August 28, 2015

"It’s been 14 years since Peter Bogdanovich made a movie, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down."

"The man who burst on the scene with The Last Picture Show is busier than ever and he joins Marc [Maron] in the garage to reflect on a life in show business, starting with his early foray into theater to his friendship with Orson Wells to his latest movie She’s Funny That Way."

Great interview.  Made me want to finally watch my DVD of "The Last Picture Show."

Hey, Marc, it's Welles. (Compare: H.G. Wells.)

There's so much in this interview I'd like to talk about, but there's no transcript, so I just limit myself to one thing, which is that Orson Welles supported the decision to make "The Last Picture Show" in black and white. It's the only way to get the depth of field you see in "Citizen Kane" and — most interestingly — it makes every actor's performance better. All the best film acting is in black and white.

82 comments:

rhhardin said...

_Juno_ with Ellen Page was entertaining. So few remaining romantic comedies in my vast survey are worth finishing, when you have to go far afield in Amazon recommendations.

Incidentally, here's the signature of a DVD that you're not going to get delivered in the Track My Package account

Aug 24 3:32am Package has left seller facility and is in transit to carrier
Aug 25 2:57am Package arrived at a carrier facility
Aug 25 4:55am Out for delivery
Aug 25 6:07am Customer requested forward to new address
Aug 25 6:55pm A carrier delay has occurred
Aug 26 nothing
Aug 27 nothing
Aug 28 nothing

No expicit code is available for we can't find the damn thing in the USPS.

Zeb Quinn said...

Yeah, but millennials refuse to watch anything in black and white.

rhhardin said...

The trouble with classic films is that acting hadn't been invented yet.

Bobby said...

Fun Fact: Peter Bogdanovich is a product of the "Roger Corman Film School," whose alumni rolls include the likes of Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Jonathan Kaplan, Robert Towne and Joe Dante. Quentin Tarantino considers himself an "honorary graduate" of the Corman School, because he says his screenplays and directing is heavily influenced by, but didn't formally learn the trade of film-making under Roger.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

(1) I wanted to see The End of the Tour (2015) but it's already left the local cinema. Maybe it'll come out on Netflix, which is just as well because I'll be able to watch it while thoroughly intoxicated.

(2) There was a song by TMBG on John Henry called "The End of the Tour."

There's a girl with a crown and a scepter who's on WLSD . . .

That's first rate stuff.

Carol said...

Never saw Last Picture Show, but in general modern black and white (from the 50's on) looks very drab, as if it were just color converted to B&W. The B&W of earlier movies is much more vivid. Why is that?

It's kinda like modern soundtracks. With the old classic movies, you can hear every word of dialog, no problem. Nowadays the volume is all over the place. Why is that?

PB said...

Black and white or color film has noting to do with the actor's performance or the camera's depth of field focus. It's mostly about the viewer's experience and image clarity. Black and white was sharper and more detailed (due to the chemistry and physics of film).

rhhardin said...

British films absolutely need English captions.

rhhardin said...

Best buys in rom coms,

Notting Hill, Erin Brockovich

and

You've Got Mail, Two Weeks Notice, Laws of Attraction, and Must Love Dogs, which isn't particularly great.

I'd add Sandra Bullock "The Proposal" but that's $9.99 and alone.

JAORE said...

"All the best film acting is in black and white."

ALL?

EDH said...

Maybe that's why the best fish sticks are black and white?

"They're even better when you're dead!"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i7ycxiog40#t=1m31s

EDH said...

If the best film acting is in black and white, then why is a bad movie called "a dog"?

Hmmm?

Michael K said...

"The B&W of earlier movies is much more vivid. Why is that?"

I watch classic movies and little else. The lighting was the crucial factor. When Technicolor came in, the camera was so complicated (Three cameras, each with a one color film) and the lighting had to be so bright to get exposure of color then, that cameraman lost the subtleties of lighting.

Modern Technicolor is better because it is digital and the lighting is not so difficult but the old B&W cameramen are gone.

I read Bogdanovich's books.

roadgeek said...

Hadn't yet seen "Last Picture Show"? You're in for a treat! Be sure and write us a review. Try and see "Paper Moon", and compare the two. And try to round up a copy of "Targets", a nasty little thriller Bogdanovich released in 1968. A huge flop, it was actually some of his best work, and had the bonus of featuring Boris Karloff in one of his last roles. "Targets", which was based on a Charles Whitman-like character, disappeared quickly in 1968, a year with two major assassinations.

victoria said...

