The Eeriness of Black and White Film

         In 1961 director Jack Clayton released The Innocents for cinema audiences to witness his interpretation of Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw. The format Clayton chose was black and white film. I think that cinematographer Freddie Francis' use of black and white formatting was quite appropriate for this film. The rawness of this film leaves enough shady details lurking about that it creates a feeling of eeriness for the entire plot of the film.

         The Innocents tells the story of a woman's encounters with ghostly spirits. Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) has been hired by Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles' (Martin Stephens) uncle (Michael Redgrave) to be their caretaker. She is to live with the children in the uncle's country home in Essex. The house is very secluded from the rest of society, and the family is too.

         The opening of the film shows Miss Giddens speaking to the uncle of the children that we soon meet. The audience learns that Miss Giddens has been hired to be the governess for Flora and Miles. In the uncle's house, a lot of white background light is used during this scene. The lighting makes the audience feel safe and confident about the security of the dwelling. There are not any dim spots or low lighting that makes the audience members question anything. The viewers are able to see everything for themselves as if they were a part of the scene.

         After meeting with the uncle, Miss Giddens then reports to her new home. Upon arrival, she meets Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) and Flora. The audience can immediately notice that the film becomes much darker. The lighting of the sky is a deep, dark grey; and the surroundings of the home and the home itself are different shades of a darker grey. The lighting left me the audience member immediately feeling worrisome about the situation.

         After she meets the rest of the persons in the house, which included Miles and the ghostly spirits of the former caretakers, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel (Peter Wyngarde and Clytie Jessop), the lighting never returns to anything lighter than grey. The spirits and the rest of the house seem quite spooky with the lack of light. The viewer and Miss Giddens are never really able to tell what lies ahead for them.

         I believe without such lighting the movie would not have had the effect that James and Clayton had intended. The mood is set with each scene either being gloomy with the lack of light or a calm whiteness. Black and white film gives the film the extra oomph that is needed to make the viewer feel unsure about what is in store for Miss Giddens. I think that, if color film had been used, the entire plot would have seemed hokey and would not have portrayed the ghostliness of the house in Essex in a believable manner.

Tiffany Pitman

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