Cool Without Color: Fandor’s Spotlight on a Timeless Aesthetic

Back in Black (and White) Spotlight

This week’s Spotlight is on clever, contemporary films with a vintage twist toward a new nostalgia.

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What decade do you think these movies were made in? There’s something about black-and-white films (even those shot digitally) that recalls earlier, perhaps even simpler times. As shown by this week’s Spotlight, many contemporary filmmakers play with this convention to highly successful ends, whether recalling a distant past or giving the present an infusion of style that is anything but quaint! Here are a handful of films from our Spotlight that will give you a real jones for monochrome:

Before Whiplash, Damien Chazelle made his debut with this true musical, a story of love, loss and jazz trumpet with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. The black-and-white world of Guy and Madeline helps reinforce the simple, soulful whimsy of Chazelle’s work. That it manages to be fresh and modern while exuding such retro flair is what makes Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench so special.

Likewise, Bummer Summer uses black-and-white footage to pull us into the story of three teens who meander, emotionally entangled, through the town of Olympia (where filmmaker Zach Weintraub grew up). The gorgeousness of the shots underscores the everyday wonder of the setting and natural feel of the (actually improvised) performances, making Bummer Summer a truly charming and enjoyable movie that proves that magic can exist even with a micro-budget.

The Turin Horse is the last film from great Hungarian director Béla Tarr, who wanted to capture, as he put it, the “heaviness of human existence”. The black and white shots, combined with Tarr’s characteristically unwavering hold, certainly create a weighty mood. The film is set in 1889, and the lack of color also helps us the viewers with time travel, and indeed some of the longest takes (there are only around thirty shots in the whole film), start to warp reality. This film is an unconventional, even bleak tale, but its power and agelessness make it a memorable masterpiece.

Alan Scherstuhl of The Village Voice calls Go Down Death “a captivating excursion into surrealist Americana…haunted by visions and shot in beautiful 16mm black-and-white”. The folk mythology of an equally fictitious author comes to life in this strange, haunting and hilarious collection of vignettes from director Aaron Schimberg. Prepare to enter an alternate reality: This visionary work is not quite like anything you’ve ever seen before, but you just might fall in love with its eerie absurdity and transportive charisma.

Rounding out the Spotlight highlights is an earnest mockumentary (and Fandorian favorite) set a few decades ago during a tech tournament full of early computers and their coding stewards. In Computer Chess, Andrew Bujalski‘s choice to film in black-and-white helps really bring home the accelerationism of Moore’s Law, depicting a world before smart gadgets and Net Neutrality battles. But you don’t have to be Silicon Valley savvy to appreciate this musing on the titans of a nascent, world-changing industry! This film has humor and heart in its depiction of artificial intelligence on the cusp.

There are many more films to enjoy in this week’s Spotlight, so get Back in Black (and White) for a while with us!


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