Please access detailed information on over 250 individual film color processes via the classification system on this page, display the Timeline of Historical Film Colors in chronological order, search via the tag cloud at the end of this page or directly on the search page, or see the contributing archives’ collections on the header slides.
This database was created in 2012 and has been developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich to provide comprehensive information about historical film color processes invented since the end of the 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.
Timeline of Historical Film Colors was started with Barbara Flueckiger’s research at Harvard University in the framework of her project Film History Re-mastered, funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, 2011-2013.
In 2013 the University of Zurich and the Swiss National Science Foundation awarded additional funding for the elaboration of this web resource. 80 financial contributors sponsored the crowdfunding campaign Database of Historical Film Colors with more than USD 11.100 in 2012. In addition, the Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts provided a major contribution to the development of the database. Many further persons and institutions have supported the project, see acknowledgements.
Since February 2016 the database has been redeveloped in the framework of the research project Film Colors. Technologies, Cultures, Institutions funded by a grant from Swiss National Science Foundation. Since 2016, the team of the research project ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors has been collecting and adding written sources. All the members of the two research projects on film colors, both led by Barbara Flueckiger, have been capturing photographs of historical film prints since 2017.
Follow the links “Access detailed information ›” to access the currently available detail pages for individual processes. These pages contain an image gallery, a short description, a bibliography of original papers and secondary sources connected to extended quotes from these sources, downloads of seminal papers and links. We are updating these detail pages on a regular basis.
In June 2015, the European Research Council awarded the prestigious Advanced Grant to Barbara Flueckiger for her new research project FilmColors. Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Aesthetics, see press release of the University of Zurich and short abstract on the university’s research database.
Subscribe to the blog to receive all the news: http://blog.filmcolors.org/ (check out sidebar on individual entries for the “follow” button).
Contributions to the Timeline of Historical Film Colors
“It would not have been possible to collect all the data and the corresponding images without the support from many individuals and institutions.Thank you so much for your contribution, I am very grateful.”
Experts, scholars, institutions | Sponsors, supporters, patrons of the crowdfunding campaign, April 23 to July 21, 2012
Experts, scholars, institutions
Prof. Dr. David Rodowick, Chair, Harvard University, Department of Visual and Environmental Studies
Prof. Dr. Margrit Tröhler, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Jörg Schweinitz, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Christine N. Brinckmann, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
PD Dr. Franziska Heller, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Dr. Claudy Op den Kamp, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Anton Rey, Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts
Dr. Haden Guest, Director, Harvard Film Archive
Liz Coffey, Film Conservator, Harvard Film Archive
Mark Johnson, Loan Officer, Harvard Film Archive
Brittany Gravely, Publicist, Harvard Film Archive
Clayton Scoble, Manager of the Digital Imaging Lab & Photography Studio, Harvard University
Stephen Jennings, Photographer, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library
Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Jared Case, Head of Cataloging and Access, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Nancy Kauffman, Archivist – Stills, Posters and Paper Collections, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Deborah Stoiber, Collection Manager, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Barbara Puorro Galasso, Photographer, George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film
Daniela Currò, Preservation Officer, George Eastman House, Motion Picture Department
James Layton, Manager, Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art
Mike Pogorzelski, Archive Director, Academy Film Archive
Josef Lindner, Preservation Officer, Academy Film Archive
Cassie Blake, Public Access Coordinator, Academy Film Archive
Melissa Levesque, Nitrate Curator, Academy Film Archive
Prof. Dr. Giovanna Fossati, Head Curator, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam, and Professor at the University of Amsterdam
Annike Kross, Film Restorer, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator Silent Film, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Catherine Cormon, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Anke Wilkening, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, Wiesbaden, Germany
Marianna De Sanctis, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Paola Ferrari, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Gert and Ingrid Koshofer, Gert Koshofer Collection, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
Memoriav, Verein zur Erhaltung des audiovisuellen Kulturgutes der Schweiz
BSc Gaudenz Halter, Software Development Color Film Analyses, video annotation und crowdsourcing platform VIAN, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab of Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, University of Zurich, (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD) since 07.2017
BSc Noyan Evirgen, Software Development, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab von Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, Universität Zürich (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD), 03.2017–01.2018
Assistants Film Analyses:
BA Manuel Joller, BA Ursina Früh, BA/MA Valentina Romero
The development of the project started in fall 2011 with stage 1. Each stage necessitated a different financing scheme. We are now in stage 3 and are looking for additional funding by private sponsors. Please use the Stripe interface to pay conveniently online or transfer your financial contribution directly to
Account IBAN CH2509000000604877146
Account holder: Barbara Flueckiger, CH-8005 Zurich, Switzerland
SWIFT Code / BIC: P O F I C H B E X X X
Bank: PostFinance AG, Mingerstrasse 20, CH-3030 Bern, Switzerland
Clearing Nummer: 09000
Read more about the financial background of the project on filmcolors.org.
The author has exercised the greatest care in seeking all necessary permissions to publish the material on this website. Please contact the author immediately and directly should anything infringe a copyright nonetheless.
In ‘Journey: 75 Years of Kodak Research‘, the editors, writing about Dr. Wesley T. Hanson, say that ‘when he returned to Rochester in May 1945 (after being seconded by Dr. Mees to work on the Manhattan Project), he resumed research on color motion picture processes and, working closely with Nick Groet, he eventually saw his invention of the colored coupler masking process reach fruition in Eastman color negative film.’
Before he had left Rochester to work at Berkeley and Oak Ridge, Hanson thought it might be possible to use Kodachrome as a professional motion-picture process, but he had met serious problems. Although original Kodachrome camera film was excellent, the contrast and colour reproduction of first and second generation copies were poor. Yet such duplicates were necessary in order to produce special effects and to protect the original film from wear and tear.
Hanson therefore concluded that it would be more satisfactory to use a motion-picture version of Kodacolor negative together with a film-based version of Kodacolor (Ektacolor) paper, for making release prints. The earliest experiments along these lines were made by Nick Groet, who in 1948, persuaded the laboratory studio to expose a length of 35mm Kodacolor negative film, which he then printed onto an Ektacolor type print film.
In terms of colour and tone reproduction the result was better than anything previously achieved, but sharpness and graininess were quite unacceptable. It was found that the poor resolution resulted from light being reflected from the coarse grain yellow image-producing layer at the bottom of the tri-pack, exposing the two upper layers a second time, causing a fuzzy double image.
Groet, who then embarked on a single-minded crusade to solve this shortcoming, hit upon the idea of incorporating soluble magenta and cyan dyes in the two upper emulsion layers to absorb any reflected green or red light.
Another problem that Groet tackled and overcame, was the tendency of couplers to produce disproportionately large amounts of dye from a given amount of silver, thus making it impossible to use sufficiently high silver coating weights to produce fast films. To prevent the formation of excess dye, Groet introduced couplers that would compete for part of the available silver without producing dyes. This concept of ‘coupler starvation’, not only allowed the use of higher silver coating weights, but also made it possible to use pairs of fast and slow emulsions for each colour record, so improving speed and granularity still further.
There remained one other major problem – the cost of coating multi-layer films in the vast quantities required by the motion-picture industry. It was one thing to be able to make an adequate return on films sold to the professional or amateur photographer, but quite a different matter to produce millions of feet of both negative and positive colour films at prices that would be competitive with Technicolor. In fact, towards the end of the 1940s, one or two films were shot on Eastman Color negative and printed on Eastman Color positive stock; the first, entitled Royal Journey, was made by the National Film Board of Canada. Eastman Color negative film was also used by some production companies to produce camera records from which separation positives and then negatives could be made for subsequent printing by Technicolor’s dye-transfer process.
It was the discovery by Theodore Russell of a way to coat multiple layers of emulsion simultaneously that really made possible the commercial production of Eastman Color films. Russell’s invention is discussed in ‘Coating Techniques’ (p.173).
Eastman Color negative film began to be sold on a large scale in 1950, when it was designated Type 5247. Its speed was about ASA25 to tungsten light and ASA16 in daylight. That product was followed by a succession of improved versions until by 1972, Eastman Color Type 5257 had much improved sharpness, reduced graininess and a speed of ASA100 to tungsten light.
EASTMAN COLOR PRINT FILMS
From their inception, the print films intended for use with Eastman Color negatives had a layer arrangement that placed the green-sensitive (magenta image-forming) emulsion on top and the blue-sensitive (yellow image-forming) layer next to the film base. The original positive stock was known as Type 5281 and at that time Kodak claimed that better contrast and colour reproduction would be obtained if the film was exposed by additive red, green and blue light rather than filtered ‘white’ light. However, within three years an improved film (Type 5382) was introduced for printing with filtered tungsten light. Further improvements in speed, sharpness and colour rendering followed and, in 1974, Type 5383, with its greater emulsion hardness, allowed the introduction of higher processing temperatures and a shorter process.
The Eastman Color motion-picture system could not be said to be complete until an intermediate film was introduced in 1968. Only then did it become possible to produce a duplicate colour negative in a single printing and reversal processing operation.
From its introduction in 1950, the Eastman Color system of professional colour cinematography dominated the industry and, although several other manufacturers produced similar negative and positive motion picture films, they were all designed to be compatible with processes already established by Eastman Kodak.”
(Coote, Jack H. (1993): The Illustrated History of Colour Photography. Surbiton, Surrey: Fountain Press, on pp. 163–164.)
“João S. de Oliveira is director of PresTech Film Laboratories Limited, London, which was founded in 2004. De Oliveira was formerly technical manager at the British Film Institute’s John Paul Getty Conservation Centre and worked at Cinemateca Brasileira, São Paulo, Brazil, Cinemateca Portuguesa, Portugal, and as professor in the Postgraduate Department of Museology FESP, São Paulo, Brazil. He was also chairman of the Technical Commission of FIAF.
de Oliveira, João S., ‘Black-and-White in Colour’, in Roger Smither and Catherine A. Surowiec (eds), This Film Is Dangerous, A Celebration of Nitrate Film (Brussels: FIAF, 2002), pp. 117–22.
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 12 OCTOBER 2010
INTERVIEWER: LIZ WATKINS
LIZ WATKINS: The work of film laboratories such as Technicolor or Deluxe predominantly involves the repetition of one type of process, whereas it seems that, as a specialist film lab, PresTech adapts machines and tailors each procedure to deal with very specific and often historical colour processes that have their own visual characteristics.
JOÃO S. DE OLIVEIRA: Yes. Today’s bulk printing in commercial laboratories is designed to produce an acceptable-quality print based on similar materials very quickly. So they normally have a duplication cycle that goes from the original negative to render an internegative that is already colour balanced. This internegative is adequate for bulk printing at a very high speed and so there is very little light adjustment during printing. At PresTech we get 1920s or 1910s original camera negatives, or sometimes even a nineteenth-century original camera negative. This means that we adjust all our settings to accommodate what is a unique and rare artefact. We produce tests to determine the best way, the settings and levels, to print that film and produce the results we want. It’s very time-consuming, laborious work and has to be performed with all the control possible because you are handling a unique, fragile object. It’s very expensive.
LW: In an interview with Gabriel Paletz he evokes the idea of an ‘archaeology of technology’ that seems to go some way to describe your approach to restoration: identifying and adapting machines to be able to restore specific colour processes.1
JSdO: For this archaeological approach, I think, Harold Brown for me was the best example. I think I mentioned to Gabriel that this archaeological approach is a necessity because you have to have to identify the date of production for all the materials that you are handling to be able to understand the processes and then to retrieve as much of the technical information as possible.
I am very keen on getting these archival machines. I think they are part of the way you handle the film and so part of the way that you ‘look’ at it, but they don’t ‘look’ in a way that enables you to detect the information in the film. If you view all the black-and-white nitrate films that we handle, they all have a certain degree of fading because of the composition of nitrate. You form a black-and-white image on nitrate film stock from the silver deposit, but because of the nitrate gases that are available, then very quickly, the first thing that happens to the film is that you tend to lose information where the silver deposits are most finely dispersed in the highlights. So if it’s a negative, you lose detail in the shadows, whereas if it’s a print, then visible details are lost from the highlights. But these elements – this changed stuff – is still in the film and there is a certain band of electromagnetic radiation that will interact with it even though it appears transparent. So if you have the right sensor, the right way of ‘looking’ at the film then you can locate, map, and reinstate the invisible details in a digital image. So I think this is a major possibility of digital technology. I have also started to consider the possibilities of this approach for chromogenic fading: whether it is possible that you don’t have a displacement of the dye, but just a chemical transformation of the dye that means it does not interact with light any more. That could be why it appears transparent, even though the information is there and in position. These dyes are very complex organic chemicals and deterioration can happen through many different pathways and the image, as product, will be according to the parts. So to get this done with colour, well, I think that it would be possible, but it is very difficult at the moment. With black-and-white film, however, it’s not very difficult. It would be a first stage to see what is invisible in a film and then to reinstate the original.
LW: So there’s a change in the chemical composition, but the chemicals haven’t actually disappeared or moved?
JSdO: Exactly, the information is still there, although less so if the film has been washed.
LW: Otherwise, there’s a latent image and although you can’t see it, there are other ways that it can be detected and made visible?
JSdO: Exactly, because the film, in a way, has a fingerprint in the electro-magnetic spectrum. So if you have the right frequency, you can detect it. I can remember some projects such as The Lodger (1926) that, if it were to be restored now, the work involved and the image produced would be different. Well, The Lodger has this problem. You have a vintage print that is the only survivor – or at least there are one and a half prints, if I’m not mistaken – and that print has problems of highlight fading. So we’ve lost the detail in the highlighted faces of people and the viewer has come to think of that characteristic as normal for a silent film. It is not normal. We worked on Die Nibelungen (1924) with negatives and with prints and, because a negative is the reverse of light and shadow, you can see the details in the highlights. However, when you look on the print at the corresponding reverse image then you know more about the missing details.2
LW: So the kind of aesthetic that we associate with silent films may actually be a characteristic of an image that has deteriorated?
LW: Can you tell me a little more about your restoration of The Lodger?
JSdO: I restored The Lodger at the BFI using tinting and toning.
LW: By using the actual dyes?
JSdO: With the actual dyes and toning with the salts, so producing the complexes and compounds that the original process produced. It was quite an adventure.
LW: I can imagine!
JSdO: Initially, we did not get a very good-quality result. The Lodger was chosen because it’s an important film and we had the print that Harold Brown made using tinting and toning in the 1970s.3 So without knowing it, we were both doing similar things. But it was not easy to do. This print was unique and was at the end of its viable life, so it was natural to choose this title and very important to do the tests. The tests were not very successful so we then did our own test in the archive. Well, there were lots of health-and-safety enquiries by the union, but in the end we did the film. We did a few films, including Napoléon (1927) which is five and a half hours’ long. We made two prints. So we proved the system and it works very well, but there were some health-and-safety issues and the BFI decided that we shouldn’t continue doing it. When I started here at PresTech, I immediately reinstated the process. Everything is absolutely health-and-safety sound now. It’s not an easy process if you have too many different colours.
We also investigated an application process that, instead of dipping the film in solution like with the original procedure, involved applying the solution in a similar way to that used for coating the film base with photographic emulsion. So the colour would be applied with a wheel or a spray so you don’t need to have the splices. It’s very simple, but it has to be enclosed because you don’t want to have fumes from the dye in the air. So we make a judgment based on the number of colours. In the case of Die Nibelungen, this is actually a section of the film [a strip of coloured film is placed on the table].
LW: It looks like an amber colour, but the variations under that colour name can be endless.
JSdO: This is what you look for in the print. You have maybe seven, eight different prints in the lab and, if you compare them, then no two are the same. They all have a similar colour, but they are not exactly the same. This restoration was very interesting because they had quite a democratic approach to curatorship. A group from many different institutions met regularly to debate specific tasks. The decision about colour was very mathematical because they decided upon an average of the colours. So we plotted the colour space of the different film elements and determined the centre. Then I introduced a complication that I had also done with Napoléon – that is a fantastic reconstruction by Kevin Brownlow, a brillant man. When the colour materials were found, it threw new light on the film. I then knew that the film had colours, but in the restorations produced up to 1999, there was no colour in the film because all the source materials we had previously hadn’t been coloured because they were a second, third or fourth generation away from the film.4 There are things that are really shocking in terms of quality and decomposition, but it was the only source available so we had to work with it. So we requested the prints and we organised a series of tests.
Obviously the starting point for everybody is to work toward a colour exactly like the print. The problem is that the light source had changed from carbon-arc to xenon and the lenses are all panchromatic because nowadays 99 per cent of the films screened are in colour. There are other secondary issues, but most important was to look for certain tones of tinting but you could hardly see anything on the screen. We had to calculate and emulate the colours that you would have screened from a carbon-arc lamp at the time: there’s a big difference between that and the colours that you see with today’s projector lamps.
LW: So the colour screened of a film is going to differ according to the projector lamp?
JSdO: Absolutely right. The logic behind it is that film is experienced on the screen, right? And the technology and conditions of screening change. So you then go into a very complex ethical and philosophical discussion because you probably don’t have two screenings that will be similar. There’s just a range that is more or less the average of these different projectors, light sources and cinema sizes.
LW: The distance between the projector and the screen would also make a difference to the intensity of colour required on the film strip for certain hues to appear on the screen?