Roadgeek,


Don't forget, "What's up Doc". Hilarious. I am a huge fan of "Targets". Look at one of Francis Ford Coppola's best films, "The Conversation" and you will see the same,spare but chilling technique used in Targets. Love you, Roger Corman. You taught them well.

Can't wait to see this film and listen to the podcast. Bogdanovich was a film critic and a write before he became a director so he has a writers eye for film. I adore "The Last Picture Show" and everyone associated with it (Who are still alive) remember the experience of filming it with great fondness.


Vicki from Pasadena

P.S. Finally something worth talking about. Politics can be so dull, movies much more interesting.

Fernandinande said...

It's the only way to get the depth of field you see in "Citizen Kane"

No.

and — most interestingly — it makes every actor's performance better. All the best film acting is in black and white.

One could obtain the fine performances exemplified in "The Crawling Eye" by turning the color saturation to zero on your teevee.

richardsson said...

I didn't make it to the interview, this WTF guy is an insufferable blabbermouth. WTF indeed. But the Last Picture Show was a great movie. The cast was terrific, as was the staging. The scenes where the wind was blowing through the deserted town made you think the whole town was going get blown away. The Hank Williams soundtrack was also perfect. I doubt that the use of black and white film has much to do with depth of field, I think its primary effect was emotional, as in Film Noir. Imagine watching The Maltese Falcon in color. I'd rather not. The underlying message of the Last Picture Show was that the town was dying and that the closing of the "piture" show was the final death blow. Had the show been filmed in color, in the Texas panhandle, it would have looked like a flatland version of the South of Music.

Its funny how color or the lack of it effects people. Children growing up today won't watch black and white movies. It looks so drab to them. I remember back when we got our first color television when I was growing up. The color in the early ones was terrible and adjusting it was terrible. When I turned on the television, my Grandma burst out crying. What's the matter, I asked? She said, "Oh turn it off, turn it off! It's so ugly." So I turned the knob all the way to the left, which made the picture Black and White. She said, "Oh, thank God, " Later on, she got used to it and didn't notice it anymore.

Bay Area Guy said...

Larry McMurtry, author of TLPS, is an epic genius. Love all his books. TLPS was good, but Lonesome Dove was the greatest. Good mini-series too with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

traditionalguy said...

The colorful Ted Turner likes em in color.,

mikee said...

The sequel to TLPS, Texasville, was done in color. It is interesting, although completely different from the original. Good acting, from the same actors after decades of maturing their art. Perhaps one of the most sensible sequels I've ever seen.

Off topic, the robot detector is becoming fiendishly clever, having started out as simply annoyingly vague. Pick all the waffles! Don't include the waffle-pressed cookie atop the chocolate milk!

traditionalguy said...

Did I say that Cinema Noir has to be done in black and grey. White is too optimistic a color.

Michael K said...

"movies much more interesting."

Agreed. Over at Chicagoboyz, we have threads on airplanes and such. Here everything turns to politics. Unfortunately, that's the world we live in.

I write books about my other world.

Coupe said...

I read the book before I saw the movie. When I heard the names of the actors involved, I was a bit depressed. This would have been the best picture for a completely unknown cast. I know the insurance companies would probably never approve the film with unknowns, but the book was so depressing, and so ugly that big name stars were the wrong way to go.

Black and White, I agree. This was definitely the way to go. I thought the photography was fine, but the actors probably never read the book. After Sheppard loses her virginity and leaves the motel room, she is supposed to be looking behind her to see if she is leaving a blood trail, as there was blood everywhere. Only Sheppard looks back in the scene like she was seeing if anyone was following them. There was no depth to the screenplay.

Which I guess is the same thing with most movies made from gruesome novels. I was really depressed after reading the book, but merely annoyed by the movie. Still though, it was only about $3.00 to see it, so let's not assassinate anyone yet.

Freeman Hunt said...

My kids watch black and white movies all the time and like them.

The key is not feeding them a steady diet of obnoxious cartoons.

Mark Caplan said...

Carol: "With the old classic movies, you can hear every word of dialog, no problem."

Before the cult of naturalism ushered in by the likes of Mumble Brando, enunciation was part of the actor's training and craft. Also, unlike today, the studios had real writers on staff; the spoken word mattered.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


>>All the best film acting is in black and white.

Except for As Good As It Gets.

Best acted film I've ever seen.

Quaestor said...

It's the only way to get the depth of field you see in "Citizen Kane"...

There are other ways to get depth of field.

