Features and Columns · Movies

How Filmmakers Use the Binary of Black-And-White

What we’re watching: a pair of video essays that highlight the strengths and limitations of black-and-white’s narrative power.
By  · Published on July 6th, 2020

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Everyone has an opinion about black and white films. For some, black and white has a timelessness that color can’t quite capture. But for others, black and white “just isn’t for them.” And that’s fine. We can all agree that the world would be a dull place if we all liked the same junk. But it’s worth underlining that, in general, folks who dislike black and white rarely take issue with black and white itself, which is to say, as an aesthetic, narrative, and cinematographic tool. Usually, when your pal says they don’t want to watch “something black and white” they’re using “black and white” as a shorthand for “something old.”

Not liking “old movies” is one thing. Being critical of black and white as a cinematic lens is something else entirely. On the whole, there are far more gushing, borderline-fetishistic essays in support of the narrative power of black and white than there are devil’s advocates. I should know, I am one of the gushing fetishists. This imbalance makes the following two video essays from Now You See It a fascinating double bill. The first video outlines how the technical boons of black and white support the narrative tropes of film noir. The second video suggests that there is something suspiciously simplistic about the use of black and white to denote good and evil.

You can watch “Film Noir: The Case for Black and White” here:


And you can watch “The Case Against Black and White Movies” here:

Who made this?

These video essays come courtesy of Now You See It, the YouTube channel dedicated to film analysis searching for meaning in unexpected places. You can follow Now You See It on YouTube and check out their back catalog here. Now You See It It is run by Virginia-based software engineer Jack Nugent, whom you can follow on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).