Diepte (NDL 1933, Frans Dupont).
Credit: EYE Filmmuseum Amsterdam.
Photographs of the hand colored and tinted di-acetate print by Bregt Lameris, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.
See tinted images here.
“The earliest known example of a hand-colored motion picture is Les Dernières Cartouches (Georges Hatot, 1896-97). It was produced by the Lumière Brothers not long after their Cinématographe premiered on December 28, 1895, at the Grand Café in Paris.6 In this early film, the color was applied directly onto the print.
This required a special bench fitted with an aperture the size of a single frame. The image was lit from below, viewed through the magnification of a lens, and advanced frame by frame by means of a foot pedal. An aniline dye was spread over the frame with a tiny brush. When the foot pedal was pressed, the next image appeared, and the worker repeated the same strike of color until the scene was finished. The film was then rewound, and another worker would begin to color another area of the film with a different dye.
A trained hand could move the brush rhythmically and very rapidly. The major problem was the fact that the spot of color had to follow the movements of the figure across the frame. It was also important to ensure that the shape and intensity of the brushstroke remained constant.
The films colored with such systems often had—and still do, insofar as they have been preserved—the flamboyant beauty of medieval miniatures.
However, the production of these hand-tinted films could never be organized on an industrial basis. The cost of producing colored prints was only partially justified by the demand of the exhibition market. Thus, for some time, the most expensive films were sold in both black-and-white and color versions, especially in France.7
6 The Lumière catalog number oiLes Dernieres Cartouches is 745, but the numbering does not correspond necessarily to the chronological order in which the films were made. See Georges Sadoul, Lumière et Méliès (Paris: Lherminier, 1985; first published in 1964 and 1961 by Seghers as separate books, Méliès and Lumière], p. 137.
7 A good example is Le Royaume Des Fées (Star-Film, 1903). An original print of this film is held in the nitrate vaults of the National Film Archive in Berkhamstead, England.”
(Cherchi Usai, Paolo (1996): The Color of Nitrate. Some Factual Observations on Tinting and Toning Manuals for Silent Films. In: Abel, Richard (ed.): Silent Film. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, pp. 21-30, on p. 23.)
“The first attempts to apply colour manually to the film emulsion derive from the methods normally used for magic lantern slides. Experiments in this direction were made in the United States and France almost as soon as the photographic moving image came into existence. Already in 1895 the Edison Kinetoscope Company had marketed Annabelle’s Dance – the first of a vast repertory of single-shot views dedicated to the genre of the ‘serpentine dance’, which Loïe Fuller had made an international rage – in colour versions. Annabelle’s white veils were tinted by hand by the wife of Edward Kuhn in the Edison Laboratories at Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, using half a dozen hues, in an attempt ‘to simulate the effect of the coloured lights that were projected on the ballerina during her performance on stage’. Early attempts in this direction were also made by Lumière in France and by Robert William Paul in the United Kingdom.
The application of colour was later improved with the use of powerful enlarging lenses and extremely fine brushes. Georges Méliès, more than anyone else, took advantage of the limitations inherent in this practice (it was difficult to follow precisely the contours of people and objects) by producing some of the most fascinating colour films of the early period (Plate 45). Le Palais des mille et une nuits (1905) has ample strokes of brilliant dyes, sometimes with a dominant golden yellow, pervading the entire frame and creating an effect similar to tinting; more complex is the colour scheme in Le Royaume desfies (1903), in which the variety and density of the hues has no equal among surviving nitrate prints of the early period. The colours in this film have been compared to those of medieval miniatures, not only because of the minute detail and the clever articulation of delicately hued patterns within a tiny surface, but also because of their effect in locating the story in a realm of mythic atmosphere, deliberately alien to any historical context (although derived from the visual codes of late nineteenth-century books of fables), and by their capacity to enhance the beauty of the settings and the depth of the trompe-l’oeil perspective.
In order to reduce the very high costs involved in hand-colouring a film, standardise the product – for obvious reasons, manual application of colour resulted in noticeable differences from copy to copy, affirming the uniqueness of each – and satisfy a growing market demand, systems were devised for mechanical colouring after 1905.”
(Cherchi Usai, Paolo (2000): Silent Cinema. London: BFI, pp. 21-22.)
“Attempts at achieving full-color reproduction date back to the very beginning of the film industry.
Traditional histories usually ignore the possibility that the first film to be projected upon a screen–C Francis Jenkins’ in 1894–may have been hand colored by a Mr. Boyce prior to its presentation.1 While conclusive evidence of Mr. Boyce’s contribution has yet to surface, it is known that as early as 1895 The Edison Kinetoscope Company enhanced their famous film, Annabelle’s Dance, by laboriously hand-coloring the black-and-white image frame by frame.2 As many as half a dozen different colors were applied to Annabelle’s white dress in an attempt “to simulate the effects of colored lights which played over her body during her stage performance.”3 The meticulous work was performed at the Edison laboratories at Llewellyn Park, New Jersey by Mrs. Edmund Kuhn.4
Other colorists in the early days were Miss Martini, of West Orange, N.J. Miss Sarah Levy of New York City, and Miss Tompkins, of Brooklyn, N.Y. These famous hand colorists brought their art to a high degree of perfection, and displayed remarkable patience in working out their results.5
In 1896 Robert Paul, pioneer English filmmaker and manufacturer of motion picture equipment, began experimenting with hand-coloring.
Artists were engaged for the task; they used a magnifying glass, but progress was provokingly slow as well as exacting and expensive, the treatment of a film with i t s 640 successive images–for the Kinetoscope–occupying considerable time. The coloring of the film of The Miracle was the record achievement by this method. The positive was 7000 feet in length (7 reels) and carried 112,000 images, each of which had to be t r e a t e d individually in accordance with the scheme set out by Professor Rinehart and Dr. Karl Volmoeller. A small army of expert colourists were engaged, but the daily output of each man was only eight feet, or 128 images.6
The Miracle was by far the most ambitious color film to date, but perhaps the real miracle is that it was completed at all. Paul soon realized that he would either have to abandon colored films entirely, or develop a system of applying the colors mechanically to save time and expense. He eventually “evolved a system of mechanically stenciling the colors through hand-made masks,”7 a process which appears similar to that used by Pathé in France.
Pathé was not alone. Other French firms such as Gaumont and Eclair used hand-tinting or stenciling to obtain color, as did Georges Méliès in many of his early films, including An Astronomer’s Dream (1898) and his first version of A Trip to the Moon (1900).12 The gunshot blast at the end of The Great Train Robbery (1903) was tinted red, a technique used 40 years later by Alfred Hitchcock in Spellbound, and D. W. Griffith utilized handcoloring in The White Rose (1923) when Carol Dempster appeared to blush on the screen with the help of a red tint applied to her cheeks.13 Although many additional examples could be cited, the process of hand-tinting motion pictures was clearly not the answer for achieving full color on the screen. A primary drawback was the artificiality of the – colors applied to the film. While pleasant (and often magnificent) to look, at, both filmmakers and theater audiences preferred to have “natural color.” Furthermore, the high cost of the delicate process made hand-coloring prohibitive—even with mechanical aids like stencils and pantographs. This cost factor, suggests Terry Ramsaye, became acute after World War I when the labor costs of artisans employed by European producers rose drastically.14”
1 Hal Hall and William Stull, “Motion Pictures in Natural Colors,” in Cinematographic Annual, 1930, The American Society of Cinematographers (Hollywood: The Harwell Publishing Corp., 1930), p. 275.
2 Terry Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), p. 118.
3 David L. Parker, “‘Blazing Technicolor,’ ‘Stunning Trucolor,’ and ‘Shocking Eastmancolor,’” in The American Film Heritage, The American Film Institute (Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books Ltd., 1973), p. 19.
4 Charles Edward Hastings, “Natural Color Moving Pictures–Their History and Advancement,” Moving Picture World, March 26, 1927, p. 346.
6 Frederick A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1923), p. 341.
7 Hall and Stull, p. 276.
8 Parker, p. 19.
9 Roger Manvell, The International Encyclopedia of Film (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1972), p. 29.
10 James L. Limbacher, Four Aspects of the Film (New York: Brussel and Brussel, Inc., 1969), pp. 4-5.
11 ibid., p. 3.
12 ibid., p. 2
13 ibid., p. 3
14 Terry Ramsaye, “Color Photography and the Motion Picture,Photoplay 15 (March 1919): 86.”
(Nowotny, Robert A. (1983): The Way of all Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929. New York: Garland Pub, pp. 10-14.)
“Turning now to the history of applied colour film, it can be noted that the earliest cited examples date back, in the United States, at least to 1895, when a number of Edison Kinetoscope films employed hand colouring for dance subjects. Edison’s hand-coloured serpentine dance films with Annabelle Whitford, which emulate Loïe Fuller’s elaborate performances, are the colour Kinetoscope films most frequently cited (see, for example, Ramsaye 1926: 124-5). Regarding the early projection of applied-colour films, press reviews, such as those collated and redistributed by Raff and Gammon to promote the Vitascope, enthusiastically note that Edison included two hand-coloured films in his first public screening on 23 April 1896 at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall: the Leigh sister’s Umbrella Dance, which began the screening, and a serpentine dance that ended it (Raff and Gammon 1984: A-023-026). Prior to this screening, the Lumière Brothers, as well as the British filmmaker R.W. Paul, had produced hand-coloured films for projection. Thus, while receiving little historical attention, applied colour technologies were used to colour films from the very beginnings of cinema history, and continued as the predominant form of colouring throughout the 1920s.
(Yumibe, Joshua (2007): Silent Cinema Colour Aesthetics. In: Everett, Wendy (ed.): Questions of Colour in Cinema. From Paintbrush to Pixel. Peter Lang: Oxford, pp. 43-44.)
“More will be said about the particulars of applied-coloring techniques throughout this book, but a brief description here of the four most common processes—hand coloring, tinting, toning, and stenciling—is useful as a point of reference.4 The earliest coloring method employed in the cinema was hand coloring in which elements of each frame were manually colored on the emulsion side of the print, which is porous enough to absorb dye (color plate 1). This work was most often carried out by young women and girls working with magnifying glasses and brushes at times as small as a single horse-hair. In fact, hand coloring was the first area of production open to females in the emerging film industry, and one of the goals of this project is to call attention to this labor and to the socioeconomic conditions that structured it. The amount of treated frames in hand-colored prints varies widely. In shorter films of the 1890s, every frame of a print might be handcolored, while in later films only selective moments and objects in a scene were typically colored (for example, a gunshot, an explosion, or a golden tooth). In varying degrees, these approaches were laborious and required the individual treatment of every colored frame in every release print, be it five prints or fifty. Due to the amount of effort and expense involved in the work, extensive use of hand coloring was not widely feasible on an industrial basis, particularly as films began to grow longer in the early 1900s; however, there were prestige prints hand-colored well into the 1920s.
4 For historical accounts of these techniques, see Ernest Coustet, Traité pratique de cinématographie, vol. I, Production des images cinématographiques (Paris: Charles Mendel éditeur, 1913); and Frederick A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1912), 287-300. For contemporary accounts, see Paolo Cherchi Usai’s various writings on the topic, such as “The Way of All Flesh Tones,” in Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London: British Film Institute, 2000), 21-43. Also see the journal issues on silent color: Luke McKernan, ed., Living Pictures 2.2 (2003); and Kim Tomadjoglou, ed., Film History 21.1 & 2 (2009).”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, pp. 3-4)
“Already in 1896 films were coloured by hand, frame by frame, using a very fine brush, and the technique probably originated from the hand colouring of lantern slides. The results obtained with this technique could be extraordinarily good, for example some of the works by George Méliès.
The dyes used were translucent inks, paints or dyes in a water, or sometimes spirit base, and were applied by a brush or stippled on with a stippling brush onto the emulsion side.
The gelatine of the emulsion absorbs waterbased dyes easily. Opaque dyes were unsuccessful as they would appear neutral or black on projection. Probably the dyes used most were those used for stencilling and were the same aniline dyes used for lantern slides, but there is almost no literature on the subject.
The technique was limited to the capacity of the colouring artist and was never developed industrially. Furthermore, it was very difficult to apply the colour to a regular area of the frame without smearing and each frame has a slightly different amount of dye, covering a different area. In order to recognize this technique and separate a hand brushed film from a stencilled one, it is necessary to look at the variations from frame to frame, and in particular the difference in the spreading of the colour, the different amount of colour spread in an area, the lack of clean definition on the edges. This is often best seen as a fluttering of the coloured areas on the projected image.
It is quite common to be uncertain as to whether a film has been coloured by hand brushing or by stencilling if the hand brushing is well done, the stencilling haphazard or the dye rather pale or faded.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Restoration of Motion Picture Film. Oxford, p. 181)
“17.12 THE DUPLICATION OF EARLY COLOURED FILMS
Restoration of coloured monochrome films was, until only a few years ago, carried out almost exclusively by conventional black and white duplication and the colours were simply recorded in writing. Little attempt was made to reproduce the original colours for archival storage or for display. Those colour restorations that were attempted were done by making a colour internegative on whatever current Eastman Colour Internegative film was available. The earliest attempts were usually poor and of too high a contrast, but today a very close visual match to the archive original can be achieved. The resulting colour print represents the colours left in the film today after whatever fading has occurred.
17.12.1 Duplication of hand and stencil coloured films
In the case of stencilled films and other systems in which discrete patches of colour are used, the use of colour internegatives is really the only photographic method possible, and achieving a better representation of the original in its pristine form can only be done by using enhancement of video signals and retransferring back to film. These digital techniques are not covered in this book.
The procedure for reproducing a copy of a coloured print is exactly the same as for any print duplication using an integral tripack such as Eastman Colour Internegative film, and is covered in Chapter 18 on the restoration of colour film.
17.12.2 Duplication of tinted and toned films
Other coloured films are less discrete in their colour and either the entire frame was suffused with one colour (tinting), or the image was coloured a single colour (toning), or a combination of the two techniques was used. In these cases a wider range of techniques for restoration exists.
Copying the original onto colour film
The original coloured film can be copied onto Eastman Colour Internegative and the resulting colour negative printed onto a modern colour print stock. The results, provided the duplication sensitometry has been rigorously followed, can be excellent as a record of the coloured image now. Some limited grading can ‘improve’ some colours but these changes are very restricted and are largely to produce improved saturation. For example, a red tint can be made a little redder or more saturated by grading to a redder balance.
The other obvious disadvantages are cost of the colour stock, and the problems of storing colour negatives.
The duplication set-up can be done using the LAD system provided that the internegative material is used and processed in the standard Kodak specified manner, and this is dealt with in detail in Chapter 15 on duplication.
Some laboratories reduce the development time of the internegative by just a few per cent in order to reduce the overall contrast and this can produce good results. If the process time is reduced by more than about 10% the three sensitive layers no longer develop to the same contrast and an unpleasant ‘cross contrast’ effect occurs. Attempting to increase the development by more than about 10% produces similar cross-contrast effects. Commonly, this results in prints with a different colour cast in the shadows to the highlights; red shadows, cyan-blue highlights in particular. Once a cross-contrast negative has been produced a good print is unobtainable, and only electronic digital techniques will correct the mismatched colour.
A further problem of departing from the standard process procedure is that the LAD system, which relies on a standardized characteristic curve to allow a fixed aim density to define the correct exposure conditions, may no longer apply, and the old two-point set-up will be needed to cope with a non-standard shaped curve. Rarely is all this effort really worth while unless the laboratory is confident of spending the time (and the money).
Printing a black and white duplicate negative onto colour print stock
Any black and white duplicate negative can be printed onto a conventional modern colour print film to achieve an image of almost any colour (achieved by varying the grading with filters or light valve settings) from a neutral black or grey, to any saturated primary. This does make it possible to achieve quite good matches with many of the tone colours that were available.
However, by this method it is not possible to copy satisfactorily tinted films or double toned or tinted and toned films. If the image is printed somewhat dark an effect not unlike tinting can be achieved but the image loses much of its aesthetic value. The overexposure has the effect of producing hazy monochromes and the results obtained from this method are simply not of high enough contrast and the high densities are not black but simply a denser colour. Occasionally good results are obtained but the effect is best with blues and day-for-night shots, and other colours are very difficult to achieve.
There is no doubt that in certain circumstances where a film is entirely toned in a variety of strong colours, especially if the colours were produced by colour development or by mordanting, this simple and inexpensive method is very effective.
17.13 THE ‘DESMETCOLOR METHOD’
This system, devised by Noel Desmet of the Royal Belgian Film Archive, has been used since the 1970s to try to restore some of the strong colours and dramatic effects of early tinted and toned prints. It is not intended to match the colours of a particular print but provide an extensive palette from which to choose colours in the same way that producers chose the effects they wanted originally. Many early coloured films were duplicated to make a normal black and white duplicate negative and notes kept of the original colour before the decaying nitrate print was destroyed. Desmet’s method enables these colours to be put back as tints or tones or as a combination using the archive duplicate negatives as a starting point. The colours do not match exactly the originals, although if enough trial and error time is spent quite close matches are probably possible. The overall dramatic effect is probably very close to that of the original. A number of laboratories use this method. The final print is on a colour print film.
Working independently, Dominic Case in Australia has used a similar system but making the monochrome duplicate negative on Eastman Colour Internegative. This method was published in the SMPTE Journal in 1987.
The choice of material was probably influenced by the idea that a masked negative material would make a more stable starting point than a black and white negative. Comparisons of the two methods suggest that the results are very similar but the use of a black and white negative material results in finer grain on the final print.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): The Duplication of Early Coloured Films. In: Restoration of Motion Picture Film. Oxford, pp. 191-193.)
“A women’s work: hand-painting, frame by frame
Hand-painting consisted in applying one or more colours over different areas of each frame of a positive film. Application was carried out with a brush and transparent aniline-based dyes were used. Opaque dyes would have blocked the light passing through during the film projection. Aniline-based products are synthetic, water-soluble and available in a wide range of colours; their production started in the second half of last century. Tints were brushed on the film emulsion only in the areas to be coloured and the process was repeated frame by frame. Considering that these were motion images, the area to be coloured could be located in a different place from one frame to the other. For example, if the area to be coloured was the dress of a woman entering in the picture from the right and, after having walked thorugh the frame, exiting in the left corner, the layer of colour to be applied had to be moved accordingly on the frames. In the second half of last century hand-painting of photographic images was already practised in other contexts, for example for magic lanterns. It seems that magic lantern colourists were the first to be employed to colour films. As it appears, Mr Doubell, colourist for lantern slides for the Royal Polytechnic Institution, was called to colour a movie by R.W. Paul (Serpentine Dance) screened in 1896.4 It seems that his work pace was not so fast, two or three frames a day. The teams of young women working in Paris on Pathé’s films, or sometimes on Méliès, were much faster. Hand-painting as later stencilling was almost exclusively a women’s job. It required great patience, good eyes and an artistic inclination, and this is why it was considered a women’s job from the start. Reading a recent interview made to an old lady, Germaine Berger, for many year working as a colourist in Pathé laboratories in Vincennes,5 is rather interesting: she recalled that each worker was in charge of a given colour and that some touch ups were still made by hand, even when the system was mechanised (after 1906). […] In 1929, during the Gala Pleyel in honour of Méliès, M.me Thuiller said: “I coloured all Méliès’s movies from 1897 to 1912, and all by hand. I spent the night choosing and selecting the dye samples. During the day, workers applied the dyes according to my instructions. Each of them was specialised in only one colour and usually there were more than twenty. We used very fine aniline-based dyes which were diluted with water and alcohol. The tones were then transparent and very brilliant”.8
After 1906 hand-painting became a rather unusual practice. In the first decade of this century it was still possible to find motion pictures, maybe short family features, shot by private amateurs, which were hand-painted. The main problem of hand-painting was colour flickering which emerged during projection as, although application might have been accurate, it could hardly remain stable and homogeneous frame after frame. The problem was clearly described by Henry Hopwood in 1899: “In an ordinary single lantern slide outline is of little moment, in a Living Picture it is everything. A spire of a church in the single view does not offend the eye if the colouring oversteps the proper outline, provided that the shape is rendered symmetrical. Far other in a Living Picture. The slightest variation between successive views gives rise to a continuous bulging and contraction which no respectable church would allow its steeple to indulge in.”9 In 1984 Edison had some films coloured for his Kinetoscope, one was Annabelle the Dancer which later became also a motion picture for larger screens. The changing colours of Annabelle’s dress were applied by Edward Kuhn’s wife in Edison laboratory in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey.10
From 1894 to 1906 many movies were hand-painted; they were mostly trick movies (Méliès), féeries (Pathé, Méliès, etc.) and many others showing spectacular dance numbers (there were many examples in the United States, France and Italy).
