This database was created in 2012 and has been developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich to provide comprehensive information about historical film color processes invented since the end 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.
Timeline of Historical Film Colors is started with Barbara Flueckiger’s research at Harvard University in the framework of her project Film History Re-mastered, funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, 2011-2013.
In 2013 the University of Zurich and Swiss National Science Foundation awarded additional funding for the elaboration of this web resource. 80 financial contributors sponsored the crowdfunding campaign Database of Historical Film Colors with more than USD 11.100 in 2012. In addition, the Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts provided a major contribution to the development of the database. Many further persons and institutions have supported the project, see acknowledgements.
Since February 2016 the database has been redeveloped in the framework of the research project Film Colors. Technologies, Cultures, Institutions funded by a grant from Swiss National Science Foundation, see project details on SNSF grant database.
Follow the links “Access detailed information ›” to access the currently available detail pages for individual processes. These pages contain an image gallery, a short description, a bibliography of original papers and secondary sources connected to extended quotes from these sources, downloads of seminal papers and links. We are updating these detail pages on a regular basis.
In June 2015, the European Research Council awarded the prestigious Advanced Grant to Barbara Flueckiger for her new research project FilmColors. Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Aesthetics, see press release of the University of Zurich and short abstract on the university’s research database.
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The development of the project started in fall 2011 with stage 1. Each stage necessitated a different financing scheme. We are now in stage 3 and are looking for additional funding by private sponsors. Please use the Stripe interface to pay conveniently online or transfer your financial contribution directly to
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“Nella sceneggiatura di Carnevalesca, architrave dell’intero sistema era la scansione in sette carnevali (azzurro, verde, blu, rosso, giallo, arancio, violetto) incorniciati da altri due in posizione di incipit (carnevale bianco) ed explicit (carnevale nero). Ciascuno dei sette carnevali centrali indicava una sezione del film colorata nella tinta corrispondete, a prescindere da eventuali cambi di luce ed elementi ambientali e atmosferici; i due carnevali di cornice indicavano le sezioni lasciate in bianco e nero. Inoltre, per i primi quattro carnevali (bianco, azzurro, verde e blu), impostati sui modi della commedia, erano previste per ciascuno dei rispettivi colori tonalità chiare; per quello successivo, che preparava il cambio di registro, tonalità di rosso continuamente cangianti; infine, per gli ultimi quattro (giallo, arancio, violetto e nero), drammaturgicamente affini alla tragedia, le tonalità prescritte erano più scure. Ancora, delle otto transizioni complessive tra un carnevale e il successivo, corrispondenti al passaggio da un colore all’altro, cinque tra quelle centrali (azzurro/verde, verde/blu, rosso/giallo, giallo/arancio, arancio/violetto) erano marcate dal quadro emblematico di un prisma in movimento, che costituiva un evidente rimando a Newton e all’ordito spettrale del film62.
Del film è stata rinvenuta e restaurata una copia nel 199364. Essa rivela un’architettura meno chiara rispetto a quella progettata da d’Ambra65. Risulta problematico stabilire quanto questa versione sia conforme a una del tutto teorica editio princeps del film, mentre è pressoché impossibile congetturare in quante versioni, e con quante e quali varianti cromatiche e strutturali, esso abbia circolato in Italia e all’estero: le testimonianze scritte sono in proposito piuttosto timide e lasciano supporre che il film andò incontro, come da consuetudini dell’epoca, a tagli operati direttamente da distributori ed esercenti66. Ad ogni modo, in quanto ancora oggi è dato di vedere nella copia restaurata, si possono cogliere le tracce del progetto originario e ipotizzare dunque che esso persistesse – impossibile dire con quale grado di aderenza – anche nella versione effettivamente girata da Palermi.
62 Per una più dettagliata descrizione della sceneggiatura, cfr. Mazzei 2003, vol. 1, pp. 231–241.
64 La copia è stata rinvenuta a Montevideo e restaurata nel 1993 dalla Cineteca di Bologna.
65 Michele Canosa, che al film ha dedicato un interessante e pionieristico studio, propende per la suddivisione in quattro carnevali, ipotizzando un parallelismo con le stagioni dell’anno e con le età dell’uomo: bianco, azzurro, rosso, nero (cfr. Canosa 1996b). Oltre a non collimare con l’idea iniziale di d’Ambra, tuttavia, questa ipotesi rende assai più vago il riferimento al sistema spettrale, che in certe immagini del film – come vedremo – appare invece rafforzato.
