“ABOUT eight years ago Mr. Max Handschiegl began the coloring of motion picture films by a system generally known by the term ‘imbibition.’ Mr. Handschiegl’s previous experience had been in the engraving business in St. Louis and other places and he sought to apply the knowledge gained in that field to the coloring of films.
In a broad sense he has utilized the printing press method of inking from a matrix or similar surface. Imbibition merely means the transfer of a dye from one surface or body to another. He uses a color plate, corresponding to the engravers’ cut or block, which is in gelatine on a celluloid base and which may be a smooth surface with dye selective areas or a matrix with raised portions.
Probably the best known of his early work was in the De Mille picture Joan, the Woman. The procedure in such an example is for the producer to supply a positive print. From this original print, by various means, which involve printing, etching, or hand blocking, a photographic registering print is made that contains only the sections of the picture that are to be colored. If more than one color is to be transferred, then a separate plate is made for each of the colors. Fire scenes are made as a rule with a single color but the majority of the films colored by this process are done with three colors. A knowledge of the blending of three colors and the engravers’ experience with the three-color printing inks is of great value.
This system of coloring is used exclusively for productions already completed. After a production has been cut and edited, the scenes that are to be colored should be joined into one reel, a positive print made with the same perforations as the negative, which also should be printed on a registering printer, and from this print the “color plate” is generated. Once the color plate is made in this manner, the prints for distribution may be made with different perforations, as the coloring machines can register independently of the perforations.
The preparation of the ‘color plate’ is the result of hand operations. This takes time and careful work as each frame in the reel must be gone over by hand. There is no room for careless work. The final result can be only as accurate as the hand blocking-out. These blocked-out prints are known as ‘key plates’ and once made will continue in service till the subject is worn out. As an example, some prints were made during September this year for which the ‘key plates’ and ‘color plates’ were made 5 years ago. The ‘color plates’ can be used until worn out or ruined by some accident. There does not seem to be any limit to the number of prints that can be pulled.
Some of the better known productions that have used this system of coloring are:
The Red Light
The Flaming Forest
Phantom of the Opera
The Merry Widow
The Big Parade, Sally
Seven Keys to Baldpate
The Viennese Medley
The Splendid Road, Mike
Lights of Old Broadway
As a result of working for many years with the subtractive form of natural color photography it was decided that this purely chemical process is incapable of giving satisfactory results under all conditions imposed in practice. Accordingly the idea sprouted forth that if a black and white record made in silver could be used as the base for a color picture that the tints could be applied by mechanical means.”
(Kelley, William Van Doren (1927): Imbibition coloring of motion picture films. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 10, 28, 1927, pp. 238-241.)
“As worked by Handschiegl, his process is not what we usually term a natural color process. The most successful use for his system is in applying tints of color to the customers’ own make of black-and- white prints. Good scenic prints and excellent work on titles are produced, but the method is most frequently used for giving “spotting” effects, such as in showing a red cross on the side of an ambulance, Will Rogers blushing in The Connecticut Yankee, or in fire scenes, which are also well adapted for coloring by this system. In nearly every instance the customer furnishes the prints in the customary black-and-white stage. The color is applied mechanically, differing in this respect from hand coloring methods. The color tints, when blended, produce very beautiful effects.
Handschiegl started in the photoengraving and lithographic business and was very skilful at blending colors and producing satisfactory matrices. As this skill was largely individual, it died with him. The making of the master positive, from which the matrices were made, received Handschiegl’s personal attention. They are obtained by printing back and forth until the parts to be colored stand out from the balance of the picture. The next step is the “blocking out” process, done by hand. This consists in painting out the parts not wanted or in shading those that are needed. From this master, the prints or matrices are made. The matrix print is developed in the usual way, then bleached in a bath that hardens the gelatin surrounding the silver particles, leaving the clear portions soft as is possible. The bleached print is then immersed in a saturated solution of the dye in water, say, about two pounds of dry dye to five gallons of water, is next passed through blowers or wipers for removing surplus dyes and finally to a drying set of rollers. From such a matrix about two impressions of the same density are made and the matrix is again dyed. The life of the matrix is 40 runs. The dyes used are acid dyes and not especially of Pinatype nature.
The machines for “imbibing” the dyes have three impression drums of about 12 inches in diameter with sprocket teeth that are not full fitting. Each machine has three drums, enough to use three colors in one passage through the machine. At each of the three drums provision is made for drying the matrix while the positive continues over two or three of the impression wheels, according to the number of color tints required. The positive receiving the impressions passes from one color to the next, all three colors being applied one over the other and the blank is not dried until finished.
