Black and white is beautiful
Three years of studying in England fed me with a steady diet of good old black, grey, white and grainy colored movies that are much, much older than I was back then.
Some were quite good and left lasting impression in me. On some weekends ITV (as it was back then) would have an Alfred Hitchcock specials and everything from Psycho to Vertigo, to the classic Birds, would be shown. Most of these weekends would see me glued to the idiot box; a cup of Nescafe at my side and some kind of snacks to pass the more mundane moments, in a terrific run of nostalgia television.
There was also this one movie which impressed me a lot. Before getting much acquainted with the Internet, I remembered it simply as the “Angry Men”; and it was only recently (NOT THAT RECENT, ok) that I discovered that the title also had the number 12 in front of the two words: “12 Angry Men”.
For a movie that existed mainly inside a room and involving more talking that even Parliamentary debates, the 1957, first timer Sidney Lumet, directed movie made me sit throughout the whole film. The only actor I knew and recognized amongst the cast of no more than 20 to 25 actor and actresses was Henry Fonda, and by God, he was good as the sole doubter of a man’s guilt.
!2 Angry Men was about a 12-man jury which was supposed to decide whether or not a young accused was guilty of killing his father and sentenced to death for the crime. As the drama unfolded itself, the audience witnessed the many, many factors which often come into play in such life and death matter.
Sometimes it might not even be related to the case at hand.
Imagine 12 men who have been “quarantined” for whole weeks at ends, and finally reaching the end (the movie set on a Friday and this factor measured heavily in all the players’ mind) with a simple unanimous decision the key to their freedom. Except, it was not that simple due to a single doubter who persisted and did not give in to the niggling thoughts within that the case was not so clear cut.
The whole movie was about this cut and thrust in both legal and logical debate, whereby one by one, the 11 other jurors became convinced otherwise from the initial guilty verdict they were ready to pronounce to the court against “the boy”. There were no names except for two of the jurors surname (Fonda would, of course, be on of the one named) right at the ending of the movie, an anti-climatic conclusion after all the intense jury-room drama.
12 Angry Men was a great movie, but it did not really score with the moviegoers back then and it put off Fonda from ever producing again.
I doubt if it would have fared any better if it was produced today. A movie that depended heavily on the actors carrying their characters to the fore, it would have bombed. Tanked totally. How many movies have you watched recently that needed you to follow every word, every mannerism, every act of the actors in order to enjoy it? None would be an appropriate answer, methinks.
However, no right minded modern day producer would have even considered the movie in the first place. A movie with 12 ALL MALE, WHITE, jurors would be set upon by the liberals in no time. Having no African American (my, such a clunky term, isn’t it?), no Asian, nor other minority group members, and definitely NO FEMALE except in minor, minor roles in the lineup would have made the 12 Angry Men far too left to be acceptable today.
It, however, worked with the political, social and judicial realities during the year it was made – 1957 – when liberal ideas were still very much just ideas.
What 12 Angry Men did show – something still relevant till now - was that things are not so clear cut, and that black is not black and white is not white just because we say so. The jury system is long gone from our criminal justice system. Rightly so, as leaving the legal deliberation to logical minds is not the best of solutions when it comes to guilty or not guilty decisions.
Under the Rule of Law, as accepted by many countries all around the globe, someone accused of committing a crime is presumed innocent until proven beyond doubt that they are indeed guilty. How indeed can one be sure, when a single doubt could easily be amplified to destroy whole cases, no matter how solid the evidence?
When the world was without color, showing that black and white were not absolute with varying range of grey thrown into the mix, was far easier.
Slowly, though, these gray hues are becoming darker and darker, as they are overwhelmed by the vibrancy of colors gone mad, and the lines between right and wrong decided by those who shouts the loudest, and hustles the strongest.
Sadly, a single doubter might have worked all those decades ago, but even Davis (Fonda) would found himself swimming against a Tsunami had he tried the same stunt today.
Think about it.