Black and White Vs. Color: Creating that “Twilight Zone Feeling”

Almost as soon as Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot was announced, some fans began asking, “Do you think they’ll film it in black and white?”

I didn’t blame them for wondering, though it seemed like a very remote possibility. Sure enough, the series debuted in color. And yet, as the first season of the reboot draws to a close, what do we have? All 10 episodes also available to watch in B&W.

“Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”

It’s a cool little gift to the show’s fans, no question. And it reminded me how lucky we are that the original series was filmed that way.

That’s right — lucky. The fact that the original Twilight Zone is in black and white wasn’t part of some master plan. In 1959, all TV shows were in B&W.

TZ stands out today, of course, in large part because its reruns look so different from the color shows around it. But back then, being a black-and-white show was commonplace. I’m sure that if color had been the standard when TZ first aired, it would have been in color, too.

“The Four of Us Are Dying”

Fortunately, though, we got it in B&W — which, in retrospect, is perfect for Twilight Zone.

And why? I think Bert Granet, who produced Serling’s “The Time Element” (often considered the unofficial TZ pilot) and then served as TZ’s producer during part of Seasons 4 and 5, put it best: “I like black and white. Color is disruptive to the effect that you’re stopping one illusion and creating another.”

(By the way, I like Granet’s implication that “reality” is itself an illusion. I have no idea if that was intentional or not, but either way, it’s eerily appropriate.)

“The After-Hours”

Still, there’s more to the look of TZ than the color scheme. There’s nothing inherently magical about black and white. It’s the way TZ was photographed and staged that really made the difference. Serling hired first-class directors, steeped in the noir school of film — artists who knew how to fill each frame with an ideal blend of light and shadow.

Small wonder that cinematographer George T. Clemens, who won an Emmy for his work on TZ, went on to say, “I can’t give you what we feel is the Twilight Zone feeling in color as I could in black and white.”

Ironic, isn’t it? The wild and vivid universe of the fifth dimension is best expressed with a monochromatic palette. Talk about a twist ending.

“Execution”

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 05/31/2019, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I can’t imagine the Zone in color. So much of the feeling of those episodes stems from subtle lighting effects and camera angles. I think they had to work harder, but they did a great job.

  2. Black and White photography just adds so much to the mood and atmosphere of this series. I can’t imagine the original being shot in colour.

    • Exactly. Even though color photography can be handled in an effective way to create mood, it’s just not the same. We’re very lucky we got it in B&W.

  3. I hope Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone comes to the UK. I agree entirely about black and white, giving some TV shows an eerieness. It works well, just like it does when looking at photos that some say includes ghosts and/or spirits.

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