At the start of operations the positive which is to receive the colors is fed through damping means consisting of water and oxgall, receiving considerable wetting. Just before the two films are fed to the impression drum, emulsion to emulsion, each film is fed over a train of sprocket wheels designed to give tension for longitudinal registration, while lateral registration is attained from the adjustable lateral positions given the sprocket wheels. Discrepancies that might occur in registration are negligible, due to the color tints being imbibed on black silver prints which tends to hide the faulty registration.
Attempts were made to apply color from color-selective negatives using this system. A black-and-white print was made from the negatives taken with a red filter. To this print were applied two complementary colors by means of matrices made from positives of each of the original two-color negatives. This produced some very excellent results, the main difficulty being that anything “black” in the subject received the greatest quantity of dye from the matrix which, when imbibed to the positive print, inclined to splash over where it would show the most.
At the speed of 360 feet an hour these matrices did not produce sufficient color on a blank for the transfers to make strong enough blacks to be used as prints without the keys, but for tinting, gave plenty of color.
The system is what is generally known as Pinatype. Blacks can be produced and the system is capable of making imbibed prints on a blank, but Handschiegl did not set up to do this type of work. Attempts were made to colortone positive prints one color and then apply a complementary color by imbibition. To tone such a print it was not found possible to use any known color toning system without producing some relief or differential hardness on the surface of the print, even when printed to the back. For that reason it was not found practicable to make color prints in this way.
The use of basic dyes for the imbibition work is not wholly successful, the principal fault being lack of smoothness, and acid dyes were relied upon.
The matrices produce some relief in the surface but not as great as in the wash-out method. Positive prints of a quality suitable for making dupe negatives are the best. These were bleached in a bath composed of a copper salt, and bichromate, the latter controlling the hardness.
There is a great similarity in the finished product of Handschiegl and that of Pathechrome. Both produce tints applied to positive black-and-white silver prints and both call for hand work in the preparation of the matrices. Both, also, can use the trained experience of lithographers, artists, etc., as many of the colors are produced by overlapping the colors and securing blends.”
(Kelley, William Van Doren (1931): The Handschiegl and Pathéchrome Color Process. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 18,2, 1931, pp. 230-234.)
“Stencilling seems not to have been common in the United States, and its place was taken, in effect, by the Handschiegl process of 1916, also called the Wyckoff Process and the De Mille Process. This produced prints of similar appearance and was used to colour some fifteen or twenty films. The process used conventional lithographic printing to create separate printing plates to make up to three colours for printing onto a conventional black and white print (effectively a three colour graphic arts process). The areas to be coloured were defined by hand for every frame. De Mille’s Joan the Woman was an early film to use this process. Eric von Stroheim’s Greed also used it (as well as printing onto yellow tinted film for some sections). The sources of dye information for the Handschiegl process have always been limited to Kelley (1931), and as there appear to be no other data this secondary source should be accepted with some reserve, especially as he omits listing the blue or cyan dye.”
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’: An introduction to colouring techniques in silent era movies. In: Film History, Vol. 21, No. 1, p. 16)
“Thus a craftsman’s method, similar to the procedures of a studio for applied graphics, proved unable to meet the industry’s demands. The amount of work required by the Handschiegl process was comparable to the labour involved in hand colouring or stencilling film, since the area of the internegative matrix to be coloured had to be traced by hand, frame by frame. The Handschiegl image has the look of early films, but its pastel colours have a much greater transparency and a subtler texture, which gives an atmospheric quality to the scene. While direct colouring appears as imposed upon the objects represented, like a lacquer overlay altering contrast values and drastically weakening detail, this system seems to coexist well with the photographic image, and to endow it with a liquid softness that is almost tactile. Because of this quality, DeMille and Handschiegl preferred above all to use it for scenes with mutable elements like water and fire: Joan the Woman (1916) has a Handschiegl final scene where Geraldine Farrar’s body is enveloped in flame and smoke; in The Ten Commandments (1923), the Egyptian army, pursuing the Hebrews in the desert, is first obstructed by a barrier of fire, then drowned in the Red Sea where the Pharaoh and his horse are immersed in brilliant emerald foam. No less remarkable is the glowing yellow of a golden tooth in a surviving frame (Plate 55) of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1925). Projected on a large screen, original Handschiegl colour has the power to dazzle the eye in a way that no reproduction can possibly imitate. While it is true that all modern copies of any original colour process reduce its impact, Handschiegl is virtually impossible to duplicate without a fatal loss of its outstanding pictorial attributes. Existing viewing copies make it look like a faded Technicolor, or a hand-coloured film worn out by time; sadly enough, there is no way to fully appreciate it without viewing the original. This makes its rarity and extreme physical vulnerability all the more lamentable, reinforcing as it does the notion of the photographic moving image as a simulacrum of a ‘present’ lost to our time, witnessed by no one other than the audience of the past.”
