Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 208–209. (in Italian)
Ulisse/Ulysses (ITA 1954, Mario Camerini)
“Per Ulisse, assieme ai divi americani Kirk Douglas e Anthony Quinn, fu ingaggiato Harold Rosson, uno dei più esperti direttori della fotografia in Technicolor, che aveva in curriculum, tra l’altro, Il mago di Oz (1939), Duello al sole (Duel in the Sun, Vidor, 1947) e Cantando sotto la pioggia (1952). Il lavoro di Rosson tendeva in effetti a conformarsi ai canoni luministici del cinema di Hollywood, ricorrendo a formule visive codificate nelle ventennale storia del Technicolor. Da una coeva nota di lavorazione, si apprende che anche lo scenografo lavorò su priorità che non sarebbero dispiaciute a un consulente per il colore28:
L’architetto Mogherini, nella scelta dei colori per le scene, ha preferito rifuggire dai colori assoluti e puri. […] Poggiando sulle tinte di media intensità, Mogherini ha dato la possibilità ai costumi di staccarsi dall’ambiente, visto che la scenografia deve essere soprattutto una intonata cornice ai personaggi ed all’azione. […] Colori predominanti [per le sequenze di Itaca]: terra di Siena bruciata, marrone, terracotta con accenti di bianco e nero. Per Circe si entra nel campo della pura fantasia; i colori si potrebbero definire subacquei: verdastri con accenti brillanti di madreperla29.
Nell’episodio di Circe, anche lo spettatore può prendere momentaneo congedo da uno schema cromatico prevalentemente costruito su tinte non troppo sgargianti, grazie all’emergere di una tematizzazione del verde come colore magico. Esso fa da motivo conduttore dell’intero episodio, associandosi ai poteri soprannaturali di Circe e a tutto ciò che costituisce il suo habitat: le acque incantate della vasca tanto accogliente per Ulisse, i costumi delle ancelle, la luce colorata che sembra irradiarsi direttamente dalla maga30.
28 Nonostante il consulente per il colore (Joan Bridge) continuasse a essere menzionato per contratto nei titoli di testa, in questo e negli altri film italiani in Technicolor, pare che le sue interferenze sulla lavorazione siano state pressoché nulle. Bisogna considerare che, quando arrivò in Italia, il vecchio sistema Technicolor era in fase di smantellamento, e con esso l’intero apparato dei consulenti.
29 “Lux film” 1953.
30 Cfr. Maiani 2006, pp. 171–173.
Bernardi, Sandro a cura di (2006), Svolte tecnologiche nel cinema italiano. Sonoro e colore. Una felice relazione fra tecnica ed estetica, Carocci, Roma.
“Lux film” (1953), Difficile ed affascinante il lavoro dell’architetto e del costumista dello “Ulisse“, in “Lux film“, I, n. 41, 1953, p. 3.
Maiani, Costantino (2006), Uno studio in rosso. Il colore nel melodramma e nel peplum del cinema italiano degli anni cinquanta, in Bernardi, a cura di, 2006, pp. 161–179.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 208–209.) (in Italian)
Bergala, Alain (1995): La couleur, la Nouvelle Vague et ses maîtres des années cinquante. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La Couleur en cinema. Milan: Mazzotta, pp. 126–136, on p. 131. (in French)
“Il peut sembler étrange, aujourd’hui, que l’on rassemble ainsi, dans une commune esthétique de la couleur, au cours des années cinquante, des films et des cinéastes européens et américains. C’est sans doute lié au fait d’une certaine homogénéité du rendu des couleurs au cours de ces années cinquante. Même si c’est la décennie où le déclinant Technicolor cède en douceur la place à l’Eastmancolor – lequel n’a pas encore la transparence qui sera son apanage au cours des années soixante-dix, mais un rendu des couleurs assez proche du Technicolor au point qu’il est parfois difficile de distinguer si certains de ces films sont tournés avec l’une ou l’autre de ces pellicules17 – les lourdes contraintes d’éclairages (nécessitant des arcs puissants) sont presque les mêmes, en intérieur, pour tous les films en couleur, à Hollywood ou en Europe, ce qui a tendance à homogénéiser le traitement de la couleur de ces films, quelles que soient les différences d’esprit et de production qui les distinguent par ailleurs – même si l’Eastmancolor est déjà deux fois plus sensible que le Technicolor (50 contre 20 ASA). Autre facteur d’homogénéisation, il semble qu’au cours des années cinquante, les chefs opérateurs n’aient jamais pris le risque d’une prise de vues avec un diaphragme inférieur à 4,5, pour ne pas mettre le point en péril. Jean Rouch prétend que, en 16 mm et à 25 ASA, il tournait dès la fin des années cinquante à pleine ouverture (avec un objectif ouvrant à 0,95), ce qui équivalait à utiliser une pellicule de 200 ASA à l’ouverture maximale de l’époque en 35 mm.
17 Renoir, par exemple, tourne Le Fleuve (1951), Le Carrosse d’or (1952), French Cancan (1955), Elena et les hommes (1956) en Technicolor, et Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1959) en Eastmancolor.”
(Bergala, Alain (1995): La couleur, la Nouvelle Vague et ses maîtres des années cinquante. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La Couleur en cinema. Milan: Mazzotta, pp. 126–136, on p. 131.) (in French)
Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 192–199. (in Italian)
Henry V (GBR 1944, Laurence Olivier)
“Il colore nobilitato: “Enrico V“
Enrico V fu girato in Technicolor nel pieno della seconda guerra mondiale e uscì in Gran Bretagna all’inizio del 1945. Il film fu apprezzato a livello internazionale, al punto da divenire per almeno un decennio il passaggio obbligato del discorso critico sul colore. Olivier vi aveva offerto la più compiuta e cristallina traduzione visiva di un’idea diffusa e condivisa: se la natura riproduttiva del cinema risultava ancora approssimata alla forma del bianco e nero, solo inscrivendo il film in una diversa cornice visiva, che avesse il colore tra i suoi dati costitutivi, quest’ultimo poteva essere qualificato esteticamente, senza correre il rischio di cadere nella fatuità della comunicazione spettacolare o commerciale.
L’incipit del film rinvigoriva la vecchia idea che per vedere a colori fosse sufficiente varcare le soglie di un teatro.
Rinegoziando la distanza tra il luogo fisico e lo spazio immaginario, tra la scena e la diegesi, la dissolvenza sposta la posizione dello spettatore dall’allestimento del Globe (l600) direttamente dentro l’ambientazione del dramma (1415), instaurando un nuovo ordine visivo tanto accuratamente perseguito quanto lo è, nel prologo, quello del teatro elisabettiano. Per il paesaggio di Southampton e le successive ricostruzioni in studio, Olivier – come è noto – si ispirò a uno dei capolavori della miniatura tardogotica: le dodici illustrazioni dei Mesi presenti nelle Très Riches Heures del Duca di Berry6. Paul Sheriff, scenografo del film, cercò di adattare alla tridimensionalità del set le configurazioni spaziali, i salti di scala e la ricchezza cromatica di quelle immagini, promuovendo così una forte valorizzazione del colore: l’alta saturazione delle tinte Technicolor poteva così rivelarsi funzionale al progetto di restituire sullo schermo la preziosità e lo scintillio delle tessiture policrome dei Mesi.
Lo spettatore si trova così proiettato all’interno di un ordine ibrido e artificiale, nel quale si cristallizza una particolare configurazione storica, e non ancora riproduttiva, della visione a colori. Se nel prologo il colore si offre come portato della spettacolarità performativa, adesso si dà come attributo di immagini artistiche7. Da questo riferimento la ricca policromia, sistematicamente perseguita nelle scelte di messa in scena, veniva riqualificata positivamente rispetto alla cattiva reputazione che accompagnava spesso i coevi modi d’uso del colore riprodotto. Il prezioso dispiego di tinte su scenografie, arredi, tendaggi, costumi, vessilli, emblemi, stemmi viene spostato da un asse quantitativo a uno qualitativo. Del Technicolor, viene sfruttata la capacità di far rivivere sullo schermo visioni che vogliono evocare direttamente un ciclo di miniature d’inizio Quattrocento.
Nelle sequenze ambientate sul campo di Agincourt nella notte che precede la battaglia, un ordine rappresentativo ancora diverso negozia ulteriormente la presenza e le funzioni del colore. Una veduta d’insieme dei due accampamenti, rischiarati da fiaccole, prepara una sequenza sul fronte francese e una su quello inglese. Per entrambe, girate in studio, il direttore della fotografia Robert Krasker fece sistematico ricorso a effetti chiaroscurali, introducendo uno scarto vistoso. Rispetto al modello iconografico della miniatura, si trattava di una netta infrazione: oltre a non presentare alcun notturno, i Mesi sono infatti caratterizzati dalla soppressione delle ombre e da una traduzione pigmentaria della luce. Se avesse voluto mantenere la continuità del riferimento figurativo, Olivier avrebbe dovuto adottare scelte cromatiche e luministiche assai diverse da quelle effettivamente presenti nel film8.
Scegliendo la strada alternativa del chiaroscuro, Olivier invita i suoi spettatori ad assegnare una diversa funzione ai colori. Essi sono sottratti alla dimensione stabile e materica del pigmento per essere proiettati in quella mobile e aerea della luce. Olivier si riappropria così di quell’immaginario spettacolare che – come si è avuto modo di vedere – aveva ricondotto il modello della luce contrastata, a teatro e in fotografia ancor prima che al cinema, al magistero pittorico di Rembrandt.
Il film di Olivier collega la presenza del colore a una serie di cornici chiamate a riqualificare la messa in campo di un universo policromo: il Globe e le miniature dei Mesi indicano nel teatro e nell’immagine artistica i due orizzonti a cui conformare un’esperienza legittimata della visione a colori. Sebbene non si trattasse di un’idea nuova né particolarmente originale, Olivier la riproponeva con forza, offrendola ai successivi cineasti, in un film con tutti i titoli per aspirare al canone del cinema d’arte.
6 Le miniature furono in gran parte realizzate entro il 1416, dunque in una pressoché perfetta concomitanza cronologica con le vicende al centro del dramma di Shakespeare.
7 Attributo che veniva pur sempre veicolato da immagini riprodotte: è noto infatti che Olivier e Sheriff si basarono sulle riproduzioni a colori dei Mesi pubblicate sul coevo periodico d’arte “Verve”.
8 Le ambientazioni notturne non sono estranee all’orizzonte figurativo della miniatura del primo Quattrocento, in cui esse erano talvolta affidate a una rinuncia quasi integrale al colore, oppure alla presenza di stelle cadenti, torce e lampade, concepite più come superfici dorate che come effettive fonti luminose. Un esempio è offerto dal Bacio di Giuda e dalla Crocifissione, presenti nelle stesse Très Riches Heures.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 192–199.) (in Italian)
Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 160–161. (in Italian)
“In diversi film successivi, l’uso del rosso avrebbe marcato piuttosto i cedimenti alla follia di personaggi cui veniva attribuita la visione di questo colore, sotto forma di lampi improvvisi. Già Powell e Pressburger avevano ideato una simile soggettiva cromatica in Narciso nero, nel momento in cui un violento shock emotivo faceva perdere i sensi a suor Ruth. L’effetto, ottenuto in sede di stampa della pellicola, fu ripreso da Nicholas Ray in Dietro lo specchio (Bigger than Life, 1956) per esprimere l’alterazione di personalità del protagonista, mentre Hitchcock se ne servì reiteratamente in Marnie (1964) per evocare il ritorno del trauma infantile rimosso nella mente della protagonista55.
