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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Read more about the financial background of the project on filmcolors.org.
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Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté lavande (virage bleu) lavender 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
2. Tonung: Der einfachste und schon lange benutzte Vorgang besteht darin, das nach der Entwicklung entstehende Silber zu tonen, d.h. es in gefärbte Verbindungen überzuführen. Besonders leicht und sicher ist die Überführung des Silbers in ein Uransalz von rotbrauner Farbe oder in Berlinerblau. Beide Farben entsprechen annähernd den Anforderungen eines Zweifarbenverfahrens und werden daher mit Vorteil bei einem doppelseitig begossenen Film (Agfa-Dipofilm) verwendet. Auf die eine Seite wird das z. B. mit Hilfe eines Bipacks aufgenommene Rotorangenegativ vom Rückfilm, auf die andere das Blaugrünnegativ vom Frontfilm kopiert, und die entwickelten Silberbilder im 1. Falle in ein Berlinerblaubild, im 2. in ein Uranbild übergeführt. Nach einem derartigen Verfahren konnte die amerikanische Multicolor-Gesellschaft und in Deutschland die Ufa verschiedene Filme herstellen, die einen überraschenden Reichtum der verschiedensten Farbabstufungen erkennen ließen.”
(Eggert, John; Heymer, Gerd (1937): Der Stand der Farbenphotographie. In: Veröffentlichungen des wissenschaftlichen Zentral-Laboratoriums der photographischen Abteilung Agfa, pp. 7–28, on pp. 20–21.) (in German)
“Color photography must always start and end with the mechanism of color perception by the human eye, that is, the color process must first “see” the scene in a manner approximating that of the human eye. It must then reproduce that scene in such a manner that it seems plausible to the eye.
It has long been known that all colors could be matched by mixing amounts of three so-called primary colors. With a given set of three primaries taken from the spectrum, each of the other colors of the spectrum can be duplicated by a mixture of certain intensities of the original three. There is an important reservation in this generalization, for it will be seen from Fig. 1 that in certain regions of the spectrum negative amounts of the three primaries must be permitted. Since negative quantities of the primaries cannot exist, the equivalent is obtained in practice by adding the third primary to the colors which cannot be matched.
If another set of three wavelengths had been chosen as the primaries, a similar but different set of curves would have resulted.
It is frequently desired to express the color-mixture data obtained with one set of primaries in the equivalent amounts of a different set of primaries. This process is illustrated in Fig. 2.
The orange-yellow color at the top can be matched by the primaries, R, G, and B. The squares show the unit amounts of these primaries and the rectangular arrangement at the right shows the amounts of the three required to match the color. If we wish to express this color in terms of another set of primaries, R’, G’, and B’, we can first find the amounts of R’, G’, and B’ which are required to match exactly the original unit amounts of R, G, and B. By using R’, G’, and B’ in these ratios, the total amounts of R, G, and B shown in the upper right can be matched. Then the sum of the three values of R’, the sum of the three values of G’, and the sum of the three values of B’ will match the original color.
This operation is usually carried out mathematically. The equations which are involved are shown below. There a color, C, is matched by an amount, r, of the primary, R, an amount, g, of the primary, G, and an amount, b, of the primary, B. These primaries can, in turn, be defined in terms of the amounts (a11, a12, a13, a21, etc.) of a second set of primaries, R’, G’, and B’. If the unit amounts of R, G, B, and R’, G’, B’ are defined by the amounts required to produce a white of a certain brightness, then the substitutions and factoring give the last form of the equation.
In a similar manner, the amounts of the primaries, R’, G’, and B’, which are required to match the various spectrum colors can be calculated from the color-mixture curves of the primaries, R, G, and B. This then gives us a new set of color-mixture curves. The change from one set to the other is a linear transformation. There are an infinite number of primaries and corresponding color-mixture curves which describe the color-vision characteristics of the human eye, and all of them tell exactly the same story. These of course include as primaries purely hypothetical colors which cannot exist in practice. Proper choice of hypothetical primaries can lead to mixture curves with no negative regions.
Another important characteristic of color vision is the relative brightness of different colors. Equal energies of different colors are not of equal brightness or luminosity. If the relative luminosity of spectrum colors of an equal energy is measured, the curve in Fig. 3 results.
