In a world where digital theaters project billions of colors in subtle gradations that mimic all the hues of real life, choosing to watch—or produce—a black and white film may be taken as a small act of defiance. For movies shot after the advent of color film, the choice of black and white is often the territory of auteurs motivated by their own reasons for telling their stories in the stark monochrome palette.
Classic blockbusters have relied on the colorless approach to spur diverse results. Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) and Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994) used the medium’s immediate ability for retro recall and comic effect, while Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) used its presumed blunt seriousness to lampoon the apocalyptic threat of war.
Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic Schindler’s List (1993) and French director Michel Hazanavicius’s sensation The Artist (2011) used the medium to critical accolades, earning Academy Awards for Best Picture.
With such highly regarded works in black and white, it should come as no surprise that the Virginia Film Festival has a selection of old, new, foreign and domestic films that accurately convey a range of emotion from sorrow and silliness, to drama and terror.
If you’re seeking an exotic flick offering a tale of young love and deathly mystical black humor, November is all you. Based on a novel, this 19th-century Estonian folktale should intrigue horror fans and art house snobs alike. Director Rainer Sarnet employs a rich grayscale that fills the screen with painterly swaths of threatening forests, moonlit hills, ancient churches and cozy, fire-warm hovels inhabited by filthy faced villagers. This setting is ideal for the film’s supernatural element: impoverished farmers using demonic forces to conjure soulless servants. Unrequited love and the doom of winter lay the icy groundwork for this captivating Tribeca Film Festival winner. With English subtitles.
Tonsler Park (2017 U.S.)
UVA art professor, accomplished sculptor, painter and filmmaker Kevin Everson returns to 16mm in this documentary chronicling Election Day 2016 in Charlottesville. Though he produced multiple shorts since his last longform film (the eight-hour Park Lanes 2015), Tonsler Park adds to a prolific output, which often aims to capture the daily lives of African-Americans. Here, he exposes the shortcomings of a democratic system that fails those it proposes to empower. Everson will be on hand for a discussion with fellow director Claudrena Harold.
The Lodger (1927 U.K.)
Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock plays with themes that haunted his entire oeuvre in this early career crime thriller about a serial killer who has it in for London’s blonde women. A suspicious landlady believes her new tenant to be The Avenger, the lethal lunatic. Though longer cuts of this spine-chilling silent exist, catch this showing for live music performed by Matthew Marshall and the Reel Music Trio, and an introduction by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz.
1945 (1927 Hungary)
In an ironic twist on the World War II/Holocaust theme, two Orthodox Jewish men show up in rural Hungary to drive fear into the hearts of the guilt-ridden townspeople. Fittingly realized by Ferenc Török in a nuanced monochrome that feels both historically respectful yet contemporary, 1945 shows the nefarious power of guilt and the unending aftermath of carrying out evil deeds. Forced to face their recent sins that only came to a close months earlier, the entire Hungarian town becomes unnerved by their actions, compounded with a thorough dread of revenge by the Jewish strangers: real and imagined, financial and spiritual.
The Immigrant (1917 U.S.)
Comic icon Charlie Chaplin stars in and directs this short, which is celebrating its centennial anniversary. The mustachioed protagonist gets into trouble through good ol’ problematic misunderstandings both on his way to and after his arrival in America. Two other Chaplin shorts from 1917 also highlight the schedule: Easy Street, about a vagabond-turned-cop, and The Adventurer, featuring Chaplin reprising his tramp role to bust out of jail, become a hero and then ruin an elegant affair. Ben Mankiewicz again serves up the intro, and Matthew Marshall and the Reel Music Trio supply the soundtrack.