Yes, that's a joke. But serious filmmakers use forced perspective tricks to get effects that are either too expensive to accomplish within budget, or optically impossible. Examples: "Spellbound"... "Dial M for Murder"... and "Casablanca"

The last one isn't so obvious; but that plane in the background is only about half scale; the ground crew working around it are little people. There's an earlier shot that I haven't found on Youtube which shows the hangar from an apparent POV much further back which uses forced perspective miniatures and matte paintings to suggest that the set is about 300 feet deep.

Archie Waugh said...

Michael K said...
"The B&W of earlier movies is much more vivid. Why is that?"

I watch classic movies and little else. The lighting was the crucial factor. When Technicolor came in, the camera was so complicated (Three cameras, each with a one color film) and the lighting had to be so bright to get exposure of color then, that cameraman lost the subtleties of lighting.

Modern Technicolor is better because it is digital and the lighting is not so difficult but the old B&W cameramen are gone."

Rarely has a post made my head hurt so badly. Technicolor was NOT three cameras, it was one camera running three strips of black and white film through prisms and filters that created a negative for each of the primary colors. This allowed for incredible control of color values during printing. One need only watch GONE WITH THE WIND (from 1939) to see a master class in subtle, effective lighting in a color film. In the early years of full-color filmmaking, it was used mostly for musicals and spectacles, while dramas continued to be primarily black and white well into the 1950s, hence the bright, flat lighting in color films through the sixties.
There is no "Modern Technicolor", as most feature films are now shot digitally, which has its own special lighting demands, because a color sensor does not read image elements of color and contrast the same as film did. Digital photography is not better, it is simply cheaper, and many directors adamantly still prefer to work with film. The Technicolor company still processes archival prints of old films (though no longer in the original three-strip process) but most of their work is now digital, because that's where the money is.
Old black and white films (especially pre-1950) look better than modern ones because they were shot on silver nitrate film, which had a crispness and range of grayscale shades that later B & W filmstocks could not match. Nitrate film was phased out in the 50s because of its nasty tendency to explode with age. Even printed on acetate, old films shot on nitrate look better than films shot directly on acetate.

Coupe said...

I think the old black and white movies used a special make-up as well.

William said...

Movies whose subtext is that life sucks are better in black and white. Comedies not so much. Bringing Up Baby, for example, would have been better in color......The Last a Picture Show was a fine movie, and the b&w underlined the bleakness of the characters' lives. Still I think the Cybill Shepherd swimming pool scene would have been more effective in color.

William said...

There's a sci-fi movie called Ex-Machina. The movie shot in such muted colors that it has a b&w feel. It uses the contrast between the vivid, natural colors of the great outdoors and the muted colors of the indoors to dramatize the consciousness of anAI robot coming to life. It's the most effective use of cinematography I've seen in quite a while.

Robert Cook said...

"Fun Fact: Peter Bogdanovich is a product of the "Roger Corman Film School," whose alumni rolls include the likes of Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Jonathan Kaplan, Robert Towne and Joe Dante. Quentin Tarantino considers himself an "honorary graduate" of the Corman School, because he says his screenplays and directing is heavily influenced by, but didn't formally learn the trade of film-making under Roger."

Bogdanovich's first film, TARGETS, was a low-budgeter produced by Roger Corman, starring Boris Karloff. It may be my favorite of Bogdanovich's films. It takes off from the then-historically recent Charles Whitman mass murders on the University of Texas campus in Austin, and compares/contrasts the real life monster with the obsolescent film monster played by (the real life obsolescent monster actor) Boris Karloff. It's really quite chilling in its depiction of the killer's matter-of-factness.

(I have it on DVD, but I last saw part of it on television, sometime in the last year. I was startled by one scene in which a television is on in the home of the killer, and we hear Regis Philpin's voice! At the time, Philbin was Joey Bishop's co-host, his Ed McMahon to Bishop's Johnny Carson. I can still remember staying up late sometimes and watching Bishop's show with Philbin. Who'd have thought a not-very-prominent talk-show second banana, caught on the soundtrack of a low-budget late 60s horror movie, would in the 21st Century, be heard in the new context of his having become very famous in the interim?)

Robert Cook said...

"...As Good As It Gets.

"Best acted film I've ever seen."


God...I HATED that movie. I can't understand all the praise it received.

Beldar said...

Great iconic movie, great iconic book. Could have been written about, or filmed in, my home town.

Christy said...

Joss Whedon shot Much Ado About Nothing in B&W with his usual cast of characters a couple of years ago immediately after The Avengers. He used natural light, with glass and mirrors. Interesting, but didn't do a lot for me. Well, except for Nathan Fillion as Dogberry.

