Salomé (USA 1922, Charles Bryant).
Credit: George Eastman Museum.
Photographs of the tinted, toned and Handschiegl nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.
“Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film
The production of motion picture film it is becoming more common to vary the color of the film either by toning or tinting or by a combination of the two processes. Toning consists in either wholly or partially replacing the silver image of the positive film by some colored compound, the clear portions or highlights of the image, consisting of plain gelatine, remaining unaffected and colorless. Tinting, on the other hand, consists of immersing the film in a Solution of dye which colors the gelatine itself, causing the whole picture on the screen to have a veil of color over it.
In “tinting” the following factors must be taken into consideration:
Nature of the Dye Employed
Dyes are chemically of two different types, acid and basic; so-called acid dyes are the alkali salts of organic acids, while basic dyes are the chlorides, sulphates, etc., of organic bases.
For the tinting of film only “acid” dyes have been considered since it is not possible to make a complete selection from basic dyes alone, which would necessitate the use of acid and basic dyes in admixture—a procedure highly undesirable and in many cases impossible.
Any dye suitable for admixture with others to produce intermediate tints should possess the following properties:
A. The dye should be inert and not attack the gelatine or support. This is of fundamental importance as the gelatine coating of dyed film in many cases has a tendency to lose its flexibility, giving rise to what is known in the trade as “brittleness.”
Several dyes when employed at a concentration of 1% attack gelatine readily at 70 degrees F. and vigorously at 80 degrees F., especially in presence of small amounts of acid, producing a marked softening and often partial dissolution of the film. The effect is roughly proportional to the concentration of the dye and to the temperature, and varies with each individual dye.
Experience has shown that the gelatine coating of film which has been softened in this way by the dye becomes “brittle” on subsequent projection.
The actual factors in the production of brittleness are:
1. The hydrolysing action of acid which in many cases is added to assist dyeing. In case a solid acid is employed the heat encountered during projection will greatly accelerate this hydrolysis.
2. The corrosive action of the dye itself. Dyes vary considerably in this respect according to their particular composition. So far, it has not been possible to make any general Classification of dyes in this connection, though nitro compounds appear to be particularly corrosive in their action.
3. The presence of impurities in the dye. These take the form of excessive amounts of loading material such as sodium sulphate or chloride, or small traces of iron, the latter having a tendency to harden the film considerably.
In all the above cases, the physical nature of the gelatine is altered, whereby it loses its property of remaining resilient under normal conditions of temperature and humidity, resulting in “brittleness.”
A suitable test as to whether a dye has any propensity to produce brittleness is to incubate a sample of film, half of which has been dyed, for about 48 hours at 212 degrees F.
If any difference in brittleness is noticeable between the dyed and the undyed portions so treated after the film has been allowed to stand in the air for some time, the dye is unsuitable for tinting.
Apart from the above, most dyes when used at a concentration of 1% and at 80 degrees F. produce more or less softening of the gelatine, which may be prevented by:
(a) Use of only dilute Solutions. Except in very special cases, a dye Solution stronger than 0.5% is seldom required, the usual strength employed being about 0.2%, at which concentration softening is unusual.
(b) Use of a minimum amount of volatile acid in the dye-bath or Omission of the same whenever possible.
(c) By working at temperatures not higher than 70 degrees F.
(d) By slight hardening of the film before dyeing and subsequent softening by glycerine, as described below:
B. The dye should not “bleed” to any considerable extent when the film is washed; in other words, the rate of removal of the dye should be slow and only a slight amount should wash out in a period of, say, five minutes.
In tinting, bleeding is of very considerable importance, since, during the periods between rinsing after dyeing and the placing of the film on the drying rack, any drops of water on the surface of the film become more or less saturated with dye, and these after drying remain as spots and irregular markings which are very apparent on the screen.
It is possible in some cases to modify this bleeding by an acid “stop bath,” or by adding acid to the dye-bath; though it may be considered a general rule that the bleeding of a dye is a property peculiar to itself. In making a selection of dyes therefore, it is necessary to choose only those whose propensity for bleeding is a minimum.
C. The rate of dyeing should be only slightly affected by the addition of acid to the dye-bath, although most acid dyes are more or less sensitive to acid.
In case the rate of dyeing is appreciably affected by the addition of acid it is possible to take advantage of this fact since a much weaker dye Solution may be employed to obtain a given tint, while an apparently exhausted bath may be revived by adding a small trace of acid.
Only a volatile acid such as acetic acid should be used since this will evaporate on drying, while the strength of the acid in the dye-bath should not exceed .05% or one part in 2000, otherwise softening of the gelatine is liable to occur, especially if the temperature exceeds 70° F.
In the case of a bath containing a mixture of dyes, owing to the fact that acid affects some dyes more than others, as the dye-bath becomes exhausted and the acid content changes, the tint obtained will gradually change also. It is only possible therefore to use acid with any degree of certainty in the case of dye-baths containing a single dye.
D. The dyes should not fade on exposure to heat or light and should not be “dichroic” or change color on dilution.
Moreover, the wear and tear of the film should not be impaired in any way after dyeing, and even after incubating for 48 hours at 212 degrees F., afterwards allowing the film to humidify, no difference should be discernible between dyed and undyed film so treated.
E. The dye should not be affected by the acid fixing bath since any fixing Solution accidentally splashed thereon, would destroy the dye immediately.
In view of the large number of tints required in commercial work, it is undesirable to keep a separate dye-powder for the preparation of each particular bath, but rather to prepare the same by admixture of three or more dyes. If three only are employed, mixing must be conducted with great precision in order to reproduce any given tint, but this difficulty is removed by the use of intermediate colors.
The following six standard dyes have been chosen as fulfilling the above conditions as nearly as possible, and by suitably mixing Solutions of these, almost any desired tint may be obtained.
These dyes are obtainable from the National Aniline & Chemical Co., Inc., New York City.
The strength of the dyes may vary slightly from batch to batch, but this variation is usually so small as not to materially affect the nature of the tint obtained from any particular formula.
The Cine Blue dye appears much redder by artificial light than by daylight, especially before drying the film, as do all tints containing Cine Blue.
The following formulas are given merely for guidance and should be altered to suit individual requirements.
When matching any color view only by artificial light.
Method of Mixing Dissolve the solid dyes in as small an amount of hot water as possible, and filter through fine muslin. Pour hot water over any residue remaining, which should only be slight, in order to ensure thorough Solution of the dye, and dilute the Solution in the tank to the required volume at 65 degrees F.
Nature of Positive Film
Only good snappy positive film may be successfully tinted, since tinting tends to reduce contrast.
The depth of the tint obtained depends on the following factors:
Nature and Strength of the Dyebath
Except in special cases such as fire scenes, sunset and moonlight effects, and the like, it is very undesirable to employ strong tints, since apart from the displeasing effect and irritation to the eye, the dyes produce a slight softening of the gelatine film when used at 80 degrees F. in 1% Solution.
Should it be necessary to employ concentrated baths in summer, either cool the dye bath or use a suitable hardener.
This will be unnecessary if hardener is employed in the fixing bath after development, but otherwise if formalin (40%) be added to the dye-bath to the extent of 1 volume to 400 volumes of dye Solution, no trouble will be encountered.
During the winter months, when it is advisable to treat all film after developing and fixing, with glycerine, the latter may be incorporated with the dye-bath, thereby eliminating an extra Operation. The strength of the glycerine should be 2%, or two volumes per one hundred volumes of dye Solution. In most cases, however, the addition of glycerine considerably retards the rate of dyeing, so that in order to obtain the same degree of tinting within a period of ten minutes, the concentration of the dye-bath should be increased accordingly.
When delicate tints are employed, the effect is both to remove the contrasty black and white effect, and to add a touch of warmth to the black deposit of silver, even in cases where the highlights are insufficiently stained to be noticeable.
The result in many cases is equal to that obtained by partial toning, for example, tint No. 11 gives the effect of a blue-black tone.
Temperature of Dye-bath
Although temperature has little effect on the rate of dyeing with the dyes recommended, when used without the addition of acid it is advisable in all cases to work at 65 to 70 degrees F. in order to produce uniform results and remove any danger of softening the film.
Time of Dyeing
In order to duplicate any particular tint with a given dye-bath the film may be dyed either by time or by inspection.
Dyeing by time is reliable if the dye-bath does not contain acid, though if acid is present, in time the acidity decreases, causing a slowing down of the rate of dyeing so that it becomes necessary to judge the progress of dyeing by inspection.
If two or more tints of the same color are required, in order to reduce the number of individual dye-baths to a minimum, it is better to vary the time of dyeing rather than to vary the dilution of the bath, providing the time of dyeing for the lighter tint is not less than one minute, which time is considered a minimum for the production of uniform results and for complete control of the dyeing Operations.
The time of dyeing also depends somewhat on the previous handling of the film. Film which has been fixed in a bath containing ordinary, or chrome alum, dyes more quickly than that treated with plain hypo and hardened with formalin.
It is probable therefore, that small traces of alum are left in the film even after prolonged washing, which serve as a mordant for the dye.
The film samples herewith shown were fixed in the regular acid hypo bath, so that if for any reason the tints indicated are not obtained in the time stated, then either the time of dyeing or the dilution of the dye bath should be altered accordingly.
Should the film for any reason be over-dyed, a small Portion of the dye may be removed by washing for 10 to 15 minutes, though the nature of the dyes will permit only slight mistakes to be rectified in this manner.
Life of the Dye-baths
This averages about 40,000 feet per 50 gallons of dye bath.
The baths may be revived at intervals by the addition of more dye, though this procedure is uncertain and it is generally advisable to mix fresh Solution.
The addition of a trace of acetic acid (1 part in 1000) will revive an apparently exhausted bath though as stated above, it is only advisable to do this in the case of baths containing a single dye.
Method of Procedure
Either the “drum” or “rack” method may be employed, and in either case after dyeing for ten minutes (during which time the drum or rack should be agitated to ensure even dyeing and prevent accumulation of air bubbles) the film should be given a thorough rinse in plain water.
Before drying films on racks it is advisable to set the rack at a slight angle for a few minutes, to enable the surplus water to drain off more readily through the perforations.
If drums are used for drying it is advisable to remove the surplus water by whirling the drum previous to drying.
If uniform results are to be obtained, film should never be passed through the projector before either tinting or toning.
How to Obtain Intermediate Tints
The twelve tints above are given merely as examples; other tints may be readily obtained by making a trial with a small amount of Solution on a short length of film, taking care to match the tint in artificial light and not by daylight, since any dye containing Cine Blue appears redder by artificial light than by daylight.
When matching think of the tint as being made up of one or more of the colors, red, yellow, and blue. Colors such as orange are made by mixing yellow and red, violet by mixing red and blue, and green by mixing yellow and blue. Browns are obtained by mixing all three colors red, yellow, and blue.
When comparing any two particular tints, it is usual to say that one is redder, yellower or bluer than the other, and the two may therefore be matched accordingly.
Choice of Tint
Almost any tint if delicate may be employed with advantage, though for general use those ranging through pink, rose, orange, yellow, pale green and pale blue are to be recommended; others are for special purposes.
It is always desirable to obtain harmony in color, especially when combining tinting with toning, so that the combination is pleasing to the normal eye.
For local tinting and hand coloring, the above dyes are likewise satisfactory.
TROUBLES IN TINTING
Streaks and Uneven Coloring
a. Grease on the film. Never project film before tinting.
b. Slight bleeding and insufficient squeegeeing when on the drying rack. Always carefully remove any surface moisture from the film with a damp chamois, before drying.
Sludge in the Dye-bath
This is due to the precipitation of the dye by small traces of alum or iron in the water supply. In many localities water is purified by adding alum, and only the smallest trace need be present to throw some of the dye out of Solution.
Frothing of the Dye-bath
This occurs only when tinting on the drum with Cine Scarlet, Cine Orange, and Cine Green, but no inconvenience will be caused if the drum is revolved slowly.”
(Eastman Kodak Company (1918): Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film. Rochester NY, pp. 5-13)
“‘Coloured’ was the term almost universally used to describe the colour images of silent film. In my father’s collection of old newspaper cuttings was a page to remind him of his favourite film star, Asta Nielsen. It describes The Bonds of Marriage (to be shown at the Kursaal in Southend where his family was staying in November 1913) as ‘A beautiful coloured social drama in 3 parts. Better than ever.’ (The advertisement spelled her name Neilsen, incorrectly!)
Tinting and toning, two very different chemical techniques, were the principles used for all these ‘unnatural’ colouring methods. They were frequently confused in the minds – and just as often in the eyes – of even experienced viewers. From about 1929 onwards, because the technology they used did not suit the new combined sound-on-film, and despite many courageous and expensive experiments, the majority of the world’s cinema audiences saw only black-and-white images on screen. It would be many years before widely distributed Technicolor and its various competitors filtered across the world.
Over the last twenty years, I and my colleagues in the Gamma Group (a European interest group of moving film archivists, film laboratory technologists, and members of the FIAF Technical Commission) have written and published a great deal of technical information on the origin and practice of tinting and toning technology, and the restoration techniques for silent era film. It is not my intention to repeat that work in this article, which should be considered an informal introduction to those original texts. As additional information I have attempted to place this information into the context of the relationship between the film makers, the associated film laboratories, and the manufacturers of film stocks and their technologists and researchers. I believe that only one influential company, Pathé, combined all three component parts under one integrated corporate structure, operating as a film manufacturer and supplier, film maker, and film laboratory carrying out post-production processes to produce the final cinema print. In 1926 Eastman Kodak bought the Pathé film manufacturing plant at Chalon to create Kodak Pathé, separating this function from the other two components; no similar connection occurred before or since.
I spent my school years in Hampstead and my university years in central London, where opportunities to visit the cinema were legion. From the age of sixteen to twenty-three I spent almost every Friday and Saturday evening in the coffee bar (these were the coffee bar years), followed by a one-and-thru’ penny seat in the cinema (and finally the pub).
And yet, despite all that time in the front row of the Everyman near Hampstead Heath tube station, and several cinemas in the Classic chain (notably the Baker Street Classic, which specialized in French, Italian, Greek, and very occasionally German ‘art house’ films of the 1930s and 40s – don’t mention the war!) only once did I see a silent film. It was shown at the Everyman late in the evening (just after René Clair’s Sous les toits de Paris – with a Tobis Klangfilm sound track), in black-and-white, and played in silence, without any music. It was an eerie experience punctuated by the coughs and shuffles of the audience.
I don’t now remember what it was! Several years later, about 1964, I watched a screening of a tinted nitrate 1920 travelogue in the Kodak Testing Department theatre at Harrow, an after-thought to follow the screening of a Cinemascope print of Ben-Hur. A bit of light relief selected by the projectionist for the benefit of my students! I knew all about tinted film – I had even seen some ‘on the bench’ – but it still came as a shock. By that time I was a Kodak film technologist: I had worked in research, I knew the chemistry, I even thought I knew something of cinema history. I was commissioning Eastman Colour laboratories, teaching laboratory staff to control the chemistry and sensitometry of those early tripack colour processes. I was also training young science graduates, newly employed by Kodak, who were starting their research careers in film technology (science graduates know a lot of science, but photographic technology was, and still is, a closed book to them!). Even so, I found the unnaturalness of the tinted image, and its cavalier disregard for the original scene’s colours, disconcerting.
My first reaction was to search out some literature on silent cinema, but the only information available to me then was the plain technology of how tinting was done, and not why. I have since discovered that why can still be contentious.”
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’. An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies. In: Film History, 21.1, pp. 9-46, on pp. 9-10)
“Film colouring techniques in silent cinema
When I started to teach film history in a British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society course in Film Technology in the early 1980s, I discovered that tinting and toning were not easily separated concepts for my students. I needed to demonstrate the difference by using coloured diagrams, as access to original coloured films in the British National Film Archive was impossible. Later, when teaching film archiving in the 1990s to post-graduate students on the EU Archimedia programme, access to original film was available in the Royal Belgian Film Archive.
But I found the most effective method was to demonstrate the process practically in a photographic dish, and show the differences on fresh film. To this day even experienced archivists have some trouble separating tints from tones. Part of the problem is conceptual understanding, but many original film elements have faded or have altered dye colours, and nitrate film bases discolour and stain both uniformly and unevenly to confuse both the experienced and the beginner.
The easiest concept is to understand that the starting point for tinting and toning, and hand-colouring and stencilling, is a conventional monochrome black and white photographic film image. Tinted film has a scale that runs from the tint colour to black; a toned film scale runs from white to colour. In order to distinguish tinted from toned films the best method is to look at the clear parts – for example, outside or around the perforations – as tinting colours the entire film (including the perforated edge of the film, except in the case of the lacquering method). Toning leaves the non-image areas outside the frame uncoloured, although this is not so well defined with some mordant dye toned film, which tends to spread in time or if badly processed.
Tinting is the process where the film base is uniformly coloured overall one colour. Thus the black-and-white image remains, and is overlaid with one uniform colour across the entire image. To see a visual demonstration of this, look at a black-and-white photograph through a coloured gelatine filter; what you will see is exactly the same image as a cinema film frame where the clear film base has been dyed that colour. This is a dying process – the dye, a chemical substance which has that colour, is suffused through the nitrate film base and is ‘attached’ without any alteration to the chemical structure of the plastic polymer. This attachment requires a chemical bond in most cases, although in most film tints this a very loose ‘hydrogen bond’ which can to broken and the dye washed out by altering the acidity of the prolonged washing. The dyes most commonly used are so called ‘acid dyes’ which are dissolved in weak acid solutions and create this bond to fix the dye in place.
Tinting, as carried out by film laboratories, is a simple process. Dissolve an acid dye in some water with a small addition of acetic or citric acid to acidify the solution and soak a print in the solution. Remove after a few minutes, wash the surface dye solution off the film, and dry it. The degree of colour will depend on the dye concentration in solution, provided the time of immersion is long enough for maximum dye penetration. Dyes can be mixtures in order to obtain the required colour.”
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’. An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies. In: Film History, 21.1, pp. 9-46, on pp. 12-13.)
“The Aesthetics of Uniformity: Tinting and Toning
It is not known precisely when uniform colouring of the film stock began to be a component of film production. This uncertainty is somehow surprising, since much has been documented and published regarding other colour techniques in an era when the paternity of a discovery was the frequent object of contention, and competing claims were made by the presumed pioneers of this or that device. A plausible explanation for the absence of reliable evidence on chronological priority might be that tinting and toning were adopted by different producers more or less at the same time. It should be emphasised, however, that the introduction of tinting was gradual, and without much fanfare. On the basis of surviving films of the era, it seems that it must have been used only rarely until the end of the 19th century; the first significant example of this kind was to be seen in October 1901, when James Williamson’s Fire! was released, containing footage tinted red to depict the conflagration in an apartment building.
Although anonymous – perhaps simply because not subject to any form of proprietary ownership – the invention spread to all the producing countries with great speed. No statistical analysis of this diffusion has been attempted, but an estimate based on surviving nitrate prints suggests that the technique went through three phases. The first, from 1900 to about 1907, saw the occasional use of tinting and toning. In the second, from 1908 to 1925, the uniform colouring of the film base became a widespread practice. The great majority of films during this time were coloured using one or the other technique, or both combined. This period may be further subdivided into two trends – initially, the frequent use of both tinting and toning; later, the slow decline of toning in the years 1921 to 1925.
In the third phase, corresponding to the twilight of silent film, there was an increase in the number of films distributed in black and white, even though tinted films were still common. The decrease in uniform colouring of the film base is in all likelihood connected to at least three concurring factors: the increasing availability of more sophisticated techniques, such as the first experiments in Technicolor; the gradual introduction of panchromatic film, less suited to the general application of colour than the orthochromatic film for which the techniques of tinting and toning were originally designed; the introduction of soundtrack on film in the late 20s (as tinting and splicing would be likely to interfere with the optical cells in the projector).
Surviving nitrate copies of silent films suggest that some form of tinting or toning was employed in approximately 85 per cent of the total production. This estimate does not take into account a practice quite common even in the earliest cinema, that of colouring the intertitles in films otherwise released in black and white. Intertitles tinted at first in blue and later in red (which was customarily done at least until 1914) was one of the distinguishing elements of the Pathé company’s products, a device for discouraging bootleg copies. Similarly, Gaumont intertitles were often tinted blue-green.
Tinting and toning films became such a widespread practice that some companies produced brochures and catalogues on the subject (Plate 44). Eastman Kodak was by far the most prolific, issuing no less than five editions of its manual on the tinting and toning of positive film between 1916 and 1927. These are works of great historical value, as they contain not only the chemical formulas used to create the coloured baths but also actual samples of nitrate film coloured in each tint and by each technique discussed. They deal with processes of remarkable complexity, allowing the creation of a vast range of colours that sometimes differed from one another only by subtle variations in density and luminosity, difficult for the untrained eye of a modern observer to identify.
Tinting was implemented in three different ways:
A initially, by applying a coloured varnish on the film emulsion (Plate 46);
B from the early years of the 20th century, by immersing the film stock in an aqueous solution containing the colouring agent;
C towards the end of the silent era, using a pre-tinted stock (a sophisticated instance of this is given by the Sonochrome film, manufactured by Kodak in the late 1920s and promoted through a vague yet intriguing ‘philosophy’ of correspondence between colours and emotions; see Plate 62).”
(Cherchi Usai, Paolo (2000): Silent Cinema. London: BFI, pp. 23-24)
“Tinting was the next process developed, and, by contrast, it was relatively inexpensive and became the most common coloring method from the early 1900s to the end of the 1920s. With tinting, a section of a film was dyed a specific color usually by running it through a bath of aniline dye so that the emulsion would absorb the colorant. This proved to be manageable on an industrial basis, and by the late 1910s and early 1920s, film stock companies such as Kodak and Agfa began producing pre-tinted positive stocks that allowed labs to print films on colored stock and thus avoid manually coloring them in postproduction. The color of tinted frames would be in its purest form in the lightest parts of the image (the areas with the least amount of silver halides in the emulsion such as a clear sky, a white apron, or the highlights of a face).”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, p. 4)
Tinting is a method of applying color to the surface of the film without altering the physical structure of the emulsion. Two details characterize a tinted nitrate print: the entire picture is colored uniformly, and the area around the perforations is also colored.
The oldest method of tinting is nothing more than a variation on the hand-coloring technique. Instead of applying the color to a portion of each frame, the whole print was brushed with color. This method can be recognized by the varying density of the dye on the print. An early example can be seen in the fragment of an unidentified Gaumont film. The distinctive shape of the frame and perforations, as well as other written evidence, indicates that this film may have been produced in late 1902 and certainly predates 1905. This demonstrates that the first attempts at tinting positive film stock in western Europe were made quite early.12 In most tinted films produced during the silent era, the color was applied on the emulsion side of the film, most often using aniline dyes in a solution of water. Aniline dyes are coal tar-based synthetic dyes that are water soluble and, unfortunately, light fugitive. Dyes were sought that would not affect the stability of the gelatin layer and were sufficiently stable to withstand the effect’s of heat and light from repeated projection.
Only carefully processed prints would yield a relatively permanent tint. Films to be tinted had to be printed with slightly more contrast. A rotating chassis system, tanks, or vertical tubes were used for applying the color. This last system was thought to provide the best control over the uniformity of the tint.
In some cases, it was even possible to provide a gradual transition from one color to another (for example, from blue to amber, in order to show the coming of daylight). Such a delicate operation, however, had to be supervised manually and always remained an exception. Usually, the transition from one tint to the next was abrupt and entailed splicing together two separate strips of film.13
When tinting was combined with other coloring techniques, for example, with toning or stencil coloring, technical difficulties often occurred. Since toning always preceded tinting, the process of tinting the film stock could sometimes alter the toning dye substantially. These inconveniences led the Eastman Kodak Company and Pathé to manufacture and distribute a new kind of tinting stock during the 1920s. Besides ensuring very uniform tinting, this stock proved to be very stable when immersed in fixing, toning, and mordanting baths. Furthermore, the colors were not altered by the heat and light of projection equipment, not even after several dozen screenings. In 1926 Pathé offered a choice of nine raw film stocks for tinting.
12 The available evidence indicates that tinting and toning techniques were introduced in American films later. An analysis of the surviving nitrate prints shows that tinted and toned prints were far less common in the United States than in Europe. To my knowledge, tinting and toning remained a relatively uncommon technique in the United States until 1910, used only for the most ambitious projects. The exception to this is the production of the Vitagraph Company of America. The co-founder of Vitagraph, J. Stuart Blackton, often expressed his interest in new developments in coloring techniques for film, as is demonstrated late in his career with the films he produced in the United Kingdom such as The Glorious Adventure (1922). An example of tinting in a Vitagraph split-reel before 1910 is Princess Nicotine or The Smoke Fairy (1909).
13 An early and outstanding case of gradual transition from one tint to another is the 1906 version of Pathé’s La Vie et la Passion de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ. Many copies of this film exist. An original nitrate print is preserved in the film collections of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House.”
(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 pp. 25-26)
“Tinting, Toning, and Narrative Integration
If stenciling in the early 1900s tested the projective dimensionality of the film screen, what came to dominate color practice at the end of the first decade of the 1900s was a different approach to color’s sensational effects. Through the techniques of tinting and toning, color was designed primarily to work not at the liminal edge between screen and viewer but unobtrusively in the background of the image. With these processes, color tended to be used less to illuminate specific foregrounded objects than to craft a radiant world that harmonized the mood of the scene with the emotional engagement of the spectator.
This harmonic approach to tinting and toning is often invoked in the trade press at the end of the first decade of the 1900s. For instance, in an editorial on tinting and toning found in the Moving Picture World, the trade journal discusses the aesthetic potential of these processes:
“There is much scope for chemical ingenuity in the toning and tinting of moving picture positives…. Toning or tinting, or a combination of both, produces nice color effects which are always appreciated by audiences, especially when those effects harmonize with the colors of the original subject.”36 The notion of harmony invoked curiously suggests a potential correspondence of tinted and toned hues with the original colors of a scene. In other words, though the indexical bond between a color and its object is severed when reproduced in black and white, its harmonic sensation can be re-created—translated with nice effect—through these applied color processes. A cluster of aesthetic assumptions about color are invoked in this seemingly simple statement about tinting and toning, and it is worth tracing their implications on color design during the emergence of narrative cinema in the first decade of the 1900s.
From various accounts and from the evidence of surviving prints, tinting and toning were first deployed in the cinema in the late 1890s as a quicker and cheaper means of coloring films than the processes of hand coloring and stenciling. One of the earliest descriptions of film tinting can be found in C. Francis Jenkins’s Animated Pictures (1898) in which he discusses his visual-music experiments using the cinematic apparatus to project purely abstract fields of tinted colors that “produce the same impression upon the senses of feeling through the medium of the eye which music does through the ear.”37 To achieve these colors, Jenkins immersed his filmstrips in dye: as he explains, colors are “washed upon blank strips suitable for reproduction in the Phantoscope.” More will be said about Jenkins’s experimental work later in this book, but it is worth pointing out that from the 1890s on, the harmony of film tinting was thought of intermedially in relation to the harmony of music, thus connecting early color cinema to concurrent ideas about synaesthesia and color abstraction. Color sensuously corresponded to music and could harmonize with the moods and emotions of a scene.
As a technique, film tinting was partially an outgrowth of the colored translucent gels (called “tinters”) that were used as overlays for stage lights, projected magic lantern slides, and the color organs of visual music. Blending and dissolving effects could be produced with these colored gels to create a variety of effects, such as the gradual alterations of light throughout the course of a day, or shifting color schemes within or between scenes. 38 Gel tinters were also used over projector lenses to color films. A 1908 Moving Picture World article on the coloring of lantern slides notes that colored gels “may be used with good effect… on portions of film. A very light blue tint slide will brighten a yellow film considerably, but the tint must be very light, just a bare tint.”39 A film catalog from the British firm of Cecil Hepworth notes the use of gel tinters in 1903, and they have continued to be used throughout the history of cinema.40 D. W. Griffith, for example, patented a gel-lighting system for Broken Blossoms (1919) that double-projected color tints onto the film, and various filmmakers such as Harry Smith have experimented with such effects.41 Gel tinters have been employed primarily as an artisanal exhibition practice, however, undervalued by an industry that since the first decade of the 1900s worked to reduce the role of exhibitors by emphasizing standardized procedures of production, distribution, and exhibition. Since early cinema their primary use in film has not been for projection, but rather on film cameras during shoots, when tinted color filters are used to balance color temperatures—warming outdoor, natural lighting with yellowish-orange filters when shooting on indoor tungsten film stock, or conversely cooling indoor lighting with bluish filters when shooting on daylight stock.
In its more standardized form, film tinting works by coloring the emulsion of black-and-white film prints with translucent dyes. As detailed in chapter 1, synthetic aniline dyes were the main colorants used for tinting throughout the silent era. One early method of applying these dyes onto films grew out of hand-coloring techniques and simply entailed using a wider brush than the single-camel hair ones used for selective hand-coloring work and broadly applying the dye over a swath of frames.
Though quicker than selective hand coloring, this method tends to produce uneven irregularities in the color to create a pulsating, fringing effect when projected. Due to fringing and also to the labor that was still involved with hand-brushing every release print, this method of tinting was not a widely adopted industrial practice. However, artisanal examples can be found throughout film history, as in the EYE-Film Institute Netherland’s handtinted print of Ferdinand Léger and Dudley Murphy’s Ballet Mécanique (1924), in which one can see the blue brushstrokes and color blendings produced by hand-tinting.
Instead of hand brushing, dye immersion (“washing” in Jenkins’s terms above) was the predominant method of tinting during the silent era, as it produced quicker, cheaper, and more uniform results. Color produces a uniformly tinted world, in reds, greens, or blues in this process, for example. The simplest means of achieving this for short lengths of film was running the exposed and developed section of film to be tinted back and forth through a bowl of aniline dye.42 For longer segments and print runs, more standardized techniques were developed for immersing strips of film in dye vats and then rack-drying them, procedures also used for developing prints. In the late 1910s, companies such as Kodak, Gevaert, and Agfa simplified tinting further by producing pre-tinted, positive film stocks on which producers could print their films and avoid manually tinting each release print in the lab.43
37 C. Francis Jenkins, Animated Pictures (Washington, D.C.: H. L. McQueen, 1898), 92.
38 See for instance the Kleine catalog, “Complete Illustrated Catalogue of Moving Picture Machines, Stereopticons, Magic Lanterns, Accessories and Stereopticon Views, June 1902,” in Motion Picture Catalogs, V-2.
39 “Lessons for Operators: Tint Slides—How to Make,” Moving Picture World 2.22 (May 30,1908): 472-473. Italics in the original.
40 “A Selected Catalogue of the Best and Most Interesting ‘Hepwix’ Films (1903),” in Early Rare Filmmakers’ Catalogues: 1896-1913, collected by British Film Institute (London: World Microfilms Publications, 1983), reel 2.
41 See “D. W. Griffith Patents Apparatus for Picture Projection with Color Effects,” Moving Picture World 4.3 (April 17,1920): 388; and American Magus Harry Smith: A Modern Alchemist, ed. Paola Igliori (New York: Inanout Press, 1996), 80-81.
42 See for instance “Tinting Films,” Moving Picture World 2.4 (January 25, 1908): 57; and the discussion and illustrations in Colin Bennett, The Handbook of Kinematography, 2nd ed. (London: The Kinematograph Weekly, 1913), 79-81; reprinted in Stephen Herbert, A History of Early Film, vol. 3 (New York: Routledge, 2000), 151-152.
43 For useful examples of these pre-tinted stocks, see the tinting guides reprinted in the appendices of All the Colors of the World: Colors in Early Mass Media: 1900-1930, ed. Luciano Berriatúa (Reggio Emilia, Italy: Diabasis, 1998). ”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, pp. 97-101)
“We turn now from toning to the process of tinting – in other words, the dyeing of the emulsion gelatine of black-and-white films. It is not possible to say with precision when tinting started to be used on film, but since the process was one of relative simplicity it was certainly very early. We have an example in BFI Collections of tinted film from 1897.
There is a strong relation between tinting and the chemistry of synthesis-producing synthetic dyes directed towards the textile market. The same dyes were used for tinting films, and in the abundant literature produced by the film manufacturers to describe this process, complete with formulas and instructions, it is possible to observe the parallel evolution of the tinting process and the dye industry.
For example, in the period during and immediately after World War I, the European dye industry was perhaps more developed than the American. The Kodak tinting and toning manual for 1918 contains a reference to difficulties in obtaining certain dyes for tinting and mentions the disappointing results produced by the locally-available alternative dyes. By the next edition of this manual, in 1922, the problem had apparently been overcome – new dyes had been developed and good alternatives were available in America.
The principle of tinting is similar to dye toning, but in tinting the technician uses acid dyes instead of basic ones, because gelatine is normally positively charged.
These acidic dyes will be attracted, and if the electrical condition of the dye is sufficiently neutralised the dye will precipitate as insoluble coloured matter, becoming trapped and staining the gelatine.
Common examples of dyes used in tinting are:
Croccein G — Amber
Amaranth — Pink or magenta
Xilidrine — Red”
(Oliveira, Joao S. de (2002): Black-and-White in Colour. In Roger Smither (ed.): This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film.Brussels: FIAF, pp. 123-125, on p. 120)
“STENCILING, TINTING, AND TONING
The work on a film of this character must be of great precision and the coloring must be done with consummate care. It is one of the triumphs of motion picture art to be able to accomplish such beautiful things. These magic pictures are always attractive and are watched with a greater interest perhaps than almost any other variety of pictures which can be shown. Such pictures are none too plentiful and the addition of another successful one to the list should be hailed with pleasure by lovers of motion pictures.
—Pathé’s Marvelous Gardens, Moving Picture World (1910)
Hand coloring was the predominant technique used to color films during the pre-nickelodeon era. When production companies began to increase the length and complexity of their films during the early 1900s, the method became unfeasible on an industrial basis, and other techniques of coloring films—specifically, tinting, toning, and stenciling—grew more prevalent.
The current chapter tracks these developments into the early 1910s: through the nickelodeon period and into the single-reel era (ca. 1907-1913, when films fit on a single reel that lasted on average twelve to fourteen minutes) but before the dominance of the feature film.1 Changes in coloring techniques and styles during this period were entwined with broader transformations of the burgeoning film industry, such as transitions in film style from the cinema of attractions to narration; shifts in production, distribution, and exhibition practices; and the growth of trade publications about the cinema.2 These changes in the industry influenced not only developments in coloring techniques but also the ways in which color was thought of aesthetically in the cinema.
From the fairy and trick genres to melodrama, color was integrated systematically into narrative and nonfiction films during the first decade of the 1900s. An issue central to this change is how the sensual and affective qualities of color usage during the dominant era of the cinema of attractions (ca. the 1890s-1907) were reconfigured to function with emerging cinematic norms of unobtrusive narration. Particularly in the transition to the single reel era, the attractions and distractions of the earliest color films began to give way to unobtrusive and/or verisimilar uses of color in film. However, in industrial discussions, this stylistic change was not framed primarily in terms of color’s narrative potential—at least not simply in terms of its ability to convey or hinder story information. Rather, color’s sensual expressivity was still a central concern of color design. Even though a change in coloring style is evident, there is in fact not a fundamental transformation in how color was thought of aesthetically during this period. An essential continuity remains pertaining to how color was conceived of in affective and physiological terms, and the stylistic transition that does occur pertains to the restructuring of the sensual address of color for new ends. Specifically, color became relatively less obtrusive, pushed to the background of the image, but from this position its sensuality remained and was to a degree even enhanced by its potential to immerse the image and viewer, unobtrusively, into a world of carefully gradated tints and tones.
The changes in color design and theory traced in this chapter can be thought of in relation to the concurrent promotion of aesthetic uplift in the cinema, which was being mobilized rhetorically by the film industry to educate the senses and sensibilities of the public—its “color sense.” Placing this rhetoric of uplift in dialogue with changes in coloring techniques and styles allows one to delineate not just the aesthetic horizon of color cinema, but also more broadly the sensual contours of the medium itself. Rather than evolving toward a classical cinema that aims only at telling stories efficiently and unobtrusively, this history recovers the ways in which these very norms were conceived aesthetically at the level of the senses. The history traced here through color theory and practice is not in opposition to narrative developments in the cinema; rather, it reframes cinematic narration in terms of its sensory appeals.
1 On the single-reel period, which is used as a more precise categorization than the transitional era, see Tom Gunning, “Systematizing the Electric Message: Narrative Form, Gender, and Modernity in The Lonedale Operator,” in American Cinema’s Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, Practices, ed. Charlie Keil and Shelley Stamp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 15-50.
2 On these broader changes, see for example the essays collected in Charlie Keil and Shelley Stamp, ed., American Cinema’s Transitional Era; and Andre Gaudreault and Philippe Marion, “A Medium Is Always Born Twice,” Early Popular Visual Culture 3.1 (May 2005): 3-15.”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, pp. 76-77)
“II TINTING AND TONING
The use of single color tints and tones has paralleled and intermixed with the so-called natural color processes since the introduction of color to motion pictures. Tinting, the earliest means of bringing color to the screen, was in use prior to 1900. The first attempts were handpainted films that tried to produce natural color pictures. These later gave way to the “natural color” processes, and tints and tones were relegated to the production of color moods through the use of overall colors. In some films only one or two scenes were colored; in others the whole picture was toned a single color. D. W. Griffith used toned sequences in Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Erich Von Stroheim used a yellow tone for his symbolic gold sequences in Greed.1
The popularity of the monochrome prints became so great that the film manufacturers offered Black and White positive film on tinted support in several colors.2
Tinted Nitrate Base
5. Light amber
The same colors were also offered in tinted acetate safety base. However, these tints were slightly lighter than the corresponding tints on nitrate base.
By the early 1920s it was estimated that during some periods 80 to 90 per cent of the total production was printed on tinted positive film.3 Then with the introduction of sound the existing types of tinted base became unusable. Unfortunately, the majority of the dyes used in tinting absorbed the wavelengths of radiation to which the sound reproducer cells are most sensitive. The dyes reduced the response of the cell to such a great extent that high amplification of the photoelectric currents was required to obtain sufficient volume of sound. This high amplification increased the inherent cell noises and microphonic disturbances in the amplifier so that the reproduced sound was of intolerably poor quality. For this reason, the use of tinted film was discontinued entirely in the production of positives carrying a photographic sound record. Some viewers thought that this was a serious loss and that the absence of color impaired the beauty and dramatic power of the screen production. The producers and creative men in the studios agreed with them and requested help from the film manufacturers. […]
Tinting usually means immersing the film in a solution of dye which colors the gelatin causing the whole picture to have a uniform veil of color on the screen. Toning consists in either wholly or partially replacing the silver image of the positive film by some colored compound so that the clear portions or highlights remain uncolored.
Dyes for tinting motion picture positive film were required to have the following properties:
1. The dye should not bleed when the film was washed and the rate of dye removal due to washing should be slow.
2. The dye should not be precipitated by alum, calcium, magnesium or iron salts.
3. The dye should not be “dichroic” or change color on dilution.
4. The dye should be fast to light even under the heat of projection so that local fading would not take place.
5. The dye solution should not foam readily.
6. The dye should not be affected by the acid fixing bath.
7. The dye should not attack the gelatin coating of the film even after 24 hours incubation at 212 degrees F.
The following table gives a list of the dyes used, prior to the introduction of sound on film, for tinting or colouring film by stenciling or by hand.5
The time in solution varied from one minute to three minutes at 65 degrees depending on the shade desired. Approximately 20,000 feet of film could be dyed per 50 gallons of dye solution. As the rate of dyeing slowed down, the solution would be replenished with concentrated dye solution.
The amount of light cut off from the screen as a result of tinting depended on the nature of the particular dye used, the concentration of dye in the film and on the purity of color of the dye. Tests made of tinted films indicated that screen brightness was reduced from 25 per cent to 95 per cent as a result of tinting.
After the introduction of sound it was necessary to replace many of the dyes formerly used 18 for tinting with dyes that were more compatible with the sound reproduction system. The dyes and concentrations listed in the table below were successfully used with the black and white films used for sound-on-film motion pictures.6
The time in solution was normally three minutes at a temperature of 65 degrees to 70 degrees F., but longer or shorter times were used depending on tint desired. After tinting the film would be rinsed, squeegeed and dried. Approximately 40,000 feet of film could be dyed per 50 gallons of dye solution. As the rate of dyeing slowed down the bath would be replenished with concentrated dye solution, not by adding acid. When the bath became muddy it would have to be replaced.
5 Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film (Rochester, N.Y.: Eastman Kodak Co., 1927), pp. 15-16.
