Trimark Pictures' colorization of the new black-and-white movie "Federal Hill" is reverberating within the film community: The film's director is seeking a way to halt the movie's release while filmmakers and the Artists Rights Foundation are publicly criticizing the company's actions.
This is the first time a distributor has announced such an action.
"With its decision to colorize a critically successful black-and-white motion picture, Trimark has advertised to the artistic community the level of respect it has for the work of film artists," the Artists Rights Foundation said in a prepared statement.
Director Michael Corrente's black-and-white film, which will open in Los Angeles on Friday, was released in New York to strong reviews Dec. 9 and has since played in Boston, Kansas City and Providence, R.I.
Woody Allen, a longtime champion of both black-and-white filmmaking and artists' rights in congressional hearings on the issue over the years, took time from filming his next movie to release this statement:
"It's very simple on this subject. If a film is colorized with the consent of the director it's fine. At a later date with the director's consent, as an artistic decision, this is also fine. Without the director's consent it is criminal."
Allen should know. The opening scene of his Oscar contender "Bullets Over Broadway" is made of vintage black-and-white footage that was colorized by the same company colorizing "Federal Hill." But that decision was Allen's choice.
At issue is Corrente's choice. The 35-year-old director, who financed the $80,000 picture with his own money and a second mortgage on his brother's house, never wanted his film in color. He uses black-and-white footage as a metaphor for the existence of the film's characters--five youths who grow up in a tough Providence Italian American neighborhood, mirroring Corrente's youth.
"I am not unhappy with the way Trimark released this film, but nobody ever told me they were going to colorize anything," said Corrente. "They asked me if I would consider looking at a (colorized) test for home video and certain markets. I made it clear to them that even if I decided to agree to it, it would just be for home video. That was a decision that was never made.
"And I told them if (the colorized version was theatrically) released in specific markets, it would have to be coupled with the original black-and-white version," he noted. "I wanted the guy in Des Moines to be able to have the choice. They never got back to me about any decision. I learned about it when they issued their press release saying they were doing it.
"Could you imagine someone doing this to (Steven Spielberg's) 'Schindler's List' or (Martin Scorsese's) 'Raging Bull'? It is a terrible feeling," he said.
"Right now my attorney is in contact with the Artists Rights Foundation's attorney," Corrente said. "Because I own the copyright and there is some specific language in my contract, we are trying to determine whether we can stop them, possibly with an injunction. We are sending a cease-and-desist letter to them."
Trimark spokesman David Bowers said the company was within its rights to colorize the film.
While Trimark liked the black-and-white version, Bowers said "we felt we could broaden the audience if we colorized it. After we opened it in New York, Boston and other cities, the reaction we got back from those markets is that they would enjoy it more if it wasn't in black and white.
"Because it's black and white, some people think it's an art film," Bowers noted. "But it's a commercial film and that's why we want to colorize it."
So why didn't Trimark colorize before any screenings? "In watching the film we thought it would do fine," he said. "It's still showing in theaters in black and white. And it will be released in L.A. in black and white."
Jody Shapiro, the president of CST Entertainment of Culver City, said his company began negotiating for the colorizing job with Trimark about a month ago. About a quarter of the film has already been colorized, he said.
"I can understand the concerns and we are the first to admit that colorization, in the early days, looked so bad. But that's not the case anymore," said Shapiro, who is also currently colorizing "All About Eve" for Fox. "You have to understand that in the eyes of the distributors, this gives them a brand-new avenue to exploit their product, especially overseas."