Black & White Done Right on Supernatural

"Monster Movie"--B&W done right!
Usually when a television show wants to pay tribute to classic television/movies, it films its episode in color, then switches the palette in the same way people "art-ify" their photos on Photoshop (I'm sure the process is slightly more technical but the end product is the same).

The end product is something that looks like it was filmed in color, then switched to black & white on Photoshop. It looks, in other words, one-dimensional, flat, boring, and pretentiously arty.

The episode "Monster Movie" from Supernatural, Season 4, however, is done right!

(1) Black and white are used as colors! The boys' suits aren't simply black; they are shiny, slippery black. The white blouses and bowties and dresses aren't simply white; they are crisply white: they shine.

(2) Shadows are considered. The opening shot pans across rooftops where attic windows send stretching shadows across the shingles at an angle.

Shadows--and therefore light sources--are continually taken into account. Consequently, even the darkest scenes aren't overly dark. I compare this to X-Files. The season 6 episode "Triangle" is not shot precisely in black & white but it is shot far far far too dark (Joss Whedon had the same problem with the last season of Angel). Sure, guys, it looks great, but I can't see what is happening, so who cares? (Since I love the plot and dialog of "Triangle," I pretend I care.)

"Monster Movie" avoids this problem. Despite dark, night-time settings, the scenes never feel claustrophobic and/or unviewable.

And he has a coupon!
(3) "Monster Movie" uses B&W settings as well as B&W lighting to not only present delightful imagery but to tell the story. In one of the episode's best scenes, Dracula stalks through his suburban house to answer the door (and get his pizza). The sharp contrast between his black cloak and the white, paneled (utterly ordinary) closet doors is hilarious--it communicates the character's disconnect while making a joke: it has a point. (It isn't simply "cool" because it is B&W; it is "cool" because of the way the B&W is done.)

Black and white as colors, the use of intelligent light sources plus clever settings (both classic and non-classic)--not to mention the use of shapes, grays, and DEPTH--all combine to make this one of the best B&W creations I've seen since, well, the days of Arsenic & Old Lace.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Ah, one of my pet peeves (especially since black and white photography/film is something I do very well even though I generally don't like it.) To entertain myself while at home, I've been watching The Munsters, which was filmed in black and white to save $10,000 per episode. The photography is really good,I'm sure thanks to all the cinematographers in Hollywood who'd learned how to shoot on black and white. It's also interesting to note just how bad color filmography can be, especially in the 50s and 60s.

Another pet peeve of mine are directors who insist on bleaching, darkening or toning their film. Subtle is fine, sometimes fantastic, but when it's really heavy handed, it's very annoying and so heavy handed (bad, overbearing music fits that category as well.)

While we're on the subject of pet peeves in movies, I detest most voice overs. Some are done extremely well, but most aren't. Oh, then there's the movies and shows which start at the ending and then say "48 hours earlier" or something. It rarely adds anything. Like the first, I think the times it works, it works so well that other directors mimic it thinking it will help them. (They confuse the arrow of causality.)