The brush fire over computer colorizing of black-and-white films made a cultural leap from the film community to the arts community at large over the weekend when the National Council on the Arts unanimously passed a resolution condemning the process.
The 26-member council, representing dance, theater, literature, visual arts, music and other art forms, said that it is opposed to representing colored versions of black and white films as original works and expressed its concern for the preservation, without alternation, of "works conceived in black and white."
"The art of the moving image, like other arts, should not be altered and then presented as an original work," said Frank Hodsoll, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The arts council is the presidentially appointed advisory body to the endowement. "The makers of the great black-and-white films and television dramas . . . made them in black and white. That was their intention, and that was their art, and that intention and that art should be respected."
The colorizers deny that they are misrepresenting these films.
"We never have in the past, and we never intend to" represent the films that Color Systems Technology colorizes as originals, said Buddy Young, president of Color Systems Technology. "We always say 'the new colored, converted version."
The colorizing controversy was ignited several months ago when Atlanta media magnate Ted Turner released a list of more than 100 films that his Turner Broadcasting Entertainment had selected for colorizing by Marina del Rey-based Color Systems Technology. The titles were selected from the library that Turner retained from his sale of MGM.
Color Systems already has colorized "Yankee Doodle Dandy" for Turner and is currently working on "The Maltese Falcon," among others.
Such directors as Woody Allen, Billy Wilder and John Huston have spoken out publicly against the process. Last month, the Directors Guild of America, the American Film Institute, the American Society of Cinematographers and other groups drafted resolutions opposing computer colorizing.
The United States copyright office has invited public comment on the issue of whether colorized versions of black-and-white films are separate entities warranting copyright protection.
Among the members of the National Council on the Arts who voted for the resolution against colorizing were actors Robert Stack and Celeste Holm, choreographer and ballet company director Robert Joffrey, author Toni Morrison, painter Helen Frankenthaler and film and TV producer/director George Schaefer.
Schaefer said that the council wanted to make a statement of national policy.
"It is our hope that the unanimous support from the diverse arts leaders who make up the national council will encourage the directors, cinematographers and others who are outraged by computer-coloring to accelerate their opposition," Schaefer said Saturday.
"It's all coming down to m-o-n-e-y," said Holm. "Some of the copyrights have run out and people are reissuing them. Maybe they can do it, but it's morally absolutely ridiculous."
Hodsoll said Monday that the council will begin studying the legal framework surrounding the alteration of all works of art, a move prompted by, and including, colorization.
The endowment provides funding to the AFI's National Center for Film and Video Preservation in Los Angeles.