I won’t kid myself and pretend to know for sure why black and white enhances movies. My best guess is that it allows the audience to get into a certain mood and frame of mind that is synonymous with black and white. I think that is exemplified in the list I’ve constructed below. I find that most people my age (mid twenties) don’t really have an appreciation for black and white movies and I fear that the same sentiment will extend into future generations. I think that modern movies could use more black and white releases because when done correctly, it can really improve a movie. Here are my top 5 Black and White movies.
MANK was the first movie I ever reviewed on this site so it has a special place on this list. I think it was incredibly bold to release a movie in 2020 in full black and white. The color palette enhanced the movie and made it easier to accept the timeframe of the movie. If things seemed odd or the dialogue was weird, you could both see and feel that it was because of the setting of MANK. I don’t think that MANK would have suffered were it in color, but you can read more of my thoughts on it here.
Poor Anthony Perkins. A promising career cut short by a performance done too well, or so the legend goes. Hitchcock chose to film Psycho in black and white to keep the cost down, because color film was more expensive in the early days of filmmaking. It’s also said that he wanted to keep the infamous shower scene less gory so it wouldn’t be as traumatizing to audiences. There are so many horror tropes that are born of this movie, so if you haven’t seen it before, I suggest you pay your respects to the one of the masters.
3. Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai is first movie I ever scored a perfect 100. How prestigious, right? I think that the artistry of Seven Samurai would have been lost if it was shot in color. There’s so much attention to detail and focus on movement that could have been lost if the audience was distracted by underdeveloped color. For more thoughts on Seven Samurai, check out my review here.
2. Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick was a master filmmaker and knew how to illicit certain feelings from his audience, similar to Hitchcock and Kurasowa. It should be of no surprise that he makes this list with Dr. Strangelove. I wasn’t able to find any concrete evidence as to why this movie was shot in black and white, but there are some theories I agree with. The main one being that it feels similar to an old newsreel and frames your mind around the context of the movie, just as I mentioned at the top. There is a supporting theory that it was specifically because Kubrick was a master of shadows and black and white movies are able to play with lighting with greater ease. Dr. Strangelove is one of the ultimate satirical movies I’ve ever seen. Highly recommend.
Casablanca is one of my favorite movies that wheels and deals with romance. It’s the type of movie that manages to pull on my heartstrings and makes my girlfriend call me a hopeless romantic. There’s a great debate out there about whether or not Casablanca is noir or not. I’m not going to go into whether Noir is a genre or a mood. I think that it’s a mix of both and that’s what allows me to toss Casablanca into that bucket. It’s an awesome movie with classic lines and phenomenal acting.