JSdO: Exactly, that’s the theatre size, so I spent a long time reading the JSMPE.5 You don’t need to have the opacity very high to have a black on the screen, so in a large theatre, all of your renderings change. You have to have a much lighter print than normal. Imagine that you have a translucent material in front of the projector. The print has to be lighter for a long distance between the projector and the screen and the theatre has to be very dark. This is the other thing people don’t realise, that there is no black – you can’t project black – black is no light. So the blackest bit you have on the film is the white of the screen. It’s the difference between the lightest areas and the darkest areas that produces the image. This is a big problem: when you have a large theatre and an orchestra, then where do you have enough darkness for the integrity of the screened image to be maintained?
For every prestigious restoration, you have a big theatre because normally people like to have 1,000 people watching and you put a sixty-person orchestra with light to read music that then reflects on the screen. This is the terror of the restorer because you know, we spend a huge amount of time with this film. For the previous big restoration we did they had the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and so sixty musicians were playing. It was screened at the Deutsche Oper, which is not a film theatre, so they had to improvise a place to put a projector and there was a massive amount of light reflecting. Normally, the conductor has to be spot-lit because he has to see well.
Obviously, when you do the print for the premiere, you have to warn the client that you have to take this into consideration. So it’s not a print that would look right if you then project it in a theatre just with a pianist with just one little light, which will be the circumstances for 99.9 per cent of the screenings of the same film. So this is the thing for us, the reference or the aim would be to produce on the screen a similar experience that the original process produced at the time the film was made, right? If it were Dufaycolor or Gasparcolor, then you are not going to screen the original elements, but a new print or new digital cinema product, derived from the original. To calibrate your system then, you have to have at least one good-condition print, or, you have to find a way to produce that information.
LW: It’s quite an undertaking.
JSdO: It’s quite a challenge. So would this be always possible? With Gasparcolor the amount of good-physical-quality surviving materials is limited. Everything is too shrunk.
LW: It’s the film support rather than the dyes that have deteriorated?
JSdO: Exactly. If you look to Dufaycolor, then contrary to Gasparcolor, it was always produced on safety film, which means that it’s not at as much risk from fire. It was made on an early safety film that normally decomposes in a much more speedy way than cellulose nitrate. So you have the decomposition of Dufaycolor preventing you from screening it. I think we were reasonably lucky because we found some examples, some surplus film stock and we could extract some basic information from it. This is another part of the work that is an interesting area to investigate, that is, the possibility of recreating some control samples or new materials to calibrate and set your processes to.
LW: New reference materials that are similar to the original materials rather than simulating the screened image?6
JSdO: It sounds crazy, exactly but it’s something that then you could project, checking its limits to see how much the machine really can cope with.
LW: That question of materials reminds me of The Lodger. Did you say that you worked with Harold Brown when he was at the NFTVA?
JSdO: Well, I knew Harold Brown, I met him in 1984. He was sixty-five, because he was retiring. So I suspect that was the mid-to-late 1970s when he did this, certainly before 1984. Because of the damage and physical state of it, probably it’s more likely to be early 1970s, I would say. I think the restoration that we made of The Lodger was in 2000.
LW: That film is part of the BFI National Archive’s restoration programme again now, isn’t it?
JSdO: Well, now with digital technology, work is coming back to the treasures that people tend to revisit and this is why it’s so crucial to preserve the originals, it’s because technology evolves. You aim to give the next generation of colleagues the chance to do better what you did in your time.
LW: Do you make a preservation copy of the source materials as you find them and then you begin work on a restored print?
JSdO: The interventions that are normally carried out to stabilise the film have to be very carefully balanced, chosen and researched so that you could use the ones that you know are reversible. If possible, you don’t cause a permanent change to the source material. If you have to modify something, it’s better to modify the film equipment that you are using to suit the film, than to modify the film to suit the machines.
This, I think, is crucial: to make sure that they will last. The Lodger was done totally photochemically and the intertitles were very poor quality. They were damaged but they were the only fragments that we have of some of these.
LW: Are there examples of anomalies as we might think of them today that were actually part of the production of the film? How would you discern between anomalies that occurred in the initial production of the film and those that accumulate through deterioration?
JSdO: I’m going to a less complicated scenario. What you’re saying is very valid and very important. I’m saying that you have to look to the film without any speculation and your task is to reproduce this colour film exactly as it is with this available film stock. So, let’s say you have a print and the contemporary film stock is expecting to register an image from a new camera negative or a new reversal colour print, which has a certain magenta dye and a certain distribution across the colour spectrum. In this case, the film stock is contemporary to the negative and so it is designed to be in that range so together they produce a perfect or a reasonable duplication. But what happens with obsolete film stock, for example, English processes such as Dufaycolor that are different, is that the chromogenic film stocks are not designed for these obsolete films. So the chromatic range of Dufaycolor might be completely invisible to the chromogenic film.
[…] There’s another film, another example from when we did the restoration of Alice in Wonderland (1903). Here and now we are going to do a toned version of that film and it’s quite exciting. There are two colours that are not difficult to produce, but to approach it exactly as the original is difficult. So it takes time. Now we find that we have a bit of space, so we are going to do it now.
LW: You’ll do the actual toning?
JSdO: Yes, the toning of the film is blue and red/sepia. The blue toning is normally Prussian blue and that’s easy to do. It’s actually, well, let’s say its older name is potassium cyanide and it does have the word cyanide and potassium in the archive.
LW: It’s poisonous?
JSdO: There are regulations. The sepia, well, the red is sepia, which is a more challenging colour to achieve. Toning is very particular and it’s difficult to try to study the difference directly by the size of the silver filaments and the silver particles or grains. This is something that film restoration doesn’t like to acknowledge has changed a lot from 1903 to today. There is a side to colour that is dependent on what materials you use. Metallic silver obviously absorbs all the light, so you will replace that so that little else than blue, so only a bit of red, a bit of green are absorbed and you will produce the colour that you see. But there is another component of the screened colour that is given by the size and distribution of the silver grains, by the way that they are organised on the film.
LW: Like a cloud formation?
JSdO: It has very fine separation and that it’s a three-dimensional system is the very thing, but imagine hundreds of thousands of molecules: they are distributed and light scatters in between them. That there is a certain cast to a certain emulsion matters. So in 1903, fine-grain emulsion was not available. After 1947 you only had fine-grain emulsion. So you have to sort of navigate around that. You have to remember that these were industrial processes and not done manually, so you had a machine doing it and controlling it. Sometimes that control is in the lab allowing us to find a way to do something that the machines are not designed for.
LW: So you’re looking to modify the machines to do something they weren’t designed for? There are lots of manuals just telling you how a colour process should work, but in restoration you need to adapt to accommodate the differences between the film stock and the photographic emulsion to produce a viable image?
JSdO: Yes, it’s like music where silence is so important. You’re right I think that we don’t so much want the things that work as also the things that don’t. That’s the side that personally interests me. It is to find or learn or do something new in this situation and get new things to think about and to resolve. There is so much to be done in this field. I’m convinced that many silent films are showing something that is not quite right for the presentation of black-and-white film.
LW: It’s interesting because in a way that’s exactly what is invoked in the marketing of digital viewing as something that allows us to see more. It’s happening again with HD, but actually there’s so much information in a photochemical film: from the history of that individual print to the changes in physical composition and re-editing over a series of releases. Even when information, as you say, isn’t immediately visible, there’s still some latent image, there’s some residual information that invites analysis.
LW: So film materials seem to contain a lot of information that a digital facsimile doesn’t necessarily allow you to uncover.
JSdO: Yes, I think it’s another interesting point, that we believe that all of the photochemical film elements are the same. If I make a print of the film, then the information is limited in comparison to what I can get if I analysed the original negative. So it’s the problem of the copy; the copy is never a real clone. The digital has the concept of cloning, because they always think digital to digital, it’s a number so here some matrix registers one-one or one-five, I have a value, zero or one and it’s mathematics and it’s absolutely right. In copying photochemical film, you imagine you are producing a clone, but if it’s a digital copy then you get the compromise of compression. It’s a question of what can you lose? What is not considered important? Whereas for restoration and the lab everything is important. If I ask you to decide what information you are going to throw away, well, it might be irrelevant now, but two days later it might be totally relevant and fundamental to somebody else that has a different methodology or that requires a different selection of information. That’s why I think the preservation of the original is vital. Everybody knows and everybody says that; that is not new. Everybody agrees today that we have to preserve the original materials and that’s for sure.
LW: Okay, maybe that’s why I initially questioned the reason that archives would restore the same film again and again, like with Red Shoes or The Lodger, but in a way it allows you to see how restoration…
JSdO: Evolves, yes.
LW: If they’re such popular films, it also raises the profile of the archive and of restoration work. It’s been strange sometimes when I’ve heard of another restoration of the same film when it seems there’s so much other work to be done.
JSdO: I totally agree with you.
LW: So you’re preserving it for the next generation, not forever.
JSdO: Yes and these issues are important everywhere but, regarding the economic scale in some cultures, although the very same work needs to be done, they need to use the money to eat and to do other things. In the 1970s and 1980s the transfer of nitrate to safety film was a subject all over the world because you had the concept that the nitrate could ignite and burn all your collection so it would be more responsible to preserve the films by transferring them from nitrate to safety film rather than keeping it.7 For lots of people, that we had instructions to burn the films was an abomination, so we would work very, very slowly. Then we had a vault in which to put the films that we had made duplicates of. Lots and lots of films that were ‘preserved’ were burned. Of course, in a transfer an enormous loss of information happens. If you have very, very good contemporary equipment you can do it, but sometimes it was not possible to do that. You have to remember that the idea is to expose the film to the biggest number of people possible, but it is also important that the original artefact survives.
There is a difference that I think you know between the viewer of the films and the viewer of the archive and that lies in the concept of the film as a single object. I think it’s necessary to review these things because the conceptual definition of an element in a collection can change due to its perceived cultural importance. More and more, the archive is going with all this effort toward sub-zero storage and so in the direction of very low deterioration. In many ways, this is perfect, but I feel a bit concerned that then we will not be able to see what we want to see. The administration of collections can postpone work that has to be done because of the excuse that no more damage will be caused while the film is in cold storage. But I prefer a generation to have access. The right of public access to a national collection is a social right I think. It is a public collection and access is important because the author of the work planned it to be viewed, that is, the flow of feeling, of the stuff that can come from a painting, from music, from films. But it is going very well. I now have experience of thirty-five years’ work in film archives and preservation and we have come a really long way.
1 Gabriel Paletz, ‘The Finesse of the Film Lab: A Report from a Week at Haghefilm’, The Moving Image vol. 6 no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–32; Paolo Cherchi Usai, Ulrich Rüdel and Daniela Currò, ‘The Haghefilm Foundation, Amsterdam: A Learning Laboratory’, Journal of Film Preservation no. 82, 2010, pp. 87–93.
2 Anke Wilkening, ‘Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen: A Restoration and Preservation Project by F. W. Murnau Stiftung, Wiesbaden’, Journal of Film Preservation nos 79–80, 2009, pp. 86–98. See ‘Restoration – Die Nibelungen‘, PresTech Film Laboratories, www.prestech.biz/restoration.html, accessed March 2012. The restoration was undertaken by PresTech for the F. W. Murnau Stiftung. The source material consisted of prints and some of the camera negatives. The restoration project took four years. The F. W. Murnau Stiftung’s editing list informed the reconstruction of the film. The archival gala screening was held at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin in April 2010. A hybrid process was used to restore the film: contact printing as in the production of the 1920s print; liquid gate printing to reduce the visibility of scratches; digital technology to stabilise intertitles from the effects of deterioration and shrinkage.
3 Harold Brown, ‘Trying to Save Frames’, in Roger Smither and Catherine A. Surowiec (eds), This Film Is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (Brussels: FIAF, 2002), pp. 98–102. Previous restorations include Harold Brown’s 1984 work on The Lodger and that undertaken by de Oliveira. Brown’s work is noted in Paul Read, ‘Tinting and Toning Techniques and Their Adaptation for the Restoration of Archive Film’, in Luciano Berriatua (ed.), All the Colours of the World: Colours in Early Mass Media 1900–1930 (Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, 1998), pp. 157–67. The Lodger was also restored and preservation masters produced by the BFI National Film Archive in 2011–12. See the interview with Kieron Webb.
4 Kevin Brownlow, Napoléon: Abel Gance’s Classic Film (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1983), details the previous restoration under this title.
5JSMPE: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers.
6 Robert M. Fanstone, ‘Experiences with Dufaycolor Film’, British Journal of Photography, 7 June 1935, pp. 358–9. Dufaycolor is characterised by a réseau.
7 David Francis, ‘Preserving the Past’, BFI News, September 1975, p. 3.”
(Watkins, Liz (2013): Interview. João S. De Oliveira, Hon. FBKS. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 171–185, on pp. 175–185.)
“A film is like a child, and when you see a print fading away, the wrong colors and out of focus, it hurts you as it would hurt a parent. Suddenly you sit there, years later, and the thing comes back, and you see your child the way it was. I can’t tell you how happy and most grateful it makes me.” The speaker is Rouben Mamoulian, and the film about which he is talking is Becky Sharp, restored almost to its former self after three years of laborious and painstaking work by Robert Gitt, director of preservation at the UCLA Film Archives, and Richard Dayton, of the Burbank-based YCM Laboratory, which specializes in archival work.
Why is Becky Sharp so important? Because it is the first three-strip, or full color, Technicolor feature. As The Literary Digest (June 8, 1935) commented, there had been two distinct phases in the history of the motion picture industry. The first came with The Birth of a Nation‘s transforming entertainment into art, the second came when The Jazz Singer brought sound to the screen, Becky Sharp heralded the third phase – color. Of course, there had been earlier color processes and an earlier Technicolor two-strip process, and, certainly, full color had been utilized for shorts such as Flowers and Trees (’32) and La Cucaracha (’34) and for sequences in a number of features – The Cat and the Fiddle (’34), The House of Rothschild (’34) and Kid Millions (’34). But Becky Sharp was the first feature to be shot entirely in full color, to utilize the full color spectrum, and the first to demonstrate the dramatic possibilities of color. (For a good, succinct history of Technicolor, see Rudy Behlmer’s article in the June-July ’64 issue of FIR.) To Andre Sennwald in The New York Times (June 14, 1935), “It produces in the spectator all the excitement of standing upon a peak in Darien and glimpsing a strange, beautiful and unexpected new world. As an experiment, it is a momentous event, and it may be that in a few years it will be regarded as the equal in historical importance of the first crude and wretched talking pictures. It is a gallant and distinguished outpost in an almost uncharted domain.” (Coincidentally, Becky Sharp‘s producer, Kenneth Macgowan, saw the new Technicolor process as the industry’s strongest weapon against television, which in ’35 was seriously worrying film executives, Macgowan expounded his theory in the May 31, ’35 issue of the Technical Bulletin of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and in the July 6, ’35 issue of Commentator).
The two major figures behind the production of Becky Sharp were Merian C. Cooper and John Hay “Jock” Whitney Cooper, the former head of production at RKO, impressed his enthusiasm for the Technicolor process on young playboy millionaire Whitney and the two formed Pioneer Pictures to produce Technicolor films, with Whitney also purchasing an estimated fifteen percent of the stock in Technicolor. For its first production, La Cucaracha, Pioneer hired the noted stage designer, Robert Edmond Jones (at $1,000 a week), and spent $65,000 on a two-reel short, with no star names, at a period when the average short cost $15,000.
The contribution of Robert Edmond Jones to the artistic success of three-strip Technicolor cannot be underestimated. “Color in pictures does not mean that the screen will be deluged with brilliant hues,” he explained. “Color is rather the ‘tone’ of the picture, or the underlying harmony of all tones. Each square inch of the picture must be related to every other square inch.” He experimented by filming a scene of John Barrymore in Hamlet, and he tried shooting various scenes with actress Nan Sunderland with “mood lights” played upon her. Andrew R. Boone reported on Jones’ work in the May ’35 issue of Popular Science:
“Twenty boys, each manning a ‘gelatin,’ or colored spot light, stood off-stage when the camera began to grind again. Jones called for first one combination of lights, then another. At first the actress was enveloped in cold, tragic blue. This drab color literally painted her in gloom as she contemplated the loss of her lover. Then she heard footsteps and turned expectantly, hoping for his return. As she smiled the screen changed to the colors of dawn, her face flooded with rose and yellow.”
These tests still survive, and are exactly as reported.
Pioneer considered a number of projects for its first feature-length production, including Peacock’s Feather (to star Ann Harding), The Last Days of Pompeii (which Cooper was scheduled to produce to wind up his RKO contract) and The Miracle. However, the ultimate choice was Becky Sharp, an adaptation of Langdon Mitchell’s 1899 play (which had starred Mrs. Fiske), and which, in turn, was adapted from William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair. Helen Gardner first played Becky Sharp on the screen in the 1911 production of Vanity Fair, Mrs. Fiske made a film version in ’15, Mabel Ballin played the character in a ’23 version, and in ’32 Myrna Loy starred in an atrocious modern-dress version, directed by Chester Franklin.
As Becky Sharp‘s producer, Whitney and Cooper selected Kenneth Macgowan, whose work on the stage with Eugene O’Neill was exemplary and who had coauthored a ’22 book – Continental Stagecraft – with Robert Edmond Jones. The latter shot a variety of costume tests with various performers, including Mrs. Leslie Carter (who was presumably to have played the role eventually portrayed by Alison Skipworth), Elsie Ferguson (who was, perhaps, considered for the part of the Duchess of Richmond), and Zita Johann (in the Frances Dee role). The Hays Office gave its approval to the script on November 19, ’34, at which time Jospeh I Breen wrote Macgowan that, “We believe it vitally important that the heroine should be played as a Nineteenth Century golddigger but in no sense, and at no time, should there be any suggestion that she is a loose woman sexually.” The film was shot at the RKO-Pathé Studios, later known as the Selznick Studios, and now Laird International Studios.