Se vedere rosso divenne sintomo inequivocabile di dissociazione della personalità, vedere colori distorti poteva in certi casi indicare la presenza di uno stato patologico: in La donna che visse due volte (Vertigo, Hitchcock, 1958) quando Scottie viene ossessionato dai suoi incubi notturni, una successione ritmica di visioni monocrome, disegni animati, pattern geometrici e sovrimpressioni apre il film a una parentesi di puro gioco avanguardistico. Con la complicità della musica di Bernard Herrmann, il regista rivisitava a suo modo gli effetti sinestetici sognati da molti artisti all’inizio del secolo.
Questi ultimi film, tuttavia, si collocano già oltre i confini del periodo in cui la Technicolor poté esercitare in condizioni di monopolio a Hollywood e in Gran Bretagna, costringendo i produttori a noleggiare una speciale macchina da presa e ad avvalersi della consulenza di tecnici specializzati56. Nel 1955, la necessità di operare lavorazioni compatibili con la nuova pellicola a supporto unico Eastmancolor (1951) spinse la società ad aggiornare il vecchio sistema, trasformandolo in un metodo di stampa di copie ad alta qualità, applicabile a qualsiasi negativo (Technicolor 5). Nel corso degli anni cinquanta, il colore si sarebbe disseminato in tutte le altre cinematografie europee, ma fino a quel momento, tranne poche eccezioni, critici, cineasti e spettatori si erano dovuti accontentare dei film a colori d’importazione.
55 Cfr. Bellour 1995 e Brost 2007.
56 Fino alla fine degli anni quaranta, Technicolor ed Eastman Kodak agirono in condizioni di non concorrenzialità. La Eastman vendeva pellicola in bianco e nero alla maggior parte delle case di produzione hollywoodiane e forniva alla Technicolor tutti i supporti necessari per il sistema in tricromia. La situazione si sarebbe sbloccata soltanto dopo le sentenze del Dipartimento di giustizia per pratiche anticoncorrenziali che colpirono la Eastman (1948) e la Technicolor (1950). Nel 1951, in ritardo rispetto alle industrie concorrenti, la prima introdusse l’Eastmancolor, che avrebbe dominato la scena nei decenni successivi.
Aumont, Jacques a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris.
Bellour, Raymond (1995), La couleur Marnie. Alfred Hitchcock: “Marnie“, in Aumont, a cura di, 1995a, pp. 147–148.
Brost, Laure (2007), On Seeing Red: The Figurative Movement of Film Colour, in Everett, a cura di, 2007a, pp. 127–139.
Everett, Wendy, a cura di (2007a), Questions of Colour in Cinema. From Paintbrush to Pixel, Lang, Oxford-Bern.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 160–161.) (in Italian)
Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 155–156.
“The wide release of Douglas Fairbanks’s The Black Pirate highlighted many technical problems with the old Technicolor process. The cemented prints were prone to increased mechanical damage, separation, and bad cupping of the support. Fairbanks was an important producer in Hollywood, and before the film’s release it was hoped that other studios would follow his lead and consider the benefits of color. Fairbanks was vocal in his promotion of the process, but the bad press and word of mouth around Hollywood about the technical flaws of the process dampened Technicolor’s chances of securing comparable contracts.
Throughout 1925 and 1926, Herbert Kalmus began negotiating with executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to make more all-color productions. Connections with M-G-M had always remained strong, and the studio hoped to follow up the success it had had with Ben-Hur and The Big Parade with other road-show spectaculars, this time exploiting an expanded use of the Technicolor process. M-G-M began work on three big productions based on best-selling works: Rafael Sabatini’s Bardelys the Magnificent, Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, and the popular Rudolf Friml-Herbert Stothart stage operetta Rose-Marie, set in Canada. Kalmus convinced the studio to fully incorporate color from the earliest planning stages, and introduced them to Fairbanks’s experienced production team from The Black Pirate. Fairbanks proved the best indicator of the future of color in the motion picture industry.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 155–156.)
Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on p. 1.
“Long after it stopped providing three-strip cameras, Technicolor continued to offer its services as a lab to process and print a wide variety of color films made from negatives manufactured by its competitors and successors – notably Eastman, Ansco, Agfa, Ferraniacolor, Gaevert, and eventually Sovcolor and Fuji – film stocks that all used ordinary cameras. While Eastman and its competitors provided camera negatives, Technicolor after 1954 limited itself to the highly lucrative business of processing and making dye transfer prints.”
(Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on p. 1.)
Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 231–242. (in Italian)
Il deserto rosso (ITA/FRA 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)
“A differenza di altri autori, il regista ferrarese si convertì al colore in modo univoco e irreversibile con Il deserto rosso (1964): in seguito, non solo non avrebbe più girato in bianco e nero, ma avrebbe assegnato alla nuova forma un ruolo sempre determinante, seppure in maniera diversa da un film all’altro, almeno fino al pionieristico esperimento con la tv in alta definizione tentato con Il mistero di Oberwald (1981)34.
In primo luogo, si lascia cogliere frequentemente una certa transitività tra il gruppo dei colori superficie e quello dei colori filmari: più che al valore scientifico della distinzione, Antonioni appare interessato ad elaborarne visivamente il potenziale poetico, lavorando sugli spazi di confine tra gli uni e gli altri. Nella sequenza dei titoli di testa, le diciannove inquadrature sul paesaggio tecnologico della fabbrica instaurano una tensione tra i due modi grazie all’uso del teleobiettivo e dello sfocato: lo sguardo della macchina da presa trasforma un campo percettivo di colori superficie (i tubi colorati della fabbrica), in una visione in transito verso dei colori filmari (una serie di macchie indistinte).
Qualcosa di simile investe, nel corso dell’intero film, l’incerta definizione del rapporto tra figura e sfondo, campi percettivi tendenzialmente prossimi, rispettivamente, ai colori superficie e ai colori filmari43. L’inversione tra figura e sfondo e la confusione dei diversi piani di profondità, spesso ricercata nella costruzione delle inquadrature, costituisce un ulteriore contributo a rendere ambiguo lo statuto cromatico delle immagini. Il film utilizza diverse tecniche per ottenere questo effetto: nella prima inquadratura della sequenza del negozio, ad esempio, lo spettatore si trova di fronte per qualche istante a una campitura cromatica indistinta priva di coordinate spaziali, che solo un successivo movimento di macchina rivela essere il muro scrostato di una casa. L’iniziale configurazione approssimabile a quella dei colori filmari, destabilizza la posizione dello spettatore: che cosa sto vedendo? A che cosa appartengono questi colori? Riesco davvero a vederli come dei colori superficie?
Se in tutti questi esempi la sfasatura è prodotta dall’interazione tra filmico e profilmico, in altri casi sono gli elementi stessi della messa in scena a rendere ambiguo lo statuto cromatico delle percezioni. Come è noto, Antonioni lavorò molto su questo aspetto, facendo pitturare tutto quanto doveva presentarsi davanti alla macchina da presa: talvolta questa rimodulazione delle tinte tende a rimarcare la forza e la presenza dei colori superficie negli ambienti policromi abitati dall’uomo, come la fabbrica o la casa. Negli esterni, invece, le modifiche cromatiche mettono in questione l’esistenza stessa dei colori superficie all’interno della natura, soprattutto nei paesaggi decolorati tendenti verso la dimensione informe dei colori filmari. Lo stesso statuto cromatico del mondo appare in corso di mutazione: con le sue esalazioni, la fabbrica sembra aver incenerito, ossidato e scolorito l’ambiente circostante. Una sorta di nuovo ritmo vitale che, sovrapponendosi ai ritmi organici, ridefinisce i canoni e gli equilibri della percezione.
A questa mutevolezza contribuisce nel film anche la presenza significativa dei colori volume. I paesaggi opachi e quasi monocromi che spesso si mostrano al di là di vetri e finestre restituiscono appieno la dimensione della trasparenza. In altri momenti, i colori volume insorgono nelle immagini con effetti di grande impatto visivo. Nella sequenza di dialogo tra il marito e Corrado all’esterno della fabbrica, una violenta fuoriuscita di vapori bianchi occupa rapidamente lo spazio dei colori superficie che prima avevano definito le coordinate percettive del luogo. Negli esterni della baracca per la pesca, è la foschia a dissolvere lo spazio del paesaggio, modificandone profondamente l’apparenza. Per contrasto, l’acqua dei canali circostanti sembra aver perso definitivamente ogni trasparenza, mutandosi in un colore superficie denso: “le acque sono nere o gialle e anzi – scriveva lo stesso Antonioni – non sono più acqua”44.
Questi esempi mostrano come nel film la percezione del colore si offra allo spettatore come esperienza fondata sull’instabilità e la mutevolezza: si tratta – scrive ancora Di Carlo – di un “colore in divenire”45. A concorrervi è anche un’ulteriore strategia messa in atto dal film: la sistematica frustrazione delle attese cromatiche. Non è soltanto la continua permeabilità tra i diversi modi di apparizione a mettere in movimento i colori, ma anche lo scarto tra quelli che vediamo sullo schermo e quelli che ci aspetteremmo di vedere.
In simili casi, il film attiva nello spettatore una particolare reazione cromatica cui lo stesso Katz si era riferito con il concetto di colori di memoria. Essi designano i colori con cui siamo abituati a vedere gli oggetti, in condizioni abituali di luce, e vengono richiamati alla memoria di fronte a un oggetto mostrato sotto un’illuminazione insolita, che ne modifica l’apparenza cromatica46. Nel film, i colori cui lo spettatore è posto di fronte sono spesso lontani da quelli attribuiti alle percezioni abituali, dunque richiamano l’attivazione dei colori di memoria. Relazioni nuove e sorprendenti si producono allora tra gli oggetti e i rispettivi colori: il caso forse più evidente è quello del carretto di frutta grigia al termine della sequenza del negozio47. La già citata pratica di rimodulare le tinte di ambienti, scenografie e oggetti supporta allora l’esigenza di mettere lo spettatore di fronte a una nuova esperienza cromatica, sollecitandolo a interrogare lo statuto profondo delle proprie percezioni. Se non rimandano alla mia percezione abituale, che natura hanno i colori che sto vedendo?
Un indizio a contrario dell’interesse di Antonioni per questo aspetto è offerto dalla sequenza mai girata del bosco bianco. Il rischio che lo scarto tra i colori del bosco ricolorato e i corrispondenti colori di memoria potesse non attivarsi potrebbe essere stata una delle cause che spinsero Antonioni a rinunciare alla sequenza: “primo dubbio: il bosco bianco darà il tipo di suggestione che mi aspetto? Secondo dubbio: non sembrerà neve?”48. Se lo spettatore avesse ricondotto la visione insolita di una pineta bianca a un più familiare paesaggio innevato, lo scarto percettivo avrebbe perso gran parte del suo valore.
