Yet, buried deep within lurks a darker beast; one whose heart cannot be stirred by romance, nor comedy. Heart-wrenching drama with stars paid the equivalent of a small country's defense budget go by it unnoticed. Spine-chilling, sci-fi-goth horror movies, featuring a multitude of sharp, stainless steel implements from some dentist's nightmare stir it not. The latest Hollywood E-ticket ride with half a plot and seven times the pyrotechnics of the Gulf War provokes not so much as a raised eyebrow.
And yet, at the same time, a seemingly innocent film released for the general public's viewing pleasure threatens to awaken the Beast from its muted slumber. It begins to stir, pounding restlessly, snorting fire from its nostrils, thrusting its way into conciousness, until it's tearing around its host's brain, rendering the latter unable to think, sleep, or eat until every nanosecond of the film has been fully devoured. Every spoken line memorised, every camera angle analyzed, every dark shadow explored.
Black and white film noir.
Occasionally, a mistake is made and such a film is recorded on colour stock. Every now and then, such a film is unsuspectingly rented and watched in the comfort of home. From time to time, the Beast will reach the pinnacle in its struggle for freedom by reaching for the remote control and toning down the colour, until it can bask in the oceans of grey textures that constitute the true essence of the film. On one such occasion, the film was Dark City.
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night in a bathtub and you cannot quite remember if there was a party the evening before. Imagine then finding out that you're a serial killer and wanted by the police. It turns out you have a wife you barely know, but who loves you dearly. An elusive childhood you remember, but cannot recall, and you have trouble determining the last time you saw the sun. Was it yesterday? Last week? Or in a past lifetime?
Dark City is a film that keeps you guessing. Who are the strange men in black coats? Wasn't that newspaper salesman working somewhere else an hour before? Is it left or right from here to get to Sunset Beach?
The story is strange, intriguing, elusive, dark, enigmatic. It is such a welcome change from the single-thread monotony that has plagued us this past year, yet the film's greatest feature is not the story, but the way it's told. This is a film. The lighting is wonderful -- and works marvellously with the colour turned off. This simply is a black and white film that `mistakenly' got shot on colour film. The photography is fantastic, captivating, original. The music is perfect, suggestive, and adds greatly to the experience. It is not only a great story, but it is a story told through full use of the medium. This is what film should be, but rarely is. If you've ever enjoyed any of the great film noir of the 40s and 50s, see Dark City.
Black and white films appear in the most unlikely places, disguised as the strangest things. Zone 39 is a low-budget, Australian science fiction film that briefly appeared on the Sci-Fi Channel here in Sweden some time back. Telia, the Swedish equivalent of the Ministry of Information in Brazil, have, in their ever increasing sensitivity to customer desire, now abolished that particular channel from their reportoire, to make room for new digital channels. Of course, they ensure that quality programming such as their own `information channel' which only ever shows a test picture, still remains available. I can only imagine that it must have had a larger audience than the Sci-Fi Channel, since it was given preference.
Nevertheless, Zone 39 is a post-apocalyptic vision of the future, where border patrols give a whole new meaning to `immigration control'. Our main character spends much of his time talking to dead relatives in mirrors while spying on his co-workers. A state of mental health that I -- after another Swedish winter -- am perfectly sympathetic to. It's not a brilliant film, although certainly watchable, until you turn down the colour. Adjust the brightness and contrast on your TV to obtain rich blacks and creamy highlights, and the whole film becomes wonderful. There are a number of very nice outdoor shots, each one looking like an Ansel Adams print in B&W! True, the sand buggies appear a little out of place, but then this is the Outback, not Yosemite. May be available for rental, or (more probably) at 4 AM on one of the film channels.
Yet more unlikely places for B&W films are TV-shows. While Rumour Control traditionally only turns its critical eye towards feature film, this is so unlikely that it must be mentioned. Your humble author has, for various reasons that will not be disclosed in public, recently developed the habit of turning on the TV in the wee hours of the morning, when all sorts of strange signals fly through the ether. Of all things, and by pure coindicence and chance, it turns out that certain episodes of Miami Vice work wonderfully in B&W! Admittedly, turning down the sound helps too, though it does nothing for the visual impression. Seriously though, the people behind the show really understand lighting and make very effective use of it every now and then. Still, discretion is advised, and viewing should start in increments of 10 minutes or less, with frequent breaks, and then gradually extended to whole episodes if no ill effects are felt.
Nothing beats drinking from the source, however. TNT has recently introduced the `Artist of the Month'. February sees Elizabeth Taylor strut her stuff on the small screen and consequently channel 16, at least on my decoder, is best avoided, but during January, none other than Humphrey Bogart was featured, accompanied by the likes of Lauren Bacall, Mary Astor, Madeleine LeBleu, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and my all time favorite nickel-and-dime trickster Peter Lorre, who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of my closest friends. For a full month, it was possible to indulge in the delights of To Have and Have Not, The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, Dark Passage and The Big Sleep, which must win the prize for Most Incomprehensible Story ever Filmed.
Through a little careful selection at your local video store and judicious use of your colour control, you can be certain of one thing: Buckets not required.