Cinema’s love of black and white sees Mad Max back in monochrome
- Credit: Archant
Surprise Oscar success Mad Max: Fury Road is back in cinemas this weekend with a radical new monochrome look. It's just the latest example of modern cinemas obsession with black and white.
Mad Max: Fury Road has been a surprising film on many ways. It was a belated return to a long dormant action franchise that many wrote off as a rehash but actually turned out to be a fasten your seat belts and hold on white-knuckle tight triumph.
Writer-director George Miller's fourth instalment of the post-apocalyptic franchise, which began in 1979 original that introduced Mel Gibson to the wider world, delivered a blitzkrieg of propulsive pursuits featuring almost 150 hand-built death machines of every conceivable shape and size.
Another welcome surpise was that although it nominally starred Tom Hardy it was Charlize Theron who was the true centre of the film as the film added a feminist subtext by introducing a badass tribe of warrior women called the Vuvalini, who ride proudly into battle armed with explosive-tipped spears.
A further surprise came when this orgy of high-octane auto mayhem garnered Oscar success, picking up 10 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography, and winning six.
Now comes another unlikely twist as the film returns to selected cinemas in a lustrous black and white version, subtitled the Black and Chrome Edition.
There have been rumours of a black-and-white version since the film's release in 2015. And ditching the vibrant colours of the 2015 cinema release, this monochrome version is George Miller's preferred vision of his post-apocalyptic world, set chronologically between Mad Max and The Road Warrior.
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After the Oscars and a box office take of $358 million he is now being allowed to release the version of the film he originally wanted to make.
Re-releasing a major movie in black and white maybe a new one but the love affair of modern filmmakers with the monochrome look of the pre-colour age isn't unusual.
Just about every major director has had a stab at black and white film. The reasons why monochrome continues to fascinate long after being theorically superceded by colour are diverse.
For some it was a cheap option at the start of their career, like David Lynch who made Eraserhead while a film student.
For Michel Hazanavicius' Oscar-winning The Artist the choice of black and white was perhaps obviously as it was a homeage to the era of silent filmmaking. Others also use black and white to evoke the past, Steven Spielberg did with Schindler's List and Woody Allen with Manhattan, or to pay nostalgic homage like The Last Picture Show or Tim Burton's Ed Wood.
Experimental films have frequently been black and white, including Darren Aronofsky's debut Pi and Ben Wheatley's A Field in England. The look also lends itself to a DIY punk aesthetic, which Kevin Smith knew when he made Clerks.
Other recent examples include Joss Whedon updated Much Ado about Nothing, Pablo Berger's Blancanieves, Alexander Payne's Nebraska, acclaimed Portuguese drama Tabu, Pawe? Pawlikowski's Ida and oddball vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
And there are more black and white film coming soon to cinemas, including Todd Haynes's Wonderstruck, half-set in the 1920s, and François Ozon's mysterious love story Frantz.
This new look Mad Max: Fury Road perhaps comes from a similar place to Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City which used the bold black and white to striking style. Miller has suggested that he went big with colour on the original release because he couldn't go black and white.
'One thing I've noticed is that the default position for everyone is to de-saturate post-apocalyptic movies,' he has said. 'There's only two ways to go, make them black and white — the best version of this movie is black and white, but people reserve that for art movies now. The other version is to really go all-out on the colour.'
• Mad Max: Fury Road - Black & Chrome Edition screens on Sunday at Cinema City, Norwich (8pm), Abbeygate Cinema, Bury St Edmunds (7.15pm), and Cineworld, Ipswich (9pm).
10 Modern Black and White Classics
The Elephant Man (1980)
Having made his debut in black and white with Eraserhead, David Lynch stayed in monochrome for his deeply moving film concerning John Merrick. With the help of veteran cinematographer and ex-Hammer director Freddie Francis it was a look that helped bring Victorian London to life.
Woody Allen is no stranger to black and white including Stardust Memories and Shadows and Fog, but Manhattan looks great right from the opening shots set to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Allen decided to film in black and white because that was how he remembered Manhattan from his childhood – through picture postcards and books.
Dead Man (1995)
Jim Jarmusch has shot extensively in black and white throughout his career from Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law to Coffee and Cigarettes. He returned to it for this postmodern western featuring Johnny Depp as William Blake, an accountant drawn into a violent world. It adds to the weird, dreamlike narrative.
The Artist (2011)
Michel Hazanavicius's jubilant, Oscar-winning tribute to silent filmmaking seeks to emulate every quirk of the Hollywood period of transition it depicts, so it is unsurprising he turned to black and white. The cinematography even recreates the sometimes-fuzzy shot-work of the late 1920s to immerse us fully in the era.
Schindler's List (1993)
Steven Spielberg's masterpiece is not exclusively a black and white film – there are flashes of red, notably the little girl in a red coat, and a coda shot in colour. However the monochrome cinematography, by frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski, adds an extra layer of horrific realism, influenced by post-war Holocaust documentaries.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks-Gene Wilder parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that echoes the 1930s film. To further enhance the atmosphere of the film, Brooks decided to film in black and white. The film also used 1930s style scene transitions such as fades to black, wipes and iris outs.
La Haine (1995)
Mathieu Kassovitz's debut (translating as Hate in French) follows a day in the life of a trio from banlieues of Paris tackling themes of racism, violence and friendship. Kassovitz, who win best director at Cannes, has said the choice of black and white reflected how the characters see their lives: black and white, good and bad, criminal or not.
Raging Bull (1980)
A glut of post-Rocky boxing movies helped Martin Scorsese persuade United Artists to allow him to make this Oscar winner, with Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta, in monochrome in order to stand out. Michael Chapman's black and white photography (printed on Technicolor stock) adds a sheen of seedy grit.
White Ribbon (2009)
Michael Haneke won the Palme d'Or for his first period film set in a Protestant village in rural Germany in the years before the First World War where unexplained accidents are occurring to children. The monochrome visuals by Haneke's regular cinematographer Christian Berger add to the steely gaze of the director's style.
Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton's first black and white steps came with his early ghoulish stop-motion animated shorts Vincent (1982) and Frankenweenie (1984). After blockbuster successes with Batman and Edward Scissorhands he was able to return to monochrome for this biopic, with Johnny Depp as the cult filmmaker behind some of the best/worst B-movies.