The same movie could be sold in different prints, either coloured or not, but also coloured by several processes. An example is Méliès’s Le Raid Paris-Montecarlo en 2 heures (1905) of which two versions were available: one with multiple colours and another totally devoid of colour, except for the bright red car found in almost all the frames (both prints belong to the collection of Madeleine Malthête-Méliès).11 Sometimes it is also possible that colouring would be added after the first screening, for example by a theatre owner intending to enhance the value of a movie.
4 Brian Coe, The history of Movie Photography, London, Ash & Grant, 1981, p. 112.
5 See Jorge Dana, Couleurs au pochoir, entretien avec Germaine Berger, cobristechez Pathé in “Positif”, n. 375/376.
8 Georges Sadoul, Histoire général du cinéma. Les pionniers du cinéma, Paris, Editions Denoel.
9 See Coe, The Hystory of Movie Photography, pp. 112-113.
10 Paolo Cherchi Usai, Le nitrate mécanique, in Jacques Aumont (ed. by), La couleur en cinema, Paris-Milan, Cinémathèque Francaise-Mazzotta, 1995, p. 95.
11 It should be noted that some Melies’s movies were printed and coloured again in 1929 for the Gala Méliès: it is therefore possible that one of the two prints was coloured especially for that event.”
(Fossati, Giovanna (1998): When Cinema Was Coloured. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 121-132, on pp. 122-123.)
“Usually technical texts dealt separately with the different colouring techniques, subdividing them into monochromatic and polychromatic. Hand-painting and stencil colouring are polychromatic techniques because they usually entail the use of several dyes, from three to six.
The manuals from the teens and twenties referred to a context where hand-painting was already a rarity. Therefore, when discussing polychromatic systems they delved mostly on stencilling.Therefore, when discussing polychromatic systems they delved mostly on stencilling. It was usually placed in relation with photographic systems which were already being experimented in the teens. In Grey’s text written in 1918 it is said: “The effect of coloring by stencils, while often pleasing, is no rival in fidelity to the original of the more successful photographic processes”. A few years earlier another author when speaking about Pathé’s and Gaumont’s production coloured by stencils had written that in either cases, as also for all the commercial movies both hand and stencil coloured, “…. there is no mechanical guarantee that the colours as projected are either identical or even near to those of the original. They may and probably will be pleasing” (Bennett, 1911). Similar comparisons between hand-painting and colour photographic reproduction seem completely unfeasable as in the former the colours were applied on film in an arbitrary fashion.
Bibliography: texts until 1930
Colin N. Bennett, The Handbook of Kinematography, London, The Kinematograph Weekly, 1911; The Handbook of Kinematography, London 1913.”
(Fossati, Giovanna (1998): When Cinema Was Coloured. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 121-132, on p. 127.)
Let us now take into consideration the contemporary literature which mostly dealt with colouring techniques. These are manuals dedicated to the practice of cinematography and articles published in several specialised journals. These texts are mostly technical and describe in detail the different colouring systems, by paying special attention to procedures. There are indications for tinting and toning baths, descriptions of machines used in the stencil system, etc, but they do not delve on critical analyses on the different film colouring forms, nor on explicit aesthetic considerations. These texts also rarely mention specific movies with relation to their colouring, while general indications and standards are frequent concerning the methods of colour application, the dyes more suitable for some scenes, and the reasons behind these choices of colours. It should also be recalled that only the direct examination of the films and the reconstruction of the applied dyes can help us understand a practice which disappeared in cinema several decades ago.
Handbooks do however represent a very important point of reference in order to reconstruct the aesthetic milieu of arbitrary colouring and offer an invaluable understanding of the taste of contemporary audiences and how film colouring tried to respond to it.
By reading these texts it is clear that arbitrary colouring was not considered an artistic approach; expectations in the field of photographic colour reproduction that in that period were experimented were a different matter, and handbook authors saw in the application of arbitrary colours only a provisional solution to the problem, although this technique was used for thirty years.
Authors discussed why and when a film should be coloured, which scene should be chosen, and what dyes to use for a given scene. These indications referred mostly to colouring which could be defined as monochromatic (toning and tinting) more than to polychromatic colouring (by hand or stencil). They entailed sufficiently precise and homogeneous choices which would become with the passing of time a precise standard for film colouring. For example, in an article published in 1929 Loyd Jones, an Eastman Kodak’s researcher, described pre-tinted films available in seventeen dyes, which were marketed by Kodak, thus offering us the opportunity to understand that colour application had already become conventional at the time when that practice was coming to its end. It should however be mentioned that the strict standards found in technical texts are not sufficient to explain the colouring which was applied to films. Even in practice there was a strong component of conventionality, especially in the mid-teens, but there was also a large component which entailed a non conventional usage. In other words we could say that films colouring spoke a language which could not be explained by the codification expressed on contemporary text books: a language which today rings differently than it did in the early century.
As previously mentioned, there was also that attitude, which could be defined as “purist”, where textbooks refer to the applied colour as something totally foreign to cinematic practice: colouring was accepted in order to better satisfy audiences while waiting for research to find ways to reproduce “natural” colours by photographic means.
Usually technical texts dealt separately with the different colouring techniques, subdividing them into monochromatic and polychromatic. Hand-painting and stencil colouring are polychromatic techniques because they usually entail the use of several dyes, from three to six. Tinting and toning provide instead even colouring for the whole scene or shot and therefore they are to be considered monochromatic colouring systems.
The manuals from the teens and twenties referred to a context where hand-painting was already a rarity. Therefore, when discussing polychromatic systems they delved mostly on stencilling. It was usually placed in relation with photographic systems which were already being experimented in the teens. In Croy’s text written in 1918 it is said: “The effect of coloring by stencils, while often pleasing, is no rival in fidelity to the original of the more successful photographic processes.” A few years earlier another author when speaking about Pathé’s and Gaumont’s production coloured by stencils had written that in either cases, as also for all the commercial movies both hand and stencil coloured, “…there is no mechanical guarantee that the colours as projected are either identical or even near to those of the original. They may and probably will be pleasing” (Bennett, 1911). Similar comparisons between hand-painting and colour photographic reproduction seem completely unfeasable as in the former the colours were applied on film in an arbitrary fashion.
In 1912, when Gaumont started marketing some movies produced thanks to the system of “natural” reproduction of colours, Chronochrome (which we have already mentioned), stencil colouring was already quite popular. We could say that in that period Pathé’s coloured films offered the best results, as shown in several long features dating back to the mid teens, such as Maudite soit la guerre and Les rois de l’air. Gaumont used the Chronochrome for the same subjects on which in those years the other production companies applied colouring by stencils. It almost seems that by comparing the two systems on the same subjects they wanted to show the superiority of photographic colouring vis-à-vis the manual application. For example, Chronochrome was used for non-fictional movies about plants, where flowers were seen rotating in the middle of the frame over a black background. Naturally it should also be considered that Gaumont was the main competitor of Pathé which had always dominated the field of “colour” cinematography thanks to its advanced stencil system. Despite the introduction of Chronochrome, Pathé continued to be very successful thanks to its coloured long features, while Gaumont could afford only short experiments with its revolutionary system, and thus it continued to produce also films coloured by stencils.12
The dominating idea more extensively covered by cinematography manuals seems to be the search for a system which could faithfully reproduce original colours, thus completely eliminating arbitrary mechanical colouring. Coustet (1921), for example, after a detailed description of the mechanical colouring process au patron, as he called stencils, concluded by stating: “…rather interesting results are thus obtained, but they should not waylay us from our goal, that is automatic reproduction of colours thanks to purely photographic means.”
The comparison between photographic means for colour reproduction was never mentioned when monochromatic colouring methods, tinting and toning, were discussed; nor was “realism” ever mentioned when results of these methods were examined, while preferring to delve on aspects such as “effects” and “athmosphere”.
Manuals discuss widely tinting and toning, describing both methods and their specifical technical features; nonetheless, authors often make aesthetic judgements or offer indications. The descriptions of these methods and advice on their best usage seem to widen and expand as we move closer to the time of their disappearance from the screens.
Indications concerning the best colours to apply to a given scene are many. Bennett (1912) stated that “also, like tinting methods, [toning] must be employed intelligently if sensible results are aimed at which shall help instead of hinder the audience in following the motive of the picture presented. Thus a discerning film producer would not countenance the toning of a snow scene warm russet brown, any more than he would present the happy finale of a drama in such a tone as blue and green.” A precise correlation was then necessary between the employed colour and the content of the scene: it could be determined according to the colour “temperature”, so that a scene portraying icy slopes or snow, would require a cold colour, such as blue. A scene with a heat source, a raging fire for example, would instead require a warm tint, such as red. Besides, red is the colour of fire and blue the colour of ice. In the texts from the teens indication on how to use colour were not yet codified as it would happen in the manuals published a decade later. In Mariani (1916) some advice on how to employ the most common dyes can be found: “Blue toning. It is used to produce night effects. […] Green toning is the best one to colour landscape with trees, gardens, woods. Blue tint, perfect to produce night effects. […] Red tint. It is perfect to simulate fires, battles, intense sunsets. […] Rose tint. It effectively reproduces landscapes, dawn, sunset, the complexion of characters with light effects. […] Green tint. It is extensively used for tree-covered landscape, meadows and so forth. […] Orange tint. It effectively produces indoor light effects and outdoor intense sunlight effects. It eliminates image flickering when there is a very light sky as a background.” Others, instead of listing dyes with indications about their best application, preferred giving direct, although slightly far-fetched, examples: “Thus a scene depicting nymphs dancing at a fountain takes on the brilliancy of outdoors by giving it a rose tint over a green tone without necessity of hand-painting or stencilling each frame in its natural colours” (Croy, 1918). From Diamant-Berger’s words it clearly appears that in 1919, the publication date of his book, a codification, based maybe solely on usage, already existed and it was quite precise: “Usage calls for tinting or toning landscapes in green, the sea and the night in blue. The effects on waves and clouds in the twilight are produced thanks to a rose toning and a blue tinting. Outdoors and indoors in the daylight are tinted yellow. Mauve and rose tinting create intermediate effects” (Diamant-Berger, 1919). In Coustet (1921) we find again a brief description of the most widely used tints and the circumstances they were employed: “The majority of positive films are treated with a dyeing solution giving them a red/orange tone. This is a very light tinting aiming at softening the harshness of tones during projection. This warm tint should be employed only for movies depicting full light situations. Underbrush is often coloured in green, but it should be used moderately. Twilight effects are produced by bright red or purple. As regards night scenes, they should usually undergo a blue tint bath. It should be recalled that night scenes are in reality shot during the day, outdoors or in lit up studios (either with sunlight or electric lamps).” Here there are at least two elements which should be further considered.
The first one refers to the fact that “the majority of positive films are treated with a dyeing solution giving them a …very light …red/orange tone.” Yellow or orange colouring is the most common in tinted films. It is found in indoor scenes lit up by artificial light and in outdoor scenes under sunlight. The impression is that this type of tint would represent a neuter colour, as a sort of diffused light not particularly noticeable: a colour becoming a non colour. In some instances in fact, after introducing the various settings with initially different colours, in the progression of the film they are all coloured with the same yellow dye. In other instances instead all the film is entirely tinted in yellow.
The second question raised by Coustet’s words refers to the contrast produced by black and white. He wrote that colour “aims at softening the harshness of tones during projection.” From statements such as this one, often found in manuals and articles discussing monochromatic colouring, we can presume that tints were used and recommended in order to liven up black and white monotony and downplay contrast harshness.
All seem convinced that tints and tones should be employed as substitute for a better solution not yet found, which already in the early teens was much desired. It seems that in the late twenties, when experiments made to reproduce colour by photographic means were numerous, although none had yet been widely adopted, all had already accepted the notion of monochromatic films. In 1927 Lutz wrote: “Photographically-made color films have now arrived which interpret some colors of nature in a wonderful and pleasing way. […] …although developed far enough to have public exhibitions, still are more or less in transmutation, and it is difficult to say whether they will combine as one form of expression…[…] It seems now that the ordinary silent, one-toned motion picture, with its explanatory titles, has become a distinct form of expression”.
Pre-tinted films: conventions become stricter
We have already mentioned Loyd Jones, a technician in Eastman Kodak’s research laboratories, dedicating a very long article to a series of pre-tinted films developed by Kodak in 1929: the reasons behind the choice of different tints seem to suggest that already each colour would now evoke very precise feelings and sensations, according to accepted conventions. In 1929 the author wrote, although quite belatedly as regards coloured film production, as applied colouring substantially decreased with the introduction of sound track. For just a few years coloured pictures would continue to circulate thanks to pre-tinted films, but then colouring would disappear completely for technical and aesthetic reasons.
In Loyd Jones’s article there is a rather interesting although superficial digression on what he defined as the “language of colours”. After an introduction on the importance of colours in the various cultures throughout the centuries, from Greece to Christianity, Jones made a distinction between two groups of possible associations produced by colours: “A rather careful analysis of the admittedly color language indicated that the great majority of existing connotations may be classified in two rather distinct groups which may be designated as (a) direct objective association and (b) indirect subjective association.” He believed that it would not be difficult to designate objective associations and took as an example the colour yellow to indicate sunlight which in reality is not yellow but “…is hueless, that is corresponding to gray or white. […] A white object, however, illuminated by sunlight under a clear blue sky appears yellow. […] This a motion picture scene printed in yellow base, such as tint No. 6 (Sunshine), should definitely suggest illumination whether it be an exterior flooded with light from the sun or an interior into which light is streaming through open doors or windows.” He continued with other examples: electric light is associated with a more saturated orangy yellow, while fire with reddish orange.
Things get more complicated for the association he defined as subjective: “For instance, there seems to be a character of warmth associated with all the colors in the yellow, orange, red, magenta category, while the remainder give a definite impression of cold or coolness. […] The association of color with certain temperamental phases of life, such as youth, maturity, old age, etc., can probably be traced to an extension of a more direct association with the seasons of the year.”
By employing these vague categories, subjective and objective associations, Jones described colouring processes developed by Kodak for its pre-tinted films. Thus tint No. 3, Afterglow, that is the colour of light after sunset, would be appropriate for outdoor scenes at dawn or sunset, and “it should excite mood reactions in general connected with luxury, wealth, security, and relatively strong affections. It is also related to the autumnal mood by obviously direct association with the autumn colors of nature. By indirect or subjective association it is symbolic of the same relative period in the life of an individual and its associated moods. It is indicative, therefore, of repose, ambitions attained, accomplishments, and similar psychological aspects of maturity.” Following the same approach, tint No. 2, Peachblow, a pale rose, would be suitable for women’s close-ups and warm pink, Rose Dorée, for scenes in “a luxuriously appointed boudoir”. Tint No. 10, Azure, an intense sky blue, “can be tranquillizing to the point of becoming depressing. […] It is suggestive of the sedate and the reserved, even approaching the austere and forbidding; under certain conditions slightly gloomy.”
Some of these descriptions seem quite foreign to our ways of thinking. If indications relative to “objective” colour associations seem slightly superficial, but nonetheless quite reasonable, the ones referring to “subjective” associations are sometimes involuntarily hilarious. The technical and scientific approach of the article confers them the status of absolute truth, but because these colour associations are subjective they are linked to cultural models which change in time and space. For us war is not any longer “red”, as in the times of the Great War when fire and blood were its most apparent symbols. Today war is better represented by cold colours, such as white and blue, the colours of “surgical” bombing over Baghdad. For Loyd Jones instead there were obvious associations to the point of marketing “tint No. 16, Inferno. Fiery red tinged with magenta. Since it is directly suggestive of fire, it is adapted to scenes of burning buildings, glowing furnaces, forest fires, etc. By subjective association indicative of riot, panic, anarchy, mobs, turmoil, strife, was, battle, and unrestrained passion.”
There are obviously many analogies between chromatic codifications found in motion pictures and the ones presented in manuals, although practice is likely to have influenced the theory. Cinema manuals were in effect published because those practices were widely used. As previously said, there were many differences between the use of monochromatic colouring as suggested by manuals and the ones effectively adopted. Loyd Jones’s strict codification did not have the time to influence production: the black and white era was soon to commence. But black and white, in theory, at first in photography and then in cinema, had already been the first-choice option for decades in the field of photographic reproduction. Let us now move to the previously mentioned “purist” attitude.
How colours were seen: purist attitude
Whoever in the past had strongly stressed that cinema has an artistic status, usually overlooked the topic of applied colours. Soon a notion of cinema took hold, which we could simply define as “purist”, which saw motion pictures as immaterial “work”, more than concrete and real objects which time could deteriorate. For photography at first, and later for cinema, this “purist” notion insisted on the autonomy that photographic reproduction means should maintain by rejecting any additional contribution by diverse fields. For this reason applied colours not produced by the medium itself (the photographic or cinematic equipment) were never really appreciated, and they also put photography and cinema in relation to other non artistic practices. An issue of “The Amateur Photographer” stated in 1903: “Photography is a translation into black and white, characterised by the fullest possible rendering of infinite varieties of tones and tone values; no other exercise of art work can equal photography in this.”13 This artistic photography was only black and white or toned. Toning in fact played a special role in the realm of applied colours, and in particular sepia toning was considered an acceptable alternative to black and white. This maybe is due to the fact that toning – as it acts upon silver salts in the emulsion – is part and parcel of film development and printing, and it is not a totally independent phase such as tinting, or hand and stencil colouring. Whoever produced commercial photographs, for postcards or lantern slides, etc., was not interested in following a precise artistic standard and therefore continued to colour them. This is also true for the great majority of cinematic images which, as we know, were coloured in great numbers at least for thirty years (from 1895 to the late twenties). This fact was however overlooked by critics and reviewers. It is also certainly true that some motion pictures were left in black and white or only partially coloured (often in the credits and titles) and sold at lower prices than completely coloured films; but we know also that projectionists often added colour directly by employing coloured filters (we saw the example of Griffith’s Broken Blossoms). It seems therefore that not only coloured motion pictures were offered to audiences of silent cinema, but that they could not do without them, so that when a projectionist had to work with a black and white film he did not hesitate to add colour to it, thus making of each projection a unique event. The notion I have described as “purist” continued to take hold throughout the years in several forms and theories till recent times. Colours, even the ones obtained by photographic means, have often been perceived as something separate from motion pictures. An example of this sensation can be found in Roland Barthes’s pages: “An anonymous daguerreotype from 1843 shows in an oval a man and a woman, subsequently coloured by the miniaturist of the photographic studio: I have always had the impression (it does not matter whether this is true or not) that in the same way in every photograph colour is just a sort of whitewash applied later on the original truth of Black and White. Colour for me is a sort of make-up (as on corpses).” 14 Historiography of cinema has usually ignored colour in the silent period and when taking this aspect into consideration it has always labelled it as a primitive feature of that cinema, as the “symptom of desire.”15 In the edition of Sadoul’s General History of Cinema published in 1947 we can read: “Méliès’s coloured films do not attract us for their inevitable colouring imperfections, but in spite of them.”16 It would be interesting to know on which Méliès’s films did Sadoul base his analysis. We do not know the level of conservation of those films and their colours in 1947 and most of all whether their colouring dated back to the film first screening or maybe was prepared (maybe too sloppily) for the Gala Pleyel organised in 1929 in Méliès’s honour. Jean Mitry showed a similar attitude concerning applied colours when he wrote: “The first colour films were then only simply coloured by stencils, a series of positive prints made from the negative so that they could be cut with the pantograph. It was only a naive and hesitant bricolage applied over black and white (Pathécolor).”17 In general colouring is discussed only briefly in texts on the history of cinema, where stencilling was considered as an extravagant oddity and tinting (often confused with toning) as the conventional means to convey feelings and create athmosphere: from there the most frequent examples are blue for the night, red for fire, rose for love. But the colour language cannot be constricted to mere conventions, but it is rather richer and more complex. Following conventions does not explain why there were so many types of blue, red or pink, so different one from the other; neither the use of many more colours and in particular the combination of more dyes in several motion pictures where diverse colouring techniques were used together (tinting and stencilling, tinting and toning, stencilling and toning), without mentioning the sudden changes of colour also responding to aesthetic choices going beyond strict codification.
