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Jacqueline T Lynch

To a certain extent, I think this is true. There is a sense of stillness in b/w photographic images that may have something to do with how our brains perceive b/w as opposed to how our emotions excite to color images.

But there is the perception of an era that also has to do with the cliches we assign to it. We like to label things, I suppose, in order to get an understanding of them. Your reference to the 1920s may be an interesting example. While it's true both the 1920s and the 1950s were eras of a growing economy, and perceived "good times" in the backwash of world wars, the 1920s seems a more frenetic era, a time of carelessness and over-indulgence.

How much of our perception of that era is due to the jerky movements of a hand-cranked Hollywood camera? A camera that took us out into the street for zany images of near-catastrophes with streetcars and athletic comedians who ran, literally, and sometimes for miles, from their troubles?

Do we perceive the 1950s as being more tame because, in the aftermath of war instead of escaping into frivolity, we had a cold war, an expanding American responsibility to a troubled world, and our own social issues at home that would no longer be ignored?

Or is it because of all of this, our films became more introspective? They were darker, and quieter, and maybe so were we?


Quiet? Have you listened to bebop, rockabilly, Johnny Burnett, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Wanda Jackson, or Little Richard? lol. Just kidding. Thanks Jacqueline, I know what you mean.

Great examples, especially the hand-cranked camera influencing our notions of the twenties. There's definitely more that colors our conception of the past than just the chromatic nature of the images left behind. But there might be some truth to Halberstam's suggestion too.

Joe Thompson

Good to have you back at it, Thom. I remember thinking about the way I think about wars. Just looking at United States history, I think of the Revolution, the pseudo-war with the French, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War as being in color, because most or all of the images we see are from paintings. There were early photographs of the Mexican War, but not many. I think of the Civil War, the Indian Wars after the Civil War, The Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippines Insurrection, mucking around in Central America and the Caribbean, World Wars I and II, and Korea in black and white, because most of the images we see are in black and white photographs. The rare color photographs from WWI are difficult for my mind to comprehend. The more common ones from WWII and Korea are not enough to offset the black and white images. I think of the Vietnam War, the incursions in Grenada and Nicaragua, the first Gulf War, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in color. It doesn't matter that it was all in color to the people who were in the middle of events.

Joe Thompson ;0)


Thanks Joe. That's a really interesting observation. I especially like how you imagine the earlier events in color because of paintings (didn't consider those myself). Come to think of it, it's not easy to think of the red coats in b/w. A different sort of example is Korea which seems like a black and white newsreel in my mind. Little wonder, with the exception of The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) and M*A*S*H* (1970, which really isn't about Korea) I can't think of any movies about the war in Korea in color. This is all food for thought, Joe. Good to see you back 'round here.


What I note most consistently in the B&W films of the fifties is a sense of nostalgic comfort. Whether or not this was a time just before America's social ferment broke through the placid surface, it is undoubtedly a time interpreted nostalgically as such. We need a "before" time to understand what follows.

I also find the B&W films of this era to have a resuscitative value, again linked to the nostalgia, in that I often return to the films of my childhood (i.e., films of the fifties) to remind me of my initial attraction to movies when current fare wears me down.

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