(Cherchi Usai, Paolo (2000): Silent Cinema. London: BFI, pp. 32-33.)
“A process for the mechanical application of colour to a film strip was devised by Max Handschiegl in 1916, who, with Alvin Wyckoff, brought it to commercial application in America in the-early 1920s.
A separate print was made for each colour to be applied. Each frame was blocked out with opaque paint in the areas to which colour should be applied. A duplicate negative was made from the blocked out print, developed in a tanning developer which hardened the gelatin layer where it had been exposed and developed. Those areas corresponding to the blocked out areas on the print remained relatively soft, and capable of taking up dye. This dyed matrix film was brought into contact, in accurate register, with a positive print, to which the dye transferred in the appropriate areas. The print made several passes through the dye transfer machines, in contact with a separate matrix for each colour. Usually, three colours were applied. The process was used for, among other films, Cecil B. de Mille’s Joan, the Woman (1917) (for which the process was developed), Greed (1924), Volcano (1926), Phantom of the Opera (1930), The Merry Widow (1925), The Big Parade (1925) and The Lights of Broadway (1925).”
(Coe, Brian (1981): The History of Movie Photography. Westfield, N.J.: Eastview Editions, p. 114.)
“THE HANDSCHIEGL PROCESS
The Handschiegl Process was invented in 1916 by Max Handschiegl and Alvin Wyckoff of the Famous Players-Lasky Corp. Studio Laboratory. In principle this process was the application of multicolor lithographing techniques to motion pictures. Dye was transferred from a matrix or color plate to selected areas of a black and white print.
This process was first developed for the De Mille picture Joan the Woman; it was advertised first as the Wyckoff Process then the De Mille-Wyckoff Process. Later it became popular as the Handschiegl Process.11 Some of the other productions that used this process12 were The Red Light, Greed, Irene, The Volcano, The Flaming Forest, Phantom of the Opera, The Merry Widow, The Big Parade, Sally, Seven Keys to Baldpate, The Viennese Medley, The Splendid Road, Mike, and Lights of Broadway.
As used by Handschiegl the process was not an attempt to produce natural color photography. In its early form it was used principally to apply color to selected areas within a scene. The customer furnished normal black and white prints which were colored by dye transfer with one, two or three dyes. If more than one color was to be transferred, then a separate plate was made for each of the colors.
After a production had been edited a print was made of the scenes that were to be colored on a registration step printer. This print was blacked out with opaque material in the area which was to be colored; 13 this could be done by hand with a brush or other suitable instrument.
From this print a duplicate negative was made. After development the duplicate negative was clear in the areas which were to be colored. The remaining areas contain a negative silver image. At this point the process makes use of the effect that a gelatin emulsion becomes more insoluble or harder in those areas acted upon by light than in those areas where no exposure takes place. The duplicate negative was immersed in a tanning bleach which fixed and solidified the exposed and developed portions of the scene, hardening them so that they would not absorb dye, but not affecting the viscous consistency of the unexposed or clear portions of the scene. When bleaching was completed the negative was fixed, washed and dried. The bleached negative was then immersed in a saturated solution of dye in water, approximately two pounds of dry dye to five gallons of water. The surplus dye was removed by squeegeeing and the negative dried once more. It was then ready for transfer, by pressure and contact, to the positive prints. The print to be colored passed into a solution of oxgall and water which softened and wetted the emulsion sufficiently to dissolve and absorb dye from the negative film. Contact time varied depending on the area and amount of dye to be transferred. Time could be changed by changing the position of the keeper roller. One dyeing of the negative was good for transferring dye of equal density to two release prints. The life of the negative matrix was 40 runs, 14The machines for imbibing the dyes are described in USP 1303836. Each machine had three transferring stations consisting of a large sprocketed drum approximately 12 inches in diameter and two smaller adjustable sprockets. Both the matrix and the release print were stretched onto the large wheel to provide vertical register; horizontal register was provided by micrometer adjustment of the smaller sprockets (Fig. 5).