L’effetto si produce con violenza ancora più inaspettata quando i colori cambiano consistenza e statuto all’interno di una stessa ambientazione. Nella celebre sequenza della camera d’albergo, i colori superficie vivacemente presenti sugli oggetti si tramutano improvvisamente, nel momento in cui – si legge nella sceneggiatura pubblicata – “è come se [Giuliana] volesse impedire ai propri occhi di vedere”49. Viene qui evidenziato un paradosso percettivo, poiché l’apparato visivo è per così dire condannato a vedere, anche quando gli occhi vengano chiusi o quando fuoriescano, ad esempio con l’allucinazione, dagli abituali schemi percettivi. I colori che si continuano a percepire in questi casi – secondo le teorie di Katz – hanno la tendenza ad apparire come colori filmari50.
Le macchie viola che, in due momenti, sembrano privare la stanza di una consistenza materiale, il rosa che alla fine della sequenza invade tutto lo spazio e i suoi oggetti, sembrano tradurre visivamente questa indicazione. I colori che vediamo sullo schermo sono allora i colori che Giuliana sta vedendo e al contempo vorrebbe non vedere? Una risposta univoca resta impossibile da dare. Nel primo caso, le inquadrature che veicolano i due momenti di visione delle macchie viola si configurano come delle semisoggettive: Giuliana vi è mostrata in primo piano di spalle, ma il collegamento con quanto precede e segue porta a pensare che, ragionevolmente, quei colori siano ascrivibili al suo campo percettivo. Le due inquadrature della stanza rosa, invece, non hanno alcun portato di soggettività: Giuliana viene mostrata distesa sul letto, con la testa affondata sul cuscino; quando si volta le sue palpebre si muovono leggermente ma restano chiuse. Se la presenza del rosa sembra rinviare alla dimensione interiore di un’apparizione filmare, all’idea di occhi chiusi che continuano a percepire colore, il punto di vista esterno e la forma che gli oggetti conservano rimandano d’altra parte a un campo di colori superficie. Le due possibilità coesistono all’interno della medesima immagine.
È sulla soglia incerta tra colori superficie e colori filmari, tra colori fenomenici e colori di memoria che si innesta, all’interno del film, il discorso sul carattere soggettivo del colore, che viene impostato su basi completamente nuove rispetto al cinema del passato. […]
Per Antonioni – è noto – i processi di modernizzazione avevano reso insano, malato, il modo di esperire i sentimenti54. Poiché questi stessi processi stavano modificando in profondità anche le forme di circolazione e gli usi sociali del colore, diveniva urgente, in questa prospettiva, interrogarsi sugli effetti psicologici e comportamentali prodotti da questi fenomeni sugli individui. Era la stessa psicologia a inverare un simile campo d’indagine: in un volume di Katz tradotto in Italia nel 1950 si poteva leggere, ad esempio, che “i colori hanno, più che le forme […] rapporto col sentimento”55. La possibilità di confrontarsi direttamente, utilizzando il medium cromatico, con il moderno mondo dei colori industriali e riprodotti consentiva ad Antonioni di elaborare visivamente i caratteri di questo possibile rapporto.
In questa ottica, la relazione che il film istituisce tra il colore e la sfera soggettiva può essere pensata alla stregua di una sorta di prova sperimentale: “Antonioni – scriveva ancora Di Carlo – ha “agito” nella definizione del carattere della protagonista come se essa si trovasse costantemente di fronte ad un test cromatico […]; metodo che gli ha facilitato l’indagine sulla sua personalità secondo le più avanzate tecniche seguite nella prassi psicologica e psichiatrica”56. Almeno due sequenze tematizzano esplicitamente contenuti tradizionali dei test sugli effetti del colore e dei loro possibili campi di applicazione pratica. La prima è quella del negozio di Giuliana: le diverse vernici stese su una parete a mo’ di prova dovrebbero servire a scegliere il colore più adatto a non disturbare gli oggetti da vendere, ma per la donna non sembra darsi una scelta giusta, razionale. La seconda sequenza è quella ambientata nello stanzino rosso, in cui fra futili conversazioni su uova gallate e grasso di coccodrillo si riversano ironicamente e sfacciatamente i saperi più ovvi delle pratiche di cromoterapia: il colore considerato più stimolante per i sensi, il rosso, sembra chiamato a misurare i diversi livelli di eccitabilità cromatica dei personaggi, che cedono uno dopo l’altro, Giuliana compresa, all’esposizione prolungata a questo colore.
Nel film, dunque, l’esperienza del colore si propone come un fenomeno plurale, intermittente, mobile, fluttuante, non sistematizzabile, dagli esiti incerti e non prevedibili. La permeabilità tra i diversi modi di apparire sembra voler liberare la percezione cromatica da ogni possibile forma di preordinamento cognitivo o affettivo. Attraverso le sue strategie formali, il film invita lo spettatore a uno sguardo divagante, curioso, distratto. Come aveva osservato Katz, “negli stati di “distrazione”, quando temporaneamente cessano di agire sulla coscienza i bisogni normalmente vigili, possono svolgersi certe azioni automatizzate, e – terminato lo stato di distrazione – ci troviamo sorpresi in una situazione nella quale siamo andati a finire senza averlo voluto”57. Questa particolare esperienza percettiva trova diritto di cittadinanza nel film e viene spesso ricondotta al richiamo esercitato dal colore. L’esempio più noto è quello del dialogo sulla Patagonia tra Corrado e gli operai, durante il quale la macchina da presa, assecondando lo sguardo distratto dell’ingegnere, si lascia attrarre da una linea blu dipinta sul muro58.
I colori di Il deserto rosso sono dei colori mutanti, in transito verso una nuova dimensione percettiva ed estetica. Lo stesso Antonioni dichiarò che il film non intendeva operare una denuncia politica o sociologica del mondo industrializzato e inquinato, quanto piuttosto rivelarne una nuova possibile forma di poesia e di bellezza59. Nel rimettere in causa lo statuto cinematografico del colore, nell’interrogarsi sui suoi possibili modi di apparizione, il film rimodulava pratiche del passato e le consegnava idealmente al cinema del futuro.
34 Sul colore in Antonioni si vedano almeno Campari 1985; Dalle Vacche 1996, pp. 43–80; Font 1999; Tinazzi 2001; Egner 2003; pp. 73–82; Di Carlo 2010.
43 Cfr. Katz 1935, p. 15; Id. 1950, p. 51; Id. 1960, pp. 136–143.
44 Antonioni 1964, p. 19.
45 Di Carlo 1964a, p. 32.
46 Cfr. Katz 1935, pp. 160–167. La teoria dei colori di memoria fu inizialmente formulata da Hering nel 1908, poi fu ripresa da Katz (cfr. Di Napoli 2006, pp. 206–210).
47 Ci si potrebbe chiedere se questo fenomeno non riguardi anche la percezione degli oggetti nei film in bianco e nero. In questo caso, però, il corrispondente colore di memoria non sarebbe tanto il colore originale dell’oggetto, quanto piuttosto il tono di grigio che precedenti film in bianco e nero mi portano a considerare abituale.
48 Antonioni 1964, p. 18.
49 Cfr. Di Carlo, a cura di, 1964b, p. 141.
50 Cfr. Katz 1935, p. 35.
54 Cfr. Antonioni 1994c. Su questo tema, cfr. anche Vitella 2010, pp. 159–173.
55 Katz 1950, p. 192.
56 Di Carlo 1964a, p. 33. Oltre a Katz, Di Carlo fa riferimento ai test dello psicologo svizzero Max Lüscher sulle preferenze cromatiche degli individui e sull’associazione tra queste ultime e le categorie della personalità.
57 Katz 1960, p. 136.
58 Per un’analisi della sequenza, cfr. Philippon 1995.
59 Cfr. Godard 1994, p. 255.
Achilli, Alberto; Boschi, Alberto; Casadio, Gianfranco, a cura di (1999), Le sonorità del visibile. Immagini, suoni e musica nel cinema di Michelangelo Antonioni, Longo, Ravenna.
Antonioni, Michelangelo (1964), Il bosco bianco, in Di Carlo, a cura di, 1964b, pp. 15–19. [Ora in Antonioni 1994b, pp. 80–84].
Antonioni, Michelangelo (1994b), Fare un film è per me vivere. Scritti sul cinema, a cura di Carlo Di Carlo e Giorgio Tinazzi, Marsilio, Venezia.
Antonioni, Michelangelo (1994c), La malattia dei sentimenti , in Id. 1994b, pp. 20–46.
Aumont, Jacques a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris.
Campari, Roberto (1985), Da “Deserto rosso: il colore, in Tinazzi, a cura di, 1985, pp. 161–166.
Dalle Vacche, Angela (1996), Cinema and Painting. How Art Is Used in Film, Athlone, London.
Di Carlo, Carlo (1964a), Il colore dei sentimenti, in Id., a cura di, 1964b, pp. 25–35.
Di Carlo, Carlo a cura di (1964b), “Il deserto rosso” di Michelangelo Antonioni, Cappelli, Bologna.
Di Carlo, Carlo (2010), Las Montañas Encàntadas y la fascinación del color. Michelangelo Antonioni entre la pintura y el cine, in Di Carlo et al. 2010, pp. 9–17.
Di Carlo, Carlo et al. (2010), Michelangelo Antonioni y las montañas encantadas. La intuición del hielo, Maia, Madrid.
Di Napoli, Giuseppe (2006), Il colore dipinto. Teorie, percezione e Tecniche, Einaudi, Torino.
Egner, Silke (2003), Bilder der Farbe, Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften, Weimar.
Font, Doménec (1999), Macchie, corpi, fantasmi. Il colore nel cinema di Antonioni, in Achilli/Boschi/Casadio, a cura di, 1999, pp. 77–83.
Godard, Jean-Luc (1994), La notte, l’eclisse, l’aurora , in Antonioni 1994b, pp. 255–263.
Katz, David (1935), The World of Colour, Kegan Paul, London. [Der Aufbau der Farbwelt, Barth. Leipzig 1930; trad. ingl. di R.B. MacLeod e C.W. Fox].
Katz, David (1950), La psicologia della forma, Einaudi, Torino. [Gestaltpsychologie, Schwabe, Basel 1944; trad. it. di Enzo Ariani.
Katz, David (1960), Il mondo delle percezioni come oggetto della psicologia, in Id./Katz, Rosa, a cura di, I960, pp. 126–68.
Katz, David; Katz, Rosa, a cura di (1960), Trattato di psicologia, Boringhieri, Torino. [Handbuch der Psychologie, II ediz., Schwabe, Basel-Stuttgart 1960; trad. it. di B. Callieri].
Philippon. Alain (1995), Étude en bleu. Michelangelo Antonioni: “Le désert rouge“, in Aumont, a cura di, 1995a, pp. 149–150.
