Kattenbelt, Chiel (1996): Color and the Absence of Color in Early Film Theories. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 116–132, on pp. 117–132.
“2. Color and Naturalistic Aesthetics
According to Richard Abel, in the period between 1907 and 1914 the French film industry – in particular Gaumont and Pathé – “yoked the discourse of technological innovations to that of a naturalistic aesthetic, which itself masked a melodramatic base, as a means of promoting and legitimizing their commercial exploitations of the cinema” (Abel: 1988, 10). In Stage to Screen, A. Nicholas Vardac (1987, XXV) assumes “that the motion picture made its appearance in response to the insistence of social pressure for a greater pictorial realism [and romanticism] in the theatre”.
Audiences immediately identified the cinema, from its first showings, with the nineteenth century vogue of pictorial theatre. It was readily established as the most realistic medium yet available to the theatrical arts. The stage might represent reality, but the motion picture could photograph it. Going beyond the realism of the stage, and armed with the authenticity of moving pictures, romanticism moved into new levels and fresh areas upon the screen (Vardac, 250).
Drawing upon theatrical traditions is one of the marketing strategies of early film industry, in Western Europe as well as in the USA. Indeed, advocates of technological innovations of film, which would make film more true to nature, appeal to a naturalistic aesthetic.
In 1907 the French writer and critic Rémy de Gourmont seems to be already quite satisfied by what can be achieved by the hand-tinted color process of Georges Méliès and the stencil-color process introduced by Pathé. In Epilogues: Cinématographe (1907), De Gourmont writes that “the cinema renders colors perfectly,” although flesh tones are still a problem in that sense that they “appear a uniformly pale white, which is very disagreeable. From shoulders to hands, human figures must appear in their natural colors; once that is accomplished, the cinema will have reached perfection” (Abel, 48).
In the opinion of the French writer and journalist Louis Haugmard, cinema should indeed strive for a perfect reproduction of reality. In his essay L’esthétique du cinématographe (1913), he writes that “the cinema will be an agent of artifice and falsification if it doesn’t limit itself to the reproduction of natural reality”; he regards nature as “the best and most beautiful model” (Abel, 82). It is not surprising that he considers the possibility of recording natural colors and sounds as a necessary technical improvement of film.
With respect to lifelike realism film is often compared to theatre. The fear of some critics is that theatre is threatened with extinction or that it would sign its own death-warrant as long as it aims at a naturalistic illusion. This aim or effect can, indeed, be achieved more easily by film. It is remarkable that one of the first monographs on film in German language, Victor E. Pordes’s Das Lichtspiel. Wesen. Dramaturgie. Regie (published in 1919 in Vienna), is based on classical theatre dramaturgy. Pordes already predicts technological developments like color film and stereoscopy, which he considers as necessary extensions of film (Wuss: 1990, 31).
In his essay Gedanken zu einer Ästhetik des Kinos (1913), Georg Lukács reacts on the then current assumption that the perfectioning of film technique would cause the substitution of theatre by film. The assumption is that film, no longer dependent on the coincidence of here and now because of its perfect reproducibility, will make theatre as a transient phenomenon disappear. Liberated from its transience by film, theatre will become a great museum of the best performances only. This expectation is, according to Lukács, a “nice dream” which is based on a “big error.” It overlooks the basic condition of all the effects of live performances, namely the effect of the actual presence of actor and spectator in the same time and space. Theatre is absolute actuality and this quality of theatre cannot be replaced by film. In Lukács’s view, theatre represents life in its fatal transience and necessity, from which life takes its background and perspective, its higher intensity and qualities. Film, on the contrary, represents life in its unrestrained ability of movement, in its everlasting changeability and unrestricted possibilities, life in a possible world which is easily identified with reality and which corresponds, in respect of its vividness, with the world of dreams and fairy tales (Kattenbelt: 1991, 114–5). With respect to the latter, film cannot only surpass theatre in representing reality but also in representing fantasy. Abel writes: “Early on, for instance, fantasy films were still popular enough for Méliès, Gourmont, and, later, Romains to suggest that the metamorphoses produced by “camera tricks” were a distinctive feature of the cinema, impossible to achieve in the theatre” (Abel, 20).
3. Colored Film and the Visual Flatness of the Image
In its marketing strategies, the film industry did not only take advantage of the tradition of theatre but also of representational painting. At the end of the first decade “Gaumont began to call attention to the function of lighting in its films, especially in its Films esthétiques series (1910), which attempted to appropriate the composition, color toning, and allegorical references of representational painting” (Abel: 1988, 20).
According to Noël Burch (1990, 163) the prewar silent film “is deeply split where the representation of space and volume is concerned.” On the one side we will find films in which the pictures are based on the rules of Renaissance perspective, on the other side films in which the pictures are characterized by a visual “flatness,” by “a superb indifference to what seems to us today the three dimensional vocation of the cinema” (Burch, 164).
The visual “flatness” of images was not a strange phenomenon in the beginning of this century: the audience was familiar with the popular flat images of chromolitographs, strip cartoons and shadow puppets. Of a more decisive influence on “the ‘visual flatness’ of so many film tableaux before 1906 – and in certain places until 1915” were specific production factors. Burch distinguishes five factors: “1) a more or less vertical illumination suffusing the whole field in front of the lens with a completely even light; 2) the fixity of the camera; 3) its horizontal and frontal placement; 4) the very widespread use of painted backdrops; 5) lastly, the placing of the actors, always a long way from the camera, often spread out in a tableau vivant, all facing front, and without axial movement of any kind.”1 The “resistance to illusionistic perspective” is, pre-eminently, characteristic of the films by Méliès, to whom “the perceptual flatness of the picture on the screen was the only cinematic truth” (Burch, 164).
According to Burch, initially color played an ambiguous role in the representation of space and volume: color gave to the pictures depth, it is true, but, at the same time, the irregularities inherent to the process of hand-coloring revealed the flatness of the image. Shortly after the introduction of the mechanically-cut stencil-color process by Pathé, color had already acquired its institutional function as a “supplement of reality” and “beauty.” Pathécolor flourished until the end of the silent period (Burch, 171). The majority of early filmmakers, especially in Britain and the USA, were consciously aware of the “need” for depth (Burch, 172), and, probably because of this concern, also interested in color which could add relief to their images. Méliès used color in many of his films, but depth was not his concern.
5. Color and cinéma pur
In Idées d’un peintre sur le cinéma, (1919) the French painter Marcel Gromaire considers color as the soul of cinema and moving plastic forms its esssential logic, its imagistic language (Abel, 176–8). Even more than in painting, color in cinema means light. The aesthetic emotion which cinema should evoke is constituted above all by surprise. The graphic elements of the image and the rhythmic ordering of these are the ingredients of cinema. The cinema which Gromaire has in mind is abstract – by abstraction all the graphic elements of the image are synthesized – although still tied to the representation of reality, narrative and human emotions.
In Le cinéma pur, (1926) Pierre Porte describes the fundamental principle of pure cinema, namely “to express itself through the harmony and melody of [all forms of] plastic movements.” The pure cinema is a “free play of masses and colors in movement” (Abel, 387–8). The “visual symphony” which Pierre Porte has in mind with the pure cinema includes all colors, not just black and white.
6. Color and photogénie or cinégraphie
According to Abel (1988, 110), photogénie is “one of the most widely circulated concepts in French texts throughout the silent period.” In its initial use by Louis Delluc, photogénie refers to the “real” as well as to its transformation into something radically new. In the words of Delluc: “The miracle of the cinema is that it stylizes without altering the plain truth” (Abel, 110).
