is a computerized process that adds color to a black?and?white movie
or TV program. The process was invented by Wilson Markle and was
first used in 1970 to add color to monochrome footage of the moon
from the Apollo mission. In 1983, Markle founded Colorization, Inc.
The word "colorization" soon became a generic name for the adding
of color to black?and?white footage.
process of colorizing a movie begins with a monochrome film print,
preferably a new print struck from the original negative. From the
film print, a high?quality videotape copy is made. Technicians,
aided by a computer, determine the gray level of every object in
every shot and note any movement of objects within shots. A computer
adds color to each object, while keeping gray levels the same as
in the monochrome original. Which color to use for which object
is determined through common sense (green for grass, blue for the
ocean) or by investigation. For example, movie studio photographs
or costume vaults may provide guidance as to what color a hat should
be. In cases where no such guidance is available, colorists pick
their own colors, presumably with some aesthetic sensibility.
Colorization is an expensive and time?consuming process. Popular
Mechanics reported in 1987 that it cost more than $3,000 per
minute of running time to colorize a movie. The economic justification
for such an expenditure lay in audience demand. Variety estimated
in 1988 that while it cost $300,000 to colorize an old movie, the
revenue generated by the release of the colorized version was $500,000.
This revenue came mostly from television syndication, although videocassette
release was also important in some cases. Another important consideration
was the opportunity to claim new copyrights on old films, thus extending
the film's potential life as a profit center for the owner.
became extremely controversial in the late 1980s, especially with
regard to "classic" monochrome films such as Citizen Kane
(which ultimately was not colorized), Casablanca, The Maltese
Falcon, and It's a Wonderful Life. With some exceptions,
the dispute pitted film directors and critics (who opposed colorization)
against copyright owners (who favored it). Among its opponents,
TV critic Eric Mink viewed colorization as a "bastardization" of
film. The Writers Guild of America West called it "cultural vandalism."
case against colorization is most often couched in moral terms.
According to this reasoning, colorization violates the moral right
of the film director to create a work of art that has a final, permanent
form and that will not be subject to alteration years later by unauthorized
parties. Moral rights of artists, recognized in other countries,
have no standing in United States law, which gives preference to
the property rights of copyright holders. In film and television,
the copyright holder is almost always a large film studio or production
company, which employs the director as an author?for?hire, so to
speak. To an extent, the battle over colorization was an attempt
by directors and other creative artists to prevent further erosion
of their power to control their own work.
position was often framed, somewhat spuriously, in more high?minded
terms. For example, it was argued that colorization is an affront
to film history. According to this line of thinking, the color version
of a film drives the original monochrome version out of circulation,
with the result that some viewers may not understand that Casablanca
was shot in black and white. Similarly, as Stuart Klawans notes,
the viewer might erroneously conclude that a color film such as
Gone with the Wind was originally shot in monochrome and
later colorized. If colorization can deceive to this extent, it
must have a fairly convincing appearance, and, indeed, image quality
and craftsmanship were probably the least?often-heard objections
more movie "classics" became involved, the reaction against colorization
took on the flavor of a moral panic. With colorization frequently
the object of ridicule, the case in favor of the process became
largely a defensive one: colorization does not harm the black?and?white
original, and in fact encourages restoration of the original film
and the striking of new prints; colorization is no more meddlesome
than other, generally accepted practices in the televising of movies,
such as interruption for commercials, editing for TV, cropping,
time compression, and panning and scanning (not to mention the reduction
in image size and the possibility of watching a color movie on a
monochrome TV set); finally, any viewer who is offended by the color
image can turn off the chroma on the TV set and watch in black-and-white.
is worth emphasizing that the product of colorization is a videotape,
not a film print. When a movie is colorized, nothing bad happens
to the original film print, and the colorized version can only be
watched on TV. Ultimately, the greatest impact of colorization may
be upon old, monochrome TV series, if and when colorization loses
its stigma. Indeed, one of the original ideas behind colorization
was the creation of quasi?new TV series. As Earl Glick put it in
1984, "You couldn't make Wyatt Earp today for $1 million
an episode. But for $50,000 a segment, you can turn it into color
and have a brand new series??with no residuals to pay." As logical
as this may sound, only McHale's Navy and a few other series
have been colorized.
As of 1995, colorization is no longer a hot issue. Demand for colorized
movies has shrunk drastically. Ted Turner, owner of hundreds of
MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO titles and colorization's most outspoken
advocate, has quietly stopped releasing colorized movies. The main
legacy of colorization is the National Film Registry, established
by Congress in 1988 in response to the colorization controversy.
The Registry is a list of films, selected by experts and expanded
annually, that, if colorized, will have to be labeled with a disclaimer.
As Klawans points out, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent
on compiling the registry would be much better spent on actual film
(not to mention television) preservation.
Cooper, Roger. "Colorization and Moral Rights: Should the United
States Adopt Unified Protection for Artists?" Journalism Quarterly
(Urbana, Illinois), Autumn, 1991.
Charles B. "Note on Colourization." British Journal of Aesthetics
(London), January, 1990.
Greg. "Ted Turner: Let Others Tinker With the Message. He Transforms
the Medium Itself." (interview). American Film (Los Angeles,
California), Janurary-Februray, 1989.
Library of Congress, Copyright Office. Technological Alterations
to Motion Pictures: Implications for Creators, Copyright Owners,
and Consumers: A Report of the Register of Copyrights. Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office, 1989.
Flo. "Movie Colorization and the Expression of Mood." Journal
of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (Cleveland, Ohio), Fall, 1991.
rights and the Motion Picture Industry: Hearing Before the Subcommittee
on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Administration of Justice.
United States Congress. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.
Barry L. "Perceptions of Colorization." Journalism Quarterly
(Urbana, Illinois), Winter, 1988.
Craig A. "Motion Picture Colorization, Authenticity, and the Elusive
Moral Right." New York University Law Review (New York),