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May 18, 2014 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Black-and-White Films

If I stood in the Hub and asked passers-by what words they associated with black-and-white films, ‘boring’, ‘old’ and ‘pretentious’ would probably come up. I didn’t stand in the Hub and ask, due to a lack of journalistic courage and approachability, but let’s just say I did. Why, imaginarily surveyed Vic students, do you feel this way? Who turned you against black-and-white?

Was it the Film lecturer, Media Studies teacher, or well -meaning grandmother, who made you sit through some impossibly dull film from the 1930s and spent half the time pausing it to tell you about their favourite bits? If so, I sympathise, I do, but I want to implore you to move on from the cinematic trauma and give black-and-white films a second chance.

Film-making, in recent decades, seems to be following a path of ever-increasing technical wizardry. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (although it did fuck up The Hobbit), but it seems harder to find big films that care about cinematography or acting and don’t involve at least one robot death-battle. If you want to sit back, crack open a brew, and watch a film that doesn’t leave you in a state of sensory overload, then B&W has got you covered. When the majority of B&W films were being made, the digital fireworks we are used to today didn’t exist to save audiences from bad acting or a lacklustre tone. The whole thing was at risk of falling flat. So when you watch a bad black-and-white film at least you know it’s bad, as opposed to a bad blockbuster where you’re too distracted by a digitally enhanced Scarlett Johansson and 3D explosions to tell.

Or what if you hate old things on principle? No problem: the last few years have seen more B&W films released than any other comparable time frame in recent history, according to Variety. Modern filmmakers have seized upon the format as an alternative to the special-effects onslaught, using it to make modern films with small budgets, ingenuity, and a refreshing absence of superheroes.

If my lengthy waffle has not convinced you, then see for yourself. Below are a few black-and-white films, old and new, to stream, rent, buy or steal. Beyond that, the monochrome world is your oyster.

Bande á part (1964) Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Described by its director as “Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka”, Bande á part has it all – well-dressed French people, an unbearably cool dance scene, and more snappy dialogue than a Quentin Tarantino movie. In fact, Tarantino named his production company after the film.

La Dolce Vita (1960) Dir. Federico Fellini
Fellini’s dazzling masterpiece about celebrity culture follows Marcello Rubini, a gossip journalist, as he trails around Rome after starlets. Yes, it is three hours long, but three hours with Fellini is time well spent.

Deadman (1995) Dir. Jim Jarmusch.
Jarmusch called it a “Psychedelic Western”, Neil Young did the score and Johnny Depp is in the lead role. What more could you ask for?

Frances Ha (2013) Dir. Noah Baumbach.
Frances Ha is like the TV show Girls except it’s filmed in black-and-white, the main character is endearing and a few people manage to get their shit together. Set in NYC, and a hilariously unromantic Paris, Frances Ha shows off B&W in all its glory.

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