09.09.2010, Words by Charlie Jones

Film Club #2: Videos in black and white

Inspired by the rather brilliant recent video for Antony and the Johnsons ‘Thank You For Your Love’ and building somewhat from last months look at the pastoral realms of stop-motion, this month I chose a theme that reflects that same yearning for something more basic.

While black and white video is nothing revolutionary, its use, when executed effectively, stands apart from many videos that tend towards the use of over saturated palettes. It is often cast into the realms of “artyness” or pretention, or more readily into the basket of those who perhaps have more money to spend on a camera than they do artistic ability; but black and white photography can be lastingly haunting, complex and at the same time maintain a simple beauty. It’s all to easy to flick a camera setting to black and white and, as is often the case, many black and white projects have a tendency to overlook content in the belief that the beauty of the black and white image will to some extent make up for it. This, unfortunately, is rarely the case.

The following seven videos are ones that I believe to be shining examples of filmmakers who have effectively used the black and white image, in various incarnations in the music video medium, to full effect.

Antony and the Johnsons – Thank you For Your Love
Directed by Antony Hegarty

Constructed of film shot on Super 8 (the film stock most readily used in the home video cameras of the late 60s and 70s), this video provides an intimate portrait into Antony’s early life in New York city. The grainy film stock is immediately nostalgic and warm and the use of black and white seems necessary to evoke the feeling of time of gone by rather than as a blank stylistic choice.

The Dead Weather – Blue Blood Blues (Live)

A very different use of black and white imaging and an interesting take on the live music video. Where in the last video black and white was used to reverberate a sombre and contemplative tone, post-production application of black and white along with the use of abstract effects creates a locomotive energy that drives the music.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mistaken Wedding
Directed by Nicholas Amato

Although mostly comprised of colour footage, Ariel’s Pinks Haunted Graffiti’s video displays nicely the tonal contrasts between black and white and colour footage. While the later emanates an immediacy of moment, the black and white footage that punctuates the video depicts the more personal and intimate aspects of the wedding procession.

Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Embedding disabled, view it here
This video for one of Radiohead’s lesser-appreciated songs comes from the directorial back catalogue of one of the greatest music video directors of our time, Jonathan Glazer. This video is one that relies on the use of stark contrasts; both of on the intensity of the black and white colours that plays against the use of slow and fast motion as well as the juxtaposing images of aggression and graceful beauty.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Into My Arms
Directed by Jonathan Glazer

Another directorial departure from Jonathan Glazer and one of the most effective uses of black and white that I can recall. Glazer’s artistic direction adds a sombre and sentimental tone to Nick Cave’s touching score and the use of black and white in this case amounts to creating visually stunning portraits of the various people that appear in the video.

Minks – Funeral Song
Directed by Lance Drake

Minks – “Funeral Song” from LANCE DRAKE on Vimeo.

An echoey and haunting depiction of an urban narrative; this video again utilises black and white for its tonal capacities, one that helps to supplement the tone of Minks’ sound that is itself a throw back to Joy Division’s lost era of indie rock.

White Stripes – My Doorbell
Directed by Emmet and Brendon Malloy
Proving that not all departures in the black and white mode should be haunting and sentimental, this video for The White Stripes ‘My Doorbell’ is one that makes this stylistic choice in regard to the videos content. A far more playful but none the less effective use of the black and white palette that constructs an image that is at once allusive of the musical revues and vaudeville performances that belong to the black and white era.

DJ Martyn – Great Lengths

Directed by Ramon Gielin
Another stunning example of the use of black and white photography in juxtaposition with colour footage, in what is more a short film than music video. A touching psychological insight into the story of his footballer fathers death and the resulting effect on the artist’s music. The colour footage works as a catharsis of the familial tragedy and what seems to be repressed remorse for the loss of a father figure. A truly great demonstration of the flexibility and tonal capabilities of black and white film.

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