At the closing of this excursus on past techniques employed to respond to audiences’ taste, we should ask ourselves what is the meaning of all this. How do we consider today tinted and toned, stencil coloured and hand-painted motion pictures when we see them emerging again on the screen? We are no longer expectantly waiting for a “natural” reproduction of colours as the cinema technicians of the early century did, and we have already overcome the teleological approach which was the norm in cinema history about twenty years ago, by which past production was justified merely in the light of subsequent developments made in cinematic technique. For many year now we have been submerged by colour images and even our attitude towards black and white has changed; purist approaches have also changed as well, and they do not have the upper hand any longer in the way we think about cinema, and in general about reproduced images.
Coloured cinema, which today is brought again to our attention thanks to restoration and conservation work carried out by film archives, challenges us as theatre-goers. Finding a way to relate to these colours, which for years have been cancelled from our memory and recollection, is now up to us.
12 In those years another important system for colour photographic reproduction was exploited in England by Charles Urban: the Kinemacolor. Differently from Gaumonts Chronochrome, Kinemacolor used only two dyes, green/blue and orange.
13 Evans, in “The Amateur Photographer”, 1903.
14 Roland Barthes, La chambre claire, Paris, Gallimard, Seuil, 1980.
15 “Symptom of Desire”, see Terry Ramsey, A Million and One Nights: a History of the Motion Picture through 1925, New York, Simon & Schuster, p.118.
16 Georges Sadoul, Histoire générale du cinéma, cit, p.98.
17 Jean Mitry, 1965, p.125.
Bibliography: texts until 1930
Colin N. Bennett, The Handbook of Kinematography, London, The Kinematograph Weekly, 1911; The Handbook of Kinematography, London 1913.
Ernest Coustet, Traité pratique de la cinématographie, Paris, Charles Mendel éditeur, 1913.
Ernest Coustet, Traité général de photographie en noir et en couleurs, Paris, Librairie Delagrave, 1929.
Homer Croy, How Motion Pictures are Made, New York, London, Harper & bros.
Henri Diamant-Berger, Le cinéma, Paris 1919.
Frederick H. Evans, Artistic Photography in Lantern Slides, in “The Amateur Photographer”, vol. 37, n. 959, feb. 1903, pp. 148-149.
Loyd A Jones (Kodak Research Laboratories, Rochester, N.Y.), Tinted Films For Sound Positives, in “Transactions of Society of Motion Picture Engineers”, vol. XIII, no. 37, 1929, pp. 198-218.
E.G. Lutz, The Motion-Picture Cameraman, New York, Charles Scribner’s sons (re-edited in New York, Arno Press, 1972).
Mariani, Vittorio, Guida pratica delta cinematografia, Milano, Hoepli 1916.”
(Fossati, Giovanna (1998): When Cinema Was Coloured. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 121-132, on pp. 126-131.)
“COLORIAGE. Les centaines, les milliers d’images dont se compose un film et leur exiguïté font du coloriage à la main une opération très minutieuse. Ce travail, généralement confié à des jeunes filles, exige beaucoup d’attention, de la patience et une excellente vue. Il faut colorier une à une toutes ces petites photographies, et donner la même teinte aux mêmes objets reproduits un grand nombre de fois. La division du travail l’a rendu plus rapide et plus régulier. Chaque ouvrière est chargée de l’application d’une seule couleur, dont la nuance et le placement sont déterminés par le chef coloriste. Le film passe donc tour à tour sur plusieurs pupitres à verre dépoli éclairés par dessous, comme ceux dont on se sert pour la retouche des clichés. La couleur, en solution aqueuse, est appliquée par teintes plates, au moyen de pinceaux fins, et comme la faible quantité qu’on y met est absorbée dans la gélatine, la dessiccation s’opère vite. Quels que soient les soins qu’on y apporte et l’habileté de la main qui tient le pinceau, la couleur déborde souvent des limites qui lui sont assignées. Si peu qu’elle dépasse les contours, l’irrégularité amplifiée à la projection serait apparente sur l’écran, si elle se répétait, toujours au même point, sur les images successives ; mais, comme il n’en est jamais ainsi, les irrégularités se compensent, en quelque sorte, se neutralisent mutuellement, et l’ensemble n’en est généralement pas trop défectueux.
Lorsqu’on n’a à tirer d’un négatif qu’un nombre très restreint de positifs, le coloriage à la main est le seul pratiqué. Mais, le plus souvent, les éditeurs de films tirent de chaque négatif un grand nombre de bandes positives, et il ne serait pas pratique de recommencer le même travail pour chaque exemplaire. On économise la main-d’œuvre, et l’on gagne du temps, en effectuant le coloriage au patron.”
(Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on pp. 162-163.) (in French)
“Hand-colouring involves applying transparent aniline dyes to certain areas of the black-and-white image. This was done manually, frame by frame, with a brush. The method had been used over the second half of the nineteenth century to colour still photographic images, such as those projected with a magic lantern. As early as 1894-95 some of Edison’s Kinetoscope films were hand-coloured, but the method became fairly uncommon after 1906. Hand-colouring can be identified by the flickering of coloured areas of the image, since the paintbrush could not produce very precise contours frame after frame. In most archives these hand-coloured nitrate prints are preserved by being transposed to colour internegative stock from which a positive colour print is made.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on p. 12.)
“The silent era witnessed innumerable attempts, applying widely varying levels of technical sophistication, to show films in colours. Such attempts fall into two major categories: ‘natural’ or photographic methods depending on the mechanical combination of two or three differently coloured but otherwise identical monochrome images on the celluloid or screen (in systems such as Kinemacolor, Dufaycolor and Kodacolor, to mention some betterknown examples), and applied colour methods, in which a black-and-white print was treated in some way with coloured dyes after photographic processing. The applied colour systems comprise hand-painting, stencilling, toning and tinting. The Workshop focused mainly on these techniques, partly because they are far better represented than early photographic colour in the archive of the Nederlands Filmmuseum, but perhaps more importantly – a virtue of this necessity – because they jointly present the full range of early colouring from black-and-white and the varieties of whole-image monochrome to complex local and multiple colours. Hand-painted and stencilled images, owhich are particularly resistant to casual or stereotypical interpretations of early coloured film, have too often been overlooked or marginalized in early film history. To disregard stencil colouring is, moreover, virtually to disregard an entire genre – the feerique – and a significant part of the output of such studios as Pathé and Gaumont.
The variety in colours found on early films is also, finally, a result of their instability. The Nederlands Filmmuseum has a certain reputation for its preservations of silent coloured films. But no preservation process is ‘perfect’ (whatever exactly that might mean to different people) and we wanted, among other things, to demonstrate to participants of the Workshop (and eventually, to readers of this book) that any process of preserving coloured film on acetate safety stock tense to depart in some measure from the applied colours on the original nitrate prints. We also wished to emphasize that there is more than one way to preserve coloured film and that each method has specific advantages and limitations as a way of reproducing applied colours. The choice of methods partly determines, for example the extent to what, an archivist or technician can choose between reproducing colours as they now appear on the nitrate or as they are thought to have appeared when the nitrate print was in circulation. This consideration itself reflects the fact that applied colours have, from the time of their initial application to the black-and-white positive print, been subject to unrelenting changes occasioned first by the wear and tear of projection in the silent era and then by ageing and decay in the vaults of film archives.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 6-7.)
“Stencil colouring involves a two-step process. First, the stencil must be made from a positive print where the area to be coloured in each frame is cut out; each colour requires a separate stencil – usually no more than six were used. The prints used as stencils must exactly match the black-and-white projection prints to be coloured, with excised areas in the stencil corresponding exactly to the appropriate shapes in the eventual projection print. After each stencil is cut, the photographic emulsion is washed from its surface to provide a clean and inert celluloid template. The cutting was initially performed manually, but between 1907 and 1910 the process was mechanized by using a pantograph. A technician traced out the area to be excised on a magnified projection of each frame, and the pantograph relayed this tracing movement to a needle which cut out the corresponding area in a positive print with a sort of sewing-machine action.
The second step in the process was to colour each projection print with the sequence of different stencils prepared in this way, one stencil for each colour. Initially this also was done manually, with a brush, but the process was subsequently mechanized, using an apparatus in which the stencil, aligned with the black-and-white reel that would eventually become a projection print, passed under a velvet loop or pad constantly fed with dye. Individual stencils were of course used to colour several projection prints; after each run through the colouring apparatus, the stencils were washed before being re-used. We only have a reasonably complete documentation of how the work changed over the years in the case of Pathé, and it is not always easy to differentiate between stencilling and hand-colouring on a nitrate: it is quite difficult to determine whether, say, DANCE OF THE FAIRIES was hand-coloured or manually stencilled. But THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FANS IN THE WORLD was clearly stencilled mechanically. Here, the colours are extremely precise but sometimes ‘out of shape’ because the extensive movements made it more difficult to follow the shapes here than in less ‘dynamic’ fashion films.
Stencilled films are preserved, like hand-coloured films, by being copied onto a colour internegative from which a positive colour print is made. It is not always possible to reproduce all the colours on the nitrate since some colours, especially ‘warmer’ magentas, pinks and so on, are sometimes too faint to register on the colour internegative without distorting the overall spectrum. This is simply a problem with current Kodak colour internegative stock.
Tinting in its simplest and most common form is pretty much like dying clothes. A strip of film is immersed in a solution of aniline dye. Although the film emerges uniformly dyed, only the white areas in each frame – the transparent areas of the processed gelatine emulsion from which all the silver has been removed – transmit the colour of the dye. The blacks remain black, transmitting no light before or after absorbing the dye, while the intermediate greys are tinted in various degrees. Tinting therefore reduces contrast, and a black-and-white positive that is to be tinted should be printed with higher contrast than a positive intended for black-and-white projection.
Toning is a sort of converse process, or range of processes, in which the print to be coloured is bathed in a chemical solution that either converts the black silver in the emulsion directly in a differently coloured material or into a material which fixes coloured dye when the treated print is subsequently immersed in a dye solution. The density of the new colour depends on the amount of silver or darkness in any particular area of the original black-and-white image.
Tinted or toned nitrates are preserved, like hand-coloured or stencilled films, by transferring the image to a colour internegative then taking a positive print. By constantly referring to the original nitrate, one tries to obtain a spectrum as close as possible to the tinting or toning on the nitrate, though, as I have already noted, the nature of modern positive and internegative colour stock makes an exact reproduction almost impossible. It is very difficult, for example, to reproduce the difference between tinting and toning on safety stock, since the colours produced by nitrate tinting in the whites tend to be lost in the NFM process of transfer to safety stock. Thus an NFM acetate reproduction of a tinted nitrate has the same ‘white’ whites as a toned nitrate. Another problem is that the ‘black-and-white’ of colour stock isn’t really black and white, since the black always has a blue or brown ‘tone’.
Tinting and toning were sometimes combined in one strip of film – tinting was also sometimes combined with stencilling. Thus, in WINDMILLS THAT CHEER AND WEEP, a sunset scene has been toned blue then tinted pink. The darker areas are variably toned and the lighter areas tinted, giving a blue landscape under a pink sky. The preservation of this shot posed the problem we encounter preserving the pinks in stencilled films: it’s sometimes impossible to transfer very light pink tinting to acetate stock without unacceptably distorting the colour in toned areas.
Toward the end of the twenties – the beginning of the sound era – colouring positive prints became less common. Tinting and toning were said to interfere with the optical soundtrack laid down on the initial black-and-white positive print, but manufacturers introduced new dyes to reduce this effect, along with pre-tinted positive stock. The problem is in fact completely removed in our preservation process by transferring the soundtrack of tinted talkies onto black-and-white negative stock, while the images are copied onto colour internegative stock. So maybe today we have better sound than the original audiences.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 12-14.)
“Mark-Paul Meyer: Archivists are constantly confronted with the problem of whether they should preserve a film just as they find it – in this case, whether to restore the colours. Of course, more knowledge of the techniques of the teens and twenties would be a great help in restoring these films. The general approach of archives has been, and still is, to restore the print as found in the vaults. The questions for the scholars are: should we restore the colours; should we do research on the faded dyes; and when a film or a shot was blue but has become black-and-white, should we give it a new blue tinting? These are the questions archivists have to deal with all the time. And I would like to know what scholars think: should we preserve these films just as we find them, or should we try to get as close to the original as possible?
Tom Gunning: One of the issues here, the difference between film and painting, turns precisely on the idea of a unique original – physically unique – which is there in painting, but probably not in film. For Walter Benjamin, the difference was that the traditional arts had the aura of such unique originals, but the mechanically reproduced arts didn’t, and he felt in fact that this was a revolutionary aspect of art in the modern age. What is interesting now, after another fifty, sixty years of film, is that we approach it as preservationists. We begin to feel there’s something rather unique about certain prints, which ought to be preserved. But we’re still stuck in a land of paradox, because what are we preserving? We have a different mindset from say twenty or even forty years ago, when a film was supposed to have a kind of unique, aesthetic essence. Now we have the idea that a film has many variants, that it is important to look at different prints, and that a number of things, which were considered just simple additions, are now increasingly considered important. Musical accompaniment, for instance, has become more and more important. Part of the paradox is that maybe it’s an impossible quest for historians to try to get back, not so much to the original object, as to the original experience. It’s very interesting when people see colour, they very often ask ‘How did the audience experience it?’ Which, of course, we don’t know. There’s a sense of wanting to completely recreate a film. It’s a fine ambition, fuelling so much research and knowledge, but it’s somewhat paradoxical, because what we’re trying to recreate is something that can never be completely recreated. To respond to Mark-Paul Meyer’s question, my feeling as a scholar, bracketing money issues, is that ideally I would like both his alternatives: for the print to be preserved with all the marks of time and history on it as a unique object, and at the same time for there to be another print that we would try in some sense to restore. Preservation and restoration are both important, though preservation is probably primary.
Sabine Lenk: Mark-Paul Meyer’s question is very difficult, because as a historian working in an archive, I’d like to get as close as possible to the original. You could use the manuals produced by Kodak, Gevaert, Agfa, Pathé, which often give samples of colours, in order to get as close as possible to the original colours. But what is ‘the original’ if, as so often, you have several prints? Watching these films today, it was sometimes a relief to see parts in black-and-white, because these colours all the time can get very tiresome. The problem is that colours, especially tinting, leave a very hazy image, and I find myself wanting sharper contrasts. Sometimes, seeing a very sharp black-and-white picture is like relaxing my eyes.
Daan Hertogs: One important thing that Giovanna Fossati mentioned was the consciousness that when the original colours were applied, they were not meant to last. In other words, from the very beginning colours were condemned to a process of decay. So we should ask ourselves how the technical knowledge of the teens and twenties can be used for researching these films.
Peter Delpeut: Sabine Lenk also mentioned something important, which is taste. Can our personal appreciation of colour – what we like or don’t like – be introduced into the discussion? I’d like to ask Mark-Paul Meyer, for example, whether he’s ever tempted in a preservation just to bring in a colour he likes, and to say: why bother about authenticity, it makes a beautiful print?
Mark-Paul Meyer: Sometimes we do something like that. Often you know, or you have a quite clear idea, about the colour a scene should be, but sometimes you have to guess and invent. In DAMNED BE WAR, for instance, we decided not to colour a black-and-white sequence. First, because the context of the sequence was stencilled and we could not of course apply the stencilled colours frame by frame; secondly, just before the sequence there was a black-and-white photograph, and we thought it wouldn’t be too visually disturbing to leave the black-and-white. But a later sequence in the film, the throwing of the bombs from the airplane, comes from the same black-and-white print, and we tinted it blue, because the immediately preceding and succeeding shots were blue. We also added colour in various other places, because you appreciate the film better when you’re not being disturbed by black-and-white fragments.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 18-19.)
“William Uricchio: Seeing the colour systems next to one another, what’s striking is the breadth of colour systems, the breadth of colour effects, the range of uses to which colour is put over an extended period. Having a very impressionistic feeling for this, I wondered about a couple of things. I’m curious about the range of colour effects we’ve seen – a range of technical systems and visual effects that cover a relatively long period during which, within many national cinemas, there’s a standardisation of certain dramatic forms, certain camera techniques, yet so many variations in colouring. Giovanna Fossati, have you found patterns in this, patterns differentiating genres, patterns differentiating particular producers – Pathé versus Vitagraph, say – patterns across time, say 1912 versus 1922?
Giovanna Fossati: From what I’ve seen in the archive here, I’d say that with stencilling there are patterns within production companies. There’s a difference between Gaumont stencilling and Pathé stencilling. But I haven’t really noticed any characteristic patterns in tinting and toning.
Daan Hertogs: As for patterns over time, with fiction films, I wondered whether narrativity becomes so strong in the twenties that the range of colour effects common in the teens just cannot be used anymore. I discovered in a manual that in the twenties a lot of films were printed on pre-coloured stock. Only about twelve colours were available, although that doesn’t prevent you from using blue for a love scene, but somehow the limited number of colours shows that conventions were stricter than in the teens.
Peter Delpeut: Watching these coloured silent nitrate prints over four or five years in the archive, my very disturbing experience was that I could find no recipe, no hidden theory, no codes that applied to all the films I saw. This was very disturbing because we’re always looking for logic, for codes, but I simply couldn’t find any. Every film is a new experience and any code you find in one film is broken in the next. This is what we found in the archive and this is why colour poses such a big problem. Because when you’re working through all these films it would be so nice to have recipes and codes to fall back on when you have to make decisions.
Nicola Mazzanti: In the archives and in the labs, where we decide about the colours, as Peter Delpeut once said, ‘we are editing film history’. This is absolutely true, and I always keep this in mind as I work on preserving films. We are actually editing film history, we are doing a job which will influence the future. And this is very tempting and dangerous ground when you’re working with colour. Colour in the silents, but also in the sound era, is completely unstable ground. Colour is ‘unstable’ from the very beginning, because the aesthetics on which colour in the silents is based, is a complicated mix of factors reflecting production, distribution, audience appeal, and sometimes even some colour theory that must have been somewhere in a director’s head, for him to leave precise colour plans for a film. We have several examples of very precise colour plans, not just mentioning green, say, but ‘green number five’, or colouring the intertitles to match the preceding or succeeding scene. Colours were sometimes changed for distribution in other countries – some Italian and French films were given a different set of colours for exhibition in England. So there must have been someone whose job it was to choose the right colours for England. For distribution in a peripheral country or market, you’d have a different set of colours; toning and stencilling would be replaced by simple tinting. Actually, tinting a film is still, like toning, a hell of a job. At the end of the day you’re completely yellow, or blue, or green; it’s expensive, and the aniline dyes are poisonous. So you need a very good reason to colour a silent film, you didn’t just do it because you liked the colours. Colours are literally unstable, too. In the NFM print of The Lonedane Operator the blue is stronger at the left and right margins simply because the light of the projector has faded the colour in the centre of the nitrate print. And in a tinted film the colour at the beginning of a 300-metre reel is usually different from the colour at the end. There was just no way of getting the colour even right through the film. I’m not talking about fading here, but simply noting that after you’ve tinted 5,000 feet of film in one dye bath, and edited a reel, then a shot from an early phase of the colouring process may end up beside a shot from the end of the process, and they will be a different colour.
Then there are the problems of restoration associated with Peter Delpeut’s remark that we can never find the code, or rather, that there is no code, or there are hundreds of different codes or patterns for melodrama, for documentary, and so on. Some production companies definitely did follow patterns – Film d’Arte Italiana stencilled more or less systematically, as did Pathé, for some genres, but more work has to be done on this.
We have to preserve what we have now, and very often we don’t know exactly what this is, just how faded a certain colour is, say. If we see from the margins that the blue in The Lonedane Operator was a certain shade, then we have to restore that blue to the faded centre of the image too. If there’s evidence that one particular shot was in black-and-white, then we have to print it in black-and-white. If we can reproduce tinting and toning differently, then we have to do that. In STRAIGHT SHOOTING1 for instance, there’s just one toning, but if you lose it you lose the film. It’s in the shot where Harry Carey changes his mind, crying at the graveside, and turns into a good guy. This is emphasized by the toning, it’s the only toned shot in the whole film. Make it tinted, or make the rest toned, and he’ll remain a bad guy right through the film.
1 STRAIGHT SHOOTING, United States (Universal) 1917, Dir. John Ford.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 23-25.)
