Colorized Rant

Ok guys I’m upset! Those who read my Scrooge Month got a clear idea of my feelings on the colorization of Black and White movies.  So imagine my shock when I DVR’d the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street on a major channel, AMC, and what do I see but the colorized version.  AMC should be ashamed of themselves!  I’m serious.  Putting out an assault on an artists vision as if it was the original property on national TV is worthy of the strictest censure.

Why do I hate colorized movies so much?  Well, here we go.

The Michael Bay’s of the world consider film a product but I think of it as art, especially how the movie looks.  People could be painters, sculptors or dancers and they chose to work in film.  We would never take a bronze sculpture and tell the artist he should be using jade or an oil painting and force it to be in watercolor.  Most of the history of film has had color as an option (Gone with the Wind is stunning color cinematography and that’s in 1939) so these artists made a choice to film in black and white.

Why would they make this choice?  Because it was less expensive in some cases but it also has shadows and movement you don’t get with color film.  It removes distraction and forces the viewer to focus on the images.  Instead of absorbing the color of a jacket, or a person’s hair color we see their face and the wrinkles on their skin and learn so much about who they are. We don’t need to know that the soldier’s uniform is blue.  We just need to see the look of horror on his face.

It would be one thing if an artist approved of their work being colorized but most of these films are in the public domain and are changed without anyone’s consent.  It’s wrong and it deeply offends me.

Turner movies stopped doing the process in 1989 and I thought it had gone the way of the VHS but in Scrooge month I repeatedly came across DVDs that were colorized like the 1951 Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim.  It is routinely regarded as the most well made of the Scrooge movies and rightfully so. The lighting and nuances in the acting is beautifully captured.  Probably its greatest strength is the films artistry so to sully with that aspect belittles the whole film to any other mediocre version.

christmas4 christmas3To me there is just no comparison between the look of the black and white and the colorized.  In the black and white I immediately focus on Scrooge’s eyes where the color I am looking at his cravat and bow tie and how blue it is.  I am also looking at the doormat and his hair.  The eyes are the last thing I look about and you tell so much from Sim’s eyes.

It’s the same in Miracle on 34th Street.  Look at the difference.

christmas5 christmas6In the colorized version what do you see? Well, Catherine O’Hara’s lipstick and her pale skin.  In the black and white we see her eyes and the wrinkles on her forehead.  She looks like a mother trying to explain something to her child.  It is so much more pleasant and interesting to look at. In colorized she looks frail and her hair is distracting.  With Kris you are totally focused on the red of his suit and the gold of the chair.  The love and emotion in his face and eyes are completely lost, which is so clear in the black and white.

Even if you don’t mind the look of the colorized it doesn’t tell you anything new that is pertinent to the story.  It doesn’t matter that Catherine O’hara has red hair or red lipstick or that Kris is sitting on a gold chair.  What does it give you to know such things?  It’s certainly isn’t ‘magic’ in my book.

When the movement started it was praised as a way to get children to appreciate older movies by presenting them in color.  Hogwash.  If a child cannot appreciate the black and white Miracle on 34th Street than show them something else. It certainly does them no good to get them attached to a diluted version of the story.  It doesn’t help them appreciate older films because they aren’t really seeing them.  They will no doubt grow to be adults and feel cheated on the thin gruel they were given when such feasting exists. I know I would be.

In my experience kids are actually more accepting of artistic differences in pieces than adults.  I have had many experiences watching Wall-e, for instance, where the artistic choices were hard for adults to accept but kids loved it.

If you feel so strongly about your kids needing to see Miracle on 34th Street in color than watch the 1994 version which is not near as good but at least you won’t be assaulting a classic.

People may claim that television airs edited versions of films for content and time allowances and is that not also altering the creative vision?  That would be a valid point but in that case the versions are provided by the studios with the permission of all involved.  In the case of the colorization a separate entity unassociated with the project takes the film and adds the color without any input from the original creators.  Alterations for content could be seen as a necessary evil when there is absolutely nothing necessary about adding color.

It’s just wrong.  People dedicate their lives to their art and just as we would never change a Picasso or a Van Gogh because we don’t like the style, we should not change these films.  And I can’t believe that a major channel like AMC, which puts out bold artistic content like Breaking Bad and Mad Men would air such a thing.  They don’t even say on their webpage that it is a colorized version.



Anyway, it just upsets me and I couldn’t believe AMC would air it.  No matter what they do this will always be my Santa Claus and it should be your’s too.

santaSince the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 it has also been illegal for films to be colorized so these are old versions that still float around changed before the law.  Another reason’s AMC’s decision is very surprising.