The Cinematography OF

The Man Who Wasn’t There – B&W/Color Comparison

If you are a reader of my blog you may know that one of my favorite cinematographers is Roger Deakins. He has shot some of my all time favorite movies. One of the films he shot for the Coen Brothers was “The Man Who Wasn’t There”. It is a black and white film but it was actually shot in color and then converted to black and white in post production to retain more control over the process. Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” was also shot in the same way.

Cinematographer Steven Poster explains the reasoning behind shooting on color stock vs. black and white:

"The few b&w movies that get made today are almost always shot on color film stock. Sadly there are few film laboratories that process b&w anymore. Another reason is that b&w film stocks have not been improved for over 30 years while color film stocks have been continuously improved. This allows for more versatile shooting if you use color films. Great improvements in sensitivity (film speed), texture (granularity) and dynamic range (number of steps of gray between the deepest shadow and the highest highlight) have been made. By shooting on color film and printing on several choices of b&w printing film stock, the cinematographer has more effective ways of creating different styles for b&w movies. Even European movies are done this way now. For example, Patrice Leconte's exquisite "The Girl On The Bridge" was filmed this way.

I managed to get ahold of the original color version of the movie. So here is the original color print next to the final black and white print for your comparison enjoyment.




2 Responses

  1. You know it’s funny. For years, people didn’t believe me about this but in 2001 I was a projectionist at a movie theatre. One of my weekly duties was to build up the new arrivals and screen them to make sure I hadn’t accidentally stuck heads to heads or tails to tails. Most of the time that involved me building the film, firing it up in a dead theatre, and checking in every 20 minutes or so to make sure the image wasn’t upside down. Now and then, people would get lax in their duties and a film would slip though but not me. I loved the work at the time and I was very good at it. I did most of the big press screenings, including two that had armed guards (LOTR). That film wasn’t my jam though. But back to this film here. I built it up, I was a big Cohen Brothers fan so rather than check in on it, I sat in the theatre, and watched it with my boss and one or two other guys. The film is going along great, and we’re enjoying it and about forty minutes in, give or take, the film switches from colour to black and white. Memento had been recently popular so at first we thought it might have been one of those situations. But the black and white continued and continued and continued. After the film we had a pow-wow to discuss what might have happened and eventually we all decided that something might be askew. My boss called the distributor who very promptly raced over to collect the two colour reels that I had surgically removed the next day and delivered us two fresh black and white reels. Apart from the people who saw it with me, not many believed it had happened and interestingly, none of us *really* noticed it immediately. It took some time before we all got to murmuring. Very cool that you’ve seen what I once saw 20 years ago and existed only as a weird anecdote of my time there. I saw a lot of things, I even saw God answer a direct prayer of mine, but that was one of the strangest. Cheers.

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