Tag Archives: miracle on 34th street

The Great Colorization Debate

Tonight, CBS airs newly colorized episodes of “I Love Lucy,” a long-anticipated event that has reignited the debate over whether or not colorization of historical film sources is an acceptable alternative to the black-and-white original. As time removes us further and further from the era from which many of these sources come, the inevitable question must now be considered: how do we interest this new generation of viewers, for whom a night of entertainment often consists of alcohol, smartphones, and an episode of the Kardashians, in entertainment like “I Love Lucy” or My Man Godfrey?

My Man Godfrey (1936), colorized.

The question is a valid one, and colorization of a few episodes of “I Love Lucy” might draw new audience members who may not have otherwise tuned in, but to many it seems like putting a band-aid on the problem. In my generation, there is a distinct lack of interest in educating the public about history. Instead, distributors like to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and all too often this means a previously uninterested one. I applaud efforts to get Generation Y back on track by trying to make black-and-white material appealing. But as a member of Generation Y myself (albeit a bit of an anomaly), the proposed solutions are all too often off-target. Colorizing a movie to appeal to a mass audience might be a quick fix, but in order to capture and retain interest, it is necessary to educate the public about the where, the when, and the why of a black-and-white movie. The color of the film stock isn’t the problem. The lack of historical understanding is.

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The colorized version of The Miracle on 34th Street (1947) airs on television every year, presumably to attract viewers of a younger generation.

With that said, colorization of film stock is nothing new. Starting in the earliest days of film, the public wanted color and experimental hand-tinting of footage occurred often, probably most notably in scenes of The Great Train Robbery (1903) and Le Voyage dans la Lune  (1902).

Le Voyage dans la Lune, diligently hand-colored in the Meliès lab.

One of my favorite hand-colored tints is “Annabelle Serpentine Dance,” from the Edison studio in 1895. It is considered the earliest hand-tinted movie, and shows a young woman dancing in a long flowing skirt, and each time the skirt billows, a new color appears. It is a beautiful idea, beautifully executed by the Edison studio.

The advent of Technicolor in the late 1920s was a wonder, but by no means eradicated the use of black-and-white film. It wasn’t even truly until the 1980s that color film became standard industry-wide standard, but by the 1970s black-and-white film was a novelty and rarely used. The public expected color, and now, 40 years hence, anything black-and-white is considered “old” by the current generation and is therefore expendable. In that sense, colorization serves its purpose, to make the print appear newer, and therefore accentuate the immortality of the material.

But by its very colorization, we are perpetuating the idea that black-and-white is lesser and must be updated in order to be appealing. Is this what we want to be telling this generation? It’s a complex question and a complex situation to work out, a burden that we have inherited due to lack of desire or motivation to inform and educate the public. I would love to hear your input. What is your opinion of colorization? Leave your comments below, and I look forward to hearing from you!

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Merry Christmas from Backlots!

To all those who celebrate it, I wish my readers a very merry Christmas with lots of quality time with friends and family!

The holiday of Christmas has heralded some of the most beloved movies of all time. In celebration of the season, I am profiling a few of my favorites here. Have a wonderful holiday, and if you have a free moment, check out some of these movies!

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)

Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan, it tells the story of a “perfect housewife” columnist who doesn’t exactly have the life her column suggests…and when her boss requires her to host a war veteran at her home for Christmas (and insists upon coming along himself), she has some arranging to do! A sweet situation comedy that is defined by Barbara Stanwyck’s delightful performance and that of the adorable S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as the character of Uncle Felix.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)

This one is a true classic, and often I find myself disillusioned with the fact that with its great popularity has come a colorization that has now taken over AMC every year at Christmas as well as a 1994 remake, that has become more prevalent than the original on the other more commercial channels. But this, I believe, is the one and only one to see. Natalie Wood stars as a little girl skeptical of Santa Claus, until a Macy’s Santa Claus played by Edmund Gwenn makes her think twice. It is a fantastic children’s movie and also holds up extremely well for adults–if you haven’t seen it since your childhood, now is a wonderful time to revisit it!

HOLIDAY AFFAIR

This is a lesser-known gem with which I first became acquainted last year at Noir City X-Mas. It is a sweet, low-key comedy that stars Janet Leigh as an engaged war widow who falls in love with a department store clerk while undercover on her job as a comparative shopper. Though she already has a fiancé, her young son takes to the department store clerk (played by Robert Mitchum) and there begins to be some tension due to her son’s clear preference for Mitchum’s character. The movie is light fare, but good fun. One of the best performances in the movie comes from the little boy, played by Gordon Gebert. His acting career never took off but he found a second talent in adulthood–after studying architecture at UCLA, USC, and MIT, Gebert is now a very prominent professor at New York City’s College School of Architecture.