In his essay Devant l’écran, (1916) Emile Vuillermoz considers photogénie a matter of transforming, recreating and transfiguring nature by the cinematographer, according to his emotional state. Cinema is not “the machine that imprints life” – an expresssion used by Marcel L’Herbier – but “the machine with which to imprint dreams” (Abel, 157).
In his essay Du décor (1918), Louis Aragon considers photogénie as a means of transformation, isolation and recontextualization which creates access to a world in which inanimate objects can become living and the other way around (with reference to Chaplin’s films).
Léon Moussinac regards color – not just light or lighting effects – as one of the means of expression that belong to the cinema as a unique art. He links, like his boyhood friend Louis Delluc and Ricciotto Canudo, photogénie of cinema to poetry.3 Poetry assumes the “élan of lyricism” which can be well expressed in simplicity, as in Feyder’s film L’Atlantide: “there is nothing more, in the simple play of black and white, than two actors face to face: man and the desert” (Abel, 252).
Jean Epstein considers Canudo (“the missionary of film poetry”) and Delluc (“the missionary of photogénie“) as the pioneers of French film aesthetics (Wuss, 111). In his essay La poésie d’aujourd’hui (1921) he mentions a range of characteristics which film has in common with modern poetry. Criticizing – in Pour une avant-garde nouvelle (1925) – Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) because of its stage-like, stylized sets, Epstein writes: “Painting is one thing, the cinema something else entirely” (Abel, 351). In his opinion photogénie is the essence of film: “Photogénie is that which color is for painting and which volume is for sculpture: the specific element of this art” (Wuss, 114). Photogénie is the purest expression of film.4 It concerns an upgrading of the moral quality of moving – in time as well as in space – and personal aspects of the world, of things and beings, by filmic reproduction (Wuss, 114–5).5
In Les esthétiques. Les entraves. La cinégraphie intégrale (1927) Germaine Dulac discusses the problem of movement in film, concerning movement in its most general expression. She describes the obstacles, that is to say preoccupations and prejudices leading to inadequate interpretations of movement, which cinema encountered” and had to overcome in its evolution to a real art.6 In her opinion film should be “a visual symphony, a rhythm of arranged movements in which the shifting of a line, or of a volume in a changing cadence creates emotion without any chrystallization of ideas” (Abel, 394). Referring to her own work experiences as director of the film La folie des vaillants (1925), she formulates the principles of the cinégraphie integrale:
By slow degrees, narrative structure and the actor’s performance assumed less importance than the study of the images and of their juxtaposition. Just as a musician works on the rhythm and the sonorities of a musical phrase, the filmmaker sets himself to work on the rhythm and the sonorities of images. Their emotional effect became so great and their interrelationships so logical that their expressiveness could be appreciated in its own right without the existence of a text. […] If we imagine many forms in movement unified within an artful structure composed of diverse rhythms in single images that are juxtaposed in a series, then we will successfully imagine a cinégraphie integrate (Abel, 395–6).
As parts of the cinégraphie integrale, Dulac mentions the cinégraphie of forms and the cinégraphie of light, but not the cinégraphie of color. She describes the cinégraphie of light as “the contest of blacks and whites, each wishing to dominate the other” (Abel, 396).
7. Specific Narrative Functions of Color
In the material I examined I did not find much evidence for the assumption that the use of color is also regarded in terms of specific narrative functions. The only indication I have found is in a text of Louis Delluc, Prologue, (1923) in which he writes: “the change in time and the transition to a distant country allows for a slight soft focus or luminous superimposition and different tinting” (Abel, 287), although you never know if he has in mind with “tinting” other colors than black and white and all the hues between these ultimates.
8. The Unreality of Black and White or the Absence of Color as Advantage
In Prologue (1923), Louis Delluc writes: “we must seek to say, in global black and white, in this unique medium of expression, what other languages – the book, the painting, the voice, the dance – cannot and dare not say” (Abel, 290).
In Réflexions sur le septiéme art (1926), Ricciotto Canudo predicts that “we will recognize cinema as the synthesis of all the arts [in particular painting, music and poetry] and of the profound impulse underlying them” (Abel, 293). His reference to Wagner suggests that he thinks of cinema as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk. Canudo refers to Karl-Heinz Martin’s film Von Morgen bis Mitternachts (1920) as “a pure masterpiece of human emotion and artistic synthesis, [in which] the landscapes and their moods are so unified with the characters, that all of the distortion and unreality of this vision melts into the simplest, broadest, and most poignant truth.” He continues: “The écraniste had the set designer take advantage of black and white, inscribing in its limitless range all the psychological nuances of the poor thieving cashier.” The absolute reality which film should provide is “the artist’s dream, Poetry” (Abel, 294). In Canudo’s view, film should not be a copy of life, but a mental and sensual penetration and interpretation of reality. The power of film is to represent the immaterial. The basis of cinematography is the representation of movement in its vivid plasticity (Wuss, 40). Film should be “a free play to the infinite intensities of light itself, the masses of black and white and their innumerable gradations. Light must not be enslaved to the presentation of human figures. Instead, characters should appear solely as light humanized into dramatic symbols” (Abel, 297). Canudo characterizes the artistic films shown in the Salon d’Automne as “light-engravings” and triumphant “living black and white.”7
In his Surrealistic Manifesto (1924) Breton “wants to establish the superiority of the dream” (Abel, 355). Reacting on this manifesto in his essay Surréalisme et cinéma (1925), Jean Goudal examines the analogies between dream and film. The cinema aims at giving
the illusion of reality by means of a simulacrum of a uniquely visual kind. An actual hallucination is needed here which the other conditions of cinema tend to reinforce, just as, in the dream, moving images lacking three-dimensionality follow each other on a single plane artificially delimited by a rectangle which is like a geometrical opening giving on the psychic kingdom. The absence of color, too, the black and white, represents an arbitrary simplification analogous to those one meets in dreams” (Abel, 356–7).
Because of the unique similarities between dream and cinema, Goudal rejects “‘improvements’ like color, relief or some kind of sound synchronization. The cinema has found its true technique in black and white film – forget three-dimensionality and sound. To try to ‘perfect’ it, in the sense of bringing it closer to reality, would only run counter to and slow down its genuine development” (Abel: 1988, 357).8
In The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (PPS, 1916), Hugo Münsterberg assumes that “the limitations of an art are in reality its strength and to overstep its boundaries means to weaken it” (PPS, 206). He discusses several possible extensions or additions to the silent black and white film, like words, sound, perfume and color. He poses the question: is it desirable to “catch the color hues and tints of nature” in films? He admires the technical progress in the use of artificial stencil methods, by which any desired color effect can be obtained. In spite of this, these methods will not become popular. They are too laborious, complicated and expensive. Münsterberg expects that in the near future “the direct photographing of the colors themselves” (PPS, 207) will be completely perfected. This method will be much simpler and cheaper. But, will the solution of this technical problem also be “a solution of the esthetic problem” (PPS, 208)? He regards the use of natural colors as “an addition which oversteps the essential limits” (PPS, 209) of the particular art of the photoplay. Its
unique task […] can be fulfilled only by a far-reaching disregard of reality. The real human persons and the real landscapes must be left behind and […] be transformed into pictorial suggestions only. We must be strongly conscious of their pictorial unreality in order that that wonderful play of our inner experiences may be realized on the screen. This consciousness of unreality must seriously suffer from the addition of color. We are once more [just like in the case of natural sound] brought too near to the world which really surrounds us with the richness of its colors, and the more we approach it the less we gain that inner freedom, that victory of the mind over nature, which remains the ideal of the photoplay. The colors are almost as detrimental as the voices (PPS, 209–210).9
In Der sichtbare Mensch (DSM, 1924) Béla Balázs observes a tendency in the development of film art not to allow original nature (Orginalnatur) to speak (avoidance of exteriors, preference for sets instead of locations and for artificial light instead of natural light through glass roofs, etc.). “Maybe,” Balázs presupposes, “because original nature cannot speak clearly enough” (DSM, 97). Why should this be the case? Balázs answers: film can only be or become a work of art under the condition of an impressionistic or expressionistic stylization of nature, because in film as art, which wants to be a representation of human fate, there is no “nature” as neutral reality: “nature” in film is always social environment and background of a scene, of which it should carry, emphasize or accompany its mood (DSM, 97–8). Several times Balázs refers to the mood of scenes, that is to say to emotional impressions and expressions with the words Kolorit (coloring) and Farbe (color), though there is no doubt that he has black and white film in mind. Film art is a matter of interfering in objective nature by human work, that is to say by focussing the camera, by selecting motives (subjectively arranging objective reality) and by using artificial lighting, etc., in order to create a subjective connection. Indeed, only that which is impassioned is eligible for art. But impassioned is only that which expresses a human sense (DSM, 99).