Miriam Hopkins was the company’s choice for Becky Sharp, and Lowell Sherman was signed to direct. Production officially began on December 3, ’34 – although Jones had been shooting tests since November 28 – and continued without problems until Sherman developed a severe cold. He continued filming with a nurse on the set until December 27, when he was taken to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. He died the following day of pneumonia, the same day as Universal was scheduled to preview his last production, Night Life of the Gods.
Production was temporarily halted until January 7, 1935, when John Hay Whitney’s choice as Sherman’s successor, Rouben Mamoulian took over direction. It was initially announced that he would retain the footage that Sherman had shot, but on January 19, Daily Variety reported that following a meeting between Whitney, Macgowan and Mamoulian, it was decided to remake the earlier sequences.
According to Mamoulian, he demanded certain changes in the script by Francis Edwards Faragoh, and also questioned Jones’ contract which gave him responsibility for the color coordination. Mamoulian recalls, “I said, ‘Look, if he’s in charge of colors, what do you want me for? My only interest in this would be to work with colors. I’ve worked with them on the stage all my life.’ Well, Mr. Jones – he was an exceedingly nice man – said to me, ‘I’ve watched your productions on Broadway and I think in this case I would be quite willing to give up my right to be in charge of color, and I’ll just do whatever you want me to do as a set designer’.”
With the use of colors such a crucial reason for Becky Sharp‘s appeal, it is unfortunate that one must act almost as a judge and jury with regard to whether the credit goes to Mamoulian or Jones. Certainly, according to an interview in the June ’35 issue of New Theatre, Jones worked for four months prior to shooting making color sketches of key scenes, planning the dominant colors to be used in each sequence, and even the transitions from one shot to the next. “He worked out a plot for the progression of color throughout the entire film, beginning with low values so that the color is almost unperceived in the opening shots, and building climactically to bright posteresque color harmonies in the scenes of dramatic action.”
The most impressive use of color occurs at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, which reaches its climax with news of Napoleon’s proximity at Waterloo. Mamoulian recalls in great detail devising the color coordination for that sequence, building up to red as the climactic color. Certainly there is a dramatic intensity to the sequence not apparent in the extant tests of the ball scenes shot by Jones. It was Mamoulian also who claims to have cast Willaim Faversham for the small, but dramatically important role, of the Duke of Wellington, and who also requested Doris Lloyd for the part of the Duchess – she had also been in his first play, The Beating on the Door (’22).
If Mamoulian had no problems working with Jones, the same is not true of the best known member of the Technicolor family. “I came on the set the first day and I saw this lady, telling the electricians how to light it. I said, ‘Pardon me, what are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’m Mrs. Kalmus, I’m in charge of color.’ Everybody’s in charge of color! So I went to Jock Whitney and Kenneth Macgowan and said, ‘Look, tomorrow, either she is not there or I am not there.'”
Miriam Hopkins added to the production’s delays by also being taken ill with pneumonia, and spending ten days – January 18 to January 28 – off the set. […]
Becky Sharp must surely be one of the most ill-ridden productions in the history of the cinema. Aside from the death of its first director and the illness of its star, there were problems with the sound, so much so that a preview audience complained that some of the dialogue was unintelligible, and the entire soundtrack had to be electronically rerecorded. Also the workprint of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball sequence caught fire in the projection room, and it took weeks for the editors to reconstruct the reel from whatever written notes had been retained.
With an eventual cost estimated at $1,000,000, Becky Sharp received its world premiere at Radio City Music Hall on June 13, ’35. Critical reaction was mixed, ranging from the New York Herald Tribune‘s pronouncement that Becky Sharp was “the most important cinematic experiment since moving shadows first became articulate,” to the New York Mirror‘s view – which seemed to be the general consensus – that “Its pictorial beauty compensates for its lack of action, depth and suspense.” The only negative comment concerning the color came from George Lewis in New Theatre (August ’35), who wrote, “In many respects the new color has the appearance of an animated commercial colored photograph of the kind now adorning magazine back covers in the interests of cigarettes. It has that brash, noisy overemphasis, which, while necessary to capture attention in an advertisement, is hardly a recommendation for the development of an art form.”
In ’43, the rights to Becky Sharp were acquired by Film Classics, which reissued the film in the inferior, but far cheaper, Cinecolor process. At the same time, Film Classics cut all the 35mm release prints from 84 minutes to 66 minutes. By the late Fifties, the film had been acquired for television by National Telefilm Associates, which made it available only in 16mm black-and-white cut versions (Columbia also planned a remake in 1946).
Of the 448 prints originally made of Becky Sharp by Technicolor none are believed to have survived, and the Technicolor Company retained only a 35mm nitrate print of the first reel. Working with this one reel as a color guide, Robert Gitt and Richard Dayton have restored the film to its original three-color look for 64 minutes of its length, to good quality two-color for a further ten minutes and to acceptable two-color for the remaining ten minutes. Their task is an extraordinary one, fully documented in the November ’84 issue of American Cinematographer, involving working with incomplete negatives, protection masters, and 16mm negatives and prints. Registration of the three colors – yellow, cyan and magenta – was a major problem due to shrinkage of original nitrate materials, and an even greater problem when some elements were missing altogether.
Whatever one’s feelings towards the film, praise is due to Robert Gitt and Richard Dayton for having restored it so closely to its original form. […]
A Pioneer production, released June 1935 by RKO Radio Pictures.
Producer: Kenneth Macgowan
Director: Rouben Mamouhan
Designed in Color by: Robert Edmond Jones
Screenplay: Francis Edwards Faragoh, based on the play by Langdon Mitchell
Photography: Ray Rennahan
Technicolor Color Director: Natalie Kalmus
Associate Art Director: Wiard Ihnen
Assistant Director: Argyle Nelson
Musical Director: Roy Webb
Dance Director: Russell Lewis
Chief Electrician: Bert Wayne
Properties: George Hazenbush
Recorded by: Earl A Wolcott
Film Editor: Archie F Marshek
With Miriam Hopkins (Becky Sharp), Frances Dee (Amelia Sedley), Cedric Hardwicke (Marquis of Steyne), Bilhe Burke (Lady Bareacres), Allison Skipworth (Miss Crawley), Nigel Bruce (Joseph Sedley), Alan Mowbray (Rawdon Crawley), G. P. Huntley, Jr. (George Osborne), William Stack (Pitt Crawley), George Hassell (Sir Pitt Crawley), William Faversham (Duke of Wellington), Charles Richman (General Tufto), Dons Lloyd (Duchess of Richmond), Colin Tapley (William Dobbin), Leonard Mudie (Lord Tarquin), May Beatty (Briggs), Charles Coleman (Bowles), Bunny Beatty (Lady Blanche), Finis Barton (Miss Flowery), Olaf Hytten (the Prince Regent), Pauline Garon (Fifme), James “Hambone” Robinson (Sedley’s page), Elspeth Dudgeon (Miss Pinkerton), Tempe Pigott (the charlady), and Ottola Nesmith (Lady Jane Crawley)”
(Slide, Anthony (1985): The Return of Becky Sharp. In: Films in Review, 36, Mar., pp. 148–153.)
Chef du Centre d’Eclairagisme de la Compagnie des Lampes, Secrétaire Général du Centre d’Information de la Couleur.
Il existe en effet actuellement une évolution rapide du cinéma en couleurs en France, et cette évolution ne va pas sans poser un certain nombre de problèmes d’une actualité et d’une importance sans doute différentes, mais qui méritent assurément examen et ce d’autant plus qu’une réorganisation et une réadaptation entrent dans le cadre des appels lancés de divers côtés, pour lutter contre les dangers qui menacent cette industrie.
DU CHOIX D’UN PROCEDE
Ce problème est le premier qui se pose nu producteur venant de décider de tourner un film en couleurs. Le nombre croissant des procédés proposés n’est pas fait pour le simplifier et, ce qui n’arrange rien, ces procédés se classent dans des séries fort différentes en leurs principes.
Sans doute existe-t-il des partisans convaincus des procédés en couleurs qui utilisent le film, noir et blanc, d’où l’utilisation a la prise de vue d’un matériel de grande sensibilité facile à manier, économique… mais sujétion de procédés de tirages ou de projection, selon les cas, très particuliers. En fait si le Technicolor a pris la place que l’on connait dans la pratique, d’autres procédés comme le Rouxcolor, le Thomascolor, le Pinchart, le Dick Nicollian, l’Opticolor, le Thomsoncolor, n’ont pu à ce jour se développer davantage que de plus anciens procédés comme le Gaumont.
D’autres sont des partisans non moins convaincus de la prise de vue directe en couleurs, et le Gevacolor, l’Agfacolor, le Ferraniacolor et, plus récemment, l’Eastman Color qui apporte à ces procédés des modalités de détail d’un intérêt tout particulier, ont en fait pris de leur côté une place des plus intéressantes.
Cette simple énumération n’est certes pas complète, et ne le sera pas davantage, lorsque nous aurons ajouté le Gasparcolor, le Réalcolor, le Radiocolor, le Mondialcolor, le Chimicolor et quelques autres encore.
En fait, d’une manière assez paradoxale, on peut dire que c’est le procédé type utilisant le film noir et blanc, c’est-à-dire le Technicolor, qui apparaît le plus complexe, les films Gevacolor et Eastman color étant d’utilisation et de traitement plus souple et plus simple.
Expliquons-nous: Le Technicolor, utilisé depuis 1925 et qui bénéficie donc d’une solide pratique, utilise à la prise de vues trois bandes de film négatif noir et blanc. Un système sélecteur utilisant trois filtres rouge, vert et bleu, permet d’enregistrer une couleur primaire sur chacun des films. De ceux-ci on tire trois positifs sur un film matrice qui donnera, après développement, un mince relief de gélatine que l’on colore. Ce sont ces reliefs matrices colorés qui vont “décharger” leur colorant successivement, au tirage, sur un film gélatiné qui “prend” ainsi la copie positive trichrome pour la projection. Il s’agit d’une véritable technique d’imprimerie avec la délicatesse des transferts et des repérages. Pourtant c’est dans le travail des matrices que reposent surtout les secrets de fabrication, et c’est une des raisons pour laquelle Technicolor impose que tous les travaux de développement des films et de copies soient effectués par ses laboratoires selon des règles très strictes et qui impliquent, à toutes les phases du travail, en commençant par la prise de vue, des cahiers des charges précis et même rigoureux.
Le travail direct par contre est surtout un travail chimique de développement.
Faire un positif direct comme en Kodachrome reste du domaine de l’amateur, et il n’apparait pas pour le moment, malgré les progrès constants dans la réalisation de copies positives de telles bandes, qu’il puisse s’imposer dans le domaine professionnel.
On préfère en effet réaliser un négatif qui servira de matrice au tirage de copies positives.
Alors que le négatif Gevacolor est transposé en positif par simule copie sur une bande analogue, l’Eastman Color utilise également des films distincts mais des coupleurs colorés, ce qui facilite les corrections à la reproduction et assure déjà par la simple copie un rendu des couleurs bien supérieures. Le développement chromogène de films en couleurs à colorants incorpores est compliqué par des phénomènes d’absorption de ces colorants, ce qui nuit au rendu correct des couleurs lors de la copie d’un négatif sur un positif couleur. C’est ainsi que l’image bleu-vert qui est supposée absorber totalement le rouge et lui seulement, absorbe cependant en fait un peu de bleu et de vert. Il en est de même pour le magenta qui ne devrait absorber que le vert. Pour éviter ou réduire les effets de ces absorptions chevauchantes, on peut recourir à des “masques”. Le procédé Eastman Color consiste précisément à incorporer au négatif des coupleurs colorés qui constituent des “masques” automatiques et qui corrigent les absorptions indésirables.
Un négatif ainsi corrigé montre une coloration générale jaune-orangé, qui est la somme des absorptions indésirables. Au moment du tirage une correction appropriée élimine cette dominante systématique. Par ailleurs, de très faible granulation et de définition élevée, l’Eastman Color marque bien semble-t-il un nouvel échelon vers la perfection dans la reproduction cinématographique des couleurs.
Le négatif matrice Eastman Color peut, bien entendu, être reproduit dans les divers procédés comme ce fut le cas pour le Sacre d’Elisabeth qui fut recopié en Gevacolor.
Avec l’éclairage, nous touchons un problème technique d’une importance non moins fondamentale que celui de l’émulsion. La photographie est l’art de dessiner avec la lumière; lorsque les photographies se succèdent, il en va de même mais, lorsque l’on passe du noir et blanc qui implique le dosage en quantité, à la couleur, il faut aussi obtenir une qualité de lumière appropriée à l’émulsion.
Tout photographe sait aujourd’hui manier le film “lumière du jour” ou le film “lumière artificielle” selon qu’il opère dans la lumière naturelle du soleil ou celle de lampes à incandescence. Par les rendus plus ou moins chauds aux heures avancées du jour ou par les teintes lumineuses différentes de lampes plus ou moins poussées, il a acquis la notion de température de couleur qui devient ici essentielle.
En studio l’on utilise des émulsions du type “lumière artificielle” qui possèdent l’intérêt d’une sensibilité plus grande et d’un équilibre plus proche des sources. Encore convient-il que celles-ci soient telles que leur courbe spectrale de répartition lumineuse s’adapte exactement à la sensibilité spectrale du film. Cette exigence a conduit à la récente mise au point, en France, de nouvelles lampes à température de couleur 3.200° K spécialement équilibrées. Ces lampes ont été utilisées d’abord pour les prises de vues de Lucrèce Borgia en Technicolor et d’Alerte au Sud, en Gevacolor, aux Studios de Billancourt, puis des Trois Mousquetaires à Saint-Maurice. Enfin de la quasi totalité des films en couleurs qui furent tournés depuis, dans les divers procédés. Elles prennent place dès à présent dans l’équipement moderne des studios, aussi bien du reste pour la photographie en couleurs que pour le cinéma.
C’est là un événement notable car, en s’engageant dans la voie de la couleur, les producteurs et les réalisateurs français de films ne font que suivre un mouvement impératif provoqué par le désir du public. Mais le public français est difficile sur ce point et il fallait à la fois du courage et une technique très sûre pour assurer cette adaptation.
Le film du metteur en scène Christian Jaque Lucrèce Borgia, deuxième grand Technicolor français, fut en fait le premier tourné avec du matériel uniquement français. Il marqua à ce titre une véritable étape dans l’histoire du cinéma et, avant tout, une victoire technique fort remarquable.
Lorsque la production en débuta, le problème de la couleur était un très gros souci pour les studios français. En effet, tel qu’il se présentait, il exigeait des investissements élevés, nécessités par trois conditions impératives:
1° L’augmentation de la puissance des centrales électriques;
2° L’achat important de projecteurs;
3° La location de lampes spéciales existant seulement aux U.S.A. ou en Angleterre.
Dans ces conditions, les producteurs réalisant des films en couleurs se voyaient non seulement contraints de travailler dans les rares studios ayant la puissance électrique désirée, mais de surcroît ils devaient faire venir un important matériel ‘d’éclairage de l’étranger, ce qui entraînait des frais élevés, voire prohibitifs.
Lorsque fut décidée la réalisation du film Lucrèce Borgia avec le procédé Technicolor, le directeur de la photographie, Christian Matras, communiqua à la direction des Studios de Billancourt les conditions techniques d’éclairage imposées par la Société Technicolor. La principale consistait à obtenir de toutes les lampes à incandescence une température de couleur égale ou jamais inférieure à 3.200° K.
Après un certain nombre d’essais, les studios firent appel sur les instigations de la “Lumière Electrique” qui assurait la fourniture des lampes incluses dans les projecteurs Crémer spéciaux, aux services techniques de la Compagnie des Lampes, dont les ingénieurs, comprenant l’intérêt national du problème qui leur était posé, se mirent immédiatement au travail.
Ils réussirent à mettre au point, dans des délais rapides, une lampe répondant en tous ponts aux désidérata de Technicolor, cependant fort précis et répondant à des cahiers des charges particulièrement difficiles, dont nous avons indiqué plus haut les raisons.
Dans le rapport moral présenté fin 1953 à la Commission Supérieure technique du Cinéma par notre ami Fred Orain, Président de la Commission et qui a bien voulu présider aujourd’hui cette séance, celui-ci écrivait:
Le problème du matériel d’éclairage pour les films en couleurs préoccupait beaucoup les techniciens français qui ne disposaient dans nos studios ni d’arcs automatiques, ni de lampes à incandescence à température de couleur suffisante pour les nouveaux procédés.
La situation s’aggravait du fait qu’il fallait envisager l’importation, non seulement de lampes, mais de projecteurs complets, les lampes étrangères ayant d’autres dispositifs de fixation que les nôtres.
Les caractéristiques des lampes nécessaires purent ainsi être établies avec accord du Contrôle Technique de la C.S.T. et des Studios de Billancourt dont l’effort mérite d’être signalé.
La Compagnie des Lampes réalisa le tour de force d’en entreprendre immédiatement la fabrication.
Et le 20 janvier 1953, la Commission Prise de vues pouvait organiser une réunion particulièrement importante à laquelle participaient plus d’une centaine de techniciens notamment les principaux chefs opérateurs intéressés par la couleur. La Commission Prise de vues put faire une démonstration du nouveau matériel d’éclairage en service, comportant uniquement de nouvelles lampes françaises, type couleur 3.200° Kelvin.
Quelques jours plus tard, les rapports des laboratoires prônaient la qualité des prises de vues effectuées avec ce matériel, marquant ainsi l’importance d’une réussite industrielle française propre à assurer le prestige des techniciens français dans le monde.
