5 Memorable Black & White Sequences in Colour Movies


Throughout history, since the invention of shooting films in pure colour, filmmakers have experimented with mixing their usage of colour and black & white to create a distinctive effect. Whether its distinguishing two different timelines or simply accentuating the difference between different locations, viewpoints or emotions, it can be a powerful technique. Here are five primarily colour films which incorporate sequences of black & white to make their point. 


Antichrist (2009)


As Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg make passionate love in the shower, their infant child tumbles to his death in the most memorable scene of this widely disputed film. Whether you love it or hate it, you must admit this opening sequence is quite startling, and I believe it’s the best scene von Trier has ever directed.


American History X (1998)


The fair majority of Tony Kaye’s bloody, gruesome social drama about the effects of racism on a suburban society is shot in black & white; namely, the flashback sequences, which examine the disturbing past of the film’s reformed protagonist. While the film isn’t Kaye’s masterpiece (*cough* Lake of Fire *cough*), it is certainly well-made and the B&W sequences are impressive.


Memento (2000)


Christopher Nolan’s second film, and arguably his most confusing, interweaves scenes of black & white and colour as the colour sequences unfold the film’s plot in reverse-chronological order and the B&W scenes provide an alternate timeline which, at the film’s conclusion, collides with the colour timeline. Confusing, but a stroke of genius for Nolan.


Natural Born Killers (1994)


Incorporating various visual effects including discoloration and saturation of the quality of visual images, Oliver Stone’s critique of media influence on serial killers, while disliked by many, is a fiercely well-made and brilliantly edited film. There are thousands of cuts, all subtly interweaved with numerous visual effects including the use of black & white. While not the most notable selection for this list, Stone’s film nevertheless uses its B&W shots wisely.


The Wizard of Oz (1939)


This is probably the one, if any, that you guessed before the list began. And yes, it deserves to be here; it needs to be here. The use of both colour and B&W at a time where it was really one or the other and few were choosing colour is extraordinary at highlighting the difference between reality and Oz, rather than blurring them together in the same colour; a smart choice which accentuates the beauty and fantasy of one of cinema’s most memorable landscapes.

What’s your opinion? Which ones have I either forgotten or just not had room to put in? There’s a few that didn’t make the cut, can you guess which ones? What do you think of these examples? Leave a comment below.

Posted on September 29, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. what about the B and W sequence in Lindsay Anderson’s If…..?

    • Been meaning to see that for a while, thanks for the reminder. It looks quite good.

    • What do you mean THE B&W sequence? There are several of them in the movie. At first I thought they were some weird attempt to be artsy, but it turned out that they simply couldn’t afford color film for those parts. The film was really disappointing for me.

  2. Love the American History X black and white scenes.

    Powerful filmmaking.

    • Definitely. I highly recommend Tony Kaye’s follow-up, the documentary LAKE OF FIRE which examines, in a manner not dissimilar to AHX, the tricky subject of abortion. A very powerful, disturbing documentary and Kaye’s masterpiece.

  3. Great list and a great idea.

  4. When i saw the title for this post i knew you were going to include the Antichrist scene.

  5. Great picks. I didn’t enjoy Antichrist much at all but that opening sequence is absolutely gorgeous.

  6. GREAT post. The b&w scenes in Antichrist and AHX are by far the most memorable to me. Nice shot out to Lake of Fire. Jesus, what a film. Once you’ve seen that abortion scene it’s utterly impossible to forget.

  7. I have AHX in my to-watch pile. I should get on that sooner or later huh? The only film I’ve seen on the list is Wizard of Oz (Oh amend that I’ve seen Memento too.) . That’s not good numbers. How is Natural Born Killers? Is it funny that I’m even asking that question?

    • NATURAL BORN KILLERS made me appreciate Oliver Stone after years of hating him. His directing of this movie is stunning. He adopts so many visual techniques that I reckon it was Oscar worthy. It’s a great film, but very troubling.

  8. Great post, I always think it is highly inventive when sequences like these appear in films.

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