“[…] the Prizma process represents the most attractive effort yet made to popularise the duo-colour film without demanding the slightest alteration of any detail of the projector mechanism or its operation. Although the showman’s side of the issue suffers no disturbance, the preparation of the positive involves somewhat complicated apparatus of a highly ingenious character, and intricate manufacturing processes, which, however, for the most part are conducted automatically. The single negative film, with its images taken through the two screens alternately and successively, resolved into pairs in accordance with established practice, when developed, are black and white, but are readily distinguishable from one another by the variation in their densities.
The positive stock is coated on both faces, and this is superimposed upon the negative for passage through the printing machine, which, while working upon the intermittent principle, is of special design, with distinctive mechanism and method of operation, to permit only the images taken through one colour filter to be printed in continuous succession. To ensure this being accomplished it is necessary for the printing machine to move the negative forward the depth of two pictures, but the positive ribbon only the depth of one picture, at a time. For instance, if the orange-red filter images are being printed, after the exposure has been made, the negative ribbon is moved forward to jump the immediately succeeding blue-green filter image, to bring the sequential orange-red filter image into position in the printing gate, whereas the positive film is moved forward only the depth of the image printed to bring the succeeding section of blank into place behind its relative negative image. Thus in making the orange-red screen record upon the positive all the blue-green filter images are skipped.
When the orange-red filter images have been printed in this manner the positive film is re-wound and reversed, so as to bring the other emulsion face into contact with the negative. On this second run through the printer only the images taken through the blue-green filter are printed, the orange-red images in turn being missed. Printing is conducted in such a manner as to bring the two pictures forming a pair upon the negative back to back upon the positive, and in such exact register as to appear, after development, and when viewed by transmitted light, as one complete picture. Delicacy of the printing operation demands a machine of wonderful precision, and this is one of the outstanding features of the process. Ingenious means are also incorporated to prevent the image on the one emulsion printing through to the second sensitive emulsion upon the other side of the transparent celluloid base. The images thus printed on the two sides of the positive ribbon are of complementary colour values.
The images upon the positive, after development and fixation, are identical with those of the ordinary black-and-white film. Indeed the colour film at this stage cannot be distinguished from its rival because the differing colour densities, while recorded, are not apparent to the eye.
The positive is now ready for the first stage in the actual colouring process. This is bleaching – or “mordanting” as it is called – the effect of which is to transform the positive into what appears to be a ribbon of transparent celluloid. It is as if the images had been dissolved from the film, but, although invisible, they are still existent: only the black (silver) image has been removed, but the spaces in the gelatine emulsion formerly carrying these images are now hollow and porous, and in a specially suitable receptive condition for the requisite dye-colours.
This transparent film is passed through an ingenious machine charged with the selected toning dyes, one side being treated at a time. When the finished film is held up to the light every image appears to have been delicately coloured, because the orange-red tone on one side and the blue-green on the other commingle to form the wonderful diffusion of colours more or less in accordance with those of Nature. The white spaces are perfectly clear, while the remaining areas are in varying shades and densities of the selected tones, with the shadows as near black as is possible with the combination of the two colours employed. In projection, as the light from the lantern traverses each pair of images set back-to-back, and separately toned, the reconstruction of the picture in colour is secured upon the screen. Such are the basic principles of the Prizma process explained in simple language. By printing the two units of a pair of negative images back-to-back in this manner, the positive is reduced to the same length as would be required to present the same action in black-and-white, and this is the reason why projection is possible at the normal speed of sixteen pictures per second. Twice the footage of film is only demanded for the preparation of the negative, but this is a minor item; it is the master from which the positives are multiplied; the double expense it represents is incurred only once.
Some of the Prizma pictures which have been presented at the world’s picture theatres are certainly charming, but they are far from being natural or convincing. The blurring, arising from imperfect register and because the motion, especially when near the camera, is distinctive in each of a pair of pictures, is distressing: a hand or face will be outlined in both red and green. Fringing and flashing are also worrying to the eye. When the subjects are carefully selected and staged, as, for instance, bowls of fruits, butterflies, textiles and épergnes of flowers, it is possible to demonstrate the beauties of the process to the greatest advantage. Generally speaking, the most attractive pictures are those of a scenic character, where possible distortion of colour is not readily discernible or is exposed to contradiction, no two pairs of eyes being alike in the judgment of colour values. Attempts have been made to apply the process to the presentation of picture-plays, notably The Glorious Adventure and The Virgin Queen, but the results cannot be declared as wholly satisfactory; the defects so fatal to Kinemacolour in this connection still prevail.”
(Talbot, Frederick A. (1923): Moving Pictures. Philadelphia: Lippincott 1923, pp. 354 ff.)
“William Kelley, a pioneer of the early Biograph days, finally perfected the Prizma process after six years of effort and an expenditure of more than a half-million dollars. In 1918 Kelley began releasing colored scenics with a fair degree of success, but the Prizma process was not used for any feature release until The Glorious Adventure was filmed by J. Stuart Blackton in London, England.
This first complete production to be made in natural colors possessed the added attraction of featuring the daughter of the Duke of Rutland in the leading role. Lady Diana Manners, styled the most beautiful woman in England, leader, of the smart set, dared to defy the social edict of the Royal Family, and for the first time a member of England’s nobility was democratic enough to sign a motion picture contract. Having secured Lady Diana’s name on the dotted line, Mr. Blackton selected the Stoll studios at Cricklewood where immense sets were built and the shooting of this ambitious experiment began in the early part of 1921.
During the process of production intense interest was shown by the British press throughout Great Britain, columns of matter being printed covering this epochal event in the British film industry – in fact, the amount of interest displayed both by professionals and laymen was unprecedented. Even in fashionable circles the styles created for Lady Diana were the vogue, and costumes of every description, hats, gloves and even shoes were illustrated by the leading newspapers, magazines, society journals grand fashion publications throughout the Empire. In some instances, whole pages were devoted to such displays. It is doubtful if in the entire history of the motion picture industry any other production has created such a furor.
The night of January 16th, 1922, marked the beginning of a new era at the famous Covent Garden Opera House in London for here in this internationally famous theatre, so rich in traditions of the drama and opera, the cinema “crashed the gate.” On the above date the seemingly “impossible” happened and The Glorious Adventure, the first all-color film drama to be shown in any theatre, was exhibited to as brilliant an audience as ever graced the hallowed precincts of this revered auditorium.
The leading families of the Empire were represented, the list reading like the pages from Burke’s Peerage. Among those present were Lord and Lady Howard de Walden, the Dowager Lady Michelham, Lady Maidstone, Marquess and Lady Granby, Viscount Wimburne, Lord Ashfield, . Winston Churchill, Miss Megan Lloyd George, Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury, Duke and Duchess of Rutland, Mrs. Carey Evan, Miss Phyllis Neilson-Terry, Mr. Duff Cooper, Senator Marconi, Mrs. Edward Montagu, Mr. Edward Shortt, K. C, M. P., Colonel the Hon. Freddie Cripps, Lady Joan Capel, the Hon. Lois Sturt, Sir Thomas Lipton, Lord Dewar, Sir John and Lady Ferguson, Lady Gwendoline and Major John Churchill, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, Sir John and Lady Lavery, the Hon. Lionel and Mrs. Tennyson, Lady Marjoribanks, Countess Wratislaw, Lord Plymouth, the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Asquith, Lady Taking, Lady Hawtrey, and many others too numerous to mention.
The critics were universal in their praise of The Glorious Adventure, as may be judged by such headings as— “Color Films Success” in the Westminster Gazette, “First Screen Play in Natural Colors a Big Success” in the Daily Sketch, while the Daily News and Pall Mall and Globe termed it a “Brilliant Triumph.” The stamp of approval placed upon this bold experiment was well merited, for it showed a distinct advance in color-film photography and on a scale that had never before been attempted.
In passing it might be interesting to note that the cast of The Glorious Adventure was a notable one, not only including Lady Diana Manners, who is now playing the leading role in the stupendous production of The Miracle, but Victor McLaglan, who recently achieved signal triumph in the film version of What Price Glory, was also cast for a prominent part and given most favorable notices by the critics. Others in the cast included such noted actors as Gerald Lawrence, Miss Alice Crawford, Mr. Cecil Humphreys, Mr. William Luff, the Hon. Lois Sturt, and Miss Elizabeth Beerbohm.
It took the courage of a hardy pioneer to attempt a production of this magnitude and the reception accorded Commodore Blackton, who was responsible for its presentation to the British public as author and producer, was a brilliant triumph for this cartoonist-reporter of the New York World, who through an interview with Thomas A. Edison, began his career as a motion picture producer.”
(Fenton, Alfred (1926): Retrospect in Color. Color Motion Photography from the Inception to Date. In: Motion Picture Director, (Hollywood Cal.) 3, Nov. 1926, pp. 19-21, 72, pp. 19 ff.)
“Prizma (Two-Color Subtractive)
Kelley’s venture with Kesdacolor was short-lived, but it proved to be an important stepping stone in his quest for bringing natural color to the nation’s screens. In 1919, he introduced a new Prizma process, employing a rotating filter disk for principal photography and duplitized positive stock for the release prints. In essence this new system was a merger between the earlier Prizma cameras and the concept of double-coated release prints from the Kesdacolor process. A rotating filter disk was placed in front of the camera’s single lens. As the camera film sped through the aperture gate at 32 frames per second, alternating frames carrying a red-orange and blue-green record image of the scene would be exposed. For printing Kelley used double-coated film stock with a sensitive emulsion coating on both sides of the print film base. A dye on the film base renders it opaque so that when one side is exposed to the print light, the light will not penetrate the base and affect the emulsion on the other side. During processing this dye is dissolved out, leaving the base transparent between the two emulsions. Printing was performed on a special printer which advanced the negative two frames for each single frame movement of the positive film.
If we take the case of the “red” images, after one “red” image has been printed, the positive is moved along one frame while the negative, which has red records alternately along the film, is moved along two frames. When the “green” images have been printed on the other side of the film we now have the two silver images one on each side of the film and in register. [Note that in order to get both images the same way round one negative must be printed through the negative film base instead of using the usual way of printing emulsion to emulsion.]21
The duplitized print was then dyed red-orange on the side containing the blue-green record, while the opposite side (containing the red-orange record) was dyed blue-green.
Several methods of applying the dyes were utilized. One early method had the print merely float facedown over the appropriate solution. When this step was completed, the print film was reversed onto a second drum and the opposite side would float across its respective dye. If the film floated across the dye properly, just skimming the surface of the solution, only one side would be affected at a time. Apparently this floating procedure worked better in principle than practice. Kelley later resorted to using a “removable resist” (protective coating) which would protect one side of the print film while the other side received its dye. After the first dye had dried the resist would be removed. The procedure was then reversed and repeated.
Kelley had finally succeeded in developing a workable color process. Although a special camera (and double the average film speed) was required during production, “Prizma was [now] able to forget their troubles, since the film could be projected from any standard machine without changes of any sort to the machine.”22
Initial production efforts centered on short travelogues and a variety of one-reelers. The first production utilizing Kelley’s two-color duplitized release prints may have been A Prizma Color Visit to Catalina. According to the New York Times, this short was playing at the Rivoli Theater in New York City prior to January 13, 1919. Described as “an interesting pictorial,” the reviewer commented briefly on “the gorgeous undersea life” which filled the screen.23 Apparently Catalina was not enough of a subject to fully showcase the new process, so Kelley released a short entitled Everywhere with Prizma. This short played at the Rivoli the same week as Catalina, and it is not certain which of the two was publicly shown first. Nonetheless, Everywhere with Prizma received a slightly longer, but less favorable, review.
There are several exquisite bits in Everywhere with Prizma, which starts off the Rivoli picture program this week, but some of the scenes in this heterogeneous collection serve only to emphasize the fact that color-photography has not yet been perfected.24
Regardless of which picture was shown first, it is interesting to note that no advance publicity regarding these color presentations appeared in the New York City newspapers, nor did the regular advertisements for the Rivoli Theater mention the fact.
While most of Kelley’s initial productions were travelogues photographed at exotic locations the world over, one notable exception premiered in December, 1919.
The Prizma Pictures Corporation has departed from its usual path . . . by producing Memories, a sort of screen version of Whittier’s poem, “In School Days.” It has gone even further than other makers of scenic pictures in the way of employing narrative, and its experiment is interesting and should lead to a big, new field. In the present instance, however, the use of colors is not entirely satisfactory, and undoubtedly Memories would have been better if it had not departed from “In School Days” so far, even to the extent of changing one of Whittier’s lines and dulling the point of his poem thereby.25
Prizma’s first year of production proved successful in spite of the rather negative reviews found in the New York Times. General audience reaction had been favorable, and Kelley was most enthusiastic regarding the coming years.
