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February 20, 1989 - Image 23

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-02-20

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MARCH 1989 Life And Art



Colorization has left many film buffs singing the blues
Bs~ Dav Tmar~

oy Vov 1 llii
The Purdue Exponent
Purdue U., IN
What began a few years ago as an
interesting technological advance is
now the center of a hot debate over what
*ny people consider artistic rape.
It's the artists versus the capitalists,
fighting over the moral justification
of colorizing old black and white films.
Colorization is a painstaking process
in which every frame of a black-and-
white film is "painted" by a computer,
and it seems to be gaining acceptance
from the movie buying public. Colorized
cassettes of classic films are outselling
their original counterparts and televi-
On broadcasts of the newly tinted old-
ies are pulling in record ratings.
But while the colorization moguls are
counting the revenues from what they
consider to be a "revitalization" of other-
wise dormant works, groups like the
western branch of the Writers Guild of
America have called the process an "act
of cultural vandalism and a distortion of
wo companies currently monopolize
e infant industry - the Toronto-
based Colorization, Inc. and Color Sys-
tems Technology (CST) Inc. in Marina
Del Rey, Calif. CST considers the mar-
ket to be large. because of the approx-
imately 16,000 black-and-white films
available in the U.S., 5,000 are slated to
be colorized. The profits also look tanta-
lizing because the $180,000 to $500,000
it costs to colorize a film can generate
lions of dollars when it is released to
evision or on videocassettes. The
1947 film Miracle on 34th Street cost
$200,000 to colorize but earned a mil-
lion dollars from just two TV airings.
Casablanca (1942) is reputed to be
worth $25 million in color, and the 1933
King Kong is expected to generate $10
Despite the care taken to recreate the
original colors of the films' sets and loca-
s1s, critics complain of the washed-
out look and heavy earth tones of many
colorized features. Richard Corliss, film
correspondent for Time magazine, de-
scribed actor James Cagney's face in a
colorized version of Yankee Doodle Dan-
dy (1942) as having "the look of an
embalmed sun worshipper."
Opponents of colorization not only be-
rate the blandness of the final product,
t also cry out against what they be-
e to be a distortion of the filmmak-
ers' original intent. Director Woody
Allen referred to the tinting as "mutilat-
ing a work of art and holding the audi-
ence in contempt."
Although mint condition copies of the
original films are kept (only the video
copies are colorized), concern has been
voiced that if colorization remains
popular it will drive the original ver-
Tis out of circulation. Industry propo-
nents say the new generation of film-
goers does not like black-and-white
films, and they have the cassette sales
and TV ratings to back their claims. As
colorization gains popularity, many
others fear that an important legacy of
the American cinema will be lost.
Charles Krauthammer, an essayist
for Time, said that while he does not like
the look of colorized films, "An industry
t feeds teenagers three helpings of
orky's and six of Friday the 13th now
complains about the corruption of
Campus opinion on the worth of this

controversial -
ranges from the
tolerant to the
nearly hostile.
Marion Ber-W
mondy, theC
course instructor
for French cine- --
ma, says, "Who ~~~O47U
has a right to \
change the colors
of a character or
set and change the meaning of a film? art dirctors put a lot of time and effort
We can't know for sure if the artist into creating a unique atmosphere in
would have agreed." their films. Colorization obscures their
Sophomore Robyn Schnellenberger art and it is ridiculous to assume that a
says, "Directors, cinematographers and film is not affected by such a defilement

of its imagery."
On the other side of the coin, fresh-
man Bob Lukasiewicz says he doesn't
mind colorization. "I hate watching
movies in black-and-white."
Freshman Joe Ryan says, "I didn't
used to like watching colorized films,
but now that they've improved the tech-
nique I like watching old movies in
Only the continued support of the
public will determine the life span of
colorization, since the novelty of the still
young technology may wane over time.
If the process proves durable enough to
survive, however, it may leave many
lovers of black-and-white films singing
the blues.


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