“Paul Read: We’re all constantly investigating how to reproduce the sort of results produced by these old techniques. We’re still some way from that goal – there’s simply no mechanical way of taking a piece of film and exactly reproducing the colour. We can get very close, often at great expense, but we cannot make a facsimile copy. A better line of research is probably to try and reconstruct the old techniques, and literally reproduce the colour in that sense. But that’s not going to be easy and it will take quite some time. We’re working with modern materials, which have been developed for quite different purposes. The materials used in the film industry today are not designed for restoring archival film but for something completely different, and we have to twist and turn them to adapt them to this archival job. It’s going to take some time to get back to the old technology, but that is our fundamental aim.
There are basically four different ways to reproduce any coloured film. First, you can re-film it on colour negative material, and then make a new colour print. This colour-internegative technique, or direct photographic reproduction, is the standard method in most archives and is the method currently used by the Nederlands Filmmuseum. The problem with this approach is that you’re simply copying the present state of the colours, after various degrees of fading. You don’t get any sense of the saturation that might have been there originally.
A second approach is to try and reproduce the original saturation. One technique uses colour film as the print stock. If you expose the nitrate to a black-and-white negative, you can either print a black-and-white image or a monochrome image of any colour you like by using filters in the printer – this is effectively a form of toning. You can also directly expose the nitrate film to colour reversal stock, without using a negative at all, and get whatever colours are possible with the three dyes in the printstock, but this is of course limited by the nature of the dyes available in the final print stock. This approach is relatively inexpensive and can be extremely flexible. The problem here is that somebody has to tell the technicians what colour they want.
The third method is to transfer the nitrate image onto digital tape and then manipulate the signal. You can do that either in a framestore, taking as long as you like, which is very expensive, or you can do it in real time, as you transfer the image onto the tape, which severely limits your range of intervention. In either case, with the tape in the form you want, you still have the problem that somebody has to tell the technicians how the colours should be printed. They then take it back out onto a piece of colour negative and make a print, so that you’re back on film again.
The fourth method is to go back to the original technology and make a duplicate black-and-white negative from your material. You can then make a print which you can tint or tone using the same technology that was used to colour the original material, but the chance of being able to do that properly is very remote, because you’re using modern materials. Yet this is something we should all attempt, if only to better understand the archival material and the old techniques.
Mark-Paul Meyer: This imitation or simulation of the old techniques is used in the Prague archive. They’ve succeeded in tinting and even toning films the oldfashioned way, using black-and-white stock which is immersed in a dye or chemical bath. I recently saw an example of their work, and it comes very close to what you see on nitrate, though there were problems with that particular print. It’s very difficult to get the same density of colour over a whole sequence. They’ve developed a way of tinting a film without making splices by dipping the entire film, but then the changes of colour are sometimes a little inaccurate. This technique is also very difficult and messy, but Noël Desmet from the archive in Brussels has developed a simple alternative method for tinting and toning, which he will now outline, and which has how been adopted by various other laboratories.
Noël Desmet: This technique was developed at the request of Jacques Ledoux, the former head of my archive. He asked me to find a way to preserve colours, preserve the image, that wasn’t too expensive, since then as now there were very limited funds available. This meant I couldn’t use expensive colour internegative stock, and had to rely on black-and-white negative material, but I’d already been thinking about the way newspapers used colour-separation, and wondering whether one could apply this to film. Ledoux was very strict about getting as close as possible to the original, and wasn’t easily satisfied.
We first make a black-and-white internegative on panchromatic stock that is sensitive to all the colours on the nitrate. This black-and-white negative is then collated with the original on a viewing table in order to get the right colours in the right places. I reconstruct the colours of the original at the viewing table by using three strips – magenta, cyan and yellow. This takes quite a lot of adjustment, and you need the right contrast and density on the negative to get a good match. With relatively low contrast you can manipulate the process more easily.
Normally, you run print stock through a printer and expose it with white light. Of course, you can also expose it with light that has a certain colour temperature, for which you’ve worked out the gradations. In essence you can choose any colour. So, if you want a toned image, you expose the positive stock through the negative with the desired coloured light, but if you want a tinted image, you directly flash the positive print. If you want a combination of both, you expose right through the negative to get your toned image, then flash the whole positive image for your tint. This involves further separating the nitrate colour into tinted and toned components, which isn’t easy, but comes with experience.
The actual colouring decisions are not my responsibility, but are made by an archivist or historian. These decisions are very difficult. I could show you dozens of different types of, say, blue toning with a black-and-white internegative. How do you base your decision on the nitrate? First you have to decide how much the colour has faded, then the degree of toning in the original, as the duration of the chemical bath used to affect the character of the result greatly. And the same sort of considerations apply of course to tinting.
Unfortunately, technicians get only one chance to get all this right, because it’s too expensive to make correction prints. We’re not always completely happy with the result, and you should perhaps bear this in mind as you watch these films, because I’m sure that for certain films it would be possible to make better prints.
Mark-Paul Meyer: Thank you. Mario Musumeci from the archive in Rome will now outline the methods used there.
Mario Musumeci: As an example of our work, I’ll take THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII1 We found three different copies; two were only tinted and toned, but the copy we found in London had stencil in some scenes. For the tinting, we made a duplicate black-and-white negative from the original positive print, then made a new positive print on black-and-white stock, which we tried to colour by immersion in an aniline bath. The technicians used the old techniques and did some preliminary experiments colouring fragments of the film in an ordinary washing machine on a very long cycle. It takes some time to work out the right composition and concentration of the dye, and the right setting for the ‘wash’.
For the stencilled sequences of the film we used colour negative stock, but a camera negative rather than an internegative. This is now standard practice at Rome: our laboratory found that camera negative gives softer contrast and a better reproduction of the colours. We’ve also experimented with Ektachrome to reproduce stencilled sequences. It generally gives a very good result, but there’s the problem that, since you’re copying directly onto positive material, you don’t get a negative.
In general, we try whenever possible to use black-and-white rather than colour negative stock for preservation since colour negative fades; another problem with the Kodak internegative stock is that it’s very difficult to reproduce the typical stencil colours.
Mark-Paul Meyer: I’ll now ask Nicola Mazzanti from Bologna to say something about his experience in the archive, where he formerly worked, and their laboratory, where he now works.
Nicola Mazzanti: My experience may help link the work of laboratories and archives, duplication and restoration. Laboratories supply films, documents, for scholars and historians to look at and theorize about. I’d also like to try and link this discussion to what you’ve actually been seeing on the screen, and the question of why we’re so desperate to get as close as possible to the original colour.
I’m acting as a sort of ‘intermediary’, working in a sort of ‘intermediate’ laboratory, somewhere between a commercial laboratory and an archive. The laboratory was set up by the archive, which needed somewhere they could get good preservation work done. It was set up by people like myself who had worked for many years in an archive, and then suddenly found themselves on the other side of the fence. Our aim with coloured silent material was to find a preservation technique that was cheap and could be applied systematically on a large scale to produce results as close as possible to the original material. The key thing is to find a method that doesn’t restrict the range of colour choices in the future, That’s why we have opted for the Desmet method, because when you produce an internegative your interpretation of archival material and the resulting choices will probably determine the appearance of the film in the future, unless some other researcher goes back to the nitrate again in the next twenty or thirty years.
Let me give you some idea of the sort of interpretations and choices we regularly make. You may have the original camera negative of an Italian silent film, with colours indicated on the edges – say, giallo, yellow, for scene number ten. Suppose there’s no positive nitrate print, then you must yourself choose what particular yellow to use. Or you may have a coloured positive print on which the colour indications written on the original negative have been printed onto the positive. And this information may then contradict the colours you actually see on the positive. Or take the specific case of Murnau’s NOSFERATU.2 We had materials from a number of different sources. Most of this material was in black-and-white, but we also had an incomplete coloured print. There must have been a colour change in one scene where the wind blows out the light – the scene would have to become blue. We only had this scene in black-and-white, but we could see where the colour should change, because you could detect on this print where there had been splices in an earlier coloured positive, joining two pieces of nitrate, yellow and blue.
1 GLI ULTIMI GIORNI DI POMPEI / LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, Italy 1926, Dir. Carmine Gaiione, Amieto Paiermi
2 NOSFERATU, Germany (Prana-Film) 1921″
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 71-76.)
“Giovanna Fossati: The simulation of colours on a projection print is not an automatic and neutral process. It is not automatic because there is more than one method available; it is not neutral because the choice of the method affects the result that will appear on the projection print. In other words, choosing a method is the final step in an interpretative process. During the Workshop three different methods were discussed in some detail: the colour internegative method, the Desmet method, and the method of imitating the original tinting and toning techniques. The second and the third methods can only be used for tinted and toned films, while the colour internegative method can reproduce stencilled and hand coloured films as well.
A solarized film is a good example of how the choice of methods affects the result. Solarization is a term used for the chromatic disintegrations that show up on a nitrate film, irrespective of whether an entire sequence is affected or just a limited number of frames. A blue tinting that has turned yellow would for instance be called solarization. Now, the colour internegative method is the only method in which solarizations are inevitably copied from the nitrate to the acetate print. To put it more simply, the colour internegative method is like taking a photograph of the nitrate, with all its damage and decay. The, Desmet method and the ‘imitative’ method, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to copy solarizations. To use the same metaphor, these methods are like taking a black-and-white photograph of the nitrate, then adding colour to the image.
We are dealing here with (at least) two different conceptions of a preservation of a coloured film. One aims at the simulation of colours as they were at the moment of preservation. This conception is exemplified by the colour internegative method. The other aims at the simulation of the colours as they appeared on the nitrate print before being affected by projection and the passage of time (fading, solarization and other forms of decay). This conception is exemplified by the Desmet method and the ‘imitative’ method. While the Desmet method uses an acetate print’s colour emulsion, the ‘imitative’ method in particular reveals a strong desire to recreate exactly what was, or might have been, once there, even to the point of imitating the systems that coloured the prints.
But things, as usual, are more complicated than this. The colour internegative method does not simulate the colours exactly as they now appear on the nitrate print today.1 And the other two methods cannot actually recreate what was there, because it is not possible to determine accurately how the colours appeared, say, eighty years ago. Thus each method suits a certain conception of preservation only potentially. Aid as each coloured nitrate poses different problems, my feeling is, rather, that there is no final solution, no particular method that solves all these problems. Each nitrate print or group of prints may inspire different approaches, in both analysis and preservation. When, for instance, the colours function on a narrative level, it may be necessary to undo such traces of time as solarizations or fadings in order to make the narration intelligible. In the NFM print of THE LONEDALE OPERATOR,2 a blue tinting has faded in most of the frames of the shot in which the heroine switches off the lights in the room to make the bandits think she is holding a gun in her hand. Without the blue her trick fails – for her adversaries as well as for the audience: instead of a gun she’s holding a harmless object – a small monkey wrench – in what is perceived as a fully lit room. To restore narrative comprehension it is necessary here to restore the blue tinting. A different approach is followed with the print of CAPTAIN F.E. KLEINSCHMIDT’S ARCTIC HUNT,3 a great number of travelogue shots have turned into a strikingly antinaturalistic, not to say hellish, red. Instead of trying to recreate the colours as they might have been, retaining these solarizations may well add to the beauty of further projections of the film and would not in itself interfere with the intelligibility of the images. It is important then to remain flexible in the preservation of coloured prints.
Something else has to be kept in mind too, which is that preservation methods are constantly being improved, adapted and occasionally even superseded. Digital preservation is already a possibility, but it is still too expensive to be adopted on a large scale. But as soon as this happens, it will necessitate a lot of rethinking in the area of colour preservation. The method is much more flexible than any other method in use today, allowing digital simulation of a much larger range of colours (although the film will suffer a certain loss of colour quality in performance, through the process of transfer to acetate). With the freedom this offers it is evident that one should have a very clear idea of the result one wants to achieve. For that reason it is very important to explicitly state the interpretation that led to the preservation of a certain print in a certain way.
On the other hand, from the researchers’ point of view, it is important to be aware of what film restoration can actually achieve. I am not implying that film researchers should have detailed knowledge of the technologies involved in film preservation, as long as they are aware of the range of choices, of how preservation methods affect the film in performance, of what film archives and film laboratories do, and, finally, of the materials used, since even contemporary colour film stock ‘already embodies a certain ideology of colour, of certain balances and limits’ as Tom Gunning pointed out during the Workshop.4 It is important to have a clear image of all these factors, because that is the only way to discuss a film performed by the projection print in a critical way.
1 See Session 1 [chapter 1] for some of the limitations of the colour internegative method.
2 Session 1 [chapter 1]: DE DOEDIGE DOCHTER VAN DEN STATIONSCHEF / THE LONEDALE OPERATOR, United States (Biograph) 1911 Dir. D.W. Griffith.
3 Session 5 [chapter 5] IN HET NOORDPOOLGEBIED / CAPTAIN F.E. KLEINSCHMIDT’S ARCTIC HUNT, United States 1924, Dir. Frank E. Kleinschmidt.
4 Session 4 [chapter 4], p. 57.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 87-88.)
“1. LES PROCÉDÉS ARBITRAIRES
Remarquons d’abord que la couleur apparaît très tôt dans l’histoire du cinéma. Dès 1896, les spectateurs français des films Edison que l’on commençait à projeter sur grand écran s’émerveillaient de découvrir en couleurs La Danse serpentine de Loïe Fuller. Si les spectateurs se trompaient en croyant voir la Fuller (il s’agissait en fait d’Annabelle Whitford Moore, dite Annabelle, qu’une publicité mensongère cachait derrière un patronyme plus illustre en Europe), ces spectateurs n’étaient pas victimes d’une illusion d’optique en voyant des images en couleur : chaque image du film avait été coloriée à la main, photogramme par photogramme.
La technique du coloriage à la main sera utilisée durant les dix premières années du cinéma. Ce travail d’enluminure demandait une délicatesse et une patience inouïes compte tenu de la petitesse (18 x 24 mm) et de la quantité des images (près de 1 000 par minute de film). Il était effectué dans des ateliers où des centaines d’ouvrières, spécialisées chacune dans une couleur, recouvraient à l’aide de pinceaux très fins et d’encres transparentes l’image photographique des teintes appropriées (jusqu’à dix pour une seule image!). Quelques copies sauvées de ces époques lointaines témoignent de la qualité et de la fraîcheur exceptionnelles souvent atteintes par ces travaux, plusieurs films de Méliès en particulier.”
(Pinel, Vincent (1992): La forêt des techniques. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 17-24, on p. 18.) (in French)
“Artist Explains Hand Color Role
Pioneer in Work Sees This Method As Indispensable to Treatment of Fire Sequences
With public interest ever increasing for realism on the screen, especially for color since the sudden advent of talking pictures, hand-colored film should complete the ideal in realism. Not only is this method of bringing to the screen natural colors artistically perfect but from a financial standpoint it is far from prohibitive. Hand-colored film, intelligently done, is, in my opinion, more realistic than any other coloring method that has come to my attention. The field in which hand-coloring stands supreme as undisputed master is that embracing fire and light effects, night scenes with flames, torches, lanterns, fireworks, candles and lampions. These effects are elevated to true realism by hand-colored work.
When an audience looks upon scenes of flames playing into the air or fireworks bursting on all sides the impression on the nerve of sight is so overwhelming that it eliminates the impression of any surrounding color.
The scenes are reduced to half-light and shadow. If this same footage be hand-colored the scenes become vivid on black and white film. The flame or fireworks scene alone will impress the sight. The surrounding background is thrown into a half-light and shadow impression.
Lasting impression left
As a result the hand-colored scenes will remain in the memory of the audience as though they had seen an actual fire. And this, producers inform me, is the major reason for inserting fire scenes – to leave a realistic impression.
I recall a picture, now eight years old, Foolish Wives, I believe it was, whose fire sequences remain as vividly in my memory as though I had seen them yesterday. The fire scenes in Foolish Wives were hand-colored.
A motion picture audience may not be particularly interested in whether a dress is colored pink or blue or green, but if there be a sudden appearance of color in one of the dresses the entire scene will be disturbed. The average person looking at a black and white film unconsciously pictures in his or her mind just what the coloring of a dress or frock should be – that is – what he or she would like to have it.
Basic reason evident
With fire scenes the psychology governing the minds of the audience is entirely different. The reaction on the mind is directly opposite to that taking place when a dress parade, for instance, is being held across the screen. A white, or uncolored representation of a fire scene will destroy the picture framed in our imagination.
It is in such instances that the hand-coloring of film plays an important part, and I might say, an indispensable part.
At this time when motion picture audiences wherever films are shown are becoming “color conscious” they are keenly disappointed if they are viewing a picture in which there are fire scenes and these scenes are not made to represent the actually coloring of flames.
Roxy saw advantage
S. L. Rothafel, known to the millions as Roxy, and a showman of undisputed ability and keenness has, for years, used hand-coloring in the pictures he exhibits wherever such coloring may be employed with emphasis. He not only has used hand-coloring in his feature pictures but has extended the coloring to short subjects and newsreels.
Roxy introduced hand-coloring into his program with the showing of What Price Glory, lending such realism to the fire coloring incident to the explosion of shells and gun fire that interest in the picture was increased a good percentage evidenced by the unusual applause when these sequences were flashed on the screen. Fox Film Corporation adopted this innovation on many prints of this picture.
Of the various color processes now in use I firmly believe there is not one of them that can successfully compete with hand-coloring where fire scenes are concerned. There is no reason why the hand-coloring process should not be combined with any or all of the other processes.
De Mille used process
Cecil De Mille proved this in the coloring of his The King of Kings, in which he used the hand-coloring process in the night scenes in Gethsemanae Garden where the bluish-white moonlight was emphasized and contrasted so vividly.
I believe that a picture containing hand-colored sequences should be advertised with this particular feature in mind.
Hand-colored sequences are an outstanding feature of any screen presentation for they have proved their worth.
Particularly is this true of a production where only an occasional sequence adapts itself to color.
I have shown where hand color adapts itself as near to perfection as any color process yet invented to scenes showing leaping flames or night lights.
Naturally a production isn’t going to be one continuous scene of night or fire sequences. Therefore any production employing night or fire scenes should be treated by the hand color process which I am explaining.
Color here to stay
Color in motion pictures presumably is here to stay. There has been almost the same general acclaim for it on the part of motion picture patrons as there has been for sound.
Color lends itself to any work of art. Even in sculpture, as you all know, the Italians especially, sought the natural colored marbles from which to carve their masterpieces.
In no other field does color lend itself to greater advantage than in the motion picture. The color, however, must be as nearly perfect as science can make it and science has approached no nearer the perfect in color than in the paint from the artist’s brush.
Everything points to color remaining as permanent a feature of motion picture production as sound or even the story itself. In view of this, it naturally behooves producers not only to use color where demanded, but to use the most realistic process. I have shown that the hand-color process is the only one to employ in accentuating fire and night scenes. It is only a question of time when the hand-color method may be employed in every phase of picture production with as practical results as any of the many processes now being used.”
(Brock, Gustav (1930): Artist Explains Hand Color Role. Pioneer in Work Sees This Method as Indispensable to Treatment of Fire Sequences. In: Motion Picture News, Vol. 41, No. 9, 1930, p. 62.)
“POUR UNE DÉONTOLOGIE DE LA RESTAURATION DES FILMS EN COULEUR
Les problèmes liés à la restauration des films en couleur sont connus des archivistes et conservateurs depuis fort longtemps et la Commission de conservation de la Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film avait émis à la fin des années soixante dix des recommandations à ce sujet. Ce n’est toutefois, qu’en 1981, que ces problèmes furent l’objet d’un débat au cours d’un symposium organisé par la commission, faisant suite notamment à l’appel lancé par Martin Scorsese en juin 1980 sur la dégradation des couleurs des films monopack modernes. Le symposium visait, tout simplement, à examiner les problèmes techniques et les solutions utilisées par les archives participantes.
Le but de ma brève intervention ce matin est de souligner la diversité des problèmes techniques qui se font jour à la lumière des restaurations de plus en plus nombreuses réalisées à partir d’éléments couleur.
J’ajouterai qu’il ne faut pas se fixer sur le seul domaine technique, mais intégrer à la réflexion tous les secteurs d’activité d’une archive : stockage et conservation des éléments originaux, recherches historiques, méthode de stockage des éléments restaurés et politique de diffusion.
