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Color My Black & White World

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Sometimes a dash of color makes all the difference. That’s never more true than when a black and white movie mixes in a splash of red, blue or yellow to heighten the emotion or present a bit of handy symbolism. Naturally, I have a few favorites.

PLEASANTVILLE (1998)

“Pleasantville” is an underrated film with a great cast that includes Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Reese Witherspoon and J.T. Walsh. Two teens are transported to the world of a black and white TV sitcom. As the locals experience strong emotions – love, creativity, desire – they burst into color. It’s also a story about conformity, prejudice, fascism and fear.

RUMBLE FISH (1983)

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” is a surreal swirl of testosterone and youthful disillusionment. At a key moment it offers a tiny slice of color: blue and red fighting fish that Mickey “Motorcycle Boy” Rourke frees from a pet store.

SIN CITY (2005)

Rarely have random bits of color exploded and popped with the ferocity they do in “Sin City.” It’s a comic book adaptation, and the colors reflect a dazzling, hyper-stylized sensibility. They’re perfectly matched to the dynamic, black and white performances of Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen and Mr. Mickey Rourke.

WINGS OF DESIRE (1987)

Bruno Ganz plays an angel who dreams of seeing the world in color and experiencing life as a mortal. He gets his wish after he falls in love and falls to Earth. This Wim Wenders film is a personal favorite of mine, and the transfer from black and white to color is amazing.

SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

One of the great films of the past few decades. Steven Spielberg’s story from the Holocaust includes a couple of emotionally devastating scenes featuring a little girl in a red coat. We see her walking in one scene; later, we see the red coat in a pile of bodies. No dialogue, just a haunting image.

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945)

This is Oscar Wilde’s famous story of a young man who wishes that his portrait would age, but he himself wouldn’t. Years pass, and the portrait absorbs all of Dorian Gray’s physical age and moral depravity. The 1945 black and white version boasts a pair of color sequences featuring the portrait itself. I love how the use of color here is both beautiful and garish.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

A good case can be made that the scene in which Dorothy emerges from black and white Kansas and steps into the colorful land of Oz is the best special effect in movie history. It is stunning, even disorienting, in the way it instantly takes us to another realm. Here’s a shout-out to the boys in The Lollipop Guild.

I’ll bet there are a few good ones I’ve missed. Drop me a line and add them to The List!