Friday, June 4, 2010

Black & White Friday: The Crucible

Welcome back to another series of "Black & White Friday" where, if you're relatively new to the blog, we try to reimagine movies as if they had been made in black and white. it's quite simple, really. Sometimes films lend themselves to it - which really just exemplifies how much we're still indebted to the crafts and skills learnt during the black and white era - while sometimes the film's don't at all, which can show how far we've come. It's a neat little experiment that I tried once and that I enjoyed so much I kept on doing. I can't promise one of these every Friday, but season three is here so please enjoy!

I was inspired to watch Michael Hytner's The Crucible after an episode of Who Do You Think You Are in which Sarah Jessica Parker discovered she was descended from somebody who was persecuted for being a witch. This being a very American story my knowledge of the history was vague and while I am perfectly aware that The Crucible is not historically accurate in many things, I found it quite fascinating nonetheless.

The first thing that flashed into my mind at this moment was Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, obviously, which has a near identical town "who did it" meeting (if I am remembering correctly). It reminds me, too, of what Haneke said about making that film in black and white. He did so because our brains have always associated that time period (pre-WWI) with black and white images and photography so, to him, it made sense to make the film in black and white. That way it's as if we're seeing it as a part of a historical context that wouldn't be there if the film was to be made in colour. I am paraphrasing, obviously, but that's the general gist of what he said.

This image, specifically in black and white, makes it appear to be much more of a gothic horror tale than it really is. The Crucible is about witches, but it isn't about witches. So, it's not The Craft.

Back to black-and-white-recreating-olden-times from the first shot, perhaps The Crucible would have truly benefited from it. There's a coldness and a purely white vs black/good vs evil that would have been at play if it had have been. Of course, the character played by Daniel Day-Lewis is far too modern to fit into any movie of this time period so it might all be moot.

This kinda reminds me of the works of Ingmar Bergman in a way, the ones like Sawdust & Tinsel that were set in wind-blown Scandinavian town of small populations.

This shot intrigued me because it was so thick with fog, blue fog and in black and white it reminds me an old movie with a bad DVD transfer where everything is a little fuzzy and soft and barely visible.

I really liked this shot in colour with the deep blue and black night sky and this small sliver of fireplace emanating out of the doorway. In black and white it doesn't look anywhere near as good.

I chose this shot because Mary Pat Gleason does not get enough love from anywhere.

I wish director Nicholas Hytner (he of Centre Stage, thank you very much) had made a hard and fast decision about the depiction of the girls. Either he should have gone for broke and just made them a Village of the Damned-esque troupe or not at all. It kinda felt half-arsed the way he did it. Like he wanted his Gothic cake, but wanted to eat the serious drama, too (wait, that doesn't sound right). It makes for an odd imbalance.

The one scene that I thought Winona Ryder really clicked as Abigail was in this scene. It shows her abilities of manipulation perfectly without even the slightest hint of alpha-ism and self-consciousness. It was like during this scene that her character really did truly start to believe everything she was saying. Giving the performance of her life. Unfortunately for Winona I think she was miscast here. I think she was too old for the part, especially when so much of the character comes from her youth. I read that they changed the character from 12 years old to 17 due to the new romance subplot, but even those moments between Daniel Day-Lewis' Proctor and the character of Abigail would have been far more effective if played by someone younger. Abigail being so young and yet so able to convince everyone of her "truth" adds a whole other dimension that the film lacks. I also think, much like Day-Lewis, she acts the role as too modern. This scene she got it right though.

What a moody and dark shot to end on, but the last 20 minutes or so of The Crucible is all moody and dark and depressing and not too much fun (especially since Daniel Day-Lewis' teeth somehow go from sparkly to rotten in but a few days). It's clearly the weakest part of the movie and doesn't even look particularly interesting in black and white, either. I haven't mentioned how good I thought Joan Allen was (she is in this shot), or how fantastic Paul Scofield was. It's a shame he wasn't nominated for an Oscar.

And so we're done. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope I get some a few more of these out before I tire of it yet again (...). If you weren't around these parts the last time I did this series then do check them out. Some of my personal favourites include Showgirls ("Nope, not even black and white can make this bit classy"), The Others ("there are moments in The Others - like this scene, which feels like a lost outtake from Jacques Tourneur's Cat People"), Chicago ("it looks like some sort of surreal Lynchian experience."), Femme Fatale ("is there anything quite as beautiful as Paris in black and white?"), The Net ("Sandy's hair is too messy."), Birth ("I think it's quite obvious to everyone and sundry that Jonathan Glazer was fixated by Nicole Kidman"), Open Range ("You could be forgiven for thinking this was A Boy and His Best Friend"), Moulin Rouge! ("Proof positive that Nicole Kidman would've been a star in any generation"), Reds ("It really is somethin' else, isn't it?"), The Doom Generation ("Oh the things Russ Meyer could have done with Rose McGowen!") and The Exorcist ("This moment is scary no matter what the colour scheme.")


Runs Like A Gay said...

It's great to see Black & White Friday back, I love this series.

Whilst in the original play Abigail is 15 the part is often layed over, like in the film, in order to remove the peadophilic overtones to the relationship between her and Proctor (which eists in the play).

The last scene is a little odd in th film, it's certainly the slowest in the play but it should feel incredibly intense as Proctor literally shifts from one end of the spectrum to another. Here, by placing the action outside of the prison (odd choice) it sucks the claustrophia out of the scene and allowing Day-Lewis to act big is a mistake for this sort of changing dynamic.

Solo said...

Hi Glenn, I've been reading your blog for a year and always meaning to comment, so now I've finally managed it!

I love this idea, and if I weren't so noble I'd be very tempted to steal it for my blog!

I'm also wondering now how b/w would fare in colour too (not so easy to emulate of course.)

I think [i]The Crucuble[/i] would have been a better film if they had always intended to shoot in b/w, directors always give more thought to composition and contrast when they aren't distracted by shiny colours. It wouldn't have been so marketable though I suppose.

I forget what, but there was a film released in the UK fairly recently and the entire marketing campaign was carefully constrcuted to conceal the fact it was black ands white.

claire said...

I second the praise for the return of Black & White Friday!