By Robert Hass
A hushed whisper breaks the silence: “Rosebud.”
Welcome to First Friday at the Hirshorn’s house and to my teenage life.
Since that night, my perspective has been enlightened. To all my contemporary naysayers who point out the visual tricks and elements that can be “only” concocted with Color, I simply point to Kane, where, in B&W, shadow work, lighting, and tone are fused together to create different moods and meanings within each scene. My other argument is that the format doesn’t simply apply to PG rated classics of the “Code” era. Take the everyday, stripped grittiness of Clerks (94’), the unsettling suspense of Psycho (60’), or the conformist subliminal messaging of They Live (88’). Or even take the stylized noir brutality of Sin City (2005), which garnered critical acclaim for its visually stunning, monochrome VFX. Seventy-five years after the yellow brick road, Black and White endures.
Now on the subject of "colorization", don't even get me started...that's for another time.
But to the skeptics and especially to the multi-plex youth of today, my challenge is to give Black and White a chance. Not every film without an ounce of pigmentation a) belongs in an exhibit at the Smithsonian or b) will melt the faces of viewers younger than legal drinking age. I offer up 2013’s Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne. The film’s pacing may be deliberate, but its successful use of the B&W aesthetic to convey a tone of simplicity and minimalism is elegant and effective.
So on that growingly sanctimonious note, I'll cut to the chase: You may not rush through the cold of night to the neighbor’s house, but the next time you surf through a millisecond of unsaturated TCM, pause the dial, take a seat, and enjoy the ride. You may never stand up.