66 Il seguente passo – pubblicato antecedentemente alla prima (Roma, Cinema corso, 1 marzo 1918) – lascerebbe supporre anche per il film una scansione dei carnevali affine a quella della sceneggiatura: “la Vita ha, come il sole, come il prisma, tutti i sette colori dell’iride. Uomini, vecchi, fanciulli… “/ “E a traverso i sette colori della Vita i personaggi vivono la loro commedia e il loro dramma” (Blios 1917); in un passo immediatamente precedente dello stesso articolo si parla inoltre di “[…] Vita […] colta e prospettata ora in tinte sanguigne, ora in tinte rosse, ora in tinte celesti” (ibidem). Un articolo apparso dopo l’uscita del film menziona esplicitamente tre carnevali (bianco, rosso, nero): “e quando credete che il dramma cominci, comincia invece il carnevale dei bambini – il carnevale bianco – (“La vita cinematografica” 1918, p. 54); “finalmente, quando la fantasia dell’autore si è ben bene sbizzarrita e vi ha letificato fino al punto di volergli far grazia del resto e prendere la porta, ecco che incomincia davvero il dramma: – carnevale rosso – dramma grave, pesante e voluto. Ma siamo già alla fine o quasi” (ibidem) e infine: “…la commedia ze finida… avrebbe detto Arlecchino, e invece doveva incominciare il – carnevale nero” (ivi, p. 55). Quanto ai tagli, alcuni li auspicano, altri li documentano. Si vedano i due seguenti passi: “troppi titoli; troppa letteratura. La pellicola va tagliata e se ci risparmia un po’ di quel prisma luminoso, ci fa un vero piacere” (Torelli 1918, p. 6); “però la direzione del Salone Ghersi [sala cinematografica torinese] ha soppresso – molto giudiziosamente – non poca parte di scene perfettamente inutili, e più che inutili, ingombranti” (“La vita cinematografica” 1918, p. 55, corsivo nell’originale).
Blios (1917), Divagazioni artistiche. “Carnevalesca“, in “Film“, IV, n. 37, 12 dicembre 1917, p. 4.
Canosa, Michele (1996b), Note sul linguaggio dei colori in “Carnevalesca“, in Dall’Asta/Pescatore/Quaresima, a cura di, 1996, pp. 52–55.
Dall’Asta, Monica; Pescatore, Guglielmo; Quaresima, Leonardo, a cura di (1996), Il colore nel cinema muto, Mano, Bologna.
“La vita cinematografica” (1918), “Carnevalesca“, in “La vita cinematografica“, IX, nn. 11-12, 22-31 marzo 1918, pp. 54–55.
Mazzei, Luca (2003), ‘Ebbe viva la passione per il cinema’. Lucio D’Ambra fra scrivanie di redazione, teatri e set, tesi di dottorato, Dipartimento della comunicazione letteraria e dello spettacolo, Università degli studi di Roma tre, 2 voli.
Torelli, Guglielmo (1918), “Carnevalesca“, in “Contropelo“, III, n. 10, 9 marzo 1918, p. 6.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 79–82.) (in Italian)
“The qualities of the Dufaycolor animated films are distinctive, especially when compared with the part-Dufaycolor live-action short film The King’s Stamp (William Coldstream, 1935), which details the designing of the King’s Jubilee stamps. After an opening sequence in black and white, the first colour sequence features the stamps being printed. The printing rolls and gumming machines are shown, as the stamps are rolled off cylinders with oranges and blues dominant. A black-and-white sequence detailing the history of stamps from the Victorian period follows, with colour used to display the ‘Penny Black’ and the ‘Tuppenny Blue’ stamps. A further historical sequence follows in black and white, with colour returning at the end to show off the 1935 stamps in close-up. Although interesting, this rather ponderous display of colour intermittently placed in an otherwise monochrome film cannot really compete with the arresting, inventive playfulness of the Dufaycolor animated films.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on p. 41.)
With Our King and Queen Through India [The Delhi Durbar] (GBR 1912, Natural Color Kinematograph Co.)
“In the preceding years Kinemacolor, however, enjoyed notoriety by being demonstrated to prestigious audiences including the royal family, numerous tided personages and representatives of society’s elite. Urban began his campaign to develop the process as a quality product designed to appeal to discerning exhibitors and audiences attracted by the novelty of colour as a scientific, spectacular attraction he hoped would transform cinema into an educational, ‘uplifting’ institution. Colour was thus equated with quality and prestige, rather than being considered vulgar or associated with lower-class taste. Urban’s marketing of Kinemacolor was influential in advancing ideas about British colour cinema as tasteful, for the discerning, patriotic viewer. The connection with royalty was of fundamental importance to Kinemacolor’s success. Members of the royal family were frequently invited to special screenings and they featured as subjects in films of national events such as the funeral of Edward VII in May 1910, the Coronation of George V in June 1911 and Investiture of the Prince of Wales in July 1910. The royal tour of India and Coronation Durbar at Delhi filmed in December 1911-January 1912 was probably Kinemacolor’s most celebrated triumph of capturing the pageantry, spectacle and magnitude of ceremonial occasions and glorifying the British Empire which, as McKernan has noted, coincided with a policy of ‘increased visibility’ for the British royal family and popular demand to see them on screen.40The Delhi Durbar was a magnificent ceremonial event to anoint King George V as Emperor of India. As such it represented the apotheosis of British imperialism preserved ‘for all time’, as The Bioscope put it, by Kinemacolor, ‘the modern Elixir of Life’.41 Urban’s ‘scooping’ of such occasions was a unique selling point that served two convenient objectives: first, to brand Kinemacolor as a high-class, quality product that presented moving images of people and places audiences would seldom, if ever, have seen before; and, second, the very novelty of seeing those people and places on screen paradoxically, and for some time, detracted from Kinemacolor’s technical shortcomings and perceived lack of full-spectrum reproducibility. The aura of royalty, exotic places and cultures made up, to some extent, for technical imperfections; audiences were arguably drawn in by the spectacle of royalty rather than colour per se, although these attractions tended to reinforce one another. […]
For long, prestigious Kinemacolor films, on occasion, lecturers would accompany touring companies to introduce and provide informative commentary for specific titles such as the Durbar film. Advertising leaflets were also issued to exhibitors. These described Kinemacolor’s superior technical attributes and why the process was so important. Urban’s control over commentary on the films by means of published programmes and lecture notes written for the purpose of supporting film screenings also acted as a brake on criticism which might otherwise have focused attention on Kinemacolor’s problems […].