Tinazzi, Giorgio, a cura di (1985), Michelangelo Antonioni. Identificazione di un autore. Forma e racconto nel cinema di Antonioni, Pratiche, Parma.
Tinazzi, Giorgio (2001), Antonioni e il colore, in “Bianco e nero”, LXII, n. 6, novembre-dicembre 2001, pp. 105–109.
Vitella, Federico (2010), Michelangelo Antonioni. “L’avventura“, Lindau, Torino.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 231–242.) (in Italian)
Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 25–29.
“2 The First Film
In early 1917, Technicolor’s portable laboratory was set in motion. The refurbished railroad car was on its way from Boston to Jacksonville, Florida, rolling over hundreds of miles of tracks to an isolated spot where the filming of The Gulf Between was to take place. Florida seemed the ideal location. The film-makers could take advantage of the bright sunlight, which was necessary for color photography, as well as the semi-tropical vegetation, a key background element for the story.
The production staff included Dr. Kalmus and his wife, Natalie; C. A. “Doc” Willat, formerly of the New York Motion Picture Corporation and Willat Studios and Laboratory, the production supervisor; Dr. Comstock; Mr. Wescott; Mr. Ball; and a new colleague, Professor E.J. Wall, who had done considerable work with color photography at the University of Syracuse. Both the staff and the cast were housed in a pullman car that had been hitched onto the back of the laboratory.
Dr. Comstock did not travel with the original party. He had remained in Boston to continue development of a projection system and was not scheduled to arrive until well into production. Those plans backfired when he received an urgent call from Florida asking him to come south immediately. When he reached Jacksonville, he found an exhausted staff. A distressing problem had occurred with the film itself. It could not be sensitized. (Sensitizing, or treating, was necessary at that time because of the non-existence of good color negative of fast enough speed. Without it, even in Jacksonville in the cloudless noonday sun, a close-up of a girl wearing a sunbonnet would develop showing her face with a black halo around it.)
The Jacksonville operations were costing six thousand dollars a week. “I remember vividly,” Dr. Comstock noted, “when they called me to come down. They said, ‘If you can get things going in two weeks to a day, we will go on. Otherwise, we will have to close up.’ There was obviously no time to do anything but feed the right kind of chemical ‘medicine’ to the sensitizing machine.”
Dr. Comstock had long sessions with Professor Wall and others. They tried various solutions, almost in desperation, only to find that if they cured one problem, they caused another. Day after day passed without success. The cast and crew were growing restless and the budget was slowly being drained. The crisis didn’t end until it was almost too late. Only thirty-six hours remained when the problem was solved.
The Gulf Between resumed production, and Dr. Comstock and Mr. Wescott returned to Boston to continue work on the projection system. The camera used in “Technicolor Process Number One” made a simultaneous exposure of red and green negatives by means of a prism (an important innovation in the process), which divided the light as it entered the camera. This necessitated the development of a new projector equipped with two apertures for adding color to the film – one with a green filter and the other with a red filter.
The problem of illuminating the two film apertures in the projector with continuous equality at one time seemed insurmountable. Indeed, one of the fundamental difficulties that beset and discouraged numerous investigators in the field of color photography had been the unsteadiness and inadequacy of the contemporary arc lamps, which were used as a source of light for the projection of all motion pictures. The firm of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott felt at an early stage it essential that an improved arc be developed to provide brighter light and, of equal importance, steadier light.
Projection of the two apertures onto the screen in register also proved to be troublesome. According to Dr. Comstock, “The register adjustment had to be made from the projection booth and this was relatively far away from the screen. The necessary adjustment was of extreme delicacy and an adjustment in the relative position between the two projector lenses would have been going at it the wrong way. The relative position must be ‘massively fixed’ or great trouble could be expected.”
A set of special register glasses was developed for superimposed fine adjustment. This permitted register correction without trying to change lens position. Register adjustment was still difficult, but it was possible.
The Gulf Between was completed in the summer of 1917 and screened before an invited audience at Aeolian Hall in New York City on September 21. Motion Picture News, in its review of October 6, cited the film as “unquestionably the finest natural color picture ever produced. The process … results in the absence of all ‘fringe,’ absence of eye strain and produces colors that are really natural. The invitation audience … was moved time and again to burst into applause of the sort that lasted long. The final shot, showing the sun setting over the water is beautiful – mindful of a Japanese painting.”
The October 6 edition of Motion Picture World called Technicolor “vastly superior to any of its predecessors. This was quickly comprehended by a large body of spectators that comprised many of the most prominent men in the moving picture industry, and the outbursts of applause were frequent, as different scenes of uncommon beauty were shown. The new process throws upon the screen a continual succession of pictures in natural colors that copy nature with the fidelity of a finely executed oil painting. Many of the landscapes and water scenes are of remarkable coolness.”
The critics were not totally complimentary, however however. Motion Picture News added: “the camera work – the all important angle of production in this case – is all O.K. with the exception that in quite a number of the scenes it lacks definition. There is a perceptible haze, ever so slight, but still perceptible …”
Motion Picture World went even further.
The interiors and the human element are not so well done, the men and women in particular having a more or less painted or chromo effect. The faces are most successful in the close-ups. When the figures retreat to any distance, it is difficult to distinguish their expression. Another defect is a slight blur of color, as the shift is made from one scene to another.
Briefly, while the process shows great advancement and has much to commend it, perfection has not been reached … That all forms of screen drama will ever best be shown in color is more than a doubtful question. The black-and-white animated picture is frankly a photograph and is understood as such by the spectator … Spectacular production should offer a promising field for this color method … As for drama, that is the product of the playwright. Even the advent of the photoplay has not altered the value of Dumas’ recipe for the practice of his art: ‘All I want is four scenes, four boards, two actors and a passion.’
Had it not been for the unveiling of the new color process, The Gulf Between would have been virtually ignored. Reviewers said the story was “long and drawn out… almost without suspense … and weak in plot” but praised the work of the cast as “a high order of merit.”
Technicolor…s first public showing, at Aeolian Hall, left a deep impression on Dr. Kalmus. Years later, he recalled that Friday morning in September.
Prior to the running of our film, I was asked to expound on the marvels of the new Technicolor process which was soon to be launched upon the public and which it was alleged by many could hardly do less than revolutionize their favorite form of entertainment.
The Gulf Between had been preceded by The Glorious Adventure, a feature picture made in England by the Kinemacolor Process. Since Kinemacolor photographed the color components by successive exposure, it was nothing for a horse to have two tails, one red and one green, and color ‘fringes’ were visible whenever there was rapid motion. The Technicolor slogan was two simultaneous exposures from the same point of view, hence geometrically identical components and no fringes.
We were, of course, introducing color by projecting through two apertures, each with a color filter, bringing the two components into register on the screen by means of a thin adjusting glass element … During the showing (at Aeolian Hall) something happened to the adjusting element and, in spite of the frantic efforts of the projectionists, it refused to adjust. And so I displayed fringes wider than anybody had ever before seen. Both the audience and the press were very kind but it didn’t help my immediate dilemma or afford an explanation to our financial angels.
The final blow occurred not much later. Arrangements had been made with the Klaw and Erlanger theater chain to exhibit The Gulf Between for one week in each of a group of large American cities. One night in Buffalo, New York, things went from bad to worse, not only on the screen but in the projection booth. Dr. Kalmus, who was in the theater, did not like what he saw and made a snap decision. “I decided that such special attachments on the projector required an operator who was a cross between a college professor and an acrobat … Technicolor then and there abandoned ‘additive’ processes and special attachments on the projector.” Once again, the “it can’t be done” forces raised their voices. Technicolor, the upstart, had also failed to field a workable color process. The Technicolor laboratory in Boston, however, was not a scene of depression. Everyone there felt that their accomplishments to date, good or bad, were simply a part of the early strategy. Besides, there was an encouraging note. Progress had already been made on the second project. Hopefully, this one would end the battlecry of the skeptics.
From the standpoint of color, the screen appearance of The Gulf Between had been sufficiently impressive to encourage the development of color “on the film” so that an ordinary projector could be used in the theaters. Instead of having two separate beams of color light going through two separate pictures in the projector, which had to be registered on the screen, the goal was to perfect a process that could contain both components of the picture printed from the negative in register on the positive film.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 25–29.)
Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, on p. 157.
Moby Dick (USA 1956, John Huston)
“Attempts to make film laboratories the site of more creative chromatic adjustments did occur, but their success was limited. The results of one such attempt can be seen in John Huston’s 1956 adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Having mimicked Impressionist painting in Moulin Rouge (1952), Huston and his director of photography Oswald Morris moved toward desaturation in Moby Dick (Plate 5.3). Morris shot the film on Eastman Color negatives, but then used the Technicolor dye-transfer process to print them. In addition to adding three color dyes, he put the film stock through a black-and-white pass, resulting in release prints that mixed black-and-white and color (Calhoun 2003). The effect of Morris’s technical ingenuity was subtle, perhaps even too subtle; the lack of critical response to his experiment suggests that many viewers may not even have noticed the desaturation. I have found only one contemporaneous review that references the film’s color, saying, “Colour in films can be a nullity, a nuisance, or a commonplace. In ‘Moby Dick‘ it is an important feature of the publication, and one leaves the theatre with the impression that a new adventure in cinema history has begun” (Lejeune 1956).2
2 Perhaps even this isolated praise of the Moby Dick‘s desaturation owes more to the film’s press release, which proudly advertised the details of Huston’s chromatic experiment, than to the film itself.
Calhoun, John. 2003. “Wrap Shot.” American Cinematographer 84 (11): 120.
Lejeune, C. A. 1956. “At The Films: Tar and Blubber.” The Observer, November 1, p. 9.”
(Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, on p. 157.)
Howe, James Wong (1937): Reaction on Making His First Color Production. In: American Cinematographer, 18, October 1937, pp. 408–409 and pp. 411–412, on p. 412.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (USA 1938, Norman Taurog)
“The sets for Tom Sawyer were as I have said, designed for black-and-white photography, and remain fundamentally unchanged in the color production. Accordingly, many of them are in relatively light colors, while if the production had been designed for color from the beginning I have a suspicion that many of these same sets would have been darker.
Favors Light Colors
Judging by my own experience and from what I have seen of previous color productions, I think these lighter sets have photographed much more effectively than they would had they been darker; and certainly they helped us to use a more normal volume of light.”
(Howe, James Wong (1937): Reaction on Making His First Color Production. In: American Cinematographer, 18, October 1937, pp. 408–409 and pp. 411–412, on p. 412.)
Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on p. 37.
“One should remember that the inventor and scientist may offer the user a perfect process, but unless the user exercises discrimination, accepting a new group of artistic formulae conditioned by the technical facts, it is just as possible to fail by misuse of a new medium as it is to inaugurate a splendid advance in film history. (Adrian Klein, 1935)1
With the appearance of subtractive two-colour Technicolor in 1922, the introduction of dye-transfer printing in 1928 and the three-colour camera in 1932 some predicted ‘black-and-white films will soon be a thing of the past’, while others were more cautious, worrying that ‘with the screen a blazing riot of colour it is impossible to concentrate fully on any particular individual’.2 Indeed, there were chromophiles, cautious chromophiles and chromophobes in the British colour adventure.