For Balázs film is first of all a matter of photography, that is to say a play with light (Lichtspiel): Light and shadow are the material of film, like color is the material of painting and sound is the material of music. After all, film is photography; what cannot be expressed by it should not be in the film (DSM, 139).
But what about film as Orginalfarbenspiel, that is film in natural colors? In general Balázs is very sceptical about technical innovations concerning coloring techniques: the “achievements” of technique on its way have brought to film more damage than advantage. The partial coloring of individual images is nothing more than a playful experiment which destroys the uniform style of a film (DSM, 141). Balázs has his objections against color film not only because of its shortcomings until now (i.e. 1924). “Being true to nature is not always an advantage for art.
Actually, art exists in reduction. And maybe, indeed, the possibility of aesthetic style was given in the homogeneous gray in gray of the usual film” (DSM, 142). But after all, Balázs expects that even the color photography film will find an aesthetic solution for the use of color, which “will not commit to an unconditional, slavish imitation of nature. Once photography will have reached its full color trueness to nature, then again it will become, on a higher level, untrue to nature. That is why I do not worry” (DSM, 143).
Of the Russian Formalists who have published in Poetika kino (1927), Tynjanov is most explicit in rejecting color film. In his essay On the principles of film he strongly emphasizes the radical transformation which physical reality undergoes by photographic recording. He states that film takes its aesthetic qualities from the “shortcomings” which are inherent in photography. These “shortcomings” are flatness, colorlessness or single-colorness: in film physical reality is represented in two- instead of three-dimensionality and in black and white instead of in its natural colors. The construction principle of “simultaneity” in time (Gleichzeitigkeit) and space (Gleichräumigkeit) is based on the two-dimensionality of the film image, which provides movements and gestures a completely new meaning.10 Indeed, the two-dimensionality and the colorlessness or single-colorness of the film create an enormous freedom of stylistic change of physical reality. This freedom is, according to Tynjanov, missing in the theatre. Contrary to its three-dimensionality and plasticity, theatre is doomed to a certain “flatness” (in technical as well as in artistic respect) in that sense that the event on the stage is observed by the spectator from a fixed position in the auditorium, that is to say from an unchanging perspective, “frame” and distance.
According to Tynjanov, the stylistic procedures of film art (or film language) are based on camera operation, lighting and montage. By these procedures objects are unlinked from their spatial and temporal correlations in physical reality. These stylistic procedures would, to a large extent, lose their meanings as significant signs if the film would represent the physical reality in its natural colors, because these would blur an intentional reference to, for instance, an aspect like size.
Less explicitly than Tynjanov but nevertheless clearly, Ejchenbaum, Piotrovskij and, later, Mukarovsky bring up the necessary absence of color in film. They assume a possible equivalence in the status of humankind, living and inanimate nature as “constituents” of the projected image: humankind and nature undergo – under primacy of photogenity – the same deformation or transformation, of which the absence of color is one aspect. They would reject the use of natural colors if these would reduce the expressivity of lighting.
In Film als Kunst (FaK, 1932) Rudolf Arnheim focusses his attention on the concrete materiality of film, in particular on those factors which contribute to the fact that film does not create the illusion of being a perfect representation of reality. If film would be a perfect representation of reality, then it could not be considered as an art. Film takes its aesthetics from the unreal aspects of its material. One of these is the absence of color. Arnheim rejects those technological innovations which would undo the unreal aspects of the film image (like three-dimensional photographic techniques, the use of natural colors and wide-screen).11
In black and white film the world of natural colors is not only reduced to shades of gray. Also the original values of brightness of natural colors are affected.12 In black and white film red is, for instance, too dark and blue too bright, although, according to Arnheim, there are some recent attempts to solve this technical problem by using so-called panchromatic negative material (FaK, 30). Arnheim poses the question: is it not remarkable that the film spectator accepts the black and white world on the screen as being true to nature? Even the mutual shifting of the hues of the original colors seems to be no problem. The Gestalt-psychologist Arnheim has an explanation for this remarkableness: an illusion does not have to be complete in order to evoke a strong impression. While observing in reality we content ourselves with catching the essential, with that which is worthwile to know. So, if the essential is reproduced, we feel satisfied and will have a full impression (FaK, 42–3). Lighting plays a prominent part in the reproduction of the essential characteristics of objects; it makes their forms clearly to recognize (FaK, 30).
The technique of color film is, according to Arnheim, still (i.e. 1932) inadequate to reproduce natural colors, but the unnaturalness of colors in film is hardly a useful means in the hand of the film artist. The possibility of making art with color film is still indeterminable, whereas for many years black and white was an obvious and highly effective means of art. The reduction of the values of natural colors to those of the one-dimensional range of gray (between pure white and pure black) provides a welcome distance to reality, and, by consequence, the possibility of creating decorative and profound images by values of brightness (FaK, 90). Black and white film offers much more space for an artistic and expressive use of light, for the symbolic of light and shadow (FaK, 91), for decorative compositions of the film image planes. Black and white can easily express all kinds of moods. Those people who long for films on bigger screens and in natural colors do not know that the effect of art is bound by the limitation of its means. They demand quantity instead of quality. They want more instead of better. They want to get closer to reality more and more and they do not know that they take away from film its possibility of being art (FaK, 99).
Those innovations which make film more similar to reality, will jeopardize the development of all film art. It is only good for sound film and pure sound film has nothing to do with film art (FaK, 292). Arnheim is very pessimistic about the future of film as art. In the near future there will be the so-called “complete film” in natural colors and with natural sound. How will the situation be when the technique of color film is perfect? We know what we lose with black and white reduction, but is there something to gain with color film? Arnheim imagines that color film techniques will offer all kinds of possibilities to manipulate colors (by filtering, changing and exchanging colors), but such manipulations are mere transpositions of the real, shiftings in outward appearance, of which Arnheim doubts the artistic usefulness. Of course there are also possibilities of making artistic choices concerning color in the selection of objects and in the montage of colorful images, but these possibilities would imply that the subjective means of representation of the camera, which are so characteristic of film, will be restricted more and more. The centre of artistic labor will be shifted to what happens in front of the camera and the camera itself will be reduced to a mere mechanical recording apparatus (Aufschreibeapparat) (FaK, 318–319).