6 “Tinting Eastman Fine Grain Release Positive Film with Dye Solutions,” (Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y., 1955), p. 3. (Mimeographed.)”
(Ryan, Roderick T. (1977): A History of Motion Picture Color Technology. London: Focal Press, pp. 16-19)
“TINTING AND TONING
The expense of detailed hand coloring encouraged pioneer filmmakers to seek a less costly and easier method of achieving color in their productions. As films grew in length, the added cost of applying tints by hand, coupled with the scarcity of skilled artisans, forced most producers to employ tinting, toning, or a combination of these methods to produce the desired effect. Tinting generally refers to the immersion of the film stock “in a solution of dye which colors all of the gelatin. Thus, a tinted film will give a uniform veil of one color on the screen. Toning differs in that the clear portions of the film remain unaffected–only the silver image of the positive film becomes colored. Thus, in toning, the highlights remain colorless while all half-tones and shadows take on the hue of the coloring compound. A two-color effect can be achieved by tinting the emulsion coating of a positive film one color and toning the clear celluloid base another, “as in the combination of amber and green in the Goldwyn romance, A Tale of Two Worlds (1922).1 Numerous travelogues and nature films of the twenties utilized this combination to advantage, “making the earth brown and the sky and water green.”2
One of the earliest attempts at toning was done by an Englishman named Williamson, . . . during the nineties of the last century.
An abandoned house sacrificed to the flames for realism was the mise-en-scene of the film. The fire was sensational in itself, but this quality was enhanced by resort to chemical toning to impart a lurid tint to the flames. This caught the public fancy; the picture received an extraordinary reception, proving one of the most financially successful ever placed on the market by this pioneer.3
In fact, the popularity of monochrome prints became so great that film manufacturers began to offer black and white positive stock with tinted bases in at least nine basic colors.4 As one would expect, these monochrome films eventually fell into stereotypes. As Limbacher points out, “red represented fire; blue indicated night; green usually accompanied forest scenes and yellow was used when artificial light was represented.”5 The popularity of tinted features was not without problems, however. The motion picture industry had grown to giant proportions, and by 1910 over “four million people attended movies daily, and this total is four times greater than the number which go to all types of theaters combined.”6 With such a great demand for cinematic output, Moving Picture World reported that quality and aesthetic considerations were often overlooked by over-taxed producers.
The high pressure under which some film manufacturers [studio producers] have to work to keep up their regular releases prevents them from giving to their product many artistic touches that would otherwise be done if there was an open market and the competition was on the lines of quality instead of quantity. Occasionally a reel is seen that is appropriately toned or tinted or both, and it is a relief to the eye and frequently brings applause to a picture that would have been passed in silence if in cold black and white. We have heard manufacturers remark that the people were already getting enough for their money. Rather a narrow minded attitude, is it not?7
Apparently film producers agreed, and the use of tinting and toning became more widespread than ever shortly afterward. In fact, by the early 1920s it was estimated that “from 80% to 90% of the film . . . being produced” in the United States incorporated at least some tinted scenes .8 Even with the introduction of rival, more complete “natural color” systems such as Prizma, Kelleycolor and Technicolor, producers continued to employ both tinting and toning in a vast number of feature releases. Writing in a 1920 issue of Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, G. A. Blair noted:
In spite of the success attained by many workers in producing multicolor pictures by purely photographic means the expense involved reduces the prospect of the natural color picture coming into universal use for some time to come, so in the interval the majority of film will be colored by improved methods of tinting and toning.9
With the arrival of sound, the existing types of tinted film stocks became unusable. As Ryan notes:
. . . the majority of the dyes used in tinting absorbed the wavelengths of radiation to which the sound reproducer cells are most sensitive. The dyes reduce the response of the cells to such a great extent that high amplification of the photoelectric currents is required to obtain sufficient volume of sound. This high amplification increases the inherent cell noises and microphonic disturbances in the amplifier so that the reproduced sound is of intolerably poor quality.10
To overcome this problem, Eastman Kodak produced 16 new tinted film stocks in 1929 called the Sonochrome series. 11 Compatible with the optical sound systems then in use, Sonochrome enabled studios to produce tinted films with sound. Furthermore, new dyes and concentrations were later developed which would enable the tinting of regular black and white film stock also without affecting the sound reproduction system.
Today it is almost impossible to comprehend the phenomenal popularity tinting and toning enjoyed during the first 30 years of the motion picture industry. Classics like The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Greed and The Big Parade all included at least some tinted scenes.
Unfortunately, surviving copies of these and other artificially colored films are usually only straight black and white prints “which is tantamount to seeing but a pale shadow of what the film originally was.”12
Despite the low cost and widespread use of tinting and toning methods, such color treatment is inherently arbitrary and limited. Writing in 1919, Terry Ramsaye echoed the thoughts of many.
By the tinting and toning process we can have a green pasture, in tone, with a blue sky above, in tint, but the cream and red Jersey cow in the foreground will also be reduced to greens and blues.
This effect may be very well for the spectator who knows a jersey cow when he sees one, but for Johnny Tenement Child it is all very bad, because he is likely to get the notion that cows come in green and blue. And that, you will agree, would be most un-educational.
All of which makes it certain that the perfect educational picture must be in perfectly natural color.13
1 David L. Parker, “‘Blazing Technicolor,’ ‘Stunning Trucolor,’ and ‘Shocking Eastmancolor,’” The American Film Heritage, by the American Film Institute (Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books Ltd., 1973), p. 21.
3 Frederick A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1923), p. 342.
4 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. 21. br>
5 James L. Limbacher, Four Aspects of the Film (New York: Brussel and Brussel, Inc., 1969 ), p. 4 .
6 Moving Picture World, March 12, 1910, p. 376.
7 Moving Picture World, March 18, 1911, p. 574.
8 G. A. Blair, “The Tinting of Motion Picture Film,” Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, no. 10, 1920, p. 45.
10 Ryan, pp. 21-22.
11 Ibid., p. 22.
12 Joe Franklin, Classics of the Silent Screen, quoted in Limbacher, Four Aspects of the Film, p. 3.
13 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. 20-25)
“As I indicated at the beginning of this paper, the addition of color to these films in the silent era did not suffer from their lack of naturalism. Rather, the arbitrary and unnatural uses of color, more intense than reality, allowed color to be experienced as a power in itself, rather than simply a secondary quality of objects.
Even the slightly uneven fit between color and object in hand painting and stencil coloring, so that the colors seem to lift themselves off the surface of reality and quiver in a scintillating dance, has the effect of underscoring the independent power of color, even if unintentionally. In any case, the intense hues and sharp juxtaposition of these colors place them in the tradition of emotionally effective and possibly “dangerous” colors so bewailed by the guardians of genteel culture.
They function as attention-grabbing attractions and incitements to fantasy, rather than harmonious and subtle appeals to an established aesthetic order, or carefully observed images of nature.
Perhaps it is important to modify this point by observing that in most cases color in silent film did possess realistic motivation, even if it lacked truly realistic effects. And indeed a thorough treatment of color in cinema in any era would need to analyze the delicate pas de deux orchestrated between realistic motives and metaphorical or spectacular effects. A blue tint for night scenes, for instance, constitutes the most common use of tinting in silent cinema. While these shimmering sapphire nights possess a mystery that actual night photography lacks, at least for this viewer, they certainly functioned primarily as a convention and most likely were more frequently simply accepted by viewers as a signifier for night than experienced as an intense saturation of an image with color.
This granted, I would maintain that tinting (the dyeing of a shot with a single over-all color) especially demonstrates the metaphoric power of silent cinema, because even when realistically motivated, the singularity of color can seem to dominate the screen in a way that multiple colors rarely do. Viewers of tinted prints of Griffith’s Intolerance undoubtedly experience the red tinted images of the siege of Babylon at night not simply as an attempt to convey the fires of destruction/but as a sensual metaphor for blood, anger and the fury of Mars, the God of War.
The most fascinating example of this effect of tinting I have seen comes from one of the few surviving tinted prints of a Griffith Biograph film, the print of The Lonedale Operator held by the Nederlands Filmmuseum. Viewers of this tinted print notice immediately how the realistically motivated tinting of a key scene renders a narrative point crystal clear which remains obscure in a black and white print. The resourceful female telegraph operator of this film protects the payroll entrusted to her by holding a pair of thieves at bay with a small monkey wrench which they take for a pistol. This key plot device is rendered more believable by the fact that the operator turns off the lamp in her office, so that the scene take place in darkness. Only a tinted print really conveys the darkness which fills the room as the lamp is extinguished, as the tinting in the shot changes from yellowish amber to blue.
If this detail shows that tinting can function realistically and perform key narrative functions, the full extent of this sequence demonstrates the purely formal effect of tinting. The sequence of the attempted robbery stands as one of Griffith’s best known examples of a rush to the rescue conveyed through parallel editing, cutting between the office besieged by the thieves and the operator’s engineer lover rushing to her rescue on his locomotive. This cutting pattern is underscored by the switches between different tints. The blue of the office and the red of the locomotive remain realistically motivated (the red of the engine scenes presumably conveying the glow of the coal burner). But the alternation of red and blue in rapid rhythm also accomplishes a pure sensual interplay of color. The alternation in color directs attention to the formal properties of the editing, the brevity of the shots and their rapid alternation. The replacement of one color by another creates a pure physiological excitement which equals (and supplements) the narrative suspense.”
(Gunning, Tom (1996): Colorful Metaphors. The Attraction of Color in Early Silent Cinema. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, on pp. 27-29)
“Tripoli, Amalfi, and Santa Lucia are short documentaries, or better to say “travel films” because their main intention is to show interesting and exotic places to the visitors of cinemas. These “travelogues”, very popular in that time, are a collection of shots of landscapes and urban sights.
Tripoli (1912, 107 m) starts with a long, establishing shot showing the city panorama; later the camera pans “down” and details the picturesque streets and the inhabitants of the city. All these shots have yellow tinting, but this yellow is not the same all the time; it varies in its nuances and intensity. The last shot is taken from the minaret and it shows the sunset with clouds hanging in the sky coloured in magenta. Since “black” is not always black but sometimes sepia it is clear that the author was not just satisfied with just using a simple yellow tint in order to achieve the yellow image of the town in the desert. Instead, through combined tinting and toning and the use of various nuances of yellow, the film attempts a more ambitious method of tinting than just passing the whole film through the same shade of yellow, combination of shots of pleasant landscapes of the bay and interesting arch. A similar case is Amalfi (1910, 140 m). It is also a texture of the city of Amalfi.
As in Tripoli, a yellow tint is dominant. Amalfi and Tripoli are both located on the Mediterranean Sea with a lot of sun and it seems plausible to use a yellow colour to illustrate the hot Mediterranean area to the cinema visitor from further North. Shots where the sea is dominant are blue. A Romanesque city cathedral shown in yellow and sepia indicates that a combined technique was used.
Santa Lucia (1910?, 97 m) contains a number of shots taken from boats.8 At the very beginning there is a shot of a flag on a boat: a close-up of an Italian “tricolore,” presented “in colore.” The bars of the flag and the coat-of-arms of Italy in the centre field are coloured with precision so it is possible that this part of the film is stencilled. The sea in Santa Lucia is mostly in the canals with many sailing boats for fishing and transport. The film has a lot of blue tinting but this blue is different from the blue of Amalfi, as it verges on blue-green. Sunset is tinted in the “burning” orange tint. Harbour and boats are tinted in orange or blue, depending on the scene. The sun in Amalfi shines much stronger and brighter than in Santa Lucia, but in Santa Lucia it really sets down…
These three films belong within the same genre and use colour in similar ways.
Their main intention is to show pleasant, exotic places; colour is used to emphasise this theme. These films are not narratives in the classical sense of the term, thus the function of their colours within may be seen as serving a non-narrative function. It is however possible to discuss the “realism” of the tinting employed. All of the coloured scenes have some explanation in the “real” yellow desert, in the “real” blue sea, in the “real red sunset.” These colours have a certain illustrative function, but they also serve to grasp the attention of the spectator. In simple words, they work to make the film more interesting and attractive. Even today’s viewers of these films, “spoiled” by new colour-film techniques, can be impressed by these film’s use of colour. It is easy to imagine what effect these shots could have had on the visitor to some cinema in the snowy Northern Europe of the 1910’s.”
(Valtrovic, Vanja; Dibbets, Karel (1996): Colour in Italian Silent Films. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, on pp. 47-48)
“The very generally used tinting and toning processes are those which impart color suggestion lo the films that, we see in the theaters every day. Tinting gives us blue or green night scenes, yellow sunlight, and the like. It is plain and simple dyeing of the film. Toning is a bit more intricate. It changes certain chemical aspects of the image on the film and gives the possibility of a second color. So by laboratory work any motion picture taken by any process can be given a two-color effect, which is all that the drama ran well use and which often times helps out educational pictures considerably, particularly scenic and travel films.
But any such color treatment by dyeing is rather arbitrary in its effects and cannot be anything more than a suggestion of the natural colors.
By the tinting and toning process we can have a green pasture, in tone, with the blue sky above in tint but the cream and red jersey cow in the foreground will also be reduced to greens and blues.
This effect may be very well for the spectator who knows a jersey cow when he sees one, but for Johnny Tenement Child it is all very bad; because he is likely to get the notion that cows come in green and blue. And that, you will agree, would be most un-educational.
All of which makes it certain that the perfect educational picture must be in perfectly natural color. And as inevitable as the perfect educational itself is the perfect color process—it is yet of tomorrow.”
(Ramsaye, Terry (1919): Color photography and the motion picture. In: Photoplay 15, March 1919, pp. 84, 86, on p. 86)
Wie bereits erwähnt, handelt es sich beim Färben des Films um Farbstoffannahme durch die Gelatine der Emulsionsschicht; das schwarze Silberbild bleibt unverändert. Es scheinen daher nur die Lichter in dem betr. Farbton, während das eigentliche Bild schwarz bleibt. Die hierzu von der “Agfa” empfohlenen Farbstoffe sind seit Jahren im Handel und haben sich bei allen Verbrauchern bewährt. Es wird darauf aufmerksam gemacht, daß die in der Kriegszeit erforderten Ersatzfarbstoffe alle wieder verlassen und die bekannten Marken der Vorkriegszeit wieder eingeführt sind. Die Vorzüge unserer Farbstoffe sind:
1. Die Farbstoffe sind in Wasser löslich.
2. Die Lösungen bleiben selbst bei längerem Stehen klar und gebrauchsfertig.
3. Die Farbstoffe zeichnen sich durch große Farbkraft aus.
4. Die Farbstoffe lassen sich in jedem Verhältnis untereinander mischen.
5. Die Farbstoffe genügen hinsichtlich Lichtechtheit den weitgehendsten Anforderungen.
6. Die Farbstoffe lassen sich – falls es gewünscht wird – durch einfaches Wässern in etwa 1/2 Stunde wieder vollkommen aus der Gelatine entfernen; hierdurch kann die Tiefe der Färbung auch noch nachträglich variiert werden.
Eingehende Vorschriften sind im III. Teil gegeben.
Allgemeines über Färben des Films ist bereits im I. Teil S. 79 gesagt.
Wie dort bereits erwähnt, handelt es sich beim Färben des Films um eine Farbstoffannahme durch die Gelatine der Emulsionsschicht; das schwarze Silberbild bleibt unverändert.
Das Lösen der Farbstoffe
Man löst am besten die angegebenen Farbstoffmengen mit der Zitronensäure in etwa 10 l heißem Wasser und gießt die erkaltete Lösung durch ein feines Haarsieb oder durch einen Woll- oder Baumwollappen in das Färbegefäß, in welchem sich bereits die Hauptmenge des erforderlichen Wassers befindet.
Das Färben geschieht kalt mit den angegebenen Mengen Farbstoff und Zitronensäure. Je nach der Tiefe der gewünschten Nuance dauert das Färben 2-6 Minuten. Man gehe mit dem Film entweder in ganz trocknem oder in ganz feuchtem Zustand ein, bei halbtrocknem Film entstehen leicht ungleiche Färbungen. Nach dem Färben wird kurz gespült und auf der Trommel getrocknet.”
(1925*): Agfa Kine-Handbuch. Berlin: Actien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation, Teil I on pp. 80–81 and Teil III on p. 15.) (in German) [* year estimated]
“Das Lösen der Farbstoffe
Man löst am besten die angegebenen Farbstoffmengen mit der Zitronensäure in etwa 10 1 heißem Wasser und gießt die erkaltete Lösung durch ein feines Haarsieb oder durch einen Woll- oder Baumwollappen in das Färbegefäß, in welchem sich bereits die Hauptmenge des erforderlichen Wassers befindet.
Das Färben geschieht kalt mit den angegebenen Mengen Farbstoff und Zitronensäure. Je nach der Tiefe der gewünschten Nuance dauert das Färben 2-6 Minuten. Man gehe mit dem Film entweder in ganz trocknem oder in ganz feuchtem Zustand ein, bei halbtrocknem Film entstehen leicht ungleiche Färbungen. Nach dem Färben wird kurz gespült und auf der Trommel getrocknet.”
(1925*): Agfa Kine-Handbuch. Berlin: Actien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation, Teil III on p. 15.) (in German) [* year estimated]
The 1922 edition of the Eastman Kodak tinting and toning manual cautioned that toning and mordanting were not advised for films that were to be preserved for a long time, because a chemical alteration of the emulsion was considered inevitable and the results were impossible to forecast. Therefore it was suggested that high-quality reference prints in black and white be made before a valuable film was altered by toning or mordanting. And indeed, many of the original colored versions of films have already been lost.
By and large, film archives today are forced to preserve duplicates of early films in black and white, both for financial and practical reasons. Even without considering the huge cost of restoring a film in color, the fact remains that current technology has proved unable to avoid the progressive decay of color film stock, even under the best possible conditions of preservation.
When color restoration is attempted, film archives usually follow one of two possible strategies. The most common approach is to reproduce the original tints and tones on a modern color negative. The result can be relatively satisfying, but technicians agree that the reproduction obtained is not completely faithful to the original. The materials employed at the beginning of the century (the nitrate bases and dyes) have a unique appearance that cannot be reproduced. A second and more rudimentary strategy involves reproducing tinted scenes by printing on color stock from black-and-white negatives, using a color filter. This system has the obvious practical advantage of not requiring the printing and preservation of a master color negative. The result, however, is not accurate in its color reproduction, as the tints obtained are usually rather cold and too bright. Furthermore, this solution cannot be used at all when the original print has any kind of toning, stenciling, or mordanting.
A few film archives14 in the forefront of film restoration are trying to reproduce the actual techniques employed during the silent period, using machines and dyes that approximate as closely as possible those utilized in the early years of the century. The results obtained so far are tentative, and the work is extremely time-consuming. Given the current situation, with an overwhelming amount of nitrate film needing preservation and the relative lack of available time, money, and human resources, only a fraction of silent film will be restored according to these criteria. But there is little doubt that, following this direction of research, film restoration can acquire a scientific status comparable to the practices already established in other disciplines, such as painting and architectural restoration.
For those who work in the restoration of moving images, the importance of the original tinting and toning manuals is self-evident. Film archivists are often at a loss in knowing how a silent film looked at the time of its release. These books provide an extraordinary amount of primary evidence that is otherwise unavailable. All the volumes offer precise information about the chemical formulae used in order to prepare the dyes, the timing and methods of their use, the technical problems arising from inaccurate treatment of the film, and the possibilities of combining different coloring methods on the same positive print. Without these manuals, the ambitious enterprise of recreating the original techniques would be impossible.
Preservation and restoration are urgent tasks. Cellulose nitrate is a very unstable material whose estimated life barely reaches 100 years, according to the most recent scientific research. The phases in the process of decomposition are, sadly, well known in film archives. The cellulose base becomes brittle and shrinks so much that it cannot be projected anymore; the photographic emulsion fades; reels develop a layer of brown powder on the surface, then become so sticky that it becomes impossible even to rewind the film, and the image is lost. In the last stage of decay, nitrate film is reduced to a potentially explosive crystallized mass.
It is likely that within a few years, these tinting and toning manuals will be the only primary resource available for anyone trying to understand silent film’s aesthetics of color and how it was shaped by a technology that was extremely complex for such a young industry.
But the same effects of nitrate decomposition are beginning to be apparent on the individual frames of nitrate preserved within these manuals. Even under the best storage conditions, the nitrate frames in these books are bound to disappear eventually. Fortunately, the samples of films contained in the Eastman Kodak and Pathé manuals have barely reached an early stage of decomposition. Most of their original beauty is still intact. If it is not possible to guarantee their existence for an indefinite future, we can at least undertake an accurate study and reproduce some of their characteristics. This is a scientific challenge and an ethical issue that involves the expertise and commitment of librarians and film archivists alike.
14 For example, the Ceskoslovensky Filmovy Ustav in Prague and the Cineteca Comunale di Bologna. Some of the foremost specialists in film restoration have discussed similar issues at the first school for film restoration ever established on a permanent basis in Bologna, under the auspices of the Cineteca Comunale di Bologna. See also Ray Edmondson, “Towards a Philosophy of Film Archiving,” FIAF Bulletin 41-42 (1991), 6-7.”
(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. 27-30.)
“Digital restoration and digital Desmet
A tinted or toned original may be scanned to make an RGB colour file, and this can be colour corrected and graded (timed) using a conventional digital colour controller. The results are rarely satisfactory, as the best that can be achieved is a near colour match to the original. However, stains and unevenness caused by storage, fading, and projector lights are all recorded; many dyes are highly saturated and some are outside range of the recording system. Scanning photographic duplicates made via a colour internegative system never achieves a good match with the original. The best results have all resulted from monochrome scans made from the originals.
The term Digital Desmet comes from Thomas Christensen of the Danish Film Institute, who has experimented with digital techniques for tint and tone restorations. The Desmet again refers to the route that uses a monochrome neutral (i.e. black-and-white) master version made from either a monochrome negative or a tinted and toned original print, and either adds an overall uniform colour ‘tint’ to the digital film or replaces the monochrome image by a coloured image scale, a tone. In practice the digital effects workstations or software used to create the tint or tone effect on a monochrome neutral image use very different terminology for their various colouring options. Thomas Christensen has generally used the Discreet Inferno or Flame workstations at Digital Film Lab in Copenhagen for this, but even Photoshop has the facility to do both on a frame by frame basis (provided the operator can interpret the software or hardware manual and find the right tool – the terms tint and tone are often used in software menus as digital control terms but never mean what they do to a photographic technologist!).
The tint and tone formula database
In recent years the use of original dyes and recipes has provided a set of colour swatches for digital restorations to work toward (just as they became the aims for Desmetcolor ten years ago). The dye database printed here comprises a list of the dyes and associated recipes (formulations of the dye solutions and the process conditions) that were published during the silent era, together with some recipes that were published subsequently and purport to be original recipes of the time – for example, the Handschiegl colours given by Kelley in 1931, and the tint dyes for optical sound films found in Ryan. Many apparently detailed manuals have turned out to be copies or subsequent translations of either the Kodak or Agfa manuals, and I have omitted these.
Since the late 1990s I have distributed various versions as an Excel file to archives, laboratories, and digital post-houses that wished to either carry out restorations using original tint and tone techniques, or to create swatches of colours for matching by Desmetcolor or by Digital Desmet. These dyes can be obtained by using the Colour Index to identify the dye index CI number and a manufacturer. Many dye suppliers will find the current alternative just from being told the original name without being told the CI number, as they all have access to the Colour Index and use their own extensive synonym databases (synonyms are not listed in this database). The dye can be used to make a colour swatch on film as an aim for a restoration.
Swatches should be made on clear-based black-and-white print film (such as Eastman Fine Grain Release Positive 5302) with a conventional silver image. Comparative viewing should be carried out on a ‘colour matching illuminator’ mounted in a rewind table, or (for digital work using a colour grading monitor display or a digital projection system) on a compact Illuminant D colour matching illuminator, easily available from a professional photography supplier. In a few cases, dye manufacturers can be persuaded to provide a dyed item, usually wool, cotton or paper, as an example, and these have a value as Desmetcolor or digital reference and should be illuminated by Illuminant D.
Soho Images, London, has an extensive library of tints and tones representing some forty different tint and tone dyes from silent-era England (and a few other European countries), made under different process conditions of dilution, acid content, and time, all using a single standard print image for comparison. This swatch collection has been used for Desmetcolor and digital restorations as well as restorations using original tint and tone recipes within Soho Images, and has on occasion been loaned out to other laboratories and archives.
This database has been fifteen years in the making, and represents only what has been available to me, or interpretable by me. I owe many colleagues a debt for the discoveries in libraries and archives that they have passed on to me. However, the more we look, the more we find, and I expect that there is much more in languages I cannot translate, or easily have translated. The file version of this database, which is available from me, has some additional information that has been removed to enable this version to be published on paper; I have also added several more references to it since 2005, when it was last distributed.
I have to thank many colleagues for their activity in discovering texts, books, pamphlets and articles in libraries, archives, second hand bookshops and in one case the back of a dusty cupboard in a film laboratory, and sending them or copies to me, over the last fifteen years. The most important I need to thank is Bob Mabberley, of Soho Images, London, who discovered most recipes and tested out hundreds of formulae with modern dyes on a small scale and went on to tint and tone complete features using these original techniques. Others I need to thank, in no particular order, for scouring their resources, are Noel Desmet, of Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, Mark-Paul Meyer and Giovanna Fossati of Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, Mario Musumeci of Cineteca Nazionale, Rome, Martin Koerber of Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin, Nicola Mazzanti, then of Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, Reto Kromer of Reto.ch, Brian Pritchard, David Cleveland and many others I am sure I have missed.”
(Read, Paul (2009): Digital Restoration and Digital Desmet. In: Film History, 21.1, pp. 27, 28.)
“17.4 FILMS COLOURED BY TINTING
The aim of tinting is to give the film a general colour without modifying the silvered image. When a film coloured with this system is projected the image appears dark on a coloured background.
There were three systems used for tinting films:
17.4.1 Colouring the emulsion using a solution of an aniline or similar dye dissolved in water
These dyes could be applied to the print after processing and the film was immersed in the aniline dye solution for several minutes to achieve the right result. However, there was also a market in unexposed film that had already been dyed so that laboratories could use this film to make prints. The dyes used for this purpose had to be fast and inert to the subsequent processing solutions.
In France, Pathé used the same nine colours that were used for stencilling, probably using the same dyes as well – not surprising, as the chemical requirements for stencilling and tinting are much the same.
A list of 16 dyes used for early films in the USA for tinting, stencilling or application by brush are listed by R. Ryan (1977) (see Bibliography). The various publications of the 1920s in both the USA and Europe list more than 100 in all. Ryan also lists a further 10 dyes that could be used for tinting sound film prints without impairing the quality of the optical sound. These are listed in Table 17.2.
In practice, the emulsion was tinted by winding the film to be coloured onto a wooden frame or roller which was then immersed in a dye bath. The worker agitated the frame for about 3 minutes, then removed it from the bath when the desired colour was achieved and immersed it in a water wash for about another 2 minutes. The film was dried on the frame. Once they were dry the various scenes of the film were ready to be edited. Tinting reduces the visual contrast so that when the positives were made it was recommended that the contrast was increased to compensate. This does not always seem to be the case in practice.
One problem with this system was that the colours were never perfectly consistent because, depending on what level the section of film was on the wooden frame, and depending on the solution concentration and the time of treatment, the colour could be more or less intense. One instruction from the National Aniline and Chemicals Co. in the USA recommends a 50 US gallon tank (with concentrations as in Table 17.2 above) and suggests that between 20 000 and 40 000 feet of film could be dyed. Presumably the first racks of film came out more deeply dyed than the last!
It is recorded in the literature that even when tinting began to be done on continuous machines, the results were never perfectly uniform. Pathé was still using batch tinting in 1929, so perhaps continuous tinting hardly ever occurred. The main laboratories in the US seemed to have available about nine different colours at any one time. This technique can be used today.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Films Coloured by Tinting. In: Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer: Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 182-183.)
“ORIGINAL TINTING AND TONING TECHNIQUES AND THEIR ADAPTATION FOR THE RESTORATION OF ARCHIVE FILM
The images produced by using the original tinting and toning recipes are closer to the originals in their pristine condition than any reproduction on modern colour film. The process is very time-consuming and probably not as economic as the Desmet process for large quantities of restoration.
Tinting is the process of colouring the silver print image overall with a dye in the emulsion or the film base or by applying a coloured ‘lacquer’. Stencilling and hand colouring was the process of locally applying tint dyes to the silver image. Toning is the process of replacing the silver image with a coloured image material.
We have only seen reference to the lacquering process mentioned above in the Agfa technical process manual of about 1925 and in a list of dyes from a French dye manufacturer described as suitable for this process. This indicates the use of ‘lac’ dyes in a varnish-like solvent applied over the picture area between the perforations to create a tint. (Lac was a varnish made from the secretion of an insect in India.) This coloured stripe would be very easy to identify, but we have never seen an example nor did the Nederlands Filmmuseum survey of their own collection reveal any.
Hand coloured and stencilled films were produced by locally colouring a black and white positive print. Some of the prints were presumably made slightly light in density but the techniques and the dyes used to dye the film were the same as for tinting, except for the local application. A number of stencilled films were made on tinted film base or seem to have been tinted overall as well, usually pale yellow.
31.1.1 Technology of coloured nitrate film
By the time cinema commenced in 1896, photography was many decades old and a wide range of techniques for colouring the neutral silver images had been tried out on paper prints, and more importantly for cine film, on glass lantern slides.
Some of the earliest experiments used natural dyes such as logwood (reddish brown), madder (red), indigo (blue) and turmeric (yellow) to dye gelatine, paper or the silver images. By the time cinematography existed a number of proven, ready made, techniques using synthetic dyes already existed. There is surprisingly little early technical literature on the methods used to colour film and although it seems likely that handcolouring and stencils came before overall tinting and toning, which was a cheaper alternative, tinting lantern slides was described in several still manuals of the 1880s.
31.1.3 Synthetic dyes for tinting
The earliest photographic processes existed before the discovery (by mistake) of the first artificial dye (Mauveine) by Perkin in England in 1856. By 1896, man-made dyes were being discovered (or invented) at a tremendous rate. The early development was in England, later Germany, France and then the USA developed considerable numbers, and by 1910 the USA was the largest producer. These dyes originated from complex organic chemicals in coal, oil and tars and were not of just a single type. No doubt hundreds were tested on film (about 5500 dye chemicals of this type are known today), but many were quite unsuitable. Some dyes are inflammable, explosive or toxic, and some of the intermediate chemicals are equally dangerous (Perkin blew up two factories during his lifetime!). Others were found to cause rapid and permanent damage to film emulsions, resulting in the first use of the term ‘brittleness’ in photography (the emulsion cracked and peeled off the base). Frothing of the dye solution also seems to have been a common problem.
By about 1920 Eastman, Gevaert and Pathé were recommending specific dyes, but presumably some very unsuitable ones had been in use at earlier times. Most dyes were selected for their solubility in water, and many were originally used in dyeing wool, like gelatine, a protein. Most of the most suitable dyes have stood the test of time and are still available today.
All dyes fade (either decolorize, darken or change hue) in time and in certain conditions of temperature, humidity and UV irradiation, but surprisingly little information exists as to which dyes fade in which way, creating a major problem for those of us who wish to identify and re-use the original dyes for restoration.
These synthetic dyes useful in photography fall into two broad categories, ‘acid dyes’ generally available as a sodium salt which are mostly used for tinting (and ‘basic dyes’ that can be mordanted to the substrate are used for mordant dye toning: see below).
A typical tinting process consisted of soaking the black and white print film in an aqueous solution of dye (from 0.5 – 20g per litre) acidified with acetic acid. The film was then washed in water to remove excess dye.
Many of the English and American papers refer to ‘Cine’ Red, Green, Light Green, Blue and so on. This loose term presumably originated with Eastman Kodak, but other authors use the same terms often referring to other dyes.
31.2 THE ORIGINAL LABORATORY TECHNIQUES
Most of the American laboratories from the earliest times until about 1920 carried out their conventional processing in batches of 200 ft of film wound round wooden cylinders called ‘drums’ that just dipped in shallow trays of processing solution and were continuously rotated. Batch processing continued, at least in America, until about 1929. Drums, flat wooden ‘racks’ holding 200 ft, submerged in deep tanks, and ‘pin racks’, in which the film is wound in a concentric spiral, continued to be used. Presumably the same or similar equipment was used for both development and for tinting and toning.
Both Pathé and Gaumont experimented with ‘tube’ processors, some of which were continuous and these may have been used for tinting and toning. Continuous processors are mentioned in early patents and some literature, but it is difficult to be certain where and when these were first used extensively.
31.2.2 Positive cutting or ‘Assembly’
Until about 1930 it is believed that many, or most, films were finally assembled as positives. In colloquial laboratory parlance they were ‘pos cut’ and not cut as negatives, or ‘neg cut’. In effect, short single scenes were made up into small rolls which were then printed in one printer pass for each roll onto lengths of print stock. The resulting short lengths of print were then ‘pos cut’ to make the final print. Multiple copies were made by multiple positive cutting. Today, this would seem incredible and although literature of the time occasionally describes this, it is sometimes difficult for a modern film technician to accept.
Certainly not all films were treated this way and the British Pathé collection, just as an example, contains newsreels and magazine programmes, like Eve’s Film Review (1918-1928 approx.), in which each short story was a series of joined negatives, just like a modern cut negative. Presumably these programmes were never intended to be coloured. Some films (e.g. Blood and Sand and Cabiria) were released with the same colour effect throughout, so these could have been ‘neg cut’, but few processors could process continuously until the 1930s. Undoubtedly almost all tinted and all toned material was ‘pos cut’.
An interesting example which was not entirely ‘pos cut’ is a section of ‘Bachanale‘ (1916?) in the Nederlands Filmmuseum which has several ‘fast cut’ tinted sections where the colour changes at intervals throughout a scene. The colour sections are short and might correspond to a segment of a film rack about 40 cm or so in diameter. Different segments were dipped in different tinting solutions.
31.2.3 Pre-tinted film base
All tinted film was made by dipping the finished print into an aqueous solution of dye (sometimes called ‘post-tinting’), until about 1918, when ‘pre-tinted’ base became available.
Pre-tinted film was sold until about 1930, and it might be expected that pre-tinted film very quickly replaced ‘post-tinting’. However, an American laboratory textbook of 1927 and a French manual of 1926 both imply that laboratories at that time still tinted much of their own prints as a routine.
Pre-tinted base is more uniform than ‘post-tinting’, although not universally, and can be separated from post-tinting by scratching the emulsion off in an area outside the frame. If the film is pre-tinted, i.e. the base material dyed, or a layer of tinted material on the back of the film, the colour will not change. If the film is post-tinted the clear base shows through the scratch. As an example, The Pleasure Garden (1925) is tinted throughout with nine colours. Probably two are pre-tints and six are post-tints. One strong blue tint dye exists as both pre-tint and post-tint (probably Patent Blue), as if the laboratory ran out of pre-tinted base during production! The ‘reel number’ leaders and the ‘end of reel number’ tails are also also tinted.
In the catalogue of the chemical supply company Société Anonyme des Matières Colorant & Produits Chimiques de St Denis, France, apart from a list of dyes for tinting gelatine, there is also a list of dyes suitable for dyeing cellulose nitrate film base.
The paper by Lloyd Jones on the Eastman Kodak product Sonochrome lists all the 17 pre-tinted bases available in 1929 for printing sound prints. Some of the previous tint dyes had significant densities in the infrared and reduced the signal to noise ratio of optical sound tracks.
31.2.5 Double effects
Double effects, such as the common Iron Blue tone and pink or yellow tint, would be most conveniently produced by using pre-tinted base film and toning the print, but most Iron Tone Blue and pink or yellow tint we have seen have both been produced in the laboratory.
The Lodger (1927), uses Iron Tone Blue and amber tint for all the exterior scenes to produce a double effect that simulates a London ‘particular’ (a smog), in which the amber tint varies considerably in depth from scene to scene. Some film is pre-tinted, and some post-tinted, in both cases on Kodak film. The intertitles are on a different stock, Pathé, probably negative or ‘process’ film, and these were all tinted in the laboratory to a denser and more orange colour.
31.3 ADAPTATION TO THE MODERN LABORATORY
Hand coloured and stencilled prints have generally been preserved on colour internegative, but much of the tinted and toned material has not been preserved in colour. Most early coloured film is preserved in archives as black and white duplicate negatives and prints with just a written record of the colours. The image has good archival permanence but there is no visual record of the colours, either as faded by time, or as originally seen. Most archives carry out some colour reproductions for display purposes but all are prints on modern colour print stocks. The Nederlands Filmmuseum has copied large amounts of coloured film using Eastman Colour Internegative film, and the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique has used the Desmetcolor method for many years.
The Lodger was restored by tinting and toning by Harold Brown at the National Film and Television Archive in 1984, and this was also the first film Soho Images restored by this technique.
31.3.1 Tinting and toning a modern black and white print
If the dyes and chemistry are the same as originally used in the first three decades of this century the results should be closer to the original than any other method:
The final B/W print is then tinted or toned using original chemistry.
When the original dye has faded it may be difficult to define original hue and saturation. Tone dyes are the image, and when these fade the image will be destroyed too, where there is no retained silver. This is particularly true of the metallic tones, especially the various green and blue iron tones, which darken and desaturate. Any negative made from a faded tone will show a loss of detail and may become almost ‘posterized’, giving the effect of a reduction in tonal range to just a few flat tones. The resulting negative will carry only the detail left in the print.
Some tone effects ‘decay’ in a manner that creates a locally reversed (sometimes erroneously called solarized) image, in which the high densities lose more density than low densities. Commonly associated with this is an irridescence on the image surface, which seems to be a redistribution of the remaining metallic silver. It has been considered that these reversal effects could have been intentional. In our experiments we found that some formulae for producing green metallic tones were prone to this effect, but that it was almost impossible to control. We are of the opinion that the effect was never intended, may have been retained from sense of serendipity, and some may well date from the original print production, although we cannot be sure.
We do not know a method of preparing a conventional image from a partially reversed print such as this other than by digital restoration.
Many tint dyes, especially those that seem to have been used at high concentrations, appear to have ‘precipitated’ or ‘laked’ in the print emulsion to create a cloudy overall effect, that does not effect the making of a good negative but that reduces the overall brightness and contrast of the original print. Any reproduction on a clear base print film will restore this transparency, presumably to that approaching the original image.
31.3.5 Using modern subtractive primaries
It was realized that because some of the techniques were difficult (or just messy!) many previous experimenters had departed from the original formulae and had substituted modern alternatives. One technique tried in the UK and in the USA (private correspondence) had been to use the Technicolor imbibition dyes, cyan, magenta and yellow, and mix them to match the colour of tinted film. Subtractive mixing of dyes cannot achieve the saturations of some single bright dyes.
31.3.6 Positive cutting
Most experimenters had rejected the entire concept of using the original techniques because it was felt that positive cutting resulted in an increased risk of break in projection.
31.4 SOURCES OF TECHNICAL DATA ON DYES
• The early Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers in the USA.
• The publications of the main film manufacturers, Eastman Kodak, and Pathé, demonstration sheets of Gevaert and Agfa, and there are a few 1920s books on film laboratory practice, see Bibliography.
• Catalogues and databases produced by modern manufacturers or factors of dye chemicals.
• Catalogues from dye suppliers of the period.
• Literature, registers and the Colour Index of the Society of Dyers and Colourists, Bradford, England.
• Industrial chemistry and engineering journals of the period.
At first sight the film manufacturers’ books and data sheets would seem to be the best source, but these contain very little practical information. Literature earlier than 1920 is rare and there is therefore little about the dyes used prior to this period. The practical data is often contradictory or just anecdotal, and it was clear that the laboratories must have developed their own local approaches and acquired techniques that may never have been written down, until a few manufacturers’ published recommended dyes and recipes.
31.5 IDENTIFYING THE PROCESS AND DYE
Ideally the objective should be:
• to identify the process and if possible the original dye or dyes used;
• to use modern film but the original process and if possible the original dye to prepare the restoration.
Status A densitometry and trilinear plots can demonstrate whether trials are successful in producing visual matches. This technique is used in the Quo Vadis case study.
Some dyes, Iron Blue, Amaranth, Rhodamine B for example, are unmistakable. Others, especially the plethora of yellows, ambers and oranges, are a minefield. Surprisingly, however, many of the original dyes are available today, some under synonyms. Acetate- and Estar-based film seem to behave identically, but Agfa print film (now not available) required higher tint dye concentrations than Eastman 5302 to produce the same effect.