In my opinion, short subjects, whether they are educational, comedy, drama or novelties, will find an increasing demand throughout the year. We intend to follow this policy almost exclusively during 1920. By giving our patrons concentrated portions of pure beauty in Nature’s color, I feel that we will be in harmony with the coming demand.26
Releases for 1920 included:
. . . a Prizma color scenic of the Hawaiian Islands.27
. . . an interesting Prizma picture of life in Swaziland, South Africa.28
The Cost of Carelessness [included on the bill for the first anniversary of the Capitol Theatre], a realistic Prizma picture of a forest fire.29
In Nippon, a well done Prizma picture.30
Most of these shorts were undistinguished efforts which met with little critical acclaim or public enthusiasm. Before the year ended, however, Kelley was to release his first production which was to truly capture the attention of critics and filmgoers alike.
. . . only last week the Prizma Company revealed its best work of the year, a screen version of “Heidi” in colors, which, though imperfect, had a chromatic quality far superior to the same company’ s earlier attempt with Whittier’s “In School Days.”31
Acclaimed “the first two reel drama ever made in color photography,” Heidi of the Alps starred Madge Evans and was distributed by Federated Exchanges.32 Kelley followed this success with another excellent production entitled Bali the Unknown.
Bali the Unknown, apparently a pretty well-known island of the Malay Archipelago, is the subject of the most entertaining picture at the Capitol. The Balinese have developed a most interesting civilization, primitive but well removed from savagery, and Harold H. Horton, who photographed them, seems to have possessed a discerning eye and good camera judgment. His film, too, is in Prizma colors, which, while not exactly natural, and sometimes glaringly unnatural, bring more of his object to the screen than could be brought in black and white, and often enhance the scenic effects with which Mr. Horton, unlike many traveling cameramen, has enriched his record. Furthermore, S. L. Rothapfel, in charge of presentations at the Capitol, has done a genuine service to the public in selecting the film and showing all of its four [actually five] reels continuously.33
Holding the distinction of being “the only picture in existence of the South Seas Islands in color,” Bali the Unknown reportedly “won splendid box office results at the Capitol, New York, Granada, San Francisco; California, Los Angeles, The Allen, Cleveland, etc.”34 Theater attendance may -have been aided by the film’s subtitle – Ape Man Island – which was predominantly publicized. The New York Times, for one, took offense to the inappropriate hype noting that the subtitle was “silly. There is nothing resembling a subman in the picture.”35
By late 1920, Prizma was enjoying considerable commercial success both here and abroad. A minimum of 21 Prizma releases was exhibited in motion picture theaters during the 1920 and 1921 calendar years, and the process began to attract the interest of numerous industry members. One of those intrigued by the process was J. Stuart Blackton, perhaps best known as the reporter for the New York World, who was so clever with his pencil that the city editor allowed him to illustrate his own articles.36
Sometime prior to 1921 Blackton met Thomas Edison, “through an interview . . . [and] began his career as a motion picture producer.”37 Blackton attended at least one screening of a Prizma release, most likely in the latter half of 1920. It is unknown which of the Prizma productions he had seen, but it is quite apparent that the process made a most favorable impression. Blackton was associated with the Vitagraph Studio at the time,38 but the lure of producing and directing the first full-length feature film in Prizma was too strong to ignore.
It took the courage of a hardy pioneer to attempt a production of this magnitude . . . but to J. Stuart Blackton . . . remains the credit for blazing the trail and producing the first complete screen play to be successfully made in natural color.39
Production of the film, entitled The Glorious Adventure, began in the early part of 1921 at Stoll Studios, Criklewood, London.40 One of Blackton’s first and most important moves was to sign
the daughter of the Duke of Rutland in the leading role. Lady Diana Manners, styled the most beautiful woman in England, leader of the smart set, dared to defy the social edict of the Royal Family, and for the first time a member of England’s nobility was democratic enough to sign a motion picture contract.41
Blackton realized that Lady Diana would be a strong draw, and his opinion was later shared by the editors of Moving Picture World:
It is highly probable that exhibitors will find two features of The Glorious Adventure will serve as advertising opportunities to promote good business at the box-office window. The first is the presence of Lady Diana Manners, as star. The other is the novelty of the picture being photographed in its entirety by the natural color process controlled by Prizma. Although this may not be the order counted upon, it is believed that more people will enter the theatre to see Lady Diana than will go because of the coloring.42
One other member of the cast was notable. Victor McLaglen was given a prominent part in the film, and his “forceful portrayal of the brutish Bulfinch is the role that started him on his career as a cinema star.”43 Even before its release, The Glorious Adventure was making history in England.
During the process of production intense interest was shown by the British press throughout Great Britain, columns of matter being printed covering this epochal event in the British film industry – in fact, the amount of interest displayed by both professionals and laymen was unprecedented. Even in fashionable circles the styles created for Lady Diana were the vogue, and costumes of every description, hats, gloves and even shoes were illustrated by the leading newspapers, magazines, society journals and fashion publications throughout the Empire. In some instances, whole pages were devoted to such displays. It is doubtful if in the entire history of the motion picture industry any other production has created such furor.44
Negatives were sent to the United States for processing by the Prizma Company. The Prizma laboratory also prepared the release prints at its Jersey City, New Jersey, plant, “handling the largest color order ever placed . . . with double shifts working five nights a week for the entire summer.”45 The cost of these prints was reported to be “25 cents a foot, about six times the cost of black and white prints at the time.”46 The English premiere was held the evening of January 16, 1922, at the Covent Garden Opera House in London, marking the first time in its history that a film had been presented “in this internationally famous theatre, so rich in traditions of the drama and opera.”47
On the above date the seemingly “impossible” happened and The Glorious Adventure, the first all-color film drama to be shown in any theatre, was exhibited to as brilliant an audience as ever graced the hallowed precincts of this revered auditorium.
…Among those present were Lord and Lady Howard de Walden, the Dowager Lady Michelham, Lady Maidstone, Marquess and Lady Granby, Viscount Wimburne, Lord Ashfield, Mrs. Winston Churchill… Countess Wratislaw, Lord Plymouth, the Duchess of Devonshire… and many others to numerous to mention.48
The Glorious Adventure was an immense critical success in England. The London Times declared that The Glorious Adventure must inevitably rank as one of the most impressive films that this country has seen,” while the London Daily Sketch hailed the feature as “a triumph of art and invention. The color effects are wonderful. It marks a new era in cinema art.”49 Headlines of other English papers read “Color Films Success” and “Brilliant Triumph.”50
The critical reaction in the United States was less favorable and more reserved. The New York Times review of The Glorious Adventure noted that
Although there is no likelihood of the abandonment of black-and-white photography . . . the future will undoubtedly bring a perfection of color photography and an extension of its use that will greatly enrich the screen.51
That “perfection of color photography” had not been achieved by Prizma is evidenced by the following comments appearing later in the review:
. . . the picture gives evidence that much remains to be done before color photography may be said to have been satisfactorily developed. . . . The colors . . . run to strong hues, with harsh reds predominating, which displeasing effect is heightened by what seems a needless use of red in costumes and settings. . . . There are . . . other scenes in which the strong colors seem suitable and tellingly contrasted, and these are good. . . . So the photoplay is not without impressiveness. At times it is strikingly effective. But more often it seems crude, with the chromatic intensity of a cheap postcard and the indistinctness of a poorly lighted photograph. And some of the scenes are excellent examples of exceptionally bad composition, too.52
Variety also found fault with the color rendition, and noted that the use of color could actually hinder a dramatic storyline:
. . . irrespective of mere color quality, there seems no special merit in polychromatic films, especially in dramatic subjects. The color is uneven, and when the effects are striking they detract from story interest. This was emphasized in The Glorious Adventure. The costumes are of eye-compelling tones such as salmons, rich scarlets and striking blues, and it frequently happened that a splash of color caught and held the eye and attention to the detriment of the scene . . . . Often effective dramatic passages lost their significance and were spoiled because the scenic features overshadowed the scene.53
Moving Picture World agreed.
The color photography has given many of the scenes much beauty, especially so as the period of the story was in a time when vivid costumes were the fashion. But at times there seems to be such an amount of coloring that the onlooker becomes rather bewildered.54
Despite the generally negative reviews from both the general press and trade publications, American audiences flocked to see The Glorious Adventure immediately after its release. Initial audience reaction was encouraging. Variety reported that “at the Capitol Sunday afternoon the picture won a reward of spontaneous applause, an unusual demonstration of approval.”55 The novelty of color, however, quickly wore off and The Glorious Adventure was unable to stand on its own merits as simple drama. The acting, in particular, was criticized.
… the film offers Lady Diana Manners in its leading role. According to report, she is considered quite a beauty in England, and she may be approved here by those who like the cold, blond type. But, surely, no one will say that she does any acting…Most of its players are English, apparently, and little known in this country, and besides, they are types rather than actors… it remains true, that there is little real acting in the photoplay.56
Almost two weeks after its premier The Glorious Adventure remained the top grossing film in New York City. Variety reported, however, that “the house got around $37,000 although it was expected earlier in the week the business would top $40,000.”57 The decline in audience interest and attendance had begun, and The Glorious Adventure never achieved the box-office success here that it enjoyed in England.
Although Blackton’s “Adventure” into full-color feature film production was less “Glorious” than initially expected, he proceeded to produce one additional Prizma picture entitled The Virgin Queen. This feature, also shot in England, proved less successful than its predecessor. Blackton had spent a staggering total of £150,000 on his two Prizma productions,58 and it is unlikely he recouped his investment. Thus the use of Prizma for dramatic, feature-length films has a short, but interesting history.
The Glorious Adventure was erroneously billed as “the first drama in natural color” (dramatic films in color had previously been released using both the Kinemacolor system and Technicolor Process Number One), and it had failed to achieve the commercial success that Blackton and Kelley had wanted. Its failure, however, did little to endanger the growing market for short subjects employing the Prizma process.
During the year  Prizma made and released a series of 26 short subjects comprising the only regular short subject service in the world using color photography exclusively. . . . It made color titles, prologues, inserts or embellishments for practically every prominent producer in the industry. Such work as that appearing in Mae Murray’s “Broadway Rose” being typical of the improved methods and results secured.
[Prizma] opened a new office in Hollywood . . . to take care of producers on the coast needing color in their productions, and it saw its product meet with profitable acceptance by exhibitors and public in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia and Czecho-Slovakia.59
This apparent contradiction between Prizma’s feature film disappointments and its success in short subjects and inserts can be easily explained.
When the subjects are carefully selected and staged . . . it is possible to demonstrate the beauties of the process to the greatest advantages. Generally speaking, the most attractive pictures are those of a scenic character, where possible distortion of colour is not readily discernible or is exposed to contradiction, no two pairs of eyes being alike in the judgement of colour values. Attempts . . . to apply the process to the presentation of picture-plays . . . cannot be declared as wholly satisfactory; the defects so fatal to kinemacolour in this connection still prevail.60
Since the primary objection to the Prizma process was color fringing, static shots and scenes photographed at a distance would produce optimum results. Therefore, “carefully selected” inserts and short films requiring little movement of the camera (or object ) would photograph beautifully. Similarly, travelogues generally consisted of colorful scenery photographed at considerable distances, and the Prizma process was ideally suited for this application.
Dramatic subjects, on the other hand, require movement and close-ups to heighten interest and maximize audience involvement. These requirements of dramatic filmmaking emphasized the inherent weaknesses of Prizma, and contributed to the failure of both The Glorious Adventure and The Virgin Queen.
By the end of 1922, Prizma short subjects had become a regular feature in a number of key theaters across the country. As the advertisements for the company declared, “Prizma Color Subjects are well and favorably known, and regularly shown, in all first class theaters. Prizma Color is now a necessity in every well balanced program.”61 Production efforts had been increased, and at least three separate Prizma series were available for distribution:
Prizma Color Cartoons – drawn by Pinto Colvig62
Prizma Master Pictures
About 100 short subjects are available covering all types of pictures! Artistic, entertaining and carefully produced to do their share in building box-office programs.
These exquisite little dances, photographed in Prizma Color, in synchronization with the music, are distinctly different from anything else in the industry. They provide a complete act of unquestioned merit. Produced for Music Films, Inc.63
The outlook for Kelley and his Prizma Incorporated operation was truly bright. Expansion plans were initiated, and corporate enthusiasm for the coming year was perhaps best expressed by Carroll H. Dunning, Vice-President:
Prizma Inc. . . . has pursued the even tenor of its way, making improvements in its methods, building new equipment in its laboratory and getting better results in its product. . . . The favorable reaction of the public . . . as reflected in the box office both in this country and in Europe furnishes the encouraging answer that color motion photography has a place in the industry.64
This outlook was shared by the Society of Motion Picture Engineers.
Many new reels of colored films have recently been produced. More than 300 miles of colored positive are now running regularly in theatres in this country and England. These make up two complete photoplays in color [The Glorious Adventure and The Virgin Queen], five feature travel stories and many selected subjects of educational value for use by colleges, schools, etc.65
Within a year, however, Prizma, Inc., was forced to close its doors. The novelty of the color shorts quickly wore off as theater audiences began to increasingly notice the imperfections of the Prizma process. Compared with the degree of perfection achieved by black-and-white photography at the time, Prizma suffered in lack of “brilliance, clarity, wealth of detail, photographic quality, and absence of flicker.”66 Furthermore, the subject matter and treatment found in the Prizma releases lacked variety. Reports of D. W. Griffith, Famous Players-Lasky, and other key producers being great admirers (and potential users)67 of the process proved unfounded or exaggerated. In fact, only three Prizma releases for 1923, all shorts, could be found:
The Making of a Man (l,000′), Released January 1.
