DP Says Nightmare Alley Black & White Cut Is ‘Another Movie’

For each of the films cinematographer Dan Laustsen has made with Guillermo del Toro, they’ve at some point wondered to themselves whether this is the one to do in black and white. Finally, with “Nightmare Alley” they got their wish – sort of.

It was nominated for Best Picture-winner “The Shape of Water,”Laustsen received an Oscar nomination. “Crimson Peak”Black and white might make it shine. “Nightmare Alley,” though, made a certain amount of sense given its 1940s noir setting and even that there’s a black and white “Nightmare Alley”This film was released in color in 1947. But while the film did wind up being released in color, audiences and Laustsen and del Toro themselves are getting a chance to see what could’ve been.

Though “Nightmare Alley”Although the film was released less than a month ago it is being re-released in Los Angeles theaters in a special black & white version. “Nightmare Alley: Vision in Darkness and Light.” Curious cinephiles can now see Bradley Cooper’s face shrouded in shadow and Cate Blanchett lit up like a classic femme fatale all on 35mm film stock.

Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro

“It’s another look. It’s another movie,”Laustsen narrated, pointing out a moment when Blanchett was in her office channeling Old Hollywood perfectly. “In that scene she just looks amazing. She’s so beautiful, and she’s so powerful, and you can take her out of the movies shot in the ’40s.”

While “Nightmare Alley” wasn’t natively shot in black and white, the film was lit in such a way with certain values and “cross lighting” that it resembled a classic black and white noir, and when del Toro began watching dailies in black and white, he couldn’t look away.

Nightmare Alley Black and White Guillermo del Toro Bradley Cooper
Still from the black-and-white version “Nightmare Alley”/Searchlight Pictures

“I was fascinated by that. And then when we edited it, I started watching the whole second half in black and white. And I thought, maybe we can do it,” del Toro told . “I showed it to everybody and then I kept saying, ‘Oh, my God, I wish I could do both releases.’”

Laustsen explained that the new version people will be seeing in theaters is not simply a conversion to black and white with a push of a switch. They worked again with the raw files, adjusting the film’s color palette and taking care with each frame to give it a wholly new look, even though it’s the same film.

Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro

“We art-directed it in the perfect color palette to get gray midtones. The gray in the black and white, you graduate it by using greens and reds and some golds — they all give you different degrees of gray,” del Toro explained. “And I thought, well, this looks really good. And it’s lit correctly. It’ll look exactly like it needed to look, but not like an artifact. It’s not a pastiche.”

“It’s getting very close to looking like you shot on black and white, but it’s never going to be the same,” Laustsen added. “It’s going to be a bit more gritty because the color version, I won’t say ‘nice,’ but we spent a lot of time doing those colors to mesh into each other. I don’t think you can compare those two movies.”

Laustsen recalled trying to capture Blanchett and taking note of how precise the film’s lighting was in order to convey her character’s power and strength, and it resembled the methods that Old Hollywood auteurs and DPs have used to masterful effect.

“The light has to be specific, they have to hit the light, and if you’re five centimeters to the right or to the left, you’re off,”He said. “For everybody, the actors, for me, for Guillermo, it was a challenge to have this idea about being so specific with the light, because when it works, it’s amazing.”

Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro

Black and white versions of “Nightmare Alley”There is a growing trend in buzzy award movies that all make use of the cinematic format. “C’mon C’mon,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” “Belfast”And “Passing.” And while Laustsen loves the look they managed in this new version, he’s still partial to the color original of “Nightmare Alley.”However, he may soon be making a black-and-white movie.

“I’m very pleased about the black and white, but one day, I’d love to do a Guillermo del Toro black and white movie from the beginning. And then we will decide everything as they did in the old days,”He said.

“Nightmare Alley”The film will be shown at several Los Angeles theaters starting Friday for a limited-run screening (see the complete listing below). Del Toro will also be present in person for a screening of one of the black and white versions of his film at the Landmark’s Nuart Theatre on January 22.

Check out these images “Vision in Darkness and Light”Below is the cutoff.

  • The New Beverly Cinema: January 15 and 16
  • AMC The Grove January 14-20
  • The Landmark, January 14-20
  • The Los Feliz Theater, American Cinematheque, from January 21 through 23 – N Vermont Ave, East Los Angeles
  • Nuart Theater January 21 through 27,
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures
Nightmare Alley Black and White Vision of Darkness and Light Guillermo Del Toro
Searchlight Pictures

Steve Pond contributed to the report.

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