Black & White as an Aesthetic Choice

Venue: Louis Koo Cinema & Hong Kong Art School 
Date: 2018.09.25 - 2018.10.07
Price: $75/$65 Tickets available at URBTIX.  
Making films in black-and-white used to be the norm and not a choice. Black-and-white cinema was fast becoming an endangered species. But the grayscale turned out to be more enduring than the silence, as filmmakers started to go against the tide, choosing to abstain from colour. Colour was never met with an opposition quite so vocal or intense and its conquest of the landscape was also not as complete. This programme offers a small sampling of black-and-white films released after 1970 that were made for artistic reasons.
Screening Schedule
25/09  7:30pm  The Last Picture Show *
27/09  7:30pm  Killer of Sheep
28/09  7pm       Mad Max: Fury Road (Black & Chrome Edition)
29/09  2:30pm  The White Ribbon
01/10  2pm       The Woman Who Left
01/10  7:30pm  Devils on the Doorstep
* Persons Aged 18 and Above Only
Post-screening talks after all screenings. 

The Last Picture Show

1971 | USA | 126' 00" | In English with Chinese subtitles | DCP | B&W

25/9 (Tue) 7:30pm*

*Post-screening talk with veteran film critic Kiki Fung (in Cantonese)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Peter Bogdanovich, Larry McMurtry
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman

1972 Academy Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1972 Academy Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1973 BAFTA Awards Best Screenplay

"Film it in black-and-white," roared the great Orson Welles, "it's an actor's best friend."  Novice director Peter Bogdanovich, preparing to make The Last Picture Show as his sophomore project, heeded the advice. And the rest is history. Veering away from colour in 1971 was not only rare and courageous but in fact prescient, blazing the trail for filmmakers who would later defy the monolithic demand of colour. The film's iconic non-conformity to its time is an emblem of the American cinema's 1970s Golden Age then in bloom.

The black-and-white is also a tribute to the previous Golden Ages. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by famed writer Larry McMurtry, the film is the coming-of-age story of several teenagers set in a small, dusty Texas town in the early 1950s. Bogdanovich, a renowned curator and film scholar before venturing onto the helm of filmmaking, takes a loving bow at classical Hollywood with the story and channels that reverence into a comment on his own time, which was swinging from the idealistic but indulgent 1960s into a 1970s that would later be labeled the Me Decade.

At once nostalgic and visionary, The Last Picture Show is an elegy for a vanishing way of life.  Hollywood veteran Robert Surtees's evocative cinematography is by turns realistic and poetic, austere and expressive, animating a 1950s atmosphere and a 1970s mood that give the film its melancholic poignance. A maverick work when it first came out, this picture is now a cherished classic.


Killer of Sheep

1977 | USA | 80' 00" | In English with Chinese subtitles | DCP | B&W

27/9 (Thu) 7:30pm*
*Post-screening talk with veteran film critic Sam Ho (in Cantonese)

Director: Charles Burnett
Screenplay: Charles Burnett
Cinematography: Charles Burnett
Cast: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy

1981 Berlin International Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize

Killer of Sheep is a monument on the landscape of American cinema. The film was made as a student project, shot on 16mm black-and-white "short ends", end-of-reel stock often discarded. (The same attempt would be Made in Hong Kong 20 years later by Fruit Chan to erect his own monument on our landscape, only the stock he used was colour.) That it went on to become a national treasure is a testament to artistic vision, the spirit of independent cinema and the resilience of Black American creativity.

Eschewing colour had social as well as aesthetic significance in the mid-1970s, when film was flourishing in excesses. Shooting in black-and-white, director Charles Burnett – called "a one-man African-American New Wave" by a writer - not only shines the light of realism on the condition of African American life but also returned filmmaking to the basics, reacting not just to Hollywood dominance but also to Blaxploitation flamboyance.  Low-budget cinematography also resulted in visual effects in sharp contrast to the mainstream mode of lighting for white actors.

Also eschewed is a strong narrative. Through a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes, the film paints a poignant portrait of the titled character - who works in a slaughterhouse, killing sheep - living with his family in the black ghetto of Los Angeles.  The black-and-white imageries, capturing the quiet dignities of the characters in their everyday struggles, are enhanced by an eclectic mix of Black American music, giving the film a poetic dimension at once moving and inspiring.

Mad Max: Fury Road (Black & White Chrome Edition)

2015 | Australia, USA | 120' 00" | In English & Russian | DCP | B&W

28/9 (Fri) 7pm*

*Post-screening talk with veteran film critic Ka Ming (in Cantonese)

Director: George Miller
Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Cinematography: John Seale
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

2016 Academy Awards Best Achievement in Film Editing
2016 Academy Awards Best Achievement in Costume Design

"The best version of this movie is black and white," declares director George Miller, "but people reserve that for art movies now."  Indeed, Mad Max: Fury Road – Black and Chrome belongs to the rare breed of movies at once an inspiring, thought-provoking art film and an action-oriented genre film with formulaic conventions targeted for mass appeal.