Oases of the Desert (750′), Released March 3.
From the Land of the Incas (600′), Released March 25.68
W. T. Crespinel offers one additional cause for Prizma’s demise:
The failure of this company, after several years of activity, I put down, largely to the fact of the poor location of the laboratory in Jersey City. It was anything but an ideal place for the production of color work. Had they moved to the coast as they once planned to, they would undoubtedly have held a very prominent place in the industry today.69
The swift demise of Prizma Inc., only twelve months after the firm had appeared to be solidly entrenched as a color producer of short subjects and inserts, must have been shocking to Kelley and his associates. History, however, was only repeating itself as previous color pioneers had already discovered.
So-called natural-colour motion-pictures enjoy a fleeting vogue for one reason – novelty. The wondrous tints and hues of Nature are not to be harnessed so readily and completely by the moving-picture camera for the entertainment of the millions flocking to the motion-picture theatres as the diligent experimenter, blinded by his enthusiasm, would have us to believe. Fortunes have been lost in this elusive quest – three-quarters of a million dollars . . . were sunk in advancing the Prizma process to the commercial stage – and many more fortunes will be expended in this enterprise before colour usurps black-and-white from the screen – if ever.70
22 W. T. Crespinel, “Color Photography-Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” American Cinematographer 9 (March 1929): 5, p. 5.
23 New York Times, January 13, 1919, p. 9.
24New York Times, January 12, 1919, p. 13.
25New York Times, December 8, 1919, p. 20.
26 Wid’s Year Book – 1919-1920 (New York: John W. Alicoate, 1920), p. 113.
27 New York Times, June 21, 1920, p. 13.
28 New York Times, October 4, 1920, p. 14.
29 New York Times, October 25, 1920, p. 18.
30 New York Times, November 1, 1920, p. 13.
31 New York Times, January 2, 1921, Sec. 4, p. 4
32 Film Year Book – 1922-1925 (New York: John W. Alicoate, 1923), p. 56.
33 New York Times, February 28, 1921, p. 16.
34 Film Year Book – 1922-1925, p. 56.
35 New York Times, February 28, 1921, p. 16.
36 Alfred Fenton, “A Retrospect in Color,” The Motion Picture Director 3 (November 1926): 19, p.16.
37 Ibid., p. 21.
38 Major Adrian Bernard Klein, Colour Cinematography (London: Chapman and Hall, Ltd., 1939), p.19.
39 Fenton, pp. 21 and 72.
40 Ibid., p. 19.
42 Moving Picture World, May 6, 1922, p. 91.
43Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1930, p. 7.
44 Fenton, p. 21.
45 Film Year Book – 1922-1925, p. 357.
46 D. B. Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1969), p. 38.
47 Fenton, p. 21.
49 Variety, April 14, 1922, p. 40.
50 Fenton, p. 21.
51 New York Times, April 24, 1922, p. 18.
53 Variety, April 28, 1922, p. 42.
54 Moving Picture World, May 6, 1922, p. 91.
55 Variety, April 28, 1922, p. 42.
56 New York Times, April 24, 1922, p. 18.
57 Variety, May 5, 1922, p. 36.
58 Klein, p. 19.
59 Carroll H. Dunning, “Color Photography in 1922,” Film Year Book – 1922-1923 (New York: John W. Alicoate, 1923), p. 171.
60 Frederick A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1923), p . 353.
61 Film Year Book – 1922-1923, p. 56.
62 Klein, p. 19
63 Film Year Book – 1922-1923, p. 56.
65 Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, no. 14, May 1-4, p. 175.
66 Talbot, p. 354.
67 Crespinel, p. 5.
68 Film Year Book – 1924 (New York: John W. Alicoate, 1924), p.85.
69 Crespinel, p. 5.
70 Talbot, p. 355.”
(Nowotny, Robert A. (1983): The Way of All Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929. New York: Garland Pub., pp. 167-185.)
Prizma was the name given to a series of color processes invented and developed by W. V. D. Kelley. Experimental work began in 1912. The first process that evolved was a four-color additive process called Panchromotion.2 Some time later Prizma. Inc., was formed and all subsequent processes were called Prizma Color. After an expenditure of six years and nearly three-quarters of a million dollars,3 the company finally began producing results.
The first Prizma film was Our Navy, shown in 1917 at the 44th Street Theater, New York City.4 The process used for this showing was a four-color additive process which used a rotating color filter disk in front of both the camera and projector apertures. Color was synthesized by successive projection.
This was followed by a showing of scenic views and animal pictures at the Strand Theater, February 25, 1917.5 Before this showing the process was changed to a two-color process in which the rotating color filter disk was eliminated from the projector in favor of dyed pictures on the print. The print was made up of successive frame pictures dyed red-orange and blue-green which were projected at twice normal speed.
With the introduction of duplitized positive the process was again changed. The result was a two-color print, one side dyed red-orange, the other side blue-green; projection speed was returned to normal, thus the prints could be shown in any theater. This new Prizma process was introduced with the showing of Everywhere with Prizma at the Rivoli Theater, New York City. It is interesting to note that the advertisement for the Rivoli on opening night had no indication that a color picture would be shown. The review for the New York Times6commented that the color varied from excellent to poor and only served to emphasize that color photography had not yet been perfected. In spite of the opinion expressed by the New York Times, the process was successful. In 1922 Prizma was used for the first full length feature picture produced in color. The Glorious Adventure produced by J. Stuart Blackton7 was successful in England, but not in the United States. Following the introduction to feature films, Prizma was used in several subsequent productions. In 1928 the process was sold to Consolidated Film Industries and the name was changed to Magnacolor.8
The original Prizma Color process was a four-color additive system for color cinematography. Red, green, yellow and blue were used for the colors. Pictures were made by the sequential frame method through rotating filters. To obtain more exposure and more light for projection the filters were wedged from full saturation to clear (Fig. 40). The film was advanced during the opaque time when the shutter is closed.
Attempting to operate as a three- or four-color process by sequential frame photography, Prizma had problems similar to those that occurred in the Kinemacolor Process. Therefore, the process was changed to a two-color process using red-orange and blue-green for camera and projection filters. Also, camera and projection speed was reduced to 32 frames per second.
Even as a two-color process the additive projection was difficult. In order to eliminate the rotating filter disk from the projector altogether, the alternate frame negatives were printed onto normal black and white print film in superimposition. The red exposure was printed first giving less exposure than is normally required for black and white positives. After exposure the print was developed to convert the latent image into a gray silver image of low density and contrast. Development was followed by a clearing bath and wash. The film was then immersed in a 5% copper chloride solution, washed and immersed in a 1% solution of potassium iodide which converted the image to silver iodide, which was removed by immersion in a clearing bath until only a faint image remained. Once more it was washed, then it was dyed green. After an additional wash the emulsion was resensitized in an ammonium dichromate bath and dried. The film was now ready for printing of the green printing positive. After printing the excess dichromate was removed by washing in cold water and the print was dyed red. This was followed by an acid rinse to fix the pinatype dyes, then the remaining silver was removed by a fixing bath and the print was washed and dried. The pinatype dye had the property of attacking soft gelatin which had not been affected by light due to being covered by the dark portions of the printing positive, and it did not attack those portions which had become relatively hard owing to having been exposed to light through the open portions of the printing positive.9
In its final form Prizma made use of duplitized positive film. As in previous Prizma systems, the original negatives were alternate frame sequential exposures. The Prizma negative was printed on both sides of the positive film in a special printer. After developing in a normal black and white developer it was bleached in a bath that converted the two images to silver iodide. Two methods appear to have been used for dyeing the duplitized prints:
1. The film was wound tightly on a drum and the exposed side was dyed. When this step was completed, the film was dried and reversed onto a second drum and dyed the other color.10
2. The print was coated with a removable resist on the side printed from the blue-green negative. The red-orange negative side was then dyed blue-green. When the dyeing was completed the resist was removed and the film was dried. Next the red-orange side was coated with resist and the other side of the print was dyed red-orange.11
2 CORNWELL-CLYNE, A., Colour Cinematography (London: Chapman and Hall, Ltd., 1951), p. 17.
3 RAMSAYE, TERRY, A Million and One Nights (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), p, 571.
4 CORNWELL-CLYNE, A., loc. cit.
5 New York Times, February 26, 1917.
6 New York Times, January 20, 1919.
7 RAMSAYE, TERRY, op. cit., p. 571. Also, New York Times, April 24, 1922.
8 CORNWELL-CLYNE, A., op. cit., p. 18.
9 USP 1278161.
10 GREGORY, C L., Motion Picture Photography (New York: Falk Publishing Company, Inc., 1927), pp. 336-337.
(Ryan, Roderick T. (1977): A History of Motion Picture Color Technology. London: Focal Press, pp. 91-94.)
“Kelley was not satisfied with the additive system and believed that colour could be applied directly to the film. In order to carry out this idea he entered into partnership with Carroll H. Dunning and Wilson Salisbury, and a laboratory was opened at 205 West 40th Street, under the name of “Kesdacolor.” Their first film made by the subtractive process was a picture of the American flag. In a length of fifty feet it was shown at the Roxy and Rialto, New York, on September 12, 1918. Shortly after the success of this showing, Kelley returned to the Prizma Company, which was reorganized. Longer films were undertaken, and in 1919 a single reel travel subject was subtractively coloured. J. Stuart Blackton of Vitagraph saw this picture and was so impressed that he decided to make a feature-length picture in Prizma. The Glorious Adventure was made at the Stoll Studies, Cricklewood, London, with Lady Diana Manners in the principal part. Some £150,000 was spent on this production and The Virgin Queen, without much success being obtained. The negative seems to have been sent to America for processing. In 1919 Kelley produced a series of coloured cartoons which were drawn by Pinto Colvig.”
(Klein, Adrian Bernhard = Cornwell-Clyne (1940): Colour Cinematography. Boston: American Photographic Pub. Co.. 2nd revised edition, p. 19.)
“Prizma (Kelley, 1919-23), a two-colour subtractive synthesis patent. The positive, printed from a negative created by a camera equipped with a rotating filter, had two emulsions, uniformly coloured blue-green on one side and red-orange on the other. The Glorious Adventure (Vitagraph, 1921, still extant) by J. Stuart Blackton was the first feature-length film ‘in natural colour’ to enjoy some commercial success in the United States and United Kingdom.”
(Cherchi Usai, Paolo (2000): Silent Cinema. London: BFI, pp. 36)
“Notes on restoring subtractive two-colour process prints
Two-colour subtractive print systems were in use from about 1915 to about 1950, and companies in many countries produced and patented their own versions.
Two separation negatives are produced in a single camera exposing either a ‘bipack’, two films emulsion-to-emulsion in a single gate, or in a camera with a beam splitter and two film elements. The separations are made with a red-orange and a cyan-green complementary pair of filters, or relied on the different sensitivity of the films (in the case of the bipack) to produce a similar result. Thus complementary records were generated covering the entire visible spectrum.
The print was a single film base with red-orange and cyan-green positive images each made from a separation negative. The images were on either side of the film base, (e.g. Cinecolor) or on the same side (e.g. Dascolour, early Trucolor). The dyes were produced from the silver images by dye transfer, by chromagenic development, even by a form of litho printing, but most frequently by toning, using metallic and mordant dye techniques developed for toned silent films.
The processes were highly successful until three-colour Technicolor in 1936, and even then hung on until Gevaert and Eastman Colour Negative films in 1947-50.
From about 1930 Eastman, Agfa, Gevaert, DuPont (who called their bipack ‘Rainbow Negative’ and later DuPack) all made ‘bipack’ films for camera use. One negative geometry was reversed as the films were usually exposed emulsion-to-emulsion, but almost any camera could be simply modified to supply and take up to two rolls of film. These same manufacturers also made double-coated print films, usually using their standard black and white emulsion coated on both sides of the nitrate support. These films were called Duplex or Duplicoat (DuPont) or Duplitized (Eastman) etc.
The sound tracks, where present, are usually variable density and a bright Prussian Blue, more rarely silver coated with a shiny cellulose nitrate lacquer.
Two-colour print technology failed to make the jump to three-colour, although several complicated three-colour versions were tried. The last British two-colour was Cinecolor (Slough, Bucks) and the last three-colour of this type was SuperCinecolor (processed as a joint venture by Cinecolor, Gevaert and Studio Film Laboratories in 1950). Early Technicolor prints were two-colour, either by cementing two films together or by two-dye transfer images onto ‘blank’ film stock. Technichrome included a complex method of deriving a three-colour print from two separation films.
Only Harriscolor (USA 1929+), Kelleycolor (USA), Polychrome and Kodachrome (USA, 1920) and Fox Natural Color (1924) used beamsplitter cameras, and prints from these systems are very rare indeed. All others used commercial bipack films pairs that were not unique to the print process.
