Fort Greene

BAM presents ‘Black & White ’Scope: American Cinema’

March 2, 2015 By Benjamin Preston Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A scene from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” Photo courtesy of BAM
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The post-World War II era brought forth a flood of color films, so it seemed that the monochromatic images of the silver screen were destined for irrelevance. Only some productions opted to tell their stories in black and white, but several did so on CinemaScope, a widescreen format introduced in 1953.

The resulting imagery is striking.

This month, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek presents “Black & White ’Scope: American Cinema,” a collection of black and white films from a time when cultural buzz was largely focused upon color films such as Walt Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.”

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David Reilly, the film festival’s curator, said in an interview that the collection to be shown at the BAM Rose Cinemas would show off the work of some renowned movies, but would also bring to light several lesser-known films of the era. He said most of the films in the series would be from the ’50s and ’60s, but that there were a couple on the list — Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” (1979) and “The Elephant Man” (1980), David Lynch’s first studio film — that were produced later. In all, the series includes 21 films.

“Limiting the scope of the project was a real challenge,” Reilly said, adding that there’s no real theme, other than all of the films being American. “But it covers all the major directors we wanted to cover.”

Among the noteworthy auteurs highlighted in the series are Martin Ritt, Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger, who adopted black and white CinemaScope later, in the 1960s. From Ritt’s “Hud” (1963) — with its sweeping vistas of Texas Panhandle bleakness — to Wilder’s “Billy Budd” (1962) — an adaptation of a Herman Melville novella that morphs sea adventure into philosophical courtroom drama — the films in BAM’s collection show off the unique storytelling properties of black and white imagery.

Among the highlights of the series, Reilly said, are “The Longest Day” (1962) — a big-budget World War II epic featuring an all-star cast — and “The Victors” (1963) — another all-star film that approaches the war as the bitter slog it was for many soldiers. There will also be adaptations of novels by William Faulker and Truman Capote, and several Westerns, among others.

The BAMcinématek spring season will continue in March with a series of 1960s-vintage films from Cuba, as well as a part II for the black and white CinemaScope collection featuring foreign titles.

“The international version will have a broad focus,” Reilly said. “There will be a lot of Japanese films because of their unique shooting formats.”


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