Ces nouvelles lampes sont dotées des caractéristiques nécessaires aux prises de vues, en couleurs, quel que soit le procédé employé.
La Commission Prises de vues peut ainsi assurer que, grâce à ces lampes, les opérateurs disposent d’un matériel entièrement français convenant à tous les procédés de prises de vues en couleurs, même et surtout les plus modernes.
Et un peu plus loin, il ajoutait:
Au cours de plusieurs séances, un programme fut adopté pour améliorer le matériel existant en fonction de la couleur, ce matériel devant aussi servir éventuellement pour le noir et blanc.
C’est ainsi que devant la Commission Supérieure Technique fut présenté un nouveau matériel léger spécial de haute qualité, le Cinéflash Dimaphot utilisant des lampes spéciales de 24 volts et assurant, avec une batterie légère à l’argent, une autonomie de 40 minutes de prise de vue.
Ce matériel fort remarquable constitue un gros progrès, non seulement sur le plan national, mais aussi international. Les Actualités Françaises l’utilisant, il servit à Jackie Ertaud à la Pierre-Saint-Martin et c’est un auxiliaire précieux des spéléologues, des explorateurs (l’expédition Marquette vient d’en emporter un dans les pays Incas ou elle séjourne présentement). Mais c’est aussi un appoint fort utile pour bien des prises de vues et qui servit de la sorte dans le film Eastman Color de Sacha Guitry Si Versailles m’était conté.
Pour en revenir aux lamps 3.200° type cinéma qui marquent assurément le plus gros progrès dans le domaine éclairage, précisons qu’à l’usage, il s’avéra que ces lampes donnaient toute satisfaction mais que, de surcroît, leur consommation était inférieure à celle du matériel étranger, tout en dépassant naturellement celle des lampes utilisées pour le film blanc et noir. Grâce à un conditionnement judicieux des éclairages et à l’excellente technique du Directeur de la photographie, Christian Matras, la consommation de lumière pour l’ensemble de Lucrèce Borgia fut sensiblement égale à celle d’un film ordinaire monochrome.
Cette victoire technique groupant en fait les bonnes volontés et les efforts conjugués des producteurs, du metteur en scène, des opérateurs et des fabricants de lampes, constituera dans l’histoire du cinéma en couleurs français, un tournant essentiel que nous avons cru bon de préciser par quelques interviews des principaux intéressés. Nous donnons ci-dessous ces divers points de vue:
M. Gérardot, Directeur des Studios de Billancourt et Président des Directeurs de Studios:
Quand le problème de celle réalisation s’est posé, j’étais très anxieux, car iI fallait, dans un délai très bref, mettre au point tout un matériel nouveau. Le but poursuivi a été largement atteint en un temps record.
Je suis, quant à moi, particulièrement sensible aux résultats obtenus grâce à la haute compétence des techniciens de la Compagnie des Lampes Mazda, car, sans aucune surcharge de ma centrale électrique, ce film a pu être exécuté dans des conditions économiques remarquables. Désormais, la difficulté qu’était pour nous l’utilisation des lampes à arc est définitivement écartée, et nous avons, à la portée de la main, des lampes idéales pour les prises de vues en couleurs.
Je suis heureux que le premier film en Technicolor, tourné en France avec du matériel entièrement français, l’ait été dans nos studios.
M. Cosne, co-producteur, membre de la Commission Supérieure Technique du Cinéma:
C’est grâce aux Lampes Mazda que nous avons pu tourner Lucrèce Borgia avec du matériel français. A cette satisfaction d’amour-propre national, se joint pour nous la suppression des aléas et des frais qui étaient une sujétion du matériel étranger jusqu’ici imposé par le procédé Technicolor.
Ce procédé doit prendre désormais une place importante dans la production nationale. Une usine Technicolor française est en projet et le fait que la Compagnie des Lampes nous ait aidés aussi rapidement à assurer la réussite technique, a étonné les Anglais et facilitera considérablement cet établissement et par suite, l’essor du film français en couleur.
M. Christian Jaque, metteur en scène:
Je remercie la Compagnie des Lampes d’avoir, avec tant de diligence et de perfection, réalisé les lampes spéciales qui nous ont permis de tourner Lucrèce Borgia et d’établir une technique de travail très sûre.
De Martine Carol enfin, le point de vue de l’artiste:
Notre grand souci, c’est la sauvegarde de nos yeux. Les projecteurs sont bien éblouissants, mais quel changement avec les lampes à arc. Il est bien plus agréable de travailler sous les nouvelles lampes à incandescence.
M. Christian Matras, chef opérateur, membre de la Commission Supérieure Technique du Cinéma, président de la Commission de Prises de vues a déclaré de son côté et c’est le point de vue essentiel de l’utilisateur le plus direct:
Pour les prises de vues en couleurs au studio, j’ai toujours été partisan du travail avec les lampes à incandescence de maniement plus souple que les lampes à arc, mais il nous fallait des lampes spécialement adaptées à nos projecteurs et de température de couleur équilibrée pour le film Technicolor. Ayant remarqué lors des essais que j’ai effectués à Londres, qu’une faible marge de transposition serait sans doute nécessaire, pourvu que de surcroît les lampes répondent à des conditions de robustesse et de tolérance convenables, le problème soumis à la Commission Supérieure Technique, et à la direction des Studios de Billancourt fut étudié par la Compagnie des Lampes Mazda à qui nous avons fait part de nos désirs et de nos nécessités. J’ai trouvé la meilleure compréhension de ses services techniques et les lampes réalisées nous permettent aujourd’hui d’équiper tous les projecteurs de nos studios, tant pour le Technicolor, du reste, que pour les autres procédés couleur.
Ce véritable tour de force, étant donné les délais d’étude et de réalisation joints aux difficultés techniques posées nous a été très sensible, car c’était un problème capital. Pour faire agréer le nouvel éclairage par Technicolor, il fallait d’emblée présenter à ses services techniques de Londres des résultats convenables. Ceux-ci ont été si probants qu’ils ont surpris agréablement et ont été aussitôt acceptés et intégrés dans les normes du procédé.
A la suite de ce premier succès, et presque simultanément, c’est au moyen des mêmes lampes spéciales, dites 3.200° que furent tournées les scènes en studio du film Alerte au Sud, par M. Joulin, chef opérateur, qui nous en dit également sa satisfaction.
Il s’agissait cette fois du procédé Gevacolor. La température des lampes se montra cette fois encore parfaitement adaptée à ce film, tout comme au Kodachrome “lumière artificielle” qui nous a servi à prendre les vues que nous projetterons en annexe à cette conférence. Ces vues ont été réalisées sur Kodachrome type A et sont parfaitement indicatives à cet égard. Mais alors que le Technicolor nécessitait des éclairements faibles de 2.700 à 3.500 lux sur les plateaux, c’est à environ 9.000 lux que furent tournées les scènes d’Alerte au Sud. Le travail du photographe de plateau s’en trouvait singulièrement facilité. Alors que pour Lucrèce Borgia, il fallait travailler aux grandes ouvertures (f : 2,8 à f : 3) à 1/25 à 1/10 de seconde, ce qui rendaient malaisées les prises de vues de mouvement, les plus intéressantes, pourtant, des opérations, f : 4 à f : 5,6 à 1/25 ou 1/50 de seconde, devinrent possibles lors des prises de vues d’ Alerte au Sud et des Trois Mousquetaires, où Marcel Grignon utilisa des éclairements parfois plus élevés encore et atteignant souvent 12.000 lux.
Si nous avons retrouvé ces éclairements dans d’autres films Gevacolor, tels Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, tourné aux Studios de Billancourt par Robert Vernay qui, il y a déjà quelques années, en avait donné une première version en noir et blanc, par contre, l’Eastman Color est tourné avec des éclairements un peu plus discrets: 6 à 7.000 lux pour Si Versailles m’était conté, The Thrill of your Life, Les Révoltés de Lomanach…
Tous ces films et d’autres encore comme Le Grand Jeu, Sang et Lumière ont utilisé les lampes Mazda 3.200° K dont les types actuels sont les suivants:
• 2 types sphériques de forte puissance 115 V – 2.000 et 5.000 W, utilisés dans des projecteurs ampoule claire, comportant un culot “à broches type bipost”, permettant le remplacement de la lampe sans nouveau réglage du projecteur, évitant toute perte de temps (diamètre des broches: 11 mm, hauteur: 28 mm, écartement: 38 mm).
• 1 type sphérique 115 V – 1.000 W – épiscope avec miroir interne, utilisé dans des projecteurs.
• 1 type forme série standard Mazdastudio en ampoule dépolie intérieurement 115 V – 500 W, utilisé dans des portants.
Leurs dimensions sont les suivantes:
Les caractéristiques de fabrication sont les suivantes:
• La construction et la disposition des différentes parties du montage interne ont été conçues spécialement pour que ces lampes puissent résister aux nombreuses manipulations plus ou moins brutales auxquelles elles sont inévitablement soumises sur les plateaux de prises de vues; les entrées de courant, servant de supports à l’ensemble de la monture interne, ont une grande robustesse qui en assure l’indéformabilité.
• La qualité du filament a fait l’objet de travaux spéciaux; grâce à des traitements thermiques appropriés, ils n’accusent aucune déformation en cours d’utilisation bien que les projecteurs de studios fonctionnent dans des positions très diverses et le plus souvent défavorables au maintien d’une source lumineuse bien plane.
• Le mode de fixation du culot sur l’ampoule offre toutes garanties malgré la température élevée à laquelle sont soumises les lampes dans les projecteurs, les chocs fréquents qu’elles ont à supporter et les changements de lampes d’un projecteur à l’autre.
• Enfin, les caractéristiques des filaments ont été spécialement calculées pour que, à la tension nominale de fabrication, ils fonctionnent toujours au moins à la température de couleur de 3.200° K qu’il est absolument nécessaire de respecter pour obtenir un rendu correct des couleurs; il est d’ailleurs à remarquer que cette température de couleur diminue peu pendant la vie de la lampe, ce qui constitue un avantage très appréciable.
A cette température de couleur correspond la courbe spectrale ci-après.
Malgré la température élevée de fonctionnement des filaments, il a été possible, grâce à des perfectionnements de fabrication, d’atteindre des durées pratiques suffisantes, même pour les positions de fonctionnement très variées auxquelles doivent satisfaire les lampes dans les studios de cinéma. D’ailleurs, si l’on s’efforce autant que possible d’effectuer les réglages à une tension inférieure à la tension normale et si l’on prend soin de ne les faire fonctionner à leur tension nominale qu’au moment du tournage, on économise ainsi sur la consommation d’électricité et on prolonge la durée des lampes.
Grâce à leur rendement élevé, ces lampes, pour une même consommation, donnent plus de lumière et cette lumière est, en outre, plus actinique; la quantité de lumière nécessaire pour obtenir un résultat donné peut dont être nettement réduite. Utilisées pour la réalisation de films noir et blanc, elles permettent donc des économies substantielles de courant.
LA LIAISON RELIEF, SON COULEUR
Le cinéma complet de demain assurera sans doute aux spectateurs, n’en déplaise aux esprits chagrins qui déniaient, hier, l’intérêt de la couleur et, quelques années auparavant celui du son, une impression de réalité aussi complète que possible.
A ce titre, la couleur devra s’évader de l’impression de fenêtre par le grand écran panoramique et se compléter à la projection par le relief et par un accompagnement parlé et musical en stéréophonie.
La stéréophonie, innovée en France par Abel Gance, a fait des progrès que les spectacles lumineux et sonores de Versailles et, surtout, de Chambord et de Villandry, ont par ailleurs bien mis en évidence. Son adaptation au cinéma sous une forme maintenant perfectionnée semble aisée.
Le relief, par contre, pose d’autre problèmes plus complexes et assez éloignés encore d’une solution parfaite. Sans doute le 3-D est particulièrement à l’ordre du jour.
Le découpage par tranches d’un couple stéréoscopique par anaglyphes bleu-jaune, que concevait Lumière pour le noir et blanc, a été tenté en forme plus complexe: bleu-jaune pour une image, rouge-vert pour une autre. Une telle technique est aussi largement dépassée que l’ancien Technicolor… bicolore. La projection en deux images polarisées à 90° avec lunettes polaroïds pour les spectateurs, inflige à ceux-ci le port des lunettes. Beaucoup de ceux qui ont assisté en France aux projections de L’Homme au masque de cire ont pourtant fort bien accepté cette sujétion. Le procédé s’applique parfaitement bien, en effet, à la couleur. Les démonstrations de couleur-relief avec stéréophonie faites au Festival de Londres avaient déjà été, elles aussi, parfaitement concluantes.
Le procédé à trame Savoye, qui s’apparente fort au procédé russe dont on parle tant… périodiquement, et mieux encore le procédé de relief intégral de Maurice Bonnet, nous apporteront peut-être enfin une solution de choix.
Ceci ne doit pas nous faire oublier le complément ou, si l’on veut, l’autre condition, non unique mais elle-même indispensable à l’impression réelle du relief qui est l’écran panoramique.
Le triple écran de Gance et Debrie date de 1927; l’hypergonar du Professeur Chrétien avait été présenté publiquement à Paris dans le cadre de l’Exposition de 1937. Et c’est d’Amérique que nous viennent le Cinémascope qui n’est autre que l’adaptation pratique de l’hypergonar et le Cinérama aux trois optiques couvrant un champ de 146°.
Nous savons que le Cinémascope, qui impose bien entendu une technique de prise de vue assez particulière et un choix des sujets qui tienne compte du procédé, a été, d’emblée, compris et supérieurement adapté et utilisé par un cinéaste français, Marcel Ichac.
Quant au Cinérama, s’il n’a pas, à notre connaissance, été tenté, et pour cause, par des techniciens français, ceux-ci viennent pourtant d’apprendre à le connaître grâce au film américain The Thrill of your Life qui est la dernière production de Louis de Rochemont en cours de tournage en Europe et aux Etats-Unis par deux équipes différentes. Il s’agit d’un film réalisé selon le procédé Cinérama, et qui fut inspiré par un numéro spécial de la revue “Réalités”, consacré aux Etats-Unis. Il s’agit du numéro d’août 1953, intitulé “Des yeux neufs découvrent les Etats-Unis”, reportage de Pierre et Renée Gosset.
Louis de Rochemont est un des deux fondateurs et le producteur de March of Time. Son film The Fighting Lady qui fut réalisé pendant la guerre, a reçu un “Academy Award”. Depuis la guerre, il a produit The House on 92nd Street, Lost Boundaries et Boomerang qui connurent un grand succès aux Etats-Unis. Son dernier film Martin Luther qui passe actuellement aux Etats-Unis a été reconnu par le “National Board of Motion Picture Review” comme l’un des meilleurs films de l’année. […]
Il n’existe actuellement que trois caméras Cinérama à triple objectif; deux d’entre elles ont été utilisées à Paris.
L’équipe de The Thrill of Your Life, qui est venue en Europe, est munie d’un convoi de trois camions spécialement aménagés pour le transport du matériel stéréophonique et de prises de vue, lesquelles s’effectuent en Eastman Color. Nous eûmes l’occasion de voir, lors du travail de cette équipe, que les Américains ont souvent des conceptions tout autres que les Français en ce qui concerne la rigueur des contrôles et la discipline dans le tournage proprement dit.
Le metteur en scène du film The Thrill of Your Life est Robert Bendick, un des co-producteurs du premier film Cinérama This is Cinerama, qui connaît tant de succès aux Etats-Unis; l’équipe américaine, dont le chef opérateur est Joe Brun et l’ingénieur du son Richard Pietschman, est secondée par un groupe de techniciens français. En particulier, c’est la Société “Son et Lumière”, conduite avec dynamisme par M. Bérard, qui a assuré l’éclairage avec des projecteurs Mole, Cremer, Dimaphot, équipés des nouvelles lampes spéciales françaises Mazda 3200° dont nous avons précédemment parlé. Ce sont les groupes spéciaux “Son et Lumière” à régulation automatique qui assuraient l’alimentation.
Il n’existe encore en Europe aucune salle équipée pour la projection des films Cinerama, mais il est prévu que trois capitales européennes disposeront chacune d’une salle Cinerama pour la projection de The Thrill of Your Life d’ici la fin de l’année.
LES ACCESSOIRES DE CONTROLE A LA PRISE DE VUES
Nous avons dit plus haut avoir constaté, lors des prises de vues effectuées par l’équipe américaine de The Thrill of Your Life, une rigueur dans les contrôles que certains metteurs en scène et opérateurs pourraient méditer. Nous nous hâtons, du reste, de préciser qu’il s’agit seulement de certains et que d’autres, au contraire, tels Christian Matras et ceux qui, à la suite de cet excellent président de la Commission de Prises de vue, à la Commission Supérieure Technique du Cinéma, ont compris l’importance du contrôle, participent pleinement à la belle qualité actuelle du film français.
Reste le matériel mis à leur disposition.
La prise de vue en couleurs impose un contrôle rigoureux et constant, non seulement de la quantité de lumière distribuée, mais aussi de sa qualité. Pour la quantité, il existe d’excellents luxmètres, mais pour la qualité, il convient de reconnaître que l’on attend encore un thermocolorimètre simple, à la fois précis et sûr, dont les indications ne dépendent pas de l’utilisateur. Il existe actuellement trop de thermocolimètres et trop d’interprétations possibles de leurs lectures.