As we shall see in Chapter 2, fringing was a problem that dogged subsequent processes such as Prizma and Claude Friese-Greene’s experiments in the 1920s; fringing rather than colour rendition became the most problematic issue for additive systems. As Kinemacolor cameraman William T. Crespinel explained: ‘If one waved a hand, it would appear as red and blue-green for the reason that there was a lapse of time between the red and blue-green exposure in the camera. Had both images been photographed simultaneously, there would have been no lapse of time between exposures.’43The Delhi Durbar films were generally praised, but one report singled out an incidence of unintended spectacle when soldiers walked ‘with the red stripes on their trousers and their red coats following along behind them’.44 […]
What is curious is that even though the Bioschemes court case drew attention to Kinemacolor’s inability to render blue, Kinemacolor was occasionally admired for achieving blue tones, as one report of the Delhi Durbar film attests: ‘Even the sky, which throughout serves as a frame for the human spectacle, is a thing to wonder at; it is one pure sheet of palpitating light, blue with a blueness of which one can only dream here in grey England, deep, intense, unruffled, like one gigantic sapphire.’48 Even though the colour palette achieved with Kinemacolor was clearly deficient as far as blue and purple were concerned, projecting the film onto a light blue screen helped overcome these problems and may explain the enthusiastic comments about blue.49 In addition, giving evidence to the court in the Bioschemes vs Natural Color Kinematograph Co. Ltd case, G. A. Smith made the point that even though an image of a Union Jack flag might not have very blue sections, more grey or even black, the viewer’s cultural expectation to see blue could indeed convince her/him that it was actually present.50 This example draws attention to the complex factors that come into play when trying to assess the impact of colour; the power of suggestion and symbolism are important influences on colour perception.
40 Luke McKernan, ‘”The Modern Elixir of Life”: Kinemacolor, Royalty and the Delhi Durbar‘, Film History vol. 21 no. 2, 2009, pp. 122–36.
41 Ibid., p. 131.
43 William A. Crespinell, ‘Pioneer Days in Colour Motion Pictures with William T. Crespinel’, Film History vol. 12 no. 1, 2000, p. 59.
44 John Scotland, The Talkies (London: C. Lockwood & Son, 1930), p. 166.
48The Bioscope, 8 February 1912.
49 Paolo Cherchi Usai, Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London: BFI, 2000), p. 29.
50 G. A. Smith, unpublished evidence in URB 7/2/6, pp. 292. This reference is also cited by Luke McKernan, ‘”Something More than a Mere Picture Show”: Charles Urban and the early non-fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897-25’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 2003, p. 179.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 13–15.)
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté bleu (virage bleu) blue tinted stock with blue toning, toplight and backlight, magnification, Swiss collector’s copy. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
“Für Heckroth scheint schon ganz am Anfang, 1945, die Richtung klar, in Caesar and Cleopatra von Gabriel Pascal, seinem Kinodebüt: Schon da sind die Farben der Kostüme genutzt, um dem Drama eine klarere Struktur zu geben. Wenn der herrische Feldherr und die kindliche Königin sich im Palast gegenüberstehen, er in seiner schwarz-gold-roten Uniform, sie in ihrem gold-türkisen Kleid, bekommt die Spannung zwischen ihnen durch den farblichen Kontrast eine weitere, geradezu frivole Nuance. Im Kontext ihres Spiels – des Konflikts zwischen souveräner Macht und koketter Laszivität – entspricht gerade der Zusammenprall von Rot und Blaugrün dem suggestiven Zauber, der die beiden zugleich vereint und trennt. Die Farben sind dabei nicht in den Dienst der Geschichte noch ihrer Dramaturgie gestellt, sondern stehen ganz für sich – als Ausdruck ambivalenter Leidenschaft.
In Caesar and Cleopatra, A Matter of Life and Death und Black Narcissus war Hein Heckroth zuständig für die Kostüme, für Form, Schnitt und Farbe. Bereits diese frühe Arbeiten zeugen von seiner Neigung, mit deutlichen, starken FarbSignalen Nebenwege zu öffnen, die wegführen von der vordergründigen Erzähllinie, weg von Rationalität und Psychologie. Zum Ziel ist statt dessen der Zauber des Bunten genommen, überhaupt alles Magische, das noch nicht domestiziert ist von vorgegebenem Sinn und konventioneller Bedeutung. Die Kostüme zielen in ihren Farben nicht auf Realitätstreue, nicht auf naturalistische Entsprechung, sondern allein auf Kontur und Kontrast – und darüber: auf Emotion und Emphase.”