31.6 SYNONYMS AND MODERN DYES
A primary source of data is the Colour Index, a register of worldwide dyes and dye manufacturers, produced by the Society of Dyers and Colourists of Bradford, UK. The first Index was 1926 and all the dyes described in the literature listed in our references are shown with the registering company, the manufacturer. However, such information is not always useful, since many dyes exist in different forms, fabricated in different ways to slightly differing ‘recipes’. Since synthetic dyes are rarely purer than 80%, the rest being the originating chemicals, or their impurities, the colours vary a little. Croceine or Direct Blue are single unique chemical structures but exist in numerous formulations of purity and additional dye content. Furthermore, nothing prevents a manufacturer registering a name of his own, and this process of renaming has been going on for 100 years or more.
These problems have beset the dyeing industry for generations, and dye manufacturers and factors have generated databases to find synonyms. (Dye chemists do not like using the term synonym because the different names do correspond to slightly different products that include the same basic dye chemical.)
Nevertheless, the best method of locating a dye is to ask a manufacturer to look for the name in his synonym list. This may find the original dye under its modern name. One dye regularly used for blue tinting in the 1920s was Direct Blue and this exists in one database with 84 different ‘synonyms’ including Chicago Sky Blue, the name under which the dye can be purchased today.
31.7 DUPLICATE NEGATIVE AND PRINT PRODUCTION
If an existing print on Estar is not available there is a choice as to which route a laboratory should take to reach the positive cutting procedure.
1. A duplicate negative made from an original is made overlength at the colour changes by ‘pulling back’ the nitrate original print in the printer to achieve a few frames extra. The advantage of this method is that the duplicate negative produced is in one length and can be printed on a production rotary contact printer in one pass. The disadvantage is the risk of damage to the original during the ‘pulling back’.
2. A duplicate negative is made in one pass and then printed with ‘pull backs’ during the print production process. This makes the initial duplicate negative printing easier, especially if it is wet gate. It slows down the final printing.
3. A duplicate made in one pass can be used to make two prints. This enables each colour section to be cut from alternating prints to achieve the overrun. This method is probably good for fast cut colour changes, and for occasions when time is short (and the client will pay for the extra print).
Tests can be first carried out in dishes or beakers with short film lengths, or an aerial film processor for 30m (like the Doran Processor), or even a 1.7m 35mm spiral reel. Eventually the final processing can be done in any large spiral processor (there are several that can handle 30m of film). A small scale processor used for microfilm, fluorography or for any simple 35mm processor can be modified.
There are hundreds of recipes and hundred of test examples using a wide range of dyes and techniques needed to prepare an operational process, and anyone who tries will find that there was considerably more to both tinting and toning than just following a 1925 recipe. Detailed records kept with the examples must be kept as a reference collection to refer back to select, identify or research into the images produced.
Tinting is relatively straightforward, the depth of tone only dependent on solution concentrations, acid concentration, tint time, washing time, temperatures and agitation! Toning is a little more problematic.
31.9 SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES
31.9.1 Copper Red toning
Tests using the Eastman formulae show that the copper toning process does considerable damage to the film emulsion layer resulting in a blistered surface probably caused by excessive softening. Special hardening solutions using tannin are in some literature. However, some literature replaces copper toning by a form of uranium toning which produced a similar image colour, and eventually by mordant dye toning. It seems likely that early nitrate films suffered the same problems modern film stocks and that this was why other toning methods replaced it.
31.9.2 Uranium red-brown toning
Uranyl nitrate, like all uranium salts, is now very difficult to obtain. It is costly at £10 per gram, available from a few specialized sources and subject to quite onerous Health and Safety legislation (in the UK), even though as an ‘unsealed radioactive source’ its radioactivity is insignificant. It is also extremely toxic. In the 1920s uranium was not only a common toner but was also the basis of a very common mordant used as the starting point for a wide range of dye toned colours. Reid (1917) suggests that mordant dye toning could and should replace both copper and uranium because of toxicity and emulsion damage. As far as is known no one has used uranyl nitrate recently for a modern restoration, since all the mordant dye procedures can be carried out using potassium ferricyanide which yields silver ferricyanide as the mordant image, and a similar result.
31.9.3 ‘Sulphide’ or sepia toning
Sepia was a common toner for paper prints until the 1950s and the image on paper varies from pale to dark red-brown. It was produced by bleaching the silver image to an insoluble halide salt and ‘redeveloping’ in sodium sulphide solution to silver sulphide which is red-brown but dense and opaque. When the process is carried out on a normal motion picture print the visual result is a ‘cold’ greenish black. If a very thin print was used a ‘warm’ tone not unlike copper toning was produced. This is extremely difficult to repeat and a modern low density print does not become as brown as the literature suggests. This may be due to differences in the modern print stock.
Sodium sulphide is an unpleasant and potentially dangerous chemical to use and needs good extraction and atmosphere testing. Mordant dye toning procedures seem to be the best alternatives today, and some original ‘recipes’ use a mixture of Iron Tone Blue and uranium ferrocyanide to produce a sepia, suggesting that the problems experienced today were present then.
31.9.4 The toning process
The earliest photographic toning processes used many process stages: wetting, bleaching, rinse, toner, wash, sometimes clearing bath and then a final wash. We chose to try first the shortest later processes. Even these can be quite lengthy – the so-called ‘one-step iron-tone blue process’ of Eastman (1928) was still wetting, bleach-tone, rinse, fix, wash. Mordant dye toning was almost always two-solution – a mordant-bleach, rinse and dye bath.
31.10 FINAL ASSEMBLY
This process is more labour-intensive than almost any other laboratory technique.
After colouring, the positive print may be cut together using a tape or cement splice, or in the case of polyester-based film, a so-called butt-welded join is possible which fits in the inter-frame line at each colour change. Every print has to be produced in this way. The procedure has all the disadvantages that any film of that period had – it has numerous joins, and the risk of a break, if the film is not on polyester base, is higher.
So called ‘eight perf’ 35mm tape covers two frames completely, one on each side of the join, and even the most experienced viewers are unaware of the tape during projection. However, tape joins deteriorate in time and the adhesive spreads to coat adjacent film coils in a very unpleasant manner.
31.10.1 A practical method of making a tinted and toned restoration
Step 1. Two black and white prints are made.
Step 2. A record of the colours required is made listing the colour and the scene length.
Step 3. A new list is compiled showing the scenes of the same colour grouped together in series, each of length not longer than the longest length it is possible to tint at one time. An Excel program can be written to handle this decision process. Procedure is improved by ensuring that the scenes are in sequence in the small rolls when the scenes are ‘head out’. This should be part of the Excel program plan.
Step 4. The film scenes from alternating prints of the same roll are cut and joined to make common colour sections, but with four to six frame ‘handles’ at start and end of each colour change, discarding the film between the handles. A two-reel vertical winder, with or without a synchronizer, is useful. The films are joined together with waterproof tape. Good records are essential. A printout from the Excel file should be used to provide the cut list, and the process should start from the end of each roll. At the end of this process there will be a collection of rolls each numbered and annotated with their colour requirement, head out.
Step 5. The film is then tinted or toned and dried, and wound up on separate well documented rolls, head out.
Step 6. Assembly is carried out by selecting the first scene from its roll, followed by the second and using a polyester joiner to join the positive film sections, removing and discarding the ‘handles’. If the Excel list is well designed there need be no searching for scenes within any roll, as the next scene required will always be at the head of one of the rolls.
31.11 USING DUPLICATE NEGATIVES FOR OTHER RESTORATION
If a repeat restoration is never to be needed the over-run and pull-back frames can be removed to yield a normal duplicate negative (to print a black and white or a Desmetcolor print). Alternatively a normal black and white or Desmetcolor print can be made from the duplicate negative by direct printing, and the extra frames cut out of the resulting print.
If the print is on Estar base and welded butt joins used, there will be no increased risk of film breaks.
31.12 PASTEL TINTS
There are in some archive prints a range of apparent base colours or emulsion tints that are almost subliminal even when viewed over a lightbox and may be almost unseen on projection. These were first noticed by Noel Desmet of the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. There is no doubt of their existence, and the colours range from yellow to pink and sometimes green.
A few explainations for these faint tints are:
• That the original tint dyes have faded so much that the effect on projection has been lost.
• That they represent the last film processed in a progressively weak batch process and are therefore laboratory errors!
• That the base nitrate material has discoloured in time – this seems to be accepted by some technicians, but the range of hues is considerable.
• That the effect was intentionally almost subliminal – it is known that general colour fatigue can accentuate a colour change effect at a scene change.
None of the original papers of the period mention these pale tints.
31.13 PROCESS CONTROL
It is possible to establish a process monitoring system. No such system ever existed in the past, as far as is known, but as modern laboratory technicians we felt vulnerable without knowing how consistent our results are. A standard LAD print on black and white film stock can be used as the control image, the density of the LAD step to Status A measured and plotted as a trilinear display.
31.14 IDENTIFYING FADED DYES
It is possible to identify the original dye in some cases, to the extent that the original archive film can be measured and an attempt made to match its effect to a tested recipe or dye. With tints this works reasonably well and it is possible to identify whether the reproduction dye matches the original. The major problem exists with many metallic tones, which are relatively unstable dyes. Prussian Blue and the similar ferrocyanide iron tone colours such as the grass and olive green tones all darken and desaturate with time to become more neutral and more dense and also change colour to become more blue.
Discolour in UV projector light
Darken – may become redder/less yellow
Discolour with time to colourless?
No data – and difficult to recognize
Non-destructive testing is as yet untried as a means to identify many of these tones, although it does become possible to recognize certain effects. Simple destructive testing is mostly impractical or (although actually quite easy) because of the relatively large amounts of film needed to be certain. About two to five frames of 35 mm is needed for conventional inorganic ‘Group analysis’. This is excellent for identifying the metal but because some mordant tone processes used uranium or copper ferrocyanides as the mordant for basic dye toning, the results need to be interpreted with care.
31.15 BETTER AIMS FOR DESMETCOLOR
The Desmetcolor process will always be less costly than restoration by the original tinting and toning, and will clearly be used for much routine work.
Using original recipes for tinting and toning produces images that can be used as master aim points for the Desmet system. However, we are now almost certain that some of the red dyes (e.g. Croceine and Amaranth and may be green tones such as Malachite) are outside the saturation achievable by mixing cyan, magenta and yellow in a subtractive colour print film.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Original Tinting and Toning Techniques and their Adaptation for the Restoration of Archive Film. In: Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer: Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 271-280.)
“17.15 USING THE ORIGINAL TINTING OR TONING TECHNIQUE ON MODERN PRINT STOCK
Finally, a film can be reproduced in exactly the same chemical manner that was used for the original tinting and toning. A film produced in the mid 1920s might have from three to nine different colours or colour combinations (and a maximum of 18 has been recorded).
Reproducing a film by tinting or toning in the original manner requires that the positive print be broken down into sections and each section treated separately. After tinting and toning the film is then reassembled. This is all perfectly practical but as far as the authors are aware has never been done to a long feature film since the processes ceased to be used commercially.
Most archives and some laboratories have experimented with tinting and toning using the old methods and new black and white print stocks. The results are often dramatic and tend to demonstrate that some of the colours seen in the cinema in the first 30 years were far stronger and more dazzling than at first thought, but have faded considerably. As a result of these experiments the following factors have been established:
1. Modern film stocks can still be used to carry out all the old techniques, although there is no way of being certain that the results are the same. Different manufacturers’ film stocks behave differently to some dye techniques, although almost the only black and white print film available is Kodak 5302, which is very close in emulsion design to the films of the 1920s and seems to behave in similar ways.
2. Copper toning modern film stocks is sometimes unsatisfactory as the emulsion is severely softened (exactly as described in some old manuals!).
3. Uranium toning, which was used extensively as a red-brown or orange-red tone after copper ceased to be used (and as a mordant for dye toning) is impractical today. Uranyl nitrate is prohibitively expensive (about £5 per gram) and safety concerns over its toxicity and minute radioactivity have made its use difficult.
4. Many of the old dyes are no longer available but some are. Some are impractical due to toxicity or inflammability, but enough are available to repeat many of the original tints and dye tones. Some dyes can still be made to special order. However, the dyes used always did vary in concentration (and to some extent hue) and this is still true today. All the old manuals recommended testing to see what concentration was needed, and this still holds true today.
5. Tinted and toned films and all early films were originally printed, processed, coloured and then the prints cut and joined to make the release prints. In modern parlance, they were ‘pos cut’ not ‘neg cut’. This requires that each scene be printed at least a frame longer than the final scene length as a frame was lost at each end in order to join it to the next. This requires specialized printing techniques today since all the prints and negatives available in archives are in a single roll and there is no extra frame available to be wasted. The only way out of this is to print each scene with extra frames at head and tail, or to make two prints of a film and use alternate scenes from each print for colouring.
Some tinting restoration has been done by hand brushing dyes onto the new copy, frame by frame, but this is costly, often uneven and very time-consuming. Spraying dyes from a modern spray or air brush may also be practical and will reproduce similar effects to tinting but may be unable to copy toning.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Using the Original Tinting or Toning Ttechnique on Modern Print Stock. In: Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer: Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 193-194.)
“Recording and reproducing the original tints and tones of Quo Vadis (1912): a technical case study1
32.1 MEASURING COLOUR
Soho Images tinting and toning service commences with an initial investigation into the original dyes used followed by a series of tests to establish which process to use for the restored print. Various methods of numerical evaluation were tried first by Nederlands Filmmuseum and by Soho Images as a means of recording the colour as found on the film, as a common technique for sharing data, as a method of identification, and as a control technique during the restoration. The method used to exchange data is illustrated by the tinting and toning of a print of Quo Vadis (1912), in spring 1997.
Colours are usually characterized by three components:
• Hue: the qualitative characteristic, i.e. hues of green, blue, orange, grey etc., principally related to the peak absorption wavelength.
• Saturation: characteristic dependent on degree of other wavelengths present in a colour, i.e. the amount of white light present.
• Brightness: the over-all total amount of light transmitted.
There are many methods of measuring colour, including:
• Matching against coloured standard patches, e.g. Munsell or a paint chart.
• Spectroscopy analyses colours by providing measurements across the wavelength range, or solely by the peak absorption wavelengths, but does not indicate the visual appearance.
• Comparators, such as the Lovibond, measure the sample against a range of colours by mixing primaries to find a visual match.
• The CIE method plots colour as a position on a colour space, easy to measure with modern equipment but difficult to equate with a visual appearance.
• Colour densitometry measures colours in terms of the relative proportions of three stimuli (R, G, B) to create a colour. The stimuli can be correlated to the human eye (e.g. Status V or A) or to a photographic film sensitivity (e.g. Status M). The trilinear display of the densities indicates colour by position on a three axis graph which demonstrates the hue and saturation but ignores brightness. This is one of the the most useful display techniques.
32.1.2 Nederlands Filmmuseum
The NFM had been investigating methods of measuring the colour of the original film. In the past, records of tint or tone colours by the archives were often very imprecise, and if the film was later destroyed or decayed beyond recall, the effect was not identifiable. A simple statement ‘blue’ could mean a ‘Cine Blue’ tint or an Iron Blue tone, and tints and tones were sometimes confused in the past. Double effects were often not noticed and restoration from this information is not easy.
It was felt that a numerical value for the colour would significantly improve recording and enable subsequent restoration, and if the data was reliable and precise might allow identification of at least some of the original dyes.
The NFM were advised to try one of the new breed of computer operated devices used principally in the graphics and printing industry. They installed a Colortron, a simple handheld spectrophotometer, comprising a small CD array, from the USA, interfaced to an Apple Mac and software designed to calculate a whole range of colour measurements from ‘ink-weight’ to the standard CIE tristimulus values. It can operate off any light source, normally an illuminated panel. The concept was attractive in that the CIE values generated could be plotted on the CIE diagram which indicates their colour within the visible range.
CIE plotted information is not very easy to interpret and many viewers find it difficult to associate a position on the colour space plot with a visual appearance.
The NFM Colortron could also display its results alternatively as Status A (see below) values, which enables the trilinear display to be used. This is a more ‘user-friendly’ display in which the visual colour is displayed and users soon learn to associate a position with a visual appearance. It is therefore very good for exchanging data.
However, it was found that the Status A values generated by the Colortron were incorrect, and did not match the standard Status A calibration system used as an international standard by Eastman Kodak, and this problem is still being investigated.
All the following data is therefore in the Status A format generated from Soho Images equipment.
32.1.3 Soho Images
Soho Images did not have Colortron equipment, but already used colour densitometry for process and printer control, measured on several different densitometers. The density measurement standard known as ‘Status A’ comprises three filters, red, green and blue, selected to correspond, in conjunction with the densitometer photocell, to produce values that indicate the visual appearance of the coloured transparent film sample.
The Colortron is not a particularly expensive unit but a modern Macbeth Densitometer for Status A is about £4000.
When R, G and B densities are plotted on a trilinear graph paper (not a technique normally used in photographic control) and this displays colour in a manner that is very similar to the way the human eye perceives. The brightness of the colour is cancelled out and only the colour and saturation is displayed, a measure of the character of the dye.
32.2 MEASURING THE COLOUR OF TINTED AND TONED FILM
With tinted film, readings were initially taken in the perforation area but it was found that this area was often damaged or more faded than the rest of the film, and gave inaccurate readings of the overall tint. However, since a tint is an overall colouring, anywhere on the image would give readings that would plot in the same position on a trilinear display, and cancel out the brightness.
Toned film has clear perforation areas, although this is not by any means always the case. Status A readings taken within the picture area vary in position on the trilinear display, since the image tone is proportional to the density of the original silver image. Choosing different areas of the print to measure produces a series of trilinear display positions that clearly indicate the hue as falling on one of the axes, but plots at different points radiating out from the centre. Any measurement will clearly define the hue.
32.2.3 Display of data
In Soho Images the trilinear display of density is used in two ways. The Status A readings and the trilinear display define the colour effect as it is today, and this provides a valuable record. The measurements help to identify a dye or ‘recipe’, and, once identified, to display both the identification and the restoration. This method was used by Soho Images to demonstrate the closeness of match between original dye and reproduction to the Nederlands Filmmuseum.
The trilinear display and/or the R, G, B readings is also used as a control technique. A few frames of a standard print on black and white film (Soho Images uses the Kodak LAD print of a girl’s head and grey steps) are cut onto the head of each roll of film prior to colouring. Taken off after colouring the print acts as a visual and a densitometric control for each colouring procedure. In the case of a feature film there may be 70-80 separate rolls of film to be coloured.
Poor correspondence with the aim agreed with the archive allows corrections to be made (it is a curious feature of tinting and some toning techniques that if the effect is too light it can be retinted, if too dark it can be washed out!).
32.3 IDENTIFYING THE COLOUR EFFECT
The number of dyes and formulae available to Soho Images are far less than the total of all the dyes and ‘recipes’ known to have been used. Some dyes are no longer available, but this is less than 20% of all those known to have been used. The majority of formulae no longer easily carried out today are the metallic toning procedures using uranium and vanadium. However, this leaves a considerable number of common procedures which can be reproduced, and so far we have yet to be certain that any tone we have seen before 1930 is definitely uranium or vanadium (uranium ferrocyanide was widely used on two-colour films in the 1930s).
Identification of a dye or colourant can be by one or more of the following, in decreasing order of precision:
1. Destructive testing of the dye to establish the chemical structure.
2. Characterization of the spectral absorption of the dye.
3. Identifying the visual colour match with a known existing dye.
4. Inspired guesswork (experience) from a knowledge of the most likely technique used at the time.
32.3.1 Destructive testing
This is beyond the financial capacity of the organizations involved for organic dyes as used for tinting and mordant dye toning, but quite practical for metallic tone colours.
Conventional inorganic qualitative analysis ‘by group’ is all that is needed to identify iron, uranium, copper, and vanadium, and inferring the presence of their ferrocyanides. This form of analysis can be done in small’ test tubes if enough sample film is used, or in micro equipment if only small pieces are used. About 1cm2 of film is needed as a minimum. The film is soaked in water to soften the gelatine, then the emulsion is removed with 3N NaOH solution, just enough to cover, taking about 2 hours. Heating is not usually required.
The resulting solution or dispersion, after removing the film base, is then filtered or decanted and the solution treated (very carefully) with an equal volume of 3N nitric acid. The resulting acid solution is then subjected to the usual inorganic group analyses for metal salts. In the case of Iron Tone Blue the metal identifies as iron alone. Many other colour tones key out as iron (from the ferrocyanide ion used as the bleach), and one other metal.
32.3.2 Spectral absorptions
We have some spectral absorption data on dye stuffs from as early as 1909, and the procedure for measuring these is usually a spectrophotometer, which is sometimes available in a film processing laboratory because it is used for process solution component analysis. Most spectrophotometers for quantitative analysis are very accurate, however are not easy to use for qualitative work where a plot of the density to different wavelengths is used. Peak wavelength absorption is useful and reasonably easy to measure. The dyes in a film sample should be extracted from the film otherwise base density, image density and mordants may all add to the measured values.
32.3.3 Visual matching
Visual matching by comparing the colour of the original effect with a modern process using an original formula is very imprecise by eye. The old tints often become cloudy, diffuse or slightly opaque with age (‘laking’) and some, Iron Tone Blue and perhaps other metallic tones, darken and desaturate with age. Only numerical values of density allows colour to be plotted on a trilinear display and ignores the overall density. Status A seems a reasonable method of making these comparisons.
Once seen and identified, many of these effects are recognizable again. The various blue iron tones vary with the formula and whether the film was ‘fixed’ out. Inevitably a degree of ‘I’ve seen that before’ enables us to make a test to prove that an effect was produced in a particular way. The mordant green of the last scene of Quo Vadis was recognized as Malachite Green before the test procedure proved it.
32.4 RESTORATION OF QUO VADIS (1912)
Quo Vadis (1912) was reconstructed as a Lumière funded programme, a joint venture between the Cineteca Italiano, Milan, the Nederlands Filmmuseum (NFM), Amsterdam, and the National Film and Television Archive, London.
Once reconstruction was complete, Haghefilm in Amsterdam made an optical duplicate internegative on Panchromatic Duplicate Negative film directly from the original prints which were tinted and toned throughout. The film was in a very poor condition, badly fragmented and brittle, so parts were already badly duplicated. The resulting duplicate negative was as good as could be expected from the state of the original film.
Some of the resulting duplicate negative material was several generations further from the original material than other sections and was considerably less satisfactory, appearing ‘dupy’. This term summarizes the overall visual appearance of low resolution, grainy high contrast images lacking in fine detail that characterizes multigeneration results.
An initial print was made by the Desmet method of double pass printing. Later the NFM made the decision to ask Soho Images to evaluate some fragments of the original tinted and toned material to see if reasonable information could be obtained sufficient to tint and tone a print using original formulae. The NFM sent Soho Images a fragment of each of the colour effects they recognized as different, together with the duplicate negative to prepare test prints and test effects.
32.4.2 First sight
We received a complete negative of the feature plus a short compilation roll consisting of a scene of each colour required. We also received a set of samples of the original tints and tones on nitrate stock. We were asked to produce a copy of the test roll, reproducing the tint and tone colours of the samples.
The set of sample frames showed 11 colour/colour combinations: 9 tints, 1 tone and 1 tint + tone. When measured on the Macbeth densitometer using Status A filters the density readings were as follows:
These colours are shown plotted on the trilinear chart (Figure 32.1).
32.4.3 Choice of correct tint
We produced a set of tinted and toned samples and reported to the NFM as follows:
• Blue/green tint? We have not found a single dye which gives a good match for this tint. Tests have shown that a mixture of Napthol Green and Patent Blue give an acceptable colour match. Both dyes are listed by Kodak in the early 1920s under the terms ‘Cine Green’ and ‘Cine Blue Green’. This effect concerned us as it was not easily recognizable and seemed not to be a simple tint.
• Green tint: Although the original is faded we found that Napthol Green gave a reasonable colour match.
• Yellow tint: A good match produced by Quinoline Yellow – ‘Cine Yellow’ (Kodak 1920s).
• Yellow/orange tint: A mixture of Quinoline Yellow and Crocein Scarlet (‘Cine Scarlet’. Kodak 1920s) produced a match for this tint.
• Light orange tint: A different mix of Quinoline Yellow and Crocein Scarlet matched this tint.
• Dark orange tint: A more concentrated solution of the Light Orange dye mix gave this tint.
• Red tint: A dye mixture of Quinoline Yellow and Amaranth (‘Cine Red’, Kodak 1920s) produced a reasonable match for this tint.
• Salmon tint: A weak mixture of Quinoline Yellow and Amaranth gave a good match for this tint.
• Salmon tint/blue tone: A stronger solution of the previous salmon dye was required to produce a similar density tint on this standard Iron Blue tone (Kodak. 1920s).
• Blue tone: The Eastman Kodak chemistry of the early 1920s has produced a bright blue tone. Because a predictable chemical reaction is used for this tone we can assume that the original material has faded from a much brighter colour.
Samples were sent to the Filmmuseum for evaluation. They replied favourably but asked for some minor changes, as follows:
• The green and light green tints needed to be combined and made slightly more blue/green. This was achieved by using a mixture of Napthol Green and Patent Blue.
• The red tint needed to be more red. This was achieved by using a single dye solution of Crocein Scarlet.
• The yellow/orange tint needed to be slightly more yellow to distinguish it more from the two other orange tints. Minor changes in the ratio of Quinoline Yellow and Crocein Scarlet produced a more acceptable tint.
32.4.4 Blue/green effect
Just prior to colouring the test roll we, at Soho Images, had further discussions regarding the ‘blue/green tint’ and decided that the overall appearance of the picture area resembled blue/green dye toning tests we had recently carried out (taken from Reid, 1916, and from an Agfa publication, probably of 1926). These tests were shown to the Filmmuseum who, in turn, asked us to proceed as we thought correct. We therefore changed the blue/green tint to a blue/green dye tone using Malachite Green. We achieved a good visible match with the original sample by not completely clearing the highlights by long washing.
32.4.5 Processing the test roll
There was less than 100 ft of each tint so we needed to process one spool for each colour. We had some initial density problems in transferring the process from the testing stage to the production stage but these were quickly resolved and a test roll produced.
When we projected the test roll it was apparent that the salmon tint on the Iron Blue tone did not have sufficient density, although we had matched the original sample (see Figure 32.1). We re-tinted the scene to a higher density and found it more acceptable. The completed test roll with 11 colour effects was returned to the Filmmuseum for their appraisal.
The Filmmuseum accepted our test roll with one change, i.e. that the light orange tint (2.1.5) did not show when projected with an xenon light source so they would prefer a darker orange tint, similar to the dark orange (2.1.6) for those scenes.
32.4.6 Processing the whole feature
We proceeded with colouring the whole feature; it required over 70 spools of film to complete the tinting and toning using our traditional procedures.
The completed print was despatched from Soho Images at the end of March 1997.
32.5 IN CONCLUSION
The process of identification of tint and tone effects will increase with experience but principally by carrying out all the formulae in the original papers, keeping samples and measuring them (to Status A).
Status A and trilinear plotting is a fast practical procedure for archives and laboratories that enables them to exchange precise information (whether for restoration by tint and tone or by Desmetcolor). If the Colortron can be used this will be a cheaper alternative to a Status filter densitometer.
The CIE display method is good in principle but even in the hands of experienced technicians is difficult to interpret in terms of visual colours.
Some form of colour measurement is necessary since old film tints and tones change in transparency as they age, even if the colours do not greatly alter.
Some measure of guesswork followed by practical testing is necessary to define some of the iron and other metallic blue tones. They are immediately recognizable, have almost always darkened with time but vary in formula and therefore in original appearance.
1. Parts of this chapter are based on a Soho Images report to the Nederlands Filmmuseum.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Recording and Reproducing the Original Tints and Tones of Quo Vadis (1912): A Technical Case Study. In: Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer: Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 281-286.)
“The Desmet method for restoring tinted and toned films
33.1 EARLY COLOURED FILM RESTORATIONS
Restoration of coloured monochrome films was, until the 1960s, 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. During the 1960s, and up to today, a colour internegative made on the current Eastman Colour Internegative film was, and still is, the most frequent means of copying the coloured images. The earliest attempts were usually poor and of too high a contrast but today a closer visual match to the archive original can be achieved. Some laboratories use camera negative films for some purposes, especially for stencilled prints, for the more faithful rendition of pastel colours, especially reds and pinks. The resulting colour print represents the colours left in the film today after whatever fading has occurred, and for many years archivists have had reservations about recording these images in their faded state, rather than seeking to reproduce the pristine image.
In many cases the original print is too high in contrast to be printed onto Colour Internegative without some reduction of contrast by ‘flashing’. The technique used has become a standard for the reduction of contrast.
The limitations of Colour Internegative are therefore as follows:
1. Fixed contrast, and only alterable by flashing, within certain limits.
2. The image recorded is a record of the present faded condition, rather than a restoration of the pristine print.
3. Subtractive dyes are restricted in the saturations achievable, some of the old tint and tone dyes are outside the range.
4. Colour Internegative is a costly film stock.
5. Colour films have less archival permanence than a black and white record.
33.2 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 internegative is really the only photographic method possible, producing a copy of the original in its probably faded state. Only digital restoration can provide better restorations.
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.
33.3 DUPLICATION OF TINTED AND TONED FILMS
Other coloured films are less discrete in their colour and either the entire frame is suffused with one colour (tinting), or the image is 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.
1. Copying the original onto Eastman Colour Internegative, and the resulting colour negative is printed onto a modern colour print stock.
2. Digital film-tape-film transfer, so far largely untried.
3. Using the original tinting or toning technique on modern print stock.
4. Printing a black and white duplicate negative onto colour print stock.
The single pass method is unfortunately still widely used, but this chapter describes the double pass method, which is capable of a wide range of effects.
33.4 SINGLE PASS PRINTING
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 ‘single pass’ 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. The negative can be graded visually using a colour analyser (Debrie, Filmlab Colour Master, or Hazeltine) without difficulty.
33.5 DOUBLE PASS OR ‘DESMETCOLOR’
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, without the cost of using a colour intermediate film. It is not intended that Desmetcolor be used to precisely match the colours of a particular print. The method provides an extensive palette from which to select colours. This is particularly useful in those cases where only a duplicate negative is still in existence, and when notes had been kept of the colours of the original nitrate print before it had been destroyed. Noel 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. Although the colours were not intended to specifically yield a match with the originals, if enough trial and error time is spent, quite close matches are possible. The overall dramatic effect is probably very close to that of the original. A number of laboratories use this method today.
Working independently, Dominic Case in Australia has used a similar system but making the monochrome duplicate negative on Eastman Colour Internegative (SMPTE Journal, 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 and make grading and analysing reasonably straightforward. 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, and the Desmetcolor is considerably lower in cost.
33.6 THE DESMETCOLOR PROCESS
Noel Desmet commenced his work to find an alternative procedure to using a modern colour negative partly to reduce the cost of colour internegative and also to restore early coloured films that had faded. Colour negatives could only copy the existing faded result.
The procedure (illustrated in the colour plates section) is as follows:
33.6.1 Making a duplicate negative
Starting with an original tinted, toned or combination nitrate print a black and white negative is produced on a panchromatic emulsion such as Eastman Fine Grain Duplicating Panchromatic Negative Film 5234 set up to achieve a contrast (gamma) of about 0.50. This gamma seems to be a good starting point but a higher contrast is preferred for some eventual colours.
33.6.2 Selecting the colours for tone or tint
A series of colour tests are made by printing a piece of film base of the material used for the negative onto a colour print film (such as Eastman Colour Print) at various printer light settings on a rotary contact additive lamphouse printer (such as a Bell & Howell Model C). A good method of establishing a starting point for the range of colours is to put the test film base onto a video colour analyser and vary the exposure settings to see the effect of a flashing exposure.
It will be found that many of the best effects are achieved by setting one printer light valve to zero (i.e. using the zero close facility) and varying the other two relative to each other. Strong colours can be obtained and they are quite repeatable. The colours selected can be selected for two different purposes – to create a coloured image simulating a toned image, and to create an overall tint that simulates the tint colours.
33.6.3 Printing the duplicate negative: toned prints only
In the same rotary printer the duplicate negative is printed onto the colour print film at a setting of the light valves needed to produce the tone colour required. Generally little or no scene-to-scene grading is required if the original was a graded print and the duplicate negative procedure was well set up and was exposed at a single light setting (i.e. was a one-light duplicate). Some trial and error may be needed to achieve this or the negative can be scanned in a video analyser. If scene-to-scene grading is required then the ratio of the R, G and B setting must remain the same throughout the sequence. Even so, grading by this technique is not advised as the colour does change slightly from scene to scene.
On processing, the image will be a monochrome of the colour selected with the unexposed areas remaining white.
33.6.4 Tinted prints
On the same rotary printer the black and white duplicate negative is printed to a neutral grey image on colour print film (this, too, can be established on a video analyser) in the first pass through the printer. The print film is then passed back through the printer (i.e. a second pass) and exposed to an overall flash exposure (in much the same way as preflashing to reduce contrast) at printer light valve settings chosen for the colour of the tint produced.
On processing, the image will be monochrome black and white suffused with a tint over the entire frame area. The black image areas will be black and the unexposed highlight areas coloured.
33.6.5 Tinted and toned combinations
Starting from the black and white duplicate negative a colour image is printed in one pass through the printer onto colour print film, followed by a second pass of the print film alone to produce the tint colour background. The effects of this combination effect are not entirely predictable but certainly do give subtle results very similar to the early combination prints.
Both the Desmet and the Case methods are capable of refinement for production purposes to produce multiple prints or to introduce conventional intertitles by operating the two passes as an A&B roll printing system. Nor is it difficult to produce different language versions, or different intertitle versions in just the two passes needed. The duplicate negative constitutes the A roll and is exposed to generate the neutral or coloured (toned) image. Black spacing is cut in where any titles are to be printed from the B roll. Another roll of clear film (with intertitles cut in if necessary) would constitute the B roll and be used to create the background tints, with the intertitles inserted at the A roll black spacing positions.
If different language intertitle versions are needed a new B roll can be prepared. With a modern printer using FCC or punchtape the A roll could be exposed in one direction and the B roll in the reverse direction, avoiding any rewinding of stock in the dark, with its associated risks.
The benefits of this procedure are in cost, choice of effect and the easily achieved control of contrast. The effort required is similar to that of a fully graded colour print from a colour negative printed ‘A&B’ and the pricing of the service by a laboratory is similar. As more investigation is carried out into the original dyes it seems that it may be possible to estimate the degree of fading that has occurred and this method provides the only mechanism for reproducing different colours from the originals and therefore correcting for fading.
Desmetcolor has drawbacks, not least because colour film is still used for the print. However, the resulting image may be no less stable than the original dyes.
One aspect also being investigated is the ability of Desmetcolor to produce the strong saturated colours of some of the dyes used in the early years of the cinema, but which have faded over the years. Noel Desmet has reported success in reproducing the colour of vivid ‘fixed’ Iron Blue as produced with the original chemistry. Soho Images have reported that some saturated red and green dyes used for tinting and toning may not be accurately reproduced. This is not surprising – cyan, magenta and yellow subtractive primaries are limited in the range of colours possible. Inevitably, due to these limitations of cyan, magenta and yellow as primaries, not all hues and saturations are going to be possible, but certainly more of the saturated colours are possible by Desmetcolor than by any other colour print film technique.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): The Desmet Method for Restoring Tinted and Toned Films. In: Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer: Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 287-290.)
“Tinting and toning (c. 1900-c. 30)
Applied colour process
Tinting and toning became the standard method of adding colour to black-and-white films in the silent era, to the extent that Paolo Cherchi Usai has suggested that as much as 85 per cent of the total production of silent films was either tinted, or toned, or both, based upon surviving nitrate copies.
Although they are routinely discussed together, tinting and toning were two different technical processes which could be applied in tandem or separately. The simpler of the two was tinting. Initially, tinting was done by applying coloured varnish to the print with a brush, but this was prone to streaking and so the process adapted into a system of immersing black-and-white positive film into a dye, which was absorbed by the gelatine in the emulsion and so gave a uniform colour. The colouring of tinting became standardised and was chosen to suit the scene in terms of the setting, action or general mood. Night-time scenes were commonly tinted blue, and yellow was used for day-time scenes or interiors. Fire scenes were tinted red. In 1912 the Belgian Gevaert company released a range of pre-tinted stock which was gradually adopted by the industry to become commonplace by the 1920s. Kodak responded to the coming of sound on film in the late 1920s and early 30s with Sonochrome, pre-coloured film stock designed for sound use.
Toning was much more complicated. While tinting effectively coloured the lighter areas of the frame since the colour was more visible in the lighter areas toning was a chemical process which coloured the darker areas. Toning involved the alteration or replacement of the silver salts which made up the image in a frame of nitrate film into or with another, coloured, metallic compound. Toning, therefore, did not provide a ‘wash’ of colour like tinting. It only affected the parts of the image where the silver was at its densest. White images would, therefore, remain pure white during the toning process. The main method of toning was to use one solution to convert the silver that forms the image into colourless silver salts, a process known as bleaching, and then a second solution that replaced those silver salts with another coloured metal compound, such as iron, which would produce a blue-green colour. In the latter half of the 1910s another method was developed using mordanting. After bleaching, the silver salts acted as a mordant to which a dye could attach itself. Mordanting allowed for organic colours to be used, broadening the range of available colours previously limited by the available metallic compounds such as iron, copper and uranium.
Tinting and toning was widely adopted around 1907, having been used from approximately 1900, and remained the standard until the mid-1920s. The reasons for their decline have not been fully established. A common belief is that tinting and toning affected the density of the soundtrack when sound films arrived. This, however, is challenged by the development of Sonochrome film, which was adopted by the industry but not to the same extent as pre-tinted stock. One of the problems with Sonochrome was that sound films were edited in a different way. Silent film release prints were assembled from tinted and toned sections, and were therefore full of joins. Sound films, on the other hand, were assembled in the negative stage and printed in such a way that a 1,000ft reel had no joins, so with Sonochrome it was largely necessary to have each 1,000ft reel the same colour, rather than made up of different-coloured sections, a limitation which defeated the point of tinting and toning. Other theories suggest that the introduction of sound added an element of realism to film with which the expressionist tinting and toning clashed, focusing attention away from non-natural colour and spurring the development of natural colour. Whatever the reasons, by the early 1930s tinting and toning had largely disappeared.
Coe, Brian, The History of Movie Photography (London: Ash & Grant, 1981), pp. 114, 116.
Read, Paul, ‘Unnatural Colour: An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies’, Film History vol. 21 no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-47.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London: BFI, 2000), pp. 21-43.”
(Brown, Simon (2012): Technical Appendix. In: Sarah Street: Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 259-287, on pp. 286-287.)
130. La teinture a pour but de donner au film une teinte générale sans que l’image argentique soit modifiée. A la projection d’un tel film, l’image apparaît en noir sur fond teinté.
Il y a deux méthodes de teinture, l’une qui consiste à teinter le support en appliquant sur ce dernier une sorte de vernis coloré; ce procédé autrefois employé a perdu tout son intérêt depuis la fabrication des films à support teinté.
La seconde méthode, d’ailleurs d’application facile, consiste à teinter la gélatine. Le film positif est traité dans une solution aqueuse de matières colorantes dites d’aniline.
Le procédé de teinture doit être tel qu’il communique bien uniformément sur toute la longueur du film l’exacte coloration cherchée.
Choix du colorant. — Pour D’autre part, un film , le colorant doit appartenir à la classe des colorants acides; un colorant acide se reconnaît de la façon suivante: si on trempe un papier buvard blanc dans sa solution, le liquide qui monte par capillarité est coloré. Si la zone ainsi humectée du papier était incolore, le colorant serait basique.
Un colorant doit encore, pour convenir à la teinture: Ne pas changer trop visiblement de coloration suivant sa dilution.
Ne pas attaquer la gélatine, ni la ramollir, ni au contraire la durcir au point de rendre le film cassant.
Ne pas s’éliminer trop vite au lavage.
Enfin, la coloration obtenue sur la gélatine doit être fixe, c’est-à-dire stable à la lumière et à la chaleur de l’arc électrique de projection.
Les formules de colorants ci-dessous réunissent toutes ces conditions.
Combinaison de colorants. — Dans le cas où des teintes différentes de celles obtenues par les neuf formules indiquées plus loin seraient désirées, il faudrait avoir recours à des mélanges de plusieurs colorants. Il faut s’assurer dans ce cas que ces colorants ne se détruisent pas, qu’ils s’épuisent de leur bain et qu’ils s’éliminent aussi lentement l’un que l’autre par lavage.
