“The last time I checked, I owned the films that we’re in the process of colorizing…I can do whatever I want with them, and if they’re going to be shown on television, they’re going to be in color.” These are words spoken by media mogul Ted Turner in 1986, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, defending his decision to colorize classic black-and-white films for television airwaves, most famously Casablanca, leading Roger Ebert to call its colorized airing “one of the saddest days in the history of movies.” That sadness, Ebert claimed, comes from knowing that even the most beloved classics aren’t safe from “computerized graffiti gangs.” Well, this weekend, The Wizard of Oz boots Riddick from IMAX theaters, coming at viewers not only in the format’s scale-oriented excesses, but also in 3D. Thus, though we may still refer to the film as The Wizard of Oz, Warner Bros. is going with The Wizard of Oz: An IMAX 3D Experience. So, a question becomes pertinent: How is turning a 1939 Technicolor film into a 2013 IMAX 3D “experience” any different from Ted Turner colorizing Casablanca?
Now, before this column gets labeled as yet another rant against contemporary disregard for the preservation of film culture, it must be noted that by asking how these two acts differ, I’m not intending to pass some comprehensively pejorative claim against either as detrimental to cultural history and preservation—at least not from the outset. Rather, my question is meant more to reckon with precisely what’s at stake in not just the 3Dification of classic films, but also their IMAXification, the latter of which is often neglected at the expense of the former. There are many, many articles railing against 3D: picture is too dim, glasses are uncomfortable, provide a distancing rather than immersive effect, and so on. However, very few of these articles address 3D in relation to older films that receive a post-conversion. With IMAX, few critics seem to notice, much less write about, this transformation. Perhaps that’s because, as viewers and critics, not enough of a huff is made about films in relation to their formal specificities; for example, though Rotten Tomatoes lists the “new” version in its “opening” front-page column, included within that new version are reviews of the original version—the one without the technological addendums. Such a failure to articulate a separation is highly problematic, because neglecting to do so perpetuates the myth that cinema is, first and foremost, a storytelling medium. If the narrative remains the same, then it’s the same film. Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message” feels eons away in the midst of these oversights.
Moreover, these omissions subsume underlying capital interests even further by appealing to saccharine, nostalgia-fueled sensibilities. The gesture is particularly unseemly because the outward advertising claims feign interest in cultural history, teasing us with “as you’ve never seen it before.” What’s meant by this, however, is “as if you’ve never seen it before.” Of course, nostalgia only works when the consumer is familiar with the lineage—so, the original claim implies the film is somehow the same, but different (a lie), while the latter, more truthful claim would be in line with the financial veil thinly draped over the proceedings. That is, viewers haven’t seen this before, because this isn’t the original film, but studios exploit and manipulate the advertising language to have their slippers and wear them too: This is The Wizard of Oz...but not!
Cultural theorist Fredric Jameson coined the term “nostalgia film” in the early 1990s to refer to a type of film set in the past, though less concerned with historical specificity than using the past for the promise of its art direction. Among these films he included Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future, and Angel Heart, as these films treated their 1950s settings not with an interest in historical accuracy, but rather a “privileged lost object of desire.” Jameson would call those films postmodern, but here still, at least, there are directors to latch our lenses to. Even with Ted Turner, we could quite easily call his colorizations “art installations on TV,” as many an avant-garde filmmaker have made brilliant found-footage work. The problem with The Wizard of Oz: An IMAX 3D Experience, however, is that we have no one to credit this film to. Will the production head that oversaw the IMAX transfer get a director credit? How about those “computerized graffiti gangs”? Without hesitation, the film will surely retain the “directed by Victor Fleming” credit that accompanied the film upon its 1939 release. That’s a lie of the highest order—and a new one—exceeding even Disney’s recent 3D rampaging of catalogue titles. What’s being unleashed into theaters this Friday isn’t a nostalgia film, but a faux-stalgia product. To that, I say: “My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself.”
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. Insidious: Chapter 2: $17.7 -56%
2. Prisoners: $16.5 NEW
3. The Family: $8 -43%
4. Battle of the Year: $6.8 NEW
5. We’re the Millers: $3.9 -27%
6. Lee Daniels’s The Butler: $3.4 -38%
7. Riddick: $3.2 -53%
8. The Wizard of Oz: $2.7 NEW
9. Instructions Not Included: $2.4 -50%
10. Planes: $2.2 -30%