(The terms bi-pack and monopack have been confused for many years, since they are used as loose terms for a number of different still and motion picture systems. Technicolor called Kodachrome ‘Monopack’ when they used it as a camera film in 1945, and Ilford produced a ‘bipack’, producing three separation negatives from two films, for still use, which they called Monopack!)
39.2 IDENTIFYING THE PROCESS
Identifying the colour system is essential to produce an authentic restoration as the dyes varied widely. The two colours were intended to be complementary but this can cover a wide range of colour combinations.
Blues are poor, probably as much due to the dyes darkening with time, reds are strong and saturated, but some results are extremely pleasant. Sharpness was usually poor on double-sided print films.
Identifying the system can only be done from a print and is partly by identifying geometry and layer arrangement and by identifying the dyes and sound tracks.
Prussian Blue is a common cyan blue used in Dascolour, Harriscolor, early Kelleycolor (‘Prizma’), Colorfilm, Fullcolor, early Cinecolor, Kodachrome 1920ish, Multicolor and Magnacolor (?). The orange dye was occasionally uranium ferrocyanide but more usually a mordant dye mixture. Some processes used chromagenic development.
The density of any pure dye areas must be measured on Status A.
Identifying the film stock manufacturer may help, or may not. Most US film stock manufacturers made a double-coated stock for these processes.
Some two-colour, perhaps all, was printed on a yellow film base or the emulsion was tinted to produce a subjectively better result.
The best general source of references and other data is A. Cornwell-Clyne’s Colour Cinematography (1951), and R. Ryan’s A History of Motion Picture Colour Technology (1977). Most US systems were well described in SMPE Journals.
39.3 MAKING A RESTORED PRINT FROM SEPARATION NEGATIVES
If only separations exist it is rarely possible to tell from them which print system would have been used, and different print systems could have been used with the same pair of negatives at different times.
If both separations and a print exist a close match to the original print can be made from the separations as follows:
1. Identify which separation is which. As with any set of separation negatives this is either by trial and error or a knowledge of the geometry of the process. Bipacks were exposed with the films emulsion-to-emulsion and therefore one image will be the reverse of the other. One film must therefore always be reversed in its subsequent handling.
2. Prepare test exposures on Eastman Colour Print Film 5386 to achieve a densitometric (and visual) match with the primary colours using short lengths of the separation negatives. Usually areas of pure dye can be seen in splashes, outside the perforations, or at reel ends, which can be used as colour patches. Either additive or subtractive lamphouses can be used.
3. Make a register print on Eastman Colour Print Film 5386 by two separate passes, one from the blue/green separation the second from the orange/red, producing the B/G primary from the O/R separation and so on.
4. Grade the final print by varying the total exposure of the two separations (not by varying the colours produced as primaries). Neutral density filters are the best method, but scene-by-scene grading cannot easily be done this way, and some printer light adjustments may be needed.
[Editor’s Note: I have only carried out this procedure once, as separations are rare (or overlooked); the occasion on which I have used this method was when a client said he had lost a separation negative! However, the can was labelled with a Cinecolor label, the film was Eastman bipack and one negative geometry was reversed. P.R.]
39.4 MAKING A RESTORED PRINT FROM AN ORIGINAL PRINT
Most two-colour materials only exist, at least in Europe, as a release print.
Step 1. Carry out the identification process as above, and identify the dyes if possible. Measure the Status A densities of the dyes.
Step 2. Make two separation negatives from the print. Filters we have used for this are Wratten 16 (orange) and Wratten 44 (cyan), and also the narrower cut pair Wratten 22 and Wratten 45. There are increases in saturation in the final print with the latter, but they reduce exposure considerably. Time-gamma curves are needed to produce matching gammas of 0.6 for both separations. (We have also tried using an additive lamphouse to achieve the separation exposure wavelengths. This was successful but only used for a test.)
Step 3. The print is made as for the restoration above from original separation negatives, which as far as is known were all made to an approximate (natural) gamma of about 0.6. We did find some earlier films with much higher contrasts and have needed separation gammas as low as 0.4, especially where optical printing was used from black and white elements.
39.5 CHOOSING THE COLOURS OF THE TWO PRIMARIES FOR PRINTS
The following dyes are known to have been used for two-colour prints.
39.5.1 Cyan/blue primaries – Prussian Blue/Iron Tone Blue/iron blue tone/ferric ferrocyanide
This is the classic Prussian Blue formed by the action of ferric chloride and oxalic acid on metallic silver. All the processes we have seen described suggest the silver was ‘fixed out’, and sometimes ‘bleached out’ with the far more effective ferricyanide bleach rather than fixer. Prussian Blue is more stable than many chromagenic cyan dyes, but darkens and desaturates in time. All two-colour films using this primary should be restored with a colour that matches ‘fixed out Prussian Blue’.
In Dascolour, potassium ferricyanide bleach removed all silver. This was probably a very saturated blue, but we have not seen this. It was a single-sided emulsion process, probably one separation colour originally printed through support.
In Harriscolor, ‘Prizma’ Kelleycolor, Colorfilm, Fullcolor, Cinecolor (early version) and Multicolor various formulations resulted in Prussian Blue, with various levels of ‘fixing out’, probably with various levels of effectiveness. Kelleycolor went through many generations using a wide range of dyes, including a vanadium salt, although this may have been part of an elaborate mordant dye tone process.
39.5.2 Cyan/blue primaries — mordant cyan/blue dyes
Few patents list the precise dyes used. The only well-documented cyan/blue mordant dyes are for polychromide, a mixture of Malachite Green and Helio Saffranine. The later Cinecolor used a mordanted cyan/blue (unknown?).
(Cinecolor, the longest running process (1931? to 1950), and the most widely used, especially for B Westerns, went through many technical changes.)
39.5.3 Orange/red primaries
Harriscolor and Multicolor used uranium toner solution and the resulting metallic dye included or consisted of uranium ferricyanide.
With the exception of the dye transfer dyes and chromagenic dyes listed below, all others were mordanted dyes. The mordants was usually silver iodide. The only documented dye we have found so far was for Cinecolor – a mixture of Auramine O and Fuchsin.
39.5.4 Chromagenic dyes
Trucolor used chromagenic dyes based on ‘CD1’, di-ethyl p-phenylene diamine (for both primaries).
39.5.5 Dye transfer dyes
These were used for Kodachrome, 1918, and Technichrome, but we have no data on either dye or colour.
Most two-colour prints had Prussian Blue sound tracks exposed from a separate sound negative but onto the cyan/blue image emulsion and developed with it. In some cases (e.g. some Cinecolor) the silver seems to be retained by lacquering before the ‘fix out/bleach out’ stage.
Some (e.g. Trucolor) have pure silver sound tracks but no data is known as to how this was achieved, probably by some form of redevelopment.
Restoration of the sound is straightforward. It can be re-recorded and a new track produced which is printed at the same time as one of the printing passes.
39.7 SIMULATION OF A TINT
The yellow or pale orange tint present in some or most two-colour prints can be simulated by a flash print pass (with no image in the gate) solely to ‘tint’ the image area. This is identical to the tint pass in the Desmetcolor method.
The origins of this tint can be related to the Ive’s Polychrome process of about 1918. Ive’s two-colour still process used cyan/blue and orange/red and then, since the result produced a poor, rather cold, neutral scale, the whole print was tinted yellow. The grey scale became neutral and the skin tones warmer, but still acceptable. Ive’s called it a ‘two-and-a-half colour process’. We have not found any other references to it than this, although nearly all two-colour prints are tinted amber or yellow. Also many early stencilled prints are also tinted overall yellow, which increased the subjective effect.
39.8 PRESERVATION OF TWO-COLOUR SYSTEMS
Preservation of the separation images can be undertaken by making positive protection masters in exactly the same manner as that used for preparing Technicolor protection masters. Whenever a negative is required for a restored print a new silver separation negative can be made. Contrasts can be treated in the same way as Technicolor, as most original separations were about gamma 0.6.
Where only the print exists the new separation negatives made from the print will become the primary preservation material.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Notes on Restoring Subtractive Two-Colour Process Prints. In: Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer: Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 310-313.)
“Synthetic dyes and their origins
No tinting, hand colouring, stencilling, or other colouring process was possible without the synthetic dyes that made up, and still make, colour film images. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century almost all dyes were naturally occurring chemical substances, made from minerals dug from the ground, or extracted from plants or animals by crude and ‘rural’ chemical processes.
Painters’ pigments were often mineral in origin, with names like cinnabar, also called vermillion (crude mercuric sulphide), a native mineral used, as was bull’s blood, to colour pink the plaster of the Suffolk houses where I lived. Their names signified both their colour and their origins. Some pigments were derived from minerals: green pigments from copper salts, and blue from iron salts. Most were insoluble in water and were opaque, not transparent, generating their colour by selective reflection – so that when applied to glass (or a photographic film) they obscured the light and were visually black. Pigments used in glass and ceramic glazes were in some cases transparent once fired but were impractical for supports that couldn’t be heated.
The dyes used for textiles, wool, cotton, silk, etc., were mostly derived from plants, and a small number were transparent, but these were usually low in saturation (that is, they appeared dull and not bright). Indigo, woad, weld, madder, turmeric and logwood are derived from plants; cochineal, sepia and murex from animals; malachite, azurite, cinnabar and ochre from minerals. Almost all the bright textile colours were insoluble and opaque.
William Henry Perkin (1838–1907) helped to change all that. He was one of many enthusiasts experimenting with oil, coal, and tar, carbon based ‘organics’ (substances that included carbon in their molecular structure) that were mined materials. At the nearly unbelievable age of eighteen he set out to ‘make’ quinine (used then for the treatment of malaria) from a carbon based chemical called allytoluidine (C10H12N) and accidentally produced the first synthetic dye, which he called Mauveine. Manufacturers now call this Aniline Purple, and the formula of the strongly purple dye (mixed with other impurities) is C26H23N4 + sulphate, although Perkin didn’t know this at the time.
At nineteen Perkin set up a factory (later called Perkin and Sons) on the banks of the canal at Greenford, west London, to produce it. It was later burnt down but rebuilt (twice!) and was famous for colouring the water of the nearby Grand Union Canal (the source of his water) different colours depending on the dye he was producing that week! His local pub, the Black Horse, survives and is now the Glaxo-Smith-Kline headquarters staff local. By 1896, man-made dyes were being discovered/invented at a tremendous rate. The early development was in England, and later Germany, France and then the United States developed significant quantities. By 1910 the US was by far the largest producer; today it is probably India.
Most of these dyes were originally used for textile dying, but synthetic dyes eventually found their way into every product of life. Their chemical structures controlled the way they could be used and the materials they could dye. By the start of the twentieth century thousands of apparently different dyes were on the market under thousands of names. Some were inflammable, explosive, toxic or carcinogenic, and some of the intermediate chemicals were equally dangerous (which was why Perkin’s factories were destroyed). Some turned out to be unstable and faded in sunlight or high temperatures, while some behaved like detergents, frothing profusely in solution, and the worst of these dropped out of the market in time. The wide use of synthetic dyes also had disastrous consequences in already disadvantaged tropical countries: Central American and Caribbean states had depended on their exports of the dyes cochineal, logwood, indigo and others. William Perkin and the German chemists changed all that.
Fashion was already dominated by colour and by new colours. My grandmother, a fashion-conscious London working woman in 1900, had fond memories of her varnished straw hat – a lustrous shiny purple-black Crystal Violet (it said on the label!) cartwheel, which matched her balloon-sleeved, purple and white striped blouse. I remember it was still in its original box on top of the wardrobe in 1955. The dyes initially used for dyeing lantern slides became the tint dyes. These were the so-called acid dyes, and were used in acid aqueous solution (usually acetic or citric acid). Many were stable and effective on animal products with protein content, and so particularly suited to dyeing wool and other animal fibres, as well as photographic emulsions made with gelatine (a protein compound). Some dyes were found to cause rapid and permanent damage to film emulsions, resulting in brittleness and peeling of the emulsion. Excessive frothing of the dye solution also seems to have been a common problem.
Their toxicity and their use in food had serious consequences (eventually affecting their use in photography), and has influenced more recent choices of dyes for silent era film restoration. Food that includes proteins is easily dyed by acid dyes, especially fruit jellies (Jello, for US readers). Victorian England specialized in elaborate gelatine-based desserts made in fanciful moulds and decorated with vast and glorious cream, gum and jelly decorations.
The dyes used in food products were then virtually uncontrolled. Even today we have a legacy of food dyes being investigated and progressively removed by the FDA in the United States, or H&S legislation in the UK. In Europe the E-number system was set up to provide some support for dyes that were considered acceptable in food; today, as time passes, these too are being re-examined.
The Malachite Green Story
Malachite (copper carbonate: Cu2CO3) is found as a green coloured mined mineral, so striking in colour that it is used in jewellery. It was widely used a paint pigment by classical painters. A ‘basic’ dye, Malachite Green (also called Aniline Green, Basic Green 4, Diamond Green B, and many, many other names) is the same colour, more or less, made and sold by Perkin as Victoria Green. It is used as an antiseptic, a fungicide, a bactericide and a bacteriological stain. At least in Italy, it was used as a mordant dye tone for cinema film. It is still used as a food dye in some Asian countries, and to kill bacteria on fish food products. It is toxic and now banned for many applications, except medical ones, by many countries.