(Grob, Norbert (1991): Farbe im Auge, Ausdruck im Kopf. Hein Heckroths Farbdramaturgien für Powell & Pressburger. In: Katharina Spielhaupter (ed.): Hein Heckroth. Frankfurt/M.: Filmmuseum, pp. 57–78, on pp. 57–60.) (in German)
“This chapter deals with the construction of cinematic space in Hitchcock’s first experiments with color: Rope (1948), Under Capricorn (1949), and Dial M for Murder (1953). These films are characterized by a rather restrained palette contributing to the creation of a claustrophobic interior, which is central to the plot of these films. Unmistakably in line with the contemporaneous “low key” genres of the Gothic melodrama and film noir, Hitchcock’s earliest color films clearly differ from the glaring colors of his later films that established him as one of the great colorists of film history although only fifteen of his fifty-three films are in color.
In contrast with his films of the later 1950s, in which color is first and foremost invoked to construct exterior public spaces, Hitchcock’s earliest color films use color to create a specific atmosphere that is inherently linked to domestic interiors. In films such as Rope, Under Capricorn, Dial M for Murder, and Rear Window (1954), the narrative is largely or even exclusively situated in domestic spaces that become oppressive and claustrophobic (Jacobs 2007). This tallies with Hitchcock’s Gothic melodramas of the 1940s that present the house as a place of confinement (Doane 1987: 123–154; Waldman 1991). […] By turning the familiar domestic environment into a place of fear, Hitchcock developed into a master of the uncanny. The color films Rope, Under Capricorn, and Dial M for Murder are variations on this Gothic theme, which are set in domestic spaces: a Manhattan penthouse, a Georgian country house in New South Wales, and an apartment in a London Edwardian Mansion House respectively. What’s more, these houses are places where a murder takes place and/or where a character gets the impression that he or she will be killed by another inhabitant. Instead of a place of safety and domestic bliss, the house becomes a trap and an uncanny place of treason, suspicion, and danger. Light and color play an important part in this process.
dial m for murder
Hitchcock’s third color film was Dial M for Murder, which tells another story about somebody trying to kill another resident of his own house. This time, the story is situated in the ground floor apartment of a London mansion. Its interior is marked by sober and elegant classical decorations. The living room has eggshell colored walls and is richly furnished with seats, armchairs, side-tables, and a writing desk. In addition, the apartment is richly decorated and the sophistication of its residents is expressed by the presence of some artworks. A Warner Brothers press release states that “because he is a man of taste and culture, Hitchcock hand-picked many of the props, including an original Rosa Bonheur oil painting, long hidden in Warners’ property gallery, and a pair of valuable Wedgewood vases” (Jacobs 2007: 107). Some of these art works, such as the Bonheur painting, fauve paintings, and a postimpressionist flower piece, render touches of color to the restricted palette of the interior, which is beautifully rendered by Robert Burks’ Warnercolor photography.
Again, the subdued colors emphasize the feeling of an enclosed and confined space. Its boundaries are not only underlined by the motifs of the locked door and the latchkey but also by the closed large window curtain – its dark green called “oppressive” by Johnson (1966: 9–10). In addition, the boundaries of the confined space are marked by a series of high angle shots whereas the claustrophobic feeling is further elaborated by the 3-D process. Although Hitchcock refused to capitulate to the outrageous eccentricities of 3-D gimmickry (no objects are thrown in the face of the viewer), he favored compositions that place lamps, knickknacks, and pieces of furniture of diverging colors in the foreground, walls well in the background, and human subjects in a middle-ground. In addition, a subtle depth of field is created by the camera, favoring low positions and gliding fluently around the furniture. In so doing, Hitchcock used the 3-D process to create dramatic effects, emphasizing the ways in which the apartment serves as a trap for the characters.
Again, the contrast between light and darkness contributes to this effect. Crucial scenes such as the planning of the murder, the murder itself (actually an attempted murder that turns into the killing of the murderer), and the exposing of the criminal are shown in darkness – with the light of the fireplace, the light from an adjacent room coming under the door, or a flash light as dramatic elements. Against the quiet and almost monochrome background of harmonious colors of the interior, the changing colors of Margot’s dresses are remarkable. Wearing a color perfectly in harmony with the background in the company of her husband in the opening scene, Margot (Grace Kelly) is dressed in sparkling red in the subsequent scene with her American lover. As Laurent Fiévet (1995: 72–73) has noted, Hitchcockian red is often associated with the red theater curtain. Since Hitchcock heroines tend to appear late in the film, they are often surrounded by red indicating that the plot truly begins. According to Fiévet, in Hitchcock, red is also the color of fake appearances and of lies and he mentions Margot as an example. Later in the film, she is shown with a blue night gown during the murder scene as if she has merged into her domestic setting. The day after the murder, she is dressed in dark blue and she wears a brown coat in the final scene blending with the background again. Like Milly, the housemaid in Under Capricorn, she repeatedly becomes part of the interior. Referring to Scottie in the hospital room in Vertigo, Marnie disappearing in the urban gray, and Roger Thornhill in the vast wasteland of North by Northwest, Allen (2006: 134) noted that “loss of identity or emotional vacuity is evoked in precise moments in Hitchcock films through the loss of color.” Margot is also wearing dark clothes during the scene of the trial, which is in many ways remarkable in respect to color. Apart from some establishing shots of the apartment’s exterior, a shot in a cab, a view of an arriving ship, and some shots in a restaurant, the courtroom scene is the only scene that does not take place in the apartment itself. It is a scene, however, without spatial coordinates or in which space is exclusively constructed by color and light. Only a medium close-up of Margot and the judge are visible and they are shown against a monochrome background, which changes from blue to red. It is as if this red reverberates the blood that intruded and destroyed the home, which in Hitchcock is never a site of domestic bliss. Years before Marnie’s obsession with red, the blood stain on the carpet in this bourgeois apartment acts as an intriguingly strange object. It is not only a literal stain on the floor but also an uncanny detail in the mise-en scène, a stain in the visual field or what Zizek (1999) has called a “Hitchcockian blot.”
