Photographers and filmmakers love to capture images in black and white to create a specific mood. So far this year, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha filmed in black and white and 2012′s Best Picture Oscar winner, The Artist shot in black and white too. Of course filmmaker’s have their specific reason for choosing black and white. Dead Man director Jim Jarmusch explained why he strayed away from color.
Dead Man was conceived as a black-and-white film from the very beginning. There are several reasons for this decision. The primary one is that the story is about a man who takes a journey which carries him further away from anything familiar. Color, particularly in landscapes, connects us with things due to our familiarity with their tonal values, and this would have undermined a basic element of the story.
Also because Dead Man is set in the 19th century, the absence of too much information (that provided by color) is a way of gaining some historical distance, again neutralizing a certain familiarity with specific objects and locations.
Another reason for black-and-white is that since the late 1950’s and early 60’s stories using the “western” genre seem to be filmed in the same dusty color palette over and over again. Whether in a film by Leone or Eastwood, or even a TV episode of Bonanza, the colors always seem the same to me. If these color values operate on a sub-or semi-conscious level for the audience, I would prefer that the black-and-white of Dead Man recalls the atmosphere of American films from the 40′s and early 50′s, or even the historical films of Kurosawa or Mizoguchi, than the overly familiar palette of more recent “westerns”.
Last but not the least, I wanted to work again in black-and-white with Robby Muller. Robby, as always, did amazing work photographing Dead Man, and working with the negative to include all possible gray tones while keeping the black and whites very strong, almost as though color film hadn’t been invented yet.
Here are some of our favorite film stills and clips, including Dead Man, in their classically beautiful form.
Johnny Depp in Dead Man
Kate Beckinsale in The Aviator
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol: 2
Benicio Del Toro in Sin City
Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino on the set of Pulp Fiction
Venus and David Xtravaganza in Paris is Burning
Jarmusch interview via New York Trash