Nous savons tous que dans le passé, d’énormes quantités de films sur support nitrate en couleur ont tout simplement été transférés sur un support safety, non-flamme, noir et blanc, sans tenir compte du fait que parmi ceux-ci, certains étaient peints à la main, au pinceau, au pochoir, teintés ou virés. Les raisons de ce choix étaient sans doute d’ordre économique mais mettaient en évidence un manque de coordination entre archives à l’échelle internationale, ce qui n’est plus le cas à présent.
En effet, les derniers témoignages de ces premiers procédés qui ont traversé un siècle de cinéma sont aujourd’hui restaurés dans leur splendeur d’origine et des appels de collaboration sont lancés entre les archives dans la plupart des cas. Mais qu’en est-il de la conservation à long terme des éléments restaurés ? Il n’existe, en fait pour le moment, que deux solutions à ce vrai problème :
• Conservation d’une matrice couleur à basse température dans des locaux spécialement conçus à cet effet, ce qui représente un investissement coûteux et complexe à gérer pour la plupart des archives.
• Conservation d’éléments intermédiaires noir et blanc, appelés “séparations” dans le jargon technique, et qui sont en fait les reproductions séparées sur trois films noir et blanc des trois couleurs fondamentales réunies dans un film couleur, bleu, rouge et vert. L’avantage de cette solution est que le film noir et blanc est plus stable que le film couleur et peut se conserver à des températures plus élevées. En cas de besoin, ces trois séparations peuvent être recombinées pour obtenir un nouvel élément de tirage couleur.
Dans l’un et l’autre cas, les coûts de conservation s’ajoutent aux coûts de la restauration. Aux Archives du film (CNC), nous avons calculé que le coût au mètre de la conservation et de restauration d’un film couleur est de trois à douze fois plus élevé que pour un film noir et blanc.
Dans ce contexte et compte-tenu des responsabilités budgétaires de plus en plus importantes allouées à ce travail, il ne peut y avoir de décisions prises sans une analyse complète des options et des problèmes à résoudre. La restauration des films en couleur doit être liée à tous les aspects de notre travail.
La politique de programmation des films : restaurer pour qui ? dans quel but ? dans quel contexte juridique ? Ce dernier point est particulièrement important dans le cas des films technicolor populaires des années quarante et cinquante par exemple, ou des films récents, où il existe des ayants droit qui désirent exercer leur propre contrôle sur ces œuvres. D’autre part, les éléments d’origine essentiels aux travaux de sauvegarde sont souvent entreposés chez les ayants droit ou sous leur contrôle dans un laboratoire.
La politique de recherche historique et esthétique des films : quelles étaient les intentions des auteurs et des techniciens quant à l’utilisation de la couleur ? Est-il possible de les contacter lors des travaux ? Quels témoignages existe-t-il des premières projections ? Y a-t-il, hors des archives, des éléments complémentaires à trouver, chez les ayants droit, dans d’autres archives ? Les filières envisagées correspondent-elles aux intentions des auteurs et à l’authenticité de l’œuvre ?
La politique des restaurations et de conservation : quelles filières concevoir pour répondre à ces deux besoins ? Quels budgets a-t-on prévus ? Comment répondent-ils aux deux précédentes politiques ? Est-on sûr du laboratoire choisi pour les travaux envisagés ?”
(Aubert, Michelle (1992): Pour une déontologie de la restauration des films en couleur. In: Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Org. et prés. par Michel Ciment. Paris: Femis, pp. 25-28.) (in French)
“Interestingly, the purpose of the earliest use of colour in film, through processes such as hand colouring, tinting, and toning, was less to enhance the film’s realism than to serve as an aesthetic or symbolic device for strengthening the narrative. By the late 1890s, a considerable proportion of films were being hand coloured, in a painstaking process that involved applying paint, frame by frame, to individual images on the exposed film. In a fascinating study of silent film, Usai acknowledges the extraordinary effects that this process could achieve, quoting as an example Georges Méliès’s Le Royaume des fées/The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903), in which colour achieved ‘the sparkling beauty of medieval miniatures’ (Usai 1994: 12). However, the process was very time consuming, necessitating the employment of whole legions of women, armed with tiny paintbrushes, and it was almost impossible to ensure either consistency or precision in the colours themselves.
Usai, P.C. (1994), Burning Passions. An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema, London: British Film Institute.”
(Everett, Wendy (2007): Mapping Colour. An Introduction to the Theories and Practices of Colour. In: Wendy Everett (ed.): Questions of Colour in Cinema. From Paintbrush to Pixel. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 7–38, on p. 18.)
“Like sound, colour was also part of the film experience from almost the very beginning of cinema. Already, in 1896, the Edison company in the U.S. was employing teams of women to hand-paint images in the whole or part of frames. Among the parts of Edison’s films that would later be tinted were the bursts of gunsmoke in The Great Train Robbery (1903). In France, Méliès used a similar group of women to hand-tint his most spectacular films frame by frame (Cook, 252).
Cook, David, A History of Narrative Film, New-York: WW. Norton, 3rd ed. 1996.”
(Stokes, Melvyn (2009): Colour in American Cinema. From The Great Train Robbery to Bonnie and Clyde. In: Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard (ed.): Cinéma et couleur. Paris: M. Houdiard, pp. 184–192, on pp. 184–185.)
“In the fall of 1903, for instance, Méliès advertised Fairyland or Kingdom of the Fairies in three versions: “plain” or black-and-white, “polytint” (for 300 of the film’s 1,040 feet), and “colored” (a code word, at the time, for hand-painted).4 This hand-colored version was featured at the Lyric Theatre in Los Angeles throughout the month of October 1903 and became the subject of a half-column story in the Los Angeles Times, perhaps the first such promotional article devoted to an individual film.5 At the same time, Fairyland was scoring a hit on Keith’s vaudeville circuit in the Northeast and Midwest: the Philadelphia house, for instance, held it over for three weeks, and the Providence house placed it prominently in the middle of its program.6 Close on the heels of the Méliès film came a hand-colored version of Pathé’s two-reel Life of Napoleon in Keith’s theaters: according to the Cleveland manager, it “held the audience [and] received considerable applause.”7 That fall and winter, color prints of the same film, writes Musser, also served as the “featured subject” on both of Lyman Howe’s “high-class moving picture” tours (one company covered “legitimate” theaters in the Northeast, a second, those in the Midwest).8 Likewise, Edwin Hadley used a color print of Pathé’s Napoleon to anchor his own exhibitions now competing with Howe’s in the Northeast.9 Although not specifically described as such, other Pathé titles like Don Quixote, Puss-in-Boots, and Marie Antoinette, also probably circulated in hand-colored versions; and they were equally popular, not only in Keith theaters but on Archie Shephard’s much more varied touring programs for working-class audiences in the Northeast.10
The impact these French color films were having on a range of audiences in the United States was significant enough by the spring of 1904 that some American manufacturers and sales agents began to seize on them as a promotional device. In April, for instance, Harbach & Co. of Philadelphia was one of the first to advertise “original ‘Pathé-Freres’ ‘films’,” calling attention to their color titles and intertitles as a sure sign of quality.11 A month later, Sigmund Lubin (also in Philadelphia) was announcing “colored films” as his own “new discovery.”12 Yet many of the films Lubin offered for sale were Méliès and Pathé titles apparently duped in black-and-white and then either hand-colored or perhaps even roughly tinted.
4 See the Star Film ad in Billboard (7 November 1903), p. 24.
5 “Clever Moving Pictures,” Los Angeles Times (11 October 1903), VI, p. 2. See, also, “Amusements and Entertainments,” (4 October 1903), 1, p. l, and (31 October 1903), p. l.
6 Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatres, Philadelphia (5 October 1903) and (19 October 1903) and Providence (9 November 1903). See, also, the Keith Programme for 9 November 1903 – Providence Clipping Book 1903-1904, Keith-Albee Collection.
7 Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatres, Keith Theatres, Washington (26 October 1903), Boston (11 November 1903), and Cleveland (23 November 1903).
8 Ch. Musser and C. Nelson, High-Class Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880-1920 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 134-136.
9 Musser and Nelson, High-Class Moving Pictures, pp. 136-142.
10 Ten years ago, the Cinémathèque Française restored its stencil-color positive print of Don Quixote – Tirages et Restaurations de la Cinémathèque Française, II (Paris: La Cinémathèque Française, 1987), p. 47. See the Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatres, Washington (7 December 1903), Boston (22 February 1904), and Philadelphia (7 March 1904). See, also, the Providence Telegram article on the Keith Theatre Programme (5 April 1904) – Providence Clipping Book, 1903-1904, Keith-Albee Collection. Musser and Nelson, High-Class Moving Pictures, p. 143.
11 See the Harbach & Co. ad in New York Clipper (16 April 1904), p. 188.
12 See the Lubin ads in New York Clipper (7 May 1904), 244, and (28 May 1904), p. 32.”
(Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on p. 57.)
“David Hulfish’s article, “Colored Films of To-day,” published in the first issue of The Nickelodeon (January 1909), provides a good point of reentry.53 According to Hulfish, there were “three classes of colored picture films” available in the United States at that time: tinted and/or chemically toned, hand-colored, and machine-colored. Machine-colored films were the only one to “exhibit all the colors of nature,” and Hulfish attributed them solely to Pathé. Moreover, the company continued to ship its stencil-color titles from Paris (where the process was fully mechanized thanks to the patents of a M. Méry),54 rather than produce them at its new printing factory in New Jersey, as if to emphasize their “special status.”55 The process of tinting and toning, by contrast, Hulfish described as “inexpensive” and “extensively used,” which implies that the “aniline dye tinting” Views and Films Index first mentioned in 1906 may have been common to all manufacturers, and not just Pathé. Now, it may well be that American companies were using tinting and toning, perhaps even extensively, by 1908, but Paolo Cherchi Usai has found only limited traces of that in archive prints – if some survive with tinting, scarcely any do with toning.56 Moreover, there is scant evidence that any kind of color process was widely used by American companies, at least in the trade press or mass magazines.57
53 D. S. Hulfish, “Colored Films of To-day,” The Nickelodeon (January 1909), p. 15.
54 Marette, “Les procédés de coloriage mécanique des films,” pp. 4–7.
55 See, for instance, “Pathé-Frères,” New York Dramatic Mirror (14 November 1908), p. 12.
56 P. Cherchi Usai, “The Color of Nitrate,” Image 34. 1–2 (Spring-Summer 1991), p. 38, n 12.
57 One of the few references appears in Patterson’s Saturday Evening Post article, but it is appended to his description of Pathé’s stencil-color process – “The Nickelodeons,” p. 21.”
(Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on p. 61.)
“Technicolor’s limited palette was expanded by using the Handschiegl process to add color manually to the flag, lessening the contrast on-screen between different processes. Such hybridity was used frequently by the Hollywood studios to expand the options available. The Handschiegl process and hand-coloring were applied to a film after it was shot. Neither process was subject to illumination restrictions, direct production expense, or the limitations of colors possible in front of the camera.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 126.)
“Per i colori del muto, il problema si pone in termini ancora più complessi. Colorazione manuale e a pochoir, tintura e viraggio – come è noto – danno vita a modalità cromatiche che si è soliti definire con il termine colore applicato, in quanto le tinte vengono deposte solo ed esclusivamente sui fotogrammi di un positivo nitrato in bianco e nero. Di conseguenza, la colorazione diventa un’operazione legata a ciascuna singola copia e non già – come gli sviluppi del colore cinematografico ci hanno abituato a pensare oggi – al singolo film. Se dalla fine degli anni venti sarebbe stato possibile individuare una linea di demarcazione netta tra film in bianco e nero e film a colori, con i colori applicati questa operazione non è possibile, dal momento che la distinzione si opera di copia in copia. Sul piano tecnologico, il fatto che il colore non venisse registrato una volta per tutte sul negativo implicava che il lavoro di colorazione dovesse essere ripetuto un numero di volte pari al numero di copie colorate che si volevano ottenere.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 20.) (in Italian)
“Nel corso della storia del cinema – come vedremo – si rivelerà dominante ora il desiderio di utilizzare il colore per attrarre, ora la volontà di limitarne il potere di distrarre. Fintantoché alle immagini in movimento si assegna il compito primario di attrarre l’occhio, il colore si offre come una delle possibili forze, ma già dopo pochi anni, nel momento in cui si inizieranno a formulare al cinema richieste di sensatezza e di discorsività, del colore si tenderà a soppesare il rischio di distogliere l’attenzione da quanto si ritiene più importante. Nel cinema delle origini, è la prima istanza a imporsi come dominante, attraverso la veduta colorata, dipinta a mano o con la tecnica del pochoir.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 27.) (in Italian)
“Un ponte con la realtà o con i contesti spettacolari circostanti poteva essere costruito al momento soltanto per via adattativa. Di fronte all’impossibilità di catturare fotograficamente i fenomeni cromatici sulla pellicola, le prime soluzioni che si offrivano erano rappresentate dall’adattamento di tecniche già largamente diffuse nei settori della stampa, della lanterna magica e della fotografia: la colorazione manuale e, qualche anno dopo, la variante meccanizzata del pochoir9.
Sotto il profilo materiale, le prime addette alla colorazione cinematografica, dato che il lavoro veniva assegnato prevalentemente alla cura di mani femminili, rappresentavano le dirette discendenti dei ritoccatori e coloratori fotografici e dei pittori di lastre per lanterna magica10. Con tutti questi operai dell’immagine le coloratrici cinematografiche condividevano gli strumenti di lavoro: dei telai di vetro smerigliato, illuminati dal basso, sopra cui venivano collocate le immagini da trattare con un finissimo pennello. Il lavoro, lungo e ripetitivo, procedeva fotogramma dopo fotogramma e doveva essere ripetuto per ciascuna copia colorata che si desiderava porre sul mercato. Considerate le dimensioni microscopiche delle aree da colorare (1,8×2,4 cm) e la loro quantità (da 16 a 18 fotogrammi per ogni secondo di proiezione), ottenere una perfetta aderenza era impossibile, a dispetto delle cure e attenzioni poste affinché le tinte stese sul positivo non debordassero dai contorni delle figure.
La colorazione manuale si diffuse nei primi dieci anni del cinema, senza raggiungere mai uno sviluppo propriamente industriale.
9 Per la stampa, cfr. Préaud 1996, pp. 18–21. Per la lanterna magica, cfr. Crompton/Henry/Herbert, a cura di, 1990; Brunetta/Zotti Minici 1996. Per la fotografia, cfr. Coe 1978, pp. 8–17; Frizot 2001a, p. 751–753.
10 Per gli aspetti materiali e l’organizzazione del lavoro, cfr. Malthête 1987; Brown 1987; Dana, a cura di, 1992; Marette 1993; Fossati 1998, pp. 40–43; Read 2009; Pierotti 2011; Yumibe (in stampa b).
Brown, Harold (1987), Tecniche di colorazione a mano e ‘a pochoir’, in “Griffithiana“, X, nn. 29-30, settembre 1987, pp. 72–73.
Brunetta, Gian Piero; Zotti Minici, Carlo Alberto (1996), Il colore dalpre-cinema al cinema, in Dall’Asta, Monica; Pescatore, Guglielmo; Quaresima, Leonardo, a cura di (1996), Il colore nel cinema muto, Mano, Bologna, pp. 9–19.
Coe, Brian (1978), Colour Photography. The First Hundred Years 1840-1940, Ash & Grant, London.
Crompton, Dennis; Henry, David; Herbert, Stephen, a cura di (1990), Magic Images. The Art of Hand-Painted and Photographic Lantern Slides, The Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain, London.
Dana, Jorge, a cura di (1992), Couleurs au pochoir, in “Positif“, XLI, nn. 375-376, maggio 1992, pp. 126–128.
Fossati, Giovanna (1998), Quando il cinema era colorato, in Berriatúa, Luciano et al. (1998), Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930, Diabasis, Bologna, pp. 39–51.
Frizot, Michel (2001a), Les rites et les usages. Clichés pour mémoire, in Id., a cura di, (2001b), Nouvelle histoire de la photographie, Biro, Paris, pp. 747–754.
Malthête, Jacques (1987), Les bandes cinématographiques en couleurs artificielles. Un exemple: les films de Georges Méliès coloriés à la main, in “1895“, II n. 2, aprile 1987, pp. 3–10.
Marette, Jacques (1993), Les procédés de coloriage mécanique des films, in “Journal of Film Preservation“, XXII, n. 47, ottobre 1993, pp. 54–59. [“Bulletin de (association des ingénieurs et techniciens du cinéma“, IV, n. 7, 1950, pp. 3–8].
Pierotti, Federico (2011), Colorare le figure. Il lavoro femminile sulla pellicola, in “Bianco e nero“. LXXII, n. 570, maggio-agosto 2011, pp. 111–118.
Préaud, Maxime (1996), Du coloriage à l’impression en couleur, in Rodari, Florian, a cura di (1996a), Anatomie de la couleur. L’invention de l’estampe en couleurs, Bibliothèque nationale de France-Musée olympique Lausanne, Paris-Lausanne, pp. 18–49.
Read, Paul (2009), ‘Unnatural Colours’: An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies, in Tomadjoglou, Kim, a cura di (2009a), Early Colour Part 1, in “Film History“, XXI, n. 1, 2009, pp. 9–46.
Yumibe, Joshua (in stampa b), French Film Colorists (Elisabeth Thuillier and Germaine Berger), in Dall’Asta, Monica; Gaines, Jane, a cura di (in stampa), Women Film Pioneers Sourcebook, University of Illinois Press, Champaign-Urbana.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 28–29.) (in Italian)
“Dalla luce al pigmento. La danza serpentina
Uno dei soggetti di più assidua applicazione del pennello fin dai primissimi anni è offerto dalle vedute di danza serpentina, che riprendevano uno dei numeri di varietà più in voga negli anni d’invenzione dell’immagine in movimento. Questa nuova danza moderna era stata ideata nel 1889 da Loie Fuller grazie alla possibilità di far ricorso ai recenti mezzi d’illuminazione elettrica. La danzatrice si presentava in scena avvolta da lunghi drappi di stoffa bianca, che grazie a movimenti rotatori o a spirale assumevano forme sinusoidali; nello stesso tempo, il drappeggio veniva investito da fasci di luci policrome cangianti, che smaterializzando ulteriormente il corpo della ballerina, favorivano l’insorgere di un effetto ipnotico e astraente. L’effetto era ottenuto grazie a una serie di proiettori elettrici posizionati ai lati del palcoscenico e sotto una spessa lastra di vetro su cui la danzatrice eseguiva il numero; ciascun proiettore era dotato di un disco perforato alle cui aperture erano applicate gelatine colorate in diverse tonalità11.
Tra le vedute di danza di cui si conservano ancora oggi versioni colorate, due casi emblematici sono costituiti da Annabelle Serpentine Dance (Edison, 1895) e da Danse serpentine (1897-1899) una delle pochissime vedute colorate dei fratelli Lumière12. Nella prima, Annabelle si esibisce davanti al fondale scuro del Black Maria, illuminata a piombo dalla luce solare; la colorazione è applicata sui capelli della danzatrice, che sono tinti in giallo-arancio per l’intera durata della veduta, e sulla veste bianca con i lunghi drappeggi fatti roteare dal movimento delle braccia, con tonalità variabili dal giallo-arancio al rosa-violetto. La veduta Lumière è strutturata attorno ai medesimi parametri spaziali della versione di Edison: la danzatrice si esibisce davanti a un fondale nero sotto un fascio di luce naturale che illumina uniformemente la scena; i drappeggi bianchi risaltano sullo sfondo e ricevono le pennellate di colore necessarie a simulare gli effetti cromatici, con passaggi dal verde al rosa, al giallo, all’arancio e all’azzurro. Una alternativa alla danza serpentina, praticata con una certa frequenza, era rappresentata dal motivo della donna-farfalla, di cui si trovano ricchi esempi colorati sia nella forma del quadro singolo che in vedute più estese contenenti al loro interno numeri di ballo: per simulare l’effetto iridescente sulle grandi ali di stoffa si poteva infatti ricorrere al medesimo trattamento riservato ai drappi bianchi delle imitatrici della Fuller13.
Nelle danze serpentine filmate, si trattava di simulare sullo schermo cinematografico una serie di effetti che nell’originario contesto performativo erano stati prodotti con l’ausilio della luce artificiale.
11 Seguo la descrizione presente in Hopkins, a cura di, 1897, pp. 342–344. Cfr. anche, per gli spettacoli francesi, Moynet 1893, pp. 292–297.