Miller had wanted to make the film without colour but was talked out of it by the studio. With or without colour, Mad Max: Fury Road is a great movie. The fourth chapter in the high-octane Mad Max franchise that began as a low-budget actioner in Australia in the late 1970s, the film is considered one of the best action films of our time, with its iconic depiction of the post-apocalyptic wasteland and beautifully choreographed action. Its ironic celebration of ferocious violence while decrying the brutality of the primal world addresses powerfully the human paradox of desiring and abhorring the primal order at the same time. The film also packs a potent feminism punch, its female protagonist equal in every turn to the male hero, intellectually or physically, like the fighting women in Chinese wuxia literature and film.

The not-quite-apocalyptic commercial landscape of 21st century gave Miller a chance to share his original vision with the world. After the film enjoyed a successful theatrical run, the Black and Chrome edition was released, first on DVD, later in theaters.  With all the teal, orange and red drained, the film takes on a different tone, not only allowing us to see and feel the texture more vividly but portraying the horrific future in ways much more direct, severe and poetic.


The White Ribbon

2009 | Germany, Austria, France, Italy | 144' 00" | In German, Italian & Polish with Chinese & English subtitles | DCP | B&W

29/9 (Sat) 2:30pm*

*Post-screening talk with veteran film critics Meng Qing and Philip Yung (in Cantonese)

Director: Michael Hanake
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Cinematography: Christian Berger
Cast: Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch

2010 Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film
2009 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or
2009 Cannes Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize

Black-and-white fits so well with Michael Haneke's art it is astonishing that the Austrian director had not made more films without colour. His work is infused with the angst, violence and estrangement of modern times, probing the shadowy side of Western civilisation in an effort to investigate the darkness of the human soul. Such a spirit lends itself to the greyscale and The White Ribbon is a profound illustration of that affinity.

Subtitled "German Children's Story", The White Ribbon is a fable of cautionary ambiguity.  The tale is set in a village of bucolic beauty on the verge of World War I, a seemingly tranquil community running with quiet, conforming, authoritarian order.  In the household of one character, a disciplinarian man of religion, children who had done wrong are required to wear on their arms white ribbons, symbols of purity.  Then a series of violent acts breaks out, bringing out the disquiet running below the surface...

Haneke, envisioning the film's look on images from 19th and early 20th century, decided to shoot in black-and-white. To find inspiration, cinematographer and longtime collaborator Christian Berger studiously studied the black-and-white films of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman shot by Sven Nykvist, another Swedish master, as well as contemporary films like the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There.  He went on to shoot the film in colour with a Super 35 camera, removing the hues afterwards with technology.  The result are imageries at once beautiful and chilling, striking and distanced, historic and modern.


The Woman Who Left

2016 | The Philippines | 226' 00" | In Filipino, English & Japanese with Chinese subtitles | DCP | B&W

1/10 (Mon) 2pm*

*Post-screening talk with Hong Kong Baptist University Lecturer Timmy Chen and veteran film critic Sam Ho (in Cantonese and Putonghua)

Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cinematography: Lav Diaz
Cast: Charo Santos-concio, John Lloyd Cruz, Michael de Mesa


2016 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award

Black-and-white cinematography goes well with the signature length and pace of Lav Diaz's films. Diaz's films are famously – some may say infamously – long and slow, and, together with his insistence on eschewing colour, he is easily one of history's most iconoclastic filmmakers.

"I see cinema as black and white," said Diaz, who also photographs his own films. "Absence of colour amplifies my childhood belief that cinema is an alternative universe." Alternative is indeed a key characteristic of Diaz's art. A major figure in the slow-cinema movement currently on the simmer, he is always pushing the limits - of our attention, of our idea of film art and of our physical endurance sitting in theaters for long hours. His works are products of the medium that is art film and the industry that is film festivals. The many shades of grey of his films are thus important artistic markers of our time.

The Woman Who Left, clocking in at almost four hours, is uncharacteristically short for Diaz. Inspired by Tolstoy's God Sees the Truth, But Waits, the film evinces an inquiry into the guilt and shame, grace and forgiveness that distinguish Russian literature. The time is 1997 – Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty is mentioned – and the titled character has just been released from prison after a 30-year stay, wrongly accused of murder. Diaz's camera follows her around in his signature long-takes, his chiaroscuro images of washed-out sunlight, backstreet shadows and urban fluorescence capturing the forbidding reality and horrific texture of life conditions while forcing us to ponder the human condition. Diaz's stripped-down aesthetics is contemplative realism at its best.


Devils on the Doorstep

2000 | China | 161' 00" | In Putonghua, Japanese, English & French with English subtitles | DCP

1/10 (Mon) 7:30pm*

* Post-screening talk with veteran film critic Matthew Cheng (in Cantonese)

Director: Jiang Wen
Screenplay: Jiang Wen, You Fengwei, Shu Ping, Shi Jianquan
Cinematography: Gu Changwei
Cast: Jiang Wen, Jiang Hongbo, Kagawa Teruyuki

2000 Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize

The art of back-and-white photography is antithetical to black-vs-white morality and its use in a film about moral ambiguity and complexity is most appropriate. 

