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National Science and Media Museum

Shades of Grey: The History and Ethics of Colourisation in Cinema

The colourisation of film has long been a source of controversy and debate. This panel discussion will explore its history, successes and failures.

In 1985, there were reports that Ted Turner, an aggressive proponent of the process, wanted to colourise Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane. Welles made his stance on colourisation clear, famously declaring: ‘don’t let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons’. Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert called it ‘Hollywood’s New Vandalism’ and joined notable voices such as James Stewart, John Huston, George Lucas and Woody Allen in opposition to the process.

In They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), Peter Jackson brought colour back into the trenches of the Great War. Using material from the archives of the Imperial War Museum, the film re-presents history, with changes in colour, framerate and clarity creating a new and unique perspective. Critics have praised the film for bringing the footage to life for modern audiences, but the release has also brought up decades-old grievances against the restoration and colourisation of film.

This panel discussion will explore the history of colourisation—its successes as well as its failings—and why so many are so opposed to the process. Join our panellists in understanding what it really means to add a touch of colour to our film heritage.

The panel

  • Chair: Dr. Elizabeth Watkins, Research Fellow in History of Art and Film at the University of Leeds
  • Prof. Sir Christopher Frayling, broadcaster, writer and cultural historian
  • David Strohmaier, restoration producer for Cinerama Inc.
  • Tom Vincent, Film Archivist at Aardman Animations