1 Today’s Cinema, Construction and Equipment supplement, 5 June 1935, p. iv.
2 Today’s Cinema, 1 May 1935, Construction and Equipment supplement, p. iii; and Shirley R. Simpson, ‘A Plea for Natural Colour’, Kinematograph Weekly, 26 August 1937, p. 4.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on p. 37.)
Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 47–50.
“5 All the Colors of the Rainbow
By May, 1932, Technicolor had completed its first three-component camera and had one unit of its main processing plant, shifted the previous year from Boston to Hollywood, equipped to handle a moderate amount of three-color printing. Though the new process was more expensive (cameras alone cost $30,000 each to build), it reproduced faithfully any shade or hue, indoors or out, and for the first time color movies were true and realistic. “Not only is the accuracy of tone greatly improved,” Dr. Kalmus noted, “but definition is markedly better. The difference between the three-component process and the previous two-component processes is truly extraordinary.”
Dr. Kalmus was aware that he could not offer his new process to one customer without offering it to all, which required many more cameras and the conversion of a greater portion of the laboratory. Too, he was continually haunted by the fact that the studios were still burning over their recent adventures into color, and wanted no part of any new product no matter how extraordinary it was.
To allow time to become better equipped (the company had learned its lesson only a few short years before), and to prove the new process beyond any doubt, the doctor sought first to try it out in the cartoon field. No cartoonist, however, wanted color. The general feeling was that animated features were good enough in black-and-white and that, of all the departments of production, cartoons could least afford the added expense.
Undaunted, Dr. Kalmus continued making the rounds of artists and animators. His dedication finally paid off. Walt Disney felt that color might make some sense in his Silly Symphonies, an umbrella title for a continuing series of light, whimsical fantasies. Although Disney had never used the two-color process in any of his creations, he was so impressed with the new three-color that he openly stated, “I wanted to cheer.” His brother, Roy, was less enthusiastic. As financial guardian, Roy Disney felt it his duty to point out the likely hazards involved with color animation and even went so far as to try and enlist support from influential associates in an effort to discourage Walt. United Artists, distributor of the Disney shorts, shared that concern. The studio would distribute Disney’s product, if he could produce one, but would not advance him any money.
Walt Disney had been working on a cartoon called Flowers and Trees, the nonsensical romantic adventures of two young saplings and a cantankerous old stump, when Dr. Kalmus approached him. Although nearly half the film had been completed in black-and-white, he decided to scrap the footage and have his artists begin again – this time in full color. Roy was appalled, not only at the total waste of good product but at the thought of adding another ten thousand dollars, at least, to the cartoon’s cost.
In late 1932, Flowers and Trees premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood as a companion piece to Irving Thalberg’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude. Despite its fragile storyline and colors that tended to be somewhat washed out by today’s standards, the new Technicolor turned the cartoon into a valuable property. Flowers and Trees became the first Disney production to win an Oscar (Best Cartoon of 1931-32).1 The success of this venture and the even greater success of the all-color Three Little Pigs, which earned another Academy Award the following year, told Disney his instincts had been correct. Technicolor was a natural for his cartoons.
It wasn’t too long before Walt Disney had signed a contract to operate on a strictly color basis, producing both the Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse cartoons in Technicolor. In return for Disney’s pioneering with the new process, Dr. Kalmus gave him a three-year exclusive for the cartoon field. What originally appeared to be a smart move turned out to be nearly fatal.
Once the popularity of Disney’s color creations had been proved, other producers began to approach Dr. Kalmus for film for their cartoons. Having to turn them down put the Technicolor chief in an awkward position. How, for example, could he refuse M-G-M the use of Technicolor? Doing so would naturally influence Mr. Mayer’s decision to use the process in lengthier productions. And feature films were the real goal of the Technicolor company.
With Walt Disney’s consent, the three-year exclusive was reduced to one. In the meantime, the studios and cartoonists would be allowed use of the previous two-color process. Under proper supervision and handling, everyone agreed, the old system would be satisfactory, particularly for animation. The agreement also gave Technicolor’s outmoded equipment a second lease on life. The company had thirty two-color cameras on hand, all standing idle. The deal made with Disney’s competition extended their usefulness one extra year.
While the producers willingly admitted they had been wrong about color in cartoons, they were still certain they were right about features. Whenever Dr. Kalmus sought to break the barrier, he was asked, “How much more will it cost to produce a feature in three-color Technicolor than in black-and-white?”
His reply was simple. “You have all seen Disney’s Funny Bunnies,” he would tell them2 “You remember the huge rainbow circling across the screen to the ground and you remember the funny bunnies drawing the color of the rainbow into their paint pails and splashing the Easter eggs. You will admit that it was marvelous entertainment. Now I will ask you how much more did it cost Mr. Disney to produce that entertainment in color than it would have in black-and-white?” The answer was that it could not have been done at any cost in monochrome.
Having made his point, the doctor would then draw a similar analogy with regard to feature production, telling his skeptics:
If a script has been conceived, planned and written for black-and-white, it should not be done at all in color. The story should be chosen and the scenario written with color in mind from the start so that by its use effects are obtained, moods created, beauty and personalities emphasized, and the drama enhanced. Color should flow from sequence to sequence, supporting and giving impulse to the drama, becoming an integral part of it and not something super- added. The production cost question should be, what is additional cost for color per unit of entertainment and not per foot of negative? It needn’t cost any more, of course.
The producers listened but they didn’t buy.
1 The Academy also recognized Technicolor s contribution by honoring the company with a Class II (Technical) Award for its Color Cartoon Process.
2 Actual release title of the Silly Symphonies cartoon was Funny Little Bunnies.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 47–50.)
Howe, James Wong (1937): Reaction on Making His First Color Production. In: American Cinematographer, 18, October 1937, pp. 408–409 and pp. 411–412, on p. 409 and on p. 411.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (USA 1938, Norman Taurog)
“In one sequence of my present picture we had a scene showing young Tommy Kelly, who plays Tom Sawyer, walking atop a picket fence balancing a feather on his nose, to impress his sweetheart. The camera angle was such that Tommy’s head moved against the open sky. In monochrome, the boy’s hair and the sky would be rendered in very similar shades of gray.
Instinctively as we prepared to photograph the scene I arranged back lighting to outline the head and separate it from the sky. After the first take, it suddenly dawned on me that this was a color picture, and on the screen the sky would be blue while the boy’s hair would be light brown, giving a natural separation. In the next take I eliminated the rim lighting. On the screen this latter take was far more pleasing. Where backlighting – or any strong highlighting – may for any reason be necessary it is important to remember that one of the few remaining limitations of the process is the fact that strong highlights show a tendency to become “washed out” in the printing. Therefore if such highlights must for any reason be used, they must be softened until they no longer produce this color-destroying glare but remain merely to suggest a highlight.”
(Howe, James Wong (1937): Reaction on Making His First Color Production. In: American Cinematographer, 18, October 1937, pp. 408–409 and pp. 411–412, on p. 409 and on p. 411.)
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. 64–74. (in German)
The Tales of Hoffmann (GBR 1951, Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)
“Signifikant auch das Gliederungsprinzip in Tales of Hoffmann. Heckroth wählt hier für sein Vorspiel vier Farbkombinationen und für jeden Akt eine eigene dominante Farbe: Blau/Schwarz für Titel und Anfang; kurzes Rot/Gold für Lindorffs Auftritt; Grau/Grünblau für den “Liebestanz der Libelle”; mittleres Grau und Braun für die Szenen in Luthers Keller. Gelb für “the Tale of Olympia” (1. Akt), mit Tupfern von Türkis und Rot; Rotbraun für “the Tale of Giulietta” (2. Akt), mit Akzenten von Schwarz (Giulietta) und Dunkelgrün; Blau für “the Tale of Antonia” (3. Akt), mit Elementen von Schwarz und Graugrün. Das Spektrum der Farben geht von den drei fundamentalen Primärfarben aus: gelb, rot, blau. Wobei Heckroth sein Spiel damit treibt, jeweils eine Primärfarbe zurückzunehmen, wenn möglich, sogar auszusparen: Blau in der ersten, Gelb in der zweiten, Rot in der dritten Erzählung. Nach klassischem Verständnis verlangen fehlende Primärfarben nach Ergänzung38; nach modernem Verständnis aktiviert gerade das die Phantasie von Zuschauern. Heckroths FarbDramaturgie sucht auszuloten, wie künstlich das Kino werden kann, ohne seine eigene Kunst zu opfern. Alles andere als “dezente Zurückhaltung” ist dabei “Prämisse seiner Ausstattungstechnik”.39 Eher soll sie der Farbe ihren Lauf lassen und so, Film von jedem Naturalismus befreiend, die besondere Art hervorheben, in der Menschen zu den Dingen in besondere Beziehungen kommen können. In der Farbmischung dominieren die Nuancen zwischen Gelb und Blau; Rot dient, von der Giuletta-Erzählung abgesehen, eher der Betonung. Die Linie der Farben beschwört dabei in gewisser Weise, was in Filmen sonst unsichtbar bleibt: ekstatische Verzückung und mythischer Zauber. Der Film ist auch ein Festival des Dionysischen.
The Tales of Hoffmann: drei düstere Geschichten um Liebe und Leid, um Leidenschaft und Täuschung. Was Heckroth die Chance gibt, seine Farben als Ausdruck purer Träumerei und reiner Phantasie aufzubauen. Als autonome Ästhetik noch vor der Musik, vor Vorstellung und Begriff sowieso. Ein wenig funktioniert Heckroths Farbschema wie Coppelius’ Zauberbrille in der “Olympia”-Erzählung; Unbewegtes kommt in Bewegung, Nichtlebendes erwacht zum Leben. Die Farben bringen die Puppen unserer Phantasie zum Tanzen. Sie verzaubern, indem sie öffnen für ganz kindliche Wünsche: Ich sehe ‘was, was Du nicht siehst, und das ist bunt.