A satisfactory bleach for the duplicate negative was:
Potassium dichromate 19·0 grams
Potassium bromide 28·0 grams
Potassium ferricyanide 19·0 grams
Acetic acid 5·0 ml
Potassium alum 25·0 grams
Water to 1.0 liter
Dyes of the acid type were used such as:
Pontacyl light red 4bl
Pontacyl carmine 2g
Pontacyl carmine 2b
Alizarin Rubinol R
Fig. 5 Handschiegl dye transfer machine. The bleached and dyed negative is brought into contact with the positive on a large sprocket drum for transfer of dye.
9 LIMBACHER, J. L., “A Historical Study of the Color Motion Picture,” 1963. (Mimeographed.)
10 KELLEY, W. V. D„ “The Handschiegl and Pathéchrome Color Process,” Journal of The Society of Motion Picture Engineers, August, 1931, pp. 230-234.
11 The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, ed. D. HAYNE (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hal I, 1959), p. 175.
12 KELLEY, W. V. D., “Imbibition Coloring of Motion Picture Films,” Transactions of The Society of Motion Picture Engineers, February, 1927, pp. 238-241.
13 KELLEY, W. V. D., “The Handschiegl and Pathéchrome Color Processes,” loc. cit.
(Ryan, Roderick T. (1977): A History of Motion Picture Color Technology. London: Focal Press, pp. 23-24.)
“A somewhat related method of applying color to black and white films was invented in 1916 by Max Handschiegl, a St. Louis engraver, and Alvin Wyckoff of the Famous Players-Lasky Studio Laboratory,15 under the guidance of Cecil B. DeMille. This system, generally called the Handschiegl Process, incorporates the application of multicolor lithographing techniques to motion pictures (see Appendix C). According to the Moving Picture World, DeMille specifically sought to perfect a system which would preclude “glaring and noticeable colors,” preferring, instead, to develop a process capable of softer and more subdued tints than generally incorporated in Pathécolor .16
“We have been working slowly and cautiously on this process for the past two years,” said Mr. DeMille, “and have studied color photography in all its branches. We have come to the conclusion that color photography, in the sense of absolutely faithful reproduction of natural colors, or any method of coloring where the tints used are of the glaring variety, can never be used universally in motion pictures, for the eye of the spectator would be put to too great a strain, and the variety of the colors would distract the attention from the story values. It would be as though a person looked out of a car window at a highly colored panorama of action and scenery during a two or three hour journey. One cannot look out over fields of brightly colored flowers continuously for even an hour without terrific eye strain.
… The moment the spectator says, ‘Oh, look how green the grass is,’ or ‘How blue the sea,’ the value of the color is gone; it has proved too greatly distracting. The color effect we get and those we are working for resemble somewhat the shades and color tones used in Du Lac’s famous illustrations.”17
DeMille held to this conviction for many years, and numerous productions of his incorporated the Handschiegl Process — often applying color only to selected areas within a limited number of scenes per picture.
Writing in 1923 DeMille states:
There is no question . . . about the success of tints and dyes when these are used to heighten an effect. In most of my productions I use film colors by dyes, but as the moving figures still appear in tones of grey and black these are not trying to the eyes. They are used only to heighten a certain effect . . . and in most cases the audiences are not conscious that a color is ever used. 18
Furthermore, DeMille felt certain that “natural color” films would never be accepted by theater audiences. Citing color sensitivities among individuals, he continued by saying:
“Red irritates one group, another finds blue objectionable and a third set of people balks at yellow.
Supposing each group formed ten percent of a potential audience, there would be insurmountable difficulties in producing a natural color photoplay that would appeal to everybody.19
This observation would soon be challenged by Herbert T. Kalmus of the Technicolor Corporation, and a year later DeMille agreed to release The Ten Commandments with “natural color” scenes. Nevertheless, the subdued, pastel colors of the Handschiegl Process continued to be incorporated in a number of important feature films until 1928.
Handschiegl had become highly skilled in his blending of colors and in producing precision matrices. The making of the master positives, from which these matrices were made, always received Handschiegl’s personal attention.20 Unfortunately, he was unable to pass this skill along to others, and it died with him in 1928. No longer would theater audiences see the process used for giving “spotting effects”, such as in showing a red cross on the side of an ambulance, Will Rogers blushing in The Connecticut Yankee, or in fire scenes.21 (See Appendix D for a listing of films utilizing the Handschiegl process.)”
15 Roderick T. Ryan, A Study of the Technology of Color Motion Picture Processes Developed in the United States (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, September 1966), (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, Inc., 1979), p. 36.
