6. Man Bites Dog (Rémy Belvaux & André Bonzel & Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992)
While the title of this 1992 satire/mockumentary is a hymn to sensationalism in journalism, its main target is filmmaking itself. It predicted the current era of reality TV, to a certain degree, where cameras turn people into hollow performances watched by millions of viewers without any concern and, instead, increasing enthusiasm.
It’s sick to its core, and might be appalling to some and funny to others, but it makes many interesting comments on the morals behind both the people in front of and behind the cameras.
It’s just as hard to look away from this film, as we follow the three Belgian directors starring in the main roles. It begins with a film crew aiming to document a serial killer’s day, murdering random people and stealing.
At first, the crew is passive, but quickly they begin helping him, and the “joke” become a moral testament straight out of cinema-verité, where grainy black and white stands out as a welcome replacement to what would be a gore color fest. Instead, the dark stock works with the film’s twisted events.
7. Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
Burton’s use of monochrome comes as no surprise, as the lack of color in his films is one of his most easily assigned characteristics. But in this film lies proof of his taste and appreciation for classic filmmaking.
Ed Wood was voted the Worst Director of All Time, but he was special nonetheless, a true outsider obsessed with his work (he loved every single scene in each film he shot). That, itself, is already a good set of quirks for Burton to show interest in and for Johnny Depp to enthusiastically portray.
The director is not mocked, unlike one might think, but celebrated him along with the uncanny cinema of the 1950s. As usual, Burton exceeds in set and costume design, as well as makeup, and the entire film has high quality production.
Upon an initial disagreement with Columbia studio head Mark Canton, Burton said black-and-white was “right for the material and the movie, and this was a movie that had to be in black-and-white” and insisted on total creative control, leaving him to accept an offer from Disney.
While there may be commentaries that it is not the most accurate biopic, the film strives to get to the spirit of its main character first of all: within a perfect setting and tone, it achieves just that.
8. In the Soup (Alexandre Rockwell, 1992)
This film-inside-a-film is, besides an homage to aspiring filmmakers, an oddball comedy. Steve Buscemi plays the lead as Aldolpho Rollo, a struggling artist living in a crappy NYC apartment with a desperate need to sell his screenplay so he won’t be evicted from it.
He meets Joe (Seymour Cassell), who wants to help him make the film, and ultimately surprises him with his lifestyle and methods of getting money. He helps Aldolpho get rid of his introverted personality and become increasingly confident. In time, he finds that films don’t need to be as complex and artsy as he thinks and dreams of, which can very well be seen in Rockwell’s film.
Shot on low contrast color film and lates printed on black and white, his use of crystal-clear monochrome – courtesy of cinematographer Phil Parmet – makes it stylish and serves the noir tone. The austere look of each scene keeps us focused on the emotions of the characters, just as Aldolpho learns it.
9. La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz,1995)
Matheiu Kassovitz’s breakout film was an instant sensation that is nowadays a favorite cult film for its treatment of distraught adolescence and, mostly, for its approach to race and violence.
A riot ensues and the film shows the following 19 hours in the lives of three struggling friends in their eary twenties, derived from immigrant families living in a multi-ethnic and extremely poor French housing project in the suburbs of Paris.
Vinz (Vincent Cassel) is Jewish and full of rage, a true fan of Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver” (1976); Hubert (Hubert Kounde) is an African French boxer and the most mature and wise of the three, and Said (Said Taghmaoui) is an Arab Maghrebi, who plays the middle ground between the other two.
It’s easy to shoot in Paris and other charming French cities for their natural portraits. This picture withdraws the colorful aspect altogether and its black and white cinematography, although shot on a color stock, is an aesthetic triumph.
It focuses on the cement-filled landscape of the “banlieues”, a term increasingly used to describe low-income housing projects in the suburbs, where mainly foreign immigrants reside. It is nothing short of brilliant in its conjunction with classic cinema, with elegantly crafted compositions and a thrilling camerawork in any chase scene as well as in the more static shots of urban gloom.
10. Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
What film critics consider to be Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s masterpiece runs for 435 black and white minutes – around seven and a half hours. The film is divided into 12 episodes under the film’s focus on desperation.
It is, as many viewers agree, a real test of cinematic endurance. Of course, a film of such duration can’t be summarized in a paragraph or two, but both Tarr and this list make stories secondary, as opposed to image, sound and emotion.
Some of the director’s most well-known characteristics are essential to this film, as is the case of the long take: an average of two and a half minutes per shot. Careful and meditated pans accompany zooming, and Tarr explains he paces his films closer to “real time.” He does his best when showing just this – real life, people and places. Black and white doesn’t make his work more sophisticated, but keeps it more real and truthful.
Author Bio: Alex Gandra is a Portuguese writer and filmmaker.She graduated this year in New Communication Technologies from the University of Aveiro and is currently in a master’s degree in Digital Audiovisual. She spends too much time in cafés writing scripts and other kinds of texts you can find at medium.com/@gandra_le. She’s also writing a book she hopes to finish some day.