At last I've gotten to Schindler's List (1993), which is probably the best black and white has ever looked on the screen. The reasons are complicated, and I'll really get through the whole discourse I'm trying to lay out here soon. But for now, I'd like to really focus in on this movie alone.
Schindler's List does not use the objects that are in front of the camera alone to make a clean image in black and white. And yes, this is a difficulty the film is trying to overcome. Instead it uses the look of those objects in the camera specifically to make clean images.
This approach is distinct from another way of shooting black and white which can be seen in The Apartment. But more on that whole problem another time. It's very interesting and has kind of been what I've spent the last few months thinking about every day.
The way Schindler's List uses black and white as a cinematic medium has some pretty meaningful effects on the film. First, it effects how the film is thematically and how the audience feels it. Second, and relatedly, Schindler's List has an approach to shooting black and white which makes certain filmmaking techniques or qualities possible.
Schindler's List is deeply about human nature and the experience of the holocaust in a big way. To this end, the approach to shooting black and white is something that is very universal here. It's something which, although deeply realistic, I don't think is tied to any given thing in particular. You might say that Schindler's List captures the face of good and evil and strife more than it does anything else. And that's super important to making this movie work.
Additionally, though, there are just some qualities of photographic image which are much more capably captured here than elsewhere. Things like soft focus, camera movement, negative space, character's acting in stillness, are still really gripping here. These things are literally only possible because of how Schindler's List is shot.
Take a look.