I love Whedon and his troupe, but the Kenneth Branaugh version was better. Well, except for Keanu Reeves as Don John.

Fernandinande said...

Archie Waugh said...Rarely has a post made my head hurt so badly. Technicolor was NOT three cameras, it was one camera running three strips of black and white film through prisms and filters that created a negative for each of the primary colors.

Sorta. There is/were more than one Techicolor. Some forms of Panavision/Cinerama had three cameras.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Carol said: Nowadays the volume is all over the place. Why is that?

When you have a crumby plot, inane dialogue, and "actors" who do not enunciate clearly, you cover it with annoyingly loud dramatic music.

When the budget does not allow for realistic looking sets, you make the scene at night or in a darkened room and shoot mostly close-ups of the actors faces; also, make no shot longer than 3/4 second.

Quaestor said...

An addendum to Archie Waugh's comments:

Here's a still photography example of color from B&W negatives taken by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky in 1911.

A considerable disadvantage of the three-strip process is the beam-splitter prism, which distributes the light coming from the lens into three more or less portions; consequently each strip gets exposed by 1/3 of the light. For example, if the lens is set to f/2, then the effective exposure is f/5.6 on each strip. Back when the only forms of studio lighting produced a lot of heat the temperature on the sound stage of a Technicolor production could easily exceed 100 degrees or more. Heat exhaustion and sometimes damaged vision were occupational hazards.

Another problem with Technicolor was depth of field. The effective exposure is reduced by a third, therefore the either lens needs to be as open as possible, which shallows the field, or the light has to be increased. Since there's a human limit to how much heat is tolerable, early Technicolor filmmakers usually opted for compositions that didn't need depth, or used forced perspective tricks to simulate depth. There's a good reason why Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was one of the first three-strip Technicolor films. Since depth is entirely illusional in animation, the project could be photographed with a super-fast lens under moderate light (very important considering animation cells are highly combustible). Take a look at Gone With the Wind sometime and check the scenes for depth, very few have the characters and scenery arrayed in depth. One famous scene shows Scarlet O'Hara in a field of wounded soldiers. There's a lot of depth of field trickery in that shot.

Quaestor said...

Some forms of Panavision/Cinerama had three cameras.

Early Cinerama used three cameras with a common shutter, but that wasn't Panavision. The three-camera system was disliked by the theater owners because of the expensive projection requirements, and that there weren't enough Cinerama features released to keep the theaters filled. Consequently Cinerama basically abandoned their system and adopted the Panavision anamorphic 5/65 format, which was typically single-strip color 65mm cinemagraphic stock printed on 70mm projection stock.

Sometimes you'll see a film which was advertised as "in Panavision and Technicolor!" or in the case of 20th Century/Fox "in Cinemascope and Technicolor!" Both of those systems used "momopack" single-strip color. However, a there-strip print can be made from momopack stock using a process called imbibition matrix printing, so a film that wasn't shot using a Technicolor camera could be advertised as being "in Technicolor!"

Quaestor said...

Typo alert: A considerable disadvantage of the three-strip process is the beam-splitter prism, which distributes the light coming from the lens into three more or less equal portions...

Typo alert: a three-strip print can be made from momopack stock using a process called imbibition matrix printing...

JZ said...

I don't know anything about technicolor, but I think anyone who looks at John Ford's b&w movies can see that the lighting was dramatic, and it was better. http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/7/26/1374833496398/Stagecoach-001.jpg

JZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"Hadn't yet seen "Last Picture Show"? You're in for a treat! Be sure and write us a review. Try and see "Paper Moon", and compare the two. And try to round up a copy of "Targets", a nasty little thriller Bogdanovich released in 1968. A huge flop, it was actually some of his best work, and had the bonus of featuring Boris Karloff in one of his last roles. "Targets", which was based on a Charles Whitman-like character, disappeared quickly in 1968, a year with two major assassinations."

There's great stuff in the podcast about "Targets." Roger Corman had existing footage of Karloff (in bad horror stuff) and Karloff still owed him 2 days. Bogdonovich was tasked with making that into a movie, using people other than Karloff for most of it. "Targets" is the brilliant solution to how to use these leftovers and Karloff loved the script enough to give them 5 days. I think Karloff was something like 79 years old at the time.

Ann Althouse said...