In der “Olympia”-Tale dominiert Gelb überdeutlich den Hintergrund – und durch das helle Braun auch den Boden. So sind alle Figuren aufs Gelb bezogen, Hoffmann in seinem dunkelvioletten Cut, die weiblichen Marionetten in ihren weißen, gelben, türkisen Tanzkleidern, Olympia in ihrer weißgelben Robe sowieso. Dieses Gelb wirkt ungeheuerlich, auch bedrohlich, es steigt einem zu Kopf (vergleichbar nur dem Gelb in Charles Walters’ The Belle of New York, zwei Jahre später). Der Dekor als Zeichen äußersten Irrwitzes, der jeden Wahn erklärbar macht: auch die Liebe zur AutomatenFrau. Nur in dieser Umgebung ist Hoffmanns entrücktes Lächeln möglich, das verklärt, was doch bloß betrügt. Andererseits macht das Gelb den Stil. Es ist das visuelle Wagnis, das für suggestive wie für irritierende Ambivalenz sorgt. “Wenn ein Maler sich nicht auf Gelb einläßt, dann ist er nichts Besonderes”, sagt Herbert Achternbusch, “bei Gelb, da kann man nicht fackeln…”44 Die Entwicklung vom Gelb weg bleibt kurz: einmal zum kräftigen Rot, als Coppelius Spalanzanis Betrug bemerkt; dann zum helleren Rot, wenn Olympia Hoffmanns Nachstellungen entflieht; schließlich Grau/Schwarz, wenn sie zerstört wird – und darüber erkennbar, was sie war und ist. Die Zuspitzung zum Rot schreit zum Himmel; wie ein delirium tremens, das, wörtlich genommen, also nicht als Krankheit, eine Situation ist, die nichts anderes als den Rausch kennt. Dagegen wirkt der düstere Dekor nur ernüchternd. Wenn Olympias Kopf herunterpurzelt, bleibt nur die Kontradiktion: “Ein Automat! Ein Automat!” Der Alltag hat den Zauber wieder. Grau & Schwarz.
In der “Giulietta”-Episode dominieren Rotbraun und Schwarz, wobei das Rotbraun, von Kopie zu Kopie unterschiedlich, manchmal zu Purpur, manchmal zu einem dunkel schimmernden Altrosa tendiert. Giulietta, die Verführerin, die ihre Gunst gewährt, während sie den Männern Spiegelbild und Seele raubt, trägt Schwarz und ein türkises Tuch im Haar; ihre Lippen sind knallrot, was mit den dominanten Rottönen im Hintergrund korrespondiert. Die dunkle Strenge ihrer Erscheinung gibt ihren zerstörerischen Plänen eine klare Kontur. Worüber ihre verführerische Schönheit nicht sinnlich, sondern aufreizend und kalt wirkt. “Blende ihn mit Deinem Schein!” singt Dapertutto ihr zu, während er mit dem Wachs roter, blauer, gelber und grüner Kerzen spielt; ein Geschmeide mit Edelsteinen in diesen vier Farben winkt ihr als Lohn für die Eroberung Hoffmanns. “Das Herz muß er Dir geben./Zerstört ist dann sein Leben!” Hoffmann mit seiner goldenen Maske und seinem violetten Cut (der nun allerdings keinen Fundamentalkontrast bietet wie in der ersten Erzählung zum Gelb) und Schiemil mit seiner schwarzgoldenen Uniform bleiben in Spannung zum Rotbraun/Rotgold der Kulissen wie zum Schwarz von Giulietta; ihr Streit um die Geliebte setzt sich fort in der Rivalität ihrer Farben. Als es dann zum Duell kommt zwischen ihnen, also auch zum direkten Kampf um den goldenen Schlüssel zu Giuliettas Schlafzimmer, kommentieren die Farben im Hintergrund den Ausgang: Das Ineinander von Rotbraun und Türkis wird dunkler und dunkler, bis es sich auflöst ins Schwarz. Diese Kombination der Farben bilden einen Sog, der unterstreicht, wie verfallen Hoffmann dem Rausch ist und wie verloren in seinen Gefühlen. Die in sich verschachtelten Rottöne, die den Palast zur Lasterhöhle irrealisieren, blenden nachhaltig; sie behaupten Höhepunkte, während es längst steil bergab geht. Während Hoffmann noch um sein Leben kämpft, hat er seine Chancen schon alle eingebüßt. Der goldene Schlüssel, am Ende taugt er bloß zum Wegwerfen. Doch Gold funkelt und glänzt, zaubert und wirkt. Während der Spiegel splittert, zerbirst der Traum.
Schließlich “The Tale of Antonia”, wo Blau und dunkles Türkis dominieren, die Wände in den Innenräumen wie den weiten Blick ins Freie. Es ist die einzige Erzählung, die nicht von Täuschung und Verblendung handelt, sondern von falscher Fürsorge, die ins Verderben führt. Vater und Arzt suchen Antonia zu retten, mit allen Mitteln, die ihnen zur Verfügung stehen. Diese Mittel aber erreichen immer nur das Gegenteil. Die Flucht aus ihrem blauen Zimmer mit seinen goldenen Streifen (horizontal am Bett, vertikal an den Wänden) führt immer nur zurück: Während sie das Zimmer verläßt, betritt sie es zugleich wieder. Diese Fluchtsequenz ist der Mittelpunkt der Erzählung: ein Gefängnis aus Blau und Gold, dem einfach nicht zu entrinnen ist. Heckroth spitzt dieses Verhängnis in Blau zu, indem er nur Variationen der Farbe bietet – von Hellblau (Antonias Nachtgewand) und Dunkelblau (Antonias Kleid am Anfang), über Tiefblau (Wolken über dem Meer) und Grünblau (Theaterruine) bis zu Dunkelviolett (Hoffmanns Cut), Grau (Hintergrund der Theaterruine) und Schwarz (Crespel, Dr. Miracle). Dieses strenge Farbschema hebt die wenigen grellen Farben um so expressiver hervor: die goldenen Strahlen um die Statue der Mutter etwa, die Miracle für Antonia beschwört: ein glitzerndes Trugbild, das zu Vision und Wahn verleitet; oder die gelb/schwarz/goldene Illusion des Duetts zwischen Antonia und ihrer Mutter: wie eine MGM-GenreTotale von Minnelli, das Traumbild eines Traumbildes eines Traumbildes; oder das imaginierte Feuer im Wald, hellgelb und orange, das sich dann als Theaterlicht entpuppt. Farben, die vom Blau aus ganz unverständlich sind. Da kann Antonia nur daniedersinken, erschöpft und völlig durchgedreht. Als Hoffmann schließlich das Theater betritt mit einem roten Schal um den Hals, signalisiert das zugleich das Ende seiner “blauen” Liebe. Der Tod ist eine Lösung, in der Oper.
Im Epilog kommen alle drei Frauen noch einmal zusammen: diese Frauen in Gelb (Olympia), in Schwarz mit blaugrünem Schleier (Giulietta) und Hellblau mit rotem Tuch (Antonia). Lindorf reinigt sie, während er sich seiner Masken entledigt, indem er sie mit einem schwarzen Tuch umhüllt. So verschmelzen sie zu einer einzigen Frau in Weiß – Stella. Was darauf verweist, daß das Weiß alle Farben in sich trägt, oder andersherum: alle Farben auslöscht. Eine “Farbe des Todes” nennt Agnes Varda das Weiß, weil es “die Auflösung aller anderen Farben” bedeute.45
Für Kracauer unterdrücken Powell & Pressburger in The Tales of Hoffmann das fotografische Leben vollständig zugunsten opernhafter Effekte. Die “griechische Landschaft” etwa rieche nach Farbe. Ihr Film sei “Kino, das sich selbst entfremdet ist.”46 Bilder, die nach Farbe “riechen”; noch im bösesten Urteil gibt es bei Kracauer oft eine Aufmerksamkeit für Details, die ins Zentrum trifft. Riechen, das meint ja eine Wahrnehmung jenseits von Rationalem: eine Aufnahme von Sinn direkt über die Sinne. Von daher ist es völlig richtig, den ganzen “Prunk” als Demonstration zu verstehen, “um die Magie der Offenbach-Oper noch zu übersteigern.”47 Nur sollte man die Erkenntnispointe umdrehen und positiv nehmen, was Kracauer bloß als Vorwurf sich dachte. Mit Farbe zuspitzen, um Magisches noch zu übersteigern. Das ist ein Ansatz, der Heckroth und seiner Arbeit gerecht wird. Liest man Texte von Malern über ihre FarbVisionen fällt auf, wieviele die Wirkung von Farben mit der von Musik parallel setzen. Matisse etwa meinte: “Die Farben haben ihre eigene Schönheit, die es zu bewahren gilt, wie man in der Musik die Klangfarben beizubehalten sucht. Es ist eine Frage der Bildorganisation, der Komposition, die so angelegt sein muß, daß sie diese schöne Frische der Farben nicht verfälscht.” 48 Heckroth dachte ähnlich: “Um Farbe dramaturgisch einzusetzen, so wie man einen Schauspieler einsetzt, muß man arrangieren, und es ist wesentlich, daß die Person, die die Farbe einsetzt, ein Maler” ist. “Mit den richtigen Farben braucht man kaum Worte. Ich liebe es, sie zu verwenden wie ein Musiker eine Melodie verwendet. Jede Stimmung und Emotion hat ihren Ton.”49
38 Rudolf Arnheim, Kunst und Sehen, Berlin 1978, S. 259–366
39 Fritz Göttler/Stefan Braun u. a., Living Cinema. Powell & Pressburger. Kino-KonTexte 3, München 1982, S. 101
44 Herbert Achternbusch, zitiert nach Grafe, FarbFilmFest 1-12. Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin 1988, S. 23
45 Agnes Varda über Farbe im Film, in: Filmkritik 7/1968, S. 463
46 Siegfried Kracauer, Theorie des Films, Frankfurt am Main 1975, S. 212
47 Kracauer, a. a. O., S. 213
48 Henri Matisse, Rolle und Modalitäten der Farbe, in: H. M., Über Kunst, Zürich 1982, S. 180
49 Hein Heckroth, in: Making Colour Talk, Kinematograph Weekly, 9.11.1950, zitiert nach Göttler/Braun u. a., a. a. O., S. 102″
(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. 64–74.) (in German)
Pénichon, Sylvie (2013): Twentieth Century Colour Photographs. The Complete Guide to Processes, Identification & Preservation. London, Los Angeles: Thames & Hudson, on pp. 212–214.
