Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Vandalization of American Classics

The first colorized movie I recall ever seeing was Yankee Doodle Dandy starring Jimmy Cagney as song and dance man George M. Cohan.  I was appalled by what was done to the movie.  It wasn't just the muted colors of the process; it was also the fact that colors were often just wrong or left out.  Take the picture above and notice the background.  Yep, it's black and white. Even the boots and whites of the costumes retain a grey over-cast tone.  Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of saving and restoration of these classics.  Coloization is vandalization, not restoration.

I once saw one of these fiascos of colorization where a group was sitting around a table and a kitchen door opens showing clearly black and white activity in the kitchen through the door.  The server enters the room magically turning from black and white to semi-color as he crosses through the threshold. The walls of the room would also change color from black and white to a lovely rose depending on the camera angle.  I think it may have been one of the Thin Man movies, but I'm not sure.

Okay.. how about the recent colorization of The Three Stooges? Look at Moe's pants, the checkered floor in the background the items on the walls, the table leg sitting on the floor even the eyes of the performers, all still in the grey shades of black and white. Except for Larry's eyes and I am not sure what is up there.  They look like a bad job that was done using one of those red-eye reduction programs.  It is a distortion and for the most part badly done.

The first film ever digitized to color was done in the 1980's.  It was the Cary Grant. Grant was said to be delighted with the results who even convinced Frank Capra to allow it to be done to It's a Wonderful Life.  Capra originally agreed and invested but when it was thought the film was in the public domain, the investment was returned and control of the colorization take away from Capra.  Jimmy Stewart who testified before congress about the vandalization of these films reported that Capra, who was ill called him and told him that he had just seen what they had done to his film. According to Stewart, Capra told them they had to prevent this from happening to any other film.

Those who favor the process swear that it will capture the nuances of the grey shades and correctly translate the colors correctly.  Not so, said screen star diva, Bette Davis.  She remarked that the famous red dress from Jezebel was not actually red but in the colorized movie certainly made it so. According to Davis the costumer was well aware of what black and white would do so he costumed  to correct for it.  If I recall correctly Davis said the dress was actually deep black and metalic while on IMDB it is noted the dress was actually a bronze color.  Both would read better than red on black and white film.                                                          


Every year, around the holidays, an number of these films show up and it is appalling to see AMC who once touted the purity of classic movies decide to shoe Miracle on 34th Street in its colorized form knowing how so many classic film makers and modern film makers feel about it.  There was even an attempt to colorize Citizen Kane until it was discovered that Orson Welles and his estate still control the film and could stop them.  As public domain films, Roger Ebert notes that they could be cut up and made into guitar picks.  Little can be done to stop this distruction of classic work, except for public demand that it stop and refusal to watch these vandalized films.