Friday, June 15, 2012

To Colorize, Or Not To Colorize. That is the Question . . .

Orson Welles once said - "Keep Ted Turner and his goddamned crayolas away from my movies". 

1935's She

 People are pretty evenly divided on this issue, and firm in their beliefs.  On one hand, some folks view colorizing old films as blasphemy, as a ruination of the director's vision, and desecrating works of art.  On the other hand, some people believe it exposes great films to a generation otherwise uninterested due primarily to a lack of the color they've been bombarded with since birth.

As an 80's kid, I can see where both sides are coming from.  I absolutely worship classic film, black and white doesn't bother me at all, or sepia,  or that funky blue when they filmed night scenes outdoors in broad daylight... But as I've learned from trying to have these discussions with my peers, I'm in a serious minority in my love of old movies.

We've all heard someone say it "oh, if its black and white I wont watch it".  Frustrating in it's narrow-mindedness,  it is unfortunately a common phrase uttered from film watchers under 40.  So - if a company re-issues a colorized version of a classic, is it really such a bad thing if it garners new fans of the time period? And, if someone falls in love with a film, and then moves on to view whomever's entire catalog, colorized or not, is it really such a bad thing? And if the directors had had the option to film in color in the 20s or 30s, would they have always chosen black and white?

Its A Wonderful Life

When Ted Turner acquired the vast majority of films from MGM (including numerous UA and RKO films), Hollywood and film lovers alike banded together to fight his restoration project, claiming he was trampling artistic freedoms and obliterating America's heritage.  Reagan and Congress passed the National Film Preservation Act in 1988 to enter the most important works into an archive, unaltered, to preserve our history and protect the films from permanent re-issue editing.

But is it really such a bad thing?  While I'm a firm believer the original versions (and pre-code versions, if available) should be in constant rotation, is it so wrong to also show color versions to bring in a larger audience?   I would love to have that job, not just because I'm so interested in film history but because I'd feel a lot better knowing someone who truly loves the films is in charge of the edits. Also, technology has come a long way since the 80's, so the color process doesn't make them look so horrible.  A good example of what doesn't make a good finished project:
Casablanca - Old Color Process

A lot of folks also tie in reformatting with colorizing.  They are 2 very different things.  I'm sure we've all seen the clip on TCM about "pan and scan",  I can see where the problem is with that, they are completely omitting pieces of scenes. I'd chain myself to the studio doors in protest if I created a movie and they just lopped off half the frame throughout the whole film. 

Maybe I'm not enough of a purist, but coloring as an alternative, not a replacement, doesn't bother me. 


  1. You make some good points. Personally, I always squirm when I'm watching a colourized version of a beloved movie, but I'm going to "poll" family & friends this summer to see if they'd be more inclined to watch an older movie if it was colourized. This is a good discussion topic.

  2. Good blog. I prefer the colorized version of "Miracle on 34th Street": the red of Santa's coat, the greens of the Christmas trees, etc.