The first commercial silver dye-bleach product was conceived by Bela Gaspar (1898-1973), who introduced his Gasparcolor print film in Berlin in 1932. The film, initially manufactured by Agfa, was coated on both sides with color-sensitive emulsion layers containing dyes and was used in the motion picture industry to print positive color films from black-and-white separation negatives. It was in direct competition with dye imbibition Technicolor film, which was pioneered at the same time. Gaspar employed preformed water-soluble dyes that were destroyed and eliminated during processing. One of his most important discoveries was that the silver dye-bleach reaction could be greatly accelerated by the addition of certain organic compounds that acted as a catalyst.15 In 1934, fleeing Germany and the Third Reich, Gaspar transferred his activities to London. The Belgian manufacturer of photographic goods Gevaert began making the film stock.16 At the outbreak of World War II, Gaspar moved to the United States and made arrangements for processing Gasparcolor film in the laboratories of the Hollywood Film Company, a motion picture equipment manufacturer (Coote 1993). He also arranged for experimental production coatings to be made by Eastman Kodak Company, which at the time was investigating the production of a silver-dye bleach color print material.17 Kodak was not interested in producing Gaspar’s material, so he turned to Ansco in Binghamton, New York (Friedman 1968: 529). In 1944 he launched a new reflection printing material on a white-pigmented acetate base called Gasparcolor Opaque, which was, initially and for the duration of the war, available only to the U.S. military. The processing of Gasparcolor Opaque prints began with an ordinary black-and-white paper developer, followed by a first fixing bath to eliminate unexposed silver halide. Next, a bath of concentrated hydrochloric acid dye-bleach destroyed the dyes in proportion to the amount of silver present in each layer. This was followed by a silver-bleaching bath, a second fixing bath, and a final water wash. Intermediate water baths took place between the steps, and the procedure took more than an hour (Lipton 2001). Gasparcolor Opaque was manufactured by Ansco until 1946 (Koshofer 1981a: 170).18 In 1948 Gaspar and his brother Imre set up a small production operation in Hollywood, California, arid announced a mail-order printing service of Gasparcolor prints for color transparencies with chemicals manufactured to Gaspar’s specifications by DuPont (Lipton 2001).19 The new Gasparcolor Opaque had five times the exposure speed it had had during the war, better color values, greater stability, and a wide latitude of tonal range (Camera Notes 1948).20 Amateur self-processing kits were also sold for a short time but did not find commercial success because of the low sensitivity of the material and the extreme acidity and poisonous nature of the chemicals (Koshofer 1981a: 170). Gasparcolor Opaque was used mainly by commercial photographers such as Anton F. Bruehl (1900-1982) and Richard C. Miller (1912-2010), who enjoyed its vibrant colors and outstanding quality (Fig. 6.5). However, the lack of adequate coating facilities to manufacture the paper was a major drawback for the expansion of the business. In 1952 Gaspar entered into an agreement with Etablissement Bauchet of Rueil-Malmaison near Paris. For a short time, between 1953 and 1955, the French company produced its version of Gasparcolor Opaque, calling it Bauchet Color Paper. In 1956, after the failure of the French venture, Gaspar resumed his own production of printing materials and chemicals (Koshofer 1981a). In the late 1950s he entered into an agreement with 3M Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, to explore the possibility of manufacturing and marketing a silver dye-bleach color printing material on a large scale.21 No consumer product came out of this agreement, but 3M later developed 3M Posi-Tone, a silver dye-bleach continuous tone color-proofing material for the printing industry. This material was only available in 1965-66 (Friedman 1968: 529). Gaspar eventually abandoned his efforts to commercialize his invention but continued to do research at Gaspar Laboratory in Beverly Hills, California, until his death in 1973.
15 Effectively, the developed silver metal was already the reducing agent for dye-bleaching in this early process (Schellenberg, Riolo, and Blaue 2007), and it is doubtful that a truly catalyzed reaction was involved (Friedman 1944).
16 L. Gevaert & Cie was a company formed by Lieven Gevaert (1868-1935) in 1894 in Antwerp, Belgium, that manufactured photographic paper.
17 Between 1934 and 1941 Eastman Kodak developed a silver dye-bleach printing material called Azochrome. In 1941 it announced the launching of Azochrome but held back the product at the onset of World War II. After the war, the company decided to abandon its silver dye-bleach research and development and to concentrate its efforts on dye coupling and dye imbibition methods (Koshofer 1981b; Wilhelm and Brower 1993). Dye destruction is the only family of photographic processes for which Eastman Kodak never commercialized a product.
18 Ansco is said to have been more interested in producing its own Ansco Color Printon material (a direct positive printing material, also on white pigmented acetate but developed through dye coupling processing; see Chap. 5), and many sheets of Gasparcolor Opaque were defective due to the lack of quality control (Lipton 2001).
19 The company was called Chromogen Inc. (Coote 1993: 131).
20 Two sizes of prints were offered: 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. and 4 x 6 in. (Camera Notes 1948).
21 3M Company was founded in 1902 and was initially producing abrasives and sandpapers. It entered the adhesive business in 1925, and in the 1960s started manufacturing photographic products.
Camera Notes. 1948. “Camera Notes: Gasparcolor Prints Offered.” New York Times, Oct. 24, X19.
Coote, Jack H. 1993. The Illustrated History of Colour Photography. Surrey, U.K.: Fountain Press.
Friedman, Joseph S. 1944. History of Color Photography. Boston: American Photographic Publishing Co.
Friedman, Joseph S. 1968. History of Color Photography; With Introduction and Appendix by Lloyd E. Varden. London: Focal Press.
Lipton, Norman C. 2001. “Gasparcolor’s Shining Hour.” Photo Techniques (May-June): 38.
Koshofer, Gert R. 1981a. Farbfotografie. Band 1: Alte Verfahren. Munich: Lanterna Magica.
Koshofer, Gert R. 1981b. Farbfotografie Band 3. Lexicon der Verfahren Geräte und Materialien. Munich: Lanterna Magica.
Schellenberg, Matthias, Ernst Riolo, and Hartmut Blaue. 2007. “Silver-Dye Bleach Photography – Basic Color Photographic Principles, History of Silver-Dye Bleach.” In The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History and Science, 4th ed., ed. Michael R. Peres, 700–711. Amsterdam and New York: Elsevier and Focal Press, http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/1225/Silver-Dye-Bleach-Photography.html#ixzzotUFcvkiU.
Wilhelm, Henry, and Carol Brower. 1993. The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures. Grinnell, IA: Preservation Publishing Co.
(Pénichon, Sylvie (2013): Twentieth Century Colour Photographs. The Complete Guide to Processes, Identification & Preservation. London, Los Angeles: Thames & Hudson, on pp. 212–214.)
Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 48–49.
“Britain’s studio structure was not as vertically integrated as the Hollywood studio system in which the major companies dealt with production, distribution and exhibition. It is possible that the British film industry’s weaker financial base and less vertically integrated structure shifted attention to short filmmaking as a practical, more economical site for experimentation with colour. British studios facing fierce competition from Hollywood were less able to risk finance and reputation on producing expensive colour feature films so it made sense rather to exploit a rich national tradition of innovation in short film-making, from travelogues to the GPO Film Unit.
The merits and problems of each process were extensively discussed, particularly when they could be directly compared. National events such as the Coronation in 1937 were filmed with various processes, Dufaycolor, British Realita […] (a short-lived additive process which had originated in France), Technicolor and Kinechrome. A report in the trade press concluded that:
The full-bodied colours of Technicolor made their version a thing of beauty … Dufaycolor was totally different from that of Technicolor – the bright colours more subdued but the dark tones, particularly the glossiness of the horses, somehow richer. The brilliance of Technicolor may, perhaps, have been preferable for this particular subject, but I have the feeling that for a feature-length film one would prefer the softer, less tiring colours of Dufay.
Realita was deemed to be less impressive and Kinechrome had ‘remarkably good gilt colours’ in the opening shot of the state coach but ‘the rest of the film did not maintain quite the same standard’, with a good range of blue tones.48 The Times report noted Technicolor’s advantage in filming close-ups and ‘slow’ (presumably meaning slow pans) shots of Windsor Castle and the royal portraits, but less success in filming crowd scenes. Gold, so important in such events, was not considered to film well in any process which tended to accentuate pink tinges, or with an impression of brassiness. The Dufay film was judged not to have the same degree of ‘theatrical richness’ as Technicolor. Crowd scenes contained some ruddy faces, and the range of colour for uniforms was praised, even though khaki tended to have a pinkish tinge in Dufaycolor.49 These evaluations confirmed the accumulation of praise for Dufaycolor and its association with a British colour aesthetic based on a preference for soft, ‘natural’ colour that was differentiated from Technicolor’s brighter ‘theatrical richness’. While the latter description was not meant to be highly critical of Technicolor, such a judgment can be linked to Arnheim’s view of colour as constituting ‘waxwork museum ideals’. Dufaycolor, on the other hand, with its capacity for conveying quality and realism down to the glossiness of a horse’s coat, firmly placed it in keeping with aesthetic values that favoured colour restraint.
Apart from debating the technical advantages and disadvantages of each particular system, views still differed on whether colour was desirable at all. F. Watts, production chief at Pathé, worried that colour newsreels would distract from news stories, and that the technical difficulties of filming in colour might prevent a cameraman obtaining the best pictures as events unfolded before the camera.50 From this perspective additive processes such as Francita-Realita and Dufaycolor had an advantage over Technicolor because they took less time to process. When the Coronation was filmed on Wednesday, 12 May, for example, only British Realita was able to issue a ‘flash’ copy that evening, and by midnight the following day three West End newsreel cinemas were able to show the film. The Technicolor film was shown in a short version on the Friday, and the Dufaycolor film was available on Sunday, 16 May.51
48 Kinematograph Weekly, 27 May 1937, p. 50. I have been unable to discover information on Kinechrome.
49 The Times, 18 May 1937.
50 F. Watts, ‘They Talk Colour’, Cine-Technician vol. 3 no. 14, March-April 1937-38, p. 194.
51 Kinematograph Weekly, 20 May 1937, p. 33.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 48–49.)
Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on p. 6.
“With practically no fanfare, but with meticulous planning and extraordinary discretion, Eastman commandeered the manufacture of color motion picture film negative. Its single domestic competitor, Ansco film, secured an exclusive contract with MGM, and with the release of The Wild North in March 1952 actually beat Eastman to the gate in exhibiting the first Hollywood monopack feature.22 But by the end of 1954, after the last stragglers had finally returned their Technicolor cameras, Ansco was out of the movie business, and through the rest of the decade Eastman provided the color negative to all the major studios and virtually all the independents.
22 For Ansco Color Film and MGM, 22 American Cinematographer (February, 1950), p. 42; Arthur Rowan, “‘The Wild North’ Introduces MGM’s New Ansco Color Process,” AC (March, 1952), 106–107, 122–124. Also Robert A. Mitchell, “The New Ansco Color Film and Process,” AC (April, 1953), 166, 177–183.”
(Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on p. 6.)
Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 157–158. (in Italian)
Black Narcissus (GBR 1947, Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)
“Alcune delle più audaci invenzioni proposte in questi film furono realizzate vincendo le resistenze dei consulenti della Technicolor, che erano portati a difendere soluzioni più codificate. In Narciso nero (Black Narcissus,1947) e Scarpette rosse (The Red Shoes, 1948), Cardiff mise a punto un virtuosistico catalogo di effetti di luce per la resa di notturni, albe e tramonti, sintonizzando la propria predilezione per illuminazioni colorate o in chiave bassa con l’immaginario melodrammatico di Powell e Pressburger. L’afflato sperimentale gli valse una cattiva reputazione presso i consulenti cromatici: “ero 1′enfant terrible del Technicolor, il vero ragazzaccio che infrangeva tutte le loro regole, ma alla fine apprezzarono quello che stavo cercando di fare”49.
Narciso nero, storia di una comunità di suore reclusa in un convento sperduto dell’Himalaya, promuoveva, in tutte le sequenze a più alto quoziente drammatico, una sistematica inversione delle logiche di sottomissione dell’ambiente ai personaggi prescritte dalle regole del controllo50. Sfondi cromaticamente vivaci furono creati attraverso le pitture murali, le stanze e gli arredi del convento, i pannelli dipinti del paesaggio himalayano interamente ricostruito in studio. I particolari schemi luministici di Cardiff miravano a creare per ciascuna scena la più appropriata chiave di enfatizzazione drammatica: “gli effetti – dichiarò lui stesso – dovevano essere esagerati quasi al punto dell’incredulità per esprimere il fatto che le suore sono in costante conflitto psicologico con la selvaggia celestiale bellezza del loro ambiente”51.