the restrained mode
In his three first color films (and, to a large extent, also in his next color film Rear Window), Hitchcock favored muted colors before he started to celebrate the exuberance of glorious Technicolor from the mid-1950s onwards. This line of approach was already announced by Hitchcock in 1937, ten years before his first color film:
I should never want to fill the screen with color: it ought to be used economically – to put new words into the screen’s visual language when there’s a need for them. You could start to color film with a boardroom scene: somber paneling and furniture, the director’s all in dark clothes and white collars. Then the chairman’s wife comes in wearing a red hat. She takes the attention of the audience at once, just because of that one note of color. (Hitchcock 1937: 258)
In so doing, Hitchcock’s early color experiments tally with what Higgins (2007: 76–136) terms the subdued or restrained mode of Technicolor filming which flourished in the late 1930s. […] Hitchcock’s first color films are characterized by narrow palettes and tight harmonies although this restrained mode allows for an occasionally overt display of color, dramatic punctuation, and elegant decoration. This predilection for muted colors can also be linked to the generic conventions of the somber domestic melodrama and the crime thriller, which both in the 1940s and early 1950s reached their apex in the “black-and-white” and “low key” genres of the Gothic romance film and film noir. Together with John Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1946), Rope was one of the first crime thrillers shot in color. In addition, Hitchcock’s subdued palette contributes to the creation of a claustrophobic interior, which is central to the plot of these films. Consequently, color plays an important part in the integration of the characters in the surrounding interior. However, blending the characters with their environment entailed specific problems in color photography. On the set of his first color feature Rope, Hitchcock was surprised to see the extent to which actors were separated from the background through the use of backlights even though in color there was no need for this (unless the actor should be dressed in exactly the same color as the background). In his famous interview with François Truffaut (1984: 183), Hitchcock stated that he truly believed that “the problem of lighting in color film has not been solved. […]” Last but not least, in Rope, Under Capricorn, and Dial M for Murder, specific colors, color combinations, and pictorial light effects help to mark the difference between inside and outside, and hence often between on screen and off screen. In so doing, colors greatly add to the construction of the motif of intrusion.
Allen, R. (2006) “Hitchcock’s Color Designs”, in A. Dalle Vacche and B. Price (eds) Color: The Film Reader, New York: Routledge: 131–44.
Doane, M. A. (1987) The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s, Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.
Fiévet, L. (1995) “Vertiges chromatiques, Alfred Hitchcock: Vertigo“, in J. Aumont (ed.) La Couleur en cinéma, Paris: Cinémathèque française: 72–73.
Higgins, S. (2007) Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Hitchcock, A. (1937) “Direction”, in S. Gottlieb (ed.) (1995) Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, London: Faber & Faber: 253–261.
Jacobs, S. (2007) The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.
Johnson, W. (1966) “Coming to Terms with Color”, Film Quarterly 20,1 (Autumn): 2–22.
Truffaut, F. (1984) Hitchcock/Truffaut, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Waldman, D. (1991) “Architectural Metaphor in the Gothic Romance Film”, Iris 12: 55–70.
Zizek, S. (1999) “The Hitchcockian Blot”, in R. Allen and S. I. Gonzalès (eds.) Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays, London: BFI: 123–140.”
(Jacobs, Steven (2013): Color and Containment. Domestic Spaces and Restrained Palettes in Hitchcock’s First Color Films. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 179–188, on pp. 179–187.)
“When the BFI National Archive restored another Hitchcock film, The Lodger (1927), in 1984, it was done using tinting and toning to replicate the original technique that had iron blue and amber tint for exterior scenes to produce an eerie, smog-like effect for the London night scenes.83
83 Paul Read, ‘Tinting and Toning Techniques and their Adaptation for the Restoration of Archive Film’, in All the Colours of the World: Colours in Early Mass Media, 1900-30 (Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, 1998), p. 161.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on p. 20.)
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté bleu (virage brun) blue tinted stock with brown toning, toplight and backlight, Swiss collector’s copy. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté rouge (virage bleu) red tinted stock with blue toning, backlight, Swiss collector’s copy. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
Virages sur mordançage, Bleu (blue mordant toning). Credit: Clayton Scoble and Stephen Jennings, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté orange (virage bleu) orange tinted stock with blue toning, backlight, Swiss collector’s copy. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
“Opfergang dagegen hat klarere Konturen, deutlichere Kontraste. “An der Intensität der Rottöne… lassen die dramatischen Höhepunkte sich ablesen”.32 Als Variation zwischen Weiß und Rot läßt sich der Film sehen, wo die Dinge in Bewegung geraten, wo die Emotionen dominieren; als Variation zwischen Schwarz/Dunkelblau und Grau, wo die Geschichte sich verfestigt, wo die Ordnung dominiert. Wenn die Farben wechseln (Raddatz plötzlich ein rotes Halstuch oder während der Karnevalsequenz eine rote Maske trägt, Söderbaum bei einem Ausritt überraschend ein schwarzes Kostüm), geraten auch die eingespielten Arrangements durcheinander. Harlan trennt hier nicht zwischen Verstand und Kostüm: Trägt ein Mann eine rote Maske, ist er offensichtlich nicht ganz bei sich; und kommt eine lebenslustige Frau in Schwarz daher, muß sie die Ordnungsprinzipien vertreten, für die der Mann im Moment keine Kraft oder keinen Sinn aufbringt.