Pour faire l’essai de teintures comportant des colorants autres que ceux mentionnés plus loin, n’examiner les teintes qu’à la lumière habituelle de projection ou, au moins, à la lumière artificielle, l’éclairage du jour pouvant induire en erreur.
Choix des positifs à teinter. — Il ne faut pas teinter systématiquement tous les positifs. Seuls les positifs vigoureux peuvent être teintés avec avantage, la teinture atténuant plutôt leurs contrastes.
131. Préparation des teintures. — Les teintures sont préparées en faisant d’abord une solution concentrée du colorant ; le poids de colorant correspondant à la quantité de bain de teinture à préparer peut être d’abord dissous dans le 1/5 du volume total. On diluera pour l’emploi.
Par exemple, pour préparer 10 litres de bain de teinture, verser la dose de colorant dans 500 cc. d’eau bouillante, brasser la masse avec un agitateur de bois, maintenir 4 à 5 minutes à une douce ébullition, et compléter à deux litres avec de l’eau froide. Refroidi, ce bain sera filtré sur une flanelle ou sur un papier filtre.
Dilué 5 fois, pour faire 10 litres, il constituera le bain de teinture.
FORMULES DE TEINTURES
Teinture N° 1: Coloration bleue (Effet de nuit).
Le spécimen N° 49 est obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Teinture N° 2: Coloration jaune.
Le spécimen N° 50 est obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Remarque: Ce bain à des dilutions plus fortes donnerait des films comparables au spécimen N° 62.
Teinture N° 3: Coloration ambre.
Le spécimen N° 51 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Remarque: Si la dose de 70 grammes est réduite à 20 grammes, on obtient des films colorés ambre clair. C’est ce qui a été fait pour le spécimen N° 56.
Teinture N° 4: Coloration rouge feu.
Le spécimen N° 52 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Teinture N° 5: Coloration vert-bleu.
Le spécimen N° 53 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Teinture N° 6: Coloration vert lumière
Un film teinté avec ce bain donnerait un résultat très voisin du spécimen N° 63 qui est, lui, un film à support teinté.
Ou bien encore:
Teinture N° 7: Coloration rose.
Le spécimen N° 54 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Teinture N° 8: Coloration violette.
Le spécimen N° 55 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Teinture N° 9: Coloration orangé rose.
Le spécimen N° 57 a été obtenu dans le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
133. Détails des opérations de teintures. — Les formules précédentes sont établies pour l’obtention de teintures conformes à nos spécimens pour une durée d’immersion de trois minutes — le film sortant du lavage — et un rinçage consécutif de deux minutes.
Si la même teinture doit être obtenue en moins de trois minutes (machines à tubes), ces bains seront utilisés plus concentrés.
La teinture peut se faire en effet soit par immersion du châssis dans une cuve contenant un des bains précédents, soit par passage du film dans un tube, une ou deux minutes suivant la vitesse des machines.
La teinture du film sur châssis est assez délicate. Elle offre les mêmes inconvénients que le développement en cuves, plus exagérés encore et plus difficiles à éviter. Elle est plus facilement praticable en cuve horizontale. Ces cuves, en général, sont pourvues d’une monture permettant un mouvement d’oscillation. La teinture obtenue dans ce genre de cuves est uniforme.
Le lavage après teinture s’effectue en passant le châssis dans un bac d’eau, ou en faisant circuler le film dans un tube d’eau. La durée de traitement ou du lavage influe, bien entendu, sur l’intensité des teintes obtenues.
134. Entretien et conservation des bains de teinture.
Les bains de teinture servant de façon régulière ont besoin d’être renforcés. Dans les machines à tubes il est recommandé de laisser couler dans le bain, pendant son service, un mince filet de teinture, pour compenser l’entraînement du liquide coloré.
Dans la teinture en bac, jeter le bain chaque fois que la teinte du film devient trop terne.
Insuccès des teintures. — Inégalités de teintures:
Essorage insuffisant avant le séchage.
Atmosphère trop sèche au séchoir (Voir § 121, 122).”
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, pp. 123-128.) (in French)
Teinture N° 2: Coloration jaune.
Le spécimen N° 50 est obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Remarque: Ce bain à des dilutions plus fortes donnerait des films comparables au spécimen N° 62.
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, pp. 125. (in French)
Teinture N° 3: Coloration ambre.
Le spécimen N° 51 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Remarque: Si la dose de 70 grammes est réduite à 20 grammes, on obtient des films colorés ambre clair. C’est ce qui a été fait pour le spécimen N° 56.
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 125. (in French)
Teinture N° 4: Coloration rouge feu.
Le spécimen N° 52 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 126. (in French)
Teinture N° 5: Coloration vert-bleu.
Le spécimen N° 53 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 126. (in French)
Teinture N° 6: Coloration vert lumière
Un film teinté avec ce bain donnerait un résultat très voisin du spécimen N° 63 qui est, lui, un film à support teinté.
Ou bien encore:
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 126. (in French)
Teinture N° 7: Coloration rose.
Le spécimen N° 54 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
Teinture N° 8: Coloration violette.
Le spécimen N° 55 a été obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 127. (in French)
Teinture N° 9: Coloration orangé rose.
Le spécimen N° 57 a été obtenu dans le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 127. (in French)
Teinture N° 1: Coloration bleue (Effet de nuit).
Le spécimen N° 49 est obtenu avec le bain suivant:
Ou bien encore:
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 125. (in French)
153. Spécimens de films à support teinté Pathé (images argentiques).
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, p. 140. (in French)
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’. An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies. In: Film History, 21.1, pp. 31-37.)
“The simplest method: tinting
Tinting a positive film means applying a uniform colouring by placing it into a bath of dying solution, usually aniline based, diluted in water. The transparent portions of the film would therefore take up the colour of the solution, the black ones would be left untouched and the grey would take different variations according to their original tones. Tinting usually reduced contrast, which had to be adequately highlighted in the positive print to be coloured. A tinted film is always recognizable as it is coloured also in the area around perforations. Initially the tinting procedure was carried out with a brush which laid the colour on the emulsified film. Thus the operation was a sort of simplified process of hand-painting frame by frame: a single brush-stroke was sufficient and a whole scene would take the same colour. This first version of the tinting process is easy to recognise because the colours seem less regular. It is quite difficult to ascertain the exact date of introduction of this process although it could be set between 1902 and 1905.
It seems that the tinting technique did not have any forerunner in the field of image colouring as regards photography, prints or magic lantern slides, it can therefore be considered a unique cinematography technique. When the process moved from brush-strokes to dipping the film in the dyeing bath, the procedure called for the film to be mounted on a frame which turned inside vats, with a system of pipes assuring an even inflow of colour. The scenes coloured with different colours were spliced together only at the end of the colouring process, an operation which therefore entailed a high number of splices. There are examples of movies, in particular from the 1910’s onwards, where some passages from one colour to the other are obtained gradually without having to cut up the film. This operation certainly entailed an accurate manual supervision.
At the end of the twenties pre-tinted films were available on the market, that is films where the base was coloured before the emulsion was applied. During the teens and twenties several companies started supplying this type of films showing a perfectly even and lasting colouring despite the continuous exposure to the heat of projection lamps. But mostly the advantage of pre-tinted films was that they did not interfere with the sound track which at the end of twenties started to make its appearance. Kodak for example produced a range of pre-tinted films called Sonochrome in 1929. Despite the presence of these films and the fact that throughout the twenties it was very difficult to see a movie which was not at least partially coloured, in just a few years, from the introduction of sound, film colouring decreased rapidly to totally disappear soon after.”
(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. 124-125.)
“The combination of tinting and stencil colouring was quite common, while toning and stencilling was less frequent. In both instances stencil colouring was added at the end, after the film had been treated with the other systems. The most frequent combination of different methods was the one were toning and tinting were employed together. In this case the film was at first toned and then tinted, afterwards, unless pre-tinted films were used. In this case the toning was obviously carried out on an already-coloured film, thus avoiding the inconvenience of changing the hue of the toned colour during the tinting bath. A quite common combination was with blue toning and pink tinting, especially for scenes of dawn or sunset. There are also different combinations, as the ones which see blue toning together with yellow tinting, or yellow tinting with sepia toning.”
(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. 125-126.)
“Tinting and toning provide instead even colouring for the whole scene or shot and therefore they are to be considered monochromatic colouring systems.”
(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.)
“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”.”
(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. 128.)
“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.”
(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. 131.)
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.)
The Colours of the Film d’Arte Italiana
For some years, the Cineteca di Bologna and the Cinémathèque Française have been running a project for the restoration and preservation of the Film d’Arte Italiana collection (from here on the FAI) conserved in the French archive. Along with the evident importance of the discovery and restoration of this material for the history of Italian cinema of the 1910s, there is an added reason for interest.
The collection, in fact, gives us the possibility to study up close an homogenous body of films, produced over a relatively brief period of time, and all certainly processed in the same laboratory. The study of the original surviving elements (mostly camera negatives on nitrate base), that are accompanied – in some if not all cases – by the original screenplays and/or Pathé’s launch summaries (FAI was a branch of Pathé) preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France – Departement des Arts du Spectacle, allows us to cast a ray of light on a world still substantially unknown to us: that of the daily practice of the laboratory and the processing of film in the 1910s, in what was undoubtedly the most important productive structure in the panorama of European cinema of those years.
We have been able to examine the original camera negatives of the major part of the films preserved in the FAI holding, while for some only dupe positives, or positive prints produced by the Cinémathèque Française in “modern” times, remain to us.
The original negatives have come down to us as they were preserved by Pathé and as was the practice of the time, that is, unedited; each shot – tableau as defined in the screenplays – was processed (that is, printed on positive and then coloured) separately from the others. In some cases – rather rare in the films of the earliest years of the 1910s, and more frequent with the passage of the years when one notes a more complex editing and therefore a greater number of shots – a reel of negative can contain more shots relative to the same tableau (in which, for example, a detail or a close-up is inserted) or also relative to different tableaux which are however set in the same place and hence shot in sequence (as occurs in La justice de l’abime/La giustizia dell’abisso, shots 13 and 18). Obviously, those shots in which for some reasons the colouring changes in the course of the action are separated (as for example in De I’amour au deshonneur/Dall’amore al disonore, shots 7 and 7bis).
Each reel of negative is preceded by an “identification leader”, a length of transparent film (on which the emulsion has evidently been scratched away) on which are written in India ink the following data:
title of the film (usually written in full);
number (or numbers) of the tableau, given as an
Arabic numeral followed, if necessary, by “bis”,
“ter” or “quater”;
length of the tableau;
To this identification leader is added a “protection leader” of variable length made up of a section of original negative belonging to another film (alternate takes, presumably). Normally, on the first frame of the tableau is incised the number, at a dimension that practically takes up the whole frame; this is followed by a cross, again scratched on the emulsion, that indicates the frame that corresponds to the splice with the positive. At the end of the tableau the cross is repeated and only the protection leader is added. In the case in which another shot, intertitle or an insert (“projection” for the FAI screenplays) has to be inserted within the tableau, the point of insertion is indicated by one or two crosses incised on the emulsion. If a reel which unites more tableaux is being dealt with, at the end of the first one there is only the cross, and the second is preceded by the usual cross and only the number scratched on the frame; the “identification leader” is not repeated.
With regard to films meant to be coloured by stencil, the identification leaders are identical, except for the fact that the stencil colouring is not indicated in any way, that is, it has no identification code of its own. A further characteristic that allows the sure identification of negatives destined for stencilling, is the fact that the film shows a sort of “footage number”, a progressive numbering; a patient hand has in fact written on the frameline a progressive number every 25 frames that starts with the number 1 on the frameline of the first usable frame (that follows, that is, the splicing cross). This numbering was evidently used to allow a continuous check of the perfect synchronisation between the stencilling masks and the positives to be coloured even in the case of accidental breaking of one or the other. That this numbering identifies a film destined for stencilling is further proved by the fact that the numbering appears on Pathé or FAI positive prints coloured by stencil, and also by the Pathé catalogues, that define as “coloured with Pathécolor” those films in which the negatives in our possession are “numbered”.
It is necessary to raise the fact that there are at least two exceptions to what has been said so far. In fact, the negatives of Marco Visconti and La conjuration de Fiesco/La Congiura di Fieschi do not show the numbering on the frameline, neither are there indications regarding the colours on the “identification leader”. Given that both films are datable to December 1911, that the genre (historical drama) is typically meant for stencilling, and that the literature of the time does not indicate if one is dealing with stencilled titles, one can make two hypotheses.
One can obviously hypothesise that the colouring is not indicated for some reason in the identification leaders; the most likely would be a change during the course of the work (if, that is, it was decided to print them only in black and white), less likely would be that the identification of the colours was given over to another system, above all because other preceding films (such as La mort civile/La morte civile) already showed the “usual” colour indications.
The second hypothesis, which seems the most probable to us, is that the films may have been effectively destined to be coloured by stencil, but that Pathé had introduced the system of numbering on the frameline only after a date later than December 1911; we know for sure that all the other negatives destined to be stencilled that show numbering in our possession are datable between 1912 and 1914; it remains to be checked if other Pathé or FAI films coloured by stencil earlier than 1911 show frameline numbering.
A further problem that remains to be gone into is to establish the existing relationship between the indications for tinting and toning codes and the numbering for stencilling. In some cases the colour codes are completely different from those normally used, which would make one think of a type of toning and tinting destined to work with the stencilling, a practice that can be verified on some prints of the time (not only in Pathé productions, even without mentioning the extraordinary case of Rapsodia satanica), vice versa, in at least one case – Drame a Florence/Dramma a Firenze (1912) – the indicated colours are those used for normal non-stencil print; something – as that could make one think – but only as a hypothesis – of a double version, that is, of the possibility of the distribution of a stencil-coloured version or a “plain” tinted and toned version; or, maybe more likely, of a change in the use of the negatives; the film was at first destined to be stencilled, then, later it was decided that it was not adapted to the process, or that it was the case to produce a “cheaper” version just tinted and toned.
The production process
As can be shown from the data collected from the analysis of the material that we have, the system for the identification of each single length of negative – and consequently of the positive printed from it – is such to allow an easy and immediate identification not only of the original film, but also of the processing that that particular part of the film had to undergo.
Nothing (title, colouring, length of raw stock necessary for printing) in fact is left to chance or to information from other sources (written notes, for example); neither, on the other hand, was it possible to imagine that it could have been otherwise, considering the size of the Pathé labs, the complexity of the processing, the quantity of film processed at one time and the number of prints produced.
Thanks to this system, the printer could proceed autonomously already knowing beforehand if the shot he was about to print had to be tinted and toned later and he could consequently check the exposure (regarding this point, the literature of the time is rich in indications as to photographic quality – density and contrast – that a scene had to have according to the colouring it had to undergo). It was equally important for the film developer, who at that time developed using a rack, “at sight” (i.e. the operator evaluated the development process watching the film as it gradually developed), who could correct printing errors in such a way as to obtain a positive that was always correct for density and contrast in relation to the colouring.
Obviously, by saying that the system allowed an unequivocal identification of each short reel of negative (then positive) through the various processing phases (printing, developing, colouring, positives cutting), we do not want to give to laboratory practices of the early 1910s a continuity, consistency and regularity that they obviously could never have had, but it is evident that the variations in the colours can only be attributed to the differences and unevenness of the process (inconsistency of colouring agents, imprecision in development or printing) and certainly not to the casualness of the procedure. In other words, it is always possible that a specific colour is not even between one film and another or between prints of the same film, or even between one shot and another on the same film, but it does not seem at all probable (save the fact of a major human error which would be easily detectable and correctable) that a scene meant to be tinted blue could become yellow or green.
Reconstruction and colour
During the job of reconstruction and restoration of the FAI collection (undertaken by the Cineteca di Bologna and the Cinémathèque Française at the Bologna laboratory of L’lmmagine Ritrovata) the problem of the identification of the colour code was posed for us. Without this, it was impossible to give back to the FAI films their original colours.
Excluding from the start the attempt to purchase coloured positives of the period, since no cases were given of positive or negative copies with the colour code of the films at our disposition, it only remained to try and propose a hypothesis of inductive and “investigative” identification.
An analysis of the elements at our disposal was, therefore, embarked upon, with the aim of producing a database of the codes placed in relation to the frames to which they referred and of researching the information concerning the practice of colouring of the period through the technical literature of the time.
An initial analysis of the films produced a list of colour codes that correspond, clearly to those applied, to the period 1910-1917 for/the FAI films in the Pathé Frères laboratories. Some of the codes that we list below appear very frequently while others are rare or even isolated, as we shall see later.
4, 4 lég[er], 4s, 4s lég[er]
5, 5s, 5s fort, 5s lég[er], 5t lég[er], 5 e5
8, 8 léger, 8b
Combinations of numbers and letters:
Ac 2 lég[er]
A 2c, A 2, A 2spécial, A 2 lég[er], A 2t,
A 8, Ac 8, A 8 léger, Ac 8 t lég[er], Ac 8
v t lég[er]
Ac 4s t lég[er],
Ac 5s lég[er]
B 5s, B 5 s t lég[er], B 5s lég[er], B 5t,
B 4s t lég[er]
Considering the basic colours (according to us identified by the upper case letters and the numbers), the variants of these (signalled by the lower case letters, such as s for special and by the note lég[er] and the different combinations, one reaches the surprising figure of forty (!) colours used, a fact that makes, on the one hand, the establishment of a hypothesis for the identification of the codes more complex, and on the other hand makes the effort even more important. One could certainly not leave untried the chance to take account of such a chromatic range, establishing coloured versions of those FAI films originally destined to be toned and tinted (it is obviously not possible to reconstruct the colours applied by stencilling), thus obtaining copies that witness – a rare case in the field of early film restoration – to the original indications and production choices, rather than a surviving print in which the colouring bears the uncertainty of the imprecision concerning the procedures used at the time and the decay of the colouring agents and tones.
Identification of the code
Analysing the list of codes placed in relation to the content of the scenes to which these refer, with the editing of these and the narrative logic, and in the light of experience acquired in recent years regarding the colouring used in silent cinema, the formulation of an hypothesis has been reached, based on some fixed points that seem immediately evident.
Above all, it is clear enough how the letters indicate the toning and the numbers the tinting, with relative combinations. The frequency with which some codes recur allows us to put them in relation with the more habitual colours used at the time. The A is thus certainly the sepia toning, while the 5 and 4, being the two most used tints, above all in interior scenes, surely indicate amber/orange and rose.
On the other hand, the narrative logic indicates without a shadow of a doubt that the 2 – alone or in combination with toning A or B – is the colour used for night scenes. Still using narrative logic, it was easy to deduce that the toning G corresponds to green (it is used in few cases and exclusively in exterior shots in woods or gardens, and is coupled only with tinting n. 8) while B refers to the toning blue. Equally one can say for the number 8, whose interaction with A-sepia and B-blue in addition to the content of the scenes where it is applied, lead one to deduce that it indicates yellow.
It only remains at this point to give a colour to number 7, something that proves to be practically impossible, since the code figures only once in the two tableaux of the cell in the finale of Les Carbonari/I carbonari; the adoption of a colour – violet – has been opted for, a colour that would not figure under other codes and that might be very different to the others used in the film, in such a way as to take account at least of the fact that for those two tableaux a colour different to all the others was foreseen, not only from I carbonari but also from other FAI films.
Another question that was not simple was the attribution of pink and amber that, as we have seen, are particularly frequent and above all both used liberally in interior scenes (with artificial light or daylight) and sometimes in daylight-exteriors.
An indirect clue is held in the negative for Le baiser de la gloire/Il bacio della gloria. The negative in our possession shows both identification leaders containing the usual indications described above, and leaders in which the indications have been carefully erased and substituted with wording in English; evidently, at a later period to the printing of the prints in the French laboratory, the negative had been sent to England for printing and to that end the original codes had been substituted with indications written out in full: dye rose, light green. Here, some interior scenes are indicated as 4s lég[er] and analogous scenes have the indication Rose. As the presence of the code and the English name are never given together, the proof cannot be definitive, above all when considering the fact that in the rest of the film the English colours are evidently simplified and do not correspond to the usual practice – or style, or logic, if you prefer – evident in the other FAI films. Consider for example that almost the whole film, including the long battle sequence in the desert between Italian bersaglieri and Libyan warriors, is tinted in light green, a choice that is not only curious, but also unheard of in FAI films, where certainly an 8-yellow or an orange would have been preferred.
Holding this “English” clue as poorly relating to the truth, a more careful analysis of the scenes indicated by the codes 4 and 5 was undertaken, with the aim of finding a new more conclusive clue. The tableau number 29 of the film La modèle/Flora la modella (1916) shows a man and a woman in front of the fireplace, with the colouring code 4s; at the point where the man lights the fire, the scene is interrupted and recommences with 29bis, with 5s fort colouring, to indicate the light from the flames; from that point on, the rest of the long scene takes place in the same setting – but far from the fire – is tinted 5s lég [er]. In short, the special wad fort version of tinting 5 is held ideal for representing the light produced by flames of a fire, and in the léger version is ideal for the diffuse light of a fire when if s not in shot. At this point it remains to identify what is the colour identified by 5. Turning to the literature of the time we have been able to find two interesting references. First of all the “famous” list of pre-coloured film produced by Kodak and also adapted to sound films, described in the article Tinted Films for Sound Positives (Lloyd Jones in. Vol. XIII, no. 37) to which reference is often made as it offers psychological interpretations for the use of different colours (Characterization of the Seventeen Tints). Here no. 5 Firelight is a soft yellow-orange, which is “suggestive also of illumination emanating from an open fire”, that is to say exactly as in our shot. The reference from Lloyd poses, however, according to us, two types of problem, the first is the date; the list of colours and the proposed associations refer to 1929, that is to a period in the history of the colouring of silent films that has little in common with 1916, both from the point of view of the aesthetics of colour and of laboratory practices. The other doubt is that it is very difficult that a soft yellow-orange can be considered the reinforced and intensified version (fort) of a base colour orange-amber.
We therefore turned to a text of 1911, amongst the first to deal with the colouring of positives published as Handbook of Kinematography in the English; here the author, Colin Bennett, also occupied with the task of suggesting the most appropriate colours for different narrative situations, refers to a “firelight effect” obtained with a solution of Eosin, a colouring agent tending towards rose.
In this second case, 1911 appeared to us a nearer period to the colours and procedures of the FAI, and the probability decidedly more likely that a rose (5) in its special and fort versions – hypothesising thus that it tends towards red – could be used to indicate the flames of a fire. Therefore, at the risk of error, and with a few precautions – also in the light of deductions from other similar scenes – we have decided to opt for 5 as rose and 4 as amber.
With the aim of completing the list of colours and their codes, there still remains the analysis of the problem of variants. It is useless to start by saying that it was impossible for us to securely identify any of the variants indicated by the codes, with the absolute lack of objective checks. We do not, in fact, have positive print references, we do not know the formulae or the colouring agents on the basis of which Pathé carried out colouring and toning (the only information one can call on is the manual Le film vierge Pathé, published only in 1926 and thus useless); even if we were to know the base formulae, we would not have, anyway, access to the “variant” formulae (in what they differ: concentration?, time?, in acidity?,…).
As one deduces from the list, the variants are numerous; some are easily identifiable léger, fort, others obscure (spécial), others completely incomprehensible (t léger is maybe très léger, but what is v t léger? Or 2t, 2c). Furthermore, an interesting fact is that the variants seem to appear in a given period in the history of the FAI films; La mort civile of 1910, for example, has only basic colours (8, 2, A, 4), while already the films of 1912 show a distinct variety.
It was, therefore, decided to take into consideration the existence of these variants of the base colours, creating different tonalities for tinting and toning in such a way as to obtain prints that might be able to reproduce, if not the original colours, at least the articulation of the original colours, a fact that appeared to us of notable importance in the study of colour in the silent cinema.
From the notes published here, we believe that it is clear that the entire job of reconstruction of the codes and thus the production of tinted and toned copies is both highly hypothetical and to be considered to all effects as a work in progress open to revision and correction when new data and research becomes available.
As already stated previously, the intention that convinced us to press ahead, even considering the uncertainty of the available data, has been that of providing to the audience, researchers and historians the chance to study how tinting and toning might have been used in the Film d’Arte Italiana, not based on prints more or less decayed, but from the indications of the process. While accepting the possibility that the colours may not be exactly those chosen at the time, or that there may have been an error in the interpretation of the code (always a possibility, given the scarceness of data), the fact remains that the colour prints of the FAI films can testify to at least two important elements. On the one hand it is possible to go back to the use of colours within each film (passages between different tinting, between tinting and toning, and between different toning), and trace the evolution in the use of colouring in different years of production; on the other hand it is possible to check when, within the same film, it was felt necessary to change the base colours, introducing variants that had no doubt have a desired value and meaning.
Finally, the restoration of the colours in the Film d’Arte Italiana films, and the data collected in this work, poses – we believe – completely new problems to film restorers. In most recent years, the increasing use of techniques enabling us to ‘restore’ (i.e. to modify according to film restorer’s judgement, knowledge, and, also, personal taste and aesthetics) the colours of the silents, against decay or process mistakes occurred at the time – I mainly refer to the so-called Desmetcolor system and the re-born attention to re-creation of old techniques of colouring – is continuously posing new problems. To have the possibility of ‘restoring’ a colour to its original characteristics of hue, and saturation, implicitly implies to know what the characteristics of that particular colour were at the time when the film was first produced. A chemical answer to this problem – analyses of colours survived on the prints, identification of the original dyes, etc – is still far to be reached successfully. Also, the attempt to rely on the technical literature of the time, is often frustrated: there are long periods in film technology history, for which we have little or incomplete information, and, more dramatically, what we can find on literature is always “how thing should have been done”, not “how things were really made”; i.e. theory is far away from laboratory practice, as everyone knows.
In this context, the FAI films add even more confusion. Let’s imagine that we come across a positive print of a FAI film where two adjacent shots are tinted yellow, and the two yellows are different. The narrative logic (our narrative logic) tells us that the yellows should be the same; the literature of the time describes how to produce one yellow, giving probably a precise formula, so we must assume that the difference in saturation or hue is due to a mistake in process, or to a different fading. What we know now from FAI, is that Pathé lab deliberately chose and used three different yellows, according to a colouring system, and an aesthetic that is hard to understand for us, mainly because we do not have enough data (i.e. enough films properly restored in colours, or enough non-film sources) to study and to understand.
Somehow, FAI films tells us a different story, made by subtle changings in colours, careful choices and careful handling of film materials in order to produce a final result that could be uneven and inconsistent in itself, but that was meant to be able to produce a precise balance among different colours and different variants of the same colour (within the same film or in several films), all of them chosen according to a system that we must penetrate in order to understand colours in the silent. Only by doing so, we could finally get to the point of making hypotheses about how to restore the colours and their function in the film. As in other field of restoration (painting, e.g.) we are at a point where we must acknowledge that is not the correspondence between each single colour with the original that is so crucial, as the relationships between the different colours and their different shades in the creation of the complete film.”
(Mazzanti, Nicola (1998): The Colours of the Film d’Arte Italiana. 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. 141-146.)
Regarding a Catalogue of the Tints Used on the Silent Screen
In the period of silent films, the immense majority of these were distributed as tinted copies. This is very well known today but until a few years ago all silent films were seen in black and white.
For various decades, the archives reproduced the nitrate copies conserved in colour in black and white. Many of these nitrate copies no longer exist. At least until the Sixties, they were continuing in, some archives to systematically destroy them after they had “preserved” them. It may be thought that they were reproduced in black and white because colour was much more expensive or even less stable. But how can it be justified that no record was kept of the original colours? Something that would have been so simple to note down on paper.
The explanation is simple. For many years it was fashionable to think that black and white was more “artistic” than colour. This absurd rejection of colour was unfortunate for the silent screen. While nitrate copies in colour were being kept on the archives shelves, cinema enthusiasts and historians knew nothing of their existence and were judging the films from black and white copies in which the night scenes, usually shot during the day and later tinted in blue, took place in full sunlight.
When I published my conviction in 1977 that Nosferatu had to have been tinted because it did not make sense that the vampire always acted during the day and Der Müde Tod and Scherben went from night to day from one shot to another because they did not have the tints, my ideas were not considered very orthodox. For some critics, tinting Nosferatu was a heresy. Everyone knew that “artistic” photography was in black and white. Colour was vulgar, black and white “intellectual”. This may seem very surprising to young people but it was as real as the present overlooking and even rejection of the original scores for accompaniment. It seems deplorable to me that in the majority of the archives they do not make a search for, conserve and promote these scores, many of which are being lost through pure negligence.
The problem is that we are now trying to restore the colour to some films that have been conserved in black and white with scarcely any indications of the original colours. Sometimes we feel the temptation to dream that in the future it will be possible to restore the original tints using the differences in the greys visible in the countertypes in black and white taken in the past from tinted nitrate copies which have disappeared today. We have to learn how tinting was performed at the time, to recover information on the original colours and the old laboratory techniques.
Fortunately this is a task in which the archives are taking an increasing interest.
Catalogues of pre-tinted positives
Various manuals and catalogues of pre-tinted positive materials were published in the Twenties, something which became general from 1921 onwards. There are Kodak, Agfa, Gevaert, Pathé catalogues…Various copies of these catalogues have been conserved throughout the world and are considered by archives and collectors to be museum pieces although the present practical use is obvious. The first thing that should be done is to reproduce them so that all archives and laboratories could have copies. When we suggest the restoration of a silent film, we often find only single copies in tinted nitrate positives whose colour has faded or been changed by exposure to light and damp or mechanical wear and tear. We need these catalogues to restore the original tones as they usually provide samples that are generally well preserved.
Owning a copy of these catalogues could be of great help. It is essential to reproduce them. But although this is very important, it is only the first step. We cannot stop there and this is the object of this article.
Many more tinted positives than those conserved in these few positives exist on the market only published by such important companies as Kodak or Agfa and these generally have a date that is too late such as that of Pathé (1926) and those of Agfa (1926-1927-1928). No catalogues exist with earlier dates from these manufacturers, nor any known from other well-known manufacturers of positives which were habitually used, not even Kodak of which a good number of American catalogues (between 1916 and 1927) have been conserved, but we do not know of any samples of tints used in stocks manufactured in Europe. And regarding some manufacturers of positives such as Dupont and Lignose, we do not even have any information on when they put tinted positives on the market although we do have nitrate copies reproduced in positives from these companies which show that they even tinted some of their stocks in mass.
I have been working for the past five years for the Fimoteca Española on the preparation of a general catalogue which is much larger than the ones provided in manuals published by manufacturers of emulsions.
It is our intention to attempt to obtain nitrate samples with which we can establish a catalogue of factory tinted positives from all the companies existing over the years in which they came on to the market. We have obtained and classified hundreds of samples from the Filmoteca Española collection which logically do not cover all the positives that appeared on the market. It is necessary to complete the work with collections from other European archives.
We have acquired many publications and manuals with samples, above all from Agfa which, in its later editions, include tints of colours for sound films that are much softer in order not to affect the soundtrack. The arrival of sound put an end to tinted positives and tints in general because the copies had to be reproduced uninterruptedly, as the sound was displaced, and without noisy joining and it was not practical to have the negatives arranged according to tints. In the case of Agfa or Pathé, the catalogues are very complete but were not published until 1926. Not many catalogues exist of companies that we know manufactured coloured materials such as Ferrania, Nobel or Eagle whose list of tinted positives was published in the press of the period. Advertisements by Nobel-Film (Toxo) for positives in colours: yellow, lemon, amber, orange, green, violet and cobalt blue appeared in the Spanish cinema press.
Film Ferrania sold eight colours: black, amber, green, blue, pink, violet, yellow and orange. And in 1926 the Eagle Film Company sold positives in black, pink, red, orange, violet, blue, green, yellow amber and light amber in Spain. This announcement for a novelty had already appeared in the magazine “Arte y Cinematografia” in 1920: “Tedious tinting has already passed into history by using our colour film. Gevaert. The coloured positive raw stock. Patented in the U.S., 14 different colours”.
But there are no manuals with samples of these colours in existence. These catalogues should be supplied with comparison of copies of the period. If we can find a sufficient number of copies made in 1926 on Eagle tinted positives, for example, we shall know what those nine colours that appear in the advertisement were like. To do this we need to work on the nitrate bases in the greatest number of archives possible. This is v slow and costly work which is complicated by the co-existence of materials tinted in the factory together with imbibitions done in the laboratory. We have to collect all the advertising possible and all the information that can give us clues to the possible changes in colour over the years. Because the main problem lies in these changes. Unlike artisan imbibitions where the tone is changed from day to day in the same laboratories, the tints on the manufacturers’ support tend to be fairly uniform in the same stock. But the tints are changed by the manufacturers from year to year. We can see, both in the catalogues of the period and in the copies that have been conserved, that an orange of Kodak in 1924 was not very like a Kodak orange of 1926. The greens and blues of Agfa or Gevaert changed radically from year to year.
We cannot commit the error of using a catalogue of Agfa colours from 1926 to establish what the Agfa colours were in a 1923 copy. And for the years for which we have no references from the manufacturer (from Agfa, for example, we only know of catalogues published from 1926 onwards and as there are no references to the year of manufacture in the marginal companies, we cannot be certain of the batch to which a particular nitrate positive belongs) we have to proceed with great caution in order not to confuse a laboratory tint with a factory tint.
In an Agfa manual published around 1928 we can read:
Preparation and colouring of the support.One of the sides of the support is washed with an adhesive solution, it is evaporated with warm air and the layer of sensitive emulsion is deposited on this side.
The celluloid is then coloured. At the present time (1927-1929) a good part of the total production of positive film is already prepared in the factory by lightly colouring the celluloid.
Already beforehand, in order to obtain special effects, for example, fires or marine landscapes, the gelatine of the film had already been tinted and made ready by a means of aqueous solutions of different classes of colourings.
Later on, it can also be seen that even in those matters in which no particular colour dominated such as portraits or street scenes, a light touch of violet or yellow “to temper the white” was also very pleasant.
Until shortly before the war (1914) this effect was only achieved by colouring the copies reproduced, whether on the side with the emulsion with aqueous solutions of colorants or on the celluloid side with alcohol solutions.
We can tell whether the celluloid is tinted or the film is soaked in water or alcohol by rubbing the photograms with cotton wool impregnated with alcohol or dipped in water. But the majority of the manufacturers did not mass tint and merely passed the support over a roller impregnated with alcohol coloured with aniline.
Whatever the case, this procedure only affects the support side while imbibition also affects the emulsion.
The catalogues that were published in the Twenties are only the top of the iceberg. And to reconstruct the entire iceberg is a huge puzzle that is taking us years of work. We have to acquire samples of nitrates from various archives and renew our efforts making a particular study in each country.
Then there is the problem of producing the catalogue. How can we imitate the old colours exactly? Our idea is to produce a Cd-Rom but this creates the additional problem of calibrating the monitors. The colours can be established for working with a computer using any drawing programme which establishes the various combinations possible in scales of 256 degrees from three television colours bars for adjusting the sets. In this way, we could define Agfa 1926 red as R255-G23-B78 or a Kodak 1924 orange as R255-G162-B60, for example. A couple of pages of paper with a simple list of numbers such as these could contain a vast catalogue of fully defined, operating colours.
Establishing these subtle variations in colour produced in each new batch of the same material could be of great use and, in the case of materials where no signs which can be dated exist, such as in Agfa or Gevaert, or which have codes that have still not been deciphered such as Nobel, they could even be used for dating the positives.
Another more complex programme appears with the enormous field of imbibitions. We have to compile the formulae and collect the manuals of the period in order to associate the different solutions available in each period with the samples that we are extracting from numerous silent films. A catalogue of these samples at least enables us to appreciate the changes in the tints in fashion, the variety of these tints and their intensity from country to country and from year to year. And also from laboratory to laboratory. In this case the variety of tones and colours is infinitely multiplied. Each laboratory could make changes and modifications to the solutions and apply different techniques. They could combine various tints or use imbibitions, by submerging positives which had been previously tinted in the factory in a bath of water with a different tint or by combining toning liquids with tints. We have even found samples that show a series of successive tinting in order to achieve darker colours through transparency. A first bath in red with alcohol followed by a second bath of blue with water achieved an efficient night effect for a Spanish film in 1919.
A detailed study of the tints in Spain showed us the customs of the laboratories and the criteria that they usually followed in their tinting. This is very important for another kind of problem which tends to arise in restoration from a nitrate negative. The nitrate negatives in the Twenties were always in black and white but tended to have indications of the colours with which the positives could be tinted. These indications could appear at the beginning of the roll or in a small tail between the scenes. Normally only the colour was given such as “blue”, “amber”, “green”…
At times, these indications can be missing but a montage of the negatives, generally filed by grouping all the shots of the same colour in order to facilitate the process of reproducing the positives, gives us sufficient idea to be able to deduce the original colours “a grosso modo”. But once we know that the shots have to be tinted in blue or green, how do we choose the particular colour if no positives have been conserved from the period? In the first place, as we normally know the year that the film was produced, we can specify the tints on the market that year and we can deduce the companies that were distributing their products in the locality where the film was produced. If it is an American film from the mid-Twenties we can reproduce a copy with Kodak tints without many feelings of guilt or in Agfa if the film is German.
But how do we decide on the tints for a Spanish film? We have to use another type of research to resolve this problem. We have to study the examples of silent nitrate films that have been conserved and collect information on the producer and the laboratories where the film was developed and the positives printed.
We discover that the various Spanish laboratories had very different practices and habits. It would be marvellous if the old laboratories continued to exist and if they conserved all their documentation and billing for the period of the silent film and even lists of the positive materials used for each film or the stock of material acquired each year.
We do not possess this information but a study of the films conserved leads to similar results. The different laboratories tended to advertise in the press by publishing lists of the most important films that they had processed that year. We search for the nitrate copies existing of these films and compare them in an attempt to reach some conclusions on the work of each laboratory.
We see that the Madrid Film laboratories worked mainly with Kodak material for years although they combined tinted Kodak materials with Agfa and Gevaert in the same film in 1927. We have films processed in the Cyma laboratories that were reproduced exclusively using Agfa materials. The CAF laboratories combined their artisan imbibitions with tinted positives from the Ferrania factory, Agfa, Gevaert and Kodak in 1925. The Ardavin laboratories are particularly interesting: they used the remains of all stock they had in a single film, La Malcasada, in 1926. There are shots in black and white reproduced on Eastman, Gevaert and Pathé positives and Agfa tinted positives (6 colours: yellow, light amber, amber, pink, blue, green), Kodak (7 colours in American materials from 1925 and 1926 and English materials from 1926: dark blue, light blue, green, yellow, orange, amber and brown), Gevaert (5 colours: green, orange, amber, light amber and violet) and Eagle (4 colours: green, pink, orange and amber). In other films we discovered that these laboratories did not respect the colour indications on the negative and they frequently used baths or tinted positives that they happened to have at the time without any dramatic criterion. This procedure was even followed with their own productions. In the negative of El Bandido de la Sierra, by Fernandez Ardavin, the colour indications written on the negative are only approximate. In a nocturnal scene they write “blue or violet”. And the colour indications for La Bejarana, by the same director, were not respected in the positives that have been conserved.
We were also able to discover that new copies were produced with changes in colour from year to year and perhaps even from month to month. But at times these changes can only be seen: two copies conserved of El Dos de Mayo are reproduced in different colours. The same shot appears in a bluish green in one copy and in a light blue in another. But if we look closely, we can see that one is reproduced on Kodak material and the other on Agfa and, by consulting the catalogues of tinted positives from these companies in the same year, we discovered that the bluish green and the light blue were the only blue available from the two companies. In both cases, the laboratory had faithfully followed the indications written on the negative and had printed the shot in the positive blue. The change was in the brand used for the positive. These same differences could occur when tinting in a laboratory by imbibition when using colorants and formulae from different manufacturers.
This problem had a curious consequence in Nosferatu by Murnau. There is a long sequence of parallel actions in the only tinted nitrate copy that still exists and is conserved in Paris. In a room in the castle, the vampire turns toward Ellen who reaches out her arms to him although she is many kilometres away from there, in her bedroom at home. The action happens at night. The colour changes alternatively from blue to bluish green in the shots with the vampire to the shots with Ellen. We can see that these shots were reproduced on different types of Agfa positives and the joining in the positive show us that, the shots of Ellen and those of the vampire were stored separately in the negatives.