Il est encourageant de constater que le matériel de prise de vue comme celui de tirage et de copie a magnifiquement suivi l’effort qui lui était demandé et que là, en fait, le problème a été, pour ainsi dire, résolu aussitôt que posé. Il n’est pas douteux qu’une initiative comme celle de la création chez Debrie d’un Centre d’Etude de la Couleur et celle d’un Laboratoire de recherches pour la couleur, où se tinrent, en octobre dernier, trois importantes journées d’études, sont symptomatiques à cet égard. Sur le plan de la pratique, il en est résulté, du reste, un matériel couleur bien conçu, bien adapté et mieux connu par ceux qui ont ou qui auront à l’utiliser.
Des procédés de développement à turbulence ou a jet selon une technique bien précisée en France par Lovichi, des Laboratoires Kodak, sont à mettre également au bilan de ce chapitre très satisfaisant.
Le problème de la couleur du décor, des costumes, n’est plus un problème technique à proprement parler. C’est plutôt un problème artistique. Il a pourtant son importance dans le cadre d’une manifestation du Centre d’Information de la Couleur qui se préoccupe, et c’est son rôle, de tout ce qui concerne la couleur.
En fait, c’est un problème essentiel vis-à-vis du public.
Pourtant, celui-ci, qui a souvent et longuement critiqué les couleurs un peu brutales du Technicolor américain, s’est-il bien aperçu de la discrétion de celles que Christian Jaque a adoptées dans Lucrèce Borgia? Goûtera-t-il la valeur artistique des nuances pastel de Si Versailles m’était conté? Ceci n’empêchant nullement de profiter de certains sujets colorés qui s’imposent comme dans Les Trois Mousquetaires.
Peu à peu, le public s’est fait aux, couleurs conçues pour le public américain. Qu’on le veuille ou non, il faudra le réadapter à plus de finesse et à un goût typiquement français.
Et nous en arrivons ainsi à une conclusion générale qui ne peut manquer de nous apparaître fort sympathique: c’est que le cinéma en couleur français est bien armé et peut tenir une place de premier rang. Nos techniciens et nos artistes sont, en effet, parfaitement capables d’une réussite.
[…] Dans le pays de la mesure et du goût, dans le pays de Descartes et de Chevreul, le cinéma en couleur et, un peu plus avant, le cinéma intégral, auront leur place et celle-ci sera de qualité.”
(Déribéré, Maurice (1954): Les problèmes du cinéma en couleurs français. In: Technique Cinématographique, 25,145, pp. 185–189.) (in French)
“Nearly every commentator on Becky Sharp singles out the Duchess of Richmond’s ball as evidence of the film’s dramatic approach to color. The scene must owe a good part of this attention to Mamoulian’s promotion of the sequence as the pinnacle of Becky Sharp‘s design. In his paper “Some Problems in Directing Color Pictures,” the ballroom sequence provides the sole example of the proper, dramatic, and emotional use of color:
You will see how inconspicuously, but with telling effect, the sequence builds to a climax through a series of intercut shots which progress from the coolness and sobriety of colors like gray, blue, green, and pale yellow, to the exciting danger and threat of deep orange and flaming red. The effect is achieved by the selection of dresses and uniforms worn by the characters and the color of backgrounds and lights.17
Whenever he discussed color, Mamoulian would return to this scene, most notably in his interview with Anthony Slide and in his article “Colour and Light in Films” for Film Culture in 1960. When, as noted above, Mamoulian told Slide that he intended the “dramatic climax of the film to coincide with the color climax,” he was referring not to the end of Becky Sharp, but to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, a scene that occurs in reels four and five. The sequence is certainly the film’s most spectacular set piece, and so it follows that it should be an arena for the production’s most ambitious color design.
Close analysis of the sequence is complicated by the state of the preservation print at the University of California-Los Angeles, which I consulted. Indeed, the history of this sequence is a testament to the fragility of the medium. In 1943, Pioneer Pictures sold Becky Sharp to Film Classics, which shortened the film, released it in two-color Cinecolor, and junked portions of the negative.18 In the mid-1980s, with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Film Institute, film preservationists Robert Gitt (of the UCLA Film and Television Archive) and Richard Dayton (of YCM Laboratories) set out to reconstruct the film. Gitt and Dayton were faced with an incomplete set of materials. For reel four, which features the start of the ballroom sequence, there were no surviving yellow materials. Reel five, in which Napoleon attacks and the guests flee the ball, was missing important portions of the magenta record.19 To solve these problems, Gitt and Dayton printed the magenta record of reel four twice in order to simulate yellow, and printed the yellow record in portions of reel five twice to simulate magenta. In the resulting print, colors were compromised at the start and toward the conclusion of the sequence, full three-color occurring only in the middle. Gitt and Dayton described the shifting color with reference to Joseph’s jacket: “In the course of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, which takes place during reels four and five, Nigel Bruce’s costume changes from dark green to deep blue and then to a light blue, as we go from simulated yellow, to full three-color and then to simulated magenta.”20
Fortunately, additional preservation materials were retrieved from the Cineteca Nazionale in Rome late in 1984, and they were incorporated into the preservation print. According to American Film, that material was used to fine-tune the print’s overall color balance and to improve reel nine. My viewings suggest that the color in the Duchess of Richmond’s ball may have been evened out somewhat. A noticeable shift does occur at the break between reels four and five: Lady Bareacres’s (Billie Burke’s) dress changes from medium gray Blue Mist to light Pistachio Green.21 The end of the sequence, though, does not appear to undergo a radical variation in color. Gitt suggested to me that the sequence is mostly accurate, aside from the loss of purples and greens in a few shots of guests fleeing.22 Still, given the relatively unstable colors, my description relies on the full three-color portion of the scene (after the start of reel five and before the lighting change that occurs during the attack) for identification of the major colors, and I extrapolate to account for details in the surrounding portions.
17 Rouben Mamoulian, “Some Problems in Directing Color Pictures,” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, August 1935, 151. Mamoulian’s essay is also included in the Technical Bulletin of the Academy Technicians Branch, May 1935, 18–21; in International Photographer, July 1935, 20–21; and in Richard Koszarski, The Hollywood Directors, 1914-1940 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976), 288–293. A condensed version appeared as “Colour and Emotion” in Cinema Quarterly, Summer 1935, 225–226.
18 Robert Gitt and Richard Dayton, “Restoring Becky Sharp,” American Cinematographer, November 1984, 100. My discussion of the reconstruction draws heavily on this thorough and detailed article. For a brief discussion of the Italian material, see “Lookin’ Sharp,” American Film, July-August 1985, 9. According to Gitt, a complete subtitled print was uncovered at the Netherlands Filmmuseum, but only after completion of the film restoration (Gitt, interview with the author, 2005).
19 Gitt and Dayton, “Restoring Becky Sharp,” 104.
21 The color change in reel four also noticeably affects the Imperial Blue accents on George’s collar, which can be seen clearly at the end of reel three, during the silhouette scene. When reel four commences, these blue accents have shifted to deep black.
22 Gitt interview.
American Film. “Lookin’ Sharp.” July-August 1985: 9.
Gitt, Robert, and Richard Dayton. “Restoring Becky Sharp.” American Cinematographer, November 1984: 99–106.
Koszarski, Richard. The Hollywood Directors, 1914-1940. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976.
Mamoulian, Rouben. “Colour and Emotion.” Cinema Quarterly, Summer 1935: 225–226.
–. “Painting the Leaves Black: Rouben Mamoulian Interviewed by David Robinson.” Sight and Sound 30, no. 3 (Summer 1961): 123–130.
–. “Some Problems in Directing Color Pictures.” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, August 1935: 148–153.”
(Higgins, Scott (2007): Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow. Color Design in the 1930s. Austin: University of Texas Press, on pp. 58–60.)
We realised during the very first tests using the Eastman formulae that the copper toning process did considerable damage to the film emulsion layer resulting in a blistered surface probably caused by excessive softening. Special hardening solutions using Tannin were in some literature. Some literature replaces copper toning by a form of Uranium toning which produced a similar image colour, and eventually by mordant dye toning. We believe that early nitrate films suffered the same problems our Kodak 5302 and that this was why other toning methods replaced it. We decided not to continue with a copper tone as a routine, but later when we tried the Agfa formulae the results were better and the emulsion less damaged.
Uranium Red-Brown toning
Uranyl nitrate like all Uranium salts is now very difficult to obtain. It is costly at £10 per gram, available from a few specialised sources, and subject to quite onerous Health and Safety legislation even though as an “unsealed radioactive source” it’s radioactivity is insignificant. It is also extremely toxic. In the 1920’s uranium was not only a common toner but was also the basis of a very common mordant used as the starting point for a wide range of dye toned colours. One early paper (Reid, 1917) suggests that mordant dye toning could and should replace both copper and uranium because of toxicity and emulsion damage. We decided not to use Uranyl nitrate either, as all the mordant dye procedures could be carried out using potassium ferricyanide which yielded silver ferricyanide as the mordant image.
“Sulphide” or Sepia toning
Sepia was a common toner for paper prints until the 1950’s and the image on paper varies from pale to dark red-brown. It was produced by bleaching the silver image to an insoluble halide salt and “redeveloping” in sodium sulphide solution to silver sulphide which is red-brown but dense and opaque. When the process is carried out on a normal motion picture print the visual result is a “cold” greenish black. If a very thin print was used a “warm” tone not unlike copper toning was produced. We found that this was extremely difficult to repeat and a low density print did not become as brown as the literature suggested. This may be due to differences in the modern print stock. Sodium sulphide is an unpleasant and potentially dangerous chemical to use and needs good extraction and atmosphere testing. Mordant dye toning procedures seem to be the best alternatives today, and some original “recipes” use a mixture of Iron-tone blue and Uranium ferrocyanide to produce a sepia, suggesting that the problems we experienced were present then.
The toning process
The earliest photographic toning processes used many process stages: wetting, bleaching, rinse, toner, wash, sometimes clearing bath and then a final wash. We chose to try first the shortest later processes. Even these can be quite lengthy – the so-called “one-step iron-tone blue process” of Eastman (1928) was still wetting, bleach-tone, rinse, fix, wash.
Mordant dye toning was almost always two solution – a mordant-bleach, rinse and dye bath.
Charles I. Reid, Development and Toning of Motion Picture Films, Sci Amer Suppl. 2150, Mar. 1917.”
(Read, Paul (1998): Tinting and Toning Techniques and their Adaption for the Restoration of Archive Film. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al. (eds.): Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Diabasis, pp. 157–167, on pp. 163–164.)
Chris Challis was born on 18 March 1919 in Kensington, London and attended school in Wimbledon. He entered the film industry, working as a camera assistant on Gaumont-British newsreels before working at Denham Studios when three-strip Technicolor was introduced to Britain. Challis was an assistant on the World Windows travelogues shot by Jack Cardiff in the late 1930s and on other productions, including location work in India for The Drum (1938). He worked as a cameraman for the RAF Film Production Unit during World War II. In the post-war years he was camera operator on Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes before photographing The Tales of Hoffmann, Gone to Earth (1950), The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), Oh … Rosalinda!! (1955) and The Battle of the River Plate (1956). During his long career he photographed many popular British films including Genevieve (1953) and Footsteps in the Fog (1955), and worked with British and American directors, most notably Stanley Donen, Billy Wilder, Joseph Losey, J. Lee Thompson and Ken Annakin. He became known for his ingenuity, reliability and expertise and is credited as cinematographer on major box-office successes including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Evil under the Sun (1981). He won a BAFTA for Best Cinematography for Arabesque (1966). He retired in 1985 after working on Steaming (1984), Joseph Losey’s last film. He died in May 2012.
Anon, ‘A Feature Cinematographer Photographs the Olympics’, American Cinematographer vol. 57 no. 4, April 1976, pp. 406–7, 458–9.
Brett, Anwar, interview with Chris Challis, ‘Reflections on a Golden Age’, Exposure, October 1998, pp. 16–17.
Challis, Christopher, ‘Hoffmann sets new pattern in film making technique’, American Cinematographer vol. 32 no. 5, May 1951, pp. 176–7, 194–6.
Challis, Christopher, Are They Really So Awful? A Cameraman’s Chronicles (London: Janus Publishing, 1995).
Film Dope entry on Challis, no. 6, November 1974, pp. 41–3.
Petrie, Duncan, The British Cinematographer (London: BFI, 1996), pp. 80–2.
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 17 OCTOBER 2008
INTERVIEWERS: SARAH STREET AND LIZ WATKINS
SARAH STREET: To start off broadly, we thought we’d ask you how would you define the role of Director of Photography?
CHRIS CHALLIS: I think it’s different on every film. It depends on the film, the style of the photography and very much on your relationship with the director. Some directors have a great visual sense, they know exactly how they want their picture to look and it’s an integral part of the way they’re going to direct it. That’s the ideal situation because it gives you a lead into what you want to do. Others who don’t have a visual sense, and they’re in the vast majority I think, then you’re in a bit of a vacuum because you don’t know which way to go with it. Now I think it’s [DOP] a very important part of the film and I admit that I’ve always felt that you are the director’s sort of paintbrush. He’s the artist, although you’re sort of carrying it out and doing the artist’s part of it, and it does differ from working in the initial stages and pre-production with the art director, the costumes and looking for locations. Of course it’s all changed now because of digital – it’s incredibly easy I think. You can photograph anywhere really – you could come in here and cover us talking to one another with these [domestic] lights. For Technicolor it’s different because it’s all arc lights and building a set, and the equipment was impressive, I mean physically impressive.
SS: When did you first become aware of Technicolor as someone who was keen to get into film and cinematography? Can you remember when you first heard of it?
CC: I started in the film industry with Gaumont British News. My father knew the managing director of Gaumont British News and Castleton Knight,1 and they were just starting to use live sound for doing interviews and things. They didn’t use sound normally and newsreel cameramen were like photographers. The cameras were quite small and they didn’t have assistants or anything like that. With the advent of sound they needed help to lug the gear around and everything like that and so I think I was one of the first people ever to get that job and I had a year or just over a year of covering all the sort of things that the newsreel seems to ply.2 They were a major part of cinemagoing; there were cinemas that just showed newsreels and there was great competition between the films. I happened to see or read that Technicolor were coming to England and doing the first colour film in Europe which was Wings of the Morning . It was made at Denham but Technicolor brought their own technicians. They took over a couple of machines in Humphries Laboratory in London, processed the negatives and made a black-and-white rush print, and then the negatives were shipped out to the States and the colour didn’t come back for four weeks and then it was only a pilot, it wasn’t a whole scene. It was a scientific process at that stage. I took myself down to Denham and the head of the camera department, George Kay, gave me a job. It was only loading magazines in the darkroom but I thought it was a step toward realising my ambitions. I suppose it was in a way but I spent most of my time loading these enormous magazines. At the end of the film the demand for colour was growing so rapidly that Technicolor decided to build a laboratory in Europe and they chose England in Harmondsworth on the Bath Road. So at the end of Wings of the Morning the laboratory was almost built – just the building because it didn’t have any of the equipment in it – because all the processing machines had to come from the States. They kept me on and so I was the first actual employee and I was very lucky because it was like going on a sort of university course.3 I went through every department as they were installing the equipment which came over without lenses. The lenses and the prism, which was the heart of the process, were made by Taylor and Hobson in England; I went through all of that and so I knew exactly how the process worked.
SS: Did they screen Wings of the Morning and have discussions about it because it was the first feature film? Do you remember anything of the reaction to that particular film?
CC: Do you mean during the making of it?
SS: Yes, during the process. I imagine everyone was intrigued to see this first British feature?
CC: Yes, of course they did, but it didn’t involve me, I was too busy loading the camera!
SS: Have you seen it since?
CC: I have, yes.
SS: Do you like it?
CC: Yes, and they were terribly impressed with it because Technicolor was a scientific process originated in California, where colours appear harsher and that’s the way they expected colour to be rather than how it was, particularly in the Irish locations that were a bit misty and hazy.
SS: It was quite soft, wasn’t it?
CC: There’s less contrast and everyone thought it was beautiful. The advent of colour had an enormous impact because people thought in terms of black and white.
SS: Yes, people seem to judge colour very harshly if it was seen to be not quite right.
CC: Technicolor retained a very strict control over what people did with it. Natalie Kalmus4 especially was in charge of colour control and she interfered with everything that our directors wanted to do, or the cameramen. They [the Color Advisory Service] didn’t like things like contrast and it was only later when it got into the hands of Jimmy Wong Howe5 and people like that that they started to experiment.
SS: Did you feel that the Color Advisory Service was something that took part in the production process? In reality, how did it impinge on people’s work?
CC: In the early stages it took a very big part because they vetted everything. There was no such thing as white and they dipped all the whites to a one- two- or three-grade dye because of the contrast which was a great problem. It was very difficult to get a good result because of the light levels. Dark colours went black and light colours [went] blue. There’s no such thing as having a pale blue or a pink because it would photograph white under certain conditions and you couldn’t see dark colours because they went black. So they tried to keep all the clothes the same, toward the middle range.
SS: So was that quite useful to some extent to prepare the production side?
CC: Yes, I think it was, so as far as the look of the picture was concerned it was very difficult to do anything unusual. They didn’t like low key lighting or anything like that.
SS: I’ve read about Natalie Kalmus developing charts for films. Is that true? Were you aware of a chart that was devised in these terms, because they don’t seem to be in the archives anywhere?
CC: Well if you were to see Natalie Kalmus you’d think she was the last person in the world to have anything to do with it because of course she dressed, well, she looked like an explosion in a paint shop.6
SS: Did you work with Joan Bridge because I get the impression that she was somebody who really knew about colour and was very helpful?
