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War Against Colorizing

November 14, 1986|DAVID T. FRIENDLY | Times Staff Writer

Veteran film director John Huston fired off the latest--and perhaps the most passionate--salvo in Hollywood's ongoing colorization wars at a press conference Thursday at the Directors Guild of America. Confined to a wheelchair, breathing with the aid of two nasal tubes, Huston, 80, told the packed room of television and print reporters that he had watched about seven minutes ("As long as I could bear it") of the colorized version of his classic 1941 detective drama "The Maltese Falcon" when it aired Wednesday night on Ted Turner's superstation WTBS.

"I asked myself if such an example of mindless insipidity is worthy of our attention in this threatened world--a world beset of terrorists," Huston said. "The answer of course is most certainly. For it is mindlessness in the first place which allows for the assaults of crazed zealots, and falsifying politicians."

The press conference was part of the DGA's ongoing attempt to prevent colorized films from being aired. Last month the guild board voted unanimously to "oppose the colorizing of all black-and-white films," DGA spokesman Chuck Warne said. On Wednesday, the Screen Actors Guild joined the fray announcing that its western regional board had voted 36-0 to oppose the computer coloring of black-and-white films.

Joining Huston at the emotionally charged DGA gathering were a number of other well-known directors, including Peter Bogdanovich, Arthur Hiller and Richard Brooks.

Asked if colorization was all that different from a novelist having his written words adapted to the screen, Hiller explained, "The writer of the novel has been asked if you will allow his work to be taken and adapted. If you come to a director like John Huston and say, 'Will you permit "The Maltese Falcon" to be colorized?' that's one thing, but to just grab his work and desecrate it is morally reprehensible."

At one point a TV reporter asked Huston if he would respond to charges that attempts to interfere with the colorization process amount to censorship.

"Who the hell is being censored anyway, can I ask you that?" Director Brooks yelled.

(Color Systems Technology, which has contracted to colorize 100 films owned by Turner Broadcasting System Inc., and Hal Roach Studios, which is colorizing films in the pubic domain, are the two companies involved in the process.)

Reporter: Sir, it's not my argument but the people who do the colorizing and Ted Turner's organization make that argument."

Brooks: They have the sensitivity of wallpaper. . . .

Huston was asked if colorization was any worse than commercial interruption on television or so-called "panning and scanning" (selecting images from wide-screen films to fit the dimensions of the small screen) or the cutting of a film to fit a prescribed block of TV time.

"I was thinking of parallels or images as I came over to this meeting," Huston said. "It's as though we were the parents and our children have been sold into white slavery. These poor kids have had their teeth knocked out and their eyes blackened. . . . They have been . . . buggered and bewildered. And now they have put peroxide in their hair. That's the last lick--the Turner organization has dyed their hair."

Huston, who spoke in deliberate, measured tones, was asked what he thought of the color reproduction in "The Maltese Falcon," the film that marked his directorial debut. "I can't even think of it as color, any more than pouring tablespoons of sugar water over a roast constitutes flavor. Color is an art form in itself. This is not color."

Elliot Silverstein, chairman of the President's Committee of the Director's Guild of America, chided the colorizers for placing economic concerns so blatantly ahead of artistic ones. "We don't contest the rights of the owners of films to buy, sell show or not show what they want, but they also have a responsibility to pass on the works they own to the next generation unchanged and undistorted. In trying to profit from the present, we shouldn't prevent continuity to the future by greedily cannibalizing our own past."

The DGA has made no public announcements yet on any strategy that it may employ to stall the colorizers, but Huston suggested a boycott may be the best solution. "I submit that the one way to put an end to this is to threaten not to buy the products being presented by the sponsors."

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