The other day I met a young cat who is working behind the scenes in the film biz. He's assisting the editing team on a soon-to-be-released major motion picture. He's a very nice guy, ambitious and incredibly hardworking. Those attributes will serve him well and he'll likely go far in that - or any other - industry.
However, I must admit my mind was fairly blown when I learned he makes a point not to watch black-and-white movies.
Apparently he "doesn't enjoy black and white."
Okay, now, I dig that everyone's got their preferences, but writing off the vast majority of commercial cinema up through the early 1960s, just because of its color scheme (or lack thereof)?
This got me to thinking: Do folks who for some reason can't get past the lack of color in a motion picture also find it difficult or impossible to appreciate black-and-white still photography?
If so, then that cuts out a staggering amount of the greatest works of fine art photography (right up through today and beyond), not to mention huge swaths of nearly everyone's family photo albums. Are there actually people who wouldn't recognize a picture of their grandfather because they just can't bring themselves to see an image of someone that is not rendered in some sort of color?
When I was a child, I felt fortunate to have, for a few years, my very own TV set.
It was a hand-me-down from my parents when they upgraded to color, and it was a slightly space-age looking, 13-inch B&W Sanyo with a white plastic body and black knobs and speaker grill. Rounded edges, rabbit ears, tinny sound and a high contrast image - but all mine, brother.
It sat directly at the foot of my bed, only a couple of inches from the footboard, and I spent countless nights lying on my stomach, elbows leaning on the mattress and chin in my hands as I stayed up way past bedtime to quietly tune in fuzzy UHF signals and catch - what were for me, at least - formative programs like "SCTV," "Late Night with David Letterman" (the original, NBC version), the "Tom Snyder Show," the syndicated classic horror film series "Shock Theater" and British comedy imports like "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "Ripping Yarns," "Fawlty Towers" and dramas like the windswept period melodrama of "Poldark."
For me, it was all black and white - from Jane Alexander in the nuclear apocalypse masterpiece "Testament" to "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," "Newhart," "McCloud" and "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." Even when I caught these shows on a color TV in all their "full-fledged" glory, I found myself thinking that in that mode, they looked somehow phony, filled with what my eyes perceived to be garish, unnecessary coloring.
Truth be told, when no one else was around to be bothered or confused, I often turned the color on our fancy set down to zero, and intentionally watched television in strict B&W. It seemed more real to me, because my mind would automatically fill in the missing information however it chose.
When cable TV pioneer and media mogul Ted Turner championed the bold new technology that allowed B&W films to be artificially "colored," I thought the world had gone mad.
Film noir is one of those genres that virtually demands to be made and seen without color, as the genre draws much of its impact (pun intended) from the stark, minimalistic nature of its imagery, which works in tandem with the often brutal subject matter. From the 1940s through the early 1960s, there were hundreds of noirs made in the USA, as they were incredibly cheap to make.
Tiny studios could - and did - crank this type of film out at an impressive rate, throwing them into - and out of - drive-ins as quickly as the posters could be hung.
Despite a few dozen film noir features acknowledged as classics, scores of lesser known (or completely unknown) titles quickly fell through the cracks, never to be seen or heard from again in any meaningful way.
In most cases, that's understandable. However, occasionally an above-average flick emerged from the lookalike dross, such as director Harold D. Schuster's 1957 feature "Portland ExposÃ©."
One in a long line of "torn-from-the-day's-headlines" true crime thrillers, "Portland ExposÃ©" was seemingly based on the real-life acid attack on a prominent labor reporter in NYC who dared to investigate union corruption.
Schuster's gritty (and surprisingly sleazy) flick transposes the threat of that kind of extreme retribution from organized crime to the locale of Portland, Ore.
The plot finds the owner of a family-oriented tavern pressured by union hoodlums to convert his hangout into an illegal gambling den. When one thug, (played to disturbing perfection by a young Frank Gorshin, who would go on to play The Riddler on TV's campy "Batman" series) assaults the owner's teenage daughter, her father goes undercover for the feds to rat on the gangsters.
It's a forgotten treat for fans of hard-boiled, no-nonsense exploitation that also serves as a revealing look at the morals and travails of the late '50s - and one which some critics have likened to the works of such esteemed directors as Don Seigel ("Dirty Harry," "The Shootist") and Phil Karlson "Kansas City Confidential," "Walking Tall"). The Psychotronic Film Society presents a beautiful, uncut, widescreen print of this film Nov. 20 at The Sentient Bean. 8 p.m. showtime, $6 admission.
On Nov. 21, The Bean hosts another notable screening, sponsored by Occupy Savannah. It's Emmy and Peabody award-winning director Eugene Jarecki's 2005 documentary "Why We Fight," which took home the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Fest. Variety magazine has praised the director for combining "the skills of journalist and poet," and for setting "the gold standard for political documentaries."
Not to be confused with Frank Capra's famed series of WWII documentaries of the same name (Jarecki used that title as a tribute), this riveting and revealing film serves to explain the genesis of the so-called "military industrial complex," which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of upon leaving office, and which many feel is the driving force behind the USA's conflict-filled foreign policy from WWII through today. 7 p.m. showtime, free admission.
See you at the movies, and don't forget to turn off that cellphone.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more from Jim at filmsavannah.com.