Parasite

Parasite ★★★★★

Everything that can be said about Parasite has already been said in exhaustive detail ten times over, and the few people just now trickling towards it will find a dearth of human opinions, analysis, and overwhelming praise to sift through, making it impossible to have anything new to add to discussion that their fellow man hasn't already expressed in a myriad of ways. I myself normally wouldn't have much I could feasibly add, given how I've already delivered two reviews that meet my usual detailed standard, both within the euphoria of its nominations and eventually wins at the Academy Awards that fully reflected the art of great filmmaking more than anything, and said what could have been considered thoughtful, excited reflections that's hard to add onto without a sense of looming redundancy. Having loved it twice before, just what could I possibly add to my statements?

Well, there's always the black-and-white version to talk about.

Yeah, this was kind of a surprise to me, considering just how strongly vivid the color palette was that Bong Joon-ho chose, but there seemed to be entirely new waves forming based on the rerelease where the film would be distributed without any color, and was something even Letterboxd briefly celebrated for a day or two. The essence of keeping hype alive was always strong with this film and the many #BongHive tweets, but the patterns of seeing certain films take on new life, and new critical attention, through eschewing color entirely is something that's intrigued me, especially since this type of behavior is completely the opposite of the usual reactions when a film is tampered like this. Aren't we the same film lovers who will criticize a black-and-white film gaining a new colorized print, or new technology and effects be added onto a film in later versions that we immediately call out if it's not quite right? What has caused the loss of color to become something of a prestigious act, one that I never really hear any truly negative buzz about in the infrequent times it has happened?

Well, why not run through the history real quick?

Part I: Ted Turner and His Damn Crayons

Controversy was arisen when Hal Roach Studios, once a key part of the golden age of silent comedy shorts, reemerged from bankruptcy, not with any intents of making films (as by this point their filming lot was demolished), but instead a different way of preserving film history. By the early 1980's, when television was fully adopted as a new standard of viewing entertainment, no station was broadcasting in black-and-white, as even the small UHF networks that appealed only to an audience that was growing more niche had either died out or fully adopted color to their broadcasts, meaning there was no more market for older films at a time when home video releases were just starting to pick up speed. In a way, what Hal Roach Studios was doing in restoring films like Topper and Way Out West was to give these films accessibility to new audiences, to be accepted as part of the unlimited abilities of film and to have people fall in love with these films again, even if they weren't in their original format.

There was a sizable amount of detractors towards colorizing well-regarded comedies from the 30's, but shit really started hitting the fan the moment Ted Turner announced what he planned to add color to.

Turner, the media mogul who is extremely significant to television's history (including, but not limited to, funding and developing what would become the first basic cable channel, WTBS), acquired over 2,000 films from MGM's library in the mid-80's, all made before 1983 and almost all of them being black-and-white. Hearing what the Hal Roach boys were doing to make their films available to people that otherwise wouldn't have cared, Turner decided he should do the same to classic films that would surely be hits on the networks he owned, if only they weren't peskily in black-and-white. A complete list of every film Turner helped supervise in its colorization would be excessive in making a point, but among the many cruddy noirs, war movies, and forgotten MGM flicks, some of the most noteworthy films were Miracle on 34th St., King Kong, and Casablanca.

This didn't sit well for a lot of important figures in the film world.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel accused it as an act of vandalism on Hollywood's part, and decried the television premiere of colorized Casablanca as one of the saddest days in the history of movies, showing nothing was sacred from Turner's graffiti and brought to question of why black-and-white was "dying" in the eyes of the public in the first place. John Huston hated the idea of his films being colorized, and his fervent stance led to a three-year legal case after his death regarding the attempted colorization of The Asphalt Jungle. Many other filmmakers simply hated the idea period, as people like Woody Allen and George Lucas, both of whom starter their careers well after color became the established norm, contested the notion of destroying these relics of another time by trying to modernize them to the public, as doing so would ignore the benefits and workarounds filmmakers and cinematographers had when working with a limited palette. It seemed like everyone who was important knew this was a bad idea, fearing a world where the original black-and-white versions would be destroyed forever in favor of the colorized versions. Surely no-one was on Turner's side given all this vocal outcry, right?

Not quite.

Part II: Citizen Capra

Defenders of Turner's colorization were rare, and the list of famous names in that camp dries up pretty quickly. Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, saw the colorization of Topper as an immense improvement, adding just the right touches in the soft colors and wished Hal Roach Studios, and by proxy moguls like Turner fighting for colorization, their best wishes. Cary Grant, star of Topper, found the process to be interesting, and was extremely satisfied with the outcome of seeing moving images of himself from fifty years ago in living color. The enthusiasm of Grant led to quite possibly the most pivotal assistant to Turner's campaign, legendary director Frank Capra. Capra was finally a man who suggested some sort of credence to colorization, as here was a director helping Colorization Inc., a Toronto-based company practicing Turner's idea, in making a color version of one of the mostly rewatched films of all time, It's a Wonderful Life, that would see profits to properly rival any of the other films absorbed into Turner's wing. The idea of the film being taken away from its director for the sake of colorization was no longer true, and this potentially could have caused the alternate reality everyone feared to become true.

