It’s not a black and white case, says Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - dclarke@irish­times.com

I f you know any­thing about Michael Haneke’s The White Rib­bon, you prob­a­bly know that it’s in black and white. The poster has that tell­tale mer­cury gleam, and al­most ev­ery re­view spends time mulling over the se­vere per­fec­tion of the glassy im­ages. Sehr gut. Monochrome suits the stark­ness of the nar­ra­tive and, with its im­plied nod to­wards an­tique photography, helps lure us back to the early part of the last cen­tury.

What prob­lem could there be? We’re all se­ri­ous cinephiles in the Screen­writer Arms, and we hap­pily tol­er­ate – in­deed, cel­e­brate – the sharp con­trast and un­cor­rupted shad­ows that come with monochrome. Just be­cause some bof­fin in­vented colour doesn’t mean we have to use it all the time. Af­ter all, some other bof­fin in­vented 3-D and we con­signed that to the dust­bin. It’s not like you still see peo­ple wear­ing those stupid 3-D glasses th­ese days (and so on un­til this par­tic­u­lar satir­i­cal sledge­ham­mer makes its un­sub­tle point).

So, there’s no prob­lem with Haneke us­ing monochrome for

The White Rib­bon. The cere­bral Aus­trian has put in the hours and doesn’t need to con­vince any­body of his art-house bona fides.

But, from time to time, the de­ci­sion to shoot in black and white can look a lit­tle like a cheap short­cut to faux-se­ri­ous­ness. Look at me. My name is Beret McGoa­tee and, though just 22 years old, I have made an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal piece about a film-school grad­u­ate who har­bours an in­tense and un­re­quited pas­sion for his best friend’s lover. The two main char­ac­ters spend most of the pic­ture lis­ten­ing to Brook­lyn brain-rock while dis­cussing the films of John Cas­savetes, the un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Kafka in main­stream cul­ture, and why they don’t own a TV. Film You Cry and

You Want to Die in colour? Are you crazy? There’ll be plenty of time for that when I’ve sold my soul to Jerry Bruck­heimer and have got used to blow­ing my nose on $50 bills.

It’s not just McGoa­tee who uses black and white as an easy sig­ni­fier. When Steven Spiel­berg wanted to make clear how re­spect­ful he was be­ing in his ap­proach to the Holo­caust, he got out the som­bre greys for

Schindler’s List. You could ar­gue that Ge­orge Clooney’s rea­sons for us­ing monochrome on Good

Night, and Good Luck were even sim­pler to sum­marise: the film is about black and white telly, so we’d bet­ter make it in black and white.

Now don’t get me wrong. The grad­ual eradication of black-and­white photography from main­stream films dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s de­prived the cin­e­matic or­gan­ism of a vi­tal artis­tic gene. The oc­ca­sional reap­pear­ance of the process in later clas­sics such as Rag­ing Bull,

Man­hat­tan and, yes, The White Rib­bon is greatly to be cel­e­brated. But, now that colour is in­dus­try stan­dard, it’s hard not to be a lit­tle sus­pi­cious when younger, slightly self-im­por­tant film-mak­ers flip to char­coal hues.

Oi, McGoa­tee! Just be­cause your films lack pig­ment doesn’t mean they’re stark Bergmanesque mas­ter­pieces, you know.

Oh well, at least they aren’t in 3-D.

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