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Colorized Movies – Time For A Second Look
There was a time when the term “color film” was so pejorative that it brought outrage, red to the cheeks of film purists.
Oh, it sounded like a good idea in the late 1980s… until I picked up a VHS tape of It’s a Wonderful Life and found Jimmy Stewart’s face as green as the alien from Roswell.
Stewart also wrote a letter to a US Congressional panel in 1987 studying the matter, saying that the film appeared to have received an “Easter egg dye bath.”
And the dancing diva Ginger Rogers didn’t like what she saw in the 42nd Street model, telling the same group: “All the lovely girls in 42nd Street suddenly had the same orange face, the same orange legs, the same green clothes. and the same blank look.”
Stewart and Rogers were right – these color schemes were AWFUL. Ditto for the childish cartoons on another classic movie, the 1951 British version of A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim. Did they really wear purple coats in the days of Charles Dickens???
After my eyes were captivated by all of this, I swore I would never buy, or watch, another movie of this variety.
I finally fell off the coloring wagon at Christmas 2006, when 20th Century Fox sent me a review of Miracle on 34th Street in a special edition that included the original black and white AND the new color version.
Hit me over the head if it doesn’t look good – the natural skin texture is the inside and outside that looks great. I didn’t know it wasn’t recorded in color in the first place.
I didn’t have time to think about changing colors before I became a famous pioneer of special effects Ray Harryhausen when he admitted it in 2007. An 87-year-old sci-fi movie star said that he always saw films that worked to be in color, but there was no budget for 50 years ago
A few years ago, the folks at Legend Films in San Diego asked Harryhausen to check out their computer system and he was sold. Quick, Harryhausen classics like 20 Million Miles to Earth, It Came From Under the Sea and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers have been given a colorization treatment and look great in the new DVD edition.
But the icing on the Christmas cake came a few weeks ago when Paramount released a new color version of – you guessed it – It’s a Wonderful Life. Again, the work of Legend Films is amazing. Jimmy Stewart’s face now looks real and Bedford Falls resembles a picture postcard of the past. Even color critics have acknowledged in online forums how much better this looks than a) the old color version and b) the digital black and white conversion, which is also included with this 2-DVD issue.
Now, I’m not saying that every old black-and-white film should be adapted – and neither are Legend’s films. Please leave the beautiful shades and grays of Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Third Man alone.
But we have to be honest enough to admit that to the new generation that grows up on color films, the classic black and white looks like museum pieces. When I wear one for my kids – who are now in their 20s – I get raised eyebrows and a plaintive, “How old is this?”
Well, I’m still fighting with them, but it’s a losing battle.
I’m ready to distinguish colors on this statement: Experts search the archives and find the types of clothing and put them in the right place AND talk to the curators and designers who are left if possible, to bless them.
We have the skills. Let’s use it selectively and fairly.
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