CC: Yes, she was very much better, much less aggressive than Natalie Kalmus, and she got along better with the artists. Joan Bridge was much more diplomatic. She only worked on the English films and became a colour consultant when they [Technicolor] opened up here. She had most of the contacts and during shooting she would come down once a week and maybe she would see the rushes and things.7
SS: We’re very interested in The Drum which was one of the early Technicolor British films.
CC: Oh yes, that was the first feature film made from the Technicolor laboratory in Harmondsworth.8
SS: Was Technicolor very helpful with advice about humidity controls and temperature or did you pioneer filming in a difficult location?
CC: They’d never done a location like that ever, and of course we didn’t shoot sound at all so the camera wasn’t quite as heavy.9 I was a trainee assistant [listed on Film Index International and IMDb as ‘focus puller’] and we had a unit if you could believe it; it was a major film. We didn’t take artistes [to India] but the unit consisted of a cameraman who was Osmond Borradaile10 and Geoff Boothby was the director. Henry Imus was the American Technicolor technician and I was his trainee assistant.11 I flew to India and yes, Technicolor did a lot of research on conventional film under extreme conditions such as heat leads to a build up of latent exposure; it’s like a fogging over which eventually ruins it. Also you can get static if the film gets very brittle and looks like lightening, and humidity affects it. So they did a lot of research in California and produced a whole series of recommendations about temperatures. Their thinking was that where we were going we would have the facilities that they had in California; in actual fact we hadn’t anything, there was no such thing as refrigeration. They had this idea of packing the film stock in drums, which was rather strange considering the film’s name! Each drum took what we termed two ‘groups’, and a group contained 1,000 foot screen footage but 3,000 foot linear footage of separate cans [because of the three records needed for three-strip Technicolor].12 The film was put in the drums with a silica gel which acted as a dehumidifier, and then tightly sealed and then soldered the metal drums. But of course when they [Technicolor] gave me a list of the film’s useful life at various temperatures, they were so unrealistic. I’d arrived in Karachi and had to go by train to Delhi across the Sinai desert and the temperature was well over 100 in the shade. I thought I might as well go home because I wasn’t even going to get to Delhi with the film let alone the rest of it, but thought we could try various ways of keeping it cool. The train didn’t have corridors so you had half a carriage with a shower and everything else but there was no air conditioning. They had galvanised tin baths in which they put eighty-pound blocks of ice. I had all the film stock in my compartment surrounded with these and covered with a tarpaulin sheet to try and keep it cool, and by the time we arrived in Delhi we had to renew the ice because it had gradually melted. The dust was colossal crossing the Sinai desert and so with all this water melting and everything I was in sort of two inches of mud. But finally the only check that I could develop was hand tests: I could break off a foot of film of each of the unexposed negatives, develop it and then see whether the fog level was building up.13
SS: But you wouldn’t be aware of how the colour might be affected?
CC: No, because we were dealing with three black-and-white images. The other interesting thing was that they had these camera report sheets which the assistant was responsible for and they were very, very extensive in their coverage; you had to record everything and they had this thing called a ‘lilly’. There’s three white cards, one at right angles, and two at forty-five degrees on either side, and you took a reading either side with a photometer so it would be whatever setting, 1,500 foot candles this way and 2,000 that way, 4,500 this, and all this had to be noted for each single shot and then you also had to give a brief description of the scene. If it was a close-up of you then I would have to describe the colour of your clothes and the settee behind you and the colour of your hair, and so they had all this data and they were really quite ridiculous about it. All this built up but for four months we’d had no contact; we couldn’t send any film back so we had it with us all the time.
SS: I wonder what happened to that kind of documentation because it strikes me that those kinds of records would be wonderful for researchers because British studios weren’t very good at keeping records.
CC: They went to Technicolor. They took the Technicolor cameras apart and I’m told that when we came back from India with what was the first film George Kay sat up all night reading all of my reports and he congratulated me. I got a rise and was made a qualified technician.
SS: So your notes would be very useful for other films, other texts?
CC: They would give a good lead, yes. When they printed the rushes they didn’t print in colour, they printed these pilots. Every shot you did a ten-foot or a fifteen-foot take with the ‘lilly’ in front and the colour chart and a greyscale, and that’s what they printed up. So we’d got the rushes in black and white and the colour pilot so we could see what it was like. They needed all these notes for the people who were to do the grading. When I became the Director of Photography I certainly sat in on all the grading and added my comments to everybody else’s. It was such a laborious process because once the negative had been cut – the final cut – they had a black-and-white print of it. The negative was handed over to Technicolor for negative cutting and they cut the negatives into this master, then they started printing in colour. Well of course when you saw it side by side cut together it was sometimes wildly different from how you thought it looked during shooting. This is when grading started. They would make a print based on the grading of the colour pilot, which they’d made originally, and then you would screen that and they might say ‘it’s too dark or it’s too blue and it was minus point this’, and they would make those corrections and make another print which took another two or three days and you’d see that and if that still wasn’t right, then you’d have to make more corrections. If you think you had to do this for every shot in the film then you can imagine how long it took. But Technicolor was a wonderful process because as a cameraman one had enormous control, not in the shooting but in the printing of contrast because the final colour print consisted of a black-and-white key which was printed from the blue record which was the sharpest of the three films. What defeated Technicolor in the end was definition, and they put this black-and-white key on to improve definition, contrast or reduce colour saturation. They used this idea in A Matter of Life and Death (1946).
SS: In the transition shots?
CC: Yes, they were all done that way, by increasing the black-and-white density and losing the colour. You could slowly do away with the colour and bring it back vice versa. I think, I believe Ossie Morris used it quite a lot to do some effects.
SS: Can you say more about blue being the particularly dominant register in the Technicolor process?
CC: Of course. The basis of the process was a prism and it reflected a third of the light and transmitted two-thirds approximately and you had two gates at right angles; in one of them ran the green record which was by itself because it had filters on the back. So the green record only recorded the subtractive colour, and on the bi-pack the two films ran emulsion to emulsion. The red record, which was the back one of the two, was photographed through the blue record so the definition on the red record was very, very poor. The blue record was a different type of emulsion so it was much sharper and that’s why they used that to make a black-and-white picture. If you hadn’t the least idea of how it worked you’d say of course that it can’t be done.
IN CHALLIS’S BECTU INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN GOUGH-YATES ON 11 OCTOBER 1988, HE GIVES SOME INTERESTING DETAIL ON TECHNICOLOR CAMERAS AND TECHNOLOGY WHICH IS INCLUDED HERE:
KEVIN GOUGH-YATES: Can you say something about the Technicolor cameras of this time?
CHRIS CHALLIS: There was only the one camera which was three-strip, it had three films running in it so it was large as you can imagine. It hadn’t got a turret – it had single interchangeable lenses in its mount and magazines had 3,000 foot and so were jolly heavy to cart around. It was a difficult camera to take on location because obviously the heart of the Technicolor process, which is still an engineering miracle to me, was that, it had two gates in the camera which were at right angles to each other and one was a single film and the other was a bi-pack. Two films running together, emulsion to emulsion, and the image coming through the lens was split, intensity-wise, allowing approximately a third of light through to the single film and two-thirds to the double. This was done by the means of a prism which had a spotted surface across the middle which allowed part transmission and part reflection of the image. The location of this prism was unbelievably critical. The images had to exactly coincide in the registers so when finally the thing was printed you could enlarge it up on a cinema screen and you could get reasonable definition. There was a degree of adjustment in the printing, but nevertheless it had to be as right as one could have it in the camera and it was adjustable by means of moving the prism, but it was a jolly difficult thing to do on location. I mean the reading of the register was done in the cameras when you were working in England – the camera came back to the laboratory every night and they went into the mechanical department and they were serviced and the register was checked and then you did a photographic check of the register every morning on the floor before you began to shoot. You photographed a chart which was read that evening under a toolmaker’s microscope so they could check the image size and the spread and [that] everything was within the tolerance to get the sort of definition they wanted in the final print. Well when you were away from home, a long, long way, you obviously couldn’t have a microscope check because there was nobody to do that, so you had to do it visually. And of course you were into all sorts of problems if you were out in hot countries because you had a jig in which you put two pieces of film and you drilled this with this special jig of five holes; one in the middle and one in each corner of the actual aperture and these I think were twelve-thousandths of an inch in diameter. Then you put the film into the camera, the strip of film that you’d drilled, and you put it down into the register so that you actually used the claws to pull it into the right position and the register pins would hold it just as the film would actually come down when the camera was being used. You took the pressure plates out of the gates and you put lamps so you were shining light through the back of the film and then you put the prism in and you looked through the lens with a telescope and then you could see these five holes one at a time. If they coincided as you were looking through the filters on the prism they were white, but if they didn’t you had a magenta or green fringe around it and you had to then adjust this prism on a rocker as it was on a sort of knife edge until you got the best distribution of error over the whole area. I mean it was never absolutely perfect but you had to get it as right as you could get it. It was an awful business doing this; we had to do it every night when you were away from home.
KGY: How did the equipment change over the years?
CC: Very little. It was incredibly advanced compared to any other camera when it came out. The lens mounts were just magnificent. They were on roller-bearings and they had a motor focus so the assistant could stand away with a slave motor and follow focus on it. It had a parallax corrector at a time when many other cameras, you know, the old Mitchells had the image upside down and no parallax corrector. It was a very advanced camera for its time and never really changed. The blimp was enormous; it had to be housed in all this to make it quiet. It had wonderful geared heads which have now become universal although they had them when nobody else had them. The geared heads were by Moy of England which is rather interesting [the geared head, which was operated with handles, fixed on to the studio dolly and made the camera easy to operate despite its weight]. To give you an idea of light levels, in the studio on Wings of the Morning and around that time you had to use 700 foot candles, wide open on the lens; you had to shoot wide open. It had to be an arc, basically because the process was balanced to white light or daylight. So there was no incandescent, no other coating of film that was compatible; it was all balanced to daylight, to white light. So anything that you used you had to balance, so of course arc was all right, it was slightly blue and you used a very pale straw-coloured filter. [CC notes that internal filters and effects were problematic in this system because of the high lighting levels required; CC gives an example of an internal filter in the camera which would cut the light by 35 per cent as problematic because with ‘700 foot candles you could just about light a head and shoulders’].
[REVERT TO 2008 INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT]
SS: Were you aware of other processes like Dufaycolor and Gasparcolor?
CC: Yes. Of course colour was available to amateurs long before it was professionally. They raked up a lot of that early film for this BBC series [The Thirties in Colour, BBC4, 2008].
CC: Technicolor had other processes before the final one. They had a bi-pack process where they stuck the two films together for the final print.
LIZ WATKINS: The colour on some of the World Windows films14 seems quite distinctive from what’s found in feature films and I was wondering if they were definitely filmed using the three-strip process?
CC: Oh yes, they were made fairly shortly after The Drum. Jack Cardiff photographed them. He was a camera operator on Wings of the Morning and he worked for Denham Studios. He was a very unusual sort of chap who wanted to be a Director of Photography (they didn’t call them that then, they called them cameramen), but this was a break for him and his contribution to the World Windows films was enormous. They came into being in a very strange way because Kay Harrison met Count von Keller and his wife socially.15 Count von Keller was German and he had escaped from Germany. He was a bon viveur, an extraordinary man, and he had this American heiress wife who had a lot of money. His great love was fast cars and I suspect fast women, but they’d also travel and Kay Harrison said to him, ‘Well, if you’re going to do all this travelling and go to all these places, why don’t you make films?’ To which he apparently said, ‘I don’t know anything about film.’ Kay replied ‘I can put you in touch with people who do’, and that’s how it all started. The first three were all made in Italy and an Italian named John Hanau who worked in the film industry was a partner with von Keller. We did one of the Rome Hunt [Fox Hunting in the Roman Campagna] which is the only fox hunt in Italy. The hounds were imported from Yorkshire. It’s quite unique because it’s very pictorial. You’ve absolutely got a conventional hunt that could be in England. Then we did one of Rome itself [Rome Symphony] and we did one of Vesuvius [The Eternal Fire]. They were so impressed with them because they were much better than any other travel films, different from the Fitzpatrick travelogues.16 Jack’s contribution was great I think visually and they became much more than simple travelogues. United Artists distributed the films and was very impressed and wanted more. So we went to the Middle East and it became more complicated because we wanted to be able to track the camera. We wanted a dolly, tracks and reflectors so we needed a camera car. We built a special Bedford truck which we took out to Palestine, drove it across the desert to Damascus and then down to the Persian Gulf. Then we made a whole series of them and the final lot were made in India. I went back to India and we made a whole series of films there. They would have gone on had it not been for the war.
LW: We were wondering if you could tell us about the lighting levels for exterior filming for Technicolor?
CC: We didn’t take any lighting equipment; it was all exterior shooting. We didn’t have electricians or anything like that with us.
LW: So that was sufficient light?
CC: Yes. We had this truck and we had a camera car which was Count Keller’s. He loved motor cars and he had a Packard shooting break camera car and two open Buicks for transporting people or anything like that. So it was quite a little convoy and we drove enormous distances. It was very exciting and they were lucky that they had Jack, who was very imaginative. He had ideas such as in the one about Petra [Petra], a rose-red city which is half as old as time; he had lovely shots of these steps that had been cut into the rock, going up them with the camera. Petra was a strange, enormous building. I think now there’s a Hilton you can go and stay in but when we went we had to stay in chaos in camps, and you went in through this gorge where you could either walk or ride on a donkey and you can really touch both sides and that’s the only way in.
SS: Had the films been scripted?
CC: They were scripted, yes. It wasn’t a tight script but the two directors who directed them [Hans Nieter and John Hanau], leap-frogged so while one director directed one, the other chap was preparing the second; he went there and got an outline to the script. The Arabian Bazaar was one of the second batch. We also did Jerusalem, Wanderers of the Desert, that’s the one with the Bedouins, and we did the one in Petra; that was quite a handful.
LW: In Wanderers of the Desert there’s a sequence that looks as though it’s shot at night. It has very intense blues, but the lighting levels would have been problematic?
CC: Well, that’s called ‘day for night’ photography. It was very phoney really but you couldn’t do it any other way than with a special heavy blue filter and neutral densities. It may look like night, I don’t know.
LW: [laughs] It was very blue.
SS: So because there were no lights you were using filters on the lens?
CC: No, no filters. I don’t think we did much in the early stages but later on I used to if one had a very bright sky. On a fixed, or static shot, I’d put a neutral density one on; I’d cut it more or less to fit so it would cut down on the exposure on the sky without affecting anything else. You didn’t use colour filters unless you wanted to for an effect. We cameramen, Jack certainly, and to an extent myself, had filters made for us by a couple of ladies who used to make them by hand; graduated colour filters and things like that for special effects.
SS: I suppose with the camera being different it wouldn’t be the kind of filter that would be current?
CC: It wouldn’t be used for anything else, that’s right.
SS: Would you perhaps be putting filters on lights sometimes instead?
CC: Yes, but of course you couldn’t for something like World Windows, you’d just cut the exposure down for the night [scene]. To give you an idea of the light levels, the Technicolor process was colour-balanced to daylight, to the colour temperature of the daylight. The only light source that matched daylight was arc, so it was all arc lighting. Well the arcs were enormous and they gave off a lot of fumes so if you had a big set with a lot of arcs you very quickly built up a haze in the studios and you started to see the beams of all the lights. Of the conventional incandescent lights, the biggest one listed in those days was five kilowatts and you could direct it to the colour temperature of daylight with a blue filter. If you had that largest incandescent light available with the blue filter on you could just about light a seated figure in a domestic interior and daylight from a window, two or three metres away. But that’s all it would give enough light for. So you could imagine what it was like lighting a big set. On The Tales of Hoffmann, which was shot on a silent stage, it was the old shape of things to come because we recorded at Worton Hall studios, Isleworth, for all the model work. They moved to Shepperton and it was known as the ‘silent stage’, the biggest in Europe but it was not soundproofed. We shot the whole film on that stage because it was shot to playback. Sound didn’t bother us and so we had the space and light.
SS: Shall we talk about The Tales of Hoffmann because we’ve read that one of your favourite memories is working with Powell and Pressburger?
CC: The art director was Hein Heckroth. Hein came from the background of opera; he was art director of the state opera in Hamburg and also a very good painter. But when they made the ‘Red Shoes ballet’ which was a film which was within a film [The Red Shoes], it was such a success Micky said, ‘Well we’d better do a complete opera and that’s the way we’re going to do it and we’re not going to do many special effects in the laboratory. We’ll have to do everything in the camera’, so we did most of the effects theatrically as you would do them on the stage; we did a lot of work with gauzes. As you probably know if you have a black gauze, paint something on it and light it from the front, it becomes more or less solid so you can paint a backdrop. If you take the light off the front and light from behind it disappears and you can do a tremendous change. Now that’s the theatrical side of the thing but of course light levels in the theatre are nothing and the human eye adapts so well, whereas we were doing the same thing with enormous light levels and changing had to be done with dimmer shutters because you can’t fade an arc light like you can with a resistor electric light. If you’ve got a lot of them then they have to be mechanised so they all worked electrically, then they all stuck and jammed and it was an absolute nightmare. My favourite sequence was the Venice sequence.
SS: Did you feel able to have ideas accepted and that you were very much part of the collaborative team?