Why? In order to tint some blue and others in a light greeny-blue? There is no sense in this because the difference between the blue and the greenish blue is scarcely visible and is merely the result of a simple change in the blue bath. The hypothesis exists that negatives of these shots had a very different density and had to be reproduced with different lights. But this does not seem very probable either, in view of the very similar range of greys and seeing the location of the joins in the rest of the film.
The most probable and at the time most worrying hypothesis, because of unknown quantities involved, appears to be that these scenes were separated in the negative because they had to be tinted with different colours. One of the sets is bathed in moonlight and would be tinted in blue and the other in orange because of being lit with artificial light.
This would show that the Paris copy did not respect the original colour indications on the negative or that we have a cheaply produced copy and that other copies of Nosferatu existed with more complex tints, perhaps double tinting or toning. According to the last hypothesis, one of the scenes would perhaps have only been tinted in blue while the other could combine a blue tint with a toning of another colour which would have forced it to be stored apart and would explain why when reproducing one copy with a single tint both shots were reproducing in blue. In any case, a finding such as this produces many questions and creates many headaches. This example shows that establishing a criterion on the correct tints becomes considerably more complicated with costly productions whose copies were reproduced with combined tints, tints and tonings in two colours. More economical copies of these same films were also frequently reproduced without toning. And this is to say nothing of reproductions of copies in other countries, for export, using double negatives. Do the tinted nitrate copies or fragments of copies that we possess in Spain from films such as Nibelungen, Mabuse (which it was supposed had always had positives in black and white) or Orphans of the Storm by Griffith show the original tints? From which negative have they been reproduced and where? Establishing the tints of silent films is a task as complex as it is exciting. The existence of catalogues and manuals with chemical formulae for the tints can be a very useful instrument for getting to know this complicated period of the cinema more precisely.”
(Berriatúa, Luciano (1998): Regarding a Catalogue of the Tints Used on the Silent Screen. 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. 135-139.)
“Recording and Reproducing the Original Tints and Tones of QuoVadis
A Technical Case Study
Part 1 – Measuring the Colours
Soho Images tinting and toning service operates by an initial investigation into the original dyes used followed by a series of tests to establish which process to use for the restored print. Various methods of numerical evaluation were tried first by Nederlands Filmmuseum (NFM) and by Soho Images as a means of recording the colour as found on the film, as a common technique for sharing data, as a method of identification, and as a control technique during the restoration. The method used to exchange data is illustrated by the tinting and toning of a print of Quo Vadis (1912), in spring 1997.
Colours are usually characterized by three components:
Hue – the qualitative characteristic, i.e. hues of green, blue, orange, grey, etc., principally related to the peak absorption wavelength.
Saturation – characteristic dependant on degree of other wavelengths present in a colour, i.e. the amount of white light present.
Brightness – the overall total amount of light transmitted.
There are many methods of measuring colour, including:
Matching against coloured standard patches, e.g. Munsell or a paint chart.
Spectroscopy analyses colours by providing measurements across the wavelength range, or solely by the peak absorption wavelengths, but does not indicate the visual appearence.
Comparators, such as the Lovibond, measure the sample against a range of colours by mixing primaries to find a visual match.
CIE method plots colour as a position on a colour space, easy to measure with modern equipment but difficult to equate with a visual appearance.
Colour densitometry measures colours in terms of the relative proportions of three stimuli (R,G&B) to create a colour. The stimuli can be correlated to the human eye (e.g. Status V or A) or to a photographic film sensitivity (e.g. Status M). The trilinear display of the densities indicates colour by position. Nederlands Filmmuseum
The NFM has been investigating methods of measuring the colour of the original film. In the past, records of tint or tone colours by the archives were often very imprecise, and if the film was later destroyed or decayed beyond recall, the effect was not identifiable. A simple statement blue could mean a Cine Blue tint or a Iron Blue tone, and tints and tones were sometimes confused in the past. Double effects were often not noticed and restoration from this information is not easy.
It was felt that a numerical value for the colour would significantly improve recording and enable subsequent restoration, and if the data was reliable and precise might allow identification of at least some of the original dyes.
The NFM were advised to try one of the new breed of computer operated devices used principally in the graphics and printing industry, and installed a Colortron, a simple hand-held spectrophotometer, comprising a small CD array, from USA interfaced to an Apple Mac and software designed to calculate a whole range of colour measurements from “ink-weight” to the standard CIE tristimulus values. It can operate off any light source, normally an illuminated panel. The concept was attractive in that the CIE values generated could be plotted on the CIE diagram which indicates their colour within the visible range.
CIE plotted information is not very easy to interpret and many viewers find it difficult to associate a position on the colour space plot with a visual appearance.
The NFM Colortron could also display its results alternatively as Status A (see below) values which enables the trilinear display to be used. This is a more “user-friendly” display in which the visual colour is displayed and users soon learn to associate a position with a visual appearance. It is therefore very good for exchanging data.
However it was found that the Status A values generated by the Colortron were incorrect, and did not match the standard Status A calibration system used as an international standard by Eastman Kodak, and this problem is still being investigated.
All the following data is therefore in the Status A format generated from Soho Images equipment.
Soho Images did not have Colortron equipment, but already used colour densitometry for process and printer control, measured on several different densitometers. The density measurement standard known as “Status A” comprises three filters (red, green and blue) selected to correspond, in conjunction with the densitometer photocel, to produce values that indicate the visual appearance of the coloured transparent film sample.
The Colortron is not a particularly expensive unit but a modern Macbeth Densitometer for Status A is about £4,000.
When R, G, and B densities are plotted on a trilinear graph paper (not a technique normally used in photographic control) and this displays colour in a manner that is very similar to the way the human eye perceives. The brightness of the colour is cancelled out and only the colour and saturation is displayed, a measure of the character of the dye.
Measuring the colour of film
With tinted film readings were initially taken in the perforation area but it was found that this area was often damaged or more faded than the rest of the film, and gave inaccurate readings of the overall tint However, since a tint is an overall colouring, anywhere on the image would give readings that would plot in the same position on a trilinear display, and cancel out the brightness.
Toned film has clear perforation areas, although not always by any means. Status A readings taken within the picture area vary in position on the trilinear display, since the image tone is proportional to the density of the original silver image. Choosing different areas of the print to measure produces a series of trilinear display positions that clearly indicate the hue as falling on one of the axes, but plots at different points radiating out from the centre. Any measurement will clearly define the hue.
In Soho Images the trilinear display of density is used in two ways. The Status A readings and the trilinear display define the colour effect as it is today, and this provides a valuable record. The measurements help to identify a dye or “recipe”, and once identified to display both the identification and the restoration. This method was used by Soho Images to demonstrate the closeness of match between original dye and reproduction to the Nederlands Filmmuseum.
The trilinear display and or the RGB readings is also used as a control technique. A few frames of a standard print on black and white film (Soho Images uses the Kodak LAD print of a girls head and grey steps) are cut onto the head of each roll of film prior to colouring. Taken off after colouring the print acts as a visual and a densitometric control for each colouring procedure. In the case of a feature film there may be 70-80 separate rolls of film to be coloured. Poor agreement with the aim agreed with the archive allows corrections to be made (it is a curious feature of tinting and some toning techniques that if the effect is too light it can be retinted, if to dark it can be washed out!).
Part 2 – Identifying the Colour Effect
As confidence increases it can be used as a measure of the tint and tone as it is today and as a match for restoration and finally as an identification of a dye. The number of dyes and formulae available to Soho Images are far less than the total of all the dyes and “recipes” known to have been used. Some dyes are no longer available, but this is less than 20% of all those known to have been used. The majority of formulae no longer easily carried out today are the metallic toning procedures using uranium and vanadium. However this leaves a considerable number of common procedures which can be reproduced, and so far we have yet to be certain that any tone we have seen before 1930 is definitely uranium or vanadium (uranium ferrocyanide was widely used on two-colour films in the 1930’s).
Identification of a dye or colourant can be by one or more of the following, in decreasing order of precision:
1. Destructive testing of the dye to establish the chemical structure.
2. Characterization of the spectral absorption of the dye.
3. Identifying the visual colour match with a known existing dye.
4. Inspired guesswork (experience) from a knowledge of the most likely technique used at the time.
This is beyond the financial capacity of the organizations involved for organic dyes as used for tinting and mordant dye toning, but quite practical for metallic tone colours.
Conventional inorganic qualitative analysis “by group” is all that is needed to identify Iron, Uranium, Copper, and Vanadium and inferring the presence of their ferrocyanides. This form of analysis can be done in small test tubes if enough sample film is used, or in micro equipment if only small pieces are used. About 1cm square of film is needed as a minimum. The film is soaked in water to soften the gelatin, then the emulsion is removed with 3N NaOH solution, just enough to cover, taking about 2hours. Heating is not usually required.
The resulting solution or dispersion, after removing the film base, is then filtered or decanted and the solution treated (very carefully) with an equal volume of 3N nitric acid. The resulting acid solution is then subjected to the usual Group analyses (see references). In the case of iron tone blue the metal identifies as Iron alone. Many other colour tones key out as iron (from the ferrocyanide ion used as the bleach), and one other metal.
We have some spectral absorption data on dye stuffs from as early as 1909, and the procedure for measuring these is usually a spectrophotometer, which is sometimes available in a film processing laboratory because it is used for process solution component analysis. Most spectrophotometers for qualitative analysis are very accurate, however are not easy to use for qualitative work where a plot of the density to different wavelengths is used. Peak wavelength absorption is a useful and reasonably easy to measure. The dyes in a film sample should be extracted from the film otherwise base density, image density and mordants may all add to the measured values.
Visual matching by comparing the colour of the original effect with a modern process using an original formula is very imprecise by eye. The old tints often become cloudy, diffuse or slightly opaque with age (“laking”) and some, iron tone blue and perhaps other metallic tones, darken and desaturate with age. Only numerical values of density allows colour to be plotted on a trilinear display and ignores the overall density Status A seems a reasonable method of making these comparisons.
Once seen and identified, many of these effects are recognizable again. The various blue iron tones vary with the formula and whether the film was “fixed” out. Inevitably a degree of “I’ve seen that before” enables us to make a test to prove that an effect was produced in a particular way. The mordant green of the last scene of Quo Vadis was recognized as Malachite Green before the test procedure proved it.
Part 3 – Restoration of Quo Vadis
Quo Vadis (1912) was reconstructed as a Lumière funded programme, a joint venture between the Cineteca Italiana, Milan, the Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, and the National Film and Television Archive, London. Once reconstruction was complete Haghefilm in Amsterdam made an optical duplicate internegative on Panchromatic Duplicate negative film directly from the original prints which were tinted and toned throughout. The film was in a very poor condition, badly fragmented and brittle, so parts were already badly duplicated. The resulting duplicate negative was as good as could be expected from the state of the original film.
Some of the resulting duplicate negative material was several generations further from the original material than other sections and was considerably less satisfactory, appearing “dupy”. This term summarizes the overall visual appearance of low resolution, grainy high contrast images lacking in fine detail that characterizes multigeneration results.
An initial print was made by the Desmet method of double pass printing and later the NFM made the decision to ask Soho Images to evaluate some fragments of the original tinted and toned material to see if reasonable information could be obtained sufficient to tint and tone a print using original formulae.
The NFM sent Soho Images a fragment of each of the colour effects they recognized as different, together with the duplicate negative to prepare test prints and test effects.
The following final report from Soho summarized the progress from that point.
We received a complete negative of the feature plus a short compilation roll consisting of a scene of each colour required. We also received a set of samples of the original tints and tones on Nitrate stock. We were asked to produce a copy of the test roll, reproducing the tint and tone colours of the samples.
The set of sample frames showed eleven colour/colour combinations: 9 tints, 1 tone and 1 tint + tone.
Choice of correct tint
We produced a set of tinted and toned samples as follows:
Blue/Green tint: we have not found a single dye which gives a good match for this tint. Tests have shown that a mixture of Napthol Green and Patent Blue give an acceptable colour match. Both dyes are listed by Kodak in the early 1920’s under the terms “Cine Green” and “Cine Blue Green”. This effect concerned us as it was not easily recognizable and seemed not to be a simple tint.
Green tint: although the original is faded we found that Napthol Green gave a reasonable colour match.
Yellow tint: a good match produced by Quinoline Yellow or Cine Yellow (Kodak 1920’s).Yellow/Orange tint: a mixture of Quinoline Yellow and Crocein Scarlet (“Cine Scarlet”, Kodak 1920’s) produced a match for this tint.
Light Orange tint: a different mix of Quinoline Yellow and Crocein Scarlet matched this tint.
Dark Orange tint: a more concentrated solution of the Light Orange dye mix gave this tint (2.2.6).
Red tint: a dye mixture of Quinoline Yellow and Amaranth (“Cine Red”, Kodak 1920’s) produced a reasonable match for this tint.
Salmon tint: a weak mixture of Quinoline Yellow and Amaranth gave a good match for this tint.
Salmon Tint/Blue Tone: a stronger solution of the previous Salmon dye (2.2.9) was required to produce a similar density tint on this standard Iron Blue tone (Kodak, 1920’s).
Blue Tone: the Eastman Kodak chemistry of the early 1920’s has produced a bright blue tone. Because a predictable chemical reaction is used for this tone we can assume that the original material has faded from a much brighter colour.
Samples were sent to the filmmuseum for evaluation
They replied favourably but asked for some minor changes.
The Green and Light Green tints should be combined and made slightly more Blue/Green. This was achieved by using a mixture of Napthol Green and Patent Blue.
The Red tint needed to be more red. This was achieved by using a single dye solution of Crocein Scarlet.
The Yellow/Orange tint needed to be slightly more yellow to distinguish it more from the two other orange tints. Minor changes in the ratio of Quinoline Yellow and Crocein Scarlet produced a more acceptable tint.
Just prior to colouring the test roll we, at Soho Images, had further discussions regarding the Blue/Green tint and decided that the overall appearance of the picture area resembled Blue/Green dye toning tests we had recently carried out (Reid 1916 & Agfa 1926?). These tests were shown to the NFM who, in turn, asked us to proceed as we thought correct. We therefore changed the Blue/Green tint to a Blue/Green dye tone using Malachite Green. We achieved a good visible match with the original sample by not completely clearing the highlights.
Part 4 – Processing the Test Roll
There was less than 100ft of each tint so we needed to process one spool for each colour.
We had some initial density problems in transferring the process from the testing stage to the production stage but these were quickly resolved and a test roll produced. When we projected the test roll it was apparent that the Salmon tint on the Iron Blue tone did not have sufficient density although we had matched the original sample (Fig.1). We re-tinted the scene to a higher density and found it more acceptable. The completed test roll with eleven colour effects was returned to the Filmmuseum for their appraisal
Part 5 – Results of the Test Roll
The Filmmuseum accepted our test roll with one change, i.e. that the Light Orange tint (2.1.5) did not show when projected with an Xenon light source so they would prefer a darker Orange tint, similar to the Dark Orange (2.1.6.) for those scenes.
Part 6 – Processing the Feature
We proceeded with colouring the whole feature, it required over 70 spools of film to complete the tinting and toning using our traditional procedures. The completed print was despatched from Soho Images at the end of March 1997.
As for the previous paper on tinting and toning (especially Hunt R.W.G., Reproduction of Colour), plus the following:
C. E. K Mees, An Atlas of Absorption Spectra, Wratten and Wain wright, 1909.
R. Ryan, Colour Sensitometry, SMITE, USA, 1974.”
(Mabberley, Bob; Read, Paul; Snoek, Sonja (1998): Recording and Reproducing the Original Tints and Tones of Quo Vadis. A Technical Case Study. 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. 151-155.)
Dans tous les pays se multiplient les salles obscures, où des pinceaux lumineux créent des tableaux mouvants, et partout le public afflue vers le nouveau spectacle avec un empressement sans exemple, un engouement déconcertant et qui, loin de se lasser depuis ses débuts, n’a fait que grandir, à mesure que l’art naissant perfectionnait son esthétique et sa technique.
Que reste-t-il à découvrir, désormais, pour ajouter encore à l’impression de vérité que nous voulons de plus en plus parfaite? C’est pour répondre à ces questions que nous avons entrepris de raconter dans la “Bibliothèque des Merveilles” l’histoire du cinéma, d’en décrire les procédés et l’outillage, d’expliquer sa valeur, documentaire ou artistique, l’intérêt et la variété des représentations auxquelles il se prête ; enfin, les progrès déjà acquis ou en voie d’accomplissement pour donner à l’image animée ce qui lui manquait d’abord : la couleur, le relief, la parole, – en un mot, la vie intégrale dans toutes ses manifestations.”
(Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on p. 6.) (in French)
LES COULEURS AU CINEMA
ATTRAIT DE LA COULEUR. L’auteur de Modern Painters, John Ruskin, se demande ce qu’il adviendrait du monde, si toutes les fleurs étaient grises, toutes les feuilles noires, et le ciel brun. Evidemment, l’œil s’y accoutumerait, puisqu’il n’est choqué ni par les statues toutes blanches, ni par les dessins à la plume, ni par les photographies monochromes ; néanmoins, s’il est possible de se passer du coloris, celui-ci ajoute, à la beauté des formes et au pittoresque des effets, un attrait qu’il ne faut pas négliger dans un spectacle où tout doit concourir à l’agrément de la vue : La couleur est la joie des yeux, le charme des prunelles”, a dit Edmond About, et la supériorité manifeste des projections polychromes sur les images en grisaille justifie amplement l’importance des recherches qui se sont multipliées, au cours des dernières années, pour donner au cinéma un surcroît d’intérêt.
Même à défaut du coloris réel, une tonalité de temps en temps variée, une dominante appropriée à la nature du sujet valent mieux qu’une suite uniforme d’images noires : de là l’utilité des teintures et des virages. Mais là ne doit pas se limiter l’objet d’une représentation qui doit surtout donner l’illusion de la réalité vivante et n’a pas les mêmes raisons que le dessin ou la sculpture pour faire abstraction du coloris.
TEINTURES ET VIRAGES. La plupart des films positifs sont passés dans une solution colorante, qui leur domine une tonalité rouge orangé. C’est une teinture très légère, qui a pour but d’éviter l’effet de crudité des tons blafards produits par la projection. Cette teinte chaude doit être cependant réservée aux films représentant des effets de pleine lumière. Les sous-bois sont souvent teints en vert, mais c’est là une couleur dont il convient d’être très sobre. Les effets de crépuscule sont rendus par des teintes rouge vif ou pourpres. Quant aux scènes nocturnes, elles sont généralement passées dans un bain de teinture bleue.
La teinture s’étend évidemment sur toute la surface de l’image, la gélatine absorbant uniformément la solution colorante. Si l’on veut seulement modifier le ton des ombres et des demi-teintes, il faut virer les photographies, en transformant l’argent qui les constitue au moyen de réactifs tels que les ferricyanures de fer, qui donnent des images bleues, ceux de cuivre, qui donnent des images rouges, ceux d’urane, qui produisent des tons bruns, sépia, etc. Ces méthodes sont peu usitées. On peut d’ailleurs modifier la tonalité des positifs en faisant varier la durée de leur impression à la lumière et la rapidité du développement : on obtient ainsi une gamme assez étendue, entre les noirs froids ou bleutés et les noirs chauds.
Enfin, on combine souvent un effet de teinture avec un effet de virage (ou de tonalité directement obtenue au développement), en choisissant des tons qui s’harmonisent.
La teinture du film peut être remplacée par l’interposition d’un verre de couleur. On change ainsi à volonté l’aspect de la projection, mais cette combinaison astreint l’opérateur à une manœuvre supplémentaire qui le distrait de la surveillance de la lampe. Du reste, teintures ou verres colorés ne donnent à chaque image qu’une nuance uniforme sur toute sa surface, et le spectacle rappelle celui qui est offert à ces touristes candides admis à contempler la Jungfrau à travers des carreaux rouges, jaunes ou bleus.”
(Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on pp. 160-162.) (in French)
“Tom Gunning: The very way that colour seems to shimmer on top of things with stencilling and hand colouring has this kind of weird insubstantial quality, is part of its joy in the silent era.
Conversely, though, there has always been an attempt to tie colour to certain meanings, associated with the theory that there’s some deep essential connection between certain colours and certain emotions. But as Jacques Aumont’s study has shown, these associations, although they have certain consistencies, have many inconsistencies, too. We have to see them as cultural constructions whereby colour is associated with certain things while not absolutely tied to them. This is what we find in silent film. There are certain associations, particularly with monochrome tints, the most obvious being blue for night, red for fire, or sometimes strong yellow for interior lighting. But what we find as we watch more and more monochrome tinting is that, as Peter Delpeut remarked in Session 1 [chapter 1], the codes begin to break down. A couple of people have asked me why we chose NAT PINKERTON. One reason is that to some extent it uses the blue-for-night code, but at certain points this is totally contradicted. As Nat Pinkerton sets out to meet the bandits, the film’s tinted gold. Presumably he doesn’t walk for hours till nightfall, but when he gets there it’s blue, and you know the meeting is taking place at night, but then the earlier shot seems oddly tinted. In many of these films, if we watch them carefully, the codes are not consistent. I ‘m not saying the codes aren’t there, but particularly in this period there’s a fair amount of free variation along with the codes. This free variation is extremely important; there are codes in this period, there are associations, but they aren’t absolutely rigid arid are often, in fact, applied in very surprising ways. The codes are in a great deal of flux, and this isn’t just something to be decried or ignored, but the key to colour. We talk about the narrative role of colour, but we very rarely understand what is happening because of the colour. We more often get the meaning of the colour from the narrative situation. The colour can heighten or underscore what’s happening in the story at some point, but very rarely creates it. Its role constitues an independent narrative element. Now this is one way of channelling colour toward a certain type of meaning. This aspect of intensity relates to the ‘primary’ quality of colour, which is precisely its intensity, the way it produces a greater emotional or sensual response. This is one of the ways filmmakers can directly contact the audience and influence them: there are all sorts of variants, but the key thing is a land of intense sensual communication.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 39-40.)
“Tom Gunning: […] I’m really interested in the way these things can’t be controlled. The colours always resonate with all sorts of meanings and associations, which in the silent era aren’t really controlled. For me this defines the use of colour in the early silent era down to, and maybe during, the First World War. It’s as though the energy is allowed to expand, as though filmmakers haven’t yet decided to contain it, as they later would.
Hans-Michael Bock: Can we return for a moment to the question of black-and-white? After the screening of Eisenstein’s THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Berlin, the press specifically mentioned the red flag at the climax of the film being painted. That suggests not only that the film was shown in black-and-white, but that this was standard by that time – why else would they have paid such attention to the red flag? So the tradition of hand painting must by that time have been forgotten, at least by the reviewers. Another point we should keep in mind is that early in the twenties black-and-white stock changed from orthochromatic material to panchromatic material. In the trade papers you read that technicians had big problems colouring panchromatic material. They discussed how they could do it, but there were problems. Maybe this switch from orthochromatic to panchromatic material as the main print stock changed the use of colour too: colouring must have become more expensive, and maybe this explains why it was dropped?
Enno Patalas: There was always opposition to tinting, at least in Germany, in the twenties but earlier too, among producers and filmmakers. This had to do with a growing awareness in the twenties of the photographic nature of cinema. From the very beginning this conception of the photographic; nature of cinema supported the use of black-and-white, and maybe toning, but worked against tinting. Oskar Messter said that tinting had always been there just for the audience. With the growing sophistication or mastery of the photography, tinting became less important.
In Germany, however, most films were tinted till the very end of the twenties. I don’t see why the change to panchromatic stock was such a problem, because although panchromatic material had to be used for the negatives, the prints could easily have been done on orthochromatic material. Once the image was on black-and-white stock, you could use orthochromatic material for the prints. But as early as FROM MORNING TO MIDNIGHT1 was announced as being in black-and-white and thus true to the photographic nature of cinema. Most films were tinted during the twenties, but there was a whole series, of individual films in black-and-white, like DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER,2 and Mumau’s FAUST3 and THE LAST LAUGH4 – films in which the camera-work was becoming more important. And the fact that became it possible to film at night or at dawn meant you didn’t need blue-for-night any more, as it did in NOSFERATU5 where the night sequences with the vampire were meant to be blue. With the growing awareness of the photographic nature of cinema and a growing stress on camera movement and so on, colour became less important. One aspect that needs researching is what the auteurs, the filmmakers, felt about colour? I’ve been through Murnau’s own annotated copies of his scenarios, hoping to find something on colour. All I could find was a point in the scenario for VOGELOD CASTLE6 where he notes: dream sequences – leave them black-and-white’.
1 VON MORGENS BIS MITTERNACHT, Germany (Ilag-Film) 1920, Dir. Kari-Heinz Martin
2 DR. MABUSE, Der Spieler, Germany (Uco-Film) 1922, Dir. Fritz Lang
3 Germany (Ufa) 1926
4 DER LETZTE MANN, Germay (Ufa) 1924
5 NOSFERATU, Germany (Prana-Fiim) 1921, Dir. Friedrich Wilheim Murnau
6 SCHLOSS VOGELOD, Germany (Uco-Film) 1921.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 45-46.)
“Frank Kessler: Maybe we should in fact talk about the way colour is linked to the diegetic world, because stencil colouring is diegetic in the sense that the colours correspond to the colours of objects in that diegetic world, whereas tinting and toning are often non-diegetic. In explosions and night scenes the colour may well be diegetic, but need not be. The NAT PINKERTON example that has already been cited in this context is a very good case in point, because any reading of the colour as linked to the diegetic world eventually breaks down. The colour is sort of distanced from the diegetical world. Interestingly, in the example Sabine Lenk gave, Gorki reads the black-and-white as part of the diegetic world: that’s a reading of black-and-white that disappears later on.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on p. 47.)
“Eric de Kuyper: One thing that can teach us a lot is the use of monochrome tinting and toning in feature films, because there’s a very big difference between fiction films before the First World War and after it. Before the war monochrome is used to accentuate narrative discontinuity. In a sequence of six or seven shots within the same narrative idea, each shot is coloured differently to distinguish the first shot from the second, the third, and so on. The key question is why this colouring changed after the war. In the twenties colouring becomes less important because the editing, the language, has changed so much.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 42-43.)
“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, which 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 tends 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.)
“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
Pour déguiser l’austère apparence de l’image noire et blanche, mais aussi à des fins expressives, on utilisait des artifices moins coûteux. Le teintage consistait à tremper le film dans une teinture ou à utiliser un support teinté dans la masse. Avec ce procédé, les parties claires de l’image (et même les manchettes du film) prenaient la couleur. Dans le virage, un traitement chimique assurait la transformation de l’argent réduit en un corps coloré (ou apte à prendre la couleur dans le cas du mordançage). Dans ces techniques, seule l’image argentique était affectée par la couleur, les transparences restant épargnées. La combinaison du teintage et du virage permettait d’obtenir d’impressionnants effets bichromes.”
(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 pp. 18-19.) (in French)
“Monochromy, as we all know, has been in silent cinema the only alternative solution to hand-painting. Tinting, toning, mordaunting have in common this plain fact that they seize the whole mass of the film in a chemical reaction changing not only its appearance but also its substance. Now, with the possible exception of some fairly scarce and complicate proceedings – red mordaunting over blue tinting, or the like – the result is invariably a monochrome.
In the prints available presently (probably, most of them, modern and possibly rather “theoretical” imitations of what we suppose to have been once in current use), this repetitive use of monochromy induces a veritable monotony. In a print of Broken Blossoms broadcasted a few years ago on French television, for instance, blue was classically used as the color of night, following a complex and, at times, illogical pattern: clearer, for example, in a shot when Lillian Gish comes home, after having left earlier under a very dark blue; or, elsewhere, a greenish blue, when the Chinese goes to her place, etc. What is highlighted is then the sensorial and emotional effect of these hues, whose intrinsic charm and unexpectedness makes up for their rudimentary character. Or, in a print of The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, one is sensitive to the opposition of grey-blue and grey-grey, the former being again the color of night – but only in outdoor scenes (seen through the window of the bedroom, the night is grey, as the rest of the scenary). Thus, grey and white become colors in their own right, rich in nuances and in visual matter
To the general question: “when is there color in film?”, the monochrome is a fairly ambiguous answer. It points to the presence of color, while restraining it to a minimal degree of existence. Or, if you like, it emphasizes the virtual opposition between color and a color, it is at the same time presence and absence of color: a way of presenting it, better to absent it; a fundamental state, in cinema, of noncolor (of which grey would be, after all, only a particular manifestation). Experimental confirmation has been provided, in laboratories of psychology, when experiments with global monochromic visual environments (Ganzfeld) induce a total loss of the sense of color; is hackneyed tinted films, in the same way, after a few minutes, the presence of color is more or less simply forgotten.
The film monochrome has always induced, in addition to the perception of a certain color, a sort of haptic fantasy of layering, of superposition – whether one imagines the film as one chromatic (and more or les thick) layer, or on the contrary, one imaginarily visualizes a color layer in front of a grey image, like a sort of film over the film. The monochrome, and, even more, any film mixing grey and color, engages a consideration of what I shall call – in want of adequate terms – the visual thickness of the transparent image, its penetrability by the gaze.
Such is exactly, in my view, the stylistic/esthetic meaning of the “reconstructions” of monochromic situations and effects that have been attempted in later films.
It would be interesting, I think, to go further and contrast, within a given film, three very distinct possibilities regarding not so much the use, as the very presence of color: 1) non-color, be it under the form of black-and-white strictly speaking, of a tendency toward achromy, or, of a strict monochromy (which may, under certain circumstancies, act as an absence of color); 2) quantitative or qualitative color resraint; 3) a full presence of color, giving rise either to a more or less overall system, or to local “color event.” While it is more likely to find mastery over such problems in films disposing technically of the full range of color effects, I also think that telling examples of all three esthetic strategies can be found in films of any given period. There is hardly a more vivid color event than the changing specks or blobs of the dancer’s veil in Edison’s Annabelle Dance from 1895; conversely, color restraint has been the motto and esthetic creed of color engineers and art directors of Technicolor at least during the first decade of the reign of this process.”
(Aumont, Jacques (1996): Color Ideas From Silent Cinema. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 110-115, on pp. 113-115.)
“Reflections on Color: The Possibilities for Dramatic Articulation in “The Lonedale Operator”
William Uricchio, Utrecht University
Early cinema has served as a laboratory for film historians, challenging teleologically driven notions of stylistic development, providing an array of research questions, and intervening in some of our most basic assumptions about the medium. Despite this, however, the early cinema agenda has somehow managed to marginalize such fundamental topics as color, non-fiction, and performance. The comments which follow seek to offer a somewhat speculative entry to a new research terrain, raising certain awkward questions about color in early narrative film before an interpretative orthodoxy sets in. The dramatic possibilities of color in one film will be used as a site for posing questions, a heuristic exercise that focuses on the recent Nederland Filmmuseum color restauration of Griffith’s The Lonedale Operator1 because the film is reasonably well known, because its narrative seems to depend on certain lighting (and color) effects, and because the restoration raises many questions about the possible meaning of color to the film’s original audiences.
The reason for this approach have less to do with the inadequacies of empirical and cultural methods than with the nature of color in early cinema as a topic. For a number of reasons, early color is an unstable element, one caught in the space between perception and pigment, and one highly sensitive to changes in condition and context. This instability may to some extent be avoided, for example, by focusing on the discourse about color – evidence regarding its reception or promotion for example. Researchers with the proper archival support may also be able to get a fairly stable sense of the production and distribution practices involved with color prints – manufacturing method, print numbers, cost and price, and so on. These are obviously crucial steps to any further understanding of period practice. But if we shift our focus away from discourse and production practices to the films themselves, we face an array of difficulties. For example, the problem of textual integrity common to much early cinema research takes on new proportions with color. Color reference prints may not have survived (the paper print collection, for example, is of little help here), and problems such as fading, solarization, and decay offer the archivist/scholar special problems. Even apart from issues of color saturation and accurate reference, a refined discourse on color seems all but impossible with restored prints: our projection systems use different quality light, and the color of nitrate stock seems difficult to replicate on safety stocks. Subtle variations in print color inevitably arise with hand painted scenes, and even tinted scenes show variation in density and patterning. Aside from this refined level, at least some producers (or producing distributors) seem to have released the same film with sequences colored differently in different prints – complicating the issue of “authenticity.” What seem to be trends in the thematic assignment of colors to specific scenes (blue for night) can be easily challenged by counter example. And so on. The net result is that making extrapolations from a particular print is far more difficult with the issue of color than with composition, shot length, shot sequence, or the other elements of formal analysis.
The approach that drives this essay derives from a personal experience. I was jolted by my first viewing of the color print of The Lonedale Operator. My first impression was that it was edited differently than other black and white copies I had seen, particularly with regard to continuity. I “experienced,” for example, color-effected ruptures in scenes that previously (in black and white) flowed rather smoothly – recalling and reinforcing to me Bellour’s2 “to alternate/to narrate” argument by adding a striking alternation pattern – and I “experienced” color as contributing significantly to the dramatic tension which builds in the second half of the narrative, a tension constructed of alternating red and blue shots. These impressions probably resulted from reading the past through a fabric of assumptions regarding continuity and perhaps even color, but closer investigation of the color print also suggested unexpected ways to think about color and its relation to the narrative, and in particular its relation to the dramatic structures of space and event I want to use this subjective experience to raise some fundamental questions about color in the early cinema, questions that may not necessarily emerge with (or indeed, which may even be masked by) more empirical approaches.
A Question of Continuity
Before moving on, use of the term “continuity” with regard to The Lonedale Operator perhaps requires explanation, particularly in light of Jacques Aumont’s well-known essay on the film.3 The literature which addresses continuity – Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson, for example – often distinguishes between the term as a narrative effect and as a spatial-temporal strategy: the former can be discussed with some early and transitional films, the latter seems to appear more erratically in the early period and to be in place by 1917.4 Part of my interest in The Lonedale Operator is that it seems to operate within both of these senses of continuity – a point that relates to the possible roles played by color in the film.
This assumption regarding continuity is not without its critics, some arguing that Griffith stays clear of continuity strategies (such as master-scene/cut-in) until a later day, relying instead on the “American medium shot” together with the occasionally motivated extreme close shot as “an eccess of writing.”5 Certainly the close shot of the train station operator (Blanche Sweet) revealing the mechanic wrench that she has used as a gun falls into this latter category. But the matched cut-ins from the standard medium-long shot of the train office to the medium close shots of the operator at the telegraph (receiving a routine message about a shipment, and later frantically wiring for help) seems not to emerge from this “excess” but instead serve to make the dramatic space both continuous and three dimensional. A similar two-shot strategy occurs on the train, speeding its way to the station and the rescue. Again the film uses a medium over-the-shoulder shot to establish the engineer and his assistant in the cab of the train, and a medium close shot of the duo from approximately the same angle. These shots, while serving to construct a continuous space, are not intercut with one another (as in the previous example) but are interspersed by cut-aways to the station and distant shots of the train as it rushes into the foreground.
A different argument works for a conception of Griffith’s locations as “fixed” and “closed,” with off-screen space relegated to the “wings of the proscenium.”6 But The Lonedale Operator, like earlier Griffith films such as The Lonely Villa, again doesn’t conform to this analysis. For example, the film activates off-screen space by gesture and intercutting (the operator waving at the window connects her to the tracks and her boyfriend; and later, this same sense of space is activated by reverse angle as the criminals creep along outside the window at which the operator was standing). Perhaps more remarkably, the spatial progression through two doors, from train station exterior to office anteroom, from anteroom to inner sanctum (one of the film’s main sets), offers a continuum that is frequently traversed and activated. The operator makes several trips back and forth through the space, the would-be thieves slowly break their way through it, and the rescue team bounds through it. Indeed, the tension of the narrative depends heavily upon our firm understanding of the spatial relations involved.
One might tie this development in continuity to Branigan’s so-called illusion of three-dimensional space, by which he means when the viewer is able to imagine him or herself in various places apart from the camera. What is called “character” is actually the potential site for a new set of spaces and which may or may not have already been projected by the viewer. Thus characters are not simply objects which may be moved about inside a space, like so many fireflies in a jar, but in a deep way are implicated in the very creation and perception of space by a viewer. The syntagmatic functions of character in linking scenes and shots are well known – for instance, the match on action – but the paradigmatic functions – for instance subjectivity – are seldom acknowledges.7
The dramatic structure of The Lonedale Operator seems to require its viewers to “imagine” already experienced spaces on both syntagmatic an paradigmatic levels. Without such extension to “illusory three dimensional space” – that is, spatial and narrative continuity – the dramatic tension of parting lovers or the thieves’ threatened intrusion would be lost.
The question, then, is, does The Lonedale Operator’s exploration of contiguous space activated by continuous actor movement, something like match cutting, and spatially articulated narrative tension, somehow function as a continuity system? In black and white, a strong affirmative argument could be made; but in color the answer would be less clear to a present day observer. I would argue – and my errant memory was the clue – that color functions as a disruptive element vis a vis continuity, while at the same time intensifying certain dramatic sensations. In this sense, despite my disagreement with Aumont on the subject of continuity in this film (and actually a number of earlier films), the color print underscores his point that “Griffith does nothing to hide the white threads which sew the frames together: on the contrary, he makes much of them, he flaunts them, puts a great deal of emphasis on them, marks them with a whole signifying apparatus” – a perception dramatically at odds with the effect produced by a black and white print.8
“The Particularity and Possibility of Color
How might color have functions in The Lonedale Operator for period audiences? A look at Griffith’s papers has not turned up any directives (nor evidence of his involvement with the color process), not that such evidence would necessarily contain the possibilities of viewing. Nor have I located any reviews that mention color with regard to this film.
It is, however, clear that “color” and lighting played an important role in the conception and production of the film. Any production of the period was required to make adjustments in: “found” or “natural” colors (in the set, costumes, and actor skin tones) to compensate for the transformation brought about by the sensitivity patterns of monochrome film and the desire to achieve character separation and a satisfactory tonal range. Georges Méliès, for example, noted that “blue becomes white, reds, greens, and yellows become black” and that the best solution was to pay careful attention to costumes, and to paint the set and requisites in shades of grey.9 Beyond this intriguing awareness of color – more as a pro-filmic consideration of monochromatic filmic consequences – The Lonedale Operator does make specifically narrative use of light and color, using a shift from highly directional to diffused light, and from blue to sepia, to indicate that a lamp is being turned on, thus revealing the wrench-gun trick. The importance of the light/color shift is underscored by the fact that the shot contains a camera trick: a stop-motion masked change in the lighting set up as the engineer “turns on” the desk lamp.
The restored color print relies (titles excepted) on three basic colors: a slight sepia tone (the norm), blue (some exteriors, one interior), and orange/red (the medium close shots of the train engine cab).10 The patterning of the colors suggests some possible motives: the red train scenes could signify something more subjective – the boyfriend’s passion or anger. (I leave aside the possibility that the roll of close shots for some unexplained reason wound up on red stock.)
The blue shots seem more reasonably to indicate “night” or “darkness” – for the second half of the film, blue is consistently used in exteriors, and it is used inside the office when the operator turns off the light. (The obvious question, for viewers of black and white prints, is, are there any cues to mark the transition to night or darkness? Lacking them, the time of day remains unspecific – and therefore presumably day – thus denying the pre-condition of darkness necessary for the wrench-as-gun trick. From a subjective frame at least, this trick has always seemed particularly contrived, but with the color print, it makes far more sense.
But the use of blue might have also offered viewers of the color print additional meanings or grounds for interpretation lacking to viewers of the black and white version. The first use of color in the film occurs as the train with the gold shipment pulls into Lonedale station. The film to this point has been emotionally “neutral” – the operator fooling around with her boyfriend, the operator kindly relieving a coworker, or just the normal routine of telegraphing and taking care of the shipments. But the appearance of blue marks a change in the statu quo – the first sign that the film contains color. The mere appearance of color, of course, may have signified a deluxe performance, a kind of surprise “bonus” (at least if the presence of color was unadvertised at the cinema, but exhibition practices regarding these films – like so much else – remain difficult to document). It may have functioned as a site of sensation, or it may have signaled something – something unspecified (and perhaps something ominous, depending upon a reading of blue as darkness or night). Again to switch to the present, I found myself anticipating danger earlier than usual, with the first appearance of blue (in black and white prints, the first sign of danger is the appearance of the two thieves, a literal cause rather than a vague sense of foreboding). Moreover, the color shift from the train’s point of departure (sepia) to its arrival at Lonedale station (blue) suggests a great distance or a marked time shift, elements that potentially contribute to the isolation or vulnerability of the operator (to a modern viewer at any rate). What about period audiences?