However, Colorization Inc. became greedy little bitches, and used a legal loophole that caused Capra to take none of the profits from the colorization, on the grounds that the film was public domain and the Toronto team technically owned the only new additives to this version of the film. With that, colorization lost its biggest ally, and everyone continued to despise it.

The death of Turner's colorization correlated closely with the aborted attempt to colorize Citizen Kane, a thought that angered everyone even more than Casablance did, from Welles shortly before his death, to the public, to anyone that had even a shred of common sense to their brain, which Ted Turner apparently left at home the day announced his considerations of such. Criticism was not the end of this era of colorization, but rather the high cost of taking on such endeavors was something that Turner Entertainment just couldn't make up for in profits, and legal considerations ended up destroying Citizen Kane in Color for good. A collective sigh of relief was heard all around the world that announcement was made on February 14, 1989 (maybe, I wouldn't know, I wasn't born back then ya bozo), and it seemed like films would finally be seen as they were filmed, either in black-and-white or in color, just as the studio, director, and era would have decided it so.

Part III: Colorization Reborn

Well....again, not quite.

A lot of people's gripes towards the Turner way of colorization was that it simply looked like shit, as many of the techniques in producing color versions of black-and-white footage in the 80's resulted in murky colors, instances where colors bled into background objects, and times where the chosen color simply doesn't fit with the object its coordinated with (a particular infamous instance of that last one derives from the film noir Suddenly and the decision to color its main star's eyes into a brown color. This might be a nitpick if that star wasn't Frank Sinatra, who was just, if not more, well-known for his nickname "Ol' Blue Eyes"). The technology simply couldn't offer any results that would dissuade anyone opposed with the idea, especially considering the tape-based format most of these re-releases would have to be crammed in.

DVD was a game-changer that saw new interest in colorization.

Now, with the greater space and new abilities this disc-based format offered to consumers in the mid-2000's (yes I know it was introduced a little earlier, most of what's to come became relevant in this chunk of the decade), the ability to decide if you wanted to watch a colorized version of a film or the film as it was originally made could now be offered to the consumer, and came with technology that had truly improved in its restoration processes, both for the original and colorized image. Yeah, some people really didn't like that some shorts by The Three Stooges were undergoing this method, but by the new millennium these were now the minority, and people began to accept these versions much more openly than they did in the 80's.

So how exactly did this happen, where the perception of colorization completely inverted itself and became OK?

Offering up the preserved originals helped, but it's perhaps because people now had the failures of Turner's attempts at colorization to look back on and try to improve in every way possible. Reefer Madness, an anti-drug film laughable in its mission, was colorized not to preserve it, but to heighten the camp value originally found exclusively by stoners, and caused some skeptics of colorization to realize there could be a legitimate art to coloring something in order to find new value in it. Shirley Temple, Ray Harryhausen, and Jane Russell all assisted in some way or another to modern colorists working with digital tools, adding a significant amount of names to the amount of defenders in an age where colored scenes began to look much more like the real deal, rather than the washed-out Turner age of color. Of course, a discussion like this shouldn't leave out the immaculate job Peter Jackson and his team of VFX artists did in reconstruction black-and-white film footage and breathe new life into the lives of WWI soldiers. Colorization has become far more advanced than it was when it was first criticized, and is nowadays more often left into creative forces that know what they're doing, and what they can do to avoid consistent failures of image quality.

This mindset of course finally brings us up to speed with...

Part IV: Decolorization

Tampering with a film to create new results is now something even the everyday user can perform to their own accord. Re-edits of films are plentiful in the Internet age, and such practices have lead to new discussion into morphing available footage into a new style. This has of course led to filmmakers choosing to present new monochrome versions of films that otherwise likely wouldn't have been funded without a splash of color. The world of black-and-white features has never truly went away, as many filmmakers working in the rising 90's independent circuit were still keeping up a monochrome look, like Jim Jarmusch for Dead Man, Christopher Nolan for Following, and Kevin Smith for Clerks (of course, Smith's the oddball since his black-and-white feature was out of budgetary reasons rather than artistic ones, but that doesn't change how well it fit in with the indie aesthetic of the time). Those films, though, were just that: independent, able to become black-and-white without the demands of a studio looming over you at nearly every step, hoping you didn't do something stupid like filming with only one continuous spectrum of color that could potentially prevent it from being a big success.

But that raises a good point: what makes these black-and-white versions that different from Turner's colorizations? Both inevitably change the look and potential tone for the film, changing the film into something that's different in the eyes of some from what it was originally released as. Is that not the same as changing the vision of a film we're all accustomed to into something that wasn't designed with a desaturated color palette in mind.

