10 Modern Movies That Are Better in Black and White

[Editor’s note: While your Flavorwire editors take a much-needed holiday break, we’re revisiting some of our most popular features of the year. This post was originally published May 23, 2011.] A few weeks back, we mentioned that list of Steven Soderbergh’s “cultural diet” (films viewed and books read and TV watched over the course of one year), noting that, in one week, he took in Raiders of the Lost Ark no less than three times — and that he carefully pointed out that each viewing was in black and white. In writing about that list, I said that this was something “we’re totally going to do now,” and last week, I did. Guess what? Soderbergh’s right. Raiders is way better in black and white.

That little experiment got me thinking about other modern movies that might play better in this decidedly less-than-modern format. There is, we can all agree, just something about black and white. In his wonderful 1989 essay “Why I Love Black and White,” Roger Ebert wrote: “There are basic aesthetic issues here. Colors have emotional resonance for us… Black and white movies present the deliberate absence of color. This makes them less realistic than color films (for the real world is in color). They are more dreamlike, more pure, composed of shapes and forms and movements and light and shadow. Color films can simply be illuminated. Black and white films have to be lighted. With color, you can throw light in everywhere, and the colors will help the viewer determine one shape from another, and the foreground from the background. With black and white, everything would tend toward a shapeless blur if it were not for meticulous attention to light and shadow, which can actually create a world in which the lighting indicates a hierarchy of moral values.”

Once I picked the movies that we thought would work for this experiment, I realized that trying to just describe them in a standard post wouldn’t work at all. So I’m doing something different with this post: I made a little video for each title, with clips transformed to black and white and commentary explaining why each one was selected. Check out Raiders and my other choices after the jump.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Better in Black and White: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” from Flavorwire on Vimeo.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Director of Photography: Douglas Slocombe