Culture

On the Spectrum: 5 Films That Creatively Blend Color With Black-and-White

Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz’/Photo © 1939 Warner Home Video
Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz’/Photo © 1939 Warner Home Video

The leap from black and white to color filmmaking didn't happen overnight -- it spanned decades, and along the way many directors realized they didn't have to choose either one or the other. The visual precedents they set gave modern filmmakers permission to bend the spectrum even further, resulting in everything from "Pleasantville" to the flickering seance scenes in "Eve's Bayou." Here are five of the most daring examples, films that arrived at their signature styles via particularly creative crossovers between color and monochrome.

"The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
The moment when Dorothy emerged from her dull sepia Kansas farmhouse into the sun-drenched gardens of Munchkinland was a visual innovation that instantly communicated the magic and wonder of L. Frank Baum's fantasyland (although the effect was lost on many viewers when the film began running annually on television in 1956, since most households still had black-and-white TV sets). Judging by its recent trailer, the upcoming prequel, "Oz the Great and Powerful," wisely intends to reprise the effect. Isn't it funny how this one small touch creates an instant emotional association with the earlier film, something no other spin-off has been able to muster?

"The Tingler" (1959)
The money-shot in this schlocky William Castle B-horror flick was actually filmed separately, in color: Both the set and the actress (Judith Evelyn) were painted in shades of gray to create the supernatural effect of a bathtub and sink filled with bright-red blood. This was also the film that goosed audience members with an electric vibration under their seats, a gimmick Castle dubbed "Percepto!"

"Shock Corridor" (1963)
Sam Fuller's pointed social criticism about the madness of modern society is all but eclipsed by this film's outsized portrayals of mental illness and its trippy special effects. For example, many of the dream and hallucination sequences are rendered in vivid color (you can see for yourself toward the end of the clip below). Each instance is a beautifully disorienting moment that reminds us how fluid and fragile of our perception of reality can be.

"Kill Bill" (2003)
In the glory days of kung fu filmmaking, directors would switch to black and white during their more gruesome scenes to disguise the blood and avoid being hassled by TV censors. The part in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill vol. 1" when Uma's battle against the Crazy 88 suddenly goes monochrome began as an homage to that practice, but it became an actual necessity when the MPAA became concerned about the amount of gore on the screen. Tarantino used black and white for artistic effect elsewhere in the film(s), evoking the look and feel of gritty Western and noir films; he played this card again during a key scene in 2007's "Death Proof."

"The Notorious Bettie Page" (2005)
There's nothing particularly original about filming a period '50s or '60s movie in black and white to lend it an old-timey patina. However, while principle photography in this tribute to the "Pin-up Queen of the Universe" adhered closely to that convention, all of Bettie's Florida vacation scenes are shot in eye-popping Technicolor. It's a gamble that pays off big-time, offering a fresh appraisal of the character's inner beauty (and swimwear), as well as a sharp contrast to her rather grim adventures in the big city.

  • http://nomoss832801.wordpress.com Eric Wilkinson

    Where in the holy hell is NATURAL BORN KILLERS, JFK or NIXON?!?

  • http://judefolly.com judefolly

    what about wim wenders's himmel uber berlin (wings of desire)? the color / b&w line was a metaphysical boundary.

  • Phonik

    No Pleasantville? Saaaadface.

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