Devils on The Doorstep, inspired by You Fengwei's novel Survival and set in World War II at a small mountain village in Hebei, is a far cry from the gung-ho simplicity of "main melody" war films.  It pointedly defies the stereotypical views of an important page in history, focusing instead on the absurdity of the devilish enterprise that is war, finding humanity in the tragic and the horrific. Such endeavour is also a poignant attempt by Chinese culture at self-examination. And the film's cinematography plays a key role in its greatness.

Director Jiang Wen and cinematographer Gu Changwei reportedly made the decision to shoot in black-and-white to evoke the texture of the historical period, insisting on it despite worries that distribution and box office would be affected.  The Chinese film industry's addiction to colour also made the production difficult, driving up cost and causing delays.

Jiang presents his story as a black comedy, its depiction of common folks forced into extraordinary circumstances taking the form of caricature but informed by pathos. Gu's photography masterfully animates the events with sharply cut images, soaked in various shades of evocative grey. Compositions that heighten the ironic situations and close-ups that capture exaggerated expressions are projected onto the widescreen with stark, expressionistic black-and-white, synchronised to the constantly roaming camera and Jiang's staccato editing rhythm. 
What emerges is a profound portrait of the human condition.

Note: “Black & White as an Aesthetic Choice” will have more films and screenings at the Hong Kong Film Archive. For details, please visit the website of Film Programmes Office, Leisure and Cultural Services Department:


Workshop (BOOK NOW)

Photography Without Camera – Photogram Workshop

When night falls on the city, it becomes a giant darkroom. It makes us take a second look at visuals that we're used to seeing everything. Set aside the convenience that digital machines have given us and go back to the basic principles of photography. Experience the fun of photography without camera.

This workshop will be held with a daytime and nighttime class. Suitable for beginners and black-and-white photography enthusiasts.

Workshop 1
Date & Time: 5/10 (Fri) 7:00 pm–10:00 pm & 6/10 (Sat) 10:00 am–1:00 pm

Workshop 2
Date & Time: 6/10 (Sat) 7:00 pm–10:00 pm  &  7/10 (Sun) 10:00 am–1:00 pm

Location: Hong Kong Art School Main Campus, Hong Kong Arts Centre (10/F, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong) and around Wanchai

Instructor: Wong Chung-yan
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Wong Chung-yan holds a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) degree co-presented by RMIT and Hong Kong Art School (a division of Hong Kong Arts Centre) in 2010, majored in Photography. Her photographic works aim to explore and highlight a different type of beauty in people and objects that are often overlooked in the city.

Peep Into the Community Materials – Pinhole Camera Workshop 

One of the best ways to learn about a person is to peek into his or her garbage bin. If we want to learn about a particular community, can we examine its materials to understand the people in it and how they live? We will collect materials from the community and use them as a creative starting point for all to gain deeper understanding of the community.

With the materials, each participant will create a unique pinhole camera. In addition to learning basic photography principles, participants will also learn basic darkroom techniques. With every step – from camera production to observation, photography and developing – participants can discover the nooks and crannies of a neighbourhood through their eyes.

Workshop 1
Date & Time: 6/10 (Sat) 10:00 am–1:00 pm & 2:30 pm–5:30 pm

Workshop 2
Date & Time: 7/10 (Sun) 10:00 am–1:00 pm & 2:30 pm–5:30 pm

Location: Hong Kong Art School Main Campus, Hong Kong Arts Centre (10/F, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong) and around Wanchai

Instructor: Cheung Wai-lok
Born in 1986, Cheung Wai-lok holds a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) degree co-presented by RMIT and Hong Kong Art School (a division of Hong Kong Arts Centre) in 2010, majored in Photography. He currently works as a professional photographer and a part-time lecturer in photography. His commercial works include portraits, commercial products, events and theatrical productions. Photography is his primary media of expression, with an emphasis on the objects and people of Hong Kong, as well as the nature and possibility of photography as a medium. In 2010, his works were exhibited at the New Trend 2010 Art Department Graduates group exhibition. In 2011, his works travelled overseas for the first time as part of Luminous Harbor: Hong Kong Contemporary Photography. In the following year, Cheung held his first solo exhibition, Photo of Cheung. In addition to his photography work, Cheung enjoys sharing his skills and passion in photography as an instructor.

For patron ages 16 or above
Quota per workshop: 12
Conducted in Cantonese
Tickets: $280 (Including all materials)
Enquiries: 2734 2900 / (Film Programmes Office)

Organised by: Hong Kong Art School

The content of the programme does not represent the views of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
The presenter reserves the right to change the programme or artists should unavoidable circumstances make it necessary.

PRESENTED BY: Leisure and Cultural Services Department


Hong Kong Arts Centre – Moving Images 香港藝術中心:流動影像
Hong Kong Arts Centre



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