According to Arnheim, there is nothing to be said against the “complete film” as a substitute of theatre. Maybe it will have a useful influence on the proper film forms: only because of its existence it would force these to produce in accordance with their essence.
Silent film, for instance, would no longer use dialogue in intertitles. Arnheim finishes the section about the complete film with expressing his fear that, after all, the complete film will be evaluated as an improvement and it will displace all preceding film forms (KaF, 324).
9. A Few Tentative Conclusions
It is not surprising to observe that those who founded their ideas about film and their demands on film on a naturalistic aesthetic, on an aesthetic of pictorial realism, value technical innovations which would make film more true to nature positively. Their ideal is realism, that is to say film as a perfect reproduction of reality. Each technical step in this direction is received with open arms. Thinking about film in natural colors seems to be a reason to compare film with theater. The general opinion is that film will easily surpass theater as far as the representation of reality as well as fantasy is concerned.
Technological innovations which will lead to a more lifelike realism is strongly supported by early film industry. All technological changes are, to a large extent, determined by the interacting forces of ideology and economics. With respect to cinema, the ideological demand is to show or to see life “as it really is,” the economic demand is profit maximization (Allen and Gomery: 1985, 125 ff.). The synthesis of these demands is the demand of “perfect illusion.” And it is exactly this “perfect illusion,” whether or not of reality, which seems to be so problematic to those theorists and critics who reject the use of color in silent film because of aesthetic reasons.
Ideas on colors in film are of particular interest in connection with representational painting. In this contexts colors are considered as a decorative supplement of reality, as creating an extra dimension or intensity of beauty. Early filmmakers are also interested in color as far as these could add depth to film images.
In connection with abstract animated films, color is first of all regarded as a formal aspect which evokes, in interaction with other formal aspects, feelings, whether or not as expressions of the inner state of the artist. Abstract films do have, first of all, a synaesthetic and thus emotive effect or influence on the spectator.
In connection with ideas on photogénie and cinégraphie, color is not such an important aspect. Photogénie is more linked to poetry than to the other arts. In some texts on photogénie color is regarded as the essential aspect of painting, but not of film. The essential aspect of film is movement or lighting and lighting is not the same as color, or to make it even more complicated: in film, color is light!
Many film theorists have severe objections to the use of (natural) colors in film. Lifelike realism, trueness to nature, seriously affect the aesthetic qualities of film. Film art appeals to the spectators faculty of abstraction and imagination. Art is by definition a matter of reduction, under which a reduction of natural colors to the shades of gray between pure black and pure white. Color curtails the film artist in his freedom of using camera and editing techniques in an expressive way. Color also weakens the expressive use of lighting. It blurs, by consequence, all the expressive qualities of the graphic elements of the image. In film, unlike painting, color cannot be used as an artistic means. These ideas seem to be still current in connection with photography. The photo industry in Holland promotes black and white photography with the slogan: the creative alternative! To all those film theorists who are against the use of natural colors in film, we could say, with the famous statement of Josef von Sternberg: “Don’t worry about colors, they will fade away.” This is, indeed, a problem still to be solved.
1988 French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology 1907–1939 Volume 1: 1907–1929 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press).
Allen, Robert and Gomery, Douglas
1985 Film History: Theory and Practice (New York: Knopf).
1979a Film als Kunst. Mit einem Vorwort zur Neuasugabe  (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer).
1979b Kritiken und Aufsätze zum Film [1925-1940], edited by H. H. Diederichs (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer).
1924 Der sichtbare Mensch oder Die Kultur des Films (Wien/Leipzig: Deutsch-Osterreichischer Verlag).
Beilenhoff, Wolfgang (ed.)
1974 Poetik des Films: Deutsche Erstausgabe der Filmtheoretischen Texte der russischen Formalisten mit einem Nachwort und Anmerkungen (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag).
1990 Life to Those Shadows (Berkeley: University of California Press).
1989 Walter Ruttman: Eine Dokumentation (Berlin: Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek).
Kattenbelt, Michaél J.
1991 Theater en film: Aanzet tot een systematische vergelijking vanu it een rationaliteitstheoretisch perspectief (Utrecht University, dissertation).
1973 “Gedanken zu einer Ästhetik des Kino” , in Theorie des Kinos, edited by K. Witte (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), pp. 142–8.
1970 The Photoplay: A Psychological Study  (New York: Amo Press & The New York Times).
1993 Ik zie muziek, ik hoor kleuren: een verkennend onderzoek naar de werking van abstracte film met betrekking tot het fenomeen “synesthesie” (Utrecht University, master’s thesis).
Vardac, A. Nicholas
1987 Stage to Screen. Theatrical Origins of early Film: David Garrick to D.W. Griffith  (New York: Da Capo Press).
1990 Kunstwert des Films und Massencharakter des Mediums: Konspekte zur Geschichte der Theorie des Spielfilms (Berlin: Henschel Verlag).
1 Béla Balázs would consider most of these factors as being characteristic of film in its beginnings as so-called “photographed theatre.”
3 Moussinac in his essay Cinématographie: Le Lys brisé (1921): “I am convinced that, contrary to general opinion, poetry will find one of its most prodigious means of expression precisely in the cinema. The infinite world of ideal images someday will be revealed on the screen with an unequaled intensity and a marvelous power of radiance” (Abel, 233). The lyricism of cinema which Moussinac has in mind presupposes the ability of the filmmaker to express his feelings and personal vision through which a film expresses itself on the spectator. Moussinac: “I am awaiting the day when a poet finally seizes hold of the simple grandeur and radiant power which can be achieved on the screen, and impels the truth of our new times to emerge out of the marvelous world of images, in the breath of irresistible lyricism. There is no other means remotely capable of impressing beauty on the hearts of all man, at one blow, and thus inspiring the human race to a shared and fertile idealism” (Abel, 234).
4 These characteristics are the aesthetic of proximity, of suggestion, of succession, of mental velocity, of sensuality, of visual metaphors – no symbolism – and of moment (Wuss: 1990, 111–3).
5 Epstein regards the expression of personality, which is more than just subjectivity, as an aesthetic criterion. Film art assumes from the film director personal sensibility and, by that, avant-garde poetry in film. According to Epstein film is the most powerful means of poetry. Referring to Apollinaire, he regards film as the most real means of the irreal and the surreal (Wuss, 116).
6 Dulac regards the film La Roue (1922) by Abel Gance as a great step forward in the liberation of cinema from the suppression of literary and dramatic (c.q. theatrical) frameworks: “Both the psychology and the performance became clearly dependent upon the rhythm controlling the work. The characters no longer were the only important factors; rather, alongside them (the characters), the duration of the images, their contrasts and harmonies assumed a role of prime importance. Rails, a locomotive, a boiler, wheels, a manometer, smoke and tunnels: a new drama composed from a series of raw movements, finally understood in a rational manner, recovered its rights, leading us magnificently toward a symphonic poem of images, toward a visual symphony outside all known formulas. (The word “symphony” is used here only by way of analogy.) A symphonic poem in which the image is equivalent to a sound, and as in music, feelings bursts forth not in facts and in actions, but in sensations” (Abel, 394).
7 Canudo: “The programm [of the Salon d’Automne, where artistic films were shown] ought to demonstrate to the cultural world that these innumerable light-engravings in the measure of man, moving and animated by the breath of life, this triumphant “living black and white” that can prolong man’s existence beyond the limits of space, time, and death – this is a brand new force that can make life manifest and comfort us in living” (Abel, 302).
