Life in Black and White

Someone once wrote that if life were meant to be lived out in black and white, then we would all be piano players.

While it may be a tempting title to write about ones theological perspectives, or even racial views, I won’t venture in that direction.  Instead, when I think about black and white recently it is in the viewing of films and television shows that were before Technicolour.

I suppose on the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I can remember hours of sitting (too close!) to a tv screen, a black and white tv screen.  A smallish, by todays standards, tv which had a pair of needle-nose pliers that sat nearby that was use to change the channel.  The tv came with ‘rabbit ear’ antenna which one person would have to manipulate to the shouts of encouragement, or dissatisfaction from those in the room who could still see the screen and the quality of the picture. When watching a show alone it might be that out of sheer frustration that you would put up with a slowly moving picture frame as it jumped up vertically over and over again.

Then came a colour tv and the world, at least the small world on tv changed.  It was mind-blowing.  I can remember being absolutely shocked that my favourite tv character had red hair.  It was like reading a book, and then watching the movie.  Somehow the pictures on the screen are never as vivid as the pictures in our imaginations.

We now have satellite television, which means that we have about 300 plus channels of absolute rubbish tv.  A vast array of teleshopping and infomercials.  The bottom of the barrel North American tv shows only slightly dubbed over so that there is always a conflicting noise of some backwood bootlegger twang, with a Bavarian interpretation that seems to miss the nuance of the language.  I become picky in watching any television.  Soccer, (or Fussball) is rarely on tv as they want you to subscribe to a special channel, but the highlights often show men slapping one another, and then both falling down on the pitch rolling in theatrical pain.  The hockey is not much better as it is a sanitized game with little to no contact and the underdog is usually the team without any Canadian playing on it.  Watching a hockey game can be painful as the camera operator struggles to find the puck and a goalie is pulled out with 16 minutes left in the game…why not when you are 7 points behind!  While it is not all as bad as I can sometimes make it out to be, there are many gems to watch.

I’ve found that there are some really interesting older films being shown on the ARTE channel and that I am immediately drawn towards the old Black and White films.  It is fascinating to watch, as there is much more of a dramatic feel in the cinematography.  At least that is what my inexperienced eye tells me. The story lines are also much more ‘real-life’ as opposed to a Hollywood Happy Ending.  I find that leaving the colour out brings out a different way of storytelling and a different drama.  Either that or I am just being sentimental, pining away for an old glass tube screen television set that weighed about as much as three people, and which we would sit too close watching old shows together that we planned to watch and set aside the time to do so.  Now we are likely as a family to be all in our separate rooms, sitting even closer to the screen (of a laptop, iPad, iPod, iPhone) as we stream on-demand Netflix shows, binge-watching at any place, day, or hour.

Meanwhile on the silver screen – having gone to the cinema in town to watch the newest release of the Thor series in blazing colour and 3D glasses, I have to say, I enjoyed it a great deal even with the dubbed over German.  It is entertainment.  Even though, there is a different quality of experience when we, as a family, sat in a tiny movie theatre to watch a rerun of a Charlie Chaplin film in glorious black and white, with the only sound being a twangy piano soundtrack to play enhance the experience of action, sorrow, or adventure; and the flickering hum of a projector.  People munching snacks, slurping drinks, and at the quietest moments, the sound of a theatre full of people breathing.

While I am certainly glad for life in colour, I have become more aware of black & white, the range of greys. The silhouettes, and the drama of 3D.  And of utter silence.