The Sin of Coloring Black and White Movies

With movies nowadays, everyone always seems to want more. More action. More visual effects. More stuff in the frame. More colors. What they don’t seem to understand is that sometimes less can be a whole lot more than more.

As I said last week, I have a huge soft spot for classic films. There are a lot of aspects that go into this love, with nostalgia being a big one. But if I think about it on a critical level, there is one major aspect that grabs my interest: the presentation. Specifically: the use of color. Or in this case, the lack thereof.

Back in the early days of film, color wasn’t something cameras weren’t capable of. So movies had three colors: black, white and gray. Trying to imagine anything beyond that was simply asinine. It was like trying to say that Mario, Sonic, Pacman and Cloud would be playable in the same video game!

Oh… Oh yeah.

But as time passes, technology only gets better. Nowadays, the only films that use the classic monochromatic color scheme are indie movies! ‘The Wizard of Oz’ did for black and white film what The Beatles did to music; it fucking murdered the old ways and forced the new ways into the limelight.

However, the Beatles didn’t inspire people to retroactively murder old music.

For some reason, there’s a stigma surrounding black and white films. People think that just because a movie doesn’t have color it isn’t a good looking film. Forget cinematography or creative use of the limited color pallet. If it doesn’t have color, it isn’t a pretty movie!

People will even go so far as to try colorizing black and white films! They’ll take a classic film and, through the editing equivalent of dark magic, brings it into color. Forget what the director had intended when they shot the movie! If it ain’t colorful, it’s wrong! We’ve got to fix that!

Christ, who let a four-year-old handle the editing? Who gave them crayons?! Oh my god, does no one understand how black and white movies work?!

Having no color in your movie doesn’t limit your capabilities. If anything, it increases it! The number of interesting visuals you could create is staggering! If properly utilized, you can create something so much more than ‘a movie that’s old-fashioned’. You could create a movie with a unique, distinct visual style that sticks with the audience for years!

One of the biggest advantages is the lighting. Specifically, shadows.

A dark shot with little light can be used to accomplish many things. You can create a sense of mystery, build tension, or even use it to conceal a joke from the audience. Using silhouettes is an absolute must for shots like these, especially if you’re going for a horror tone. Concealing a character’s every feature in darkness is a great way to wreath them in mystery and put the audience on edge.

Colored movies can accomplish this, sure. But even if a room is dark, you can still make out a large number of details thanks to the color. If you want to conceal everything in the shot, you’d practically have to put a blank black shot in your editing reel. Not exactly visually thrilling, that.

But in a black and white movie, you don’t need to worry about that. You can fully utilize character silhouettes to build whatever tone you want while creating a sense of style and mystery! Just take a look at this shot!


The distinct style of these films is absolutely incredible. But if you were to add color to it, all of its unique visual flares would go straight out the window! It’s like shaving details off of an intricate woold carving to make it match with the rest of the set!

Directors knew the limitations of their technology when they made these movies. Some simply worked with it and went on to make some decent looking films. Others made it work for them and made movies that, in terms of visuals, still hold up to this day.

Citizen Kane. Psycho. The original Godzilla. Casablanca. The Grapes of Wrath movie. All of these are classic films that still hold up to this day, even in black and white. They don’t need updating, they don’t need to be brought into color, and they don’t need remaking (which they all will be at some point or another if they haven’t already). Their directors had a vision and they executed it perfectly.

And they did it all with two colors.

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