Gone with the Wind in black-and-white? Yes, it could finally happen. In a surprise development at its most recent quarterly directors meeting in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Movie Guild unanimously voted to decolorize select classic movies. They will move quickly to implement decolorization. “There are too many gaudy films out there,” declares Movie Guild president Martin O. Selznick. “It’s about time they were elevated to the classic status of black-and-white.”
Starting as early as December, 1999, most classic movies made since the advent of color film will be quickly decolorized. “By May of 2000,” Selznick predicts, “we plan to have all color versions of classic movies phased out of American video stores in anticipation of the decolorized versions that will appear rapidly thereafter.”
Movies initially slated for decolorization include Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Ben Hur, and the Star Wars trilogy. Who Framed Roger Rabbit will follow as soon as a deal can be worked out with Disney. “We’re really excited about this prospect,” says Selznick. “These classics will take on a vibrant new life without the burden of garish reds, blues, and greens.”
Speaking from his Santa Barbara ranch, former president Ronald Reagan responded to the Movie Guild announcement with glowing approval. “I can only applaud the Guild for their bold and innovative plan,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to see my later work in black-and-white. Now, at last, I can.”
Original masters of film classics will be systematically relieved of their florid color using a revolutionary new process called “Primary Emulsion De-Ionization” (PEDI). According to a press release from Preindustrial Enlightened Magic lab technicians in Eureka, California—where they developed this breakthrough technology—PEDI temporarily separates layers of primary emulsion from the emulsion carrier at the subatomic level, randomly bombards the layers with polarized beta-wave laser light, and then “fixes” the resulting monochrome negative image with rapid pulses of pH-balanced chlorinated wash solution. A positive print is then secured from the de-ionized negative image, which is then digitized for easy reproduction in the finished video and laser disc formats.
“The advantage of this revolutionary new method of decolorization is its adaptability to virtually any carrier format” adds Movie Guild technical advisor Stanley Turner Goldwyn. “And unlike previous decolorization processes, Primary Emulsion De-Ionization is especially satisfactory in that it is irreversible, permanently curing master film prints of their sensationalist color. This will go a long way toward preventing the easy REcolorizing of our culture’s finest films, should public taste—God forbid—ever swing back to the immature fad of color. Now we can relax, once Gone With the Wind has permanently lost its sickly color.”
In a joint venture with the Federal government, the Movie Guild (which owns patent on PEDI) also hopes to apply this new technology to Landsat photographs taken by satellites orbiting high above the earth’s surface. “Previously,” states CIA defense contractor Ricardo Rygart, “Landsat photos were plagued by red-colored computer enhancements of infrared images. Computer algorithms in heat-seeking missiles respond much more readily to data encoded from black-and-white images.”
“The possibilities are endless,” Rygart maintains. “The Federal government is grateful to Preindustrial Enlightened Magic and the Hollywood Movie Guild for the development of this process. The possibilities for its noncivilian applications are immense, particularly in our national defense. We are excited,” Rygart concludes, “about the immediate facilitation of this trend-setting technology.”
A few opponents to the decolorization process are not pleased, however. But according to Movie Guild secretary-elect Judy St. John, negative consumer and industry reaction has been “limited to a small sit-in demonstration at Mann’s Chinese Theater shortly after it was painted black with delightful gray and white accents.”
“We don’t anticipate any widespread opposition,” St. John emphasizes, “although a physics professor at U.C. Berkeley has notified us of a hunger strike.”
Nevertheless, the majority of industry watchers welcome the decolorization of movie classics. Most Beverly Hills video outlets, St. John reports, have long seen a down-trend in color movie rental figures. “They’re thrilled to see them go,” she says.
In further positive reaction, John Peabody, professor emeritus of film literature at Cal-State Fullerton, says the Primary Emulsion De-Ionization process is “the best thing to hit the movie industry since synchronized sound—or at least since The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Although Peabody cautions the industry to maintain the highest of standards when decolorizing rare prints of classic films, he asserts every confidence in the new PEDI procedure, affectionately calling it “PEDICURE.”
Stephen Peabody (not related), adjunct professor of clinical linguistics and applied sociology at the University of California at Irvine, calls the sociological implications of the expected wave of glorious black-and-white film restorations “staggering.”
“The young and old will be going back to see these re-released decolorized movies,” Peabody predicts. “Whole families will again be able to enjoy what was once a vanishing art form. I fully anticipate a revival of theater-going unprecedented in the history of the industry. As for me,” he concludes, “I can hardly wait for the black-and-white release of Gone With the Wind!”
Professor Peabody will not have long to wait. Thanks to the Hollywood Movie Guild and the revolutionary new process of Primary Emulsion De-Ionization, Gone With the Wind is the first classic movie listed for decolorization. Its nationwide re-release in theaters everywhere is scheduled for June 31st, 2000.
First published in Scanlines, a college newspaper, on 9 June 1988, and updated in 1995.