Two of the most striking aspects of The Lighthouse are that it's shot in dark, gloomy black and white - reflecting its tone - and its aspect ratio is 1:19. The first has been rare for more than 50 years; the latter almost unheard of since the early sound era. It seems the film was intended to evoke almost a silent-film world, almost German Expressionist, helping to create unease: long stretches of it take place with no dialogue, only music and sound effects.
Black and white dominated film how films were shot for decades. Although colour existed from the early days of cinema - tinting, hand painting - and more sophisticated processes such as Technicolor were often employed from the late 1930s, black and white - which was a lot cheaper - predominated. But there's no one "black and white" look: there's the shades of grey used of many films, sometimes for romantic effect (with, yes, Vaseline on the lens to provide a glow and/or conceal the ravages of age) and the starker visuals of a film like The Third Man (1950).
And there's sepia, the brown hue added to black and white film in The Wizard of Oz's Kansas sequences to contrast with the lavish Technicolor of Oz. From 1949 to 1989, the sepia wash was omitted, slightly spoiling the moment when Dorothy opens the door of her monochrome house for her first look at the brightness of Oz (sepiac-coloured sets, props and costumes and a double were used to bring this off). Oz combined the two looks for dramatic effect. Pleasantville (1998) did the same. Two modern teenagers who have magically entered the world of a black and white 1950s sitcom bring colour to it gradually as the people in the repressed, unreal community are exposed to new ideas and begin to experience awakenings.
The first all-colour film to win the best picture Oscar was Gone With the Wind (1939) and the next was An American in Paris (1951). Colour and black and white co-existed in the mainstream until about the mid-1960s: the costume design Oscars were divided into two categories, black and white and colour, from 1948 onwards, but ended after Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) won in the former category. It was a sign that colour was taking over: After The Apartment (1960) won best picture, it wasn't until Schindler's List (1993) that another (in this case, predominantly) - black and white film won. That film's look evoked old newsreels and photographs, but the device of the little girl in red as a symbol of the Holocaust's horror meant splicing in shots on another film stock; the difference when the film was in cinemas was noticeable.
The Last Picture Show (1971) was set in the the 1950s but was far from pure nostalgia: it was a bittersweet drama about a dying town with a frankness about subjects like sex that would never have been allowed two decades earlier - an old look and setting combined with the freedom of a new cinematic era. Its director, Peter Bogdanovich, remembered Orson Welles saying that "every performance looks better in black and white", adding "It's the fact that you don't see blue eyes and blonde hair. You focus on the performance, not the look of the people".
It's too glib to say all this means everything old is new again - better to realise that filmmakers have an ever-increasing array of options in the way they tell stories.