There is crazy talk these days about colorizing Sergei Eisenstein’s black-and-white film Alexander Nevsky. The person behind this notion is the CEO of “Formula Color,” Igor Lopatenok.
I don’t mean to be reactionary, but I simply can’t endorse such “European-style renovation” of a masterpiece.
For one thing, who said that color is better, or that black and white no longer has appeal? In my opinion black-and-white film is sometimes much more interesting than color. Alexander Nevsky achieved tremendous expression through “old-fashioned” means. What will colorizing add? Has the film not been seen by enough viewers? What, in essence, is the point of the exercise, besides estranging Alexander Nevsky from its original context— a dangerous path to pursue insofar as it risks spoiling our perception of a masterpiece (much as the recent color remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho did). While we’re at it, we might as well reattach Venus’s hands, add pastels to Malevich’s Black Square, and renovate the canals and buildings of historic Venice.
Eisenstein could have filmed Alexander Nevsky in color, at least in part, because color technology existed in 1938. But it is clear that Eisenstein preferred the starkness and gloriousness of black and white. “He was a big fan of color [film stock], and even used it in Ivan the Terrible [Part 2],” Lopatenok declares in an interview. Yet Eisenstein used color only in one sequence, in the concluding Bacchanalia of the film, and assigned the red and gold tints symbolic meanings (blood, flame, etc.). Eisenstein’s discrete use of these tints and the surprise factor involved made the scene shockingly exciting, as did the humming chorus and spasmodic dance that Prokofiev composed for it.
Before talking nonsense, Mr. Lopatenok should perhaps read the memoirs of the engineer Boris Volsky about his work with Prokofiev in the Mosfilm studios. The recording might not suit you, but there is no need to rewrite the music to thicken its perceived thinness. Think again, given the means available these days to improve the original through careful restoration. The benefits of committing funds to preservation will, I’m certain, greatly outweigh the benefits of colorizing someone else’s great, historic film.
In the aforementioned interview, Lopatenok comments: “Ask any large company [like Paramount] as to whether colorizing is preferred, and the answer will always be yes. Films that have long ceased to be profitable will again make money. This is an objective measure: viewers vote with their wallets.”
So there you have it: the purpose of colorizing the film is money, profit. But Alexander Nevsky will not look better in color, and the precious aura of the original will be lost as a result of the caprice.
22 JULY 2012