In the 1990s, when restoring Quo Vadis? (the 1922 reprint version of the original 1912 film),we were foxed by the colouring used for the critical last scene of the film where Christ is shown on the cross. Tests of various sort suggested it was bad tint, a smudgy dark green, but a colleague trawling recipes from an early Italian paper (this print had been made in Italy) came across a Malachite Green recipe as a mordant tone which we also suspected had not stood the test of time and had been abandoned due to the dye being unstable in certain conditions and diffusing unevenly across the image to look like a tint. This dye was routinely mentioned in many documents, but here was a recipe of the period. We tried it out using modern Malachite Green dye and produced the exact same colour (as measured by a densitometer) as in the original nitrate print. This was used in the final restoration, which is held by the film museum in Amsterdam [Plate 3].
There was another use for this same dye at about the same period as its use in Quo Vadis? Maurice Edmond Sailland, a famous French food critic, writing as ‘Curnonsky’ in the 1950 Almanach des gourmands, described the ‘saints and martyrs’ that invented new culinary dishes. ‘[M]ore than thirty years ago, a gourmet of this type declared that peas were a far too banal shade of green and he decided to produce peas that were ‘grass green’. He first treated them in hydrogen peroxide [a bleach], followed by a strong shot of malachite green with a few flakes of iron. Then satisfied with the result, and made hungry by hours of work, he ate about a pound of this house speciality…. When I went to see him, eight days later in hospital, his condition had slightly improved’ (Translation by Mark Kurlansky).
What’s in a Name?
The history of dyes and pigments has also lead to a confusion of terminology that continues to this day, and colours are frequently described using an original pigment name instead of their colour names (or their long and awkward chemical names). Sepia in photography refers to a toning technique. The term was originally used for the dye or ink produced by the cuttlefish, in Italian sepia, scientific name Sepia officinalis. Its ‘ink’, nero di sepia, ejected when disturbed, was widely used as a dark-brown ink and paint pigment. When silver sulphide (AgS) came to be used to generate the same image colour in early photographic paper prints the print was called a ‘sepia print’. However, silver sulphide is opaque, and although it makes a good stable brown image on a paper print it is visually black or blue-black on a projected film image. Instead, several alternative copper or uranium salt recipes were used under the same name, sepia, in the 1920s! It did not stop there. By the end of the 1920s sepia had changed again, to mordant dye tone. Exactly what the sepia tone that Nicola Mazzanti refers to in his paper in this issue of Film History is a matter of speculation – studio laboratories often used several different ‘sepias’ depending on the colour they wanted (and probably the cost of the chemicals used in the process). In 2001 a European Union Research project was also called SEPIA, Safeguarding European Photographic Images for Access.
Gold tone (a blue image on paper, originally produced with gold salts, but made from an unrelated synthetic carbon compound) was later called cyanotype. Indigo, viridian, ochre, cinnabar, gamboges, malachite, burnt umber and many other names used for synthetic dyes are equally confusing. By 1920 the dye invention, production and marketing business was vast, worldwide, and risky in many ways. The principle problems were toxicity, human sensitivity, fire risk, instability, fading and purity – but above all the impossibility of comprehending what the dye purchased was, chemically, from the name under which it was sold.
Across the world, companies created thousands of new synthetic dyes for over fifty years with no universal nomenclature system. Making carbon based organic dyes from oil and coal was easy, but, like photography and cookery, it was fundamentally pragmatic. Many major chemical suppliers sold the raw basic intermediate chemicals that allowed hundreds of small companies to experiment. As each gave a fanciful new trade name to their (often rather impure) version of a dye, new or old, and as the impurities varied the colour, the synonyms proliferated and it became impossible to be certain what a dye was, and therefore whether it was safe and practical or not. The naming process was often a continuation of the naming of painters’ pigments and textile dyes. For example, if the dyes looked like the colour of the mineral azurite (for example, a bright blue) then azurite could be used in its name. Exactly how many names existed by the 1920s is not known, nor how many actual dyes existed on the market by that time.
As an example, in 1995 I was restoring two silent coloured Hitchcock features (The Pleasure Garden  and The Lodger ) at Soho Images, using wherever possible the original dyes and recipes. Where UK Health and Safety law considerations prevented that, I substituted similar colour dyes. One tint dye we needed was called Direct Blue 6B in the literature of the time. Aldrich and Co, a UK dye maker and supplier, gave us a copy of their database of synonyms to advise us what dye to order. We found Direct Blue had been known under 183 synonyms (most coined before 1926) and was sold in their current catalogue under the name Chicago Sky Blue. Kodak, in the 1927 edition of their Tinting and Toning manual, recommended its purchase from a company in New York which sold the dye as Niagara Sky Blue!
By the early 1920s the yarn and fabric dyeing industry’s frustration was intense, and resulted in what is, to this day, the only attempt to create some order and sense. In 1926 it is said that there were well over 20,000 different dye names on the market, and that year the Society of Dyers and Colourists in Bradford, England (founded in 1884, and granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation in 1963) set out to standardize and regularize the naming by publishing their Colour Index. Bradford was a centre of the vast cotton spinning and weaving industry in England, and the Yorkshire and Lancashire cotton and wool mills were the world’s largest users of dyes at that time. In an amazing coming together of the world industry, dye manufacturers registered their dyes with the Colour Index and were given in exchange a Colour Index Number. Since then the Colour Index has been the standard registration system for all dyes and their chemical composition, and permits a manufacturer to call his dye whatever he likes for sales purposes, but to describe its chemical structure (and thus its colour, purity and chemical and safety characteristics) under a unique CI reference number. The first massive Colour Index tome was published in 1926.
The Society has become an international professional society specialising in colour in the broadest sense, with its headquarters at Perkin House (where else could it be!), 82 Grattan Road, Bradford. It now publishes the 4th online Colour Index (http://www.sdc.org.uk) in collaboration with the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (http://www.aatcc.org). Dyes are listed in the Colour Index according to the widely accepted Colour Index Generic Names and Colour Index Constitution Numbers. The 4th Edition covers around 27,000 individual dye products from across the world that refer to around 13,000 generic names, listing their chemical ‘fingerprint’ and structure, their manufacturers and suppliers. Another section of the Index covers data from past editions and provides a valuable connection into the past. Out of this chaos, since 1926, has come some degree of rationality, and dye suppliers are able to create impressive databases of synonyms that allow them to supply the correct dye if it is ordered under an old, no longer used, name. However, a restorer who wants to locate a dye used before 1926 may still have some problems.”
(Read, Paul (2009): Synthetic Dyes and Their Origins. In: Film History, 21.1, pp. 9-46, on pp. 16-19.)
“Prizmacolor (c. 1917-28)
Four/three/two-colour additive process/two-colour subtractive process
Prizmacolor was developed by the American William Van Doren Kelley and went through a number of different names and processes. Kelley’s initial invention in 1913 was called Panchromotion. This was a four-colour additive process using a revolving filter wheel in front of the lens divided into four colour segments – red, green, yellow and blue – each separated by a clear section which was included to give the picture clarity. Each frame was exposed through one colour filter and the clear section. When Panchromotion failed, Kelley continued to develop his four-colour process, which he renamed Prizmacolor, forming a new company, Prizma Inc., sometime before 1917. Like Panchromotion, this version of Prizmacolor used a rotating disc with four filters, the fifth clear filter having been dispensed with. To compensate for the drop in brightness caused by eliminating the clear filter, the saturation level of the colours on the Prizma filter wheel were reduced from the centre outwards, so the saturation of the colours of the filter was less at the outside of the wheel. In projection only two filters were used, red-orange and blue-green, so that the film was shown at twice the normal speed, rather than four times. In February 1917 a demonstration of Prizmacolor took place at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the New York Academy of Sciences, and the first commercially released Prizmacolor film, Our Navy, was shown in New York the same year.
After this test, Prizmacolor was reworked first as a three- and then a two-colour additive system shooting, like Kinemacolor and Biocolour, successive frames through a rotating disc comprising red and green filters. For the three-colour version the same filter was used in projection, but for the two-colour version Kelley tried staining alternate frames red and green, as Friese-Greene had done with Biocolour. Around the same time in 1918 Kelley also developed a process known as Kesdacolor with Caroll H. Dunning, who would go on to invent Dunningcolor. The process was used for only one film, Our American Flag, shown in September 1918. It used a camera with two lenses and a screen banded with vertical red and green lines. The scene was recorded through one lens and through the banded screen. In front of the other lens was a prism arranged so that it did not record the scene at all, but only sunlight. In the camera the film moved forward two frames at a time, the result being that two frames were exposed simultaneously, one recording the latent red and green spectrum of the scene, the other recording only the red and green records from the colour screen. In printing, the two frames were superimposed on duplitised film stock, and the record of the screen, which was on one side, was dyed red and blue-green, resulting in a double-sided positive with the banded red and green picture on one side, and the banded red and green filter on the other. The filter was therefore part of the release print.
Kelley subsequently returned to Prizmacolor and Prizma Inc., bringing Dunning with him as vice-president, and revamped Prizma as a subtractive process, using some of the principles of Kesdacolor. The film was taken through a colour filter disc before the camera lens in traditional fashion, the camera recording successive red and blue-green records of the original scene. These records were printed onto a double-sided positive. The side with the blue-green record was dyed red-orange and the other, the red record, was dyed blue-green. A one-reel travelogue, Everywhere with Prizma, was shown in New York in 1919 at the Rivoli theatre. The first Prizma feature film was Bali the Unknown, produced by Myron Selznick and premiered at the Capitol Theatre in New York in February 1921.
Prizmacolor was premiered in the UK in 1921 at the Alhambra Theatre, in a special two-hour private programme of shorts for British exhibitors. In the same year James Stuart Blackton, who was born in Sheffield but had been working for Vitagraph in the USA, decided to use Prizmacolor to make The Glorious Adventure (1922) for the Stoll Picture Company. The film was shot by William T. Crespinel who, like Blackton, was born in England and who had worked for Blackton at Vitagraph in 1915, having moved to America with Kinemacolor in 1912, after working for them in London. Crespinel joined Prizma from Vitagraph to work with Kelley in 1917. The film was processed at the Prizma labs in America, and premiered in January 1922 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. In 1923 Blackton made The Virgin Queen in England, which featured sections in Prizmacolor. This was followed the same year in America by Goldwyn’s Vanity Fair. Problems with fringing made the system problematic for feature use but it flourished in the shorts and animated market. In 1922, Prizma released twenty-six short films which by the end of that year had developed into three separate series, Prizma Master Pictures, Music Films and Prizma Color Cartoons by Pinto Colvig. Yet, despite being seemingly poised for success, by the end of 1922, with a flourishing number of shorts and several features, Prizmacolor died quickly, and the company was in severe trouble by the end of 1923. William T. Crcspinel put this down to the location of the labs in Jersey City and the failure to move out to California. Kelley started work on a new process called Kelleycolor and, in 1928, the Prizma patents were acquired by Consolidated Film Industries, part of Republic Pictures; the process name was changed to Magnacolor.
The Glorious Adventure (1922)
The Virgin Queen (1923)
Vanity Fair (1923)
Flames of Passion (1923, sequences)
Pagliacci (1923, sequences)
British Journal of Photography Colour Supplement, 6 April 1917, p. 14.
British Journal of Photography Colour Supplement, 6 May 1921, pp. 18-19.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London: BFI, 2000), p. 35.
Crespinel, William A., ‘Pioneer Days in Color Motion Pictures with William T. Crespinel’, Film History vol. 12 no. 1, 2000, pp. 57-71.
Limbacher, James L., Four Aspects of the Film: A History of the Development of Color, Sound, 3-D and Widescreen Films and their Contribution to the Art of the Motion Picture (New York; Brussel and Brussel, 1968), pp. 18-20.
Nowotny, Robert A., The Way of All Flesh Tones: A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929 (New York and London: Garland, 1983), pp. 154-85.”
(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. 279-280.)
“The First Photoplay in Colors
AND now comes the first feature photoplay in natural colors, The Glorious Adventure, a tale of seventeenth century glamours, with Lady Diana Manners in the role of heroine.
To the picture patron the greatest interest of this drama is in the colorful representations of the gay and ruthless life of the period, with its dashing, duelling gentlemen in their scarlet doublets and sweeping hats, and its graceful, dainty ladies in the exuberant finery of that romantic day. There is the great fire of London, done with an indifferent skill in spots and with a shuddering, desperate reality in others, at the climax of adventurous doings on land and sea. And of course there is the love triumph in the end.
A rather topical interest, second only to the element of color, centers in this first screen appearance of Lady Diana Manners, acclaimed by critics of the pen and brush (not forgetting the press agents) as England’s greatest beauty. She was used in a bit by Griffith in Hearts of the World, but only for atmosphere.
The secret may perhaps be found a simple one—a screen salary of handsome and attractive proportions. The English nobility are not averse to piecing out their incomes—especially since the war.
