Black and White Vs. Color: Creating that “Twilight Zone Feeling”
Posted by Paul
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!