When I first heard that “It’s a Wonderful Life” had been altered from its magnificent, glossy, black and black and white finish, to a drab one dimensional colorized version, I had to have a moment of silence.
What is this need, this desire, this necessity to have everything in color? Personally, I can’t get enough of the beautifully lit, elegant, and stylized black and white films. There is something more dreamlike and multidimensional about black and white movies that I don’t feel translates when converted to color. Maybe it’s all about light, or maybe it’s because color supplies additional, unnecessary information. Either way, black and white is simply – better.
The controversy surrounding film colorization has been brewing for decades. In the 1980s, there was so much dispute over colorization that Congressional hearings were conducted to determine the fate of the pictures. Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and many others voiced their plea to the courts to keep their art in the format in which it was originally created. I believe Roger Ebert said it best when he stated, “They lock up people who attack paintings and sculptures in museums, and adding color to black and white films, even if it’s only to the tape shown on TV or shown in stores, is vandalism nonetheless.”
After 3 long years of legal battles, the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 was finally enacted, which prohibited any person from knowingly distributing or exhibiting to the public a film that had been materially altered or colorized. Despite the act, classic black and white films such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Some Like it Hot,” “Holiday Inn,” and “Casablanca” among many others are still available in their colorized counterparts.
Even though we cannot stop the production of classics becoming Crayola’s, we can encourage others to watch and enjoy the originals in their unaltered black and white glory. And so, to do my part, here is a short list of some of my all-time favorite black and white classics…
Sabrina, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Sunset Boulevard, Rebecca, All about Eve, The Philadelphia Story, Bringing up Baby, The Country Girl, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Swing Time, Grand Hotel