Alphabetical Movie – The Hustler
I’ll bet that most people I know haven’t seen The Hustler.
Oh, they’ve heard of the film. I’m sure they have. Heck, many of them have seen the sequel, The Color of Money but they have never felt the need to visit the original film for reasons that have more to do with laziness than actual lack of interest.
There is that subset, though, that puzzles me. It is the subset that won’t watch a movie because it is in black and white. I’ve never understood what color would add to certain films that would make them more watchable. In fact, I’ve often thought that removal of color from certain films would make them more visually interesting.
Obviously some films need color – they depend on it. Pleasantville is an obvious example. Others use color because it is now much cheaper to make a film in color than it is to make it in black and white.
Yet, I think about a film like The Man Who Wasn’t There and the rich black and white cinematography in that film and I can’t help but wonder – would Dark City have been better in black and white? The Road to Perdition? The Untouchables?
Black and white can be a viable artistic choice (as it was in Schindler’s List) but it is almost never a viable commercial choice. Audiences simply don’t want to see films that are not in color and entirely valid artistic choice almost always ends up costing the producer a lot of money.
Classic black and white films suffer from this bias against their lack of color more than modern films, I think. The statement “I don’t like black and white films” is considered, at least by the people saying it, as a completely valid argument for why they won’t watch Casablanca.
It is as if black and white is a genre. Instead of saying you don’t like horror films, you say that you don’t like films in black and white and presume I’m supposed to accept the latter in the same manner than I would the former.
I could give the black and white hater a list of a dozen films that are great movies no matter what color film stock was used and they would tell me that they don’t like them. The odds that they actually watched any of them? Pretty low.
It is a bias based entirely on the idea that color will allow a filmmaker to do a better job of telling a story. That bias is correct just often enough to support their prejudice.
Ask someone to explain why they don’t like black and white and my guess would be they really don’t have an explanation. They just don’t like it.
It’s OK to just not like something, I guess. But if you don’t know why you don’t like something, shouldn’t you at least take a little time to understand what it is that turns you off? Better yet, shouldn’t you take some time to explore those things you claim you don’t like to see if just maybe your lack of a reason has more to do with a lack of familiarity than it does with anything inherently wrong with them?
It is important to remember that The Hustler is in black and white on purpose. The didn’t have to make it that way in the 1960’s. They could have made it in color. They didn’t.
And they made a good choice. Rather than saying that the movie would be better in color, I think one should watch it to learn why the people making it decided (correctly) that it would be better in black and white.