16 Moving Picture World, February 9, 1918, p. 832,
18 Cecil B. DeMille, “The Chances of Color Photography in Moving Pictures,” American Photoplay 17 (January 1923): 15.
19 Ibid., p. 16.
20 William V. D. Kelley, “The Handschiegl and Pathéchrome Color Processes,” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 17 (August 1931), p. 230.
(Nowotny, Robert A. (1983): The Way of all Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929. New York: Garland Pub., pp. 15-17.)
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’: An introduction to colouring techniques in silent era movies. In: Film History, Vol. 21, p. 37.)
“The introduction of the Handschiegl process in the United States in 1916 made it possible to machine-tint such big-budget productions as Cecil B. DeMille’s Joan, the Woman in 1917 and King Vidor’s The Big Parade in 1925.3
3 Cook, History of Narrative Film, pp. 252-53. The extent to which D.W. Griffith’s controversial masterpiece The Birth of a Nation (1915) was coloured is far from clear. Lillian Gish recalled that some scenes were tinted “to achieve dramatic results and to create mood.” Karl Brown, assistant cameraman on the picture, recalled in an interview (1975) that “no sequences were in black and white, that everything carried some sort of tint to offset the visible electric blue of the projector’s arc.” Lillian Gish with Ann Pinchot, The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me, London: W H. Allen, 1969, p. 146; John Cuniberti, “The Birth of a Nation“: A Formal Shot-by-Shot Analysis Together with Microfiche.Woodbridge, Conn.: Research Publications, 1979, p. 19, n. 31.
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 p. 185.)
“In a minority of films, color fulfils more subtle functions. Though rare and not necessarily influential, such films constituted a form of “best practice,” and so it is worth looking at a few examples. For example, D. W. Griffith’s The White Rose (1923) features a brief red blush. To achieve this effect, Griffith used Handschiegl printing; by doing so, he cleverly subverted the cliché that applied color was for surfaces only. Though printed onto the skin of the film, the red appears to emanate from underneath it. The same trick is used by the aging nymph Celia in Jonathan Swift’s poem The Progress of Beauty, but with less success; every morning Celia tries to “teach her cheeks again to blush,” but colored pigments cannot bring back the essential reds of a youthful face (Swift 1983: 193). In certain prints of Greed (1924), Eric von Stroheim also used Handschiegl color, integrating it into the film’s narrative. According to Jay Leyda, not only was the protagonist’s fateful stash of gold yellow, so too were “gold teeth, brass beds, gilt frames and canary” (Koszarski 1999: 14).
Koszarski, Richard. 1999. “Reconstructing Greed. How Long, and What Color?” Film Comment 35 (6): 10–15.
Swift, Jonathan. 1983. The Complete Poems, edited by P. Rogers. Harmondsworth: Penguin.”
(Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. John Wiley & Sons, on p. 22.)
“Technicolor’s “natural color” process added cost, both to shoot and to print. An alternative was to use applied coloring, selectively or for effect, which could be added to prints after production had finished. Max Handschiegl’s spot-coloring process remained in use from 1916 until his death in 1928. The painstaking process required his precision to hand-paint masks to color specific areas of the black & white film frame. The resulting colored prints were mass-produced via dye-transfer printing, but the creation of the masks remained manual.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 111.)
“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.)
“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)
“Another process was developed by Max Handschiegl, a noted St. Louis engraver, who adapted the principles of his trade to motion pictures. Finished productions were brought to Handschiegl; he would then etch, print, or hand block a “register print” of the portions of the film selected for color treatment. The result of his work became the “color plate,” similar to the plates used in lithography. Examples of the Handschiegl process can be seen in sequences within D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), Cecil B. DeMille’s Joan the Woman (1917), Douglas Fairbanks’s The Three Musketeers (1921), and When Knighthood Was In Flower (1922), starring Marion Davies.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on p. 14.)
“Peraltro, DeMille non teneva in gran conto i sistemi di colorazione monocromatica e manifestò una certa preferenza per le tinte chiare e pastello, probabilmente affinché non interferissero con gli effetti di luce che queste dovevano accompagnare 21. L’insoddisfazione per la convenzionalità delle soluzioni lo spinse a mettere a punto, in questi stessi anni, un’originale tecnica di colorazione. Il sistema fu portato a compimento nel 1916 da un tipografo incisore che cercò di adattare al cinema il principio della litografia22. Il processo Handschiegl, dal nome del suo inventore, fu testato dallo stesso DeMille per alcune sequenze di Giovanna d’Arco (Joan the Woman, 1916): nel finale, le fiamme del rogo che avvolgono il corpo di Giovanna furono colorate in modo da produrre un effetto di movimento delle fiamme e del fumo assai realistico, in grado di suscitare più forti sensazioni sugli spettatori23. Nel 1927, in seguito alla morte di Handschiegl, che aveva l’abitudine di supervisionare ogni fase della lavorazione, il processo non fu più utilizzato: la forte personalizzazione ne limitò in modo evidente la diffusione24.