For many years there was a good deal of confusion in the field of color measurement because a variety of workers used different primaries in determining the color-mixture curves and different methods of measuring the luminosity of the different spectrum colors. Different types of equipment led to slightly different results, because of certain inaccuracies and also because of the fact that the individual observers vary in their characteristics. For this reason a standard system of color specification became necessary for all the various workers in the field of color.
This standard system was set up by the International Commission on Illumination and is called the ICI system. This group selected the previously adopted luminosity curve as a standard and defined its three primaries to meet certain requirements. First, all real colors should be matched with positive amounts. Second, one primary should be such that one of the mixture curves would be identical to the luminosity function. By using the best available color-mixture data, the primaries, X, Y, Z, and the corresponding mixture curves were established to define the “standard observer.” Obviously the primaries do not represent real colors. These standard color-mixture curves are shown in Fig. 4.
Maxwell, in 1855, suggested that positives made from black-and-white negatives which, in turn, were made through red, green, and violet filters, could be used to control the amounts of red, green, and violet light transmitted by filters and that these, when superimposed, would give a color reproduction of the original scene.
All additive systems of color photography are modifications or applications of this invention made more than 90 years ago.
This system of Maxwell’s was an additive method. Shortly afterwards this principle was extended by du Hauron, who showed that images made through the red, green, and blue filters and printed in superposition in cyan, magenta, and yellow dyes or pigments would also give a fair reproduction of the original scene. This extension of Maxwell’s system is the basis for all the subtractive color systems. However, it was many, many years before the sensitizers, dyes, and photographic materials in general were available for the application of these simple principles.
For many years there were heated arguments as to the exact requirements for the sensitivity distributions of the three emulsion-filter combinations to be used in obtaining the three records for color photography. Certain workers in the field felt that narrow bands of sensitivity in the red, green, and blue regions of the spectrum gave the most satisfactory results. Others felt that the sensitivity distributions of the three emulsions had to match the sensation curves of the eye. Others attempted to match the sensitivity-distribution curves of the emulsions with the absorption curves of the dyes or pigments being used in making subtractive prints. Although these earlier efforts did not lead to a resolution of these theoretical problems, enough practical experience was gained so that when improved sensitizers, emulsions, and techniques of making colored photographic images were developed it was possible to work out empirically methods of making quite satisfactory color photographs. Continued progress in the “techniques” of making colored images and superimposing them have brought color photography to the present state.
Finally, knowledge as to the theoretical requirements for “exact” photographic color reproduction followed close on the heels of better data describing the color-vision characteristics of the eye. Hardy and Wurzburg1 applied the principles of colorimetry and the characteristics of the human eye to the problem of establishing the theoretical requirements for the perfect additive three-color photographic process. They showed that the sensitivity distributions of the three emulsions used in obtaining the three images must correspond with the color-mixture curves determined with the three primaries which were used in showing the additive color picture. These distribution curves would be some linear transformation of the color-mixture curves obtained by using other primaries, including the standards selected by the ICI. Of course, for any primaries which could be used in practice, that is, real colors, even spectrum colors, these film sensitivities would require negative proportions of certain regions of the spectrum. Although a number of suggestions have been made as to how such negative sensitivities might be achieved, and some methods have been patented, to date no satisfactory practical solution has been found.
Later, Yule2 and MacAdam3 extended these principles to the problem of subtractive color photography. Although it was not possible to establish the so-called ideal dyes for use in subtractive photography, MacAdam showed that for one set of dyes actually being used in practice, it was possible to establish so-called additive primaries which would describe the behavior of subtractive mixtures of these dyes and was able to show that by the use of six masks it should be possible by photographic means to obtain a very close approximation to “exact” color reproduction. The basic principles were those developed by Hardy and Wurzburg, and the sensitivity requirements of the three emulsions in this process were the color-mixture curves derived from the primaries. These, of course, contained negative portions at certain regions in the spectrum.
This can be summarized by stating that the theoretical requirements which a subtractive color process must fulfill in order to give “exact” color reproduction have not been established completely. They do indicate a need for negative sensitivities and for the use of six masks. The first of these needs cannot be fulfilled at all and the second is entirely impractical. So, the color processes have to struggle along without fulfilling these requirements, and they do give satisfactory results.