There's three famous examples of films that underwent a new black-and-white version after people became used to seeing them in color: Mad Max: Fury Road, Logan, and The Mist. Most people were absolutely floored at seeing all of these films in what was perceived as their "true" visions, allowing these films to exist in a way that's rare and known for the ways it can create a striking visual palette. However, none of them were filmed with the intent of being in black-and-white, and two were only desaturated after the fact. George Miller had complete creative control for Fury Road (after having bought the rights for future Mad Max films from Warner Bros. in the 90's), so him making it into a black-and-white film was an option, but instead he went all-out in its vivid orange-centric color palette and is happy with the theatrical cut. James Mangold only gave a black-and-white sheen to Logan after fans requested it so, and never intended to have it be anything but in color in the first place. The Mist is the only oddball, as Frank Darabont did originally envision it to be a black-and-white film, but eventually relented and filmed it in color, without thinking of releasing a desaturated version until he decided it should be included in the Blu-Ray release, again choosing to release a new vision just after the fact. Whether these versions are "better" than their colored counterparts is something that depends on the viewer, but it's hard to imagine modern cinematic techniques, like CGI, quick cuts, or frantic motion, working with a film that was never designed to work with a black-and-white cinematographer's limitations.

Then again, could Bong prove me wrong?

Part V: Casa-Bong-cla

Bong Joon-ho really wants to make a black-and-white film, and this is something he has expressed multiple times. Many of the classic films he grew up that taught him how to be a filmmaker were in black-and-white, on account of having to frequently resort to watching films not in theaters, but through the old black-and-white TV model his family owned, and this fact is something he has wanted to pay tribute to by making some sort of original story with only monochrome visuals to accompany it. However, difficulties in finding a studio that would agree to such an idea has prevented him from fully filming a project in black-and-white, and is something he has had to tampered with himself, just like the examples above, in order to test and gauge the public demand for a B&W Bong joint.

Mother, his third film, saw festival screenings in 2013 for a new B&W version, one he designed with the express interest of getting audiences to engage more with the actor's performances more than any other visual presence in the film, and one that seemed to have fairly positive reviews. Bong's latest, however, is an interesting example, as rather than waiting for a wide release of his film to prepare a B&W version, Parasite already had its monochrome cut completed before its world premiere at Cannes, and noted that each shot had to be re-properly graded shot-by-shot. My hesitance towards whether this will turn out into something truly different, or indeed notable, is still present given how the production design and cinematography was still constructed with the intent of color photography, but if there's something that could be capable of swaying me, it's Bong.

So....what do I think?

Part VI: Verdict

yeah, I don't know about this whole B&W decolorization trend...

When it's something as simple as a locked-on shot between characters engaged in conversation, or something that elicits suspense like walking down those darkened hallways that signal the most major shift in the labyrinthine plot, the black-and-white aesthetic proves effective and does provide something rich and new to the experience. However, whenever we're in either the more expansive steeples of the Park's exterior, or the interior of their home, things really run into a more drab style that doesn't work well with the digital cinematography employed, as the lighting from outside becomes almost a hazy mess that distracts from the focal points that are the characters, a flaw not apparent in the color version. For the most part the contrast and brightness can be well-done and show the effort Bong and his team employed, even if the absence of color in instances like Da-song's painting or the blood in the second half are sorely missed, but I never felt like I was watching a "different" film, and more a film that exists to remind me of what version I could have been watching, a near-redundant effort that at least looks pretty most of the time.

Parasite's still a stone-cold masterpiece, don't get me wrong, but I still remain unconvinced of the prestige that's become associated with turning color into monochrome works, as well as the notion that there's a dramatic change to it. The worst complaint I could lobby it (one I don't fully agree with even if my instinct compels me to say it) is that it almost feels like a snobbish revival meant to suggest something classier and more artistic only through its look, marketed in a way only somewhat dissimilar to the colorization days of before. Of course, that's an entirely unfair assessment, as the technology provided allows something much more mono-chromatically pleasing than what Turner offered and shouldn't entirely be discredited if we can turn around and praise colorization again. There is something to the monochromization of films like these, but to say it's an entirely different breed worthy of nothing but praise is something I can't entirely agree with, and perhaps it will just take another few years before we can have something truly revolutionary with this format. Maybe Parasite, as perfect of a film it is, wasn't the perfect option for this, and that's OK, because it just means future filmmakers can tinker around with advancing technology to make something truly moving in its new form, or the re-release's success story can finally convince studios that if a filmmaker, like Bong Joon-ho, wants to make a film in black-and-white, there's not only a market, but a pretty large market willing to enjoy the limited colors just like people did in the 30's to 50's, and even the modern-day in some cases. Time will tell if Bong can film his next movie in B&W, but I'll be waiting, almost eagerly, for the day I can eat my own words.

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