21 DeMille sembra piuttosto considerarli un’aggiunta necessaria: “l’imbibizione e il viraggio della pellicola sono come la cornice del quadro: gli danno una certa decorazione ma non vi aggiungono alcun elemento sostanziale. Spesso giriamo scene ambientate al chiaro di luna e di giorno nelle stesse condizioni. Il bagno in cui la pellicola viene immersa successivamente le dà i toni diurni o notturni” (DeMille 1991, p. 323, trad. riveduta).
22 Sistema noto anche come Wyckoff-DeMille: le tinte, fino a un massimo di tre, sono trasferite sulle aree selezionate di un positivo in bianco e nero per mezzo di matrici. Se l’effetto prodotto ricorda quello del pochoir, il processo tipografico di trasferimento del colore non è troppo dissimile da quello che, su base fotografica, avrebbe adottato la Technicolor a partire dagli anni venti. Per la tecnologia del sistema, cfr. Kelley 1931.
23 Sedici anni prima, lo stesso Méliès aveva tentato un’operazione analoga per Jeanne d’Arc (1900), avvalendosi delle possibilità offertegli dalla colorazione manuale.
24 Risulta infatti che il sistema sia stato impiegato soltanto per singole sequenze di film (cfr. Cherchi Usai 1995, pp. 102–103).
Aumont, Jacques a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo (1995), Le nitrate mécanique. L’imagination de la couleur comme science exacte (1830-1928), in Aumont, a cura di, 1995a, pp. 95–109.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo; Codelli, Lorenzo, a cura di (1991), L’eredità DeMille, Biblioteca dell’immagine, Pordenone.
DeMille, Cecil Blount (1991), La regia cinematografica, in Cherchi Usai/Codelli, a cura di, 1991. pp. 319–325. [Motion Picture Direction , ivi, pp. 318–324; trad. it. di Lorenzo Codelli],
Kelley, William Van Doren (1931), The Handscbiegl and Pathéchrome Color Processes, in “Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers“, XVI, n. 2, agosto 1931, pp. 230–234.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 96–97.) (in Italian)
The Phantom of the Opera (USA 1925, Rupert Julian)
“2. Die dramaturgischen Funktionen
2.1 Die ortsbezogene Farbgebung (indexikalisch)
Eine der elementarsten Aufgaben der Viragierung ist die Indikation der Handlungsorte. Helmut Regel versteht diese Art der Färbung in seinem Aufsatz über “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari in Farbe” als “dramaturgische Verständnishüfe”; er schreibt:
Das Springen der Handlung zwischen verschiedenen Schauplätzen, zum Beispiel zwischen einem Arbeitszimmer des Hausherrn in Sepia und einem Salon des Hausfreundes in Gelborange, war wegen der unterschiedlichen Viragierung leichter nachvollziehbar (Regel 1985, 8).
Als Ortsindikator diente die Farbe zur Markierung bestimmter Schauplätze in Sequenzen mit häufigem Wechsel zwischen gleichbleibenden Szenerien. Der primäre Zweck war also die Kontrastierung der Schauplätze durch Farbe; zugleich wurde die jeweilige Örtlichkeit mit der einmal definierten Ortsfarbe wiedererkennbar gemacht.
Unbedingte Voraussetzung für diese Art dramaturgischer Farbgebung war jedoch, daß sie beibehalten werden mußte; zumindest solange, wie es im Kontext der Sequenz wichtig war, daß der Wiedererkennungseffekt beim Wechsel auf einen bereits eingeführten Schauplatz garantiert blieb.
In The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian & Edward Sedgewick, USA 1925) beispielsweise dient Violett als Standardfarbe für die Innenräume des Opernhauses (für die Bühne und die Kulissen, den Zuschauersaal und das Foyer) und wird damit zur meist verwendeten Farbe der ersten Filmhälfte. In ortsbezogenen Kontrast gesetzt ist sie hier mit Gelb, in welches die Szenen im Büro der Direktion der Oper, in und vor der Garderobe der Sängerin Christine Daaé sowie zwei kurze Einschöbe, die im Haus ihres Geliebten Raoul bzw. im Büro des Polizeipräfekten spielen, getaucht sind.
