Freddie Francis on shooting The Elephant Man*:
Most of my earlier black and white movies had been shot on Plus X negative and so I thought I knew exactly what I was going to see when we viewed our tests. But I was both surprised and delighted at what I saw; the stock 15 years on and Rank’s processing know-how (believe me, they had really pulled out all the stops) had produced a result which immediately filled me with confidence. My first impressions were that the stock had increased in speed and that the grain had diminished to such an extent as to be negligible, but, above all, it was a true black and white stock with every minute tone in between.
I decided then and there that the movie was to be shot on Plus X, as indeed it was throughout, except for one short section during the pantomime sequence when we needed to shoot slow motion and were unable to bring any more lights into the theater in which were were shooting. For that scene I loaded 4X which, once again thanks to Rank Labs and Kodak, did the trick.
Inevitably, people will ask the old questions, “why black and white,”, “could you not have achieved the same effects in color.”, etc., etc., to which there are many answers. First, we work in a commercial business and so many of these “artistic” decisions are made at a commercial level. I believe there is no such thing as a “color subject” or a black and white subject,” but what I do earnestly believe is that every movie needs the right style, be it color or “new fangled” black and white. However, I do have one crackpot theory concerning subjects set in the Victorian era. This era was really the dawning of the photographic age and I firmly believe that an audience seeing a Victorian movie photographed in black and white will subconsciously accept the atmosphere as original.
* Freddie Francis, New trends in black and white cinematography; On shooting The Elephant Man, Millimeter 9th March, 1981, 140, 142-46, 148-51.