It’s not every day that you get flown to New York just to watch a movie. Yet, somehow that’s just what happened to your trusty CGM film critic (aka me, Phil Brown esq.). The film was one that I’d seen before— Logan. James Mangold’s pained, personal, and Western-tinged farewell to Hugh Jackman’s version of clawed and flawed X-Man Wolverine. I loved the film on release, but this time things would be different. This was a one night only screening of Logan Noir, a black and white version of the film that will be included on the upcoming Logan Blu-ray set to hit shelves on May 23, 2017. The screening was in the new Brooklyn edition of the fabled Austin movie nerd haven the Alamo Drafthouse (you know, that magical land where you can order themed food while watching a Fulci retrospective). Along with that, both Hugh Jackman and James Mangold were in attendance for a Q&A afterwards.
First up, Logan Noir was projected in all of its monochrome glory before my primed and welcoming eyeholes. In the Q&A after the screening, director James Mangold was the first to point out that this isn’t his preferred version of the movie. Logan was never designed for black and white. It was a concept that came up long after release as fans mused how that project would feel stripped of colour after seeing a series of stunning behind the scenes photographs and of course following the “black and chrome” release of Mad Mad: Fury Road. So it’s more of an aesthetic shift and bonus feature that any sort of grand design to extend the theatrical life of Logan. But even though it wasn’t intended for the black and white treatment, Logan Noir works surprisingly well.
While I’ll certainly continue to watch Logan with that new-fangled colour feature that talkies have been flogging at the cineo-plex lately, there’s no denying that the muted and baron aesthetic of Logan suits a black and white version. While director James Mangold makes movies for contemporary audiences, he also pulls liberally from the past. The film always had certain shots and lighting cues reminiscent of classic moody black and white cinematography, and that really shines here. It adds to the murky morality of the piece with every character painted in shades of grey. It suits the morbid twist of super heroics that the filmmakers explore so thoughtfully. But more than anything else, the flick just looks gorgeous in black and white. It’s clear this wasn’t just produced by switching the colour off in Aftereffects. It was carefully timed and coded. Logan Noir looks gorgeous, and is an interesting twist on an already harshly beautiful comic book tale well worth exploring for fans of the film. It’s just an ideal Blu-ray special feature or special screening material than a transformative new cinematic experience.
When the monochrome edition of this Wolverine elegy wrapped up, Hugh Jackman and James Mangold took the stage to discuss Logan Noir as well as the origins and legacy of their latest film. Here are a few highlights from the chat (slightly edited for space, flow, and clarity).
James Mangold on the origins Of Logan Noir.
James Mangold: It very much came from fans. I released a lot of black and white photos of the production and the fan response was huge. I thought Hugh [Jackman] and all the characters look fabulous in black and white. It occurred to us that it might work well on home video. There are a lot of film fans out there, and people are looking for things that connect to the past while also offering something new. I think studios are noticing. They think you guys need bright colours and loud sounds at all times to stay amused, and I don’t think that’s true. Audiences are sophisticated and respond to creativity explored in all sorts of different ways.
Hugh Jackman and James Mangold one the origins and inspirations for Logan.
Hugh Jackman: I’ve come to a new formula after 20 years in this business that it takes a few people who fight hard to make a movie that you’re proud of. I knew I wouldn’t have anything if Jim [James Mangold] was on board. I think I mentioned The Wrestler…
Mangold: Yeah, we started talking about The Wrestler and talking about Westerns. We talked about different things. But I think we were more inspired by what we didn’t want. We were coming from a place of, “We don’t want to make another one of ‘those’ movies.” We wanted to make something different and more human. Movies like The Wrestler and Unforgiven, they were all united by one thing. They were personal movies, not cookie cutter movies. We wanted to make something that was a personal movie first as opposed to a superhero film. That informed everything.
Hugh Jackman and James Mangold on the challenges of selling such an uncompromising and R-rated superhero project to the studio.
Jackman: This is my third film with Jim and we wanted to provide a blank canvas for him. We had a meeting early on [to explain the concept to the studio] that I thought would be tough, but it took about three minutes.