Weiterhin manifestiert sich ein ortsbezogener Kontrast zu Blau, der Standardfarbe für “Nacht”, mit der in diesem Film – in dem es so gut wie keine Szenen gibt, die bei Tag spielen – das “Außen” versinnbildlicht und in Gegensatz zum “Innen” (Violett, Gelb) im Opernhaus oder – in der zweiten Filmhälfte – (Grün) in den Katakomben gesetzt wird.
Am Beginn der zweiten Hälfte, wo zum erstenmal seit den Credits wieder Blau erscheint, ist dies eindeutig zu sehen:
BLAU: Auf dem Dach der Oper, Nacht.
(Raoul und Christine, die sich in Sicherheit gebracht zu haben glauben, besprechen Fluchtpläne, werden aber vom Phantom belauscht.)
VIOLETT: Foyer, Gänge in der Oper.
(Raoul und Christine tauchen in der tanzenden Menge unter, nachdem ihnen der Polizist Ledoux einen ungefährlichen Weg gezeigt hat. Das Phantom rauscht als Roter Tod kostümiert einen Gang entlang und läßt einen der Anwesenden erschrocken in Ohnmacht sinken.)
Die offensichtliche farbige Ortsbestimmung korrespondiert in beiden Szenen mit einer eröffnenden Totalen, einerseits auf das Dach der Oper, von dem aus man den Blick über Paris erahnen kann, andererseits auf das große Foyer, in dem sich zahllose Tanzende bewegen; ein alter Kunstgriff der Montage, um dem Zuschauer eine Orientierung innerhalb bzw. überhaupt eine Identifizierung des Schauplatzes zu ermöglichen. In diesem Fall also geht die gängige Assoziation (und nichtsdestotrotz weiterhin immanente Bedeutung) der Farbe Blau als “Nacht” über in die Bedeutung “Außen”. Tatsächlich gibt es in The Phantom of the Opera nur eine Tageslichtszene im Freien; nämlich als am Tag nach der “Kronleuchterkatastrophe” auf der Straße die Zeitung verkauft wird, die darüber berichtet. Interessanterweise ist diese kurze Szene in Gelb gehalten, das bisher nur “neutralen” Innenräumen vorbehalten war. Inwieweit in diesem Zusammenhang der Farbe Blau der zeitliche Gegensatz in Form des “Tag – Nacht” zugunsten des räumlichen Verhältnisses von “Innen – Außen” zurückgetreten ist, verdeutlicht noch einmal, wie wichtig zuweilen die Ortsbestimmung ist, daß sie gegenüber der Zeitebenenbestimmung beispielsweise (s. Punkt 2,2) Vorrang hat.
2.3 Die personenbezogene Farbgebung (indexikalisch)
Die letzte noch verbleibende Möglichkeit der Farbgebung mit indexikalischer Struktur, die Zuordnung einer bestimmten Farbe zu einer bestimmten Filmfigur im Sinne eines Leitmotivs, ist ein relativ selten nachzuweisender Fall. Als Musterbeispiel hierfür kann jedoch wiederum The Phantom of the Opera gelten, in welchem sich diese Vorgehensweise sehr auffällig manifestiert.
In der ersten Hälfte des Films, die sich – wie bereits erwähnt – im Hinblick auf die Strategien des Farbeinsatzes völlig von der zweiten Hälfte unterscheidet, ist Grün die Leitfarbe des Phantoms. (In der zweiten wird Grün zur ortsbezogenen Farbe der Katakomben, dann auch eingesetzt, wenn das Phantom selbst nicht im Bild erscheint; ebenso sind dann – am Ende des Films – die Nachtszenen auf der Straße trotz der Anwesenheit des Phantoms in Blau.)
Während der ersten beiden Akte des Films besteht die Viragierung fast auschließlich aus Violett und Gelb, einzige Ausnahme ist das Blau der Credits und der allerersten Szene. Nach beinahe zwanzig Minuten Film kommt es zum ersten Auftritt des Phantoms und zur erstmaligen Verwendung der Farbe Grün:
Als erstes Grün erscheint ein erläuternder Zwischentitel:
“From hidden places beyond the walls a melodious voice, like the voice of an angel, spoke to her.”
Die nachfolgende Einstellung zeigt den Schemen des Phantoms als Schatten an einer Wand, ebenfalls in Grün.