However, even though present-day color processes do give satisfactory results, there are certain deficiencies which must exist because of the failure to meet the requirement that the film-sensitivity distribution be a linear transformation of the color-mixture data of the eye. For example, there are an infinite number of energy distributions of light which appear the same to the eye. A color film will not necessarily see such colors as being alike.
A pair of dye combinations which produce a very close visual match is shown in Fig. 5. These spectrophotometric measurements show the densities of the two combinations to light of the various wavelengths in the visible range. As is often the case, these colors which appear to be identical have very different absorption characteristics. When photographed with one of the commercially successful color films, the resulting photographs are also very different.
At first thought, one may say, “This doesn’t make too much difference because we shall never encounter two colors of this sort side by side.” However, the fact that the two colors do not match indicates that at least one of them is not properly reproduced. In fact, any color might be improperly reproduced by any of the present color processes which in normal practice give excellent results. Fortunately most of the colors which we normally encounter have more or less continuous light-absorption bands and are reproduced fairly accurately. It may appear that an undue amount of emphasis is being put on this type of problem. The important point is that in dealing with flowers, new types of fabrics, or with new color situations in general, it is wise to make a test with a given photographic process to see that it will reproduce adequately the specific colors which are important rather than to assume that the process is perfect and start shooting.
For most practical applications of color photography, the reproduction of colors need not be theoretically perfect. Even with very pleasing color pictures, an analysis of the individual colors will reveal considerable departure from the hue, saturation, and brightness of the original colors of the scene. However, when combined in a picture of familiar and pleasing composition, the color reproduction is plausible enough to give the impression of correct reproduction.
Let us now look at some of the requirements which can and must be fulfilled in obtaining satisfactory color photographs.
The first of these requirements is color balance. This is usually best observed in the accuracy with which grays of various brightnesses are reproduced. One might consider this the minimum requirement of a color process. However, the errors encountered in matching grays to the original subject are present in about the same degree in the reproduction of all colors. In the case of pastels and other colors of low saturation, this error in balance may become a serious distortion.
Color balance is measured by reading a scale of grays with a color densitometer and plotting the densities of the dyes against the logarithm of the exposure. By definition,4, 5 the equivalent neutral densities (END) of the dyes of a given color process are those which, in superposition, will appear gray under the viewing conditions for which the color film is designed. A correctly balanced color process would have a gray scale in which all three dye curves were superimposed. Slight deviations from this ideal are usually encountered at very low densities and also in the region of maximum density.
If, however, the color balance is uniformly high in any of the dyes, magenta in the case of Fig. 7, the picture through such a process will also show a decided shift to a magenta balance. This is noticed not only in the reproduction of grays but in a change in all the colors of the pictures. Thus, blues become more purple, yellows become more orange, and greens become darker. This type of distortion results also from any change in color temperature of the exposing light from that for which the color film has been balanced.
This uniform shift in color balance of a color film may at first appear to be very objectionable but when a picture is viewed by projection in a darkened room the distortion appears to become less objectionable with continued viewing. This accommodation of the visual process, or color adaptation, does tend to make an off-balance picture appear more nearly satisfactory by projection. If, however, as in motion picture projection, the color balance shifts from scene to scene the color change is very noticeable.
In Figs. 6 and 7 the gammas of all the dye scales were equal. If the gammas of the three dye images are not equal, Fig. 8, the color photograph varies in color balance from one density level to another and the distortion in color reproduction varies depending on the color and its brightness. In a picture through the process represented in Fig. 8, the light densities would be much too green and the darker portions of the pictures much too magenta. This is a very undesirable type of distortion, for the eye cannot become adapted to both errors. Such a picture continues to be objectionable, no matter how long we look at it. From the shapes of the curves it is easy to see why such a distortion has been termed a kink.