"Don't forget, "What's up Doc". "

That's in the podcast. Streisand was taken with "The Last Picture Show" and wanted Bogdonovich to direct her in some script he hated. She was willing to do whatever he wanted and what he wanted was screwball comedy, the model being "Bringing Up Baby."

Ann Althouse said...

" Bogdanovich was a film critic and a write before he became a director so he has a writers eye for film."

Great stuff about that in the podcast.

Bogdonovich has done a lot of other writing, including a book about Dorothy Stratton. Harsh words for Bob Fosse for "Star 80."

Archie Waugh said...

Fernandinande said...

"Sorta. There is/were more than one Techicolor (sic). Some forms of Panavision/Cinerama had three cameras"

That's true, but that had nothing to do with Technicolor. Cinerama was a wide-screen process that used three cameras shooting slightly overlapping images. It was replaced by Ultra Panavision 70, which was merely an extreme anamorphic film process using one camera and a single squeezing/unsqueezing lens. There were only ten feature films actually shot and released in 3-camera Cinerama.
Three-strip Technicolor was one camera shooting three pieces of film simultaneousy. It was eventually replaced by a single-film version with all three emulsions on one negative.

Roughcoat said...

Is this the lunch table where the Movie Projector Club nerds meet? *snort*

Quaestor said...

John Ford got many of his most dramatic effects by using red filters on panchromatic stock. A red filter absorbs blue light, which has the effect of darkening blue skies, thus enhancing the appearance of clouds. Here's a prime example from Ford's classic "My Darling Clementine" from 1946

Ann Althouse said...

"Its funny how color or the lack of it effects people. Children growing up today won't watch black and white movies. It looks so drab to them."

My kids, growing up in the 80s, were happy to watch Chaplin silent movies. I think these are perfect for children. Great clarity, not a lot of busy flashy confusion. Show them "A Dog's Life," for example. Nothing better for a child.

Roughcoat said...


Children growing up today won't watch black and white movies. It looks so drab to them.

Kids don't watch the Three Stooges anymore?

If not ... what a shame. Nyuk, nyuk.

Ann Althouse said...

"Larry McMurtry, author of TLPS, is an epic genius. Love all his books. TLPS was good, but Lonesome Dove was the greatest. Good mini-series too with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones."

There's talk in the podcast about working on a western with McMurtry and getting Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart signed up and John Wayne not signing up because it was an end-of-the-west Western, which he didn't approve of. Bogdonovich can imitate the voices and it's very funny when he does Stewart and Wayne.

Ann Althouse said...

My kids also liked W.C. Fields and The Marx Brothers. I really can't imagine those films being better in color.

Roughcoat said...

I'm pretty sure the character of Albert Brodksy in "Irreconcilable Differences, played by Ryan O'Neal, was closely based on Bogdanovich.

Quaestor said...

JZ's example from John Ford's "Stagecoach" is a fine example of artistry, however, that scene was shot on a soundstage. Ford's greatest talent was using location shots with great creativity.

Check out this fine use of B&W cinematography.

Quaestor said...

Is this the lunch table where the Movie Projector Club nerds meet? *snort*

Back off, roughcoat! Knowing how to load a sound projector without destroying the film, or loading and cueing up a betamax got me some A's I didn't deserve.

Roughcoat said...


John Ford had a certain shot in pretty much every movie. There would a column of men on horseback or a group of people--sometimes in column, sometimes spread out--approaching the camera obliquely and the camera would be on the ground, more or less, “looking up” at the column/group. Behind and above them is the overarching sky, usually dotted with cumulus clouds. I assume there’s technical term for this shot. I don’t know what it is, but the shot always packs an emotional wallop--it conveys a certain grandeur, an epic quality. Brings chills. It was one of Ford’s many great visual storytelling tools. Ford was the greatest pure storyteller in the history of film.

Roughcoat said...

Quaestor:

Hey, I want to hang out with you guys, that's why I'm asking, LOL!

Roughcoat said...

Maybe someone here can confirm if this is true. I heard somewhere that Ford was a “three-and-out” director. I.e., he would do three shots of a scene and then move on, and it didn’t matter whether he got the perfect shot or not. He was not a perfectionist in that regard, so I’m told. He seemed to believe that perfection was impossible but counted on his abilities to make a good film overall so even if some scenes didn’t quite work the movie as a whole worked quite well. I hope this is true. I admire him for overcoming the disease of perfectionism that seems to afflict so many directors. I’m a writer and I try to follow his “three-and-out” rule, more or less, in my work. It seems that to be true because just as every John Ford movie has at least one and usually several scenes that take your breath away and wallop you emotionally, they inevitably seem to have a few clunker scenes as well. Except …

Except for the Quiet Man and, maybe, The Horse Soldiers. The Quiet Man is (in my opinion, of course) one of the greatest and tightest movies ever made. From start to finish there’s not a wasted shot, scene, line of dialogue--not a wasted second. Of course, the fact that I’m Irish-American may influence my judgment just a tad.