8 According to Goudal, “surreality represents a domain actually indicated to cinema by its very technique. […] It is time cinéastes saw clearly what profits they may gain in opening up their art to the unexplored regions of the dream. Up till now this has only been done intermittently, as if by default. They should lose no time in imbuing their productions with the three essential characteristics of the dream, the visual, the illogical, the pervasive” (Abel, 358). “The Marvelous in the cinema, unable to utilize the infinite resources of color, must count above all in the resources of lighting and line. Just as in the world we inhabit no line is absolutely geometrical, so a resolutely geometrical stylization creates a surprising atmosphere” (Abel, 361). In Surréalisme et cinéma, Goudal indicates just one direction into which cinema could further develop. Besides, “there will always be enough industrialists to keep up the old traditions, to go on adapting novels to be acted out by boxing champions and France’s most beautiful midinettes” (Abel, 362).
9 In The Photoplay, Hugo Münsterberg discusses the perception of color in connection with the distinction between a positive and a negative afterimage. Münsterberg considers this phenomenon of afterimages in order to explain that impressions of apparent movement are […] in no way the mere result of […] afterimages and that [they are] […] more than the mere perception[s] of successive phases of movement” (PPS, 68–9). We invest these impressions by the action of the mind: perceiving a film, “we create the depth and the continuity through our mental mechanism” (PPS, 71). Münsterberg’s discussion about color in connection with afterimages and impressions of depth and movement is only of importance “from a technical interest in physiological psychology” (PPS, 43). He suggests readers who are not interested in such matters to omit this chapter on depth and movement.
Comparing theatre and film Münsterberg states: “the theater comes so near to its purpose of imitating the world of men that the comparison with the photoplay suggests almost a disastrous failure of the art of the film. The color of the world has disappeared, the persons are dumb, no sound reaches our ear. The depth of the scene appears unreal, the motion has lost its natural character. Worst of all, the objective course of events is falsified; our own attention and memory and imagination have shifted and remodeled the events until they look as nature could never show them. What we really see can hardly be called any longer an imitation of the world, such as the theater gives us” (PPS, 137–8). Because of these “shortcomings” film is considered as no real art by those people who have a “serious relation to art” (PPS, 139). But, according to Münsterberg, “the aim of art is not the imitation of reality” (PPS, 141), more than that, “the central esthetic value is directly opposed to the spirit of imitation. A work of art may and must start from something which contains traits of reality, and to that extent it cannot avoid some imitation. But it becomes art just in so far as it overcomes reality, stops imitating and leaves the imitated world behind it. It is artistic just insofar as it does not imitate reality but changes the world, selects from it special features for new purposes, remodels the world and is through this truly creative. To imitate the world is a mechanical process; to transform the world so that it becomes a thing of beauty is the purpose of art The highest art may be furthest removed from reality” (PPS, 144). “The work of an shows us the things and events perfectly complete in themselves, freed from all connections which lead beyond their own limits, that is in perfect isolation” (PPS, 150). The artist “shows us a unity which does not lead beyond itself but is in itself perfectly harmonious” (PPS, 154). “This can be done only if it [the work of art which fulfills every demand in itself] is sharply set off from the sphere of our practical interests” (PPS, 160). “It is necessary that each art should have its particular method for fundamentally changing reality” (PPS, 161). That the “photoplay” should not bring us too near to the world which really surrounds us implies that we may not lose sufficient contact with reality. Otherwise, “the emotional interests upon which the whole play depends would be destroyed. We must not take the people to be real, but we must link with them all the feelings and associations which we would connect with real men. This is possible only if in their flat, colorless, pictorial setting they share the real features of men. Fot this reason it is important to suggest to the spectator the impression of natural size. The demand of the imagination for the normal size of the persons and things in the picture is so strong that it easily and constantly overcomes great enlargements or reductions. […] Thus we instinctively remain under the impression of normal appearances. But this spell can easily be broken and the esthetic effect is then greatly diminished” (PPS, 210–1).
10An example of simultaneity in time: in the case of a lap dissolve (a superimposition of a fade out and a fade in), that is to say of a gradual transition from one shot to another, a mutual penetration of both shots occurs. An example of simultaneity in space: in the case of a correspondence between the movement of the camera and that of the object, the movement is reproduced and at the same time the composition of the shot is based on the principles of movement.
11 Film experience is an experience of unreality. Film aesthetics is based on what is technically visible, not on the humanly visual. Our faculty of sight activates a whole domain of perceptions, associations and memories. It is, by consequence, not restricted to a stimulation of our retina. But in physiological respect, our visual perception and the filmic recording of reality have in common similar reductions. As the title of the book indicates, Arnheim’s concern is film art, which is based on the representational restrictions of film. The film artist knows how to control and manipulate these restriction for artistic and expressive reasons and intentions. As a photographic medium, film art is based on the tension between representation and distortion. The filmmaker as artist is aware of the unreality of film images. He exploits, so to say, the restrictions of photographic recording and forces the spectator to perceive the film not only as an object of representation but also as a represented object. So film takes its aesthetic value and function from its distortion of reality or rather from its distortion of our experience of reality. In this respect film remains, as no other art, tied to reality. Given this restraint, indeed, film is “doomed,” according to Arnheim, to comment on reality, because the material of film is not reality itself.
12 Because of this effect, sets, props and costumes in grisaille are used. This “provide[s] better control of the grayscale in black-and-white film. This grisaille of Méliès is revealed by the black-and-white versions of his films to belong unquestionably to the lineage of the surface arts (camaieu, stained glass, bas-relief)” (Burch: 1990, 171–2). In Les Vues cinématographiques (published in 1907), Georges Méliès pays attention to the necessity of using sets, props and costumes in “shades of gray” between black and pure white in order to make films suitable for being colored by hand: “The sets are […] painted in distemper like theatrical sets, except that the painting is executed exclusively in grisaille through all the intermediate gradations of gray between black and pure white. […]Blue becomes white, reds, greens and yellows become black; a complete destruction of the effects ensues. It is therefore necessary that sets be painted like photographers’ backdrops.[…] If you want to get the best photographic results, the best thing to do, even for the sofas, chimneys, tables, furniture, candelabra, etc., is exclusively to use specially made objects that have been painted in carefully graduated shades of gray depending on the nature of the object. Important films are often colored by hand before they are projected, but if the objects are bronze, mahagony, red, yellow or green, this would not be possible because they become deep black and consequently not transparant when photographed; therefore they cannot be made sufficiently translucent for projection. […] For the same reason, most costumes must be specially made in tones that photograph well and that can later be colored” (Abel, 41–2).”
(Kattenbelt, Chiel (1996): Color and the Absence of Color in Early Film Theories. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 116–132, on pp. 117–132.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 22.
From 1906 to 1916 Vitagraph had all their films with the frame-line across the perforations. The actual printer-aperture shape, and the nature of the frame-line varied. This variation being random, as far as I have been able to see. (Ill.FC.21/22/23/24 ).”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 22.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 41–47.
“The list is arranged in order of serial number. The serial numbers and the dates of review do not follow in exactly the same order but do approximately so. The one exception to this is number 314 which should be about October 1910. No review at this time has been found, but it does appear in the Bioscope in March 1915. I guess that what happened is that in 1910 the film was not considered of sufficient interest to British audiences to distribute it in Britain, but in the circumstances of the war during 1915 there was felt to be a market for it.
On some titles the serial number appears in the bottom left-hand corner and in others in the right-hand corner. Sometimes this variation exists within a single film. I find no informative significance to this.