Assuming that the first requirement is fulfilled and that correct color balance and matched relative gammas of the three dye images can be achieved, and these are no small assumptions, we are still faced with a difficult decision: “What gamma or contrast level is most desirable for a specific color process?” In black-and-white photography, the question is completely answered by the requirements for pleasing tone reproduction. In color photography, the problem is complicated by the fact that color saturation varies with the gamma. At low gamma, we can have all the advantages of pleasing tone rendition and greater latitude but we must pay for these advantages by sacrificing color saturation. At high gamma, color saturation is satisfactory but latitude must be low.
The relationship between gamma and color saturation can be explained quite easily by expressing the amounts of the three image dyes present in a given area of a color photograph in terms of equivalent neutral density. For example, suppose that a given color is reproduced by a color process having a gamma of 1.0 by the amounts of the dyes: cyan, 0.8; magenta, 0.1; and yellow, 0.6. If the same process were operated at a gamma of 1.5, the reproduction densities would be: cyan, 1.2; magenta, 0.15; and yellow, 0.9. It is possible to determine the color densities (in terms of END) over and above the gray content (in terms of END) merely by subtracting the density of the dye occurring in the lowest amount. The results of this subtraction from the two groups of densities above are given in Table I.
The much greater density differences at the gamma of 1.5 represent a significant increase in color saturation.*
Experience has shown that the color saturation obtained at higher contrast is quite desirable so that in practice, processes are usually operated at a relatively high contrast. The desired tone reproduction must be obtained by much flatter lighting than normally would be used in black-and-white photography. It may be noted in passing that the opposite approach is not satisfactory, that is, a low-contrast process with contrasty lighting. The maximum color saturation possible is limited by the density range and gamma of the color process and is only slightly affected by lighting variations.
The decision between usable contrast and acceptable color saturation again arises in duplicating a color film. The process of duplicating a color film results in a loss in color saturation, providing the contrast is reproduced at the same level as in the original picture. This loss in saturation is a result of the properties of the dyes available for use in color photography. The only way this color-saturation loss can be improved is by increasing the contrast of the reproduction. This again results in a very definite compromise in the over-all quality of the reproduction. A more complete discussion of this problem is given in a separate paper by Miller.6
After considering some of the theoretical problems involved in obtaining more nearly perfect color reproduction and some of the more elementary variables in color processes, we should like to stress that what is necessary and what is desired in a color process depend very largely on the manner in which the process is to be used. The requirements for a good motion picture print in color are different in many respects from the requirements for a good reflection print process.
Evans7 has directed attention to the many psychological effects which complicate any orderly analysis of color vision and color photography. Brightness constancy, color and brightness adaptation, and simultaneous contrast have a profound influence in all color systems.
These phenomena result from the fact that the visual process does not function merely as a physical instrument for measuring the stimuli from different areas. On the contrary, the appearance of an object is always affected by the spatial relation of the object to other objects and to lighting conditions. The eye always sees things as the observer thinks they really are rather than as they happen to appear at the moment. A simple example is that of a white object in a shadow near a black object in full sunlight. Although the luminance of the white object may be much less than that of the black object under these conditions, the eye immediately recognizes the true brightness relationship of the two objects. This brightness-constancy effect may not be shown to the same degree in a photograph as in the original scene since the viewing conditions are in most cases entirely different.
The eye varies in sensitivity to light over a considerable range depending on the intensity level under which it is used. Something similar to this brightness adaptation causes the eye to become adapted to colored light so that it tends to accept that color as white. The maximum effect, of course, is realized when all of the light reaching the eye is of the same color.
Simultaneous contrast has been related to the adaptation of the eye to local areas of a picture. That may be simplified by stating that areas of complementary or contrasting colors appear to be increased in saturation by their proximity within the picture. In addition to selecting colors which produce a desired hue in the finished color photograph, simultaneous contrast can be used to striking advantage in obtaining pleasing color pictures.
These effects are distinctly beneficial in the projection of color transparencies in a darkened room and are therefore very important in the success of many motion picture processes. Furthermore, these psychological effects explain in part why the data obtained in an isolated field of a colorimeter and the mathematical derivations from such data may have very little correlation with the infinite variety of conditions which can be encountered in photography and in the presentation of the resulting pictures of everyday objects.