12 Per le quattro versioni della veduta Edison, girate tra il 1894 e il 1897, cfr. Musser 1997, nn. 49, 116, 139, 339. La copia colorata cui faccio riferimento (n. 139) è conservata al MoMA. Per la veduta Lumière (cat. n. 765), cfr. Aubert/Seguin, a cura di, 1996, n. 1173.
13 Ricordo che in tutti questi casi all’attrazione del movimento e del colore si aggiungeva quella della musica eseguita dal vivo durante la proiezione. Nel 2006, un’intera sezione del Festival del Cinema ritrovato di Bologna è stata dedicata alle imitatrici della Fuller: vi sono state proiettate circa trenta vedute (1894-1908), di cui circa la metà in versioni colorate.
Aubert, Michelle; Seguin, Jean-Claude, a cura di (1996), La production cinématographique des frères Lumière, Centre national de la cinématographie-Bibliothèque du film, Paris.
Hopkins, Albert Allis, a cura di (1897), Magic. Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions. Including Trick Photography, Munn & Co., New York.
Moynet, Georges (1893), La machinerie théatrale. Trues et décors, Librairie illustrée, Paris.
Musser, Charles (1997), Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900. An Annotated Filmography, Giornate del cinema muto-Smithsonian Institution Press, Gemona (UD)-Washington.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 30–31.) (in Italian)
“Nondimeno, si può ipotizzare che, nell’intendimento dei fabbricanti di vedute, la sovrapposizione di pigmenti a una serie di immagini analogiche in bianco e nero avesse avuto il potere di conferire al pigmento il carattere dell’essere stato anch’esso luce, per una sorta di processo di induzione originato dallo statuto fotografico del materiale sensibile. Affinché questa impressione potesse prodursi, anche parzialmente, era necessario che i pigmenti simulassero il lavoro della luce in relazione al movimento e allo scorrere del tempo. Da questa esigenza derivava la preoccupazione di ottenere una perfetta aderenza delle tinte ai bordi delle figure da colorare, poiché in caso contrario sarebbe stato evidenziato il carattere non analogico del pigmento, ne sarebbe stato certificato il non essere stato luce.
Non sappiamo molto di come gli spettatori reagissero all’effetto, benché si possa evincere da alcune testimonianze d’epoca come l’aderenza del colore alla figura fosse il metro privilegiato per giudicarne la riuscita17. Risulta chiaro come gli spettacoli basati su mezzi generatori di forme in movimento si adattassero più di altri a questo tipo di effetto, poiché l’inevitabile baluginare del colore era accompagnato, e compensato, da una sorta di moto perpetuo del visibile. Quando questo non accadeva, l’effetto era invece minacciato dal prevalere della dimensione tattile e astraente della pura macchia di colore, che anziché mutarsi in luce restava ancorata alla propria materialità pigmentaria.
17 Re (1907, p. 57), ad esempio, osserva che “le [pellicole] colorate tranne in certi soggetti molto limitati come a mo’ d’esempio: la danza serpentina, fuochi artificiali, fontane luminose ecc. lasciano alquanto a desiderare stante la grande difficoltà di ottenere una perfetta e trasparente coloritura”. Liesegang (1909, p. 389) rileva che “quando in una figurina il colore copre precisamente le linee di contorno dei singoli oggetti mentre nelle successive li oltrepassa o non li raggiunge, durante la proiezione si avrà una spiacevole oscillazione dell’immagine, che naturalmente non farà buona impressione sullo spettatore”. Sassi (1911, p. 476), infine, nota nella colorazione manuale “una mobilità di colore di effetto sgradevolissimo”.
Liesegang, Franz Paul (1909), Il cinematografo. Manuale di cinematografia, Bocca, Torino. [Handbuch der praktischen Kinematographie. Die verschiedenen Konstruktions-Formen der Kinematographen, die Darstellung der lebenden Lichtbilder sowie das kinematographische Aufnahme-Verfahren, Liesegang, Düsseldorf 1908].
Re d’attore, Un (1907), “Effetti di luce” di Lucio d Ambra all’Argentina, in “Il signor pubblico“, XI, n. 21, 25 maggio 1907, s.p.
Sassi, Luigi (1911), Proiezioni fisse e cinematografo, Hoepli, Milano.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 33.) (in Italian)
“Una delle forme più prorompenti di spettacolarizzazione della luce e del colore era rappresentata dalla pirotecnia, che occupava un posto di primo piano tanto nelle prassi sceniche ottocentesche quanto nel cinema delle origini. Essa rappresentò un ambito sistematico e costante di applicazione del colore manuale nei generi e sottogeneri del meraviglioso, come il film a trucchi e la féerie, che furono portati in voga al cinema dai lavori di Georges Méliès e di alcuni specialisti in forza alla Pathé, come Segundo de Chomón, Gaston Velle e Ferdinand Zecca22. Gli studi cinematografici ereditarono dal teatro la prassi di avere sempre un artificiere al loro servizio.
Il ricorso alla pirotecnia all’interno di spettacoli era legato a una tradizione secolare, che si può far risalire indietro fino al Medioevo, quando era d’uopo utilizzare polveri e fuochi nei drammi sacri per ottenere effetti soprannaturali in scene infernali o di magia; visioni analoghe continuavano a popolare nei primi anni del Novecento soggetti agiografici colorati come le passioni della Pathé o la Jeanne d’Arc di Méliès (1900)23.
22 Sulla féerie alla Pathé, cfr. Kessler 2004. Su Chomón, cfr. Batllori 2009.
23 Cat. Star Film nn. 264–275.
Batllori, Joan M. Minguet (2009), Segando de Chomón and the Fascination for Colour, in Tomadjoglou, Kim, a cura di (2009a), Early Colour Part 1, in “Film History“, XXI, n. 1, 2009, pp. 94–103.
Kessler, Frank (2004), La féerie Pathé, in Marie, Michel; Le Forestier, Laurent, a cura di (2004), La firme Pathé Frères. 1896-1914, AFRHC, Paris, pp. 133–142.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 35–36.) (in Italian)
Le chaudron infernal (FRA 1903, Georges Méliès)
“La veduta a quadro singolo Le chaudron infernal (1903) esemplifica quanto la produzione di effetti pirotecnici fosse importante per il cinema di Méliès28. Egli stesso era solito occuparsene personalmente già negli spettacoli del Théàtre Robert Houdin. La veduta raffigura il demone Belphégor che nella sala di un castello medievale fa bruciare nel suo calderone infernale tre vittime, finché, tormentato dai loro fantasmi, si getta egli stesso nel calderone. Nell’arco di circa due minuti, sono orchestrati quattro distinti effetti pirotecnici: la fiammata sprigionata per tre volte dal calderone dopo che la vittima vi è stata gettata; le tre grosse nuvole di fumo da cui prendono vita le anime; la trasformazione delle anime in fiamme volanti; la grande fiamma e la nuvola di fumo prodotte dal demone gettatosi nel calderone29. Nella versione colorata a mano, le tinte impiegate hanno una grande importanza nell’orchestrazione spaziale e temporale degli effetti visivi, sia quelli propriamente scenici (fiamme e nuvole di fumo), che quelli cinematografici (arresto-sostituzione e doppia esposizione). Innanzitutto, è da rilevare come, all’interno di uno spazio che ricalca quello di un palcoscenico, le tinte siano deposte soltanto su alcuni oggetti e personaggi, scontornati rispetto al fondo in grisaille, articolando all’interno dell’immagine una sia pur elementare sintassi figurativa: lo scudo giallo e le teste di diavolo rosse con corna gialle; il calderone arancio; il tridente giallo e le brache rosse di Belphégor; l’incarnato blu-verde dei demoni; i costumi magenta della fanciulla e dei due paggi dati alle fiamme30. Il resto del mobilio (la poltrona, le sedie, gli sgabelli) e tutti gli spazi tra gli oggetti sono invece lasciati in bianco e nero: cromaticamente neutri, essi vanno a costituire lo sfondo percettivo dell’immagine. Sul piano temporale, è indubbio che il colore contribuisca a incanalare l’attenzione verso gli elementi che animano la scena, i personaggi e gli oggetti con cui essi entrano in contatto. Come nei film di danza, viene sottolineata la dimensione del movimento, tanto più fondante quanto più costruita su un ritmo forsennato; l’aggiunta degli effetti pirotecnici contribuisce ulteriormente a rafforzare il ritmo della veduta, a renderne percepibile la scansione temporale.
28 Cat. Star Film nn. 499–500 (cfr. Malthête, a cura di, 1981, pp. 146–147). Sulla pirotecnia, cfr. anche Id. 2003.
29 Quest’ultimo effetto è mancante nell’unica copia colorata a mano esistente, conservata presso il CNC di Bois d’Arcy.
30 Cfr. Id. 1987, pp. 6–9 e Cherchi Usai 2009, pp. 50–51.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo (2009), Georges Méliès, II ediz., Il Castoro, Milano.
Malthéte, Jacques, a cura di (1981), Essai de reconstitution du catalogue français de la Star-Film, Service des archives du film du Centre national de la cinématographie, Bois-d’Arcy.
Malthête, Jacques (1987), Les bandes cinématographiques en couleurs artificielles. Un exemple: les films de Georges Méliès coloriés à la main, in “1895“. II n. 2, aprile 1987, pp. 3–10.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 37–38.) (in Italian)
Le royaume des fées (FRA 1903, Georges Méliès)
“In Le royaume des fées, sono colorate in giallo-oro l’armatura, la spada e l’elmo donati a Bel Azor dal genio dell’invulnerabilità (qq. 10-11); altre occorrenze si riscontrano nelle decorazioni all’interno del palazzo del re (qq. 1-3) e del boudoir della principessa Azurine (qq. 4-5); nella conchiglia su cui viaggia la fata delle acque (qq. 16-17); nel baldacchino del corteo nuziale finale (q. 30). Altre tinte possono essere investite di referenze tematiche altrettanto definite o rimandare a stereotipi visivi rafforzati, se non imposti, da precedenti convenzioni sceniche e iconografiche: il cielo colorato in blu, lo spicchio di luna e le stelle in giallo che fanno da sfondo alla cavalcata fantastica (qq. 6-7) rimandano con tutta evidenza alle analoghe raffigurazioni veicolate al pubblico dal teatro di féerie e dal mondo dell’illustrazione popolare.
Una simile dimensione tematica è tanto più pregnante, nella veduta a quadro multiplo, quanto più la sintassi cromatica che si coglie all’interno di ciascuna singola immagine entra in rapporto con gli effetti sintattici della linearizzazione. Le occorrenze di colore non si limitano più a essere puntuali, ma ricorrenti: un gambero colorato in rosso, di norma dovrà apparire rosso anche nei quadri successivi (qq. 18-19). […]
In generale, il discorso resta valido per alcuni personaggi a forte connotazione, come la strega, che compare sempre in scena con un pastrano verde, oppure le fate, sempre in vesti rosate; tuttavia, il colore non pare aggiungere un particolare surplus di continuità o riconoscibilità, poiché entrambe le istanze sembrano già sufficientemente garantite da altri elementi scenici come il costume e il trucco. Peraltro, non tutti i personaggi conservano lo stesso costume, dunque la medesima tinta, per l’intero corso della vicenda: all’inizio della veduta, Azurine presenzia alla cerimonia con un vestito azzurro tenue (qq. 1-3), mentre all’inizio della scena successiva, nel boudoir, indossa un abito rosso, che a sua volta le viene tolto da una servitrice (q. 4). […]
Considerazioni analoghe possono essere mosse riguardo alla questione della centratura: se esistono casi in cui le tinte possono aiutare a identificare personaggi e oggetti chiave all’interno dell’inquadratura, in altri sembra avvenire l’esatto opposto. In molte delle scene sovraffollate di cui è ricco il cinema colorato di Méliès la sintassi figurativa risulta difficilmente riconducibile a una qualsivoglia istanza di strutturazione. In particolare nei riguardi del colore: le tinte sembrano disposte senza alcuna preoccupazione per la centratura dell’immagine. Quando Bel Azor entra nella sala d’armi del castello medievale con il suo numeroso seguito di ragazze en travesti, lo spettatore è posto di fronte alla caotica ripetizione di poche medesime tinte che moltiplicano anziché condensare i centri di interesse (q. 8). Quando nella stessa scena, i personaggi passano uno davanti all’altro, la resa della profondità spaziale attraverso il colore diviene alquanto difficoltosa; l’inevitabile sbavatura sul davanti di ciò che dovrebbe stare dietro (e viceversa) restituisce le tinte alla loro dimensione materica, al loro essere macchie colorate. Viene così contraddetto quell’effetto di profondità che la scenografia prospettica non colorata tenderebbe a instaurare.
Sembra per tanto arbitrario asserire un rapporto tra colorazione e produzione di effetti di rilievo: solo in casi particolari l’una può favorire l’altra, come ad esempio nel dodicesimo quadro di Le royaume des fées (imbarco di Bel Azor e del suo seguito), in cui il cielo dipinto sembra effettivamente favorire un effetto di prospettiva aerea49.
49 Cfr. Burch 2001, p. 152.
Burch. Noël (2001), Il lucernario dell’infinito. Nascita del lin guaggio cinematografico, Il Castoro, Milano. [La lucarne de Tinfini. Naissance du langage cinématographique, Nathan, Paris 1991; trad. it. di Paola Cristalli].”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 44–46.) (in Italian)
“Kolorierung und Virage
Da sich mit ihnen keine Naturfarben wiedergeben lassen, bilden die Techniken der Kolorierungen und Virage streng genommen eine eigene Kategorie. Im Grunde ein Ersatz und eine Behelfslösung, erreichten kolorierte und viragierte Filme jedoch bis in die 20er Jahre hinein eine so große Verbreitung, dass sie sich stärker im kollektiven Gedächtnis verankert haben als die zeitgleiche echte Farbkinematographie.
Einzelbild für Einzelbild manuell kolorierte Buntfilme wurden bereits in den Filmkatalogen der späten 1890er Jahre als besondere Attraktionen gehandelt. Zunächst in Paris, dann in London entstanden Ateliers, in denen die Handkolorierung als Kunst- und Präzisionshandwerk verfeinert wurde. Später wurde dieser mühsame Nachbearbeitungsprozess durch halbautomatische Schablonenverfahren erleichtert (Pathécolor ab 1905, Handschiegl-Verfahren ab 1916). Zwar verlor die Kolorierung in den 20er Jahren allgemein an Bedeutung, doch bedienten sich British International Pictures sogar noch bei der Herstellung der ersten beiden britischen Farb-Ton-Spielfilme The Romance of Seville (1929, Norman Walker) und Harmony Heaven (1930, Thomas Bentley) des Pathécolor-Schablonenprozesses.41
Die Virage-Technik, die ebenfalls bereits kurz nach 1895 ausgeübt wurde, bestand in der monochromen Einfärbung schwarz-weißen Filmmaterials. Je nach Schauplatz und Aufnahmegegenstand wurde eine passende Grundfarbe gewählt, um die Stimmung der Sequenz zu verstärken: z.B. Blau für nächtliche Szenerien, Gelb für Interieurs, Dunkelrot und Violett für Kaminbeleuchtung oder Kerzenschein, grelles Rot für Feuersbrünste und dramaturgische Höhepunkte. Die im Vergleich zur Kolorierung preiswertere Virage gewann in den 1910er Jahren eine solche Beliebtheit, dass die Mehrheit aller Filme auf viragiertem Material verbreitet wurde.
41 Dank an Luke McKernan, Rochester/Kent, für diesen Hinweis.”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on pp. 36–37.) (in German)
“Reste encore le problème des pellicules coloriées au pochoir et de celles teintes à la main. A ce qu’on a déjà dit à propos des premières il faut seulement ajouter que ces pellicules, qui – je le répète – ne représentent qu’un pourcentage assez modeste du patrimoine ayant échappé à la destruction, ont donné de très bons résultats grâce à l’utilisation de la méthode du contretype négatif couleur, telle qu’elle a été appliquée, par exemple, par la Cinémathèque d’Amsterdam.
Je pense que pour le moment il n’y a rien d’autre à dire. Il faudrait peut-être ajouter que ces systèmes sont évidemment applicables, avec d’aussi bons résultats, aux films teints à la main. A propos de ces derniers, on peut à juste titre faire encore cette considération: si nous laissons de côté les films assez longs, entièrement teints à, la main, qui sont tout à fait exceptionnels et pour lesquels vaut le discours fait pour les pochoirs, et en nous attardant aux films les plus fréquents, c’est-à-dire ceux qui ne contiennent que très peu de séquences teintes à la main, pourquoi ne pas envisager de reprendre la technique originale? Rien n’empêche que quelques expériences de peinture jointes à la nécessaire disposition manuelle, ne permettent de teinter à la main, avec des couleurs plus ou moins identiques à celles de l’époque, les photogrammes autrefois teintés de cette façon-là. On ne négligera évidemment pas les modifications qui auront eu lieu et toute expérimentation qui aura été faite en ce domaine.”
(Boarini, Vittorio (1992): La couleur dans le cinéma muet. Des techniques anciennes pour une restauration moderne. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 33–36, on p. 36.) (in French)
“Duplication of hand coloured and stencilled films
In stencilled films and other systems in which discrete patches of colour are applied, the use of colour internegatives is really the only photographic method possible, and acheiving a better representation of the original in its pristine form can only be done by using enhancement of video signals and retransferring back to film.
The procedure for reproducing a copy of a coloured print is exactly the same as for any print duplication using an integral tripack such as Eastman Colour Internegative Film, and setting up needs the rigorous application of the LAD system for optimum results.”
(Desmet, Noël; Read, Paul (1998): The Desmetcolor Method for Restoring Tinted and Toned Films. In: Luciano Berriatúa, Manlio Brusatin, Noël Desmet, Enrico Fornaroli, Giovanna Fossati, Bertrand Lavedrine, Bob Mabberley, Nicola Mazzanti, Ruggero Pierantoni, Paul Read and Sonja Snoek: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizione Diabasis, pp. 147–150, on p. 147.)
“Die Herstellung kolorierter Kinematographien.
Von Dr. Carl Forch
Das Streben, dem kinematographischen Bild Farben zu verleihen, ist seit langem lebendig. Mangels brauchbarer Verfahren, die Farben auf photochemischem Wege zustande zu bringen, mußte man sich bisher mit dem Kolorieren begnügen. Die ursprünglichste Arbeitsweise, die auch heute noch vielfach geübt wird, ist die des Ausmalens des Schwarzweiß-Bildes mit dem Pinsel, ohne Benutzung von Schablonen, also so, wie sie bei den bunten Laterna-Magica-Bildern seit langem geübt wird. Man wendet sehr verdünnte Lösungen leichtlöslicher Farben an und malt verhältnismäßig große Flächen gleichmäßig aus. Die Umrisse der Zeichnung, die Schatten und die feineren Details werden durch das photographische Bild selbst hervorgerufen. Die an sich nicht schwierige Arbeit erfodert, da man sich keiner optischen Vergrößerung dabei zu bedienen pflegt, ein scharfes Auge. Sie wird hauptsächlich von jungen Mädchen ausgeführt, die etwa in einem Monat angelernt sind, ohne daß bei ihnen besondere künstlerische Veranlagung vorausgesetzt würde. Zum Ausmalen sind solche Bilder vornehmlich geeignet, die hellgekleidete Personen auf dunklem Hintergrund aufweisen. Hier heben sich dann die bunten Teile vom Hintergrund gut ab und ein leichtes Ueberfahren der Grenzen wirkt deshalb wenig schädlich, weil der dunkle Hintergrund die auf ihn geratene Farbe abdeckt. Immerhin ist das Verfahren zeitraubend, man wird sich also auf wenig Farben beschränken und nicht leicht über sieben Teilfarben hinausgehen. Grundsatz ist, möglichst lichte Farben anzuwenden, beliebt sind vor allem hellgelb und hellorange. Sollen die Farben auch in den dunklen Bildteilen besser zur Wirkung kommen, so können die Bildbänder vor dem Auftragen der Farben durch Baden bräunlich getont werden. Da die Gelatine hierbei an den getonten Stellen aber eine andere Härte annimmt, als an den lichten Stelle, würde die Färbung ungleichmäßig ausfallen; um dies zu beseitigen, wird die Schicht entweder durchweg mittels Alaun oder Formalin gehärtet, oder man überzieht sie dünn mit Lack.1
Zunächst legt man drei bis vier Bilder mit verschiedenen Farbtönen an und entscheidet sich dann für das wirkungsvollste Bild. Jede Arbeiterin pinselt nun eine Farbe auf. Wird nur ein einziges Bildband in Arbeit gegeben oder drängt die Arbeit sehr, wie bei einer Erstaufführung, so fängt die erste Arbeiterin vorne an, die zweite 2-3 m weiter und so fort. Sonst arbeitet jedes Mädchen vorteilhafter an einem besonderen Film, und diese werden späterhin ausgetauscht. Benutzt werden gegen das Licht gestellte Retouchierpulte, die mit Mattglas so abgedeckt sind, daß stets nur ein paar Bilder durchleuchtet werden. Das fertiggestellte Filmstück fällt in einen Korb, wo die Farben alsbald trocknen. Auch eine geübte Arbeiterin kann in einem Tage nicht mehr als 8-9 Meter ausmalen. Die hohen Kosten, die Langsamkeit des Arbeitsverfahrens und die unvermeidlichen diesem anhaftenden Mängel regen dazu an, eine billigere und rascher fördernde Methode auszubilden, die unter Verwendung mechanischer Hilfsmittel besser und regelmäßiger ausgemalte Bilder liefert.
