Mike Mills on black & white

Mike Mills has been one of my favorite filmmakers for years. From his intertextual citation to the naturalistic performances he captures, Mills is not just a master filmmaker, but a true artist.

Mike Mills on set with Joaquin Phoenix

His most recent film, C’mon C’mon, continues his exploration of unconventional family dynamics, following an audio journalist who cares for his young nephew while embarking on a cross-country trip to interview children about the future.

While I didn’t love it quite the way I loved 20th Century Women, the film was captivating and stoked immense joy and wonder. More than anything else, watching Joaquin Phoenix follow the lead of eight-year-old co-star Woody Norman made my heart sing.

In a recent interview for In The Envelope, Mills discussed his choice to shoot the film in black and white, as well as how sound works to take the place of color on screen:

Sound is so much more important in black and white than it is a color film, which I didn’t understand… I don’t know what it is…it’s almost as if there’s a neurological situation going on where when the color channel is gone from your brain…the sound becomes the color.

For a story centered on an audio journalist, it makes sense that sound would feature prominently, almost as an invisible character in the story.

Mills also speaks to his use of black and white in the film in an interview for the Film at Lincoln Center podcast:

[This film is] like a fable. I kept seeing the figure of the big man and the kid together and it felt like an archetypal image or like a fairytale almost about man and child. And I wanted to enhance that. I feel like black and white pulls you out of reality. It’s an abstraction.