Having just read this Blog entry from the erudite 2Blowhards on the wonder of black and white cinema, I feel rather inadequate. I prefer colour in general, and clearly I haven’t educated myself enough about the mood differences generated by different cinematic techniques. But part of the reason for that is that for me they frequently don’t bite. Issues of tone and texture do not make a lasting impression on me, whether on screen or in music. It seems that they do for others.
For me the main game is what is being represented: the characters, the plot. (In the case of music, it’s the melody, harmony, rhythm and dynamics, not the texture of the orchestration — Just yesterday I listened to Glenn Gould’s rendition of Liszt’s piano transcription of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, even though I have a couple of orchestral versions. The piano, and Gould’s idiosynchratic style, bring out much for me.)
In any case, a great deal of black and white movie making prior to, say, the mid-50s was not for artistic reasons but for commercial. Colour was more expensive, and so wasn’t used unless the producers judged that there would be a reasonable return on investment (Rebel Without a Cause, for example, commenced shooting in black and white, but then was re-shot in colour when the producers decided that it was going to be bigger than they had anticipated.)
That, of course, is a far cry from recent movies where black and white has been chosen on purpose.