A whiter shade of black
Edgar O. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – In the way the digital age has made gray scale as today’s fuchsia, you’d think we are back to the use of photographic emulsion and Technicolor had not been invented.

In gray scale, the whiter shade of black, and running at eight hours, Lav Diaz is back with another multi-hour master work, Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis, that merges mainstream and indie actors in a cinematic stir of history, literature and mythology to unearth the burial spot of Andres Bonifacio.

Organic to its milieu, Diaz’s film frequently ruminates stories of our past and near-past in black and white cinematography. It runs anywhere from the creative cycle marker Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon to landmark Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan.

In another medium, Sen. Grace Poe, former Department of Interior and Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte use black and white in 30- and 60-seconder TVCs to pitch their Presidential ambition. Former Justice Sec. Leila de Lima packaged as a crook catcher slants her senatorial target in film noir style in stark monotone of caging hedonistic crooks and thieves.

Do they do them to grab attention in the age of full color? Are they scrimping on logistics? Does it come with the genre? Did Diaz initiate a black-and-white school of filmmaking?

Not quite. Black and white have been favored colors of brave indies. In De Lima’s case, it was lavishly staged including vintage cars, Great Gatsby mood and artificial rain. Orson Welles and Fritz Lang would have envied.

Filmmakers are naturally attracted to the uniqueness and difference of black-and-white filmmaking. Adolf Alix Jr. has shot a shortlist of black-and-white films like Manila, Tambolista and Death March that bring rawness and grit to a new high.

Alix Jr. even paid tribute in the color palette to Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night and Lino Brocka’s Jaguar. Manila was shot on 16 mm black-and-white film before being transferred to 35 mm.

John Lloyd Cruz (left) and Piolo Pascual in a scene from the movie

 

He even co-helmed Manila with another B-and-W enthusiast, Raya Martin in Independencia that reflects the filmmaking techniques of its period, the early 1900s. This innovative and daring film made it as the Philippines’ first selection in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section.

National Artist for Film Lino Brocka failed to achieve such nuance due to producer prerogative, that Ishmael Bernal got away with in his debut film, Pagdating sa Dulo. Didn’t Celso Ad Castillo shot the precursor of Ang Dalagang Pinagtaksilan ng Panahon in black and white?

Multimedia artist Elvert Banares directed the short film, Impas (Settlement), in black and white although his digital camera is color-capable. He came up with an insightful and intriguing science fiction about alien abduction through special effects and digital manipulation in all of 15 minutes.

Joselito Altarejos opens UnFRIEND in gray scale showing two boys in slow motion one top of the world (actually on the rooftop of a multi-storey building), exchanging gestures of love and longing. Then it abruptly cuts showing them lovemaking in color in an Internet café’s backroom, marking the beginning of the reality of end of their same-sex romance.

Ronnie Lazaro, debuting helmer, effectively used from color to monotone in Edna to depict the phases of the deterioration of an OFW’s soul, only to return to color when the eponymous lead character returns to reality.

Or the new drama series, Tubig at Langis, depicting flashback in gray scale.

Let us take it from the Filipino master of the monotone, Diaz, to paraphrase Andrei Tarkovsky’s homage to gray scale. According to Diaz, black and white is the color of solitude, struggle and death by which he can “understand the philosophy of a growing flower in the middle of a swamp.”

Cineastes, do not get too excited. It is just a creative phase like the art masters Vincent van Gogh or Pablo Picasso went through color-driven phases that eventually went away.

ACIRC ADOLF ALIX JR. ALIX JR. ANDREI TARKOVSKY BLACK COLOR DIAZ FILM ISHMAEL BERNAL QUOT WHITE
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