The intertextual positioning of the film’s viewers is critical to an understanding of how the appearance of color might have functioned: if a viewer knew Biograph’s films, she may well have anticipated the basic story from the start (at least the trade papers recognized Griffith as a master of last minute rescues, and the boy/girl separation might have suggested an immanent rescue to “informed” viewers), making the appearance of blue in the sense of narrative anticipation redundant. Color associations (blue/night, color/deluxe performance, color/pleasure) may well have worked on the level of sensation, but how might we establish this? The work on pre-cinematic use color use (stage, magic lanterns, chomolitographs, etc.) will certainly provide a step in the right direction. On the level of textual operations, we may never know – although it is nevertheless important to figure out – whether a hierarchy of meaning existed with regard to signifying practices. Did performance provide the dominant source of narrative information, or did editing, or intertitles? If there were hierarchies of signifiers (production practice suggests multiple and changing hierarchies), how did they function with regard to a “variable” like color? Such evidence may well indicate the kinds of functions color might not have played, again an important delimitating factor to making sense of color patterns.
Like editing pace and rhythm, color was perceived by some as almost physiological in effect. The color theories of the late nineteenth century, especially those associated with symbolists of a synesthetic bent, frequently linked the vibration effect of sound, color, and motion (Survage’s 1914 notes on film are exemplary).11 Such ideas called upon an Enlightenment tradition of attempts to locate empirically a discourse of the emotions, but the extent to which such ideas or assumptions circulated among early twentieth century filmmakers and audiences remains far from clear. But clear or not, the color print of The Lonedale Operator seems to avail itself of a reading consistent with these theories of color and the physiology of emotions: the print is sepia until the element of threat is introduced (i.e., the thieves). The first use of color (blue), and the extended color sequences which follow, coincide with the escalation of narrative tension, from setting-up the dramatic conflict through the crisis. Color, in this case, might be seen to serve the cause of dramatic intensification, a state achieved as we cut back and forth between the threatened station clerk holding off the thieves with her wrench/gun (blue) and the engineer racing to the rescue in the train (red), The last minute rescue effected by the editing (and increased cutting tempo) is intensified by alternating red and blue scenes. As resolution is achieved, as the lamp is once again turned on and normalcy is restored, sepia – the color established as the “norm” – returns.
I opened by emphasizing different arguments for considering continuity in the film from both narrative and space/time perspectives, from both syntagmatic and paradigmatic senses. The issue of spatial continuity seems to pose the greatest difficulties vis a vis color. Color seems to fragment, distinguish, and hold apart what the absence of color seems to bind together – an issue that goes back to the errors in memory I experienced. Although exclusively subjective, this perception leaves me wondering what difference (if any) would have been perceived by period audiences between color and black and white prints of the film. In this sense, the previously mentioned hierarchies of signifying practices are crucial, for color and continuity seem to work at odds once the narrative tension escalates.
The “train to the rescue” shots, for example, construct a sense of continuity both in terms of space (the medium shot and the medium close up of the men in the cab of the train) and concept (with the remaining train shots taken as the train rushes towards the camera). They form a comprehendible unity, even though the master scene/cut-in shots are not literally intercut. This “unity” is underscored by the alternative: shots from the endangered train office, itself a multi-shot unity of space and event. These “unities” (or location sequences) are not underscored or bound together by color, but rather disrupted by it. The train mounted “master scene” is blue, the cut-in red; the spatial continuity of the train station – exterior, anteroom, office – is marked by shifting sepia and blue colors. Would editing have dominated? in which case minimal difference might have been perceived between black and white and color. Or would color have indeed disrupted some sense of spatial coherence? The question, while probably not answerable, nevertheless helps to recall the possibility of readings very different from our own.
A more structural (in the sense of musical and poetic) use of color also seems to align with the narrative’s development. If we consider the repeated traversing of the train office complex, barring a final missing element, something like a symmetrical structural progression seems to operate. What begins as three same-colored spaces, respectively sepia/sepia/sepia, reappears as blue/sepia/sepia, then blue/sepia/blue, and finally blue/sepia/sepia. This progression would be perfectly symmetrical if the film returned to the original position, the sepia/sepia/sepia associated with the “normalcy” of the film’s first half (indeed, the normalcy restored in the film’s resolution as the world is again made safe and the lovers are reunited). Critics such as Aumont have called attention to the anti-naturalist character of Griffith’s mise en scène in this period, and many of the readings of color that I have speculated about would certainly reinforce this. Indeed, even the naturalist associations are rendered problematic by the available levels of sensation referenced (as in the red train shots: vision? temperature?) But it is the possibility of so many alternate readings, readings not easy to extrapolate from our present viewing position, that may in the end help to stimulate new questions on cinema before 1917.
To conclude, particularly in this transitional period, approaching color’s role with as open a mind as possible seems essential, all the more as the color research agenda begins to take form. Did color serve to underscore narrative information (such as the wrench/gun trick)? Did it serve to enhance a particular narrative principle (alternation, cross-cutting) to support or undercut the period’s sense of continuity? Did it suggest motivation, effect, or nature (red as passion or anger; blue as something ominous or night)? Or did it “merely” serve the ends of visual sensation or pleasure? Did its use relate to the period’s theories of color, sensation, and emotion, or to musical or poetic structural analogues? These questions, these observations, are necessarily predicated upon a weak base: we don’t know the specifics of the color process (who made the decisions?); we don’t know what – if any – chromatic approaches were characteristic of Biograph; or what the role was – if any – of European distributors. And of course, the place of aleatory factors unique to any particular laboratory transaction remains unclear. But, despite these daunting factors, the print raises significant questions about the possible roles of color in the construction of narrative and drama. And such possibilities, particularly at a moment when we are beginning systematically to reconsider “color,” have the vital function of keeping us alert to the complexities and contradictions of period usage.
1 This paper is based on the 35mm color reconstruction of The Lonedale Operator in the Nederlands Filmmuseum. The Dutch intertitled print, entitled De Moedige van den Stationschef, is 285.9 meters in length, and was restored late in 1993 (#DK/1384).
2 R. Bellour, “To Alternate/To Narrate,” Australian Journal of Film Theory, no. 15-16 (1983), reprinted in Th. Elsaesser, ed., Early Film: Space, Frame, Narrative (London: British Film Institute, 1990).
3 J. Aumont, “Griffith: le cadre, la figure,” in R. Bellour, ed., Le Cinéma Américain. Analysis de films, vol. 1 (Paris: Flammarion, 1980).
4 D. Bordwell, J. Staiger, K. Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (London-Melboume-Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985).
5 “The lateral edges of the frame are constantly used as true wings, permitting exits and entrances from the field (not, as will be the obsession of ‘classical’ cinema, to ensure a perfect and reversible communication with an imaginary offscreen space, as a homogeneous and isocronic extension of the screen, but as a simple ‘putting the actors on hold’: that is, as theatrical wings.” Aumont, p. 56.
7 E. Branigan, Point of View in the Cinema (The Hague, 1984), p. 96.
8 Aumont, p. 59.
9 G. Méliès, “Cinematographic Views,” (1906) in R. Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism. Vol. I:1907-1929 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 41-42.
10 These color distinctions are dependant upon some of the forementioned variables such as projection lamp intensity. In a third viewing of the film, the light seemed much brighter, making the colors appear to be black and white, pale blue, and orange. My analysis depends more upon the differences among colors that upon their essence. Hereafter, I will refer to the orange/red as “red.”
11 L. Survage, “Colored Rythm,” in R. Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 90-92. ”
(Uricchio, William (1996): Reflections on Color. The Possibilities for Dramatic Articulation in The Lonedale Operator. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 191-198.)
The purpose of restoring Nedbrudte Nerver was to achieve a new print resembling the premiere print as closely as possible. Also, the project was an aim to research and document the materials and sources of the reconstruction, in order to reach a best practice model for future restorations at the Danish Film Institute. The reconstruction of a new print was based upon two primary sources: the original nitrate negative and the Nordisk Films Kompagni title books.
Choice of Restoration Technique
There were three film elements held at the DFI. The original nitrate negative, an acetate duplicate positive/fine-grain master and an acetate print. The original negative dates from 1921, whereas the two safety elements had been struck in 1958. The elements all contained the same image information. Based on the surviving elements, three routes of restoration were considered.
The traditional positive-cut method, with or without tinting: Original negative > b/w or color print (edit)
Producing a duplicate negative, which would then be edited: Original negative > duplicate positive > duplicate negative (edit) > b/w or color print
A digital intermediate to re-record a new negative: Original negative > 2K scan > workstation (edit) > duplicate negative > b/w or color print
Many possible objections and benefits can be assigned each of the above processes, and one cannot as such be considered better or worse than the other.
The first method has been the one traditionally used at DFI, probably because of the relatively low cost of the materials involved. It is also the method closest to the original way of producing prints. One of the drawbacks of this method is the fact that the final print is a spliced print. Tape-splices have a tendency to become sticky with time. Cement splices are therefore to be preferred. However, cement splices may be poorly done, and many projectionists do not trust cement splices and therefore reinforce them with tape, which then causes further frustrations. Also, the inevitable slow deterioration and final destruction of the print, will lead to having to redo the restoration all over again, thus losing many weeks or months of work. This method was rejected, primarily because of the shift in cost of labor versus film stock.
The second route has the benefit of producing several intermediate materials, which can be considered an extra safeguarding of the original negative. If there had not already been struck a preservation master from the original negative, this would have been the preferred course of the restoration. However, since a preservation master already existed as a photochemical safeguarding of the negative, the last route was chosen, not the least due to the wish to explore the possibilities in the digital domain. Using a digital intermediate for a straightforward reconstruction of a film is still an unusual route to follow. Because of the relative high cost this path seems only to have been used once before on a silent feature, namely in the case of Metropolis (Fritz Lang, DE, 1926), restored by Murnau Stiftung and Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv in 2001. However, in the case of Metropolis, the reason for choosing a digital intermediate was the possibility of cleaning up and matching images deriving from many different sources. For Nedbrudte Nerver, the negative was in excellent condition, and it was decided not to remove any errors present in the image. This of course made the restoration work much cheaper than the restoration of Metropolis, though it still did not quite match the price of a conventional photochemical restoration. In my opinion, it is nevertheless very possible that the ease and preview possibilities in the digital intermediate process save the archivist so much time that it is highly competitive with a conventional photochemical restoration process.
It is possible for the restorer to attend more stages in the digital restoration process than with an ordinary laboratory. There is however still a large degree of ‘black box’ uncertainty. With an ordinary photochemical lab, you send your material in and check the negative and print when it comes back. In a digital duplication you follow the prerecording stages to the end, using analogue knobs without any log file. Then the duplicate negative is re-recorded, which is a new process with which we have very little experience, especially with black and white stock. Apart from the discussion about whether a 2K/10 bit resolution is adequate, there are thus a number of undocumented and new processes that we have to master before we can use digital restoration as the basis of film preservation work.
The Digital Intermediate Process
The digital intermediate restoration took place at Digital Film Lab in Copenhagen. The negative development and Desmet printing was handled by Soho Images in London. The actual restoration process went through six stages in order to give the highest level of control and to use as few costly resources as possible:
First the original negative was scanned at television resolution in order to get a synchronized ‘work print.’
The material was then edited in an Avid workstation. The material was brought together in continuity order and intertitles were inserted.
The original negative was scanned in a Spirit scanner in high definition (1920×1440).
The Avid EDL was conformed to an Inferno workstation and the high definition scan and titles were brought together in 2K resolution.
A new negative was re-recorded on an Arrilaser, using black & white Eastman Pan separation polyester stock (5238).
Two prints were struck from the negative, a flash-tinted (Desmetcolor) print with Amber and Blue tints on Eastman Vision acetate print stock (5283) and a black & white print on Eastman acetate stock (5302).
The entire restoration from the initial scan at broadcast resolution to the final print ran from July 23rd 2001 to November 11th 2001. The total cost was DKK 260.000 (not including time spent by the DFI), which makes it comparable to a traditional photochemical restoration, considering the time-efficiency of the digital process on behalf of the restorer. This cost included all scanning, workstation time and a new black and white duplicate negative (1700 meters), a black and white print and a Desmetcolor print. The black & white negative re-record cost at the time was DKK 1.56 per frame excluding development.
The entire restoration from the initial scan at broadcast resolution to the final print ran from July 23rd 2001 to November 11th 2001. The total cost was DKK 260.000 (not including time spent by the DFI), which makes it comparable to a traditional photochemical restoration, considering the time-efficiency of the digital process on behalf of the restorer. This cost included all scanning, workstation time and a new black and white duplicate negative (1700 meters), a black and white print and a Desmetcolor print. The black & white negative re-record cost at the time was DKK 1.56 per frame excluding development.
Sources and Research
A number of primary sources were available for the preparation of the restoration work. Primarily the original nitrate negative was used. The negative was intact with tinting indications, continuity numbers and title numbers. Also the title books from Nordisk Films Kompagni survive and are an invaluable source to the wording of the original intertitles. The actual tinting was determined from a match of surviving frames from other Nordisk films of the period with tinted frames held at Soho Images as reference.
The illustration above is a frame-enlargement of the negative indications as they appear in the safety print from 1958. The first number ‘25’ is an intertitle number. The ‘9’ is a roll or sequence number, the ‘45’ is the edit or shot number, and the ‘57.1’ is the length of the roll in meters. The tinting is indicated with the inscription ‘L Amb’, which is taken to be Light Amber. The actual tint aim was Wool Orange, which was used with the same density in the print for both the Light Amber, and the Amber scenes. The tint aim for the Blue scenes was a Direct Blue.
The original wording was used for the Danish titles, which thus appear with capital letters in nouns and old spelling. The English translation and the font are new additions, and no attempt was made to frame the titles or try to match a contemporary look.
One of the primary goals of the restoration was to create a best practice as to the documentation of this and future restorations performed at DFI. The negative indications were noted down in a spreadsheet. These indications then served as a guideline for a rough Edit Decision List (EDL), which determined where the individual sequences should go in the continuity. In a few instances guesswork was needed. These instances have been noted for future reference.
Table 1 on the following page describes the contents of the original negative. Title numbers have almost completely been omitted in the documentation, since they are fairly easy to detect in the video editing. The indications themselves are relatively easy to follow, and there is an internal logic once the general continuity has been established.
Table 2 is based upon the information in Table 1 and gives the same information, but organised in continuity order. Also the choices and decisions made in connection with the actual edit have been noted. The rough EDL is thus a description of the archivist’s decisions in connection with the reconstruction. Though it is in a shorthand form, it is nevertheless possible to trace the process from the film’s original state, through the editing process to the final print.
An actual EDL was also generated from the Avid workstation, which gives all time codes for edits.
In general an off-line edit on video must be considered the most convenient and efficient way to edit or restore any film. The process gives excellent video preview, and allows archivists and management an opportunity to decide if the film should in fact go all the way to print or if a restoration at tv-resolution is adequate for the title in question. The two first steps (720 scan and video edit) could thus be the same for both a conventional photochemical restoration and the 2K process chosen in this case. Though not used in this case, the digital domain offers a wide range of image manipulation possibilities, which are not available in conventional duplication. Also, the digital process at Digital Filmlab is directed at producing a one light negative conforming to densitometric standards, thus minimizing the introduction of errors at the printing stage.
Though the restoration of Nedbrudte Nerver has proven that 1920 x 1440 resolution is adequate for the transfer of a 1921 negative to a new duplicate negative, there are still a number of issues remaining that hinder using a 2K scan as a preservation.
The new negative is an edited negative in continuity order. Thus all indications in the original have been lost. Also, only the image area has been transferred to the new negative, and therefore all edge codes, perforation information and the like have not been transferred. The titles inserted are newly produced and can therefore only be an introduction of a foreign element in a film from 1923. What we now have is thus a version, albeit hopefully a good and durable version, but nevertheless only a version. The reversibility of the process is assured by the continued safekeeping and preservation of the original negative and the safety duplicate positive from that negative. Only by saving the original as it is on film can true reversibility be secured. However, for presentation there is no doubt that cinema can benefit from the emergence of digital intermediate technology. When used with respect for the integrity of the original, it is possible to reach a result that matches a conventional fully photochemical duplication.”
(Christensen, Thomas C. (2002): Restoring a Danish Silent Film. In: Dan Nissen, Lisbeth Richter Larsen, Thomas C. Christensen and Jesper Stub Johnsen (eds.): Preserve Then Show. Copenhagen: Danish Film Institute, pp. 138-145.)
“Times are changing, the public is growing more exacting in its requirements and the demand for color is evident from the fact that from 80% to 90% of the film now being produced is tinted.
In spite of the success attained by many workers in producing multi-color pictures by purely photographic means the expense involved reduces the prospect of the natural color picture coming into universal use for some time to come, so in the interval the majority of film will be colored by improved methods of tinting and toning.
Tinting, as usually understood, consists in immersing the film in a solution of dye which colors the gelatin, causing the whole picture to have a uniform veil of color on the screen, though there are other ways of producing the same effect as follows:
1. By the use of color screens at some point in the path of the beam of light in the projector. The color screens may consist of sheets of colored glass or of dyed gelatine similar to the usual photographic filters, conveniently mounted in a circular rotating holder placed in front of the projector lens. This method is very satisfactory if a long run of film is to receive the same tint, though if the tint has to be changed between scenes some mechanically operated arrangement is necessary.
Interesting effects may be secured by using a compound filter composed of two or more sections placed at a suitable distance in front of the lens, so that one color will diffuse into the other on the screen.
2. By “flood lighting” the screen, which consists in throwing beams of colored light onto the screen from the wings. This method is fairly effective but necessitates the assistance of one or more operators.
3. By coloring the film base. Apart from the manufacturing difficulties involved in producing such film the limited number of prints which could be supplied would not warrant the demand for the infinite variety of shades and tints employed by various producers.
4. By coloring the gelatine by means of inorganic salts. This interesting method depends upon the fact that certain inorganic metallic salts, such as uranium and iron ferrocyanides, lead sulphide, etc., in the colloidal condition are highly colored. The method of tinting consists in precipitating the colored salts within the gelatine by first immersing the film in a weak solution of – say, uranium nitrate, rinsing and then placing in a weak solution of potassium ferrocyanide and washing. The dept of tint depends on the concentration of the solutions and on the time of rinsing before immersing in the ferrocyanide. The color does not bleed but in view of the labor involved and the limited number of colors available the method is inferior to that of tinting with dyes. (See Motion Picture News , December, 1918, p. 3941.)
5. The method of tinting with dyes is the most satisfactory and is almost universally employed. The dye can be applied to the film by means of application rollers or by floating the film across the surface of the dye or by spraying, though the method of dipping, as in development, is in most general use.
Success in tinting depends on the correct choice of dyes and the correct methods of their application.
CHOICE OF DYES
Dyes are of two kinds, acid and basic, depending on their chemical composition, acid dyes being alkali salts of organic acids while basic dyes are the chlorides, sulphates, etc., of organic bases. The two classes of dyes may be distinguished as follows:
(a) When a solution of an acid dye is mixed with a solution of a basic dye, both are mutually precipitated and come out of the solution, and this property is made use of in testing whether a dye is acid or basic. It is simply necessary to add a solution of a known basic dye; for example, methyl violet to the unknown dye solution, and observe if the solution remains clear (indicating a basic dye) or becomes turbid (thus indicating an acid dye).
(b) Another method consists in immersing the edge of a piece of blotting or filter paper in the dye solution. In the case of a basic dye, as the color runs up the paper, a colorless band precedes the band of color as if the paper were filtering the water from the dye, while with an acid dye no such line of demarkation is noticed.
(c) Another interesting property of basic dyes is that an acid solution does not usually dye gelatine as rapidly as a neutral solution, while with most acid dyes the rate of dyeing is considerably increased by adding acid.
None of the above tests is absolutely conclusive, though in the absence of the more refined chemical tests if all three confirm each other they may be considered as conclusive.
In view of the opposite nature of acid and basic dyes, it is obvious that if several dyes are to be mixed one with another to produce intermediate tints they must all be of the same class. Since the number of acid dyes of suitable color is far in excess of the number of basic dyes, thus giving greater selection, and since acid dyes are usually more stable to light, they are the most suitable for tinting.
PROPERTIES OF ACID DYES
Dyes suitable for tinting should possess the following properties:
1. The dye should not “bleed” to any considerable extent when the film is washed; in other words, the rate of removal of the dye should be slow and only a slight amount should wash out in a period of – say five minutes.
In tinting, bleeding is of very considerable importance, since during the period between rinsing after dyeing and the placing of the film on the drying racks, any drops of water on the surface of the film become more or less saturated with dye, and these, after drying remain as spots and irregular markings which are very apparent on the screen.
It is possible in some cases to modify this bleeding by an acid “stop-bath,” or by adding acid to the dye-bath, though it may be considered a general rule that the bleeding of a dye is a property particular to itself. In selecting dyes it is therefore necessary to choose only those whose propensity for bleeding is a minimum.
2. The dye should not be precipitated by alum, calcium (lime) magnesium, or iron salts. A large number of dyes are readily precipitated by these salts, the result being that if the water supply contains a slight amount of – say alum or calcium salts, or if the film is for any reason not thoroughly washed after leaving the alum hardening fixing bath, the dye precipitates in the tank as a sludge and produces a spotted effect on the film. Hard water, which may contain carbonates, bicarbonates or sulphates of calcium and magnesium, is therefore liable to give trouble with unsuitable dyes. The use of distilled water for mixing the dye solutions will partly eliminate the trouble, though a supply of distilled water is available in very few film laboratories.
In many localities the water supply is treated with compounds containing alum and iron salts to precipitate vegetable colloidal matter in suspension though after settling, the water still contains alum in solution, and also any previously dissolved salts, which cause the trouble.
The dyes recommended below are not readily precipitated by alum, calcium, magnesium, or iron salts and a large number of dyes while otherwise suitable for tinting film have been rejected because they failed to stand this test.
3. The dye should not be “dichroic” or change color (hue) on dilution, otherwise it is difficult to repeat results and match any given tint. The dye should also be fast to light even under the heat of the projector, otherwise local fading would result in patchiness on the screen.
4. The dye solution should not froth readily, otherwise foam accumulates on the surface of the tank, especially when the drum system of tinting is employed and clings to the film even after rinsing.
5. The dye should not be affected by the acid-fixing bath since any fixing solution accidentally splashed thereon will destroy the dye immediately. Great importance has not been attached to this test since hypo should never reach the tinted film. It has been impossible to collect a complete set of dyes which will pass this test, though in choosing between two otherwise satisfactory dyes the one affected by hypo has been rejected.
6. The dye should be inert and not attack the gelatine coating of the film even after incubating for 24 hours at 212 degrees F. This is of fundamental importance otherwise the film becomes brittle and its wearing qualities are impaired.
BRITTLENESS OF FILM
Complaint is sometimes made that film is lacking in physical properties, and in many cases this is apparently so, but due to no fault in manufacture. Projecting conditions have changed. Whereas 20 to 30 amperes was considered sufficient for projection, owing to longer throws necessary in the larger theatres, many houses are using considerably over 100 amperes. In the interval between successive showings the film has not time to cool, the result is a continual baking of the film which affects its flexibility and with other factors produces brittleness. These factors may be tabulated as follows:
1. The corrosive action of dye itself. Several dyes when employed at a concentration of 1% attack gelatine readily at 70 degrees F. and vigorously at 80 degrees, especially in the presence of small amounts of acid, producing a marked softening and often partial dissolution of the film. The effect is roughly proportional to the concentration of the dye and to the temperature, and varies with each individual dye.
Experience has shown that the gelatin coating of film which has been softened in this way by the dye becomes brittle on subsequent projection. The effect is due partly to the particular chemical constitution of the dye itself and also to the impurities mixed with the dye. Commercial dyes are prepared by “salting out” the dye by adding common salt, sodium sulphate and other chemicals to the dye solution so that unless the dye is subsequently purified it contains sodium chloride or sodium sulphate with more or less iron which has a tendency to harden the film considerably.
2. The hydrolising action of acid which in many cases is added to assist in dyeing. The addition of acid to a solution of an acid dye usually has the effect of increasing the rate of dyeing while in the case of a basic dye the rate of dyeing is diminished. With acid dyes, acid also tends to fix the dye in the gelatine and therefore diminish the rate of bleeding. In such a case only a volatile acid, such as acetic acid, should be used, since this will mostly evaporate on drying. If a solid acid, such as citric or tartaric is used, this remains in the film on drying and under the influence of the heat of the projector, especially in damp weather, the acid soon begins to decompose the gelatine film.
The effect of acid on gelatine is readily seen by adding a few pieces of gelatine to a strong solution of acetic acid. The gelatine soon dissolves, forming a liquid glue which when dry is much more brittle than gelatine.
Acid in any form is therefore undesirable as far as the wearing qualities of film are concerned, but if it is used the concentration should not exceed 0.05% or 1 part of glacial acetic acid to two thousand (3 oz. per 50 gal.) otherwise softening of the gelatine is liable to occur especially if the temperature of the dye-bath exceeds 70 degrees F.
It is common practice in may film laboratories, when the dye bath works slowly to add a further quantity of acetic acid to increase the rate of dyeing. This is done repeatedly until the dye-bath contains practically no dye at all and a strong odor of acetic acid is present in the dyeing room. Such maltreatment of film is responsible for most of the complaints of brittleness and is to be deplored. The cost of the dye is insignificant as compared with the value of the film treated so that a dye-bath of sufficient strength should be made in the first place and a strong solution of dye added as required in order to revive the bath. Fifty gallons of dye bath of a concentration of 0.2% will usually tint 40,000 feet of film.”
(Blair, G.A. (1920): The Tinting of Motion Picture Film. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 4,10, pp. 45–53, on pp. 45–49.)
“AMERICAN FILM TINTING DYES
The following American made dyes which fulfill the above conditions as nearly as possible are recommended for film tinting:”
(Blair, G.A. (1920): The Tinting of Motion Picture Film. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 4,10, pp. 45–53, on p. 49.)
“The strength of the dyes may vary from batch to batch, the same dyes made by different makers differing particularly in this respect, so that when purchasing it is desirable to secure a statement of the percentage of pure dye in the sample. As stated above, a certain percentage of salt or sodium sulphate is present in most commercial dyes, so that when comparing prices the amount of impurity present should be taken into consideration.”
(Blair, G.A. (1920): The Tinting of Motion Picture Film. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 4,10, pp. 45–53, on p. 50.)
“NATURE OF POSITIVE FILM
Only good snappy positive film may be successfully tinted, since tinting tends to reduce contrast.
The depth of the tint obtained depends on the following factors:
1. NATURE AND STRENGTH OF THE DYE-BATH
Except in special cases, such as fire scenes, sunset and moonlight effects, it is very undesirable to employ strong tints, since apart from the displeasing effect and irritation to the eye, the dyes produce a slight softening of the gelatine film when used at 80° (F) in a 1% solution.
Should it be necessary to employ concentrated baths in summer, either cool the dye bath or use a suitable hardener. This will be unnecessary if hardener is employed in the fixing bath after development, but otherwise if formalin (40%) be added to the dye-bath to the extent of 1 volume to 400 volumes of dye solution, no trouble will be encountered. During the winter months when it is advisable to treat all film after developing and fixing with glycerine, the latter may be incorporated with the dye bath, thereby eliminating an extra operation. The strength of the glycerine should be 2%, or two volumes per one hundred volumes of dye solution. In most cases, however, the addition of glycerine considerably retards the rate of dyeing and in order to obtain the same degree of tinting in a given time, the concentration of the dye bath should be increased accordingly.
When delicate tints are employed, the effect is both to remove the contrasting black and white effect, and to add a touch of warmth to the black deposit of silver, even in cases where the highlights are insufficiently stained to be noticeable. The result in many cases is equal to that obtained by partial toning.
2. TEMPERATURE OF THE DYE-BATH
Although temperature has little effect on the rate of dyeing with the dyes recommended, when used without the addition of acid, it is advisable in all cases to work at 65 to 70° F. to produce uniform results and remove any danger of softening the film.
3. TIME OF DYEING
In order to duplicate any particular tint with a given dye-bath the film may be dyed either by time or by inspection. Dyeing by time is reliable if the dye-bath does not contain acid, though if acid is present, in time the acidity decreases, causing a slowing down of the rate of dyeing, so that it becomes necessary to judge the progress of dyeing by inspection.
If two or more tints of the same color are required, it is better to vary the time of dyeing rather than to vary the dilution of the bath, as a means of reducing the number of individual dye-baths to a minimum, providing the time of dyeing for the lighter tint is not less than one minute, which time is considered a minimum for the production of uniform results and for complete control of the dyeing operations.
The time of dyeing also depends somewhat on the previous handling of the film. Film which has been fixed in a bath containing ordinary – or chrome alum, dyes more quickly than that created with plain hypo and hardened with formalin.
It is probable, therefore, that small traces of alum, which serve as a mordant for the dye, are left in the film even after prolonged washing.
Should the film for any reason be over-dyed, a small portion of the dye may be removed by washing for 10 to 15 minutes, though the fastness of the dyes to bleeding will permit only slight mistakes to be rectified in this manner.
LIFE OF THE DYE-BATH
This averages about 40,000 feet of film per 50 gallons of dye-bath. As the rate of dyeing slows down the bath should be revived by adding a concentrated solution of the dye and not by adding acid. When the bath becomes muddy, especially in warm weather, it should be renewed.
METHOD OF PROCEDURE
Either the “drum” or the “rack” method may be employed, the rack being agitated slightly to insure even dyeing and prevent accumulation of air bubbles, after which the film should be given a thorough rinsing in plain water.
Before drying films on racks it is advisable to set the rack at a slight angle for a few minutes, to enable the surplus water to drain off more readily through the perforations. If drums are used for drying it is advisable to remove the surplus water by whirling the drum previous to drying.
If uniform results are to be obtained, film should never be passed through the projector before either tinting or toning.
HOW TO OBTAIN INTERMEDIATE TINTS
Sample tints may be readily obtained by making a trial with a small amount of solution on a short length of film, taking care to match the tint in artificial light and not by daylight.
When matching think of the tint as being made up of one or more of the colors, red, yellow and blue. Colors such as orange are made by mixing yellow and red, violet by mixing red and blue, and green by mixing yellow and blue. Browns are obtained by mixing all three colors, red, yellow and blue.
LOCAL AND MULTIPLE TINTING
Very pleasing effects may be secured by locally tinting a portion of the film picture. This can be done either by coloring each picture separately by hand or by cutting a stencil and applying the dye through the stencil by application rollers or by spraying, or a resist such as a transparent varnish may be applied either by hand or by stencil to those portions which are not to receive dye and the film immersed in the dye solution in the usual way. Multiple tinting is executed in the same way.
The amount of light cut off from the screen as a result of tinting depends upon the nature of the particular dye, the concentration of dye in the film, and on the purity of color of the dye. An interesting series of measurements recently made in the Research Laboratory of the Eastman Kodak Company show that the screen brightness is diminished by from 25% to 95% as a result of tinting. Excepting in special cases, therefore, it is very desirable to keep the tints as light as possible or at least no deeper than is required to produce the necessary color sensation.
TROUBLES IN TINTING
Streaks and uneven coloring may be caused by:
(a) Grease on the film. Film should never be projected before being tinted.
(b) Excessing bleeding of the dye, allowing the film to stand too long after rinsing and before placing on the drying rack, or insufficient squeegeeing of the film when placing on the drying rack.
(c) Too low a humidity in the drying room. If the air in the drying room is too dry, while the film stands on the rack previous to placing on the drying reel, the edges of the film commence to dry while the center is still moist with water charged with dye which has bled from the film. Even after squeegeeing under such conditions drying marks will be produced and are apparent on the screen as streaks. The remedy is to keep the relative humidity of the drying room around 60% to 70% and to squeegee the film either by means of a blast of air or by chamois as quickly as possible. All drying rooms should be equipped with a recording hydrometer placed in close proximity to the drying reels.”
(Blair, G.A. (1920): The Tinting of Motion Picture Film. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 4,10, pp. 45–53, on pp. 51–53.)
“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.”
(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.)
“Other methods of colouring early silent films included tinting, toning, and mordanting (a variation of toning), processes which involved adding colour by immersing an entire film or sections of a film in a solution of coloured dyes, applying a coloured glaze to the base, or using pre-tinted stock. These different processes, which could be used in various combinations to increase their creative impact, were abandoned temporarily in the late 1920s when they were found to interfere with sound-track reproduction. In any case, by then the studios had largely lost interest in colour, believing that sound itself was enough of a novelty to attract the public. Of course, the search for colour did not die out, and the development of new tinted stock late in 1929 rekindled some interest.
The aesthetic impact of the processes listed above is the creation a uniform colour that would highlight the symbolic or dramatic content of the narrative (red for fire or passion, blue for darkness or mystery), and had little to do with realism. If anything, colour was valued because of its artificiality.”
(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 pp. 18–19.)
“As the cinema developed into a mass-production industry, techniques were developed to tint and tone movies by mechanical means. In 1905, Charles Pathé invented the Pathécolor stencil process so that the application of colour in films could be mechanized. 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 By the early 1920s, it has been estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent of American films used tinting and toning in at least some scenes (Cook, 252-53). While tinting produced a uniform colour throughout a particular scene, toning – which affected only the black-silver part of the image – coloured only half-tones and shadows. The problem was that the colours produced by both processes were deeply artificial and, with the arrival of synchronized sound in and after 1927, it was swiftly discovered that the dyes used for tinting and toning interfered with the soundtrack. While this was only a technical problem, which could perhaps have been overcome; talking pictures inspired a new and different aesthetic regime that seems to have discouraged the use of colour tints. In any case, developments in colour cinematography would soon make tinting and toning seem antiquated and out-of-date (Cook, 253).
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.)
The Lonedale Operator (USA 1911, D. W. Griffith)
“As Paolo Cherchi Usai points out, it became conventional in early cinema to use specific colours in particular ways to communicate certain moods or circumstances. At a crucial moment in D.W. Griffith’s The Lonedale Operator of 1911, the heroine, Blanche Sweet, turns out the light and turns the tables on two burglars by convincing them that the nickel-plated monkey wrench she is holding is really a gun. Most black-and-white copies of the film nowadays make the ruse seeming completely unconvincing. But in the original 1911 version, immediately after the light was turned off, the film was tinted a deep blue, providing audiences of the time with a reasonably convincing simulation of a dark night. Other colours were employed in analogous circumstances. As Usai observes, “bright red was used for fire or a scene of passion; light amber, when a table light was turned on in a room; green suggested an idyllic rural life”.2
2 Paolo Cherchi Usai, “The Color of Nitrate: Some Factual Observations on Tinting and Toning Manuals for Silent Film,” in Richard Abel, ed;, Silent Film, London: Athlone Press, 1996, pp. 21-22.”
(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.)
“STAINED OR TINTED FILM.
First, there is the stained film. The effect is the same as if the screen were painted with some light color, and the black and white pictures from the lantern were thrown upon the tinted screen. The picture is black on red, or black on green, or black on orange, etc. The effect is produced by dyeing or staining the gelatine of the picture film, the transparent portions of the picture film thus becoming tinted, and the black silver deposit of the picture remaining black. A most realistic coloring is given for a fire scene by a black and red picture by this process. Titles may be made less harsh by using a letter of any tint upon a black ground.
Second, there is the chemically tinted or colored-image film. In this film, the picture itself and not the screen appears colored. The colored film is secured by treating the film chemically to convert the black deposit of the picture into a colored substance, and yet to leave the transparent gelatine uncolored. This is done easily, the colored deposit of the images being secured either directly by special development of the print or indirectly by treatment of the film subsequent to development. The resulting picture is green on white or blue on white, etc.
A green-on-white surf scene, with the breaking waves showing white caps on the green water, is very realistic. Blue images upon a while curtain suggest moonlight, and are very widely used either to indicate moonlight, or to indicate a darkened room after a lamp has been extinguished.
The two foregoing methods are inexpensive in the manufacture of films, and are extensively used; but they do not come under the scope or fill the requirement of a colored film which will exhibit all the colors of nature.”
(Hulfish, David Sherill (1909): Pictures in Color. In: David Sherill Hulfish (ed.): The Motion Picture. Its Making and Its Theater. Chicago: Electricity Magazine Corporation, pp. 41–44, on pp. 41–42.)
“Die viragierten Filme
Da sich das Verfahren der Schablonenkolorierung nicht für die industrielle Fertigung eignete, wurde es schon sehr bald durch den viragierten Film ersetzt, der in den zwanziger Jahren eine weite Verbreitung fand.
Die Virage erfolgte nach der Entwicklung. Der Film wurde zunächst als herkömmlicher Schwarzweißfilm gedreht, und erst die Kopien wurden in der Gelatine abwechselnd monochrom eingefärbt. Andere Verfahren – Beizfärbung und Tonung – bei denen das schwarze Silber des Bildes nach der Entwicklung chemisch in farbige Silbersalze verwandelt wurde, führten zum gleichen Ergebnis: Das Positiv präsentierte sich jeweils als eine einfarbige Abfolge von Aufnahmen, auf die eine andersfarbige Sequenz folgte.
Man erhielt Nachtszenen, indem man am hellen Tag gedrehte Aufnahmen nachträglich blau färbte. So gewann Farbe Signalwirkung. Wurde in einer Wohnung Licht gemacht, wurde Blau durch Gelb oder Sepia ersetzt. Diese Konventionen gehörten zur Filmsprache, und der Zuschauer nahm sie zumeist unbewußt wahr.
Darüber hinaus unterstrich die Färbung den dramatischen Inhalt. Ein besonders eindrucksvolles Beispiel hierfür liefert The Wanderer von Raoul Walsh, wo Jehovas Fluch in feurigen Buchstaben am roten Himmel von Babylon erscheint. Rosa stand für friedliches Glück, Gelb war die Farbe der Hoffnung, Lila die der Angst; dieser feststehende Gebrauch der Farbe ließ den Film zu einer universell verständlichen Sprache werden.
Obwohl die Wahl der Farben somit zu einem großen Teil Routine war, bestimmten einige Regisseure, wie beispielsweise Marcel L’Herbier, die Beizfärbung oder Tonung selbst, da sie der Farbgebung eine wesentliche Bedeutung im künstlerischen Schaffensprozeß zumaßen.
Heute haben wir all dies aus den Augen verloren, da die meisten Stummfilmkopien schwarzweiß gezogen wurden.”
(Borde, Raymond (1988): Die Filmarchive und der Farbfilm. Eine Einführung. In: Gert Koshofer: Color. Die Farben des Films. Berlin: Wissenschaftsverl. Volker Spiess, pp. 7–10, on p. 8.) (in German)
“Heute haben wir all dies aus den Augen verloren, da die meisten Stummfilmkopien schwarzweiß gezogen wurden. Dies erklärt die große Überraschung und Begeisterung des Publikums, als es den Film Intolerance auf dem Festival in Avignon 1986 in viragierter Version auf einer phantastischen Leinwand sah. Eine vergessene Kunst erstrahlte aus dem Schatten der Vergangenheit.
Zur Entlastung der Filmarchive muß allerdings gesagt werden, daß die viragierten Filme deshalb in solchen Unmengen auf Schwarzweißmaterial umkopiert wurden, weil es sich bei den Originalen um leicht brennbare und vom Zerfall bedrohte Nitrofilme handelte. Sie mußten dringend auf Sicherheitsfilm umkopiert werden, denn “Nitro wartet nicht”. Daher wählte man die schnellste und preiswerteste Lösung.
Heute fordert die FIAF, die internationale Vereinigung der Filmarchive, beim Umkopieren nicht nur aus Respekt vor dem Original die Berücksichtigung der Virage, sondern auch, weil bei der Übertragung auf Schwarzweißmaterial bestimmte Wirkungen verloren gehen. Ein Beispiel hierfür sind die von der zeitgenössischen Kritik hochgelobten Doppelbelichtungen in Körkarlen (“Der Fuhrmann des Todes”, 1920) von Victor Sjöström, die in den originalen Grün- und Blautönen großartig sind, in den modernen Schwarzweiß-Kopien aber völlig alltäglich wirken.
In den kommenden Jahren wird sich das überwältigende Ereignis von Intolerance gewiß wiederholen. Nach und nach wird man neue Farbkopien herstellen, die in den Farben den Originalen gleichwertig sind und die dem Publikum die wahre Schönheit des Stummfilms offenbaren werden.”