CC: Oh yes, terrifically so. In fact we had one wonderful thing where the silent stage was built quite a little way off from the main studio buildings at Shepperton and Micky had the idea that after we’d seen the rushes we’d want to discuss them and talk about what we were doing. So he had a marquee put up by the silent stage and we used to have lunch brought out to us there so we didn’t have to go to the studio restaurant. It was a lovely idea really and it worked jolly well. Micky’s films were exciting because he was a great, efficient director and he had enormous energy. They were the most extraordinary unconventional couple; I mean, you would never have thought that they would ever work together. They had really nothing in common. Emeric was a mid-European Jew; Micky was a 100 per cent English. Emeric spoke with a heavy Hungarian accent, and they were a wonderful team. I knew them both very well as friends as well and I worked for them for years and I never, never heard either of them run the other one down which is pretty unique in the world of entertainment. They were great, great friends and welded together as a wonderful team. Either Micky or Emeric told me that they had been in America for the premiere of I Know Where I’m Going! (1945). They came back on the Queen Mary and Micky said that on the first night at dinner they were just talking about things and Emeric said to him, and I can’t do his accent, ‘Michael, would it not be a good idea if we made a film in heaven and on earth and earth was in colour and heaven was in black and white?’ and Micky said straight away that it was a great idea. Now Emeric didn’t know whether it was technically possible, and Micky said that when they got off the boat five days later they had an outline of the working script of the film which they took to Rank and they got the go-ahead. It was a brilliant piece of filmmaking.
SS: Oh yes, so imaginative with the colour composition.
CC: It was pure cinema, as much as Disney.
SS: Am I right in thinking that the black-and-white sequences were actually, in the transition scenes leading up to when the film flips from black and white to colour, filmed with the Technicolor cameras but then not processed for the Technicolor printing?
CC: Yes that’s right because they needed the three negatives.
SS: I’ve read that that was supposed to be less jarring than if it had been filmed with a conventional black-and-white camera?
CC: Yes with all the transition scenes.
LW: So you could print a black-and-white film from the three-strips of Technicolor negatives without any problem?
CC: Yes, it would come out in black and white.
LW: So the printing process introduces the problem with contrast and colour?
CC: The definition was fine, as good as straight black and white really, but then colour had an enormous impact as much as sound. They were the people that I liked to work with. My favourite directors were Micky and Stanley Donen, who was very, very similar. He grasped suggestions that I had and Joe Losey was good to work with.
SS: Did you have much contact with what went on in the lab?
CC: Yes, not initially but in the final printing.
SS: It can seem like a somewhat mysterious process of what actually went on in the lab, and maybe Technicolor sought to impose colour control at that stage? We’re fascinated by the whole process but with the lab stage being so important, we wondered how much intervention you were able to have?
CC: Well you had it at the end in the final printing but not during the actual shooting because the rushes were processed at night, you got them the next day and it was a fait accompli with Technicolor in the early stages. They were very conscious of anything they thought was a technical defect because the process hadn’t made the grade. There was one wonderful thing on Black Narcissus when it all fails and the nuns come back and there’s a shot of Sister Clodagh [Deborah Kerr] in her office in Bombay or something like that.
CC: Yes, Calcutta. There’s a big window and it’s pouring with rain. Jack did this close-up of her and lit her through a bit of glass but he had water running down it and so it had the effect of rain. Well this shot didn’t come back from Technicolor with the rushes; we got the rushes but minus this shot and everyone said, ‘What’s happening?’ They said, ‘It’s a problem with the printer. It’s not a very good print and we’re re-printing’. This went on for about four days and we never got it back. Eventually Frank Bush, who was the whipping boy of the mechanic department, came over and he told Micky and Jack that they’d had a problem in the lab and they hadn’t got it tied down and it looked as though we’d have to retake this shot. He said, ‘You know we’ve got this effect on it’ and Jack said ‘It’s supposed to be there!’. So they were trying to get rid of it desperately; that’s a true story.17
LW: That’s interesting the way an effect can be perceived differently. I was wondering if you could tell us more about The Tales of Hoffmann! Were you using blue gels which you would deliberately fade before using them?
CC: There were no really big incandescent lights in that period. Technicolor made a blue glass filter which was fitted into the lamp which we used rather than gels. Technicolor then made stock which was colour balanced to incandescent light so you didn’t need filters and it made the process faster. You didn’t need so much light and that changed everything enormously. You then had to put filters on the arcs because they were too blue. So basically you’d use arcs outside and as they made the bigger incandescent lights ten kilowatts you’d use those inside and they’d make lighting a bit easier. But it was a great process and good in the camera.
LW: We wanted to ask you about Footsteps in the Fog. Joan Bridge was colour consultant on that film as well and there’s a preponderance of browns and greys in the colour. Is that part of the design or something which occurs in filming?
CC: That was done in printing. You didn’t have to use filters if you wanted to have an overall warm tone on something that’s candlelit. I wanted it to be dark and murky and it worked quite well in the fog scenes.
SS: Could I ask you about The Battle of the River Plate?
CC: The picture was going to be in Cinemascope and I was actually working on another film while everything was being got ready. At the last minute John Davis fell out with Cinemascope and then we were landed with this awful VistaVision camera.18
SS: I think it looks wonderful.
SS: I was struck very much by that wonderful mobility and in the scenes in Uruguay, almost travelogue types of scenery.
CC: Well it looks all right on DVD and when it’s projected the same way it was shot. It’s not too bad when you see a reduction print but colour, well in black and white it doesn’t work well I don’t think. Then Technicolor converted their cameras to do the same thing and called it Technirama and they put an anamorphic lens on the front of it so it became enormous. We shot The Grass Is Greener (1960) that way.
SS: Are you often consulted when this remastering takes place? […] presumably it’s possible that there are […] instances when a remastered film can look different, even untrue to the original idea?
CC: Yes, but I never have been consulted, although I must say most of them have been pretty good. I mean, they have just made a DVD in America of The Small Back Room (1949), which was my second picture as a Director of Photography and my first film with Michael Powell. They interviewed me, which was included in the DVD and it looks absolutely great; so does Gone to Earth.
SS: Yes, it does. It’s a very fascinating film. Your work often seems to involve quite a lot of location work. The landscapes are very striking.
CC: Gone to Earth was shot again entirely with Micky. I loved making it and it did look quite nice with all the shots in the countryside and beautiful landscape. [David] Selznick was the co-producer and he’d just married Jennifer [Jones] and at the end he had the right to alter the production for the American market if he so wished. He wanted to do all sorts of things, have an extra scene. Micky wouldn’t do it so Rouben Mamoulian directed. They wanted me to photograph it and I said to Micky, ‘What am I going to do?’ and he said, ‘Well, you should go, you know, keep our end up a bit’. So I went and it was the funniest thing because Selznick was extraordinary. He used to be up all night writing scripts, changing the scripts and it went on and on and on and it was three weeks before we did anything. Eventually we shot it and we had an all-American camera crew who were very anti having this young limey coming over, which I think didn’t make any sense really. They got lots of work out of it but anyway there I was and Mamoulian had a pact with Selznick that he’d only do it if Selznick didn’t come on the floor when he was directing Jennifer. Selznick used to come on the floor and I’d hear this sort of ‘psst, psst’, and he’d be hiding behind a flat and he’d call me over. He said, ‘Suggest to Rouben that …’ [CC would reply]: ‘I can’t do that’. It was ridiculous and the American crew filled me with grim stories of Selznick, that no cameraman had ever completed a picture with Selznick and that he interfered on everything which he did and I was going to have a hard time. We had one new scene with Jennifer going to her room. I suggested candlelight with a candle and David talked to me about it and said he wanted it low key and that was fine. In the middle of lighting it he came on the floor and looked around and said, ‘You’ve got too much light! I want it dark.’ So I said, ‘I know you do, David, that’s why I’m doing it but we need more light than one candle’. [Selznick replied]: ‘Turn some of the lights off!’ It was ridiculous. So I said,
Look, David, let me do it. If you don’t like it tomorrow I’ll go home and I’m very happy to go home, I would like to go home. I’m fed up with being here – I would really be delighted to go back.
So he turned on his heel, walked off the floor and all the crew had backed away. They slowly came back and we shot it. And the next day at rushes it looked fine and at the end Selznick got up, turned around and he said ‘Chris, you’re quite right, I apologize.’ Arthur Fellows, who was his assistant, said, ‘He’s never done that before in his life’. He liked you to argue with him, and they all were terrified of him.
SS: So would he override people at Technicolor?
CC: Oh he’d have a go. He’d have a go at overriding everybody. But if you made your point as I think I did and it didn’t really bother me if I was going to get the sack. I wasn’t employed by him anyway; I was employed by Micky and Emeric and I was quite happy. He liked people to be like that. Micky was like that and could be absolute poison.
SS: Yes, his autobiography gives a little sense of that.
CC: I mean there’s a side to him which isn’t in the autobiography of extreme loyalty and kindness. I know many instances of that and I liked him a lot. I thought he was a great director and they were great movies. Now they’re all coming back including Peeping Tom (1960), which I didn’t like.
SS: We’d like to ask you what it was like to be in your profession as a cinematographer for so many years. You worked primarily as a freelance is that right?
CC: Except for one ghastly period when I was under contract to Rank and only because John Bryan who was an art director became one of the Rank producers. I made The Spanish Gardener (1956) with John.
SS: Did you feel you would just literally have to be doing whatever was thrown at you rather than have any choice?
CC: Well, apart from John, they were a pretty dead outfit. They had all second-rate pictures, dreadful things because I had to make a couple while I was under this contract. I actually got the sack in the end. They wouldn’t release me and there was some terrible hiatus where they had a huge programme and suddenly they hadn’t got anything. They had redundancies and everything else. The unions asked for a meeting with John Davis and I got co-opted onto the ACT.19
LW: Something we’ve read and would like to know more about is when the Technicolor lab was set up in the UK and American technicians came over to run training and to establish a working practice. Did that cause any problems you can recall? Was it possible eventually for British cinematographers to go and work in America?
CC: It wasn’t possible, really. When I went to do the extra scenes for Gone to Earth they had to employ an American cameraman who never came; he didn’t have to come and – he was paid more than I was. The unions were very strong – they wouldn’t let you train at all. Technicolor had all their own people for a long time. The three-strip cameras belonged to Technicolor. You couldn’t hire any other camera from any other process and the cameras went back to the lab every night and they were serviced. They had a big camera department and a service department and then the normal crew on a picture. On a Technicolor picture not only did they supply the camera but the equivalent of the first assistant who was known as a ‘Technicolor technician’ because on location he did very much more than a normal camera assistant inasmuch as he did the servicing of the camera.
SS: Can you tell us about Genevieve, a successful colour British film you worked on?
CC: The story behind Genevieve was quite annoying really. I was on holiday and I had a phone call from George Gunn who was in charge of the Technicolor camera department. He said,
Well, I’ve got somebody who is going to make a picture called Genevieve about the London to Brighton run and I think it’s a very good script and I’m trying to persuade him to make it in colour and he says no way, he can’t afford it, there just isn’t the money in the budget.
I half persuaded him that it was going to be a tough assignment whoever shoots it because you’ve got to shoot in any conditions really; literally any conditions. He said, ‘Would it interest you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, but I’ll have to check with Henry [Cornelius]’. Henry said, ‘It’ll be nearly all on location because we can’t afford the studio rental.’ We were starting very late in the year – it was September or October when we shot it. Nothing matches anything else but strangely enough colour looks better in that dull light and if you can get the minimal exposure and you can sort of enhance it slightly with a bit of arc light to get a shine or something like that so when it comes to it, it doesn’t look bad really. Funnily enough I got some of the best reviews for photography I’ve had on Genevieve, so the rest of them must be awful!
SS: Do you think there were any particularly British conditions that made British Technicolor films made in the UK look a little different from those made elsewhere, experimentation aside?
CC: Yes, I do I think there is a different quality of light. I mean the soft sunlight that you get here a lot of the year where there’s a lot of moisture in the atmosphere is quite different from anywhere else. It’s different certainly from California which makes the colours hard, and Africa is hard and brash and even the South of France. I also think that we had some exceptionally good art directors and some good cameramen. You can almost thank Korda for that really because he brought Georges Périnal who was a wonderful cameraman from France and Harry Stradling from America. We learned from them quite rapidly and we had Freddie Young, who was marvellous and a great champion of our cause and a great cameraman. We built up a pretty good school of cameramen I think. There was Geoff Unsworth of course; Geoff was a fabulous technician at Technicolor and Douglas Slocombe was wonderful. Arthur Ibbetson was jolly good. Ossie Morris of course was excellent. And so I think that there maybe was a British school of cinematography which was slightly different. We went for softer light conditions and out of necessity we very often had to shoot without direct sunlight and we realised that it could look very good.
SS: Did you tend to discuss amongst yourselves? I’m imagining a group of fellow professionals who knew each other when they were working on a particular film who’d discuss the latest developments?
CC: Yes, yes.
SS: So you saw their latest film when it came out and there was a sort of community of cinematographers?
CC: Yes, very much so.
LW: Were there any particular colour effects at this time that you couldn’t get with Technicolor that you could with Eastmancolor or vice versa?
CC: Yes, colour reproduction was very far from being perfect for any process, Technicolor, Eastmancolor, Agfacolor or anything else. The areas of absolutely correct exposure are crucial. That’s why you have the theory about Technicolor not liking experimental colour because in dark areas, which are necessarily underexposed areas or bright areas which are overexposed, the colour rendition goes to pot a bit and that’s true of all colour processes. I don’t think there’s any way round that unless you accept having absolutely flat light, which is what Technicolor wanted, but it’s not suited chromatically for a lot of subjects. I mean I’m told that when Jimmy Wong Howe did The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) all the sequences that were in the cave and in Technicolor were terribly low key. He had a terrible row with Natalie Kalmus; they wanted that all flat lit and he wouldn’t do it. Of course it was a wonderful sequence. The colour was probably quite wrong but it didn’t matter because dramatically it was terrific. So I think the answer is you know you can’t reproduce every colour perfectly but the compromise is fine, depending on how it’s used and that’s true of all processes.
1 L. Castleton Knight was the overall ‘producer’ of the Gaumont British News from 1934 to 1958.
2 Kevin Gough-Yates’s BECTU interview with Challis (11 October 1988), tape no. 59, includes reference to Challis showing Castleton Knight some 16mm footage he’d shot for a school project.
3 In his BECTU interview Challis also praises the grounding he gained from Technicolor, commenting that: ‘They didn’t let anyone out to be the equivalent of a first assistant until they’d done a lot of work in the laboratory and knew a bit about it.’
4 Natalie Kalmus (1892-1965) was head of Technicolor’s Color Advisory Service, in the 1930s and 1940s. She is credited as advisor on all Technicolor productions until 1949.
5 James Wong Howe (1899-1976) was a celebrated Chinese-born Hollywood cinematographer. He worked at Denham on three black-and-white films in 1937.
6 It was common for cinematographers to claim that Natalie Kalmus knew little about colour on the basis of their dislike for her wardrobe.
7 Joan Bridge (1909-2009) worked with Natalie Kalmus when she was in the UK. She is credited on many British films as colour consultant. She had studied Dufaycolor, and had useful contacts for Technicolor when operations began in the UK.
8 Challis only worked on the Indian location shoot.
9 The blimp needed for filming with sound made Technicolor cameras extra cumbersome, so greater mobility could be obtained if sound was added in post-production.
10 Borradaile was responsible for location shooting in India; the rest of the film was shot by Georges Périnal.
11 Henry Imus (1908-81) was an uncredited camera operator on Wings of the Morning.
12 This detail also features in Challis’s BECTU interview. For greater clarity the following sentences are an amalgam of the detail provided in both interviews.
13 In the BECTU interview Challis recalls that during shooting the drums were kept in pits dug in the ground that were packed with blocks of ice.
14 The World Windows short travelogue films were shot in Technicolor during 1937-40 by Jack Cardiff in a number of locations, including India, Italy and Israel.
15 Kay Harrison (1895-1962) was managing director of Technicolor Ltd.
16 The ‘Fitzpatrick Travel Talks‘ were an American series of Technicolor films made by James Fitzpatrick and distributed by MGM.
17 There is no such shot in Black Narcissus. This ‘missing’ scene is discussed in Sarah Street, Black Narcissus (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005), pp. 59–60.
18 Challis also discusses widescreen techniques in the BECTU interview, confirming problems with VistaVision.
19 John Davis (1906-93) was managing director of Rank, and the ACT was the trade union, the Association of Cine-Technicians.”
(Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (2013): Interview. Christopher Challis. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 10–30.)
“The major form of color in silent cinema was applied color, colors not achieved by photographic processes, but applied to the positive print. In the most common process, tinting, a black-and-white positive print was immersed in a translucent dye. Thus the lighter areas of the image were colored, while the darker, and especially the entirely black areas, remained unchanged. A tinted image could be described as black and red (or black and green, or blue, or yellow, etc.). Toning, less frequent but still common, involved a process of printing and processing in which the actual chemicals that created the range of grays and blacks in the image were colored. Thus instead of a black-and-white image toning produced a blue and white one (or orange and white, red and white, green and white, etc.). In the era of shorter films some filmmakers colored areas of the image with a variety of colors, either by hand or with the aid of stencils, often with a realistic effect such as green trees, blue water, red flames, golden armor, or blue dresses. Tinting or toning were common practices from the feature era, appearing in most films until at least the mid-1920s.