Im nachfolgenden Dialog sind die Zwischentitel unterschiedlich viragiert, um dem Zuschauer die Zuordnung der entsprechenden Dialogpassage zur jeweils sprechenden Figur zu erleichtern. Die Dialogsätze des Phantoms in Grün (was das Phantom – verborgen hinter einer Wand – zu Christine sagt) stehen in Kontrast zur Antwort Christines (in Gelb), die in ihrer Garderobe auf die Stimme aus der Wand lauscht.
Auffällig hierbei ist, daß die klassische Zeichenstruktur der Dialogzuweisung im Stummfilm trotz der farblichen Unterschiedlichkeit der Zwischentitel dennoch beibehalten ist; folglich ist die Szene nicht bereits auf eine beabsichtigte farbliche Unterscheidung hin montiert worden.
Die Dialogzuweisung im Stummfilm funktionierte allgemein nach drei Kriterien:
1. Der Zwischentitel wurde durch Anführungszeichen (“”) als Dialog ausgewiesen – im Gegensatz zu erläuternden Inserts.
2. Der Dialog-Zwischentitel wurde zwischen zwei gleiche Einstellungen der den Mund bewegenden Figur montiert.
3. Zumindest der erste Zwischentitel ist adressiert. (“‘Christine,…(Text)’”). Hierdurch ist der Adressat des Dialogsatzes identifiziert und dem Zuschauer als nicht identisch mit dem Sprecher ausgewiesen.
Dem denkbaren Einwand, es könne sich hier ebensogut um eine ortsbezogene Farbgebung handeln, da sich die beiden Figuren Christine und Phantom an verschiedenen Orten aufhalten (eben diesseits und jenseits der Wand), läßt sich entgegenhalten, daß die Systematik von Grün als Leitfarbe des Phantoms in der ersten Filmhälfte konsequent durchgehalten ist: In der Szene beispielsweise, als das Phantom den großen Kronleuchter im Zuschauersaal absägt, wird die ortsbezogene Farbgebung zugunsten der personenbezogenen aufgegeben. Schauplätze, die nach der ortsbezogen definierten Farbe Violett sein müßten (bei der Flucht des Phantoms über die Lichtböden etwa) sind mit einem Male ebenfalls Grün.
Regel, Helmut (1985) Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari in Farbe – Zur Rekonstruktion durch das Bundesarchiv. In: Fischer, Robert (Hrsg.): Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Stuttgart: Fischer, Kress, Wiedleroither, 8–13. (FOCUS-Filmtexte).”
(Traber, Bodo (1995): Dramaturgische Funktionen monochromer Farbgebung im Stummfilm. In: Karl-Dietmar Möller-Nass Möller-Nass, Hasko Schneider and Hans J. Wulff (eds.): 1. Film- und Fernsehwissenschaftliches Kolloquium. Münster: MAkS, pp. 30–36, on pp. 31–33.) (in German)
The Ten Commandments (USA 1923, Cecil B. DeMille)
“Laboratory services for Technicolor were headed by Carl A. “Doc” Willat, older brother of Irvin Willat. With an entree to the studio, Technicolor offered to shoot for free. If DeMille liked the footage, he could use it in the finished film. If he didn’t, Technicolor agreed to destroy the color material. The proposal appealed to DeMille. He had a long-standing interest in color on the screen and his films were noted for their use of elaborate tinting and toning. He also employed the Handschiegl stencil-color process on all of his silent films after 1917.
Rennahan’s Technicolor footage met with the director’s approval and was used in the picture. However, the color coverage of the Exodus did not duplicate every set-up of the black & white cameras, so DeMille was forced to integrate the color scenes with tinted and toned monochrome footage. He also employed the Handschiegl process to augment the natural color footage.
The version of The Ten Commandments currently released by Paramount Home Video does not preserve
the original tints and tones of the rest of film, but it does offer an opportunity to view the color footage. As odd
as this may seem, the warm red and green tones of the Technicolor footage blended almost imperceptibly with the sepia-tinted scenes. An example of the Handschiegl process can also be seen in the video release in the bright orange wall of fire that halts the Pharaoh’s charioteers.
Shooting in late spring, DeMille encountered typical California coastal weather: night and morning low clouds and fog, with clearing by midday. A reporter visiting the location in early June wrote, “There is much fog and little sunshine… Though the scenes were supposed to take place in intense heat, the wind was so bitter that the cast and extras had to huddle in blankets to keep warm before a scene began.”
(Birchard, Robert S. (1992): The Ten Commandments (1923). DeMille Completes Personal Exodus. In: American Cinematographer, 73,10, pp. 76–80, on pp. 76–77.)