Harlans FarbÄsthetik zielt auf dramatische Effekte, die seinen strikten, deutschnationalen Geschichten einen offeneren, ambivalenteren, karnevalesken Sinn unterlegen.
32 Frieda Grafe, FarbFilmFest 1–12. Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin 1988, S. 7″
(Grob, Norbert (1991): Farbe im Auge, Ausdruck im Kopf. Hein Heckroths Farbdramaturgien für Powell & Pressburger. In: Katharina Spielhaupter (ed.): Hein Heckroth. Frankfurt/M.: Filmmuseum, pp. 57–78, on p. 63.) (in German)
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté ambre (virage bleu) amber tinted stock with blue toning, toplight and backlight, Swiss collector’s copy. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
Credit: Copyright: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden. Source: Archivo Nacional de la Imagen – Sodre, Montevideo/ Cineteca di Bologna. Film: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (GER 1919, Robert Wiene).
We have seen that the departures from exact colour reproduction inherent in colour photography are of a fundamental and more or less incurable nature. It is necessary, therefore, to consider how important such departures are in practice, and in particular whether errors in some directions are more important than those in others. Before classifying errors under various headings, however, and weighing their relative importance, the way in which colour rendering is judged must be considered for a moment.
Colour photographs are practically never compared side by side with the original scene. Moreover, very few colour photographs are taken with a view to their being seen only by persons who were present at the time of exposure. So the majority of the criticisms of a colour photograph come from persons who never saw the original scene, and whose judgment must be based on some mental comparison between what the picture looks like and what they think it ought to have looked like. The precision of such mental comparisons will depend entirely on the precision of the mental standard used. For instance, if in a colour photograph there was depicted, amongst other things, a pillar-box, then its colour would be mentally compared with one’s impression of the usual colour of pillar-boxes. The impression will be the average of those given by a large number of different pillar-boxes seen on different occasions. And, of course, the colour sensations received will have been subject to the considerable variations caused by differences in the colour, intensity, and the direction of the lighting, whether the surface was wet or dry, dusty or clean, whether the pillar-box had been recently painted or not, etc. The impression, therefore, cannot be precise; and hence, provided that the reproduction of the pillar-box in the colour photograph compares favourably with what a pillar-box could look like, it will generally be acceptable.3
Similarly, all objects of well-known colour give rise to colour sensations which are not always the same and which exhibit quite wide variations. It is these variations, therefore, which govern the tolerances available in colour photography. Let us now consider some of these variations under the headings, lightness, saturation, and hue.
Variations of Lightness
Lightness is probably the attribute of surface colours which varies most from point to point over their surfaces. Any fabric tends to hang in folds, and the troughs will be much darker than the crests. Foliage, and grass, are subject to wide variations in lightness due to the shading of one leaf or blade by another, and due to the difference in orientation with respect to the direction of the incident light. Simultaneous contrast between a patch of colour and its background will also affect its apparent lightness. Thus a given colour will appear much lighter when seen against a black background than when seen against a white background. Thus one would expect errors in lightness reproduction to be relatively unimportant in colour photography, and this is borne out by the fact that there is a considerable range of contrasts over which a colour photograph may vary without detriment.
Variations of Saturation
Saturation also exhibits variations from point to point over a surface, especially on any surface having some sheen or gloss. Such surfaces can also show large increases in saturation when the type of lighting is changed from diffuse to directional, and it is well known that a scene always looks more colourful when the sun is out than when the weather is overcast. The saturation of all colours of distant objects is likely to be decreased by atmospheric haze, and sometimes the effect is strong enough to remove all sensations of colour completely. Reference has already been made to the presence of dust or dirt on surfaces, and while this may result in some changes of lightness, the change in saturation will be considerable. Wetting a matte surface often results in startling increases in saturation. The saturation of the blueness of the sky varies enormously with the direction of viewing relative to the sun, and similar variations occur, of course, in the case of the blueness of seas, rivers and lakes. The apparent saturation of colours also varies with the intensity of the illumination; for instance, at dusk colours are far less saturated than at noon, and by moonlight colour vision has almost ceased, all colours appearing almost completely desaturated.
The use of illuminants of different colours, such as tungsten light and daylight, also results in variations in apparent colour,4 and in the case of blues and yellows the differences in saturation can be considerable. Similar effects also occur, of course, with different phases of daylight, such as noon sunlight, north sky light and late evening sunlight. Again simultaneous contrast can alter the apparent saturations of colours. A pale colour seen against its complementary colour appears more saturated than when against a saturated colour of the same hue. It would thus be expected that errors in saturation would not be of very great importance. This is borne out by the appearance of many water-colour paintings, in which the colours are usually quite pale, but which as pictures are often highly successful. It seems that rather than requiring exact reproduction of saturation, all that is necessary is a reasonable saturation-maximum for each hue, and a uniform desaturation of colours of all hues and saturations, since this is what normally occurs in the conditions mentioned above. In terms of the purity characteristic curve, suggested by Wright,5 this means that the purity gamma can have a value substantially below unity, but that it should have the same value for all hues, and that the curve should be linear with saturation.
