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BellaOnline's Classic Film Editor

From Black and White To Color

We can thank Ted Turner for many things – He founded channels such as CNN, TBS, TNT and the most coveted amongst classic film fans, TCM (Turner Classic Movies). However, it was in 1980s that Turner hit a sour note with his key audience members when he decided to take the films, now out of copyright, and colorize them from their previous black and white.

Without the digital media we have today, Turner was only able to colorize whole frames in different colors in which it obviously distorted the visual unity of the film. The results outraged classic film fans and the films’ actors and directors themselves. “Keep Ted Turner and his damn Crayolas away from my movie!” Orson Welles exclaimed when Turner joked that he was planning on colorizing Welles’ classic “Citizen Kane” (1941).

Other actors such as Katherine Hepburn took it a step further by going to Congress and overturning Turner’s power on their films. “The coloring of black-and-white films is wrong. It’s morally and artistically wrong and these profiteers should leave our film industry alone,” actor Jimmy Stewart had stated during the hearings. Finally, Turner ceased to colorize any more films.

Today, Barry Sandrew Ph.D, founder of Legend Films, is taking the film colorization process to a digital level. The colorization process is now done by computer, changing the frame pixel by pixel. Admittedly, the results are far less disastrous than Turner’s approach but could it potentially upset classic film fans and actors alike in the future again?

Legend Films have worked closely with classic actors such as Shirley Temple Black to colorize their films. Cult classic films such as “Reefer Madness” (1936) and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1959) have also been treated to their colorizing technique.

In 2007, Paramount Pictures commissioned Legend Films to colorize "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946) and released a two-disc special edition of the film. The discs included both the original black and white version and a colorized copy of the film.

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