However, color prints from the silent era were rarely screened until recently, leading to the distorted view that color film emerged gradually during the sound era awaiting the technical perfection and industry adoption of color photography. This was mainly due to archival policy. Until a few decades ago, color film stock was vulnerable to decay and deterioration and less suitable as an archival preservation medium than more stable black-and-white stocks. Applied color appears only on positive projection prints, not on negatives, and not on all prints of a film. Silent films were primarily printed on nitrate stock, whose chemical instability demanded their transfer to more recent stocks for preservation. Should an archivist copy a colored nitrate print onto color stock in order to preserve its tints, knowing that the color stock would itself eventually fade, or should she transfer it onto more stable black-and-white stock? Official policy of film archives until recently recommended duplicating nitrate prints onto black-and-white stock, an entirely defensible decision given the necessary trade-off that all preservation involves.
Certain archives screened nitrate prints with original tints publicly. I remember the excitement when MoMA would screen their tinted prints of Intolerance (D. W. Griffiths, 1916) or Broken Blossoms (D. W. Griffiths, 1919). Scholars realized that color, especially tinting, formed part of the silent film aesthetic. But that color appeared in most silent films was not widely realized until the 1980s, when archivists’ attitudes towards color changed, partly due to more stable color stocks. The decision not to preserve silent films in color came from practical preservation concerns, but it also reflected an attitude towards color that has cultural and aesthetic roots. Tints were considered secondary to the photographic aspects of the film. Color remained a supplement. Film scholars often viewed color as an add-on rather than an essential aspect: tints were applied after the production and directors may have had little or nothing to do with the process, instead leaving them in the hands of technicians. Some critics claimed that tinting was vulgar and obscured photographic qualities, a claim sometimes made by critics in the silent era as well. This viewpoint reflects a strain of chromophobia that runs through Western culture, often directed towards popular arts with their loud carnival colors. Philosophers held that color was not a primary, but, according to Descartes, a secondary accidental quality; certain forms of Puritanism claimed color was a sign of vanity and a cause of distraction; while some schools of painting suggested that color offered only a minor aesthetic quality compared to drawing which outlines essential forms (Batchelor 2000).
Awareness of color in silent film has come full circle with a new fascination in color processes and the effects (and affects) of color in cinema generally. But problems from the preservation side remain. Archivist Giovanna Fossati surveyed color prints made from nitrate originals in the collection of the Nederlands Filmmuseum (Fossati 2009: 83–89). Fossati found colors rarely strictly corresponded. The reasons were multiple. Photographic duplicates from applied color original prints involve a process of translation and unintended transformation. As anyone who has studied photographs of paintings knows, color photography is always selective and particularly responds differently to colors placed in close juxtaposition. But even if the photograph were strictly accurate in the reproduction of the original, neither color system is totally stable. The applied dyes in silent film are always in a process of fading or transforming. Even an accurate photograph will only capture one moment in this process. Color in film remains transitory, subject not only to changes wrought by time, but changes as it migrates through different film stocks and modes of processing. Attempts to preserve colors produced by different processes means those changes can be immense. Video not only offers new tools for the control of color, with its millions of differentiated colors, but also new problems in reproducing them yielding the old joke about the meaning of the initials NTSC – the video standard set in the US by the National Television System Committee – that they actually indicate “never the same color,” still applies (Fossati 2009: 45–49).
All of these aspects indicate the headache color presents to archivists and historians of film stylistics. While one inevitably regrets the loss of aspects of an artwork, some archivists have decided to acknowledge and even embrace the inevitable ephemerality of our medium. Paolo Cherchi Usai in his work as archivist, theorist and filmmaker has embraced this inevitable death of cinema and the role historians and filmmakers play in constructing requiems willing to acknowledge the mortality of film works (Cherchi Usai 2001). Such filmmakers include Pieter Delpeut in Lyrical Nitrate (1991) or Bill Morrison’s Decasia (2002), and the filmmakers who have used colors obtained by unconventional chemical processes, such as David Gatten in What the Water Said (1998-2007) and Peggy Ahwesh in The Color of Love (1994).1 Color belongs to the material side of film. While it may be stored as digital information, its dynamic unstable chemical nature balances the serendipity of alchemical transformation with the inevitability of decay. This inherently unfixed nature of color combines with its unique perceptual and emotional effects to create a power foreign to either Cartesian certitude or the Platonic ideal eternity.
From the perspective of archiving and preservation, film color remains uniquely vulnerable and its relative absence from earlier accounts of silent film history may derive less from suspicion or ideological suppression than from the nature of color itself, elusive and ungraspable, as eager to appear to us as to flee from us. But what I am calling the suppression of color refers also to our incomplete understanding of another aspect of the history of color in silent cinema: less the prevalence of color during most of the silent era, now widely acknowledged, but the near total disappearance of applied color by the 1930s, which has rarely been remarked upon – even though everyone recognises it! The true mystery of color in film may lie in the emergence of black-and-white in the 1930s through the 1950s as the standard of cinema. Because the preservation of applied color in silent prints remains spotty, the nature of this transformation remains unclear. Was it abrupt, and did it basically coincide, as has often been supposed, with the coming of sound or did it occur gradually, as some preliminary evidence seems to indicate, with a reduction in colored prints during the late 1920s? It has often been claimed that the disappearance of tinting had a technological basis since the dyeing process interfered with the soundtrack. While this sounds plausible, given that some early sound films were tinted, it needs to be questioned and subjected to further investigation. Could the addition of a soundtrack offer a different sort of explanation, more aesthetic and stylistic, as synchronized sound and dialogue clashed with, or somehow rendered redundant, the addition of color? For example, it is useful to recall that early talkies often eliminated the continuous musical accompaniment that had defined silent film, or restricted it to opening and closing credits. It is most likely that streamlining the production of projection prints with sound played a major role, since applied color processes added a complicated stage in the preparation of prints. But why did the aesthetic addition of color at this point seem no longer worth the effort? Histories of laboratory and print preparation may well hold the answer to our question, although aesthetic effects must also have been a consideration. Whatever the explanation may be, this literal suppression of color in the 1930s or late 1920s remains a stylistic change that has basically been taken for granted.
How was black-and-white film viewed during the silent era? Was it a stylistic alternative to color, a seemingly random variation, or was it rarely seen at all? Undoubtedly this question needs to be asked in terms of specific periods (e.g. pre-1907; 1908-1913; 1914; 1919; 1920-1924; 1924-1929); for different national cinemas; and for genres (was tinting and coloring more common in dramas than in slapstick, in fiction than in newsreels?). In how many films did tinting appear only in a few sequences and what sort of scenes were these (to what extent was tinting limited to blue night scenes, red fires, or did it operate as stylistic markers within otherwise black-and-white films)? The lack of tinting was remarked upon in the admittedly limited showings of the Expressionist film Von Morgens bis Mitternacht, Karl Heinz Martin’s 1920 adaptation of George Kaiser’s expressionist play. Recent restorations of classic Weimar films reveal the expressive possibilities of tinting in such films as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919), Nosferatu (F. W. Murnau, 1922) and Orlacs Hande (Robert Wiene, 1924).2 But if Von Morgens bis Mitternacht avoided tints, was this for expressive motives? Did stark black-and-white make the film seem closer to the severe woodcuts of the early German Expressionist group of artists, Die Brücke? […]
Issues of archival restoration of color also raise stylistic considerations. However, when a modern photographic color print is made of prints originally using these processes, these distinctions tend to blur. The blacks of a tinted print lose their integrity, while the whites in a toned print tend to merge with the dominant color. To address this problem The Royale Cinémathèque of Belgium introduced an alternative called the Desmet process (Fossati 2009: 89–90). Instead of simply photographing the original colored print onto color stock, a black-and-white print is flashed into color in order to preserve the original dark blacks, preserving the original tonal contrast.
1What the Water Said was a series of films made by David Gatten from 1998 to 2007.
2 Contemporary critics remarked on the lack of tinting in the Expressionist film Von Morgens bis Mitternacht, Karl Heinz Martin’s 1920 adaptation of George Kaiser’s Expressionist play (although the film had admittedly very few screenings).
Batchelor, D. (2000) Chromophobia, New York: Reaktion.
Cherchi Usai, P. (2001) The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age, London: British Film Institute.
Fossati, G. (2009) From Grain to Pixel: the Archival Life of Film in Transition, Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.”
(Gunning, Tom (2013): Where Do Colors Go at Night? In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 81–92, on pp. 82–86.)
East Germany and Russia should have found it easier than other countries to produce Agfacolor-type materials after World War II. They had the Wolfen plant and were able to utilize Agfa’s know-how more quickly than any other manufacturer. Most of the colour film produced at Wolfen after the war was used by the East German film industry, particularly the production company DEFA which took over the UFA studios in Berlin.
By 1954 Wolfen was producing both reversal and colour negative films for use in still cameras. They were called ORWOchrom and ORWOcolor; ORWO standing for Original Wolfen. Orwo was still producing Agfa-type colour films in 1990, long after almost every other photographic manufacturer had accepted the necessity to produce colour films that would be compatible with the processing required for Kodacolor and Ektachrome.”
(Coote, Jack H. (1993): The Illustrated History of Colour Photography. Surbiton, Surrey: Fountain Press, on p. 166.)
It was clear from many of their early patents that Agfa intended to pursue the negative/positive route to motion picture release prints. However, there were many difficulties to be overcome before this aim could be realised. First, there was the problem of twice using imperfect dyes to obtain a print, disregarding the preferred practice of the industry to employ a third, intermediate negative, to permit the introduction of optical effects and protect the original camera negative.
Because it was not possible to make satisfactory intermediate negatives, it was the practice, whenever possible, to shoot each scene three times; one negative being stored for safety and the others serving to produce release prints. Dissolves and fades had to be made in the camera – in the same way as they had been in the earliest days of film production. Then there was the very real problem of producing long lengths of triple-coated film with the relatively slow and imprecise coating machines commonly used at that time.
A short film produced by the Agfacolor negative/positive process was shown at a conference of the German Society for Photographic Research in 1939 and soon after that UFA, the principal German motion picture production company, decided to adopt the system. They provided the necessary processing facilities by converting some of the black and white equipment already in their laboratories in Berlin. UFA produced a number of short advertising and documentary films for products such as ‘Maggi’ and ‘4711’ Cologne; but wider use was inhibited by the very low speed of the negative material. After the speed of the camera material had been doubled with the aid of ‘gold’ sensitizing, a short feature film entitled Ein Lied verklingt was made and shown to an enthusiastic audience in Berlin in 1939. Bearing in mind that very few Technicolor films reached Germany after the outbreak of war, it was not surprising that the audience were ready to welcome a home-produced system. Other feature films followed, and perhaps the most famous of them was ‘Munchausen‘: a production made on the instruction of Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda.
These early Agfacolor motion pictures, the first to be made with multi-layer camera and print films, preceded Kodak’s Eastman Color films by a decade and were therefore historic landmarks.
POST WAR INTELLIGENCE REPORTS
Immediately after the end of the War, parties of American and British experts visited the factories of the I. G. Farbenindustrie in Wolfen and Leverkusen and wrote a number of detailed reports on the production methods and formulas used in the manufacture of Agfa products in all their forms.
Two of these reports dealt specifically with Agfacolor films and Agfacolor papers, and from them it was learned that both films and papers required three passes through the coating machines and that the speed of coating was no more than 2 to 3 metres a minute for film, and 4 metres a minute for paper.
All of Agfa’s early colour materials were coated on machines using the ‘festoon’ arrangement for drying either film or paper. This system, which dates from the earliest days of paper coating, automatically forms a continuous length of film or paper into a succession of loops that are suspended from ‘sticks’ which progress slowly through a drying chamber. This method of coating has the serious disadvantage that areas of slightly different sensitivity occur wherever a ‘stick’ causes a change in the rate of drying across the web of coated material. While these differences might not be too serious in black and white paper, they result in bands of colour changes when a multi-layer colour material is coated by means of three passes through such a machine.
Apart from ‘stick’ marks, the imprecise method of ‘dip’ coating used at that time inevitably led to colour balance differences between batches, which had to be compensated for at the time of release printing – a costly business. As a result, it was estimated that the yield of usable Agfacolor print film was no more than 70%.
Agfa technicians at Wolfen were well aware of these shortcomings and towards the end of the War they constructed a coating machine with an entirely new drying system, the new design depended upon the film being rigidly supported by a large drum, so that hot air at high velocity could be used to cause rapid evaporation and so prevent re-melting of the emulsion. At the time the new machine was built, Agfa had no plans to coat more than one emulsion at a time and were simply concerned to make single layer coatings as quickly as possible.
At Binghampton in the US, Agfa-Ansco solved the problem by using a machine in which a web of coated material was transported horizontally in a ‘straight-away’ path through a drying box.
WOLFEN AND LEVERKUSEN
While the factory at Wolfen was mainly concerned during the War with the production of Agfacolor negative, positive and reversal films, work on Agfacolor paper was carried out at Leverkusen under Dr. Erwin Trabert. The first public evidence of the capabilities of the colour paper was seen in Dresden in 1942 during a conference
of German Research Associations, when some very impressive 20in x 24in Agfacolor enlargements were exhibited.
After the War Wolfen found itself in the Russian-controlled zone, and eventually had to add colour paper production to complete its Agfacolor range. Conversely, Leverkusen had to turn its attention to producing Agfacolor films as well as colour paper.
After 1954 all Agfa products made at Wolfen were renamed ORWO (Original-Wolfen).
The first Agfacolor negative film produced at Leverkusen was released in 1949, but it was not until 1952 that they produced their first reversal film.
Once the radical post-war reorganization had settled down, a steady flow of improvements were made to the whole range of Agfacolor films and papers. Speeds of the camera films were significantly increased, so that by 1956, Agfacolor Negative (CN17) had reached ASA40 – which was not far from the speed of a typical black and white film of that time. In the same year the speed of Agfacolor Reversal Film (CT18) was increased to ASA50. The reversal films for home movies were slightly slower at ASA16 and ASA32 for the daylight and artificial light versions.
The sharpness of prints made on Agfacolor paper was significantly improved by rearranging the relative positions of the three emulsion layers, so that the red-sensitive (cyan image-forming) layer was on top of the tri-pack with the blue-sensitive (yellow image-forming) layer next to the paper base. This idea had been patented by Schneider in 1939.
An Agfacolor Reversal paper, for prints from transparencies, was first introduced in 1962.
PROCESSING AND PRINTING ARRANGEMENTS
Although the processing of both Agfacolor negative and reversal films was relatively straightforward, there remained the problem of printing from colour negatives. Nowhere in the world, outside Eastman Kodak’s laboratories in Rochester, was there any experience of making colour prints from colour negatives. For that reason Agfa felt able to release the processing of their reversal films (both 35mm and 16mm) before they were prepared to release colour paper and chemistry. Instead, they decided to appoint a limited number of processing stations until 1951, when it was decided to widen the circle of authorized processors to allow professional photographers to undertake their own processing and printing; but only after they had attended an approved course of instruction. In the UK the course was run by the International School of Colour Photography at Edenbridge in Kent. A limited number of photofinishers were also appointed in Europe, and five of them in the UK.
At that time Agfacolor negative films and the prints made from them were produced by methods and with equipment that were almost exactly the same as those used to make black and white prints. There were no continuous film or paper processing machines, and all the prints were made on separate sheets of paper exposed in ordinary enlargers fitted with some form of filter adjustment and processed in dishes or tanks.
In the early 1950s Agfacolor reversal films were still being sold with the cost of processing included and exposed films could be returned to Agfa’s laboratories in Denmark, Holland, Germany, Switzerland or the UK. However, this did not alter the fact that in those days many photographers preferred to process their own films. Consequently a few keen experimenters, H. Gordon, E. Gehret and C. L. Thomson among them, devised formulations that could be made up and used by the amateur to produce quite satisfactory results.
The first collection of such substitute processing recommendations appeared in the British Journal of Photography in August 1953 and similar formulas became a regular feature in the British journal of Photography Almanacs and Annuals thereafter.
UNION OF AGFA WITH GEVAERT
In 1964, after a decade of close co-operation, German Agfa and Belgian Gevaert, the two largest manufacturers of photo-materials in Europe, joined forces. Gevaert had already been producing colour paper based on Agfa formulations, but after the union they began to concentrate on films for the motion picture industry. At first they produced Agfacolor CN5 negative film, but the success of Kodak’s masked Eastman Color film (see section on Eastman Color) compelled Gevaert to devise a masked product of their own in 1968. However, it was not until 1969/70 that Gevaert was able to produce a print film that required the same processing as Eastman Color positive. The first Gevacolor negative film to be compatible with Eastman Color negative was ready in 1974 – some 30 years after Kodak had patented the idea of coloured masking couplers. After that neither Agfa nor Gevaert made materials with the kind of couplers Schneider and Wilmanns had discovered 40 years earlier.
OTHER MANUFACTURERS OF AGFACOLOR-TYPE PROCESSES
Publication of the several British and American Intelligence Reports based on visits to Wolfen and Leverkusen immediately after World War II meant that any photographic manufacturer was free to produce its own versions of Agfacolor products. Most of them opted to make a reversal film – probably because it could be sold without requiring a counterpart colour paper and some kind of printing service.
The companies that took advantage of Agfa’s know-how included: GAF in the US; ICI in England; Ferrania in Italy; Valca in Spain; Tellko in Switzerland; and Fuji, Konishiroku and Oriental in Japan. What none of these organizations knew at the time was that all Agfa-type materials would eventually give way to films and papers using the type of coupler Eastman Kodak devised to compete with Agfacolor in the first place.
Although it is not history, it is tempting to speculate that had there been no World War II to bring about the separation and disruption of Wolfen and Leverkusen, it seems likely that an Agfacolor negative/positive print process would have been established in Europe before Kodacolor was ready in the US.”
(Coote, Jack H. (1993): The Illustrated History of Colour Photography. Surbiton, Surrey: Fountain Press, on pp. 153–156.)