Saturday, September 06, 2008

When Color is Less

Writing in City Journal, Stefan Kanfer makes an argument for black-and-white films. An excerpt:

Some two decades ago, Ted Turner came up with one of his most dubious schemes. To entice the young back into the tent, he ordered minions to banish B&W films by colorizing them. “Those fools!” Billy Wilder exploded. “Do they really think that colorization will make The Informer any better? Or Citizen Kane or Casablanca? Or do they hope to palm off some of the old stinkers by dipping them in 31 flavors?” Other directors added their own catcalls. “To change someone’s work without any regard to his wishes shows a total contempt for film, for the director, and for the public,” said Woody Allen. (Allen had deliberately rejected color when he made Stardust Memories and Manhattan “because the city photographs so well in black-and-white. And New York is so familiar to me in black-and-white, probably because of growing up with the tabloids.”) Elliot Silverstein, an officer of the Directors Guild of America, wasted no time with niceties: Turner’s people were “lifting their legs on people’s work.” And when Orson Welles heard that Kane might be colorized, he growled: “Keep Ted Turner and his damned Crayolas off of my picture.”


Anonymous said...

When Color Is Another Interpretation.

Michael, you are certainly entitled to your opinion and the consumer is entitled to theirs. The arguments you raise and the celeb quotes you present are 20 years old. Colorization talent, technology and the consumer audience are more sophisticated today than they were back then.

The consumer doesn't need to be educated about this subject nor do they need someone else to make up their minds for them. They've heard the arguments and yet there is still a high demand for colorized content. The vocal anti-colorization minority is just that, a minority.

I suggest you put aside your bias and purchase a copy of Paramount's "It's A Wonderful Life" which was colorized and released last holiday season, breaking all sales expectations. While you're at it, you might want to pick up a copy of the newly colorized "Holiday Inn" which will be released next month, October 14th. The colorized version of "It's A Wonderful Life" won applause from critics and consumers alike for its unprecedented color quality as well as its sensitivity and respect for the underlying black and white element.

This is not the colorization of Ted Turner. The limited color palette and pasty faces are a thing of the past. There are no longer limitations in the color detail and color quality of the medium. And if you don't wish to watch the colorized version, you can always watch the fully restored black and white version that accompanies it on the same DVD. Indeed, all colorized DVDs released since 2002 include both versions, offering the consumer a choice and who can argue against choice.

Michael Wade said...


My only objection is when a work is altered without the permission of the director. If the creator wants to give the audience a choice, fine.

I prefer to view some works in black and white but readily concede that others require color. "The Third Man" would lose a great deal if it were in color while "Lawrence of Arabia" would be less powerful in black and white.