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The uncolorized truth

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LEAVE it to the French to again defend the artist's interests against market forces. This time a high court judge in Paris has blocked the TV broadcast of a colorized version of John Huston's 1950 film classic ``The Asphalt Jungle.'' Huston had vigorously opposed colorization of black and white films while he lived, and his estate brought suit to stop the telecast scheduled for this Sunday evening on La Cinq, Paris's Channel 5.

In a display of fairness, La Cinq had offered also to broadcast the black-and-white version of the film later the same evening, and to host a debate on colorization.

To say that colorization does ``unmendable and intolerable damage'' to a film's integrity, as the Paris judge ruled, may be extravagant.

But if a film director has conceived and produced a film in terms of darkness and light instead of varieties of color and wants it kept as it was made, this should be honored.

Legislation is in the works in the United States Congress to provide this protection. Let's hope it passes.

Artistic integrity can be hard enough to protect. When a book is made into a movie, it becomes something quite different - often dismayingly different, from the author's point of view. But if an author signs over the movie rights, even if he retains a say over the script, control of the project usually gets away from him. An author's last line of defense can be the rare director who can insist on sustaining at least the director's own vision of the story.

One wouldn't expect books to be rewritten - ``colorized'' into romantic novels, say - for supermarket shelves by publishers who acquire their copyrights.

Or Rembrandt reproductions re-tinted from the Dutch master's dark hues to a palette thought more cheerful.

In music, literature, and art, themes and fragments are often borrowed by others and developed or played against. But the original is left intact.

Integrity of expression has to be more universally defended if society wants to promote truth-telling. Public figures and institutions no less than regular folk feel dismay at having their stories colorized - hyped, slanted, or distorted - by the press.

So let's hear it for Huston and the French judge, who ruled market motives should not outweigh the artist's intent!

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