1) D. R. P. 227 683 und 231 789 der Compagnie Générale des Phonographes, usw.”
(Forch, Carl (1921): Die Herstellung kolorierter Kinematografien. In: Kinotechnik, 3,7, pp. 248–252, on p. 248.) (in German)
Lonesome (USA 1928, Paul Fejos)
“the illuminated fairytale.
the colors of paul fejos’s lonesome (1928)
The monotony of this life is demonstrated in many striking details. Only kitsch, which momentarily illuminates the grayness, is able to interrupt it.
(Siegfried Kracauer, review of Lonesome, 1974: 204)
Millions go every night to the motion picture theatres of the world. They go there always seeking the elusive mood of a child listening to a fairytale; seeking, in other words, the photoplay, which will for a few brief hours lift them out of the monotony of their own humdrum existence into the enchanted realm of make-believe.
(Paul Fejos 1929)
Paul Fejos’s Lonesome contains three tinted, stenciled, and hand-colored sequences that occur in the middle of the film during scenes at Coney Island. The film’s story is relatively simple, taking place over the course of a single day. It begins on a Saturday morning with a half day of frantic, alienating work in New York City, where the film’s lonely protagonists Jim and Mary toil, strangers to one another. She is a switchboard operator, he a punch-press machinist. The film shows their afternoon escape from the city to Coney Island to, as an intertitle explains, “recover from the stress of a daily routine.” Situated in this liminal space of leisure and entertainment, they meet randomly, and in the magnificent glow of the dreamland, they fall in love. In a series of overlapping dissolves, the red neon lights of a ferris wheel illuminate the blue-tinted sky, and the sunset throws its golden rays over them in the film’s first colored sequence. Caught in the visual and sonic swirl of the amusement park, they make their way through its attractions of fun houses and in the second color sequence a music hall awash in golden and pink tinting and stenciling, only to lose one another when the Utopian space of fun and distraction becomes a nightmare. A rollercoaster catches fire in the same hues that previously colored their romance (the final colored sequence) and separates the lovers. A storm blows in to further impede their search for one another. At the end of the day, they return home more alone then ever – until the sound of a phonograph, like the wisp of an arrow, penetrates the adjoining wall of their apartments, and the lovers discover themselves to have been by chance neighbors all along.
In his review of Lonesome, Siegfried Kracauer draws attention to the fairytale nature of the film, specifically the ending (1929: 202–204). Shifting generic registers from the urban realism that the film opens with and returns to after Coney Island, a fairytale ending emerges in the film’s final moment. This miraculous ending, however, casts the narrative in an ambivalent light. It unites Jim and Mary who as neighbors should have met long ago, yet the improbability of this coincidence negatively illuminates the resolution: these two lovers, separated from one another by accident, would in all likelihood never have met again. Even when they finally embrace, one cannot forget the bitterness of the more probable reality. This then for Kracauer is the value of fairytales: given the hopelessness that threatens to overwhelm modern life, one needs a means of imagining a better world if anything is to change. Rather than weakening the film, the ending’s ambivalence provides this by imaging modernity’s Utopian dreams of unalienated intimacy without hiding its traumas.
I wish to explore the ambivalent relationship that Kracauer notes between fairytales and modernity by focusing on one specific aspect of Lonesome: its use of color, for I take it to be a formal aspect of the ambivalence Kracauer delineates in the film. Color and fairytales have long been entwined, from vibrantly illustrated children’s books, to the magical stage colors of the féerie plays of the nineteenth century, to the spectacular hand-colored and stenciled féerie films of Georges Méliès and Segundo de Chomón during the first decade of the 1900s. From the féerie to the fairytale of Lonesome, color plays a pivotal role in the emergence of mass culture, yet color has not yet been sufficiently explored in relation to the cultural context of modernity. This is evident, for instance, in John Gage’s magisterial studies of color, Color and Culture (1993) and Color and Meaning (1999), which, despite their depth and range, collectively spend but two inadequate paragraphs on the question of “popular culture” (Gage 1999: 33). In discussions of color in film, this has also proven to be a blind spot due to the fact that the cultural history of color has largely been overlooked as questions of realism in relation to natural, photographic color have dominated the history. In actual practice, color in mass culture and in the cinema has been aligned generically with spectacle, which forms a counterpoint to the prevailing emphasis on photographic realism. Color’s generic association with spectacle has marked film aesthetics from the earliest uses of color in the cinema of the 1890s through Technicolor to the various digital grading effects of the present day.
In 1928, the applied-coloring techniques deployed in Lonesome were growing less common in Hollywood productions. By the latter part of the 1920s, color was proving difficult to apply in ways that did not interfere with soundtracks on prints, and in the films that still used color, Technicolor’s two-color, imbibition system was more aggressively supplanting applied-coloring techniques. In the face of these issues, Universal actually promoted Lonesome‘s use of color. In the company’s publicity journal Universal Weekly, it advertised the film as “The first talking picture with color sequences,” and in the same issue highlighted a review by the San Francisco News noting, “The color scenes in Lonesome are unusual, and greatly enhance an already beautiful story” (Universal Weekly 1928: 4–5, 11). To understand how color enhances this story, I wish to trace the ways in which the film uses color in conjunction with intermedial topoi deriving from urban mass culture (Coney Island, advertising, neon lighting) and modernist color theory and practice (color abstraction and synaesthesia). I am interested in how this use of color elaborates not only Kracauer’s fairytale reading of the film but also what Miriam Hansen has theorized as the “vernacular modernism” of classical cinema: that is, that the cinema not only reflected the modern world but also offered audiences a vernacular horizon in which to negotiate modernity in ways akin to the sensory-reflexive practices of high modernist works (Hansen 1999). The modern, fairytale colors of Lonesome haptically engage one’s senses: illuminated in the colors of Coney Island, the characters and the surrounding crowds in the film model a form of spectatorship that reflexively suggests a broader reading of the influence of color on the viewer of the film. Color saturates not just the people in the film, but it also reflects from the screen to envelop the audience, and in these movements, the féerie modernism of color illuminates the cinema.
Lonesome‘s first colored sequence begins on the beach at Coney Island and runs into the following scene depicting the park’s amusements, lasting for approximately three and a half minutes. Beginning the sequence, a medium shot of Jim and Mary dissolves into three superimposed images: 1. a blue-tinted medium shot of the protagonists; 2. Jim and Mary again, doubled in long shot at the bottom of the image, illuminated in a stencil-colored golden light; and 3. amusement rides with stencil-colored red lights framing the right and left of the entire image. The superimposition gives way to a stenciled medium shot of the protagonists for the second talking sequence of the film, which lasts until Jim and Mary realize that the sun is setting (shown in long shot against the ocean, tinted blue and stenciled gold) and that everyone else has already left the beach. In the next scene, Jim and Mary return to the crowds of Coney Island, and for the length of the remaining colored sequence, they are almost indistinguishable from the mass. As the camera moves through the throng, it explores the attractions of Luna and Steeplechase Parks, dissolving one colored attraction into the next in rapid succession. The crowd dissolves back and forth into the famous lights of Coney Island, stenciled and tinted in reds, golds, and blues, while colored balloons mingle with the lights above the people’s heads. The film then returns to black-and-white, and Jim and Mary emerge from the crowd.
Given the overlapping histories of cinema and amusements parks, it is significant that all three of Lonesome‘s colored sequences occur at Coney Island. The first sequence in particular calls attention to the topos of the amusement park that recurs so often in silent cinema: from early films such as Edison’s Shooting the Chutes (1896), Rube and Mandy at Coney Island (1903), Coney Island at Night (1905), through later films such as Sunrise (1927), It (1927), and The Crowd (1928). One of the defining visual features of Coney Island, often referenced in films, was its lighting displays. […]When night would descend, hundreds of thousands of lights stretched in patterns outlining the buildings would illuminate the park. These lighting displays not only lit the night for revelry but also served as a glamorous icon of American modernity in photographic, song slide, and filmic representations of the illuminated park.
In its use of this lighting topos, the first colored sequence of Lonesome is exemplary. Against the illuminated background of Coney Island, Jim and Mary’s romance sparks and flourishes. Through multiple dissolves, the lights both envelop and move through their bodies, creating complexly layered, abstract images. When Jim and Mary leave the beach, this abstraction is then carried into the crowds through which they move. The lights of the sequence not only illuminate the night but also absorb the revelers in colored hues. This circulation of lights – overlapping and dissolving, spinning and falling – abstractly mimics the circulation of bodies that dissolve back and forth through the various shots. Rather than alienating, the dissolving abstraction models a potential relationship between people and things: one that can playfully bring them together to and through technology. As liminal spaces, amusement parks – and by reflexive extension the cinema – sit on the peripheries of the everyday, yet in their nearness to it, they possess the potential to reimagine it by shifting the boundaries between technology and the bodies found therein. This first colored section of Lonesome provides a Utopian vision of modernity: a contingent space where strangers can still meet and fall in love, and where modern technologies are harnessed for intimacy within the crowd.
The second colored sequence of the film lasts for approximately 90 seconds and follows Jim and Mary into a music hall at Coney Island. A stencil-colored sign fills the screen in gold and pink, flashing the word, “Dancing.” […] A dissolve seemingly pulls the screen out immersively toward the audience as the camera tracks through the sign and into a close-up of a brass horn; the horn dissolves and through its circumference the camera continues to track into a red-tinted medium shot of a band performing the film’s theme song, “Always.” The words and music of the song are superimposed over the bottom of the screen while the song plays on the soundtrack. The film then begins to dissolve the various instruments of the band together creating a synaesthetic montage of sounds: the horns, the drums, the banjos illuminated by pink stencil colors and tints. This is then intercut with medium shots of Jim and Mary dancing in alternating tints of pink, lavender, and gold. A number of abstract dissolves leads to a long shot of the crowd with Jim and Mary in the mid-foreground in a gold and then lavender tint. A match dissolve to their bodies isolates them from the crowd, and as on the beach, they are once again alone in an elaborately colored fantasy space. They dance beneath the yellow crescent moon. A shimmering golden palace appears to the right, and as they waltz through the clouds, rotating celestial orbs mark the passage of time. […] Another match dissolve returns them to the dancing crowd in the hall at which point the film returns to black-and-white.
As suggested earlier, the interaction between the crowds and the modern lighting of Coney Island refigures human intimacy through technology. In his review of Lonesome, Kracauer uses the language of artificial lighting to emphasize the film’s fairytale quality in his emphasis on the film’s “glimmering reflection [Abglanz] of a better life” and in his discussion of kitsch, which interrupts and illuminates the gray monotony of the modern world (1929: 204). Kracauer draws attentions to these aspects of Lonesome to illustrate how the cinema, as a technologically mediated form of kitsch, can grant one a new perspective: a fleeting glimpse of a better life.
Throughout his Weimar writings, Kracauer frequently calls attention to modern lighting effects, in particular colored ones – e.g. the tiny red lights on a rollercoaster; the red gleam of advertisements on the boulevards (see especially his two essays on artificial lighting in which he again deploys the term Abglanz to refer to modern technology, “Lichtreklame”  and “Ansichtspostkarte” , reprinted in 1990: 19–21, 184–185). Kracauer’s interest in artificial lighting reflects the growing significance of color in commodity culture. Modern lighting began to be colored and used in advertisements, and in marketing handbooks from the period it is commonplace that colored lighting is useful because of color’s aesthetic influence over spectators’ moods and emotions. The roots of such discourses on the power of color are ancient and have historically revolved around debates over the role of color in cognition, as epitomized in Goethe’s polemic against Newton in his Color Theory. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, research into the affective powers of color was abundant and had affinities with Symbolist and occult color aesthetics, which stressed the related notions of correspondences and synaesthesia to explain color’s mood-inducing powers. In the realm of early abstract art, interest in synaesthesia was commonplace […].
Bringing this history to bear then on the second colored sequence of Lonesome, one can recognize the affinity the colors display with both advertising lighting and modernist color abstraction. The film’s use of color invokes and adapts the affective powers attributed to color in these various media practices, and in this process of adaptation, the film demonstrates Hollywood’s intermedial affinity with modernism. However, this is not a passive move but rather is indicative of Hollywood’s active appropriation of cultural tropes, topoi, and imagery into a vernacular modernism of its own.
The second colored sequence of Lonesome in particular foregrounds this process of vernacularization. The moving dissolve from the colored “Dancing” sign into the horn and then into the band suggests the synaesthetic power of colored film to mimic the rhythms and tones of music. The abstract montage of sound and image synaesthetically conveys the whirl and attraction of the amusement park. The addition of color – the neon glow – to this equation underscores the transformative power of the park’s amusements: the glamorous hues from the neon sign saturate the crowd and facilitate its interaction with the abstractions of modernity. At the same time, this collective innervation leads to a private fantasy world for Jim and Mary as they dance out of the crowd and into their romantic dreamscape. When they return to the crowd, the two are now one, together intimately part of the larger whole.
It is worth teasing out the reflexive implications of the technologically mediated intimacy in the scene. The movement of the camera into the neon sign at the beginning of the sequence, seemingly pulls the screen out into the audience through the track in. In doing so, it suggests a broader, more reflexive reading of the crowd in the dance hall. Shifting focus from the screen to the theater space, an attention to color projection allows for the theorization of a process through which cinema spectators both absorb and are absorbed by the images on the screen. As the crowd in the film moves within the warm, colored glow of the “Dancing” sign, the ambient light of the film’s projection reflects off the screen and into the crowd in the theater (a reflection doubled by the camera movement). The synaesthetic illuminations that saturate the collective of the dance hall in Lonesome can also be read as reflexively enveloping the theater audience, expanding the colored abstraction of Coney Island into the cinema space. The images of the film then are not only to be gazed at, but they reflect back and saturate the audience, projecting not just to the eyes but also immersing the bodies, the seats, floors, and walls of the space. This saturation of the theater must not be essentialized; however, calling attention to it usefully foregrounds the haptic nature of cinematic experience (see Lant 1995: 45–73). It expands the screen into the world, collectively tinting the audience. While the effects of this saturation can be read positively (the unification of a collective and amorous subjectivity), its potentials also have more disquieting implications, as the final colored sequence of the film demonstrates.
After leaving the dance hall, Jim and Mary move on to their next amusement: a rollercoaster. In the crowded line, they end up separated, riding in two parallel trains. At first they slowly move along the tracks, smiling and waving back and forth to one another. As the ride picks up speed, point-of-view shots blur the lights of Coney Island, and with the ride’s dips and turns both protagonists and spectators are sensually hurtled through the ride. Thirty seconds into the mayhem, Jim looks back and realizes that the wheel of Mary’s cart has caught fire. After the intertitle announces this, the camera cuts to Jim’s point of view, and the final colored sequence of the film begins. The golden-orange hue that had previously colored the sunset on the beach and the fairytale palace of the music hall now illuminates a fiery disaster. Shots of Jim and Mary in their carts are intercut with point-of-view shots of the fiery hand-colored wheel. Overcome with fear, Mary faints, and the last color sequence ends after only 30 seconds. The carts roll into the station and pandemonium ensues, which keeps Jim and Mary separated and lost to one another for the rest of their time at Coney Island.
If the previous two colored sequences can be read as Utopian visions of modernity, the final colored sequence underscores a more apprehensive attitude. It does so by calling attention to the disastrous potentials harbored by modern technologies. Significantly, these dangers are epitomized by a rollercoaster disaster that evokes a train wreck. Wolfgang Schivelbusch has written about the ambivalence surrounding train transport in the nineteenth century (1986: 129–133), and in a parallel move in Disenchanted Night, he traces the latent dangers found in networked technologies of lighting such as the explosive and poisonous hazards of gas (1995: 33–40). As Schivelbusch clarifies, modern technologies both productively transform and threaten everyday life. Similarly, through the near disaster of the rollercoaster fire, Lonesome illustrates the malleability of color meaning and in this suggests a more skeptical reading of entertainment technology.
The inherent ambivalences of these technologies can be theorized in terms of the emerging commodity culture of the time. Though less physically dangerous, the technologies of lighting and color as applied in advertising and commodity production have their own set of destructive associations. The culture industry’s application of these technologies greatly expanded the potential to market commodities through the production and manipulation of desire. Such uses of color and lighting reinforce the groundwork of consumer culture and adversely contribute to the formation of homogenous, consuming subjects.
These negative facets of technology dialectically balance the more Utopian moments in Lonesome. Rather than illuminate the inequalities of the everyday, technologies of lighting and color collectively divert spectators’ attention to the nonessential, thus establishing a compensatory logic for the color in the film. In so doing, color functions as part of a structure that systematically petrifies the status quo through the regimented control of spectatorship. To reframe the analysis of amusement park lighting and by extension of Lonesome, these color illuminations bear the force of commodity desire, and the libratory moments found therein are thus but a step away from the compulsive mimesis to cultural commodities that Adorno and Horkheimer discuss in their critique of the culture industry (1947: 136). Similar to advertising illuminations, the colors in Lonesome reflect over the revelers at Coney Island and onto the cinema audience continuing this intermedial circulation of desire.
But then this is a point that Fejos’s film makes remarkably clear. The color sign in the film’s second sequence directly advertises the entertainments of the park, and when Jim and Mary enter the dance hall, it is within the rosy hues of neon advertising that they dance into a fantasy world. However, though Lonesome motions toward a Utopian union for Jim and Mary in the first two colored sequences, it quickly ruptures this harmony with the rollercoaster. The same colors that cast a Utopian hue over the film reoccur here to illuminate their misfortune. With the ride’s change of hue from grayness to fiery orange, the Utopian entertainments of Coney Island become ominous and alienating.
To return to Kracauer on the fairytale, Jim and Mary begin in the loneliness of their boarding house and return to it even more alone. If the film does assert its miraculous powers in the end by drawing them back together, it does so only by first dwelling on the dystopic side modern life and then evacuating plausibility from the plot in its shift from realism to fairytale. In so doing the film displays its ability to enchant and disenchant at the same time, to paraphrase Kracauer elsewhere on rollercoasters (1992: 58–60). Lonesome ambivalently acknowledges and pushes beyond a compensatory logic by recognizing both the promises and failures of modernity. But this is more than just ambivalence: it is a dialectical move through cinema that uses the medium’s glimmering powers to suggest a chance of intimacy in the face of overwhelming alienation. By lodging this suggestion in the guise of a fairytale, though, the film refuses to lapse into ideology about it: intimacy is possible but implausible, at least for now.
The film makes this dialectical move not only narratively but also at the level of form. In its use of color, Lonesome displays its affinity with a network of related claims about color in the early twentieth century: from idealistic assertions about its harmonizing ability to attempts to marshal such possibilities for the mimetic formation of subjectivity and desire. Such affinities, however, are not just passively absorbed into the matrix of classical Hollywood cinema; rather, it actively appropriates them into its vernacular. In the case of Lonesome, it is possible to frame this as a critical appropriation. The hues that cast a Utopian glow over the film in the first two colored sequences reoccur in the third illuminating the film’s rollercoaster accident. The polarity among them inscribes a modern fairytale: one that dialectically places its Utopian potentials under erasure. Color thus sustains and builds the fairytale character of the film: for through its glimmer, a better life is glimpsed and effaced.
