Critic/Historian Wheeler Winston Dixon on the Lost Art of Black & White

Here’s a great interview with critic Wheeler Winston Dixon, author of the new book “Black & White Cinema: A Short History” on the pleasures, challenges and meaning of monochrome cinematography.

Here are some excerpts:

“If you go on Amazon and you see some great black-and-white film, and it’s going for $3, or any kind of foreign or obscure film, buy it, because it’s going out of print, and they’re not going to put them back into print. With VHS, everything came out, everything. And then they looked at what sold, and what didn’t sell didn’t make the jump to DVDs. There were thousands of films, tens of thousands of films, that were on VHS and never made the jump to DVD. Important films. Now that we’re going to Blu-ray, lots of films aren’t making that jump.”

Dixon goes on to make other good points. Black and white cinematographers has much more freedom for instance.

“Remember that often working in color limited you in ways that black-and-white did not. Technicolor had a lock on the color processes until Eastmancolor came along in the early 1950s. So Technicolor controlled the cameras, the cameramen, the labs — everything had to be done through them. There were only 11 or so Technicolor cameras in Hollywood, so when you worked with Technicolor you also got Natalie Kalmus, the ‘color coordinator,’ and director of photography Ray Rennahan who was their in-house photographer, usually, and they typically wanted the colors to pop off the screen.”

He also makes the point that black and white films are fundamentally different from color films.

“To me black and white is more sensuous. It’s such a transformative act to make a black-and-white film. You are entering an entirely different world, right from the start. It’s so much more of a leap into another universe.

Color films and particularly color 3-D films attempt to mimic some sort of spectacular reality, whereas black-and-white films are really a meditation on the image.”

H/T Manohla Dargis

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