This picture is the first to be made by a newly-invented color camera from the laboratories of William Van Doren Kelley of Prizma.”
(Anonymous (1922): The First Photoplay in Colors. In: Photoplay, Vol. 22, No. 1, p. 72.)
“Color and the Photoplay
The first effort, just released, may make some startling changes in production.
WHAT may prove to be an impending revolution in the art of the motion picture obtrudes on the horizon in the coming of the first modern feature photoplay to be recorded entirely by a natural color process, which has recently been released.
The picture itself, the much-discussed film of The Glorious Adventure, produced in England by J. Stuart Blackton of early Vitagraph fame, is of only casual importance considered apart from the color element. But the fact that the picture, a subject of some six thousand and odd feet in length, is presented in the natural color process known as Prizma makes its advent an affair of the most serious interest to those concerned with the artistic and commercial destiny of the screen.
Technically, the important advance in the new Prizma process used for this picture is in the elimination of the fault known as “fringing,” hitherto common to all color pictures. This defect was due to imperfect register of the component red and green images that made up the picture. Rapid motion close to the camera often resulted in amazing flashes of vivid red or green, or both, on the screen. This has been avoided by the use of devices that permit both color images to be made at the same time, insuring registration without any edges of unblended color. The supreme test is met in The Glorious Adventure with a close-up of a swift sword duel right in the eye of the camera. There is no suggestion of a “fringe.”
The career of this first natural color drama as it goes across the country, following its premiere under Rothapfel auspices at the Capitol in New York, is a subject of careful observation among the picture chieftains.
SHOULD it happen to develop that the element of color, as presented by this latest of the frequently improved Prizma processes, finds a wide and abiding interest among picture patrons a veritable revolution will confront the screen.
The coming of color into a position of dominance in the upper levels of screen production would bring with it problems of the most far-reaching character, problems hardly to be anticipated by the layman.
First of all is to be counted the very large element of motion picture finance. Natural color positive prints for distribution to the theaters under present conditions cost approximately eight times as much as the ordinary commercial “black and white” motion pictures of today. This means that the necessary prints to cover as many showings to the public as are required of the current screen successes would cost from seventy-five to a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. Thus the print cost alone, after the completion of the production, would amount to as much as entire production costs for typical feature pictures today.
From the face of this situation it would appear, as among the possibilities, that if the era of color is really upon us, there may be two versions of each picture made, a limited de luxe edition in natural color for the larger centers, and a general black and white edition for the hinterlands of limited box-office possibilities.
Another phase of the impending color problem involves a complete revision and amplification of the art of motion picture producing and picture direction. The problems of an art increase with its scope. The more power it gains, the more ways to go wrong are offered.
COLOR cameras are desperately exacting. A great deal of that which gets by in present-day studio practice would be most ruthlessly revealed in all of its ragged, shoddy tastelessness by the natural color camera. If color comes in, many a director will go out.
The whole art of studio illumination must be reconstructed for the color camera, too. The mere flood of any light whatever that carries sufficient actinic power will in the era of natural color no longer suffice. The ruddy glow from the embers can no longer be simulated by a bank of incandescents and a reflector. The mercury vapor lamps can not simulate the golden flood of dawn pouring through the eastern windows. Color must be counted everywhere. We shall perhaps before long find in the studios some strange synthetic process of producing the heroine’s blush, a parallel to and a sequel for the glycerine tears. And along with these new problems and powers there is a hint of the greater opportunity in the natural color screen drama. By the gain of color we may perhaps expect the motion picture to make still further inroads on the realm of the speaking stage. There has been a pronounced tendency in recent years, and more especially in the current season, toward making the most of color in the speaking stage production. The stage picture has responded to the challenge of the motion picture and has used to the utmost its single physical advantage of color. The works of Urban and Jones as stage colorists of this period come at once to mind, and of such productions as “Tangerine” and “The Rose of Stamboul.” There are countless others, and probably more apt examples than these.
Inquiry among the accepted authorities of the motion picture, which is to say the men who, for the moment, are in the seats of power, reveals a wide division of opinions about the significance of color, with a strong tendency toward the non-commital and the conservative “let well enough alone” side. As history has always shown, such opinions are seldom of the slightest importance to impending development.
Thomas Edison, who invented the peep show kinetoscope, abandoned efforts to put the picture on a screen because he felt the screen had no future.
One of the important picture executives of that day advised his company to concentrate on the Mutoscope machine, a peep show device, and quite costly efforts with a thing called the “Biograph.” Everybody knows the rest of that story.
The General Film Company, great trust of its day controlling a third of the screens of the world, told Adolph Zukor he was crazy with his idea of five-reel dramas.
John R. Freuler drew a merry snicker from the crowd when he decided he would pay Charlie Chaplin $670,000 for a year’s work and still make a profit.
So much for the standpatters. They do not count.
AND so after all, it is perhaps of no importance what the picture men of today may decide about the future of natural color.
Of course the effort embodied in The Glorious Adventure as the first natural color drama acquires a certain orthodoxy from the name of J. Stuart Blackton, himself a picture pioneer from the earliest days of the screen.
And the history of the Prizma concern, which made its process available to Blackton for this picture. William Van Doren Kelley, the inventor of the Prizma processes, was a minor employee of the American Mutoscope Company, which, in after years, became successively the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company and later just “The Biograph Company,” famous for the screen beginnings of Griffith, Sennett, Pickford, and others of that classic host. Mr. Kelley began his motion picture researches then, under the auspices of E. B. Koopman, the promoter of the Mutoscope concern, in the distant days of 1897, a full decade before the dawn of Griffith and the first inklings of modern screen drama.
Meanwhile, we are not forgetting that there are besides Prizma, numerous other color processes still on the laboratory work benches. Something may come of one of them some day. Also picture history carries the record of the efforts of a projection color process, involving the use of special theater equipment, known as kinemacolor, which roes and fell with the showing of the Durbar picture years ago. Kinemacolor went down for a variety of reasons, none of which has the slightest application to the present status or prospect of natural color photography. Meanwhile Prizma, which has been on our screens with travel pictures for two years, comes with the first natural color feature drama, made by a new and better camera.
What will the public say? Is it a novelty, or a milestone of progress?”
(Ramsaye, Terry (1922): Color and the Photoplay. In: Photoplay, Vol. 22, No. 4, p. 78 and pp. 110-111.)
“The story of color must include something of the annals of Prizma and similar processes, more familiar to the motion picture audiences of today than Kinemacolor.
From an early chapter of the story of Biograph the name of William Van Doren Kelley may be recalled. Kelley, after leaving Biograph, went into the general field of invention and evolved a winking electric light for signs, which occupied his attention some years. In 1912, after an absence of nearly a decade, he comes into motion picture affairs again. Kelley, working in his experimental shop back of a garage in Hoboken, N. J., had turned again to the motion picture. He had a notion that there would be a wider market and a safer commercial future for color pictures if the color could be actually put into the film instead of depending on the operator’s manipulation of a projection machine equipped with color filters. From this idea evolved a process, complicated and delicate, which promised success. One day, while pondering his problems, Kelley was strolling Broadway when he encountered E. B. Koopman. the same Koopman who figured in that primeval period of the motion picture when the K. M. C. D. syndicate was organized to grow into Biograph. To Koopman, Kelley unfolded his ideas. Once again Koopman was aflame with a promotional idea.
Down in Wall Street, where he had gone to promote Biograph, Koopman found backers for the Kelley process and Prizma, Inc., was born. Approximately $600,000 went into the concern by the time its commercial history began with the showing of pictures of Kilauaue’s Lake of Fire, the old Hawaiian volcano classic, on the Rivoli theatre’s anniversary program, on Broadway in 1918.
In 1921, Prizma’s most pretentious product came forth in J. Stuart Blackton’s The Glorious Adventure, with Lady Diana Manners in the leading role, a success abroad and something less than that on the American market but that is another story.
THE final verdict on the Prizma process, and the many similar ones, including Technicolor, Colorcraft and others, is yet to be returned.
Natural color on the screen has many skeptics, some who are aggressively opposed and a majority who are indifferent, among the makers of motion pictures.
The color-in-the-film processes of which Prizma was the first and perhaps the best example, were well calculated to command attention in the time when the cost of projection equipment was an important factor to the theatre. Kinemacolor with its special projection equipment, found this an obstacle. But with today’s theatres costing from a quarter of a million up into multiples of millions, the special machines required for the original projection process would be considered a casual and incidental investment. This fact may considerably influence the future history of color. And the history of color has just begun.”
(Ramsaye, Terry (1923): The Romantic History of the Motion Picture. Chapter XX: The Great Story of Color on the Screen. In: Photoplay, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp. 130-131.)
“BRITISH COLOUR CINEMA. PRACTICES AND THEORIES
Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins
COLOUR ADVENTURES WITH PRIZMA AND CLAUDE FRIESE-GREENE IN THE 1920s
The Glorious Adventure (GB 1922, J. Stuart Blackton)
PRIZMA AND THE GLORIOUS ADVENTURE
When The Glorious Adventure, a British film made using the Prizmacolor (see Technical Appendix) process, was released in 1922, it was greeted negatively by David Robertson, an artist writing in Motion Picture Studio, and who subsequently engaged in a debate on the film with its producer, James Stuart Blackton. Robertson levelled a by then familiar criticism of attempts to produce colour films:
No picture is likely to retain the interest of its viewer unless it allows ample scope for the imagination. The eyes must discover the blanks for the mind to fill in, and when you present a film which is leaden in its colouring, you banish that recreation of the imagination which the mind needs … Colour does not make a film more instructive, educational, or realistic, but rather detracts from the first two and distorts the last.1
Blackton replied that Robertson’s opinions were not representative of audiences, artists and critics, who appreciated the film which represented a ‘pioneer experiment’ in colour cinematography. In particular, he rejected the opinion that colour was not ‘realistic’ since, ‘Colour is not to be considered merely as a pictorial asset. Its contribution to dramatic realism and to the psychology of drama in countless ways is a big subject.’2 These comments are illustrative of the confusion which raged around colour, and continued to do so well into the reign of Technicolor. Blackton was proud of how colour was obtrusive in The Glorious Adventure, an integral aspect of the drama as well as a key to psychological realism. That this had been achieved with a newly developed process invested the film with further novelty, a ‘glorious adventure’ indeed for those who shifted allegiance from additive approaches to subtractive. In retrospect, both the film and Prizmacolor were important markers of two-colour, subtractive process experimentation, contributing to the development of Vitacolor, Magnacolor, Multicolor and Cinecolor, the latter being the only two-colour process which retained currency into the 1940s.
The Glorious Adventure and Prizma are more than just footnotes in the history of colour cinematography on the road to Technicolor’s domination. In this chapter The Glorious Adventure will be examined in the context of how colour on screen was debated and interpreted in the early 1920s. Janus-faced, Prizma connects with earlier developments as well as to subsequent processes. As an example of the silent British costume/heritage drama, The Glorious Adventure raises important issues of the British colour experience. These relate to transnational experimentation with early colour systems, as well as to specific aesthetic and technical concerns which had a broad significance. The film has tended to be written off by critics, who failed to appreciate its multifarious approach to colour. The aesthetic choices demonstrated a practical awareness of how to work creatively within the constraints of prevailing systems and critical assumptions about what constituted ‘good’ colour.
