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Love in Black and White (1928)

Amour noir et amour blanc (original title)
| Short
The misadventures of a traveling theatrical company, as the actors attempt to put on a show while romantic rivalries erupt backstage.
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The misadventures of a traveling theatrical company, as the actors attempt to put on a show while romantic rivalries erupt backstage.

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licking lips | See All (1) »

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Short

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Country:

France

Also Known As:

Love in Black and White See more »

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Silent
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Alternate Versions

There is a sound version made in 1932, with the title "Amour blanc et noir". It's a shorter version of 14 min with a new editing. Music by Georges Tzipine. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Puppet animation, in black and white
10 May 2012 | by wmorrow59See all my reviews

Wladyslaw Starewicz was a gifted filmmaker, a pioneer of puppet animation who made a number of fascinating short films and one feature. His technical proficiency is impressive and sometimes dazzling, while the imagery in his work is often beautiful, at times haunting. But whatever his intentions, and even allowing for the different attitudes of his day, the depiction of black people in his animated short Amour Noir et Amour Blanc (i.e. Love in Black and White), is appalling, and all but eradicates any of the film's positive elements. Even looking beyond the racial material -- which isn't easy -- this short has little to offer. The story is haphazardly constructed, the humor is weak, and, despite a large ensemble, there isn't a single sympathetic figure. There are occasional flashes of uniquely Starewiczian beauty in the characters' movements and in the design of the settings, but, over all, this is the least satisfying of his surviving works.

The film begins with a Prologue: we find Cupid sharing a branch with a robin. They watch as a cowboy proclaims his love for a beautiful blonde, who remains indifferent, even when he threatens to shoot himself. But when Cupid fires an arrow into her chest, she quickly changes her mind. Then Cupid sees a black couple. We notice right away that, in contrast to the white couple with their delicate features, the black man and woman are crudely rendered, with enormous lips. To make matters worse, Cupid is then joined on his branch by a similarly grotesque Black Cupid (which explains the original French title, "Black Love and White Love"), who insists on taking care of the second couple himself. Instead of using an arrow, he clobbers the hesitant black woman with a boomerang, and achieves the desired result.

Okay, that's the Prologue. It suggests, however distastefully, that the story will follow the amorous adventures of the two couples. Next, however, these four characters disappear for a goodly spell, and our attention is shifted to a theatrical producer, a portly, balding fellow who resembles the French comic Raimu. This gent is traveling to an engagement with his troupe, riding atop a truck, which is steered by a monkey named Jocko, and pulled by a dog. En route they encounter a black cat, and various shenanigans ensue. Almost a third of the film's running time is devoted to the misadventures of these characters, and just as we're thinking they're the central figures, Prologue notwithstanding, the truck arrives at its destination, a small-town music hall. We now meet the theatrical troupe, at which point the portly producer, Jocko the monkey, and the others disappear.

It turns out that the lovesick cowboy we met at the beginning is a small-part actor, while the blonde, whose name is Stella, is the leading lady, and the black couple are stage hands. We also meet several other characters, including a drunken stage manager who looks like Snub Pollard, and a bedraggled rat. Another stage hand is clearly meant to represent Charlie Chaplin, and is called "Charlie" in the title cards. He looks and acts something like The Little Tramp, but he's not especially funny, which underscores the point that there's only one Chaplin. His late appearance also points up this film's lumpy construction: no central character ever emerges, and no coherent story ever takes shape. Even a puppet show needs to have a dramatic through-line. When the troupe puts on their show, and everything goes wrong, we don't much care. By that point, unfortunately, the film's racial material has returned to the foreground. Backstage at the theater there's an ugly moment when the black man (who has no character name) finds Stella asleep, and gazes upon her with obvious lust, actually licking his lips. But Charlie comes to her rescue, and sends the black man flying with a swift kick to his butt. He lands at the feet of the cowboy, who, in turn, flings him away. He then lands at the feet of the black woman. She (who is also nameless), who watched all this unfold, whacks him repeatedly with both fists. This goes on for a while. In the end, however, they marry.

Your mileage may vary, as they say, but I found this short unpleasant and offensive. Shown at any film festival today it would elicit groans and general embarrassment, and for good reason. It's of historical interest where racial attitudes are concerned, and animation buffs will appreciate the technique, but it would be no disservice to Wladyslaw Starewicz to forget he ever made this film, and focus on his worthier efforts.


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