Quaestor said...

Behind and above them is the overarching sky, usually dotted with cumulus clouds.

That's where the filters come in. If it's one of the B&W features like "My Darling Clementine" it was simply a matter of clipping a red acetate gel in front of the lens. When Ford used Technicolor, such as on "She wore a Yellow Ribbon," he could get the same effect in post-production by underexposing the strip filtered for blue, which had the same effect of darkening blues.

In order to keep the relative colors aligned skilled filmmakers have to make many subtle allowances and adjustments. Since Ford wanted to darken blues to make the skies more dramatics he had to order his costumers to make allowances. Under red filtration dark blue will register as black, US cavalry uniforms were dark blue, but the costumes worn by Ford's actors were often much lighter so that they would register as grey or dark blue.

averagejoe said...

Ann Althouse said...
My kids also liked W.C. Fields and The Marx Brothers. I really can't imagine those films being better in color.

8/28/15, 2:47 PM

I saw a bunch of colorized "3 Stooges" shorts and they looked awesome, like Technicolor! And the color didn't take away from the acting at all! Nyuk nyuk nyuk...

Quaestor said...

Gel filters had other uses. Heated up they became semi liquid, which could be used for those wavy-jittery dream-sequence shots that were part of the film vocabulary of the 40s and 50s.

Another use of the "almost melted" gel filter was for the alien POV shots in the classic "It Came from Outer Space." Dig it.

Roughcoat said...

Thanks, Quaestor, for that info. Very interesting. I'm guessing that you are, like me, a John Ford aficionado.

What I also love about that shot is the way it is composed. Is that the right term? He was brilliant: he composed visuals with the sensibility of a writer--say, an epic poet and a novelist--and he wrote his scripts with the sensibilities of a cameraman.

I think David Lean and Terence Malick show that ability in their best work. But neither were/are as prolific as Ford nor as consistently excellent.

Also neither have the human touch that was Ford's: hislove of humanity and, most of all, his sense of humor. Even in his most serious movies there are always a few very humanely funny scenes.

averagejoe said...

Michael K said...
When Technicolor came in, the camera was so complicated (Three cameras, each with a one color film) and the lighting had to be so bright to get exposure of color then, that cameraman lost the subtleties of lighting.

Modern Technicolor is better because it is digital and the lighting is not so difficult but the old B&W cameramen are gone.

8/28/15, 10:01 AM

Here's a guy who's never seen "Black Narcissus"(1947) Directed by the great Michael Powell and shot by the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff.

The DVD extras include some terrific anecdotes about Powell and Cardiff battling Technicolor Camera Cops who were apoplectic about how Powell and Cardiff were shooting. Technicolor was such a controlled process that the company would assign an employee to any film that was shooting in Technicolor. That employee had absolute control over the camera and the film, and there were certain ways of lighting in which Technicolor had to be shot to get the signature colors. Powell and Cardiff were using noir-shadows and smoke and painted glass filters, and the Technicolor guys were having a bird and threatening to take the camera and film away.

Roughcoat said...


Why do so many color movies from the 50s and early 60s have a sort of blue tint to them? The romantic comedies of that era especially (or so it seems to me). Am I just imagining this?

Quaestor said...

The peculiarities of color registration in old B&W films has led to some odd cultural memes. Take Frankenstein's monster, for example. In a few weeks Halloween masks will start showing up in stores, and many of them will represent Frankenstein's creature, or Dracula, or various ghouls with yellowish chromate green skin tones. This convention image derives directly from Universal Pictures' relative poverty in the 1930s. Before it became a powerhouse studio, Universal had to budget their films very strictly. "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" were both shot on orthrochromatic 16mm stock, which was cheaper to shoot and process than panchromatic stock. This made a problem for the makeup artists, however. Both Dracula and Frankenstein's creature were suppose to look like warmed-over corpses, but typical stage makeup made them look more like commedia dell'arte clowns than ghouls. The solution was greenish makeup that registered as light waxen gray. Somehow color publicity stills got circulated that showed the actors in character with green faces, and so....

Quaestor said...