Some details of some films on the list are left blank. This is because we do not have the particular piece of information. e.g. if we have only a duplicate copy of the film, this will have no information about the tinting, and any edge mark which was on the original may not have been copied onto the duplicate; some short comic films had no inter-titles, so there can be no information about title style; where the main title is missing there can be no information about the style or tint of it.
CINES FILMS 1909 – 1914
Explanation of abbreviations used in the film list
The original Italian title is given first when known. This is followed by the English title when known, which is followed by the title in the language of the copy in the Archive, when this is not English.
This is the date of the first known mention in the British trade press, in the order ‘day’, ‘month’, ‘year’.
Main Title style. The entries in this column refer to the illustrative figures.
The Tint of the Main Title.
A = Amber
B = Blue
G = Green
M = Mauve
R = Red
There is probably no significant difference between the colours described as ‘Pink’ and ‘Red’. This probably represents only a random variation in the dyes at different times. I-T Style
Inter-Title style. The entries in this column refer to the illustrative figures.
The Tint of the Inter-titles. (Colour letter as Main Titles).
There is an asterisk ‘*’ in this column when the film has the Edge Mark ‘SOCIETA ITALIANA “CINES” ROMA’.
The entry in this column indicates the Language of the Titles in the copy examined. The letter is the initial letter of the Italian name of the language and appears on the titles.
I = Inglese = English.
T = Tedesco = German.
S = Spana = Spanish.
/ = The titles are in Italian and have no language letter
– – –
This feature is not on the film.
We do not have this information. This may be because we only have a duplicate which does not show this feature; or because the film is not in our own archive and we are thus not able readily to inspect it.
King of Italy’s Bodyguard has its own special design of main title.
Julius Caesar has main and inter titles of its own special design. There is an edge mark on this film consisting of the word ‘INGLESE’ on both edges, at a frequency of 14 frames.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 41–47.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 10.
The earliest Gaumont films – before 1907 – had no edge mark. The edge mark started to be included at about the beginning of 1907.
If one takes a close look at the edge mark (Ill.PM.8) one can see that between each print of the name “GAUMONT” there is a letter. In the example of (Ill.PM.8) the letter is orientated at 90 degrees to the name GAUMONT. It may be regarded as lying on its back. This interim letter was placed thus sideways throughout 1907 and probably during 1908.
In (Ill.PM.9) this interim character is similar to the letter ‘Y’. The three films which the N.F.A. has with the ‘Y’ were all made during 1909 or at the very beginning of 1910.
After that time, until 1914 there was a letter standing the same way as the “GAUMONT” name (Ill.PM.10). In each copy there is the same letter throughout the copy; but different copies of the same film may have different letters. On some films the mark appears on the titles, but not on the picture; on others it is on the picture but not on the titles; while on some it is on both picture and titles, and with some it is not on either. I have looked for some significance in these variations, and in the use of different letters, but have found none; except that the films which the N.F.A. has without an edge mark (apart from the earliest films before 1907, and news-reel material which did not normally have the edge mark), all occur in the last quarter of 1911. All the Gaumont edge marks are the same on both edges of the film.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 10.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 20.
(Ill.FC.5/6/7/8/9). These frames are quite different from any of the Méliès films in a number of ways. The first, most noticeable is that the whole of the perforated margins is black. Also there is only a thin line between the frames or none at all. The picture has sharp square corners, and occupies the whole of the width between the two rows of perforations. The frame-line of all of them is through the perforation. All of the [National Film] Archive’s original prints of the films of Robert Paul from his beginning in 1896 up to 1904 have this appearance.
(Ill.FC.10/11/12) From 1904 onward, Paul’s films no longer have black margins. There is still only a thin frame-line between frames, and the picture still occupies the whole of the film between the rows of perforations. Observe that in all these prints of Paul, the frame line is across the perforations. (Compare this with Edison prints and some early Pathé.)”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 20.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 20–21.
(This refers to Edison’s early small-perforation films not to the Edison company’s films of c.1906-15).
(Ill.FC.13). This also has black margins, but has a quite different appearance from the prints of Paul. See that between the perforations of the positive, there is the image of the perforations of the negative. In making the print; the perforations of the negative and of the print film do not co-incide. This is so in all of the few early Edison prints I have seen.
(Compare with the prints of Paul, where the image of the perforations of the negative only show very slightly (Ill.FC.14). if at all.) Here you can see a little bit of negative perforation (left hand row); but not in any Paul film do images of the perforations of the negative lie completely between the perforations of the positive as in the Edison films.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 20–21.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 31.
Vitagraph placed their “eagle and ‘V’ ” mark in many films through the years 1907 to 1910 inclusive. I have found no Vitagraph film later than 1910 having the trade mark in any scene. The style of the mark varies.
(Ill.TM.13) Liquid Electricity – 1907. Here it is solid white.
(Ill.TM.14) Auto Heroine – 1908. Dark in contrast to the white wall.
(Ill.TM.15) Napoleon – 1909.
(Ill.TM.16) Daisies – 1910. Among several other pictures etc. adorning the wall.
In the case of Vitagraph it is not suggested that the form of mark is related to date. It appears to be selected just to show against the background.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 31.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 19–20.
(Ill.FC.1). This was made on a continuous printer, It can be seen that there is no black line between the frames; the corners of the picture are sharp square; the printing slit has extended over the perforations, so that there is a black band on the left and the right of the picture. The black band on the left is wider than the one on the right. The frame-line is at the bottom of the space between the perforations. These features are characteristic of all the seven original Méliès prints in the National Film Archive produced up to about the middle of 1897.
(Ill.FC.2). This is another Méliès print but in this case made on a step printer. In this case the height of the printer aperture was small and has thus left a clear space between the frames. It was narrow, and has thus created a clear space to left and right of the picture. The corners were deeply rounded, which has also left clear round corners. This appearance is found on Méliès films from about mid-1897 through 1901.
(Ill.FC.3). Another Méliès, printed on a step printer. Observe that in this one there is also a clear space between frames, but the corners of the picture are not deeply rounded but are nearly sharp square. Also the picture extends the whole way between the two rows of perforations. The original Méliès prints which the N.F.A. has of 1902 through 1904 are all like this.
The N.F.A. does not have original prints of any of Méliès’ later films; (except one of 1912 which was printed by Pathé and thus has the characteristics of Pathé), and when these films are duped it is usual that some or all of these features are obscured or completely obliterated.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 19–20.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 33.
“There is some evidence of date to be derived from the form of Gaumont’s original titles. On the main titles of their films up to and including 1907, there appeared the name “ELGE” derived from the initial letters of the name “Leon Gaumont”. Before 1907 this trade mark appeared within a circular floral border (Ill.TS.6). During 1907 there was no floral border (Ill.TS.7). In the all-too- frequent event that the main title is missing; the name may also be found on inter-titles (Ill.TS.8).
From 1909 through to the middle of 1910 the form of name on the titles was “Gaumont”, (Ill.TS.9).
Later in 1910 the name “Gaumont” on the main titles was enclosed in the floral border. (Ill.TS.11) which form continued through 1913.
Until 1910, with few exceptions, the titles of the films were tinted Blue. Throughout 1910 the titles were tinted Amber.
From the latter part of 1910 the form of trade mark on the inter-titles was the letter ‘G’ in floral border (Ill.TS.12).
From 1910 onwards the form of trade mark on the titles remained as in 1910 but they were tinted Green.
From the start of 1912 through to 1914 the trade mark on the inter-titles as well as on the Mains was “Gaumont” in the floral border.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 33.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 57.