(Borde, Raymond (1988): Die Filmarchive und der Farbfilm. Eine Einführung. In: Gert Koshofer: Color. Die Farben des Films. Berlin: Wissenschaftsverl. Volker Spiess, pp. 7–10, on p. 8.) (in German)
“The high pressure under which some film manufacturers have to work to keep up their regular releases prevents them from giving to their product many artistic touches that would otherwise be done if there was an open market and the competition was on the lines of quality instead of quantity. Occasionally a reel is seen that is appropriately toned or tinted or both, and it is a relief to the eye and frequently brings applause to a picture that would have been passed in silence if in cold black and white. We have heard manufacturers remark when this subject was mentioned that the people were already getting enough for their money. Rather a narrow-minded attitude, is it not?
Toning, of course, is a considerable added expense, as the photograph has to be developed in black and white, carefully washed and then treated with other chemicals which alter the color of the silver deposit; also the work has to be done by skilled labor. Tinting alone is both simple and inexpensive. Where both are used together and in colors appropriate to the subject the result is almost as satisfying as hand coloring or natural color photography. We have in mind some Great Northern subjects that were double toned and tinted, and the impression conveyed was that we were looking at the actual scene. The same can be said of some of the Gaumont scenic films and an occasional Eclair.
Pathe [Pathé], of course, leads the world in artificial coloring, and some of their mechanically colored films d’art rival the hues of Kinemacolor, although, judging from the records of the patent office, we expect soon to see stencil colored films from an American manufacturer. But pigment coloring is of course vastly more expensive than toning and the latter suffices in most cases. Tinting is sometimes used as a cloak for poor photography but the photograph must be perfect if it is to be toned.
Of the American manufacturers, Selig, Edison and Vitagraph occasionally send out toned pictures, in some of which the various scenes were different toned, appropriate to the subject. Lubin has also, lately, sent out some very finely toned and tinted subjects which have greatly helped to establish a new standard of quality for the Lubin product. Thanhouser, Nestor and others have shown that they have the knowledge and the facilities for this work and no doubt they have had pleasing comments from their customers when they, if seldom, departed from the black and white.
We were prompted to draw attention at this time to the advisability of varying the tones of the photograph by reading a letter which was received by the Rex Company from an exhibitor who said that he would always demand Rex films if they were as beautifully toned as the one he had just run. Without in the least detracting from the literary or histrionic quality of the Rex product, we have no doubt that the great and sudden popularity that this film has already achieved is largely due to the careful toning and tinting which, of itself alone, was enough to stamp this new product as the work of an old master hand.
So it is evident that the exhibitor and the public like a change from the black and white and will ask for the brand of film that gives them the colors; therefore the manufacturer who hides behind the excuse that “the people are already getting enough for their money” may wake up some day and find his patronage gone. As we have said before, toning is not a great expense, and if it is done right it does not lessen the brilliancy of the picture, but in the tinting process, in which the dye is applied to the whole surface of the film, it is advisable, nay compulsory, to dilute it to such an extent that there is just the mere suggestion of color.”
(Anonymous (1911): Toning and Tinting as an Adjunct to the Picture. In: Moving Picture World, 8, 18.3.1911, p. 574.)
“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.)
“Die Verwendung von Tonung und Virage im dokumentarischen bzw. nichtfiktionalen Film der 1910er und 1920er Jahre ist noch wenig erforscht. Die meisten Untersuchungen, wie die grundlegende Studie “Rot wie Feuer, Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn. Zu einigen Aspekten der Farbe im Stummfilm” (1988) von Elfriede Ledig und Gerhard Ullmann, konzentrieren sich auf den Spielfilm.1 Insgesamt liegen zur Virage – der “dominanten Färbungsart der 10er und 20er Jahre”2 – und ihrer Ästhetik, kaum Studien vor. Selbst Gert Koshofer behandelt in seinem Standardwerk Color. Die Farben des Films (1988) Tonung und Virage nur sehr knapp, obschon es diese Verfahren länger gab und sie in den ersten Jahrzehnten der Filmgeschichte weiter verbreitet waren als viele andere, die nur selten über das Experimentierstadium hinausgekommen sind.3
In seinem 1994 erschienenen Essay “Colourful Metaphors: The Attraction of Colour in Early Silent Cinema” führt Tom Gunning das Konzept der “farbigen Metaphern” ein.4 Zwar bezieht auch er sich vor allem auf fiktionale Filme; seine Überlegungen lassen sich aber auf den nichtfiktionalen Film übertragen. Gunning differenziert zwischen der indexikalischen Farbe, die sich auf die in der sichtbaren Welt real existierenden Farben bezieht, und der in der Stummfilmzeit vorherrschenden, nicht-indexikalischen, rein sinnlich eingesetzten Farbe. Farbe im frühen Film erfülle drei Funktionen: realistische Wiedergabe der Umwelt, Ergänzung der Schwarzweiß-Filme und zusätzliche sinnliche Attraktion. Letzteres ist für Gunning ein Merkmal der Fantasiebilder à la Méliès und der Feerien von Pathé, aber auch von Filmen mit exotischen oder spektakulären Sujets. Willkürlich und anti-realistisch, weil intensiver als in der Wirklichkeit eingesetzt, wurde Farbe als eigenständige Kraft wahrgenommen. “In most cases, colour in silent film did possess realistic motivation, even if it lacked truly realistic effects. […] Tinting […] especially demonstrates the metaphoric power of silent cinema, because even when realistically motivated, the singularity of colour can seem to dominate the screen in a way in which multiple colours rarely do.”5
1995 beschäftigt sich ein international besetzter Workshop in Amsterdam ausschließlich mit den Farben im Stummfilm. Obschon die Teilnehmer sich nur selten auf den nicht-fiktionalen Film beziehen, liefern die Diskussionen wertvolle Anregungen und Hinweise. Analog zu Gunning verweisen auch Dann Hertogs und Nico de Klerk auf den Unterschied zwischen der referenziellen und symbolischen Bedeutungsebene der Farben.6
1 Elfriede Ledig, unter Mitarbeit von Gerhard Ulimann: Rot wie Feuer; Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn. In: Elfriede Ledig (Hg,): Der Stummfilm. Konstruktion und Rekonstruktion. München 1988, S. 89-116, hier S. 89. – Sophie Bodet konzentriert sich in Le film colorié: techniques et esthétiques. Paris 2000 (Thèse de doctorat, Université de Paris VIII) auf die Analyse der hand- und schablonenkolorierten Filme. Für eine Analyse der Debatten über Farbe im Film von 1909 bis 1935, die sich aber nur selten auf Tonung und Virage und noch seltener auf nichtfiktionale Filme beziehen, siehe Erick Frisvold Hansen: Early Discourses on Colour and Cinema. Stockholm 2006. Online: http;//su.diva-portal.org/srnash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:189727.
2 Ledig, Ullmann: Rot wie Feuer, Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn, S. 89.
3 Gert Koshofer: Color. Die Farben des Films. Berlin 1988, S. 18-20.
4 Tom Gunning: Colorful Metaphors: The Attraction of Color in Early Silent Cinema. In: Fotogenia. Storie e teorie del cinema. Bologna, Nr. 1, 1994 (online: http://www.muspe.unibo.it/period/fotogen/numOI/numeroId.htm). Zitiert nach dem Reprint in: Living Pictures. The Journal of the Popular and Projected Image before 1914, Nr. 2, 2003 (= Special Issue: Colour, hg. von Luke McKernan), S. 4-l3.
5 Ebenda, S. 11.
6 Daan Hertogs, Nico de Klerk (Hg.): „Disorderly Orders”. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam 1996, S. 5.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on pp. 3–4.) (in German)
“Die Färbung bzw. Kolorierung, häufig auch Virage genannt […], besteht darin, “daß das schwarze Silberbild unverändert schwarz bleibt, während die Gelatine gefärbt wird, also im wesentlichen die Lichter farbig erscheinen. Tonung: farbiges Bild auf ungefärbtem Grunde. Färbung: schwarzes Bild auf farbigem Grunde.”10 Auch eine Kombination der beiden Verfahren in einer “Doppelvirage”11 ist möglich: “Tont man den Film z.B. blau, wobei die Lichter weiß bleiben, und färbt ihn dann gelb, so werden die Lichter gelb, während die vorher blaue Farbe in Grün übergeht. Eine Behandlung in blauem Tonbad mit darauf folgender Rotfärbung gibt ein violettes Bild mit roten Lichtern; eine solche Zusammenstellung ist eventl. zur Darstellung von Nachteffekten gut zu brauchen.”12 Im deutschen Film bis nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg sind, Ledig und Ullmann zufolge, hauptsächlich drei Tonungsfarben bekannt: „Braun (sepia bis rotbraun), blau (Varianten: Delfter Blau, Berliner Blau), grün (Vanadiumgrün, Malachitgrün).”13
Leider lässt sich bei umkopierten Filmen meistens nicht mehr feststellen, ob die Farbe auf Tonung oder Virage zurückgeht. “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.”14 Die Anzeigen in der Filmfachpresse sprechen überwiegend von Virage,15 meinen aber mal das eine, mal das andere Verfahren.
Die Herausbildung von Viragen und Tonungen war eng an die Entwicklung der Lichtquelle der Filmprojektion gebunden: “Viele Landgemeinden [hatten] noch keine Starkstromleitung, und die Wanderkinos bedienten sich in einigen Fällen sogar der Petroleumlampe! Für solche Zwecke konnte nur ein ganz heller, also ungefärbter Filmstreifen eingesetzt werden. Wo aber schon das strahlende Kalklicht vorhanden war, begann das Gebiet des gefärbten Films, ja, gerade beim Kalklicht, denn infolge seiner weißen Helligkeit überstrahlte es die ungefärbten Bilder. Der Filmstreifen erhielt also eine sanfte Färbung, die recht einfach herzustellen war, indem die Kopien einfach in eine leichte Anilinlösung getaucht wurden. Es blieb dann immer eine Sache des Geschmacks, daß der Farbton auch zu dem Bilde passte.”16
In den USA waren Schätzungen zufolge Ende der 1910er Jahre zwischen 80 und 90% der Filme ganz oder teilweise gefärbt.17 Koshofer gibt an, dass die monochromen Einfärbungstechniken auch in den 1920er Jahren “weit verbreitet” und „ausschließlich schwarzweiße Filme sehr selten” waren.18 Filmkritiker erwähnten die Farben in den 1920er Jahren aber meist nur im Zusammenhang mit neuen technischen Farbverfahren.19
“Filmkopien werden in der Regel gefärbt.” Das bekräftigt auch 1925 Rudolf Thun. „Dies erfolgt teils, um besondere Effekte hervorzurufen, teils, damit der Film etwas wärmer wirkt. […] Es empfiehlt sich, jedes Bild, das nicht aus irgendwelchen Gründen eine andere Färbung erhalten muß, Orange einzufärben. Diese Färbung wird vom Zuschauer nicht als eine solche empfunden, das Bild erhält jedoch hierdurch eine gewisse Wärme. Außerdem tritt das durch den Gebrauch bedingte ‘Verregnen’ bei gefärbten Filmen nicht so stark hervor, wie bei ungefärbten Filmen.”20 Thun vermerkt außerdem, dass “bei gefärbten Filmen das Flimmern nicht so stark auftritt wie bei farblosen”, was er auf die geringe Helligkeit der gefärbten Filme zurückführt.21 Auch das um 1925 von Agfa herausgegebene Kine-Handbuch gibt an, dass bei Aufnahmen, in denen keine bestimmte Farbe dominiert, “zur ‘Milderung der Weißen’ ein Farbstich in Violette oder Gelbliche sehr angenehm wirken kann.”22
Weiterhin könne das Einfärben die Eintönigkeit von Schwarzweiß-Bildern bei der Vorführung beleben.23 Bereits 1908 weist Franz Paul Liesegang in seinem Handbuch der praktischen Kinematographie darauf hin, dass sich ein Film durch Tonungen “in manchen Fällen […] bedeutend wirkungsvoller machen [lässt]. Seestücke z. B. werden häufig sehr gehoben durch eine Blautonung.”24
Geworben wurde nur mit besonders gelungenen Viragen. So heißt es 1910 über SANS-SOUCI IM SCHNEE: “Zart blau viragiert kommen die malerischen Kontraste des Schnees und der dunklen Gebäude wirkungsvoll zur Geltung, sodass der kurze Film selbst ein verwöhntes Publikum voll befriedigen wird.” Inklusive Virage kostete der rund 90 Meter kurze Film 97 Mark.25 Hier war die Virage im Preis inbegriffen; in der Regel war sie eine Zusatzleistung, die in den Anzeigen als solche stets mit dem Hinweis auf den entsprechenden Aufpreis ausgewiesen wurde. Die Virage für den 150 Meter langen Film DIE WELTREISE UNSERES KRONPRINZEN (1911) kostete beispielsweise 12,50 Mark extra.26
Was Max Preis Mitte der 1920er Jahre über die Virage des Spielfilms schreibt, trifft auch auf den nichtfiktionalen Film zu: Er erhält ein “lebendigeres Kolorit, Stärkung des grauen stumpfen Tones und damit Erhöhung der Täuschung”.27
10 Agfa Kine-Handbuch. 1. Allgemeiner Teil. o.O. [Wolfen], undatiert [ca. 1925], S. 79 f.
11 Vgl. Ledig, Ullmann: Rot wie Feuer, Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn, S. 93.
12 F. Paul Liesegang: Handbuch der praktischen Kinematographie. Leipzig 1908, S. 291.
13 Ledig, Ullmann: Rot wie Feuer Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn, S. 94.
14 Giovanni Fossati in Hertogs, de Klerk (Hg.): “Disorderly Orders”. Colours in Silent Film, S. 13.
15 Vgl. Ledig, Ullmann: Rot wie Feuer, Leidenschaft, Genie und Wahnsinn, S. 92.
16 Prinzler: Film ehe wir ihn sehen, S. 72.
17 Paolo Cherchi Usai: The Color of Nitrate. Some Factual Observations on Tinting and Toning Manuals for Silent Films. In: Richard Abel (Hg.): Silent Film. New Brunswick, New Jersey 1996, S. 21-30, hier S. 22. Diese Handbücher enthalten überwiegend technische Angaben zur Ansetzung der Farbbäder und -mischungen und kaum ästhetische Überlegungen zum Farbeinsatz. Auf http://www.brianpritchard.com/ sind zwei Handbücher von Kodak aus den Jahren 1922 und 1927 dokumentiert.
18 Koshofer: Color, S. 18. Erhard Finger schreibt: “Bis etwa 1925 waren 80-90% der produzierten Kinofilme getont oder eingefärbt.” Ders.: 100 Jahre Kino und die Filmfabrik Wolfen. Wolfen 1996, S. 34. Hans Bourquin vermutet: “Der Besucher des Kinos hat gewiß selten oder kaum bunte, farbige Szenen auf der Schaufläche gesehen, selbst wenn er ein häufiger Gast in den Räumen des rollendes Bandes war.” Ders.: Bunte Welt im Kino. In: Welt und Wissen, Berlin, 1927, 3. Jahresband 1927, S. 267-269, hier S. 267.
19 Enno Patalas, in: Hertogs, de Klerk (Hg.): “Disorderly Orders”. Colours in Silent Film, S. 21
20 Rudolf Thun: Der Film in der Technik. Berlin 1925, S. 28.
21 Ebenda, S. 14. Hierzu bereits 1908 Liesegang: Handbuch der praktischen Kinematographie, S. 291.
22 Agfa Kine-Handbuch, 1. AIIgemeiner Teil. o.O. [Wolfen], undatiert [ca. 1925], S. 43.
23 Ebenda, S. 79.
24 Liesegang: Handbuch der praktischen Kinematographie, S. 289.
25 Der Kinematograph, Nr. 163, 9.2.1920, zit. nach Uli Jung, Martin Loiperdinger (Hg.): Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films in Deutschland. Band I. Kaiserreich 1895-1918. Stuttgart 2005, S. 313 (Abbildung). Weitere Beispiele bei Annette Deeken: Geschichte und Ästhetik des Reisefilms. In: Ebenda, S. 299-323, hier S. 308.
26 Der Kinematograph, Nr. 217, 22.2.1911. Anzeige der Firma Eclipse, Berlin.
27 Max Preis: Kino. Bielefeld, Leipzig o.J. [ca. 1296], S. 24.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on pp. 5–8.) (in German)
“Naturaufnahmen und Aktualitäten
“Naturaufnahme”, “Naturbild” oder “Naturstudie” sind frühe Bezeichnungen für dokumentarische Aufnahmen, die auch Aktualitäten umfassen können. “Diese Formulierung unterstreicht den kinematographisch erzeugten ‘Als-ob-Charakter’ der Teilhabe an einem realen Geschehen.”33
Eine Farbe. Die gängigste Form der Farbgestaltung ist die durchgehende Virage in einem Farbton, alternierend mit den in Deutschland häufig, aber nicht ausschließlich, grün gefärbten Zwischentiteln. So bekommt auch der nach der einfachsten (und somit auch billigsten) Methode viragierte Film einen spürbaren Atem und einen Rhythmus, der dem Schwarzweißfilm abgeht. Die farblich abgesetzten Zwischentitel werden zudem in ihrer Bedeutung gesteigert und hervorgehoben.34
33 Joseph Garncarz: Der nicht-fiktionale Film im Programm der Wanderkinos. ln: Jung, Loiperdinger (Hg.): Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films in Deutschland, Band I. Kaiserreich 1895-1918, S. 108-119, hier S. 117. Die von Garncarz vorgeschlagene analytische Differenzierung in “Reisebilder” und “Industriebilder” – Menschen bei der Ausübung verschiedener Tätigkeiten – erscheint wenig sinnvoll, da nur selten eine eindeutige Zuschreibung möglich ist.
34 Paolo Cherchi Usai weist auf die verbreitete Praxis im frühen Film hin, auch bei nur schwarzweiß gehaltenen Filmen die Zwischentitel zu viragieren. “Intertitles tinted at first in blue and later in red (which was customarily done at least until 1914) was one of the distinguishing elements of Pathé company’s products, a device for discouraging bootleg copies. Similarly, Gaumont intertitels were offen tinted blue-green.” Ders.: Silent Cinema. An Introduction. London 2000, S. 23.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on p. 9.) (in German)
“Sequenzierung. Wechselnde Tonungen und Viragen dienen dazu, Einstellungen deutlich erkennbar zu Sequenzen zu bündeln; so wird dem Zuschauer auch ohne Zwischentitel signalisiert, dass ein neuer Aspekt des Themas vorgestellt wird.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on p. 10.) (in German)
F r [Für] technische Zwecke, so Rudolf Thun 1925, bietet der farbige Film “nur geringe Vorteile”, da die Farbe in der Technik nur von untergeordneter Bedeutung sei. Wo diese wichtig sei, fehle meistens die Bewegung, so dass man hier besser auf farbige Lichtbilder zurückgreife. “Aus diesen Gründen hat sich bisher für den farbigen technischen Film nur ein geringes Bedürfnis gezeigt.”42 Es ist anzunehmen, dass sich die Entscheidung, ob ein Industriefilm einzufärben sei, nach seinem Anwendungsgebiet – Werbung, Unterrichtsmittel oder Geschichtsmaterial – sowie seinem Einsatzfeld – interne Vorführungen oder öffentliche Präsentation – gerichtet hat. Thun zufolge dienten allerdings die meisten Werbe- und Lehrfilme mehreren Zwecken gleichzeitig.43 […]
Die ersten Texte zum Industriefilm gehen aber nicht auf Tonung und Virage ein, obschon diese das Erscheinungsbild der Filme, und damit des dargestellten Unternehmens, wesentlich mitprägen.
42 Thun: Der Film in der Technik, S. 254. Zeichentrickfilme bildeten Thun zufolge eine Ausnahme.
43 Ebenda, S. 227.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on pp. 15–20.) (in German)
1918 konstatiert der Maler Arthur Kampf, Leiter der Berliner Hochschule für bildende Künste, für das Jahr 1917 eine “merkwürdige Erscheinung”: Auf den Ausstellungen der Akademien und Kunstschulen sei ein Wandel eingetreten, die Kriegsdarstellungen fehlten fast ganz. “Auch die Kriegsbilder in den illustrierten Zeitschriften wurden seltener; Verleger, die ich sprach, sagten mir, daß das Publikum die Kriegsbilder nicht mehr sehen wolle.”74 In diese Stimmung hinein wird 1917 das Bild- und Film-Amt (BuFA) gegründet, das schwerpunktmäßig Kriegs-Lichtbilder und -Filme herstellt. Die sich daraus ergebenden Akzeptanzprobleme werden den Verantwortlichen recht bald bewusst; sie reagieren mit einer Reihe von Experimenten75 und dem Engagement kreativer Köpfe wie John Heartfield und George Grosz. Ob bei diesen Überlegungen auch die Farbausstattung der Filme eine Rolle spielte, ist nicht bekannt. Das Bild- und Film-Amt dürfte aber darauf geachtet haben, dass ihrer Filme viragiert herauskamen,76 um nicht gegenüber dem übrigen, bunten Kinoprogramm abzufallen. Dies gilt gleichermaßen für die anderen Produzenten dokumentarischer Kriegsbilder.
75 Etwa den Science fiction-Film DIE ENTDECKUNG DEUTSCHLANDS (1917).Vgl. hierzu Goergen: Kriegsflugzeuge, Luftkämpfe und Besuch vom Mars. Industrie- und Propagandafilme im Ersten Weltkrieg. In: Filmblatt, Nr. 40, Sommer 2009, S. 25-42.
76 Die im Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv nur schwarz-weiß gesicherten BuFA-Filme BEI UNSEREN HELDEN AN DER SOMME (1917), MIT L 35 ÜBER BERLIN UND POTSDAM (1918) oder SAMMELT KNOCHEN! (1918) waren ursprünglich viragiert.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on p. 35.) (in German)
“Das 19. Jahrhundert ist mit wenigen Ausnahmen durch eine Farblosigkeit gekennzeichnet, die wie ein regnerischer Novembertag ohne Licht und Sonne anmutet. Dieser Farbenschlaf hat ein volles Jahrhundert angehalten.”92 Nur Reiche können sich in ihrem Alltag mit farbenprächtigen Gegenständen umgeben. Die viragierten Naturbilder im frühen Kino stellen somit für viele eine malerische Verschönerung der Welt dar; der Kinobesuch wird zu einer Flucht aus dem ,grauen Alltag’ in eine fremde ‘bunte Welt’.93 Tom Gunning schreibt über Farbe im Stummfilm: “[Color] underscored the modern and popular nature of this new medium, its sensationalism which directly addressed the emotions and the senses of the audience with an intensity which other modes of narration and information could hardly equal.”94 Wenn aber die Wiedergabe von Bewegung das zentrale Unterscheidungsmerkmal zwischen den Fotografien und den “bewegten Fotografien” darstellt, dann kann Farbe als zusätzliches Merkmal aber nur von sekundärer Bedeutung für das neue Medium gewesen sein. Nico de Klerk vergleicht die Farben des frühen Kinos sogar mit Geschenkpapier.95 Dies könnte erklären, warum die viragierten Filme in den Anzeigen der Kinobesitzer nur selten besonders hervorgehoben werden – allerdings muss diese Beobachtung durch eine systematische Durchsicht von zeitgenössischen Kinoprogrammen verifiziert werden.
Auch die nicht-fiktionalen Filme erhalten durch Tonung und Virage einen höheren Attraktionswert. Programme, die nur aus Farbfilmen bestanden, werden die Ausnahme gewesen sein, da die Farbe dabei ihren Charakter als etwas Besonderes verloren hätte. Reine Farbprogramme widersprechen zudem dem Grundsatz der Abwechslung zur Vermeidung von Langeweile, den die frühen Kinoprogramme in der Regel befolgen.96
Viragen und Tonungen werden meistens als Extras angeboten, die auch extra bezahlt werden müssen. So verlangt Gaumont 1910 für die Naturaufnahme SALZBURG UND UMGEBUNG (127 m) 18,20 Mark extra für Virage, für den kürzeren Film FRÜHLINGSBOTEN (95 m) über Blumen und Blüten des Frühlings muss der Kinobesitzer 24,70 Mark inklusive Koloration und Virage bezahlen.97 Er wird es sich also gut überlegen, ob er den schwarzweißen Film oder die teure Farbfassung kauft. Die Entscheidung für Schwarzweiß oder Farbe wird er an kaufmännischen Grundsätzen festmachen. Wenn in seinem unmittelbaren Einzugsgebiet ein weiterer Kinematograph spielt, wird er versuchen, durch buntere und daher attraktivere Filme mehr Zuschauer anzulocken. Eine Funktion der Farbe im frühen Kino dürfte also gewesen sein, Kinobesitzern einen Konkurrenzvorteil zu verschaffen.
92 E. Miksch: Die Heilwirkung der Farben. In: Welt und Wissen. Berlin, 4. Jahresband 1927, 190-193, hier S. 191.
93 Farbige Naturaufnahmen und “Aktualitäten” boten zudem die Lichtbilder der Laterna Magica und des Kaiser-Panoramas.
94 Gunning: Colourful Metaphors: The Attraction of Colour in Early Silent Cinema, S. 12.
95 Nico de Klerk, in: Hertogs, de Klerk (Hg.): “Disorderly Orders”. Colours in Silent Film, S. 22.
96 Darauf weist auch Sabine Lenk hin. “Disorderly Orders”. Colours in Silent, S. 19.
97 Gaumont: Programm E 52 , S. 22f (Deutsche Kinemathek, Schriftgutarchiv).”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on pp. 42–43.) (in German)
“Bereits 1913 bietet Agfa 26 Rezepturen zur Erzielung verschiedener Farbnuancen an.101 Diese Vielfalt an Tonungs- und Virage-Möglichkeiten findet sich jedoch in den dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre nicht wieder. Es dominieren Orange und Sepia sowie Grün und Blau in verschiedenen Abstufungen und Dichte. Die unterschiedlich starke Ausprägung der Farbe wird darauf zurückzuführen sein, dass jedes Kopierwerk mit eigenen Rezepturen arbeitet. Zudem wird die Farbintensität im Laufe der Jahre abgenommen haben. Zu berücksichtigen sind schließlich nationale Traditionen, sowohl was den “Farbgeschmack” angeht als auch die handwerklichen Traditionen in den Kopierwerken, die zusammen einen “Stil” aus Virage-Praxis und Sehgewohnheiten begründen, der normbildend wirkt. So gibt es wohl auch für den dokumentarischen Film ein “stillschweigendes Übereinkommen zwischen Filmherstellern und Publikum über eine gewisse Färb- und Viragesprache.”102
Anette Deeken kommt 2005 mit Blick auf den frühen Reisefilm zu dem Schluss: “Grundsätzlich wird man der ausgesuchten Farbästhetik nicht gerecht, wollte man sie an den Maßstäben eines naturalistischen Erscheinungsbildes messen.”103 Die vorliegende Untersuchung konnte zeigen, dass Viragen und Tonungen in nichtfiktionalen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre weitgehend kodierten Mustern folgen, auch wenn heute nicht mehr alle farbdramaturgischen Entscheidungen nachvollziehbar sind. Sequenzierung, Pointierung und dekorative Abwechslung in Sinne von “colour events”104 sind zentrale Merkmale der Farbdramaturgie. Auch dort, wo sich die Farbgebung am Spektakulären und Metaphorischen orientiert, wird zumeist versucht, die Farben gleichzeitig auch indexikalisch bzw. referenziell einzusetzen, also etwa Naturszenen grün, Feuer rot und Wasser grün oder blau zu färben. Dass Farbe auch den Bereich der Künstlichkeit und Fantasie markiert, spielt für den nichtfiktionalen Film nur eine untergeordnete Rolle, denn dieser ist durch seine privilegierte Beziehung zur Realität stärker an diese angebunden als fiktionale Werke.
Die von Dan Hertogs angestellte Überlegung, die Buntheit der nichtfiktionalen Filme diene dazu, die Aufmerksam des Publikums zu binden, setzt zu Unrecht das Interesse der Produzenten mit dem der Kinobesitzer gleich. Denn die Viragen werden von den Produktionsfirmen vorgenommen, die sich dabei, je nach Unternehmen, neben den Konventionen vor allem von ihren individuellen Erfahrungswerten leiten lassen; das unruhige Publikum im Kintopp spielt in diesen Überlegungen vermutlich keine Rolle. Die Tatsache, dass bei einigen Filmen eine lange monochrom gefärbte Sequenz durch eine einzelne anders gefärbte Einstellung durchbrochen wird, legt aber die Vermutung nahe, dass damit ein farbiges Zeichen gesetzt werden soll, um der Eintönigkeit entgegenzuwirken. Farbe könnte somit nicht zuletzt auch als ein Mittel angesehen werden, um gegen die Langeweile der ewig gleichen nicht-fiktionalen Sujets im frühen Kino anzukämpfen.
101 Färbungen auf Kinematographen-Films Agfa (1913), zit. n. Finger: 100 Jahre Kino und die Filmfabrik Wolfen, S. 34.
102 O’Leary (1955 in Film-Technikum), zit. nach Koshofer: Color. Die Farben des Films, S. 18.
103 Deeken: Geschichte und Ästhetik des Reisefilms, S. 308.
104 Jacques Aumont, in Hertogs, de Klerk (Hg.): “Disorderly Orders”. Colours in Silent Film, S. 52.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on pp. 44–45.) (in German)
“We perceive the world as colored, after all, and therefore an accurate representation of it should also be colored. (Leaving aside the fact that complete accuracy is impossible since color in film only approximates the colors perceived in the real world.) But in fact it has never been a question of what is real but of what is accepted as real. And when it first became technically feasible, color, it seems, did not connote reality but the opposite.
This may in part be for historical reasons, since the very first uses of color involved the tinting of certain sequences in films shot in black and white. Such a usage was extremely conventional, a long way from a literal representation of the world. And as I suggest below, there may be more important reasons why color was not accepted as connoting reality. At any rate, the objections to which Fairbanks refers are clearly consistent with a realist aesthetic. Color would serve only to distract the audience from those elements in the film which carried forward the narrative: acting, facial expression, “the action.” The unity of the diegesis and the primacy of the narrative are fundamental to realist cinema. If color was seen to threaten either one, it could not be accommodated.”
(Buscombe, Edward (1978): Sound and Color. In: Jump Cut, 17, pp. 23–25.)
“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)
“Der wesentliche Unterschied zwischen der deutschen und der US-amerikanischen Farbfilmberichterstattung ist darin zu sehen, dass die deutsche Seite durch ihr Bemühen um ästhetische Geschlossenheit gehemmt wurde, während auf amerikanischer Seite ein weitgehender Pragmatismus vorherrschte. Dies lässt sich an dem Oscar-prämierten Film WITH THE MARINES AT TARAWA zeigen, für den nicht ausreichend Farbfilmaufnahmen vorlagen, sodass die Produktionsfirma Warner Bros. zur Vervollständigung auf das Schwarz-Weiß-Material des Marine Corps-Kameramanns Norman Hatch zurückgriff. Damit der Kontrast nicht allzu stark ausfiel, wurden die Schwarz-Weiß-Aufnahmen in einem dezent rosigen Farbton viragiert.1732
1732 “When the film was […] used in Hollywood to make With the Marines at Tarawa, they brought the 35-mm black and white to use with the color film. They then tinted my black and white a kind of rosy hue so it wouldn’t be too sharp a contrast with the color footage.” (Marsha Orgeron: Filming the Marines in the Pacific. An Interview with World War II Cinematographer Norman Hatch. In: Historical Journal ofFilm, Radio and Television Nr. 28/Juni 2008, S. 164.)”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!”. Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on p. 355.) (in German)
“Das Aufkommen des Tonfilms ab 1927 machte das Viragieren unmöglich; die chemischen Bäder schädigten die Tonspur. Farbe im Film, wie man inzwischen weiß, in den frühen zwanziger Jahren dank Viragierung meist der Normalfall, wurde plötzlich zur Ausnahme.
Da für das Technicolor-Verfahren viel mehr Negativmaterial als für die herkömmlichen Filme benötigt wurde (in den Spezialkameras liefen zwei, für den Dreifarbenfilm später drei Schwarzweißnegative, die verschiedene Farbauszüge aufnahmen), verteuerte sich der Farbfilm erheblich und wurde damit zum Prestigeobjekt.”
(Penning, Lars (1988): Farbe im klassischen Piratenfilm. In: Karl-Dietmar Möller-Nass, Hasko Schneider and Hans J. Wulff (eds.): 1. Film- und Fernsehwissenschaftliches Kolloquium. Münster: MAkS, pp. 36–40, on pp. 36–37.) (in German)
“Some producers, such as the more financially hard-nosed Fox Film Corporation, chose to add color to their releases through elaborate tinting and toning, or combinations of the two. The Temple of Venus (1923), for example, utilized extensive coloring schemes throughout, mixing pink, green, yellow, lavender, and amber tinting with sepia-toning and double-toning in multiple combinations9.
9 The Temple of Venus cutting continuity, 1923, Copyright deposit, Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 111–112.)
“The logistics of filming and post-production often ruled out the inclusion of natural color. The dramatic climax of The Fire Brigade (1926) mixed nighttime filming, large sets, miniature work, and process photography as Charles Ray’s rookie fireman risks his life to save children from a burning orphanage. Breathtaking color effects were achieved through vivid orange and red tinting combined with Handschiegl coloring to embellish the flames. This use of applied coloring intensified the danger and heat of the scene in ways that were not possible with Technicolor. By contrast, the film’s Technicolor sequence earlier in the narrative was a rather static costume party far removed from any of the action scenes. If Technicolor were to be used more widely, it had to be adaptable.”
(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)
“Collocata in un regime percettivo incerto tra bianco e nero e colore, tra riproduzione fotografica e chimica pigmentaria, l’immagine monocromatica presenta uno statuto costituzionalmente debole, incerto e ambivalente4. Del bianco e nero, essa mantiene la basilare tessitura dei rapporti chiaroscurali, convertendola al contempo in scala monocromatica. Nell’immagine tinta, i neri restano tali mentre i grigi e le trasparenze si colorano della tinta impiegata (blu, giallo, rosso, ecc.) proporzionalmente al loro grado di chiarezza. La forma che ne deriva può essere definita come un nero e colore (nero e blu, nero e giallo, nero e rosso). L’immagine virata è frutto del processo complementare: i neri e i grigi sono convertiti chimicamente in pigmento in proporzione della rispettiva chiarezza, mentre le trasparenze restano tali: la forma ottenuta può definirsi come bianco e colore (bianco e blu, bianco e giallo, bianco e rosso)5. Stando l’uno della parte del chiaro e l’altro dalla parte dello scuro, i due processi risultano a tutti gli effetti complementari, oltre che pienamente compatibili sul piano tecnologico. Per questo, essi possono essere impiegati in combinazione, restituendo un’immagine bicromatica in cui la scala dei chiari viene convertita in un colore (tintura) e quella degli scuri in un altro (viraggio)6. La forma così ottenuta, che potrebbe definirsi con la formula colore e colore, risulta spesso praticata in modalità che traslano sul piano cromatico la contrapposizione chiaroscurale del bianco e nero, attraverso l’impiego di due tinte poste tra loro in un rapporto di prossimità o di contrasto.
4 Cfr. Aumont 1995b, pp. 42–44.
5 Riprendo le espressioni bianco e colore e nero e colore da Dubois 1995, pp. 75–76. Espressioni analoghe risuonano curiosamente in un articolo del tempo: “il Cinema, allo stato attuale, è, semplicemente, una xilografia: serie di chiari e scuri: bianco o nero; non più; o pure verde e nero; o giallo e nero” (Ungaro 1917, p. 2).
6 Dal punto di vista tecnologico va rilevata una differenza: mentre il viraggio converte effettivamente i sali d’argento del supporto in pigmento colorato, la tintura comporta la stesa di una soluzione colorata sul supporto. Per la stessa ragione, il viraggio era limitato a una gamma più ristretta, mentre la tintura poteva produrre una gamma potenzialmente illimitata di colori.
Aumont, Jacques, a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris.
Aumont, Jacques (1995b), Des couleurs à la couleur, in Id., a cura di, 1995a, pp. 30–49.
Dubois, Philippe (1995), Hybridations et métissages. Les mélanges du noir-et-blanc et de la couleur, in Aumont, a cura di, 1995a, pp. 74–92.
Ungaro, Pasquale (1917), La festa dei colori, in “Mondial film“, I, n. 5, 20 agosto 1917, pp. 2–3.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 52–53.) (in Italian)
Cabiria (ITA 1914, Giovanni Pastrone)
“Un primo esempio può essere colto nell’uso di particolari colorazioni o combinazioni bicromatiche, tramite le quali era possibile superare la convenzionalità delle associazioni più codificate, creando degli effetti di discontinuità49. In certe vedute di Cabiria, l’effetto di luce si trasfigura in effetto di visione cromatica. Un caso interessante è offerto dall’uso delle tinture rosate per rendere il riverbero luminoso provocato da superfici riflettenti di grande estensione, come il mare o una distesa di neve. La scelta cade spesso sul rosa in corrispondenza di inquadrature in campo lungo a carattere paesaggistico: il piano di presentazione di Maciste con il mare sullo sfondo, la veduta delle truppe di Annibale sulle alpi innevate, un’inquadratura di Fulvio Axilla appoggiato sul parapetto della nave, una di Archimede che prepara la difesa sulle mura di Siracusa.
Ancora più pregiata, oltre che costosa, risultava essere la combinazione contrastiva di una tintura e di un viraggio, frequentemente adottata come effetto speciale nelle copie più lussuose dei film. In Cabiria, essa è sfruttata in alcuni passaggi, soprattutto per rendere l’effetto di riflessi e riverberi luminosi in lontananza: uno dei più interessanti è rappresentato dall’alba sul mare dopo la battaglia di Siracusa, con Fulvio Axilla che nuota aggrappato a una tavola, resa sullo schermo con un’immagine virata in blu e tinta in rosa.
49 Sul tema della discontinuità cromatica in rapporto alla tintura e al viraggio, cfr. le ottime analisi di Kuyper 1995 e Mazzanti 2009.
Kuyper, Eric de (1995), La couleur du muet, in Aumont, Jacques a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris, pp. 139–146.
Mazzanti, Nicola (2009), Colours, Audiences, and (Discontinuity in the ‘Cinema of the Second Period’, in Tomadjoglou, Kim, a cura di (2009a), Early Colour Part 1, in “Film History”, XXI, n. 1, 2009, pp. 67–93.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 71.) (in Italian)
Il fuoco (ITA 1915, Giovanni Pastrone)
“In alcuni diva film52 le sedimentazioni culturali di un immaginario emozionale del colore si lasciano cogliere con efficacia. La forma monocroma poteva prestarsi bene a promuovere una sorta di sintonizzazione emozionale dello spettatore sul personaggio. Sotto questo profilo si può considerare Il fuoco (Pastrone, 1915), storia di una passione distruttiva tra una poetessa e un pittore che si consuma in tre tempi (La favilla, La vampa e La cenere). Nella prima sequenza del film, a far scoccare la favilla è l’incontro tra Lei, poetessa (Pina Menichelli), e Lui, pittore (Febo Mari), sotto “un tramonto di fuoco”, che motiva il passaggio dalla tintura arancio della precedente ambientazione diurna al rosso acceso dell’effetto atmosferico. L’indomani, il successivo incontro tra i due protagonisti torna a essere segnato dalla presenza materiale del fuoco e da quella metaforizzata del rosso. La sequenza è introdotta da un intertitolo (“Ma sulla speranza già scendono le tenebre”) e dall’inquadratura di un chiaro di luna (tintura blu): calata la notte, in una sala della sua casa il pittore è in attesa della donna (blu); accende una lampada da tavolo (passaggio al giallo-arancio) in modo da poter rileggere la lettera lasciatagli dalla poetessa (giallo-arancio); all’esterno, la donna cerca di richiamare l’attenzione dell’uomo picchiettando sul vetro di una finestra (blu); attirato dal rumore, l’uomo abbandona la stanza (giallo-arancio) ed esce, andando in cerca della donna (blu), che nel frattempo è entrata in casa (giallo-arancio); frustrato dall’insuccesso, l’uomo si avvicina di nuovo alla porta di casa (blu) e, dopo averla varcata, è sorpreso dalla presenza della donna (giallo-arancio). Ha poi inizio l’incontro tra i due, che prosegue sotto la luce della lampada, finché la poetessa non decide di frantumarla sul tavolo, provocando con la lettera una piccola combustione (“Vedi! Come la passione la sua fiamma si leva fino al cielo e abbaglia… ma dura un attimo. Scegli!”). Il gesto è accompagnato dal passaggio, nella medesima inquadratura, dal giallo-arancio al rosso, che torna così ad accrescere la temperatura emozionale della scena53.