You will recall the emphasis on the word approximation, in comparing the color photographic process to the visual process. We think it is still safe to state that the perfect color process has not yet been realized. There are, however, many successful color processes which can give very pleasing results in spite of the many compromises which must be present in each system. This means that to obtain satisfactory results the user must learn quite a lot about the color process with which he is working. As he learns what a particular color process will, and equally important, what it will not do, his success with that process will become more consistent.
Close co-operation between the user of color photographic materials and the manufacturer of them has been and will continue to be very important in obtaining satisfactory results with what we now have and know. This sort of co-operation is also necessary for the introduction of improved color photographic materials and techniques which will give better results.
*This method of expressing colors in terms of END does not express a quantitative value for hue and saturation such as a Munsell notation or the like, but it is a useful technique in the field of color photography.
1 A. C. Hardy and F. L. Wurzburg, Jr., “The theory of three-color reproductions,” J. Opt. Soc. Amer., vol. 27, pp. 227–240; July, 1937.
2 J. A. C. Yule, “The theory of subtractive color photography,” J. Opt. Soc. Amer., vol. 30, pp. 322–331; August, 1940.
3 D. L. MacAdam, “Subtractive color mixture and color reproduction,” J. Opt. Soc. Amer., vol. 28, pp. 466–480; December, 1938.
4 R. M. Evans, “A color densitometer for subtractive processes,” J. Soc. Mot. Pict. Eng., vol. 31, pp. 194–202; August, 1938.
5 M. H. Sweet, “A precision direct-reading densitometer,” J. Soc. Mot. Pict. Eng., vol. 38, pp. 148–173; February, 1942.
6 T. H. Miller, “Masking: A technique for improving the quality of color reproductions,” J. Soc. Mot. Pict. Eng., this issue, pp. 133–155.
7 R. M. Evans, “Visual processes and color photography,” J. Opt. Soc. Amer., vol. 33, pp. 579–614; November, 1943.”
(Hanson, Jr., W. T.; Richey, F. A. (1949): Three-Color Subtractive Photography. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, 52,2, pp. 119–132, on pp. 120–132.)
Credit: Lichtspiel Kinemathek Bern.
Photographs of the tinted and stencil colored nitrate film by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: Gaumont (with standing letter, 1910-1914). Cf. Ill.PM.10: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 10.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
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
“Experimentation with Dufaycolor progressed with advances such as reducing 35mm prints to 16mm, which encouraged short film production and increased the exhibition of advertising films. High-profile names were attracted to work with the process. As well as Len Lye, other notable directors included Humphrey Jennings, who directed Farewell Topsails (1937) and English Harvest (1937, re-edited as The Farm). Brown has observed how Farewell Topsails uses colour as metaphor:
Throughout the film there is subtle colour contrast between the browns and greys of the shore, and the blues of the sea. Topsail schooners transported chalky china clay, so Jennings’ palette is deliberately bleak, the browns of industry and the suits of the men in the village, the chalky grey-white of the clay, and then the blue of the sea and the black of the ship. The blue of the ocean contains within it the rhetoric of the spectacular. Partially, this is due to the inherent romanticism of the ocean itself, but Jennings exploits this by juxtaposing its vividness in contrast with the dour earth colours of the shore … The lack of colour on shore to contrast the bright blue of the ocean gives a sensual dimension to the plight of those without jobs and future.31
31 Simon Brown, ‘Dufaycolor – The spectacle of reality and British national cinema’, http://www.bftv.ac.uk/projects/dufaycolor.htm, p. 13.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on p. 42.)
Virages sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté rose (virage bleu) pink 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
“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)
An Atlantic Voyage (GER / GBR / FRA). Credit: Deutsches Filminstitut DIF. Photographs of the tinted and toned nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: PATHÉ FRÈRES PARIS (with gap, early 1906, partially visible). Cf.: Ill.PM.32: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
Bleu blue tinting. Source: Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé. Credit: Clayton Scoble and Stephen Jennings, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library. View Quote
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 mordançage sur films à support teinté Pathé, Film teinté rose, virage bleu-vert (blue-green mordant toning on rose tinted Pathé stock). 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 rouge (virage bleu) red 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
Methylene blue. Normal positive. 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.