Why do so many color movies from the 50s and early 60s have a sort of blue tint to them? The romantic comedies of that era especially (or so it seems to me). Am I just imagining this?

Film degradation. The projection stock has the color in layers - blue on top, then green, and finally a red layer. Evidently the blue layer is a bit more stable than the others so that as the film deteriorates the images become more blue.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

A few points.

> Old black and white films (especially pre-1950) look better than modern ones because they were shot on silver nitrate film, which had a crispness and range of grayscale shades that later B & W filmstocks could not match.

This is not true. I worked in film preservation on Nitrate prints and I can tell you they do not look better than a restored print on safety or polyester stock. The silver nitrate does not add crispness or range. The original way it was shot and lit add the crispness and range. Post 1950 there were fewer BW films using expressive lighting because of color. However, films such as In Cold Blood, Raging Bull, The Manchurian Candidate, Dr Strangelove all look pretty amazing. And yes, The Last Picture Shows looks great too. I do think it is a better film because it was shot in B&W.

> Movies whose subtext is that life sucks are better in black and white. Comedies not so much.

Good Lord, that statement proves you do not know film history. From Keaton to Capra to Lubitch some of the best comedies ever are in B&W.

> With the old classic movies, you can hear every word of dialog, no problem. Nowadays the volume is all over the place. Why is that?

The reason is because most films made prior to the 1950's didn't have as many audio tracks working together to jumble the sound when it is watched now in TV. If you watch new movies in the theatre the sound is usually fine. But at home the sound needs more than just TV speakers to sound good. While old classic movies work better because the primary sound is only dialogue and musical soundtrack.

> Quaestor / Archie Waugh

Thanks for the posts on Technicolor

> Here's a guy who's never seen "Black Narcissus"

True, it's a film that thrives because of Technicolor. Other Technicolor films include The Adventures of Robin Hood, Leave Her to Heaven, The Red Shoes, Written on the Wind, Vertigo.

Quaestor said...

Eastman "monopack"color stock is more prone to this degradation than Technicolor because there are real color dyes involved. In the Technicolor process the negatives (there are three for each frame) are monochrome, so the "color" is much more stable. Romantic comedies were often low-budget films (spend a lot for the actors, not so much for the technology) so they were rarely film in Technicolor.

Here's something interesting I learned recently - when David O. Selznick was filming "Gone With the Wind" Technicolor had only 7 cameras for rent. Selznick demanded and got all of them for his "burning of Atlanta" sequences. Since he was aiming to literally burn down his backlot Atlanta set (about 9 acres of, in many cases, full-scale structures) he wanted all the angles covered. It was Take One! and be damned!

William said...

I'm not denying that Stagecoach is a great movie, but a b&w Ford film is like an egg without salt........I'd like to put in another plug for Ex Machina here. The movie sunk without a trace, but it has a crafted, intricate script and cinematography that recalls Kubrick at his chilliest. The movie is about AI and has lots of twists and triple reverses. It's very thought provoking. Here's a thought that it provoked. It's not part of the movie. Could AI reach such a level of sophistication that it could create organic life to increase its sensory awareness of time and matter. Is it possible that the First Mover was some kind ethereal computer? Is it possible that I'm recalling some dormant Star Trek memory?

Roughcoat said...

William,

I agree with you on Ex Machina. A very good, near-great movie. It might become great upon subsequent viewings. I was floored when I watched it, via Direct TV, last week.

Quaestor said...

I heard somewhere that Ford was a “three-and-out” director.

This may be true, it's very plausible at least. Ford did more location work than his contemporaries, and it wasn't for nothing the Navy gave him a commander's cap. They knew he had the skill to get the most out of brief opportunities, and location shooting in John Ford's day was nothing but brief opportunities.

Today, not so much. I've worked as an extra on a few films, mostly as a nameless guy on a horse, and I can testify that with modern lighting and generators second unit directors will work all day on one sequence. When natural light fades the fill lights are turned up brighter and brighter.

Quaestor said...

I'm not denying that Stagecoach is a great movie, but a b&w Ford film is like an egg without salt...

I must love eggs without salt, never knew that about myself.

Roughcoat said...

mostly as a nameless guy on a horse

Like the guy in "Hombre" who was sent around the back and simply disappeared from the movie?

Remember Mad Magazine's take on that guy?

Any-hoo: Very cool! Were you portraying a cowboy? Did you get to wear a six-shooter? Did you glower and look rough? :)

Quaestor said...

No gun, or closeup, just ride from here to there at a walk, or trot, or canter... again and again and again. One time I was almost sent home without a check because my horse looked "too classy."

roadgeek said...