The Glorious Adventure represents Anglo-American collaboration on many levels. It was directed by J. Stuart Blackton, born in Sheffield, but whose film career was forged with Vitagraph, a company he co-formed in New York. […] The Glorious Adventure was filmed by [William T.] Crespinel at Stoll’s Cricklewood Studios, near London. He recalled his experiences in an interview conducted by his son in 1977 on shooting the first full-length film using a subtractive process.4
The Glorious Adventure was produced and distributed by Stoll Picture Productions, an important British film company founded in 1918 by theatrical impresario Sir Oswald Stoll, who had a reputation for exploiting theatrical talent for the screen as well as for transforming music halls to serve ‘more upscale custom’.17 Blackton’s British films have generally received a mixed press. His ambition and talent for gregarious showmanship are offset against the films’ alleged shortcomings. Rachael Low’s verdict is typical when referring to Blackton’s most well-known British films, The Glorious Adventure and A Gypsy Cavalier, both released in 1922, the latter being a tinted print rather than shot in Prizmacolor:
The films were ambitious costume spectacles with huge sets, crowd scenes, involved plots and enormous casts supporting the fashionable and celebrated leading players. The films were monumentally slow and dull and the use of colour disappointing, and despite society premières they were not especially successful.18
In her biography of her father, Blackton’s daughter did not consider The Glorious Adventure to be an example of her father’s best work. While recognising the film as ‘a milestone of importance on the road to cinema advancement’ and as ‘a good yarn’ with some ‘rousing moments’, she rather dismissed it as ‘strictly melodrama, not my father’s forte’.19 The film was publicised as an event of momentous importance for the motion picture industry: ‘The Dawn of a New Day in the Kinema World’.20 Reviews in Britain were quite favourable, while teething problems with the process were noted, as in the Film Renter and Moving Picture News, which commented that Prizma worked best for achieving ‘exquisitely beautiful reproductions of natural scenes, and gorgeously coloured Court dresses’.21 The scenes of the Great Fire of London, commented on by the majority of reviewers as genuinely spectacular, were much appreciated, but, in spite of claims to the contrary, the doubts expressed after the screening to exhibitors at the Alhambra in 1921 about a tendency towards ‘fringing’ were confirmed by the observation that whenever characters moved quickly, ‘detail becomes lost, and colour merges and becomes blurred and indistinct’. On the other hand, for shots picking out detail such as fruit on the court banqueting table, ‘Prizma achieves its most brilliant and true-to-Nature touches in still-life studies.’22 Kinematograph Weekly pronounced that the novelty of colour was most definitely an appealing aspect of the film: ‘There are a number of beautiful shots and some excellently coloured and well photographed close-ups.’ With an eye to box-office appeal the story was, however, considered to be ‘difficult to follow and moves far too slowly’.23 Although the film was geared for international distribution and Blackton thought it would do well overseas, one report noted that the focus on British history was not fully appreciated by American audiences.24
Viewing the British Film Institute’s restored version of The Glorious Adventure allows some of these comments to be considered from the perspective of how Prizma was demonstrated in the context of historical melodrama.25 The film begins in the Cromwellian period, introducing Hugh Argyle and Lady Beatrice, a young couple who are separated when Hugh goes away to sea. The Restoration of the Stuarts occurs and Lady Beatrice, played by society beauty Lady Diana Manners, waits for Hugh’s return. The castle where she lives is temporarily occupied by Charles II and his court, which provides the occasion for outdoor scenes of pageantry and revelry. A parallel narrative strand shows Hugh at sea being tricked by rogues who steal his inheritance papers and throw him overboard. One of the rogues, Roderick, double-crosses another called Bullfinch so that he alone is blamed for murdering Hugh. On arrival in London Bullfinch is put in prison and Roderick pretends to be Hugh in order to claim the inheritance and marry Beatrice. Meanwhile, Beatrice’s financial difficulties force her to marry a condemned criminal (Bullfinch) so that he can assume her debts. Having been rescued by fishermen, Hugh also appears in London and attempts to recover his inheritance claim from the scheming Roderick. The film climaxes with the Great Fire of London and after the resolution of several interlinking plot twists, Hugh and Beatrice are finally united.
The film raises several key issues which are important in considering colour during this period. The first is that with many processes a single, identifiable aesthetic signature was not always evident. What we get is a mediated, multiple application of colour which imported conventions already in current use. As such, colour style in the 1920s demonstrates a great degree of hybridity in which films often use multiple colouring techniques […]. Although Prizma was marketed as a subtractive process, on occasion the film demonstrates approaches to colour associated with tinting and toning. So, while Prizma is the ‘star’ of the film aesthetic approaches from applied colour persist with the bathing of frames with a single colour. Similarly, but adding colour contrast, the scene just before Hugh departs to go to sea presents an opportunity for colour spectacle with a shot of him in the dark, bathed in blue light, as Beatrice runs to wave him goodbye wearing a cloak in shades of red. The set of the Golden Swan ship provides another occasion for an establishing shot with the ship on the horizon framed with deep blue sea and red clouds. The almost translucent qualities of this shot are an example of the lantern-like, ‘stained-glass color effect’ criticised by art supervisor Walter Murton for being ‘unnatural’, but which stand out as visually striking and similar to Pathécolor (see Technical Appendix) stencilling.27 Also, the inter-titles are colour-coded like tinted films, so that this scene is announced with a blue title card, and the next with a yellow one, as we learn that the Restoration of the Stuarts has occurred while Beatrice grows up. In this way colour guides the film’s episodic structure as the more up-beat ‘tone’ of the next scene is declared.
As with most colour processes, Prizma was subject to close analysis, and one of the ‘litmus tests’ for colour was how it reproduced flesh, particularly with stars who were normally seen in monochrome. The representation of a star to audiences used to seeing their image in monochrome required careful treatment. Some commentators were unconvinced that this was desirable, as artist Paul Nash later remarked: ‘You may think it thrilling to see your pet star as in real life, but you may soon wish you had kept your illusion.’28 Lady Diana Manners was the youngest daughter of the Duke of Rutland. She married Duff Cooper, a future Member of Parliament in 1919, and gained a reputation for being a fast-living society beauty who acted on the stage and in films. Quite apart from the colour, her presentation in The Glorious Adventure was a spectacle in itself. The revelation of ‘Lady Beatrice Fair’, as the title describes her, is accentuated by a medium close-up of her face against a dark background which demonstrates Prizma’s ability to render skin tones in the context of an English drama. This produces an image marked by complementary contrast which makes the face stand out almost stereoscopically. Reports on the production keenly anticipated how Prizma would render Lady Diana’s appearance:
When one gazes on the perfect blue of her eyes and the tinted alabaster which her perfect complexion suggests, one realises that Stuart Blackton has done well to arrange to film The Glorious Adventure in Prizma colour. For the natural tints of Lady Di, he assures me, will live on the screen. It is anticipated that this colour process will even reveal such detail as the flush of anger on the cheeks.29
Colour was referred to in Felix Orman’s adaptation of his scenario published in Picturegoer with the star described as being ‘enveloped in a draped gown of soft satin of exquisite colouring; her head was crowned with a mass of golden hair … her wide blue eyes now smiled’.30
Blackton’s concern to go beyond presenting colour as a pictorial asset led him to use it for dramatic interest. The narrative features colour at several key points but as we shall see in a complex, rather than a straightforwardly symbolic manner. At first Beatrice does not recognise Hugh when he returns to London. The villain Roderick pursues her and tries to break into her bedroom. Hugh comes to her rescue and after gaining her trust as a gallant stranger, he tells Beatrice that if any more trouble occurs she should send a white rose to the landlord at the inn where he is staying. A colour motif is therefore introduced to assist the plot and in contrast to the deep red clothes worn by the villain Roderick when we first see him in London. Beatrice falls in love with her protector (she unaware that he is Hugh), who offers to marry her when he learns of her financial difficulties and in view of his imminent inheritance. She waits for him in the garden, clutching a red flower and smelling it, creating a sensual link between colour and fragrance and apparently changing the association of red with danger. But this is not entirely the case since danger is still present because Roderick’s gang of thieves overhear this plan and capture Hugh. In addition, a white rose has earlier been suggested as the way to alert Hugh when Beatrice is in danger. Making conclusions about consistency in colour symbolism is therefore problematic in this film. Indeed, flowers were frequently filmed to display ‘natural’ colour in silent cinema. As noted by Gunning, colour is associated with the figurative and ephemeral in that flowers represent ‘a brilliant moment rather than something that is constant’; they are brilliantly saturated but they fade.31 This instability around meaning is further demonstrated when, in a further twist, the thieves send Beatrice a box with a white rose and a threatening message. Such play with colour, symbolism and narrative can be related to Eisenstein’s observations that interpretations of colour must always be related to context which means that meaning will inevitably shift: ‘The problem is not, nor ever will be, solved by a fixed catalogue of colour-symbols, but the emotional intelligibility and function of colour will rise from the natural order of establishing the colour imagery of the work, coincidental with the process of shaping the living movement of the whole work.’32 Blackton anticipated this view, clearly exploiting the opportunities offered by colour for experimenting with symbolism.
Play with colour – particularly red – also occurs in the lead-up to the climactic scenes of the Great Fire of London. Beatrice marries the prisoner Bullfinch, who awaits his fate in jail. The marriage scene uses close-ups very effectively, as the menacing Bullfinch contemplates his bride. Although she is separated from him by a door, she can see his face through the bars and vice-versa. Suspense is created as physical contact occurs when he puts the wedding ring on her finger but instead of letting go of her hand he pulls it through the bars towards him. To distract him, the character Stephanie taunts Bullfinch by waving her red cloak, using colour to assist plot and to create a visually arresting display as he tries to grab hold of it and releases Beatrice’s hand. The colour red and fire are used at other key points in the film, as an earlier title, ‘Playing with Fire’, announces, followed by shots of Soloman Eagle (Tom Heselwood), a fanatic who we later see start the Great Fire of London. Indeed, the, various threads of the narrative are brought together when the Great Fire breaks out, producing scenes which for many distinguished the film and its colour. The flames and light are particularly effective when they appear as dynamic, flickering shades of orange and red, often shown through doorways and windows. In this respect, any indication of ‘fringing’ does not matter, since the vitality of the flames and their changing hues are enhanced by the sensation and sight of movement.
In a few years Prizma tried to address [the] shortcomings [of the first, additive Prizmacolor process] by developing the subtractive process used in The Glorious Adventure and the verdict of the British Journal of Photography was that great progress had been made in this regard.35 Yet as we have seen, judgments of colour were still focused very much on whether ‘fringing’ was evident and, even though the fire was praised for its dramatic force, the shots of static, brightly coloured objects were considered to be one of the film’s best features, such as a close-shot of a bowl of fruit. Even though colour was essential to the story at certain points (the use of colour for the various roses, for example, and the association of red with the rogue Roderick), reviews tended not to comment on colour as an integral element of narrative.
In the film’s publicity much was made of period authenticity, the beauty and colours of the costumes and the extent to which designs from the period were well researched. Blackton’s wife designed the costumes, claiming that she ‘studied for months’ in libraries and museums, superintending ‘every step in the progress of the making of the costumes’.38 Blackton liked to quote from Conquest, a popular science magazine, which praised The Glorious Adventure for ‘every dress, every piece of tapestry and every colour in the gorgeous sets’, and how ‘the reproduction of nature’s own colours on the screen has given to the film a resemblance to stereoscopic depth entirely lacking in the old black and white pictures’.39 Such reportage tended to shift the focus away from questions of narrative to observations about costumes and sets which required the eye to appreciate them as static objects rather than as narrative/plot elements. In view of the problems most processes experienced at the time with ‘fringing’, such commentary made sense, to draw the viewer’s attention to an appreciation of colour as an enhancement to the presentation of static objects. This required that for some parts of a film principles of continuity were sacrificed to ponderous shots which enticed the eye with the spectacle of colour. There are several such exterior shots of the castle gardens in which colour features, providing an opportunity to observe Prizma’s ability to render shots of ‘the life, richness and variety of nature’s own colours’ as Blackton put it.40
Blackton’s daughter recalled that while in London audiences were impressed by Lady Diana Manners’ aristocratic connections, her social magnetism held less sway elsewhere. The ‘restrained’ approach to exteriors, sets and performance style went with a narrative which veered from being ponderous to full of suspense. When she observed a young couple watching the film at a Leeds cinema she noted how they responded to the film’s various shifts in pace:
They were silently attentive through the early part of the picture, but grew restless as Lady Di and her lover moved ever so politely through a series of mishaps that were to lead them finally to near-cremation in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, while all London blazed around them, and the molten metal from the fabulous dome oozed down to form a sizzling, engulfing, lethal lake at their very feet.41
This was a preferable way, however, to show off process rather than to draw attention to how colour appeared to shift with movement. Indeed, the acting style adopted by Diana Manners was suited to the repression of movement and gesture. While this can be linked to her theatrical affiliations and aristocratic demeanour, it is also indicative of prevailing film performance styles of ‘restraint’ with ‘passion’, which Christine Gledhill has argued typified British cinema of the 1920s.42 When she was interviewed by Picturegoer during training for her role in The Glorious Adventure she confirmed that this was her favoured method, arguing that: ‘Repression in one’s movements without exaggerated gestures I feel represents the highest plane of screen art.’ The report went on to note that,
Blackton worked on the vivid personality of Lady Di, and taught her the art of registering the emotions of horror, surprise, and sorrow. Always she was the confident, self-possessed aristocrat. There was no temperament here. She clenched her slender bejewelled hands and mirrored fear in depths of her expressive blue eyes with an assurance which told of her descent from a line of fighting ancestors who for centuries faced the world with courage and self-reliance.43
That this performance style suited colour made both the actress and the scenario appropriate for Prizma since it detracted from exaggerated movement and gesture which would have drawn further attention to ‘fringing’. Yet it nevertheless explains some criticisms of the film as ‘slow’.
Blackton’s claim to have achieved ‘stereoscopic values’ through colour with Prizmacolor in The Glorious Adventure revives an area of debate which by then had a long association with colour film.44 […] Joshua Yumibe notes how stencilling colour processes created the impression of three-dimensionality, and how the marketing of colour often commented on a resulting stereoscopic effect. In some cases this produced ‘a projective dimensionality that proceeds from the background into the foreground of the image, out toward the viewer’.46 Colour thus ‘leaps from the screen’ as a sensational effect which is similarly evident in The Glorious Adventure, with shots designed for colour spectacle, such as the ship on the horizon with blue sea and red clouds, and even more obtrusively when the flames of the fire are seen through doorways and windows, appearing to come towards the viewer as the fire gets out of control. In this way the apparent shortcomings of the Prizma process unwittingly assisted in making sure that a display of colour was necessary, and that apparent ‘imperfections’ such as fringing did not matter in shots which depended on flickering, unstable colour in projective, ‘stereoscopic’ scenes.