Variations of Hue
Let hue as a variable in surface colours now be considered. Simultaneous contrast can cause apparent changes in the hues of colours, but it is clear that most of the phenomena described above, which give rise to changes in lightness and saturation, do not give rise to any changes in the hues of colours. The hues of some objects, however, are quite variable. For instance, foliage varies in hue with time of year and with type of tree, and nearly all fruits change hue with degree of ripeness, as well as being different for different varieties. The colour of flesh varies with type of skin, and, of course, with amount of sunburn. There are, of course, other objects the hues of which vary, but, generally speaking, variations in hue, while important, would seem to be more restricted in surface colours than variations in lightness and saturation. It is, for instance, easier to think of a pillar-box which is a light or a dark red, or a pale or a deep red, than to think of one which is an orange- or magenta-red.
By this type of argument, and by experience, an approximate order of priority in the requirements, as far as colour is concerned, of a successful process of colour reproduction is arrived at, as follows:6
1. Correctness of hue.
2. Approximately equal desaturation of colours of all hues.
3. Approximately proportional desaturation of colours of all saturations.
By way of illustration of these principles it is a well-known fact that in colour reproduction the variable with the least tolerance is the overall colour balance of the picture. If the picture is slightly off balance, pale colours will undergo violent changes of hue, and it is these which make off-balance pictures so intolerable.
It is concluded, therefore, that, owing to the way in which the colours in a photograph are judged, and owing to the large changes in colour which well-known objects so often undergo, the discrepancies inherent in present-day methods of colour photography can be tolerated. That is not to say, of course, that improvement is not desirable, and in certain types of process special devices have to be resorted to in order to overcome some of the discrepancies because they have exceeded the admittedly very wide tolerances.
Most of the effects described in the paper were demonstrated during the lecture, either by actual experiments or by means of colour transparencies.
3Phot. J., 91B, p. 2, 1951.
4G.E.C. Journal, 18, Apr., 1951.
5J. Brit. Kine. Soc., 13, p. 1, 1948.
6Phot. J., 91B, p. 107, 1951.”
(Hunt, R.W.G. (1951): Colour Cinematography and the Human Eye. In: British Kinematography, 19,6, pp. 173–180, on pp. 176–178.)
Virage No 1 (bleu) blue toning. Credit: Clayton Scoble and Stephen Jennings, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
Blue. Tinted safety base. Source: Eastman Kodak Company (1927): Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film. Fourth Edition. Revised. Rochester NY: Research Laboratories Eastman Kodak Company. Photograph by Martin Weiss, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.
“When the British film industry was going through a period of expansion, followed by a financial crash in 1937-38, the risks and opportunities presented by colour acquired a compelling force. Producers such as Alexander Korda were enthusiastic, making several films in Technicolor […]. He argued that, despite the extra costs, colour was particularly attractive to female cinemagoers. Yet even with his appreciation for colour Korda emphasised that ‘its greatest triumph is that it is no longer remarkable’.52 By the end of the 1930s Technicolor aesthetics had shifted somewhat from the early ‘demonstration’ mode described by Scott Higgins towards the ‘unobtrusiveness’ that followed after The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936).53 The latter was praised in Britain for ‘admirable restraint’, capturing the outdoor scenery in a ‘true’ way.54 […]
Yet some commentators were prepared to go further and consider how colour invited a different approach to techniques, such as lighting. Bernard Knowles, who assisted Technicolor cinematographer Bill Skall on The Mikado (1939), advocated that instead of assuming lighting should be flat for colour, thought should go into colour distribution within a frame. He also saw that the introduction of colour presented challenges and opportunities for greater cooperation between art directors, directors and cinematographers. Unusually, he argued that the scriptwriter’s approach was most radically affected by colour since ‘He must not only visualise the story but must be able to appreciate how the telling of that story in colour is going to affect his writing of it … Colour must be written before it can be used intelligently.’59 Indeed, these principles can be seen at work in The Mikado, the first screen adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta produced and adapted by Geoffrey Toye and directed by Victor Schertzinger. The subject’s theatrical origins were highly appropriate for colour cinematography, and care was taken with sets and costumes to display shades that were praised for being ‘exquisitely lovely’.60 The lavish advertising campaign highlighted the film as a ‘screen event’, which was all the more notable for its Technicolor.61 Examples of colour being ‘written’ for the film include the contrasting costumes worn by Nanki-Poo (Kenny Baker) when posing as a minstrel dressed predominantly in brown and his rival Koko (Martyn Green) who wears red, black and purple, colours more typically associated with authority which in this context refer to him being the official fiancé of Yum-Yum (Jean Colin), the young woman who Nanki-Poo loves. She wears light blue and cream and generally soft, pastel shades in contrast to the woman Nanki-Poo is supposed to marry whose colours are predominantly grey and black. Even when Nanki-Poo is revealed to be the Mikado’s son and thus abandons his minstrel costume, he wears a beige outer garment with red and blue silk underneath. Colour is thus inscribed in the characters’ robes in a consistent manner. The film features many sets which were similar to how they would have been planned for stage performances. However, when shot in Technicolor opportunities were clearly taken to display colour effects such as shots of lanterns throwing warm shades of yellow and orange to provide strategically located illumination within the frame. Although the film featured a variety of such colour effects it was praised for its ‘pastel’ approach, and this was taken to be evidence of British cinema developing a particular palette in the deployment of colour.62