"...John Wayne not signing up because it was an end-of-the-west Western, which he didn't approve of. ..."

which is ironic, given that his last movie was "The Shootist", an exemplar of the end-of-the-West genre.

On a separate note, for a stellar B/W comedy try "Unfaithfully Yours", with Rex Harrison and the luscious Linda Darnell. The extended scene where Harrison is attempting to stage the "perfect" murder of his wife compelled me to stop the DVD at least twice to catch my breath due to laughter. Completely visual, with no dialogue, the scene runs for quite some time, and never ceases to amuse me when I see it. Rex Harrison, like most dramatic actors, could do comedy with ease.

William said...

It would be a great disservice to Maureen O'Hara to photograph her in b&w. I'm glad that Ford never made that mistake......Just as some subject matters lend themselves to b&w photography versus technicolor so to do some stars. In the context of Ford films, The Informer probably works better in b&w, but I really think Stagecoach would have been more fun in color. I think Greta Garbo probably works better in b&w. She has that classical, Ode to Grecian urn kind of beauty that is enhanced rather than diminished by lack of color. Maureen O'Hara, on the other hand, was made for technicolor. Even on a rainy day in February, she's in technicolor.

Coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

I'm glad that Ford never made that mistake...

Nope, your mistake. "Rio Grande" is a John Ford B&W from 1950 with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. The whole film was a mistake, IMAO, but not for the cinematography. The script is weak, the weakest by far of the whole "Cavalry Trilogy" and I think the weakest Ford every made until the abominable "Cheyenne Autumn." But what makes "Rio Grande" unwatchable is Claude Jarman, Jr., the external favorite in the Hollywood's worst actor ever competition. That guy could just look at a camera and cause a focus shift. He's horrible. He started as an "adorable child actor" opposite Gregory Peck in a film about a deer that ought to turn the most hardened vegan idiot into a venison-starved carnivore. Jarman started as cloying and forced, and finished as the most hatable person you've ever met this side of King Jung-Un.

Quaestor said...

Coupe, if you like "Once Upon a Time in the West"I think you'll like "Firecreek" even better. In the spaghetti film Fonda is a mute (or at least laconic) psycho. Mute psychopaths are easy, anybody who just looks eventually seems nuts, though I'll admit Fonda does a fair job of looking (not nearly so good as Robert Shaw in "A Man for All Seasons" - one second of just looking and Shaw says "I'm one fucked-up royal bloke" with total silence.)

In "Firecreek" Fonda plays a much more nuanced villain

Chubfuddler said...


William said...

It would be a great disservice to Maureen O'Hara to photograph her in b&w. I'm glad that Ford never made that mistake...

Loved her in color in "The Quiet Man," but JF made that mistake in a big way in "How Green Was My Valley" - the scene where she leaves the church after her wedding with her veil blowing about her is heart-stoppingly beautiful.


"How Green Was My Valley"

Archie Waugh said...

"Quaestor said...
The peculiarities of color registration in old B&W films has led to some odd cultural memes. Take Frankenstein's monster, for example. In a few weeks Halloween masks will start showing up in stores, and many of them will represent Frankenstein's creature, or Dracula, or various ghouls with yellowish chromate green skin tones. This convention image derives directly from Universal Pictures' relative poverty in the 1930s. Before it became a powerhouse studio, Universal had to budget their films very strictly. "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" were both shot on orthrochromatic 16mm stock, which was cheaper to shoot and process than panchromatic stock. This made a problem for the makeup artists, however. Both Dracula and Frankenstein's creature were suppose to look like warmed-over corpses, but typical stage makeup made them look more like commedia dell'arte clowns than ghouls. The solution was greenish makeup that registered as light waxen gray. Somehow color publicity stills got circulated that showed the actors in character with green faces, and so...."

I have never seen a thread spawn so many outright fabrications.. Universal's resident makeup genius Jack Pierce would never have used "stage makeup" on his actors. His color choices (including greenish shades) were carefully calibrated for black and white panchromatic film stock. Major productions were NOT shot on 16mm orth stock, that's just fricking ridiculous. Kodak discontinued manufacturing general-purpose orthochromatic motion picture film in 1930; those films were made in 1931. And there ARE no "color publicity stills" from films of that period, just tinted lobby cards. Perhaps they are where you got this absurd idea.
I have several friends who are active, professional film preservationists and they all agree that an original nitrate B & W print produces a superior projected image to acetate or polyester stock. Your mileage may vary of course.