“Mamoulian dagegen folgte seiner Devise, Farben “ihres emotionalen und dramatischen Wertes wegen”26 einzusetzen; ihm ging es um “a vividly pigmented dream world of artistic imagination”.27 In der berühmten Ballszene, wo bekannt wird, daß Napoleons Truppen im Anmarsch sind, stellt er seiner FarbDramaturgie sogar die Plausibilität hintan. Um die Emotion von Schwarzweiß bis zum Rot zu steigern, läßt er Wellingtons Offiziere, die eigentliche als erste hätten aufbrechen müssen, um die Verteidigung ihres Landes zu organisieren, als letzte den Ball verlassen. “Jeder Schnitt, jedes Bild wurde intensiver in der Farbe. Und wann immer dieser Film gezeigt wird, bemerkt kein Mensch diesen völligen Mangel an… naturalistischer Logik.”28 Vielleicht gebührt Becky Sharp deshalb für den Farbfilm der Stellenwert, den The Jazz Singer für den Tonfilm und später Citizen Kane mit seinen Schärfentiefen Bildern für die Ästhetik des filmischen Raums einnehmen: Schnittpunkt eines innovativen Formwandels zu sein. Für Mamoulian steht fest, daß Farben eine bestimmte Wirkung auf Menschen haben, ob nun bewußt oder nicht. Deshalb sucht seine FarbÄsthetik auch stets den expressiven, den entweder “besänftigenden” oder “erregenden” Effekt.
Schon Rouben Mamoulian nutzte in Becky Sharp Farbe als emphatisch ordnendes Element. Über die Choreographie der oben bereits erwähnten Ballszene erzählte er: “Eine Aufeinanderfolge von Farben im Film sollte zu einem Höhepunkt führen, und der farbliche Höhepunkt ist Rot, nicht Blau, nicht Gelb: Rot. Um dahin zu gelangen, beginne ich mit Schwarz und Weiß, gehe über Dunkelblau, Dunkelgrün, dann Gelb, dann Hellgrün, dann Orange zum Rot.”37
26 Antje Goldau/Hans Helmut Prinzler, Spiel und Stil. Ein Gespräch mit Rouben Mamoulian, in: Goldau/Prinzler, Rouben Mamoulian. Katalog zur Retrospektive der 37. Internationalen Filmfestspiele Berlin 1988, S. 40
27 Rouben Mamoulian, zitiert nach Fred E. Basten, Glorious Technicolor. The Movie’s Magic Rainbow, South Brunswick/New York 1980, S. 57
28 Goldau/Prinzler, a. a. O., S. 41
37 Goldau/Prinzler, a. a. O., S. 40 f.”
(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. 62–64.) (in German)
An Atlantic Voyage (GER / GBR / FRA). Credit: Deutsches Filminstitut DIF. Photographs of the tinted and toned nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.
Edge mark: PATHÉ FRÈRES PARIS (without gap, 1906-1907, partially visible). Cf.: Ill.PM.33: Brown, Harold (1990): Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification. Brussels: FIAF, on p. 9.
View Quote on Page: Edge Codes and Identification
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
“Chromatically, Becky Sharp encompassed a broad spectrum of color patterns, ranging from icy grays to hues of luxuriant crimsons. Every set, every costume, and every action was given its own color style, keyed to the various moods and spirit of the subject. The highlight of the picture was the scene of the great ball on the evening before the battle of Waterloo. It began with a pastel serenity – subtle variations of cool blues. Then, as news of Napoleon’s battle preparations reach the guests, the color deepens and builds in intensity. With the rumble of distant cannon, apprehension strikes the various groups; as they hurriedly depart, there are quick cuts of them patterned in yellows, oranges, and dull reds. Finally the sounds of battle are heard and vivid scarlet becomes the predominant color as officers dash wildly across the screen frame, their brilliant red cloaks flashing crimson linings in a striking emblematic color climax that coincides with the dramatic climax of the subject.
At its best, Becky Sharp carried with it the feeling of authentic creative pioneering. Its design and dynamic approach to color became a promise of the future and forced the industry to recognize the new element as an integral attribute of the motion-picture medium.”
(Jacobs, Lewis (1970): The Mobility of Color. In: Lewis Jacobs (ed.): The Movies as Medium. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 189–196, on p. 192.)