For Miriam Hansen, who not only introduced me to Lonesome but also taught me how to look, feel, and think my way through color’s glimmering reflections. For the research, my references are to the colored, sound print prescorred by the George Eastman House, and I am grateful to Anthony L’Abbate of the GEH for details on the most recent restoration. An earlier version of this essay was published in 2004.
Adorno, T. W. and M. Horkheimer. (1947; trans. 2002) “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. E. Jephcott, ed. G. S. Noerr, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Fejos, P. (1929) “Illusion on the Screen,” New York Times, 26 May: x3.
Gage, J. (1993) Color and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Gage, J. (1999) Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hansen, M. B. (1999) “The Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism,” Modernism/Modernity 6.2: 59–77.
Kracauer, S. (1929, reprinted 1974) “Lonesome,” in Kino: Essays, Studien, Glossen zum Film, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Kracauer, S. (1990) Schriften, vol. 5.2, ed. I. Mülder-Bach, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Kracauer, S. (1992) “Roller Coaster,” trans. T. Levin, Qui Parle 5.2: 58–60.
Lant, A. (1995) “Haptical Cinema,” October 74 (Autumn, 1995): 45–73.
Schivelbusch, W. (1986) The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Schivelbusch, W. (1995) Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the Nineteenth Century, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Universal Weekly (1928) 28.11.
Yumibe, J. (2004) “Das Illuminierte Märchen: Zur Farbästhetik von Paul Fejos’s Lonesome,” in Paul Fejos: Die Welt macht Film, trans. W Astelbauer, ed. E. Büttner, Wien: Verlag Filmarchiv Austria.”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2013): The Illuminated Fairytale. The Colors of Paul Fejo’s Lonesome (1928). In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 127–137.)
Métamorphoses du papillon (FRA 1904, Gaston Velle)
“In Gaston Velle’s simple but spectacular hand-colored trick film Métamorphoses du Papillon (A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis, Pathé, 1904), a yellow caterpillar crawls along a green branch and leaf set against a black background. The caterpillar dissolves into a white cocoon, out of which a multicolored butterfly wing then emerges directly toward the camera. There is a cut to the butterfly fully exposed, and its fluttering wings shimmer in various colors (orange, greenish-blue, yellow). Next, a physical transformation takes place in which the butterfly leans forward to reveal that it is actually a woman in a butterfly costume (her full body now visible), and she continues to flutter and pirouette (color plate 18). The black background serves a dual purpose here: it both masks any fringing that may have occurred in the coloring process (the dyes do not show on the dark surface), and it contrasts with the moving colors that seem to protrude from the screen. The coloring adds a sense of depth to the image, yet it does not construct a deep space that beckons one to enter. Rather, the colored image seems to project off the screen toward the spectator in a quasi-erotic direct address that resonates with various colorful and bestial representations of feminine sexuality at the fin-de-siècle?
Given how films such as Pathé’s A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis most often localize color upon the female body, these haptic projections are charged with eroticism.
As in A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis, color’s projective dimensionality is exemplified through Pathé Frères’ work with color during the first decade of the 1900s. From the early 1900s to World War I, the company was the leading producer of colored films around the world. The popularity of these films in part fueled Pathé’s global success during the early years of the 1900s. With the broad changes in film production, style, and circulation at the end of the first decade of the 1900s, the company’s dominance slipped, though color still played an important role in its fortunes during the 1910s through its nonfiction and historical dramas. However, as we will see, Pathé subdued the style of its coloring with these genres. Pathé maintained its projective style of coloring evident in A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis when it transitioned to stenciling in the early 1900s.”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, pp. 78 f.)
Der Aufstieg (GER 1926, Walter Ruttmann)
“Subsequently, between May and October 1926, László gave approximately 1,200 performances to more than forty thousand people at the GeSoLei trade fair and exhibition of Health (Ge), Social Welfare (So), and Body Culture (Lei) held in Düsseldorf.75 Ruttmann’s film Der Aufstieg (The Ascent, 1926), shown at the same event, advertised the festival’s broader educational aim of promoting postwar regeneration of the Rhineland and of Weimar Germany. Ruttmann’s abstract color film shows an “everyman” figure at first seen as thin, ravaged by the war, and attacked by a green snake. Attending the GeSoLei fair signals a return of his vitality, as he performs gymnastics and ascends stairs toward a red circle symbolizing new energy. Color music and experimental forms were thus utilized for a broader public purpose, attracting new audiences.
Cindy Keefer, “Raumlichtmusik: Early 20th Century Abstract Cinema Immersive Environments,” Leonardo Electronic Almanac 16, no. 6–7 (October 2009): 1-5.”
(Street, Sarah; Yumibe, Joshua (2019): Chromatic Modernity. Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s. New York: Columbia University Press, on pp. 126–127.)
Serpentine Dance (USA 1894, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson), Umbrella Dance (Program at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, New York, USA, 1896) and Giochi di prestigio (Fregoli in palcoscenico) or Fregoli Prestigiatore (ITA 1897-1899, Leopoldo Fregoli)
“Fin dalle primissime pellicole di Edison destinate ai “kinetoscopes” si precisa comunque l’esigenza di colorare le immagini fotografiche per ottenere determinati effetti quasi sempre suggeriti o addirittura provocati da precedenti di origine teatrale. I gialli, i verdi e i rossi, che, stemperati in gamme diverse e gradualmente alternantisi, illeggiadriscono le evoluzioni dei veli nella Serpentine Dance (1894), girata nella “Black Maria” di Edison da Laurie Dickson, devono certo tradurre, ad esempio, sulla pellicola – secondo le intenzioni della prima specialista in materia, la signora Kuhn – i magici effetti di luce raggiunti sulle scene dalla Loïe Fuller mediante l’uso di luci variamente schermate. Ma, come ho già osservato altra volta, sempre a proposito di questo singolarissimo esperimento di cinema a colori dei primordi (1), la stessa scelta della “danza serpentina” quale oggetto di una ripresa cinematografica potrebbe invece denunziare negli artigiani che si proposero col meccanismo del kinetoscopio di imbalsamarne la altrimenti inafferrabile suggestione (basata essenzialmente sul moto perpetuo, dei veli e soprattutto sul cambiamento “a vista” dei colori) una embrionale ma già abbastanza individuabile intenzione stilizzatrice, e – quel che piú conta – una programmatica evasione – proprio attraverso il movimento e soprattutto il colore – da una riproduzione piattamente naturalistica della realtà: evasione tanto piú curiosa e significativa – a mio avviso – proprio perché essa viene in genere contestata ai “primitivi” del cinema, alla base delle cui opere sarebbe appunto di regola – secondo l’opinione comune – un’automatica copiatura del vero.
Allo stesso modo, ad esempio – e per motivi analoghi – la “luce insolitamente scintillante” che la sera del 26 aprile del 1896 sullo schermo del “Koster and Bial’s Music Hall” di New York emanava dai “costumi in rosa ed azzurro” di “due stimatissime fanciulle bionde del teatro di varietà” le quali eseguivano “la ‘umbrella dance’ con lodevole celerità” (2) dovette stupire il pubblico e la critica si direbbe oggi non tanto per la esatta riproduzione – grazie alla fotografia in movimento – di uno spettacolo consueto, quanto per la sbalorditiva “velocità” dei movimenti (lontani quindi dal “vero”) e specie per l’inconsueta e artificiosa “luminosità” dei colori (profondamente diversi dai colori “naturali”). Anche il cinema a colori, all’insaputa degli stessi fabbricanti di film, fin dagli inizi sembrerebbe dunque aver già trovato una sua precisa giustificazione, per quanto derivata per il momento da un complesso di imperfezioni tecniche e messa in pratica magari solo inconsciamente.
Ma quel che rende sorprendente e ancor oggi spesso – come si suol dire – “funzionale” l’applicazione del colore alla pellicola effettuata dai primitivi mediante la paziente coloritura a mano fotogramma per fotogramma, è il contrasto fra le zone, diciamo cosí, “neutre” che, per una specie di convenzione da tutti immediatamente accettata, rimangono in bianco e nero, e quelle che invece accolgono nelle parti in luce le squillanti macchie all’anilina: il colore, in altri termini, serve a sottolineare in tal caso l’importanza di un personaggio, di un oggetto o persino di uno sfondo, relegando automaticamente il resto in secondo piano; ed è chiaro che con tale espediente si vuole concentrare l’attenzione dello spettatore solo verso i punti nei quali brilla il colore, la cui suggestione spettacolare – prescindendo da ogni riferimento realistico – deriva quindi direttamente dall’opacità di quelle parti che invece ne restano prive. In qualche filmetto di Leopoldo Fregoli, ad esempio, come Giochi di prestigio (Fregoli in palcoscenico), anteriore al 1900, tutta la scena, rimasta in bianco e nero (come in genere in tutti i film del trasformista) è immersa in una blanda tinteggiatura giallognola, secondo la consuetudine dei film realizzati con la pellicola dei Lumière; ma ad un certo punto il prestigiatore fa scaturire da un cappello un’improvvisa cascata di fiori: le corolle di carta appaiono allora estrosamente colorate nelle tinte piú vive, mentre la disposizione dei colori medesimi, dovuta essenzialmente al caso, crea un effetto forse imprevisto e comunque irrealizzabile sul palcoscenico. Difatti, mentre l’isolamento dei colori in una sola zona determina inequivocabilmente il punto preciso verso cui deve per forza convergere l’attenzione degli spettatori, l’inevitabile imprecisione della pittura a mano, in questo caso effettuata evidentemente con la punta di un minuscolo pennellino (cui era impossibile rintracciare con esattezza in ciascun fotogramma i fiori che avrebbero dovuto conservare, nel movimento, le rispettive tinte) finisce per aggiungere al risaputo gioco di prestigio un’allucinazione supplementare, costituita appunto dall’innaturale scoppiettio dei rossi, dei verdi e dei blu che anima l’allegra cascata di fiori come un inaspettato fuoco d’artificio.
(1) Archivio: The Serpentine Dance, ir. “Bianco e Nero”, XIII, n. 12 – Roma, Dicembre 1952.
(2) Da un brano di critica apparso su “The New York Times” del 24 aprile 1896, riportato da L. Jacobs in “The Rise of American Film“, New York, 1939. La “Umbrella Dance” era uno dei filmetti compresi nel programma.”
(Montesanti, Fausto (1954): Lineamenti di una storia del film a colori. In: Giuseppe Sala (ed.): Bianco e Nero. Il colore nel cinema. Rassegna mensile di studi cinematografici, XV,2-4, pp. 11–51, on pp. 12–14.) (in Italian)
“E non è certo privo di significato il fatto che l’applicazione del colore nei primitivi coincida, oltre che con la realizzazione di giuochi di prestidigitazione – di derivazione teatrale, ma potenziati dalle nuove possibilità dei trucchi cinematografici –, con la scelta di argomenti di sogno o a sfondo fantastico da una parte, esotico e storico dall’altra. La “magia” e la “féerie” – come campi d’azione del gioco dei colori – trovano infatti una valida concorrenza soltanto in quei “generi” che si distaccano in qualche modo dalla consuetudine quotidiana, o attraverso lo spazio (i film di ambiente soprattutto orientale o comunque esotico) o attraverso il tempo (i film storici o – in genere – in costumi del passato). E’ così che Robert William Paul, il primitivo britannico cui pare si debba assegnare la priorità assoluta nell’uso del colore su vasta scala per lo meno in Europa, nei suoi esperimenti cromatici rimasti piú famosi passa appunto dai pittoreschi esotismi di An Eastern Dance (1896) – a quanto si sa dipinto a mano fotogramma per fotogramma – alla magìa onirica di The Dancer’s Dream (1905), nel quale pare facesse invece largo uso di tinteggiature in vari colori.
Ma l’evasione dalla verosimiglianza nell’irrealtà, attraverso tutta una serie di elementi figurativi fra i quali il colore occupa indubbiamente un ruolo determinante, si attua forse nella maniera piú completa nel mondo meno verosimile e piú irreale di tutto il periodo dei “primitivi”: quello di Georges Méliès. Il colore, in tutti i suoi film, da Cendrillon (1899) a Jeanne d’Arc (1900), da Le voyage dans la lune (1902) a Le royaume des fées (1903), da Le voyage à travers l’impossible (1904) a Le palais des mûle et une nuit (1905), da Les 400 farces du Diable (1906) a La conquête du Pôle (1912), non è infatti un elemento accessorio o gratuito, bensì previsto fin dalla lavorazione, anche se all’apparenza usato spesso in funzione semplicemente decorativa. “…La scenografia a colori viene orribilmente male” – scriveva Méliès ai suoi tempi – “l’azzurro diventa bianco, i rossi, i verdi e i gialli diventano neri. E’ dunque necessario che le scene siano dipinte come gli sfondi degli studi fotografici …Se si vogliono ottenere buoni risultati fotografici, è meglio adoperare, anche se si tratta di sedie, camini, tavoli, tappeti, mobili, candelabri, etc., soltanto oggetti fabbricati espressamente e dipinti nelle diverse tonalità di grigio, graduate con cura, secondo la natura dell’oggetto. Poiché i film piú importanti sono generalmente colorati a mano prima di essere proiettati, sarebbe impossibile colorare gli oggetti reali fotografati, i quali se sono in bronzo o in mògano, oppure di stoffa rossa, gialla, blú o verde, verrebbero di un nero intenso e di conseguenza non trasparente, al quale sarebbe impossibile conferire una tonalità reale e traslucida, necessaria alla proiezione” (1). Come si vede, con la modestia tipica dei pionieri, nel confezionare quella sorta di disegni in movimento che sono tutti i suoi film, in cui persino le figure umane sembrano voler assomigliare a pupazzi, Méliès non si vergogna affatto di apparire preoccupato essenzialmente di risolvere non tanto complicati problemi espressivi, quanto banalissimi problemi pratici, e – quel che è piú curioso – al solo scopo di raggiungere un effetto fondamentale, l’unico anzi che pare gli stia veramente a cuore: quello della “verosimiglianza”. Ma quasi a dispetto dei suoi commoventi sforzi, il miracolo della trasfigurazione artistica si compie ugualmente: e da una “finzione” accanita e sistematica che si propone semplicemente di riprodurre la realtà (o di crearne una nuova, sempre però nel modo piú prossimo al “vero”, scartando quindi ogni possibile stilizzazione) nasce cosí il malioso stupore di un mondo di pura fantasìa, dove ogni cosa, dalla maldestra prospettiva di un’architettura che si appiattisce sul fondale dipinto, al finto dettaglio di arredamento inghiottito da uno spazio inesistente e privo di ombre, pare immersa in un’atmosfera stregata, cui un’irrequieta e sfavillante tavolozza conferisce a getto continuo una luce di perpetua gaiezza. Georges Sadoul ha fatto acutamente osservare, a tale proposito, come il fascino di Méliès consista in una “perenne incertezza” derivante dal fatto che nei suoi film “il vero è carico dei colori del falso e, il falso si sforza di passare per vero” (2): ed è proprio dall’equivoca precisione con cui sono disegnati allo stesso modo tanto i lineamenti “verissimi” di creature fantastiche – come la “Luna” o 1′ “Uomo delle nevi” – quanto le squisite falsitudini degli ambienti piú quotidiani cui gli iperbolici colori davano una stravaganza di piú, che deriva l’inconfondibile incantesimo dei film di Méliès, che risplendono ancora, a distanza di anni, di un loro segreto, metafisico fulgore.
Per ciò che riguarda proprio il colore, va a questo punto ricordato che la coloritura materiale di tutti i suoi film – per lo meno dal 1897 fino al 1912 – venne effettuata sotto il diretto controllo di Mademoiselle Thuilier, da cui dipendeva poi un vero esercito di operaie specializzate: e dopo i primi esperimenti della Kuhn in America, è questa la seconda figura di donna al cui gusto e alla cui sensibilità è legato un particolare momento – e fra i piu significativi – della storia del cinema a colori.
L’uso del colore nel senso indicato da Méliès si effettua su scala sempre piú vasta nella produzione Pathé, dove anzi, col passare degli anni, raggiunge un sempre piú notevole grado di perfezione tecnica: ed insieme allo stabilimento di Mademoiselle Thuilier (che era quasi una “dependence” di quello di Méliès) è necessario ora menzionare quello che faceva capo al nome di un’altra donna, Mademoiselle Chaumont, anche lei specializzata nella cosiddetta colorazione “al naturale” delle pellicole, per le mani delle cui operaie dovette certo passare buona parte dei film colorati della Pathé. Una tendenza ad un piú rigoroso rispetto di certe fondamentali convenzioni naturalistiche, parallela ad una vera e propria industrializzazione della colorazione (effettuata col sistema del “pochoir” cioè con stampini, e in seguito addirittura mediante gruppi di “matrici”, ovverosia di altrettante copie della pellicola diversamente perforate nelle zone corrispondenti ai colori fondamentali) finisce per conferire a non pochi film della Pathé quel tono rifinito e corretto ma distante e freddo che caratterizza i prodotti dell’artigianato che a poco a poco si tramuta in industria: e il passaggio da una fase all’altra, già cosí evidente in tanti aspetti delle opere cinematografiche, è particolarmente avvertibile nella storia del film a colori, specie in quella della riproduzione manuale, proprio perché del sistema a un certo punto rimane solo il principio dell’applicazione a posteriori delle varie tinte sulla copia positiva, mentre i metodi cambiano radicalmente ed all’estrosità individuale si sostituisce poco per volta la meticolosità anonima della collaborazione collettiva dei numerosi esecutori (anzi, delle esecutrici). Dalle palpitanti farfalle di Gaston Velle ad esempio (3), le cui ali potevano ancora cambiare colore “a vista”, come i fiori di Fregoli, i veli di Annabella nella “serpentina”, o come la giacca di Méliès in certi suoi giochi di prestigio dei primissimi tempi, si passa cosí poco per volta al decorativismo esteriore della monumentale e variopinta, messinscena di L’obsession de l’or (1907) – dove peraltro il colore delle scene di fantasia contrapposto al bianco e nero delle scene reali conserva ancora una precisa funzione trasfiguratrice, culminante nella finale pioggia dorata, anzi color giallo uovo, che sommerge simbolicamente il povero pittore – fino alla divertente ma suppongo sostanzialmente superflua policromìa di Max et le Quinquina (1910) – di cui conosco purtroppo solo una copia in bianco e nero – uno dei piú tipici film di Max Linder, in cui tuttavia il colore non dovrebbe avere che una funzione assolutamente accessoria, pur contribuendo in modo notevole alla festosità tutta esteriore dello spettacolo comico. Un autentico punto d’arrivo nel senso accennato a proposito della tendenza a raggiungere un livello “standard” nella colorazione dei film – cosí evidente nella evoluzione della produzione Pathé – è da considerarsi tutta la serie degli episodi del film La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ (1902-1905) di Zecca e Nonguet, dove oltre tutto sarebbe forse possibile scorgere, allineando i vari episodi non già nell’ordine cronologico della narrazione evangelica, ma secondo le rispettive date di edizione degli episodi, l’evoluzione tutta particolare della tecnica della colorazione a mano: si potrebbe cosi notare ad esempio – se fosse materialmente possibile un diretto confronto fra le copie dell’epoca dei vari episodi – quanto piú precisa e raffinata ma semplicemente decorativa fosse la disposizione delle tinte nelle scene piú recenti, e quanto piú rozza e tremolante ma di piú immediata suggestione quella dei quadri più antichi (4).
(1) Brani riportati da G. Sadoul: Histoire Générale du Cinéma – Les Pionniers du Cinéma, Paris 1947.
(2) G. Sadoul: op. cit.
(3) Cfr.: Archivio – La farfalla meravigliosa, in “Bianco e Nero”, XIV, n. 11 – Roma, Novembre 1953.
(4) Mi riferisco ai superstiti frammenti a colori esistenti nella copia della Cineteca Nazionale: Cfr.: Archivio: Vie et Passion de Jésus, in “Bianco e Nero”, XIII, n. 11 – Roma, Novembre 1952.”
(Montesanti, Fausto (1954): Lineamenti di una storia del film a colori. In: Giuseppe Sala (ed.): Bianco e Nero. Il colore nel cinema. Rassegna mensile di studi cinematografici, XV,2-4, pp. 11–51, on pp. 14–17.) (in Italian)
Timeline of Historical Film Colors by Barbara Flueckiger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.