Mangold: We kept bracing for people to be opposed to us. Certain things conspired in our favour. One was that Deadpool finally came out and was a massive success, which made it easier for our film to be rated R. Also, we promised to make the film for less money, which always helps. But one of the main reasons that I wanted this to be R wasn’t the language or the violence. It was really because when you make a movie of this scale, there’s a lot of pressure on the movie in the marketplace. And if the movie is rated R, it gets graded on a curve. Not everyone is going to be able to buy tickets. It reduces the box office, which is why we made it cheaper. But it also does something else. Suddenly, you’re not making a movie for six-year-olds, or seven-year-olds, or eleven-year-olds. And the kind of story that you can tell when you’re telling it to adults is different. Most of the audience for graphic novels are adults, not children. That’s who reads them. At some point, making all these movies PG-13 cheats grownups out of having some part of their comic book experience honoured with adult themes and ideas. I think getting an R-rating gave us a driver’s licence to make a more sophisticated movie.
[Spoiler Alert] Jackman and Mangold talking about the ending of Logan.
Jackman: I’m going to be honest and say that I was a bit of a pain in the ass for Jim with this stuff, and was probably wrong 98 per cent of the time. We had a lot of discussions and then when I finally saw the movie, it was a litany of “yeah, you were right, you were right, you were right.” We were pretty open about whether it would be the end for Logan or not because Unforgiven was a huge influence for me, and it’s actually more devastating that he just rides out of town, unforgiven and somehow damned in his heroism. I thought it was such a beautifully and poetic image that I said, “Whatever we finish with it has to feel earned and in keeping with that.”
Mangold: It was about earning that right. But I think we wanted to make sure that a curtain came down at the end. We didn’t want people speculating that we left the end open for anything else. Just like a regular movie, we’re not leaving something out there. The story is over.
Jackman: The highlight for me is the ending with the cross turning into an ‘X.’ That was all James Mangold. I thought it was beautiful on the page, but when I saw it for the first time I cried. I sat next to Patrick Stewart and both of us wept. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, but Stephen Colbert told me that he saw it three times in the cinema and cried every single time. There was something so patient and courageous as a filmmaker to allow everything to culminate in that moment. It was a privilege to be under the ground during that moment.
Hugh Jackman on what he’s learned from playing Wolverine over the years.
Jackman: X-Men was my first film in America 17 years ago. I have learned so much since then and continue to learn. But in the end, I was left with this incredible feeling of confidence that if you are lucky enough to surround yourself with the right people, you can bring the best out of yourself. One of the reasons that I wanted Jim, selfishly, was because he gets the best performances out of people. I wanted him for The Wolverine because that was already my 7th or 8th movie as the character, and I wanted to dig deeper. When you have people around you that are honest and aren’t afraid to push you, then as an actor you feel free. I used to find it quite daunting. I realized that I do love the feeling of theatre, that feeling of family. That’s what I’ve learned is the most important thing, to have that faith in the people around you on a film set as well.
James Mangold on whether or not Logan Noir is his preferred version.
Mangold: I have to be honest and say ‘no.’ I made Logan as a colour movie, so I’d be lying if I said all that work wasn’t important. I wanted to see the movie as a black and white film, but if I were making a black and white film we would design it that way from the very beginning, which in this world right now is very unlikely. It’s very difficult to get anyone to launch a major production in black and white. I have friends who have made black and white films, and they have to produce a colour version for some territories who absolutely refuse to distribute anything in black and white. So the global film marketplace isn’t quite ready for that yet. But I love this version. It’s just that my production designer and DP and costume designer would literally faint if they heard this was suddenly my favourite version after all of the work that we did. Let’s just say that I love all of my children.
Hugh Jackman on the emotions of his final day playing Wolverine.
Jackman: It took me a bit by surprise. I remember that last day. It was a “bits and pieces” kind of day, which often happens. The end scenes were not the last scenes that we shot. We finished last August, so we still had seven or eight months. Honestly, I don’t think it sunk in until I watched it in Berlin with Patrick Stewart, and that cross turned into an ‘X.’ I think that’s when I finally woke up. I think I was a pain in the ass because this movie meant so much to me after 17 years. I really believed in it, and I’m so grateful to the studio that they backed Jim’s vision. It meant so much to me that I didn’t relax until I finally saw it. I remember saying to Jim, “I will never ever be able to express how grateful I am.” He delivered something better than I ever could have expected.