Since many of us are taking time off this holiday season, and the hump of that occasion has now passed, it’s time to address how you are going spend the last days of this break. Tax preparation is too sad though an admiral exercise. Sorting one’s Hummel collection seems a bit much. Might I suggest Decoloring your favorite films?
What is Decoloring a film, you ask?
Basically it means removing all the color information from a movie you’re watching and see it fresh and tonally. Like as not you’ll need to do this on your tv settings and will forget to bring it back to normal which may infuriate your family, but trust me, it’s worth it. Not all films work for this, but the ones that were deftly filmed with a particular interest in setting and cinematography can transform the way you see them by doing this. Typically think of movies that exploit lighting and blocking and lean heavily on their photography. Aside from the obvious change in perspective decoloring brings, what I personally adore about it is how it highlights a visual narrative.
Black and white, perhaps being closer to how we present written language, is to me a more pure and foundational lodestone for narratives than color. Again, color is fine and often important, but its flamboyance and emotional overcoating can sometimes crowd out the really powerful bones the story has within it.
The list is pretty long, but here’s a primer below:
Mad Max: Fury Road
The first and most obvious candidate for decoloring is of course MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Seriously a genius film made really incredible by decoloring. There’s always been talk about a theatrical release of the film this way, and we can most certainly look forward to a deluxe, if not Criterionesque blu ray with this feature. Simply removing the color on your screen is one thing, but if it’s done at the source, it is a whole different beast. HANNAH is wonderful, as is LEON THE PROFESSIONAL and ATONEMENT. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is surprisingly amazing, as is another desert classic, DUNE- rendering even those muppet sandworts in a new and better light. The true Noiriness of BLUE VELVET, TWIN PEAKS and WILD AT HEART sing a pretty song too.
Another masterpiece that looks so damned good s way is BLADE RUNNER. ALIEN too, and like as not just about any Ridley Scott film. A friend of mine took my suggestion to do this to his screener copy of THE MARTIAN and apparently it is stunning.
If nothing else Decoloring your films affords an opportunity to see them anew, to pick up details you missed before, to see them again as for the first time… more or less. It strips away the decorative veil of many of these and shows you how the cinematographer is laying out his positions, and narrative, and for story geeks this is pure gold.
MILLER’S CROSSING, and especially RAISING ARIZONA just kill it when decolored. Some films reveal themselves as tonal masterpieces you never thought were until doing this. There’s a tangible sense of detail that comes to life in this and most of the bros’ films as a result. BARTON FINK is especially fantastic, John Goodman showing you the life of the mind while blazing white flames rise around him…
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
WILLY WONKA and THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, (the Superior Gene Wilder version of course), KLUTE, John Carpenter’s THE THING, THE BIRDS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, E.T. (is particularly good in this way), 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE SHINING, THOR:THE DARK WORLD, IRON MAN, even Animations like AKIRA, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and Satoshi Kon’s brilliant Twin Peaks of Anime, PARANOIA AGENT look stunning… the list goes on and you can lose months to this. I’ve even heard from others some Xbox games are awesome like this. Which is not a terrible thing and I bet you can add terrifically to the list.
You may find a need to punch up contrast, light and shadows a bit on certain selections, depending on how much your screen allows, but it’s well worth it. Play with the highlights and stretch the means by which you can repurpose these films to the max. Other acolytes of this effort have found equal joys in sepia tone and minimal coloring as well. The point really is to see anew the old favorites and see again the new ones. And for the narrative nerds out there, you’ll find this an excellent trick for deciphering how a visual narrative is spun, and what you can learn towards your own work, be it film, photography, comics or single image work. There’s a mighty power in seeing black and white as a value rather than a lack of something. As a strength rather than a necessity of the past.
So let me know in the comments below your own successes or failures. I’d love to hear about them. So get out there and black and white your world before going back to work!
Greg Ruth has been working in comics since 1993 and has published work for The New York Times, DC Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics, Harper Collins, Hyperion, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster amongst many others.
He has shown his paintings in New York, Houston, and Baltimore, and exhibited a series of murals at New York's Grand Central Terminal.
He has also helped craft music videos for Rob Thomas, and Prince, and has illustrated children's pictures books including; Our Enduring Spirit (with President Barack Obama), A Pirate's Guide to First Grade (with James Preller) and Red Kite, Blue Kite (with Ji Li Jiang), as well as many illustrated novels.
Greg currently lives and works in Western Massachusetts.