52 Sul diva film, cfr. Jandelli 2006.
53 Per approfondimenti, cfr. Canosa 1996a, pp. 337–339.
Canosa, Michele (1996a), Bruciami… bruciami l’anima!, in Quaresima, Leonardo a cura di (1996), Il cinema e le altre arti, Marsilio, Venezia, pp. 335–342.
Jandelli, Cristina (2006), Le dive italiane del cinema muto, L’Epos, Palermo.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 72–73.) (in Italian)
Tigre reale (ITA 1916, Giovanni Pastrone)
“Una procedura del tutto analoga informa Tigre reale (1916), diretto anch’esso da Pastrone per la Itala54.
Il parallelismo tra la combustione fittizia della danza, quella materiale dell’edificio teatrale e quella spirituale della protagonista è palesata dal ricorso al montaggio alternato e alle tinture nella gamma dell’arancio-rosso. La sequenza costituisce un esempio di integrazione di uno spazio performativo all’interno di uno spazio diegetico: un numero di attrazione tipico del cinema delle origini, la danza del fuoco, viene infatti inglobato all’interno della narrazione, innestandovi il motivo del fuoco, l’arancio-rosso e i riverberi psicologici ad esso collegati.
Inizialmente, la tintura simula la dimensione luministica di un fuoco solo evocato come effetto visivo all’interno della danza: le inquadrature a quest’ultima dedicata ripropongono il dispositivo tipico della veduta di attrazione (ripresa frontale su sfondo nero), ma sono alternate con quelle del sottopalco con il proiettore che dal basso inonda di luce il corpo delle ballerine. Nel frattempo, nella camera d’albergo, con una tintura sui toni del giallo-arancio motivata dalla presenza di una lampada a muro, è in corso l’appuntamento della contessa, che sembra volgere al tragico quando la donna si accascia sul letto in preda a spasmi e convulsioni. A questo punto, dal sottopalco divampa l’incendio che invade il teatro, gettando nel panico gli spettatori; la tintura arancio-rossa che accompagna questo passaggio non allude più al fuoco fittizio dello spettacolo di danza, ma a quello reale che sta invadendo la platea. I bagliori e i riflessi delle fiamme si estendono rapidamente verso l’albergo, dove intanto il cortocircuito ha provocato un blackout elettrico; anche in questo ambiente ora i personaggi appaiono immersi nell’arancio-rosso, che diviene il correlato cromatico dello stato di eccitazione della contessa. Nella sequenza successiva, che conclude il film, la transizione psicologica si prolunga nella forma dell’effetto atmosferico, con un altro “tramonto di fuoco” sul mare che fa da sfondo alla barchetta a vela su cui una rinvigorita contessa sembra aver ritrovato la felicità con l’amato Giorgio.
54 Sulle varianti cromatiche del film, cfr. Mazzanti 2009, p. 70.
Mazzanti, Nicola (2009), Colours, Audiences, and (Discontinuity in the ‘Cinema of the Second Period’, in Tomadjoglou, Kim, a cura di (2009a), Early Colour Part 1, in “Film History”, XXI, n. 1, 2009, pp. 67–93.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 73–74.) (in Italian)
L’Inhumaine (FRA 1923, Marcel L’Herbier)
“The Logic of Colour in L’Inhumaine
Gerwin van der Pol and Karel Dibbets, University of Amsterdam
The use of colour in the silent cinema does not always seem to make much sense to contemporary audiences. Film historians like to suggest that a colour can have two functions. In the first place, colour has a link with reality and is motivated by the story, for example blue for night. The other function is one of spectacle, which manifests itself as an illogical, magnificent display of colour, without any connection to “reality”; for example a fire scene with a green tinting instead of a red one. However, this tendency to reduce the use of colour to two dimensions only, can be questioned. It seems that the spectale function often serves as a dumping ground for all the cases where no reality function appears to be at work and for which we have no explanation. Of course, it is true that there are films in which colour is meant to serve a spectacle function, but these instances are not as numerous as is often touted.
To retrace the full complexity of the use of colour in silentfilms, it is necessary to develop a historical poetics of film colour. This paper wants to contribute to such a project by studying a famous case, L’Inhumaine, directed by Marcel L’Herbier in 1923. This film is in every aspect very explicit. Prominent painters, designers and composers co-operated in its production. Its style is a culmination of the possibilities of filming, particularly in camera movement, fading and montage, that all contribute to an impressive narrative. L’Inhumaine is also an artistic spectacle, demonstrating to the United States the capabilities of French cinema. Since this film serves as an example of the French avant-garde of the early twenties, a sketch of these principals and years will be made, using Fernand Léger as an example. Léger was one of the artists co-operating in the production of L’Inhumaine and was deeply involved with cinema in general. More importantly, his collected articles can be seen as a proposal for a poetics of colour. After some consideration of the film’s artistic backgrounds, the system governing the use of colour in L’Inhumaine will be scrutinized in more detail.
L’Inhumaine and the Avant-garde
L’Inhumaine commences with a title shot. The sequence in green tinting shows a painting by Léger. The painting has geometrical forms, some resembling machine parts, and together with the title passing by, there is a real sense of movement. In contrast with the dazzling, speedy montage sequences that will follow, this beginning is quite static. The green tinting is also rather weak compared to Léger’s other paintings which utilise bright, pure colours. Hand-colouring would certainly have been more effective here, however, this was not a common method at the time. If only this sequence had been produced in full colour, the tinted rest of the film would have looked rather uninteresting. Since green has no realistic function here, it might be said to possess a spectacle function.
The next scene shows several shots of a city in blue. These images are obviously intended to be realistic, blue for night. The camera pans left, a movement continuing in the next shot and ending with an extreme-long-shot of the exterior of a house, in a green tint. Since this shift from blue to green is unrealistic, should we conclude that it has a spectacle function? It is already apparent that alternating a spectacle function with a realistic function, within the same scene, is pointless. A better approach is to analyse colour from a completely different angle.
The French avant-garde around 1923 was a melting pot of different artistic trends, like Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Expressionism. The concept of cinéma pur was vital to the avant-garde even though they disagreed about its definition. Traditional French narrative films were watched with disdain, and avant-garde abstract films were presented as a reaction against them.
L’Inhumaine is essentially a narrative film. This makes L’Inhumaine, being a narrative avant-garde film, a half-hearted attempt. The schematic narrative is about a human scientist, Einar, who falls in love with an inhuman artist (singer), Claire. The artist dies (becomes literally inhuman) and thanks to (the machines of) the scientist she is brought to life again, and becomes human. The distance between the two worlds of the scientist and the singer is bridged by a staggering car ride (man in the machine). Fabulous motion is suggested by the film through the accumulation of camera movements, close-ups, and fades. The impression of speed does not originate within the frame, but by the interaction between separate shots. This also applies to the long final sequence, where the machines, designed and built by Fernand Léger, are set into motion. The story is a means to show great spectacle, all rendered by famous artists: houses designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens, several famous composers fighting, interiors by Alberto Cavalcanti, acrobats, dancers. What all these elements have in common is that they appear within the frame as part of the theatrical, earlier tradition of cinema.
L’Inhumaine, commonly considered as a summary, a collaboration of several important artists, must be understood more literally: in the medium of film all arts assemble, in the tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The most essential account of the artists gathered in this film is their motivation: the idea to meet in a film. Of all the artists that contributed to this film, Léger is the only one whose work is present in the discontinuous scenes. His sets are used to suggest movement within the interaction between the images. The title sequence with Léger’s painting is a witness to the traditional movement within the image; with his laboratory sets in the final sequence representing the ideas of the avant-garde: real movement, by contrast. This can be seen as a metaphor for an important step in Fernand Léger’s career, from trying to suggest movement in a painting, to attaining that goal in the film medium. In the same year that Léger’s made the sets for L’Inhumaine, he also made his first film as a director: Le ballet mécanique.
We know that Léger put great effort into making the sets for L’Inhumaine. He not only designed them, but also built them. This, and his work as a director at the same time, leads one to surmise that he also had a role in advising on how to use his sets in the montage, however there is no primary evidence in support of this claim. Still, by looking at the large amount of articles wrote by Léger, a very clear idea arises of how the montage was meant to be. Reading Léger’s articles, collected under the title Fonctions de la peinture,1 has another advantage, since he also explains the functions of colour. His explanation is quite helpful for understanding the use of colour in L’Inhumaine.
The painter Fernand Léger is associated with the Cubists movement in 1909. Cubism is an analysis of seeing, an abstraction of it, and a search for movement. The Cubists used traditional subjects for their paintings. Léger, however, replaced traditional subjects with modern subjects: machinery. Machines are not only seen as giving colour to life in a figurative sense, even literally they are the most colourful objects in everyday reality. The mechanical element is a means of expressing strength. Instead of opposing comical and tragic characters, Léger opposed contradicting values. Flat areas against three-dimensional areas; flat, pure colours against round, grey colours, and vice versa. Modern beauty compliments practical necessity: the train and the car. Léger called life, with all its possibilities, a state of war, an accelerated rhythm. The artist has his place on the street, where life rushes past. The world is geometric, in a state of continuous contrast, movement being the connecting element. In the work of Léger, the human figure is often a doorkeeper, driver, steersman, clown, acrobat, in conjunction with machinery. As a part integrated with all the other elements, humans are associated with a certain “non-individualisation.” In this new, well organised, environment, the human being displays his true nature.
All these themes from Léger’s paintings are found in the film L’Inhumaine. Through editing, the machines are shown in motion and the human beings static, since they move within the frame. The sheer number of doorkeepers, drivers and acrobats is also highly impressive. For Léger the change to film became a very logical one. Although before the First World War hardly any avant-garde artist was interested in film-making, in the post-war years several writers, poets and painters began to work in the medium. La roue (1922), by Abel Gance, was Léger’s introduction to film. To Léger, film was no theatre, it took its right to exist from the projected image. In his eyes, Gance was the first to successfully use the object as actor in the film, the train as an object-actor, while similarly Charles Chaplin was the first who, conversely, transformed the actor into object. Léger liked the mobility of Gance’s images, balancing between mobile and static. And also opposing the human figure as a whole or as a part, to geometrical, abstract forms. An eye, or a finger received a new importance through its fragmentation and enlargement on the screen. Insulated, the fragment became independent and equal to the whole object. This independence of objects and the harmony that their contrasts produced reached a new intensity in his film Le ballet mécanique. It has been proven by William Moritz2 that a copy of this film, found in the Amsterdam Film Museum, was coloured by Léger. Finally, Léger’s working with film influenced his painting. The special character of film as a mobile, rhythmical art, made him no longer strive for mobility in his paintings, which became far more static.
Léger’s thoughts can be summarised as a striving for movement by contrast. Contrast between static and mobile, fragment and whole, man and machine, two-dimensional and three-dimensional. Léger’s ideas concerning the functions of colour fit within this line of thought with colours having to contrast as well. Two complementary colours could not be placed next to each other. The colours had to stand for themselves, to stand apart. He called such colours, pure colours.3 A yellow next to a blue was impossible to him, because they result in green. Thus, a colour had to be placed next to a non-complementary colour. Also, in a different way, those colours were pure since they were freed from their association4: blue was no longer associated with the sky, nor green with trees. Pure colours became independent and could be used objectively. Architects like Robert Mallet-Stevens had freed the walls of their ornaments. These large, blank areas tempted Léger to experiment with colours. According to him, the colours of walls changed the appearance and dimensions of rectangular buildings. A yellow area gives an impression of distance, and red makes it look nearer. The rectangle which seemed to be of fixed proportions, became suddenly elastic. In 1938, Léger spoke about the function of colour in Technicolor film,5 and noticed that according to the atmosphere of the film, different colours should be used. One had to create a poetics of colour.
The Logic of Colour in L’Inhumaine
The result of placing L’Inhumaine in the context of its production leads us to analyse the use of colour differently. In Léger’s film, we no longer should look for the meaning of colour within the frame, as a reality function supposes us to do, but we must scrutinise the colours in contrast to one another.6 As we have seen, the title shot, showing Léger’s painting with some movement, is tinted green, followed by several shots of a city in blue. The camera pans very quickly to the left, this movement continues into the next shot, coming to a standstill at the exterior of Claire’s house, in green. The continuation of camera movement, indicating a continuity of space and time, is interrupted by the change of colour. Since the makers have deliberately chosen to change the colour, where a continuation of colour would have been more logical, we can conclude that there must be a reason. The most obvious reason is to make the public pay attention to the change from something general, the city, to something more specific, a certain house. We can formulate this phenomenon as a first rule:
Rule 1: Change of colour as indication for change of place.
The intertitle that follows gives information that this is Claire’s house; it has the same colour as the shots before and after the title.
Rule 2: The intertitle adopts the colour of the surrounding shots.
The next shots, all part of a whole scene in Claire’s house, are in blue. This change of colour from green to blue is a change from exterior to interior (rule 1). All characters in this scene are introduced by close-ups and intertitles, and are shown in the same shade of blue. The Maharadja is the last one to be introduced by a close-up. The next shot after his close-up is in green, a long shot of the Maharadja as he enters the frame in profile from the left. Normally a change from a close-up to a long shot is easy to comprehend, but in this case the person in the close-up is not present in the long shot yet, and when he finally enters the shot he is in profile, while the close-up was en-face. The change of colour could indicate a change of place (rule 1). However, it also has a psychological effect: the character must be as strange as the deformity of the image.
Rule 3: A colour is an indication of a special character.
The next scene continues in the same green. The scene consists of further conversation between Claire’s guests, Claire’s entrance, a dinner at the chessboard set and Claire noticing Einar’s absence. Even the exterior of Einar’s house (a different location) is in the same colour. When Einar drives away in his car, it is shown in brown. According to the first rule the change of colour had to occur when the shift to Einar’s house was made. It now becomes clear how compelling this rule is, it immediately leads to a lack of comprehension: one is inclined to believe that this is Claire’s house since it looks the same as hers, and although we see some difference, the colour makes us think that it is a shot of Claire’s house. It is evident that for this deviation from the first rule to have occurred, there must be a good reason. The next shot shows Claire, who once again notices Einar’s absence. This shot is again tinted brown. Following this comes Einar’s staggering drive to Claire, in blue. This leaves us with only two shots in between in the same brown colour: a close-up of Einar and a close-up of Claire, indicating that these two will soon become related to one another.
Rule 4: Similarity of colour relates characters to one other.
Einar overhears Claire speaking about leaving the country, unless “quelque chose”, something happens. Einar looks up, and above his head appear his words as if he sees them. The vague contours of the next images and the consequential return of the text in the frame already make clear that we are seeing Einar’s thoughts of what this “something” could be. To make this even more explicit, the shots have a different colour than the ones of the rest of the scene: blue. The other guests have their thoughts about a possible future in blue too.
Rule 5: Change of colour indicates thoughts, dreams and fantasies.
When the acrobats begin their performance, the colour changes to red. The colour red has several functions. First of all: spectacle, the circus is an indication of a different atmosphere.
Rule 6: Colour to indicate a certain atmosphere (spectacle)
The following images show acrobats, a fire-breather, Einar threatening to commit suicide and Claire’s answer meaning: go ahead. The colour red is well chosen since it is true to nature in the case of the fire-breathing.
Rule 7: Colour according to convention of reality.
The colour also intensifies the feeling of danger: the threat that Einar is going to commit suicide. Red makes the public extra alert. When we look closely at the previous scene, we see extremely short flashes of alternating red and white images. This also occurs in later sequences, then it applies with the scene’s colour. This special use of pure colours serves two purposes. It supports the aesthetics of the images: among others the red and white areas of the chessboard-set. This fits snugly into Léger’s theory of the connection of an object as a whole and elements of an object amongst themselves. It also accords with his pure colours and his wish to free colour from association. A second function of these short flashes is the reinforcement of the movement.
Rule 8: Change of colour as reinforcement of the rhythm of montage.
The end of the first part of the film ends with the same images of the city, also in blue. This, including the rides in the car, which are consistently in blue, makes clear that the action takes place at night, according with a convention of reality.
These eight rules may be reduced to six:
“Change of colour as indication for change of place” (1) and “Change of colour indicates thoughts, dreams and fantasies” (2), can be summarised as:
a) Change of colour as indication of change of setting.
“A colour is an indication of a character” (3) and “similarity of colour relates characters to one another” (4), can be summarised as:
b) Similarity of colour relates characters to one another.
c) The intertitle adopts the colour of the surrounding shots, or complies with the shot it refers to.
d) Colour to indicate a certain atmosphere (spectacle).
e) Colour according to the convention of reality.
f) Change of colour as a reinforcement of the rhythm of the montage.
These six rules can further be reduced, but this will not make the analysis of this film any clearer. The point to be made is the effect that these rules have on this film and how these separate rules become part of a governing system. This whole idea of colours being part of certain rules and a certain system depends on the assumption that choices have been made when tinting the shots. The alternation of so many different colours at such a high cutting rate was a very time-consuming task and does not fit into the idea of a spectacle function, for which some colours would be added at random. If tinting had been effected at random, the colours would have changed more often within a long monochrome scene and less often within the high cutting rate scenes. Even when working at random one follows some rules. Since a choice about the colour has been made, and because it fits into the composition of the montage, the use of colour can be analysed as any other element of the film, like setting, light and costumes.7
This sum of possibilities makes clear that when a certain (change of) colour does not make sense within one rule (for example the reality-function), a viewer has to refer to a different rule in order to comprehend it. This presupposes a governing system, which enables the makers to decide which colours to use, and which rule to follow.
An indication for this governing rule can be found in the beginning and final scenes of the first part of the film. The same shots of a city at night, even without colour, indicate that every action in between is occurring within this city. The colour blue also specifies the time: night. So logically, this part of the film should have been coloured blue. But this would have been extremely boring, and tedious, since one of the functions of colour in general is to make things more attractive. Therefore, as soon as colour, in this case blue, is shown as an indication of the action taking place at night, that colour can be transformed according to other rules. This is what should be called the governing rule: as soon as colour has been used consistently to a certain requirement then another rule can take over. Since tinting has the peculiarity that each frame, usually, was to be tinted in one colour, one has to distribute the few colours very consciously. So after using blue for night and wanting to highlight a different setting in the next scene, one can use any colour except for blue – with red also out of question as it is needed in a later scene, where the effect of red will be stronger since the colour has not been used yet. In this way the governing rule decides which colour should be used, and where.
This governing rule leads to an always shifting hierarchy amongst the rules. Sometimes one rule becomes more important than another. When we look at the first part of the film, the colour blue generally stands for night, not only in the beginning and the end, but also when the ride in the car takes place. But between these scenes, there is enough time to use the colour for another purpose: to indicate dreams. To make things more clear: imagine that there was an extra scene within the ride in the car, for example the driver thinking about the future. The dream would then have to have had a different colour, anything but blue otherwise it would not have contrasted with the ride in the car. This would have had consequences for the other dreams which then could not have been blue either.
In the second part of the film the whole distribution of colours starts afresh, and indeed: according to another rule, the colour blue is necessary in some other places, with the dreams within this part consistently coloured in red. The only demands these rules have to satisfy are to use colour consistently, logically, and that colour be motivated in some way. In this example, when the dreams suddenly become red instead of blue, the change is motivated by the scene belonging to a completely different part of the film, and the dream belonging to Claire, the only one who did not dream in the first part. So we can conclude: Claire’s dreams are in red, those of the others are in blue. Adding this to the analysis of the film provides an insight into Claire’s character: she is the only one who is inhuman.
Although the use of colour throughout L’Inhumaine can be made comprehensible in this way, one thing remains to be said about the third part of the film, where Léger’s set appears in full motion, not only within the frame, but also in the high cutting rate of the montage. In this part the hierarchy of rules has been changed again, and the most important rule here is the one which refers to colour reinforcing the rhythm of the montage. The extremely high cutting rate, and thereby the changing of colours, reduces the possibilities of sticking to, for example, a realistic use of colour. Although, when one looks at it this way, one is amazed at how often there is still some realistic logic in the use of colours.
The reason why viewing a film like L’Inhumaine is difficult to modem audience stems from our modern viewing conditioning. Today we have a need for continuity; in the early twenties there was rather a need for contrast and discontinuity. As soon as the film is watched from this different point of view it certainly makes more sense. Every choice of colour, according to certain rules, has been made to create the strongest of all possible contrasts. Being impossible to use the same colour twice, next to each other, and with several rules working at the same time, a governing rule appears to be at work. This governing rule decides on the colours to be used, and the shift from one rule, when introduced and used consistently, to another.
The logic of colour is not something of the past. We have only to look at Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), that can be seen as a summary of its time, like L’Inhumaine in the early twenties. The colour in this film is not achieved through tinting, but via certain colours dominating the image. Those colours are not realistic, but help the four characters of the title to be contrasted with one another. L’Inhumaine was intended to be a culmination of all the possibilities of filming, and this also applies for its use of tinting. Although the film has, as indicated, a system governing the many different rules that the colours stand for, it can be argued that the system itself is at work in most narrative films in the history of tinting. In earlier films there may not be as many rules as in L’Inhumaine, and it may also be possible that some films make use of other rules, applying for a particular film only. However, in most cases, the system governing these rules is the same. To discover its logic, it is necessary to look for the hidden rules at work, not at the colours themselves.
*The authors acknowledge the editorial assistance of Daniel Saul Zeff, University of Amsterdam
1 F. Léger, Fonctions de la peinture (Paris: Editions Gonthier, 1965).
2 W. Moritz, “Strubbelingen rond een kopie,” Versus no. 2 (1988).
3 A. Verdet, Fernand Léger: le dynamisme pictural (Genève: Editions Pierre Cailler, 1935).
4 F. H. Man, Eight European Artists. (London: Heineman, 1954), quoted in R. T. Buck, e.a., Fernand Léger (New York: Albeville, 1982).
5 From an interview with Georges Charensol in Pour vous, 20 april 1938, quoted in C. Derouet, “Léger et le cinéma,” in G. Viatte, ed., Peinture Cinéma, Peinture (Paris: Hazan, 1989).
6 This analysis of colour is based on a video-registration of a television broadcast of the restorated copy of L’Inhumaine. It was restorated by Frantz Schmitt, Chef du Service des archives du film du Centre National de la Cinématographique. The restoration of the images was done in 1976, using as many available copies as possible, to make sure the restorated version would be as close to the original as possible. The restorated version is not completely tinted since some tinting has disappeared in time, or become unclear on the video screen.
7 Thus a new definition of spectacle function is asserted: that of atmosphere, similar to die use of darkness and shadows to convey a feeling that will echo a down beat mood within the body of the film. When we know that changes of colour are a result of choice, then no change of colour must also be a result of choice too. Therefore, no change attains its own meaning. In this way no change of colour can also be a reinforcement of the rhythm of montage, for example, it indicating the dullness of the character’s life.”
(Pol van der, Gerwin; Dibbets, Karel (1996): The Logic of Colour in L’Inhumaine. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 155–163.)
Dämonen beschwören: Farbe und Atmosphäre
Einen interessanten Hinweis auf Nebeneffekte atmosphärischer Wirkung von Farbe gibt Siegfried Kracauer. Zur Farbe im Stummfilm, zum innersten Sinn der Virage, notierte er: “Färbung war ein Mittel, Gespenster zu bannen.” Für ihn suggerierten Farben “Bereiche der totalen Realität”, die sonst nicht zu erfassen waren. Farben erhöhten gleichsam die Vitalität der Bilder, indem sie den Licht- und Schattenspielen des stummen Schwarzweiß ihren “gespenstischen Charakter” nahmen.33
33 Siegfried Kracauer, Theorie des Films, Frankfurt am Main 1975, S. 189″
(Grob, Norbert (1991): Farbe im Auge, Ausdruck im Kopf. Hein Heckroths Farbdramaturgien für Powell & Pressburger. In: Katharina Spielhaupter (ed.): Hein Heckroth. Frankfurt/M.: Filmmuseum, pp. 57–78, on p. 63.) (in German)
“The existing methods, to date, of applying color to film were not only time-consuming and laborious, they were expensive. A faster, more practical system had to be found to make color available. The answers were found in “tinting” (a process that had already seen limited use as early as 1907 in Edison’s tinted short subject The Teddy Bears) and “toning.”
The tinting process involved the dyeing of the black-and-white film so that the entire image would be colored by any one of eleven standard dye colors. Toning employed a chemical treatment to black-and-white film to give it a brown-and-white (sepia) look, or other single-hued tone.
During the 1920s, more than one hundred and fifty feature films were released in either tinted or toned color. While the two processes achieved roughly the same effect as placing a piece of colored cellophane over a black-and-white television screen, they did create a mood, particularly in sequences within films. For example, the fire segments in Dante’s Inferno (1924) were appropriately red, the water scenes in The River Pirate (1928) projected in blue, and The Play Girl (1928) had scenes in lavender. The treatment proved so successful that the practice continued, in selected instances, for many years, particularly in sepia-tinted western films. Among the more notable latterday achievements using these techniques were the sepia tones of Twentieth Century-Fox’s The Rains Came (1939), United Artists’ Of Mice and Men (1940), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Ziegfeld Girl (1941, ) and Tortilla Flat (1942), the green-tinted storm sequences in David O. Selznicks Portrait of Jennie (1948), and the multiple tints in RKO’s Mighty Joe Young (1949).”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 14–15.)
“When the BFI National Archive restored another Hitchcock film, The Lodger (1927), in 1984, it was done using tinting and toning to replicate the original technique that had iron blue and amber tint for exterior scenes to produce an eerie, smog-like effect for the London night scenes.83
83 Paul Read, ‘Tinting and Toning Techniques and their Adaptation for the Restoration of Archive Film’, in All the Colours of the World: Colours in Early Mass Media, 1900-30 (Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, 1998), p. 161.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on p. 20.)
Downhill (GBR 1927, Alfred Hitchcock)
“As films became longer, often dealing with complex narratives and different temporalities, tinting and toning […] could be motivated by an extended range of imperatives. […] Rachael Low argues that for some time blue tints made up for technical deficiencies in lighting and stock which made night-shooting difficult. Once the latter improved, tinting was not so necessary for night effects, but was nevertheless used creatively and to convey a sense of realism. One example cited is Hitchcock’s Downhill (1927), in which a sequence conveying the central character’s delirium was dyed sepia, while his imaginings were in green.82
82 Rachael Low, The History of the British Film, 1918-29 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971), p. 280.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 19–20.)
Carnevalesca (ITA 1918, Amleto Palermi)
“Nella sceneggiatura di Carnevalesca, architrave dell’intero sistema era la scansione in sette carnevali (azzurro, verde, blu, rosso, giallo, arancio, violetto) incorniciati da altri due in posizione di incipit (carnevale bianco) ed explicit (carnevale nero). Ciascuno dei sette carnevali centrali indicava una sezione del film colorata nella tinta corrispondete, a prescindere da eventuali cambi di luce ed elementi ambientali e atmosferici; i due carnevali di cornice indicavano le sezioni lasciate in bianco e nero. Inoltre, per i primi quattro carnevali (bianco, azzurro, verde e blu), impostati sui modi della commedia, erano previste per ciascuno dei rispettivi colori tonalità chiare; per quello successivo, che preparava il cambio di registro, tonalità di rosso continuamente cangianti; infine, per gli ultimi quattro (giallo, arancio, violetto e nero), drammaturgicamente affini alla tragedia, le tonalità prescritte erano più scure. Ancora, delle otto transizioni complessive tra un carnevale e il successivo, corrispondenti al passaggio da un colore all’altro, cinque tra quelle centrali (azzurro/verde, verde/blu, rosso/giallo, giallo/arancio, arancio/violetto) erano marcate dal quadro emblematico di un prisma in movimento, che costituiva un evidente rimando a Newton e all’ordito spettrale del film62.
Del film è stata rinvenuta e restaurata una copia nel 199364. Essa rivela un’architettura meno chiara rispetto a quella progettata da d’Ambra65. Risulta problematico stabilire quanto questa versione sia conforme a una del tutto teorica editio princeps del film, mentre è pressoché impossibile congetturare in quante versioni, e con quante e quali varianti cromatiche e strutturali, esso abbia circolato in Italia e all’estero: le testimonianze scritte sono in proposito piuttosto timide e lasciano supporre che il film andò incontro, come da consuetudini dell’epoca, a tagli operati direttamente da distributori ed esercenti66. Ad ogni modo, in quanto ancora oggi è dato di vedere nella copia restaurata, si possono cogliere le tracce del progetto originario e ipotizzare dunque che esso persistesse – impossibile dire con quale grado di aderenza – anche nella versione effettivamente girata da Palermi.
62 Per una più dettagliata descrizione della sceneggiatura, cfr. Mazzei 2003, vol. 1, pp. 231–241.
64 La copia è stata rinvenuta a Montevideo e restaurata nel 1993 dalla Cineteca di Bologna.
65 Michele Canosa, che al film ha dedicato un interessante e pionieristico studio, propende per la suddivisione in quattro carnevali, ipotizzando un parallelismo con le stagioni dell’anno e con le età dell’uomo: bianco, azzurro, rosso, nero (cfr. Canosa 1996b). Oltre a non collimare con l’idea iniziale di d’Ambra, tuttavia, questa ipotesi rende assai più vago il riferimento al sistema spettrale, che in certe immagini del film – come vedremo – appare invece rafforzato.
66 Il seguente passo – pubblicato antecedentemente alla prima (Roma, Cinema corso, 1 marzo 1918) – lascerebbe supporre anche per il film una scansione dei carnevali affine a quella della sceneggiatura: “la Vita ha, come il sole, come il prisma, tutti i sette colori dell’iride. Uomini, vecchi, fanciulli… “/ “E a traverso i sette colori della Vita i personaggi vivono la loro commedia e il loro dramma” (Blios 1917); in un passo immediatamente precedente dello stesso articolo si parla inoltre di “[…] Vita […] colta e prospettata ora in tinte sanguigne, ora in tinte rosse, ora in tinte celesti” (ibidem). Un articolo apparso dopo l’uscita del film menziona esplicitamente tre carnevali (bianco, rosso, nero): “e quando credete che il dramma cominci, comincia invece il carnevale dei bambini – il carnevale bianco – (“La vita cinematografica” 1918, p. 54); “finalmente, quando la fantasia dell’autore si è ben bene sbizzarrita e vi ha letificato fino al punto di volergli far grazia del resto e prendere la porta, ecco che incomincia davvero il dramma: – carnevale rosso – dramma grave, pesante e voluto. Ma siamo già alla fine o quasi” (ibidem) e infine: “…la commedia ze finida… avrebbe detto Arlecchino, e invece doveva incominciare il – carnevale nero” (ivi, p. 55). Quanto ai tagli, alcuni li auspicano, altri li documentano. Si vedano i due seguenti passi: “troppi titoli; troppa letteratura. La pellicola va tagliata e se ci risparmia un po’ di quel prisma luminoso, ci fa un vero piacere” (Torelli 1918, p. 6); “però la direzione del Salone Ghersi [sala cinematografica torinese] ha soppresso – molto giudiziosamente – non poca parte di scene perfettamente inutili, e più che inutili, ingombranti” (“La vita cinematografica” 1918, p. 55, corsivo nell’originale).
Blios (1917), Divagazioni artistiche. “Carnevalesca“, in “Film“, IV, n. 37, 12 dicembre 1917, p. 4.
Canosa, Michele (1996b), Note sul linguaggio dei colori in “Carnevalesca“, in Dall’Asta/Pescatore/Quaresima, a cura di, 1996, pp. 52–55.
Dall’Asta, Monica; Pescatore, Guglielmo; Quaresima, Leonardo, a cura di (1996), Il colore nel cinema muto, Mano, Bologna.
“La vita cinematografica” (1918), “Carnevalesca“, in “La vita cinematografica“, IX, nn. 11-12, 22-31 marzo 1918, pp. 54–55.
Mazzei, Luca (2003), ‘Ebbe viva la passione per il cinema’. Lucio D’Ambra fra scrivanie di redazione, teatri e set, tesi di dottorato, Dipartimento della comunicazione letteraria e dello spettacolo, Università degli studi di Roma tre, 2 voli.
Torelli, Guglielmo (1918), “Carnevalesca“, in “Contropelo“, III, n. 10, 9 marzo 1918, p. 6.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 79–82.) (in Italian)
Rapsodia satanica (ITA 1917, Nino Oxilia)
“Negli esperimenti che furono tentati, la relazione sinestetica tra musica e colore si offriva in forma immediata alla percezione dello spettatore. In presenza di modalità narrative, invece, la stessa relazione poteva essere mediata dall’universo emotivo e psicologico dei personaggi. Questa seconda modalità sarebbe stata più spesso messa in atto all’interno dell’istituzione cinematografica, per supportare diverse ipotesi di riqualificazione estetica del colore e della musica. Tra i non molti casi degli anni dieci in cui l’effetto fu intenzionalmente perseguito, uno dei più significativi è rappresentato da Rapsodia satanica (Oxilia, 1917).
La presenza del colore – attestata da una copia ritrovata a restaurata negli anni novanta – rivela invece quello che rappresenta forse un unicum nella storia del cinema muto, vale a dire la compresenza sistematica all’interno dei fotogrammi di tinture o viraggi e di aree colorate a pochoir59. La forma policroma viene così a sovrapporsi a quella monocroma, producendo un’originale combinazione dell’una e dell’altra. Questa particolare scelta accresce notevolmente la plasticità e il pittoricismo delle immagini, che diventano così leggibili come una sorta di correlato visivo della musica, in termini di armonia, melodia e contrappunto. Sul piano della sintassi cromatica, tintura e viraggio tendono a definire il tono generale dell’immagine, all’interno del quale le singole macchie del pochoir determinano i potenziali accordi armonici, prodotti sia per minime variazioni che per accentuati contrasti.
Nel prologo del film, quando Mephisto fa irruzione nel salotto di Alba (Lyda Borelli) uscendo da un quadro, le campiture verdi e rosso porpora del pochoir, corrispondenti rispettivamente ai velluti delle poltrone e al mantello di Mephisto, definiscono gli accenti visivi dell’immagine, evidenziati dalla relazione di complementarità. Sul piano della sintassi narrativa, l’articolazione dei diversi accenti contribuisce a definire degli effetti di melodia e di contrappunto della scansione drammatica. Il contrasto dei complementari verde e rosso, ad esempio, torna, talora con variazioni di nuance, per tutta la prima parte nei drappeggi indossati da Alba e negli eleganti interni liberty, ripetendosi nella passeggiata finale del bosco tramite gli alberi, il vestito della donna e il mantello di Mephisto60.
Di natura per così dire contrappuntistica risultano invece alcuni effetti giocati sulla rottura della continuità cromatica. Nella sequenza conclusiva della prima parte, Alba trattiene Tristano all’interno della villa mentre all’esterno, scoccata la mezzanotte, Sergio tiene fede al proposito di uccidersi: la donna è inizialmente coperta da un mantello verde che lascia intravedere il sottostante corpetto rosso dell’abito; facendo cadere il mantello, Alba scopre in vita una sontuosa cintura gioiello, colorata della stessa tinta del vestito, e una gonna verde. Nel momento in cui Alba attrae a sé Tristano facendosi baciare, proprio mentre dall’esterno i due odono lo sparo con cui Sergio si toglie la vita, la stessa cintura è colorata con un vistoso giallo dorato. Subito dopo, quando i due escono dalla casa, la tinta non è più presente. Nel corso della sequenza, lo stesso giallo dorato è utilizzato in due piani ravvicinati di un lussuoso orologio da tavola che ricorda l’approssimarsi della mezzanotte; curiosamente, questo oggetto appare giallo nelle inquadrature che lo ritagliano dallo spazio circostante, mentre in tutte le altre torna a essere un semplice elemento scenografico e, in quanto tale, a ricevere la tinta generale dell’ambiente. Questa intermittenza del giallo mostra come lo spettatore non sia invitato a intendere il colore come descrittore ambientale della scena, né come suo correlato simbolico, quanto piuttosto come accentuazione contrappuntistica dei momenti drammatici.
Un esempio altrettanto interessante ricorre nella seconda parte del film, quando Alba, in procinto di velarsi “sacerdotessa dell’amore e della morte”, si avvicina alla finestra per osservare la silhouette di Tristano a cavallo. Nella prima inquadratura, raffigurante la donna, la luce radente al tramonto che penetra dalla finestra è resa con un effetto violentemente discontinuo: nella parte destra, i vetri della finestra lasciano trasparire una colorazione gialla, mentre a sinistra il corpo di Alba si trova investito da una tinta blu chiara, arricchita da una campitura rosa sul corpetto. Segue un’inquadratura che si configura come una soggettiva intensificata della donna: la sagoma nera di Tristano a cavallo si staglia in forte controluce sullo sfondo del cielo rischiarato dal sole al tramonto, reso attraverso una tintura blu chiara del tutto simile alla precedente. Si torna infine alla prima inquadratura e ai suoi colori, finché Alba solleva un velo ed esce di campo.
L’organizzazione cromatica risulta palesemente incongrua. La luce al tramonto, resa attraverso una tintura blu, sembra diventare gialla attraversando i vetri della finestra, salvo poi tornare al colore iniziale cadendo sul volto della donna. La discontinuità è poi ulteriormente accresciuta dall’illuminazione chiaroscurale che accompagna tutte le inquadrature, prolungandosi anche nelle successive, dedicate alla danza dei veli e costruite attorno alla stessa gamma. Risulta chiaro come l’intera sequenza acquisti senso come momento di pura liberazione della luce e del colore, di originale fusione tra sensazione visiva e musicale.
Il lavoro promosso da Rapsodia satanica rivela in maniera molto forte le possibilità di un utilizzo musicale del colore all’interno del discorso narrativo, anticipando almeno in una certa misura certi approdi successivi di autori sedotti dalle possibilità contrappuntistiche del colore.
59 Sul restauro, cfr. Mazzanti 1996.
60 In questa ultima passeggiata nel bosco, un violento baluginare di tinte ormai sfatte, che non aderiscono più ai contorni, potrebbe segnalare un intenzionale effetto contrappuntistico tra il colore e la figura, teso a segnalare il simbolico disfacimento del mondo illusorio di Alba. Questa ipotesi è sostenuta in Kuyper (1996, pp. 58–59): “Esaminandolo con la loupe sulla copia nitrato, si può constatare che questo verde ‘gocciola’ per davvero, che la tecnica non è affatto la stessa che viene utilizzata in altre parti del film (tranne che nella scena del lago, che ne diviene dunque anticipatrice); essa è volontariamente ‘espressionista’”.
Kuyper, Eric de (1996), “Rapsodia satanica” o il fremito de! Colore, in “Cinegrafie“. VIII, n. 9, 1996, pp. 53–60.
Mazzanti, Nicola (1996), A nuova vita. Note sul restauro di “Rapsodia satanica“, in “Cinegrafie“, Vili, n. 9, 1996, pp. 61–63.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 76–79.) (in Italian)
“Zweifellos gehören die Außenaufnahmen zu den schwierigsten Aufgaben des Zweifarbenfilms. Mit überwiegenden Viragen und willkürlichen Tönungen wird nur selten ein guter Effekt erzielt. Nur durch sorgfältigstes Studium der Möglichkeiten und entsprechende Auswahl des Aufnahmegegenstandes lassen sich künstlerisch befriedigende Aufnahmen erzielen, die den kulturellen Wert des Films tatsächlich steigern.”
(Conrad-Alberti, Victor (1933): Die technischen und künstlerischen Voraussetzungen für die Herstellung farbiger Kulturfilme. In: Film-Kurier, 112, 13.5.1933.) (in German)
“Les combinés teintage et virage
Le 28 juillet 1906, il semble que l’équipe réalise son premier combiné teintage et virage réussi sur le titre la Vie au Japon, les rapides de la rivière Ozu30. Ainsi le virage sépia est associé à un teintage bleu. Dubois reconnaît qu’il est cependant difficile pour le combiné d’atteindre une régularité parfaite31.
30 La Vie au Japon, les rapides de la rivière Ozu, film réalisé par André Legrand, production Pathé, 1906, n° 1493 (voir catalogue Bousquet).
31 Dubois, “Virage”, le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision, livre de fabrication noº 1, association CECIL et Fondation Pathé, 1906, p. 52.”
(Ruivo, Céline (2013): Le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision. À propos d’une source pour l’histoire des recherches sur la couleur chez Pathé Frères entre 1906 et 1908. In: 1895. Revue d’Histoire du Cinema, 71, 2013, pp. 47–60, on p. 56.) (in French)
“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: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 25–28, on pp. 26–27.) (in French)