“Hepworth had a number of practices which can help recognition of his films:
In his earliest films he cut the ends of his negatives in a concave curve. the image of this can be seen in complete prints. (Ill.V.l).
When he began to make films which were not just ail one continuous shot, he sometimes placed a few black frames between shots.
Later, about 1907, some of his films have a black spot over the join between scenes, (Ill.V.2). This was made by punching a hole in the negative.
Later still, from about 1910, he used a great many fades out and in between scenes. These fades were very short; being only 6 to 8 frames long. (Ill.V.3).”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 57.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
“The practice of some producers of printing their name on the margins of their films goes back to very near the beginning of cinema and virtually ceased at the time of the first world war, although there was some slight use thereafter.
Note that the edge marks are sometimes very faint and need to be looked for. The illustrations all show good clear examples.
Note that all the edge marks, here subsequently referred to, are printed photographically [except for Lumière]. It may be seen that while many read from the emulsion side, some read from the base side. I know no significance to this.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 33-35.
“If one looks more closely at the main title in (Ill.TS.7) there is some small writing consisting of a four-figured number followed by the letters ‘AN’. A number in this form seems to have been normal throughout 1907. I have not seen enough films of 1908 to make a statement about that year.
At the beginning of 1909 the form changed to letters ‘ANL’ followed by a four-figured number (Ill.TS.9). This form continued throughout 1910 and 1911. Concerning the meaning of the letters; I take ‘AN’ to be the first letters of the French word for ‘English’ i.e. ‘ANglais’. The significance of the ‘L’ I do not understand, but it may be for ‘Londres’ (London) to distinguish from a differently spelled version for other English-speaking areas; (e.g. U.S.A.). On the German language copies which I have seen, the letters are ‘AL’, presumably for ‘ALlemande’. Some have also the letter ‘B’, perhaps for ‘Berlin’. On Dutch language copies it is ‘NL’.
Early in 1911 there was a change in the titles. In the margin at the bottom left of the title, appeared a black patch (Ill.TS.13). Near the end of 1911 a large white number appeared in that black patch (Ill.TS.14). The explanation of that number is as follows:
After the main title, one counts all the scenes, inter-titles and letters in a single series through the film. The inter-titles have their numbers in large white printed figures in the black patch. Letters have their numbers written in black figures in the same position in the clear margin, (Ill.TS.16). Picture scenes are not marked.
Thus a typical sequence might be:
Early in 1912 the small four-figure number and its associated letters disappear from the bottom left-hand corner of the inter-titles and appear on the black margin patch, but twisted round sideways (Ill.TS.15). This figure has the form ‘AN 3820’ then a small space and a figure ‘3’. This last figure indicates that this is the third inter-title in the film. These numbers are not always as clear as in this example, and the single figure is sometimes cut off by the perforations, so it is worth looking at all the inter-titles.
The four-figured number, whether on the screen area or on the black margin patch, is a production serial number. The list of “Gaumont Films 1906 – 1914” is arranged in order of this serial number. It will be seen that this also proves to be the date order of the films. (There is one exception: Inundations in France, number 2656 appears earlier than its number suggests. I attribute this to its being a subject of topical interest; so that it was sent out more quickly than normal.) Thus by noting the serial number on the title of any unknown Gaumont film of the period, and referring to the list, it is possible to establish its date with a fair degree of accuracy.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 33-35.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 25.
“Cecil Hepworth’s titles are:-
1907 – 1908 (Ill.TS.1) Main title, and (Ill.TS.2) inter-title. These are tinted green.
1909 (Ill.TS.3) Note that this is an inter-title and uses all capital letters. This is tinted pink.
1910 – 1912 (Ill.TS.4) Note that the name in the bottom of the decorative border is ‘Hepwix’. This is tinted amber.
1913 (Ill.TS.5) Is similar to 1910 – 1912, also tinted amber, but the name is ‘Hepworth’.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 25.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 6.
“Until about 1905 the size of perforations was smaller than the present standard ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ perforations, (Ill.P.1/2). These were of different precise shapes as shown by these illustrations; see also (Ill.FC.1-14 & 16/17 & 19/20). From that time a change to larger perforations, similar in shape to the present negative perforation, gradually took place, (Ill.P.3). This is also known as the ‘Bell and Howell’ perforation (B.H.) after the engineers who devised its precise dimensions.
Perforations of this shape and size were then used for all films, both negative and positive until 1924.
After that time negatives continued to have the ‘negative’ (B.H.) perforations, but almost immediately thereafter virtually all projection positives had the new positive [‘Kodak Standard’] perforation [Ill.P.4]), except for the use by Pathé of their own peculiar perforation, which continued until toward the end of the 1920s.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 6.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 6.
“Throughout the period from about 1905 until the end of the silent era, the Pathé organisation used a perforation of distinctive shape. This was of similar shape to the perforation of (Ill.P.3), but of the same height as the ‘positive’ perforation [Ill.P.2], and the corners were rounded, as may be seen in (Ill.P.5). ”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 6.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 64–66.
“SELIG POLYSCOPE FILMS 1908 – 1915
Explanation of abbreviations used in the film list.
[These came from three sources; the Library of Congress copyright registration; American Film Index 1908-15 by Einar Lauritsen & Gunnar Lundquist; and from the Bioscope. There can be a difference amounting to months in the date of copyright registration, of American release, and of the appearance of the film in Britain. I was not able to find reference to all the films in any one of the sources. It could be that in some cases the date which I have found is of a re-issue.]
USA = Has the edge mark of (Ill.PM.15) including the letters ‘U.S.A.’.
EM = Has the edge mark without the letters ‘U.S.A.’.
The film has inter-titles of the style shown in the illustration indicated. The letter states the tint of the title.
R = Red
P = Pink
There are a few titles with a pinky amber colour. It may be that these represent a period of change from Amber to Pink. They are indicated by ‘AP’.
The earliest of the Selig films had a plain background. However, Ranch Life in the Great South-West has a production number in the bottom right-hand corner. Still Alarm has a production number within the diamond, below the wording.
This feature is not on the film.
I have not been able to find the information on this detail.”
[Illustrations title styles]
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 64–66.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 11.
“Motion Picture Patents Company.
This company was not actually a producer, but it is convenient to place it here. The company was formed to protect and exploit Thomas Edison’s patent claims. On some films, of the companies which acknowledged these, may be seen the edge mark (Ill.PM.30) [“LEASED FOR USE ONLY ON MACHINES LICENSED BY MOTION PICTURE PATENTS CO. N.Y. “]. This ties the film to the years 1909-1914. That is to the years of what has been called ‘The Patents War’, in U.S.A.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 11.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 41.
“I have examined 57 films of Cines of the years 1909 to 1914.
Cines changed the style of their main and inter-titles from time to time, and in the absence of other clues this may help with some indication of date of the films.
In 1909 they used a form of trade mark on the main titles consisting of a wolf with two babies, (Romulus and Remus) and the name CINES beneath it. (Ill.TS.17) The associated inter-titles were of style (Ill.TS.18).
In 1910 and throughout 1911 the main titles were in the style of (Ill.TS.19), with inter-titles in the style of (Ill.TS.20). (Ill.TS.25)
None of the Cines films of 1912 in the N.F.A. has a main title, they are all missing; so I have no evidence as to their style.
The N.F.A. has three Cines films of 1913 with their original main titles, and these three all incorporate the name ‘Cines’ into a five-petalled flower motif (Ill.TS.23). Among the films of 1913 the floral motif appears in two different sizes. I know of no significance to this.