Blackton directed Lady Diana Manners again in The Virgin Queen (1923), but this was only partly shot in Prizmacolor. Compared to The Glorious Adventure, the film was not considered to demonstrate a move forward for Prizma, as noted in the British Journal of Photography: ‘The colour process is used only for occasional passages in the story, chief among which are a super-royal banquet and the burning part of Woodstock Palace … they appeared to us as inferior to much that was shown in the previous all-colour film The Glorious Adventure.47 It is interesting to note that the scenes using Prizma were exactly those considered to be most successful in The Glorious Adventure – static shots of food and the drama of flickering flames. The first showed off colour reproduction as pictorial display while the second avoided criticism of ‘fringing’ because, as argued above, filming fire actually benefited from the imperfection.
1 David Robertson, ‘Natural-Colour Films’, Motion Picture Studio vol. 1 no. 39, 4 March 1922, p. 12.
2 J. S. Blackton, reply to Robertson in Motion Picture Studio vol. 1 no. 39, 4 March 1922, pp. 12-13.
4 William A. Crespinel, ‘Pioneer Days in Colour Motion Pictures with William T. Crespinel’, Film History vol. 12 no. 1, 2000, pp. 57-71.
17 Jon Burrows, Legitimate Cinema: Theatre Stars in Silent British Films, 1908-18 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2003), p. 229.
18 Rachael Low, The History of the British Film, 1918-29 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971), p. 126.
19 Mirian Blackton Trimble, J. Stuart Blackton: A Personal Biography by his Daughter (Metuchen, NJ, and London: Scarecrow Press, 1985), p. 108.
20 Kinematograph Weekly vol 59 no. 767, 5 January 1922, p. 17.
21 Film Renter and Moving Picture News, ‘The Progress of Colour Kinematography’, 28 January 1922, p. 10.
23 Kinematograph Weekly vol. 59 no. 769,19 January 1922, p. 63.
24 Henry Albert Phillips, ‘Pictures in Natural Colours’, Motion Picture Magazine, November 1923, p. 95.
25 Restored by Paul de Burgh for the BFI National Archive in the 1991. The source material for the restoration was a 1922 Prizmacolor print duped onto internegative stock, from which a new copy was made. This may have been printed optically and as a consequence there would be a slight increase in the contrast. At the time of the restoration this was probably as good a result as you could get with the available technology: Eastmancolor negative stock only gives a close but not exact rendition of the original colours. The film was based on a scenario written by Felix Orman and published in Picturegoer Monthly vol. 3 no. 13, January 1922, pp. 35-8, 58-9, 61, and in vol. 3 no. 14, February 1922, pp. 54, 56, 58.
27 Phillips, ‘Pictures in Natural Colours’, p. 95.
28 Paul Nash, ‘The Colour Film’, in Charles Davy (ed.), Footnotes to the Film (London: Lovat Dickson, Readers’ Union, 1938), p. 124.
29 Picturegoer Monthly vol. 2 no. 7, July 1921, p. 11.
30 Picturegoer Monthly, January 1922, p. 36.
31 Tom Gunning, quoted in Daan Hertogs and Nico de Klerk, ‘Disorderly Order’: Colours in Silent Cinema (Amsterdam: Stichting Nederlands Museum, 1996), p. 39.
32 Sergei Eisenstein, The Film Sense (1942), trans. Jay Leyda (London: Faber and Faber, 1968), pp. 120-1, emphasis in original.
35 British Journal of Photographyvol. XVI no. 183, colour supplement, 3 February 1922, p. 8.
38 Motion Picture Studio vol. 2 no. 63, 19 August 1922, p. 11.
39 J. S. Blackton, quoting from Conquest in Motion Picture Studio vol. 1 no. 25, 26 November 1921, p. 14.
40 J. S. Blackton, ‘A Milestone Passed’, Motion Picture Studio vol. 1 no. 25, 26 November 1921, p. 14.
41 Blackton Trimble, J. Stuart Blackton, p. 108.
42 Christine Gledhill, Reframing British Cinema, 1918-29: Between Restraint and Passion (London: BFI, 2003), pp. 62-89.
43 Picturegoer Monthly vol. 2 no. 7, July 1921, p. 10.
44 Blackton, ‘A Milestone Passed’, p. 14.
46 Joshua Yumibe, ‘Moving Color: An Aesthetic History of Applied Color Technologies in Silent Cinema’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 2007, p. 168.
47 British Journal of Photography, colour supplement, 2 February 1923, p. 8.”
(Brown, Simon; Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (2013): Colour Adventures with Prizma and Claude Friese-Greene in the 1920s. In: British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 22-36, on pp. 22-32.)
“In der praktischen Auswertung blieb Kodachrome jedoch hinter Konkurrenzverfahren ähnlicher Funktionsweise zurück, wie dem zwischen 1920 und 1923 florierenden Prizmacolor Prozess Nr. 2 (William van Doren Kelley), bei dem es sich um ein additiv-subtraktives Kombinationsverfahren handelte: Die Aufnahme der Farbauszüge erfolgte nach dem seit Kinemacolor bewährten Folgeverfahren; die Anfertigung subtraktiver Kopien ermöglichte die unbeschränkte Auswertung der durch die Prizma Inc. produzierten Filme. Seine erfolgreiche Vorstellung erlebte das Verfahren 1919 mit dem aus Landschaftsaufnahmen montierten Streifen EVERYWHERE IS PRIZMA, dem eine größere Zahl Kulturfilme – NIPPON, RUINS OF ANGKOR, SO THIS IS LONDON (alle 1921), ALGERIA THE ANCIENT, FASHION HINTS (beide 1922), OASES OF THE SAHARA, FROM THE LAND OF THE INCAS (beide 1923) – folgen sollten. Kelley gelang mit seinem Prizmacolor Prozess Nr. 2 auch, was Kodachrome versagt geblieben war, nämlich in Hollywood Fuß zu fassen: Bereits 1920 entschied D.W. Griffith, der auch mit Kodak in Verhandlungen gestanden hatte, eine Sequenz seines epischen Dramas WAY DOWN EAST (1920) in Prizmacolor herzustellen. Während in den USA Einzelszenen etwa für die Spielfilme VANITY FAIR (1923, Hugo Ballin) und VENUS OF THE SOUTH SEAS (1924, James R. Sullivan) folgten, wurden die einzigen abendfüllenden Prizmacolor-Spielfilme in Großbritannien gedreht, wo J. Stuart Blackton die Kostümfilme THE GLORIOUS ADVENTURE (1922) und THE VIRGIN QUEEN (1923) inszenierte. Trotz der beachtlichen Verbreitung, die Prizmacolor gefunden hatte, verschwand das Verfahren 1924 von der Bildfläche, nachdem ihm im Technicolor Prozess Nr. 2 ein – dank der subtraktiven Aufnahmemethode – überlegener Rivale erwachsen war.”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on pp. 41–42.) (in German)
“At the same time Prizma had already started presenting private showings of its new subtractive process, which eliminated the color wheel in favor of dyeing each frame the appropriate color.84 Since the color was in the film print, it could be shown on any projector in any theatre. As motion picture color historian Roderick Ryan would write many years later, Panchromotion “had all the deficiencies of the original Kinemacolor process and no advantages to offset them.”85
Prizma was founded to commercialize the subtractive system and move into production. The company’s president was Elias Bernard Koopman, who had originally entered the film industry through his Mutoscope investment, while William Kelley’s brother George was company secretary. The primary investors were Theodore Vail, the president of American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), and George Baker of New York City.86
Rather than fiction films, the Prizma company put their effort into “scenics,” which were photographed outdoors and could be staged in ways that minimized fringing.
84 Theisen, “Notes on the History of Color in Motion Pictures,” 8.
85 Roderick T. Ryan, A History of Motion Picture Color Technology (London and New York: Focal Press, 1977), 54.
86 Sigismund Blumann, “Henry Berger, Jr.: An Artist Without a Nasty Temperament,” Camera Craft, November 1930, 524.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 53–54.)
“An additive color process was the most achievable first step, but it had already proved to be an inadequate technique. By the late 1910s other processes were already applying subtractive color for motion picture use, and the introduction of new photographic products from Eastman Kodak seemed to make it a viable solution for the KC&W engineers. Having the color as an integral part of the film print eliminated the need for special projection equipment or handling, and immediately opened up the possibilities for wider distribution and adoption by the industry. Prizma Color and Eastman Kodak’s Kodachrome1 color processes were proving the advantages of subtractive color, but both were still flawed.
1 Two-color Kodachrome should not be confused with the later Kodachrome process introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935. The latter was a three-color multilayer reversal film largely used for slides and amateur motion pictures on 8mm and 16mm until it was discontinued in 2009.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 59.)
“Several notable firms had already begun exploring subtractive color, with varying results. Prizma had quickly evolved from its first additive processes to a subtractive printing technique by 1918, but remained tied to its outdated camera technology. Eastman Kodak’s Kodachrome process and Brewster Color, developed in tandem from 1913, shared similar printing technology, but had different cameras. All three processes relied on double-coated, or duplitized film, to render color images.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 62.)
While Technicolor was receiving mixed press coverage for The Gulf Between and was the topic of occasional articles discussing the company’s developments, it was Prizma that gained the attention of the public and the industry with color on the screen. The only commercial color films then available were made by Prizma; Technicolor found itself in the same position as the color processes of independent inventors Percy Brewster and Leon Douglass, having no impact in the marketplace.
Prizma recognized the limitations of additive processes before Technicolor did, and had moved ahead of its closest rival. With little competition, Prizma planned to expose audiences to color films in small doses as its technology continued to improve. The Prizma subtractive process was used for a weekly series of shorts that first appeared in December 1918, released first through the World Film Corporation and then via companies controlled by Lewis J. Selznick. These one-reel actualities, with titles such as Glimpses of Yellowstone and The Message of the Flowers, were well received and garnered good bookings, although the flat-rate rentals allocated to shorts afforded the business limited potential.
At his April 1920 sales convention Lewis J. Selznick announced an ambitious series of five-reel color features. The initial production was to be Don’t Announce Your Marriage, starring Zena Keefe, directed by Alan Crosland.1 What would have been the first all-Prizma color feature began production in June 1920 at the Paragon Studio in Fort Lee, with William Crespinel at the Prizma camera. The fate of the film is unclear; it was probably never completed, and certainly never released.
Despite this setback, 1920 became Prizma’s year of growth. Recognizing the need to diversify, the company moved into fiction films with a series of children’s short subjects starring Madge Evans. The company also licensed its process for use in industrial films, and offered to photograph Prizma color inserts for producers located on the East Coast.2 These short color sections included an introductory sequence for The Painted Lily, starring Mae Murray, and color intertitles for First National’s Passion and Metro’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.3 This strategy started to pay dividends. For the week ending September 18, 1920, three first-run Broadway theatres featured Prizma “scenics,” and the Astor Theatre presented a feature with Prizma art titles.4
In January 1921 Prizma introduced a new printing process with a single-emulsion film stock, which supplanted the previous double-coated film.5 A new camera that would eliminate fringing was in development. February saw the release of a well-received four-reel South Seas expedition picture, Bali – The Unknown, which satisfied audiences, although it did not deliver on its sensationalist subtitle, Ape Man Island.
William Van Doren Kelley gave an exhibition of Prizma’s capabilities in February 1922, at the Engineers Club in New York City. Technicolor engineers and technicians packed the room, and Eastman Weaver prepared analytical notes. Prizma demonstrated its progress with examples of single- and double-emulsion prints, and scenes photographed using its fringing and non-fringing cameras. The Prizma subtractive system used a single-emulsion film stock for both colors, and “showed very poor colors indeed,” Weaver wrote. “Flesh tints were absolutely white and greens were lacking except for a very pale blue. Reds were fair but unsaturated and loss of detail was excessive.”6
Prizma’s double-emulsion process used dye-toning, with the silver image replaced by a mordant, and then each side was treated with a colored dye. The results were much better than the single-emulsion process, but Weaver noted that the defects included “very considerable loss of detail, entire absence of yellow, blues and grays instead of greens, especially on foliage, and general lack of saturation.”7
Nonetheless, Prizma’s color process had improved sufficiently to again attempt a feature, this time produced by J. Stuart Blackton, one of the pioneers of the motion picture industry.
1 “Selznick Production in Color,” Exhibitors Herald, July 3, 1920
2 The Madge Evans titles included The Little Match Girl (1922) and the two-reelers Heidi of the Alps (1921) and Neighbor Nellie (1921). “Rothacker Has Prizma Rights,” Motion Picture News, July 3, 1920, 247.
3 Prizma Tie -Up,” Film Daily, January 3, 1921, 1.
4 Advertisement for Prizma, Motion Picture News, September 25, 1920, 2394.
5 “New Features in Prizma’s If,” Motion Picture News, January 1, 1921, 432.
6 Eastman Weaver, “Notes on Prizma Exhibition at Engineers Club,” February 27, 1922, #12 Subtractive, Technicolor Notebooks Collection, Moving Image Department, George Eastman House.
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 85–87.)