reason. Yes, there are definite examples of that being the case, but a majority of filmmakers who make the decision to forgo color have a very good reason for it. There’s a reason Alexander Payne didn’t want the color version of “Nebraska” to ever be shown, because the lack of color adds to the tone and environment of the film. Just from the few moments of the color version that I saw it seemed off putting; it’s simply not the same movie.
Believe it or not, there are a couple of high profile black and white movies that are set to release in the coming weeks that have many people excited. They are “The Giver” and “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” Though both films use color – in the case of “The Giver,” it will fully switch to a color film at some point – black and white is a purposeful stylistic choice and one that hasn’t stopped audiences from looking forward to them. In fact, when the first trailer for “The Giver” came out, I had to smile as fans of the book lashed out on social media that it wasn’t in black and white.
People need to get over the notion that black and white is a relic of the past; there are a number of films that have been in black and white in the last twenty years that were critical and commercial successes. Check out the list of films that would not be the same if they were in color and why it is still and will always be a vital part of the film industry.