Most of the inter-titles of 1913 are as (Ill.TS.24), but two from early 1913 are different (Ill.TS.86 & 88).
Some of the titles of Cines films are printed with sharp square corners to the frame and some with rounded corners. I have found no useful significance to this variation.
In some of the titles the wording is all in capital letters, while others use both capital and small letters. (Ill.TS.20/21). I have found no consistency in the use of the two practices which can help with dating.
The titles in languages other than Italian have a letter indicating the language. Those in Italian have no letter, (Ill.TS.22). (See the explanations of the Film List).”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 41.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 7–8.
“Some of the earlier producers embossed their names or trade marks on the fronts of their films. These are not apparent on the screen but may be seen on the film in the hand, if the beginning of the film has not been lost. These embossed marks also are usually not apparent on a copy when the film is duplicated. I have produced some specimens by taking pencil rubbings on tissue paper. Some of these are, unfortunately, not very clear because the embossings are not very deep, but they can be discerned with care.
Some examples are:
Signature ‘G.Méliès’, (Ill.EP.1).
‘Méliès Star’ in rectangle, (Ill.EP.4).
Méliès had another useful practice. Starting during 1896, he embossed his catalogue number on the fronts of his films (Ill.EP.7), in this case No.147. (Visite Sous-Marine du “Maine”) At that time film stock was manufactured in lengths of about 20 metres (65 feet). Méliès gave a separate number to each 20-metre length, so that a film 40 metres long had two consecutive numbers. (Ill.EP.8), In this case Nos. 309/310 (Nouvelles Luttes Extravagantes) He continued this practice even when he was making films which ran to 300 metres or more. Reference from these numbers to Méliès’ own catalogues, or to Sight and Sound – Index series No.11 – An Index to the Creative Work of Georges Méliès 1896-1912, or to Essai de Reconstitution du Catalogue de la Star-Film of the Service des Archives, Bois d’Arcy, France; will help to provide identification of the film.
In one early specimen which the N.F.A. has, the numbers are scratched on, not embossed, (Ill.EP.9). Whether this represents his early practice before he had the means of embossing, (which may be so, although some other films of about the same time are left blank), or whether it was just an odd exception, I feel it would be rash to assume without the evidence of more cases.
There is also a second set of numbers, on both the scratched and embossed specimens: the significance of which I do not know. See (Ill.EP.7/8/9). In the cases where there are two or more catalogue numbers, there is also the same number of consecutive unknown numbers. I do feel confident that these numbers were put on this film by Méliès, and not by someone else later, because of the presence of the second numbers.
Another practice of Méliès, which can identify films as his, was to punch a hole the shape of a five-pointed star (his trade mark) in the front of the negative. This printed as a black star on the positive prints. His catalogue states that this was in the first frame (Ill.EP.10). Actually it was sometimes in the second or third frame and, in at least one case, it was on the blank spacing just before the first frame (Ill.EP.11).”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 7–8.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 10.
Almost all the films of the years 1909 through 1912 carry the edge mark ‘SOCIETÀ ITALIANA “CINES” ROMA’ (Ill.PM.11).
The films of 1913 onward do not have this edge mark. The N.F.A. has a copy of Julius Cesar, made in 1914. This has the mark ‘INGLESE’ on each edge at 14-frame intervals. A section on the very end of the film has the word ‘SPANA’ in similar form. This seems to be merely to indicate the language of the copy; English and Spanish respectively. All the Cines films have the same mark on both edges.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 10.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 35–40.
“The four-figured number, whether on the screen area or on the black margin patch, is a production serial number. The list of “Gaumont Films 1906 – 1914” is arranged in order of this serial number. It will be seen that this also proves to be the date order of the films. (There is one exception: Inundations in France, number 2656 appears earlier than its number suggests. I attribute this to its being a subject of topical interest; so that it was sent out more quickly than normal.) Thus by noting the serial number on the title of any unknown Gaumont film of the period, and referring to the list, it is possible to establish its date with a fair degree of accuracy.
The following list, with the explanation of the abbreviations used, sets out the features described above in respect of the films examined.
GAUMONT FILMS 1906 – 1914
Explanation of abbreviations used in the film list
The original French title is given first when known; then the English title when known; then any other language title.
This is the date of the first known mention in the British trade press, in the order ‘day’, ‘month’, ‘year’. Most are from the Bioscope. Those which do not give a day, are from a monthly publication.
Serial number and letters.
Td Mk. on M.T
Trade Mark on Main Title. When the main title is missing from the copy the title is enclosed in brackets ‘[ ]’.
The film has no inter-titles, or no original Gaumont ones.
There is no Trade Mark on the inter-titles. On both Main Titles and Inter-titles
‘GAU’ = The name ‘Gaumont’ appears in full.
‘G’ = Only the initial letter ‘G’ appears.
‘F’ = The trade mark has the floral border.
Tint of the Main and Inter-titles.
‘A’ = Amber
‘B’ = Blue
‘G’ = Green
‘P’ = Pink
‘W’ = Black & white
An asterisk ‘*’ is in this column when the serial number appears in the projected area of the titles.
An asterisk ‘*’ is in this column when the titles have the black margin patch.
A letter ‘L’ is in this column when a large white number appears in the black margin patch. A letter ‘s’ is in this column when the small serial number appears in the black margin patch.
In this column:
‘N’ – when there is none in the film.
‘@’ – when the interim letter is placed sideways.
‘Y’ – when the interim character is similar to letter ‘Y’.
‘P’ – when the mark is on the edge of picture.
‘T’ – when the mark is on the edge of titles.
‘/’ – when only part of the copy has an edge mark.
This detail is not known. In these cases I may have seen only a duplicate on which these details were obscured; or otherwise did not have sufficient access to determine them.
This is believed to be not the true title.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 35–40.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 28.
“It was the practice of some producers, in the period up to some time during the 1914-1918 war, to place a number somewhere within the main title and/or inter-titles. This was some sort of serial number of the production. With some producers this number ran through the whole of their productions of whatever kind of subject. Others had separate series for different kinds of film. Some also included a number indicating the order of the inter titles. Some also included letters which constitute the initial letters of the title of the film, presumably in the language of origin rather than the language of the titles. Others included a letter or letters identifying the language of the titles. All this was apparently to assist in assembling the various scenes and titles into complete copies; but to us they can constitute clues to the dates and identities of the films.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 28.)
Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 31–32.
The N.F.A. has five Thanhouser films which have the trade mark appearing in scenes. These are all in the date range 1909 through 1912. None have been found with trade mark after 1912. See (Ill.TM.17), and (Ill.TM.18). I have chosen to use these two because they show peculiarities. (Ill.TM.17) is a comparatively rare case of a trade mark appearing in an exterior scene. It may be that it is a studio shot depicting an exterior. This is from The Old Curiosity Shop, based upon the novel of Charles Dickens. This is reviewed in the Bioscope of 22.02.12. This film was clearly printed by Pathé. It has Pathé’s edge mark, Pathé perforations as in (Ill.P.5), and the whole intangible feel and appearance of Pathé film – except for the frame characteristics, (Ill.FC.42) and the Thanhouser trade mark.
(Ill.TM.18) is similar in its relation to Pathé. The film came to the Archive with replacement titles which are neither Thanhouser’s nor Pathé’s, but are of Belgian creation. The Belgian title is Laitier Millionaire, and it is reviewed in the Bioscope on 19.12.1912 under the title Millionaire Milkman as a Pathé film.”
(Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on pp. 31–32.)