52 Alexander Korda, ‘They Talk Colour’, Cine-Technician vol. 3 no. 14, March-April 1937-38, p. 192.
53 Scott Higgins, Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), p. 133.
54Kinematograph Weekly, 9 April 1936, p. 6.
59 Bernard Knowles, ‘Colour – The New Technique’, Cine-Technician vol. 4 no. 18, November-December 1938, p. 110.
60 Review in Monthly Film Bulletin vol. 6 no. 61, January 1939, p. 1.
61Kinematograph Weekly vol. 263 no. 1655, 5 January 1939, pp. 25–32.
62Kinematograph Weekly vol. 263 no. 1655, 5 January 1939, studio survey by H. Chevalier, p. 125, and review, Kinematograph Weekly vol. 263 no. 1656, 19 January 1939, p. 32.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 49–50.)
Virages sur mordançage, Bleu-vert (blue-green mordant toning), backlight, Swiss collector’s copy. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. View Quote
“For the big-budget production of The Ten Commandments, the present-day story and its historical parallel biblical narrative would be told sequentially, with a prologue of the story of Moses and the escape from the Egyptians followed by a straightforward “modern story.” Much of the budget and nearly all of the spectacle went into the prologue dealing with the Bible’s Book of Exodus.
DeMille was planning special effects using the Williams traveling-matte process, which combined miniatures with live-action, and spot-coloring for the Pillar of Fire and other color effects. Always striving for showmanship and production value, DeMille responded when Kalmus offered to photograph the major sequences in Technicolor without cost; if DeMille liked the result, the studio could buy it; if not, Technicolor would junk the footage.
DeMille deployed numerous camera crews to cover the exterior crowd and action scenes for the Egyptian prologue, filmed at Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes starting in May 1923. “I was with him up at the location out in the desert where we had the tent cities built” for the actors and crew, Rennahan recalled, “and I didn’t get to shoot anything because he had thirteen cameras and I had one two-color camera.” There was a back-up two-color camera, “and on a couple of scenes I got the chance to use both cameras, but he covered everything himself so well with his thirteen cameras that it was a little difficult for me to get a whole sequence.”44
The Technicolor shots in the final film consist of the horsemen and chariots of Pharaoh and his soldiers pursuing the Israelites over the plains (filmed at Muroc Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert), until just before the Pillar of Fire (printed in “special color”). Trucks carrying the black & white cameras and another truck with the Technicolor cameras raced at 40 miles per hour, ahead of the horses.
While later films would have a specific “Technicolor sequence,” with this production the Technicolor camera had not obtained all of the shots that De-Mille required. To make up for the lack of coverage by the Technicolor cameras, a shot of a chariot falling down a hill was tinted and toned, while shots of the Israelites by the sea were tinted orange. Despite the extensive coverage in color, the final prints had a modest 388 feet of Technicolor, and Paramount purchased 788 color prints to service worldwide distribution. The overall tinting scheme of The Ten Commandments was not complex, and served to highlight the Technicolor sequences. Most of the film was tinted orange, with sections in amber, blue, and lavender tints, and a blue tone for the fourteen-reel road-show prints. The eleven-reel general release version was even less elaborate.45
The critical and public response to the opening of The Ten Commandments in December 1923 was rapturous, with the spectacle and religious overtones on the screen and ballyhoo in theatres serving to humble any doubters. Technicolor did not have the clout in the industry to require that the color process be included on the film credits or in advertising, unless the company paid for the advertising itself. The New York American noted, “There were some exquisite bits of color, and then some that were not so lovely. Especially effective were the scenes where the chariots were driven across the sands.” The New York Times agreed, concluding, “there are many impressive colorful scenes of the Israelites in the desert, some of them appearing better and more natural than other such effects we have witnessed on the screen.”46
A major film such as The Ten Commandments, with a budget of nearly $1.5 million, could justify sequences in Technicolor. While the experience “sold him on color,” according to Ray Rennahan, DeMille would hold off on using the process until his next biblical spectacular, The King of Kings, released in 1927.47 Of course, Kalmus needed to convince the industry that Technicolor was practical for ordinary program pictures, not just road-show spectaculars.
3.12. Filming The Ten Commandments (1923) on location at Guadalupe Dunes, California. Ray Rennahans two Technicolor cameras (far left and third from right) film DeMille’s staging of the Exodus alongside six black & white cameras and two stills cameras.
44 Rennahan, AFI Oral History with Charles Higham.
45The Ten Commandments cutting continuity, undated, Paramount Pictures Scripts, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
46 “Newspaper Opinions: The Ten Commandments!” Film Daily, December 26, 1923, 2.
47 Rennahan, AFI Oral History with Charles Higham.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 99–102.)