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How Black & White Should Black & White Movies Be?

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Douglas R, Aug 10, 2009.

  1. Douglas R

    Douglas R Screenwriter

    Dec 30, 2000
    Likes Received:
    London, United Kingdom
    Real Name:
    I have many black and white films on DVD from the 30s, 40s and 50s, but too often the pictures seem to me to display different shades of grey instead of clearly defined black and white. My Pioneer plasma TV set has a Dynamic picture setting which boosts the colour and contrast. I never use it for colour because it makes the picture look awful but I have recently used the setting for black and white films and it gives a superb, strongly contrasted black and white picture, with the blacks really black and the whites really white instead of a rather bland overall greyness. I love that strong contrast but is this how black and white films should look? It's a long time since the 50s when I regularly saw many black and white films in the cinema, so I can't recall exactly how they looked. I'm really asking what should black and white films look like? Should they be highly contrasted?
  2. Leo Kerr

    Leo Kerr Screenwriter

    May 10, 1999
    Likes Received:
    That's a really hard one to tell; there are so many places where things can and have gone wrong.

    A nicely shot, preserved, and transferred black and white film is a thing of beauty. The blacks can be black; the whites can be white, and there can be a huge range of gray in between.

    Or not.

    Likewise, nicely shot, but the only thing left is a 35th generation 16mm projection print that was stored under the leopard — may not be so, and you're lucky if you can see anything through the fur.

    Of course, there are a lot of arguments about "what happens next."

    The purist: set up the set for a proper response, and don't touch that dial.

    The non-purist: how come I can't get color? I've run up the Color control all the way up!

    Just about everyone else: somewhere in between.

    From Duke Ellington: A classical tautology: "If it sounds good, it is good." It doesn't take much to make it fit the picture, too.

    I realize from the way I've described it, I'm biased toward the purist camp. Fact of life: people are biased. I don't monkey with the controls, though, except for experimental purposes.

    I suppose a question I have for you is, if you set up a gray-wedge of some sort that includes, say, color-bars and other stuff on the screen, does the gray wedge look different with a full-frame gray-wedge? Your set might be doing some strange Average Picture Level sorts of processing without telling you.

  3. JohnMor

    JohnMor Premium

    Mar 6, 2004
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    Los Angeles, CA
    Real Name:
    John Moreland
    Well, of course, it changes with each individual film and what the filmmakers intended. Some highly contrasted, some not so much. There wasn't one standard for B&W anymore than for color.

    Basically, my theory is, as long as you're not losing details you were meant to see (or vice versa), then go with what pleases your eye the most. It's your dvd and tv... set it up the way you enjoy it most.
  4. Matt Stieg

    Matt Stieg Stunt Coordinator

    Nov 26, 2003
    Likes Received:
    I have one of the new '09 LG LCD models, and to my eyes it (as well as other LCDs I've seen) give black and white films a sort of greenish-hue. I too have found that the dynamic contrast setting as well as playing with the gamma can help. Don't set the DC on full, though, because then you're going to get a constantly-dimming/brightening backlight which is really annoying. I've also tried pushing the tint towards red (but when I did that the red title text on RAGING BULL looked awful) as well as playing with the luminance signal (I think luminance handles the greens?).
  5. Jeff Willis

    Jeff Willis Producer

    Jan 1, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Dallas TX
    I have a Panasonic 50" Plasma Model TH50PZ85U . I use the calibrated settings and I don't change them for B/W movies. I'm happy with the contrasts of the B/W movies I've seen recently. "Lilies of the Field" ('63, Sidney Poitier) looks awesome DVR'd from the MGM HD Channel.

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