Back in 2014, director Steven Soderbergh posted a black-and-white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark with The Social Network soundtrack as an exercise in studying staging. It’s since become my favorite way of watching the movie. I’ve seen Raiders probably a 100 times and I can recite the dialogue line-by-line, but when I watch it in black-in-white, it estranges me from it, and it’s like seeing a new movie. (Fresh eyes!)
“I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this,” Soderbergh joked. But some directors insist that black-and-white is actually their favorite way to watch their own movies. “The best version of this movie is black-and-white,” said director George Miller on the “Black and Chrome” edition of Mad Max: Fury Road. “But people reserve that for art movies now.”
Director Bong Joon-ho says his mother wouldn’t let him go to the movies because of “bacteria” when he was growing up, so he watched all movies on their old black-and-white TV. A “classic” movie, for him, is a black-and-white one. So he made a black-and-white version of Parasite, which had a limited theatrical release. “The first time [I saw the black and white version], it felt like I was watching an old movie, a story from long ago. But the second time, the movie felt more intense; it felt [more] cruel.”
Last night my wife and I put on Jurassic Park, and a little bit into it I said, “I’ll bet this would look really good in black-and-white.” So I opened the picture settings on the TV, turned the Color to zero, set the Contrast all the way up, then turned down the Brightness down to about 40/100. I couldn’t believe how good it looked — all the rain and the smoke from Samuel L. Jackson’s cigarette in the control room made it feel almost noir-ish. (And it definitely emphasized the horror elements.) An old movie becomes new. Magic!
Update (3/29/2020): You may be surprised what works and what doesn’t! The Big Lebowski was underwhelming, but Nacho Libre in black and white was perfect — parts of it looked like Bergman or Fellini and the parts in the ring looked like Raging Bull!