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'No' Votes Win In 'color Wars'

November 26, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

OK, Color Systems Technology and Colorization Inc., pack up your paint and your computers. It's all over. The vote is in, the public has spoken, you lost fair and square, now be good sports and be gone. Make like a fad and fade.

The final call-in vote totals for KTLA-TV's "Color Wars" election, which followed Monday night's airing of the colorized version of "It's a Wonderful Life," were 11,559 against, 10,045 for. A 53.5% to 46.5% victory for art over commerce.

Officials of both computer-color companies have maintained throughout this high-profile fight that the public would ultimately decide the fate of colorized black-and-white films. Well?

Actually, it was not fair and square. This is the era of 50-cent democracy, where for four bits, you can call a 900 number and vote, and for a buck, you can vote twice! How bad do you want to win? How much do you want to spend? What Mayor Daley could have done with this in Chicago.

We'll never know if Monday night's electronic ballot box was stuffed. AT&T's "Dial It 900" service consumes calls like plankton. You dial the number, a taped voice thanks you, and before you can hang up and dial again, your account has been charged 50 cents.

This much is clear: Between them, callers spent more than $10,000 for the privilege of whistling in the wind. In announcing the poll results, KTLA's Hal Fishman offered the disclaimer that it was not scientific. No, and Zsa Zsa Gabor's next marriage may not last forever.

The vote was meaningless. Colorization is not subject to referendum, only to market economics. The only way to vote against it once you've seen it is to not watch it again.

The colorization people, and their beneficiaries, are showing some amazing cheek, considering the things being said about them. Solters/Roskin/Friedman, the public relations firm representing Hal Roach Studios, trumpets each new colorized Hal Roach release as if the studio had resurrected the stars and made the movie itself. In fact, they're bagging most of them out of the public domain.

When George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" was completed in time for Halloween, entertainment reporters received jack-o-lanterns that had been painted the same thrilling gray-green color that the computer art directors had selected for the film's rotting corpses. Another name for an unwanted pumpkin is "garbage," and the gift quickly took on the aroma of the process it was sent to hype.

The latest word from Hal Roach Studios is that its pastel-colored "It's a Wonderful Life" will, beginning Monday, be the in-flight feature of several airlines, including Eastern and Pan Am. It is hard to believe that in-flight movies could be made harder to watch.

KTLA followed Monday night's screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" with a six-minute news feature on colorization, including clips from press conferences where such directors as John Huston and Stanley Kramer bemoaned the process while Hal Roach executives Earl Glick and Rob Word defended it.

Reporter Steve Lentz visited one of the colorization labs, where a computer art director was seen studiously thumbing through a book of period photographs. Lentz explained that the art director was deciding what colors to use, "not only researching color and style of the period, but also going with trendy colors pleasing to today's audience."

That is a comfort. "Casablanca" is currently being colorized. Maybe Bogie will come out looking like Bruce Willis and Ingrid like Cybill Shepherd, new sex symbols for a generation of kids who, the colorizers insist, will not watch anything in black and white. (Lay a Tangerine Dream score over "Casablanca" and who knows how high the ratings may go.)

The KTLA feature also demonstrated the progress being made in colorization, at least in the Hal Roach films. First, the station showed a scene from an old Laurel and Hardy movie, in which the background appeared blue-gray. Then, it showed a scene from the John Wayne Western, "Angel and the Badman," which Lentz pointed out "has both foreground and background in color."

It sure does. The sagebrush in the background looks as lush and green as healthy cabbage. Now, if they can just get those computers to work that trick in the Arizona desert where the film was actually shot . . . .

Finally, we heard the narrator of a colorization promo tape summarizing the process, apparently for potential investors.

"The ultimate proof that colorization is successful," he said reassuringly, "is the very fact that audiences don't know the difference."

What's that 900 number again?

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