49 Cfr. Bowyer 2003, p. 53, corsivo nell’originale.
50 Sul colore nel film, cfr. Street 2009, pp. 209–213.
51 Cfr. Huntley 1949, p. 113.
Bowyer, Justin (2003), Conversations with Jack Cardiff. Art, Light and Direction in Cinema, Batsford, London.
Huntley, John (1949), British Technicolor Films, Skelton Robinson, London.
Street, Sarah (2009), Colour Consciousness: Natalie Kalmus and Technicolor in Britain, in “Screen“, L, n. 2, estate 2009, pp. 191–215.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 157–158.) (in Italian)
Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 124.
“Extended fashion shows in color became a popular subject, and proved particularly appealing to female audiences. In a controlled environment and with careful color coordination, Technicolor’s limited palette could produce exceptional results.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 124.)
Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1937): The Development of the Art and Science of Photography in the Twentieth Century. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28,1, pp. 3–20, on p. 13.
“The earliest Technicolor process, again, in which thin films carrying wash-off relief images were cemented in register back to back was a triumph of technical skill; while the imbibition process of the Technicolor Company represented the first really practicable process for the production of motion pictures in large quantities at a cost at which they could be sold. In this process, the wash-off reliefs or matrices are used to form dye images, which are transferred by imbibition to a gelatin layer, and after this operation was carried out successfully with two colors, the Technicolor Company was able to produce three-color images, which today represent the furthest commercial development in the production of color motion pictures.”
(Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1937): The Development of the Art and Science of Photography in the Twentieth Century. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28,1, pp. 3–20, on p. 13.)
Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 114.
“The Technicolor process demanded strong illumination, with a broad spectral range. Carbon arcs provided an immediate solution to this, although the much less intense incandescent lamp was also suitable, if less practical. Arcs produced light by creating an electrical “arc” between two carbon-rod electrodes. The arc needed to be constantly monitored and manually adjusted as the carbon rods burned. A minute change in intensity and spectral qualities didn’t matter in black & white photography, but could produce very noticeable side effects in color work. As a result the color cameramen had to maintain close contact with the gaffer and makeup department, and constantly change filters to achieve consistent color balance.
The growth of Technicolor coincided with the greater adoption of panchromatic film by the motion picture industry, brought about by more competitive prices from Eastman Kodak. Before the improved Eastman Panchromatic Negative Film was introduced in 1926, the majority of black & white films were shot on blue-sensitive orthochromatic stock, which rendered actors’ skin darker and lips black. As a result, pale makeup was used to lighten skin and add emphasis to facial features. The panchromatic negative used by Technicolor recorded contrast and tone more faithfully, enabling more natural makeup to be used. As studio makeup departments were still relatively inexperienced, the color cameraman was responsible for ensuring that the correct makeup was applied. “We spent thousands of dollars developing makeup for the two-color process,” recalled Ray Rennahan. “If we had an actress coming on with her own makeup man who had no experience in color, they would want to put on the same makeup used for black and white… and we would [have to] take it off.”16
The use of color in art direction and costume design was handled by the studio. Good results at first depended on trial and error. Experienced production designer Ben Carré received little guidance in 1924 on Cytherea, his first encounter with Technicolor. “They told me I could use any color I wanted,” Carré recalled. “One of my sets was a Spanish setting with arches, and to force the light I painted the background with purples which when seen on the screen finally became absolutely brown… and they didn’t reshoot it.”17
Before Technicolor’s dedicated color consultancy division was formed in 1929, it was the responsibility of the company’s cameramen to advise production staff about on-set colors as best they could. The limitations of the two-color process meant certain colors were impossible to achieve in the final prints.
16 Rennahan, interview by Bill Gleason.
17 Ben Carré, interview by Bill Gleason, 1970s, transcript, Karl Thiede Collection.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 114.)
Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 11–14.
“As Urban was astute in realising, photographic processes such as Kinemacolor gained notoriety at an appropriate moment when opinion was conducive to what they could offer in terms of providing different experiences of colour attraction, occasionally spectacular for trick films but more typically ‘natural’ and less obtrusive for travelogues and dramas.
Benjamin Pask’s concise table of 314 patents registered for colour processes in Britain 1893-1930 includes 180, or 57 per cent, listed as British.23 The various colour ‘patent wars’ instigated commercial rivalries that lasted for many years, such as between William Friese-Greene of Biocolour […] and Charles Urban that culminated in the notorious court appeal ruling in 1914 that hastened Kinemacolor’s demise. Based on the south coast near Brighton, figures such as William Norman Lascelles-Davidson, Benjamin Jumeaux and Otto Pfenninger were also important in the early years of developing natural colour systems, as well as Colin Bennett, who exploited a Friese-Greene patent and was later credited for developing Cinechrome. Friese-Greene’s experiments involved two different methods: a light-splitting prism behind the camera lens passing through filters, and a process in which successive frames were dyed red and green.24 These enterprising figures to some extent revived the cultures of popular fervour around invention more commonly associated with the celebration of nineteenth century technologies including railway construction and the excitement generated by the 1851 Great Exhibition. The second half of the nineteenth century has often been depicted by historians as a period of anxiety as Britain’s industrial and technological competitiveness was seen to be threatened by other countries such as Germany and the USA.25 From this perspective G. A. Smith and William Friese-Greene’s efforts constitute evidence of a more thriving culture of invention in the first years of the twentieth century. The primacy of many British inventors in motion picture technology and the specialist interest many had in colour promised to revive Britain’s creative and commercial reputation.
As discussed in more detail subsequently in this chapter, Kinemacolor enjoyed a brief, but spectacular intrusion into the commercial market as a photographic, additive process […] that specialised in topical films of royal occasions and travelogues, 1908-14. Kinemacolor had to compete with Gaumont’s three-colour Chronochrome additive process first demonstrated in Paris in November 1912, as well as with a host of other patented ideas. The greatest number of patents relating to colour motion pictures were filed in 1912, spurred on by Urban’s success with the Delhi Durbar films.26 The amount of energy and enterprise directed towards colour during this period is impressive and on occasion pre-dates subsequent well-known experiments. Edward Thornton, for example, filed a great number of patents and is credited for inventing a camera in 1911 using three lenses and a dye imbibition process very similar to that later successfully developed by Technicolor.27 The British interest in colour was established at an early stage, from R. W. Paul to William Friese-Greene and Charles Urban, making distinctive contributions in the field. The race to perfect photographic colour processes was at the heart of conflicts between inventors, who worked tirelessly to achieve ‘natural’ colour, inspired by a range of approaches which included tinting alternate film frames red and green; putting rotating coloured filters on projectors; using light-splitting prisms with cameras and sensitising film stock. As McKernan’s research on Kinemacolor has demonstrated, commercial success in the context of photographic colour processes is a relative concept, since revenue must be offset against the considerable expenses involved in development and exploitation.28 Yet even though other British photographic processes such as Cinechrome and Polychromide […] were exhibited, Kinemacolor was by far the best known, facilitated by Urban’s aggressive showmanship and publicity. Combined with the number of films made, their profitability for a few years and the effectiveness of their intrusion into the public consciousness, it is not therefore surprising that out of the fervour of colour experimentation Kinemacolor emerged as the most notorious process.
The quest for colour involved mixed motives which combine varying degrees and emphases in Branagan’s models of historical explanation for technological innovation. Inventions do not just appear out of nowhere. They are the result of the interaction of a range of complex factors. These include the brilliance and tenacity of particular individuals, but, in addition, other reasons mean that some inventions are taken up while others, like the many colour patents that were never exploited, remain unknown. But crucially Branagan’s models, therefore, include the ‘adventure’ narrative of individual agency; technological issues; theories of industrial exploitation; and the role of ideology.29 ‘Adventurers’ such as Friese-Greene and Charles Urban indulged in the rhetoric of scientific discovery, presenting themselves as pioneers on the brink of enlightenment. While it is tempting to present the history of colour film as a succession of shorter and longer-lived triumphs of individuals such as Urban or Herbert Kalmus, it is clearly necessary also to understand significant technological problems and breakthroughs, as well as the impact of prevailing economic and ideological contexts. As Branagan points out, Kinemacolor’s emergence as the most celebrated, sustained example of a commercial, non-applied process in the silent period was in part influenced by prevailing views about the efficacy of science, in particular the ‘optical desirability of color in motion pictures’ related to notions of realism.30 Faith in mimetic reproduction was also related to contemporary ideologies around education and moral ‘uplift’, since believing the camera to be capable of exceeding human vision was linked to the desire to influence ‘character forming processes’ through scientific endeavour.31 Such claims were based on acknowledging the moving image’s power to influence as no other media had done before, for good or for evil. In the wake of the technological revolution Urban presented Kinemacolor as another triumph of man’s ingenuity. As we shall see, the rhetoric deployed by Urban to promote Kinemacolor was imbued with claims about the process’s educational role as ‘The Marvel of the Age’, revealing new worlds to audiences in films recording nature, foreign countries, royal processions and military ceremonies normally outside their direct experience.32
The history of Kinemacolor has been recounted by several historians, most notably in McKernan’s study of Charles Urban and Hanssen’s research on contemporary notions of ‘natural’ colour based on the Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects, 1912-13.33 Before considering the relationship between Kinemacolor and the multifarious, complex discursive formations with which it was inextricably involved, a brief recounting of how it managed to achieve such notoriety in a relatively short time is necessary.34 G. A. Smith worked with Urban to produce a practically viable process based on Lee and Turner’s three-colour additive principles patented in 1899 […]. Stymied by challenging technical problems, Smith developed a related two-colour process that was patented in 1906 and formed the basis of the claim to ‘approximately’ reproduce natural colours with Kinemacolor. He also was responsible for adapting orthochromatic stock so that it was more responsive to light from the red area of the spectrum, a technological breakthrough which assisted subsequent two-colour processes. Towards the end of 1907 some trial demonstrations took place, and in May 1908 selected dignitaries were invited to the newly opened Urbanora House to view colour films in a prestigious gathering that was to become a familiar means of advertising Kinemacolor. On 23 February 1909 the public was introduced to the process which was publicly named Kinemacolor for the first time at the Palace Theatre, London, before being exhibited all over the country and abroad.
Smith publicised his work to the scientific community at a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts in December 1908, detailing his decision to abandon three-colour experimentation in favour of a two-colour process that featured revolving shutters containing red and green filters on both camera and projector. In his opinion this was capable of approximating the range of the spectrum when projected at a high speed (30-2 fps) and working in conjunction with the principle of persistence of vision.35 Smith’s paper was then discussed and in view of the problems later experienced by Kinemacolor, some of the issues raised appear to be prescient. After seeing some demonstration films, Sir Henry Trueman Wood, Secretary of the Society, remarked that ‘while the reds were admirably rendered, the darker blues, and some of the greens, were not quite as true to nature as theoretically they might be’; greys and browns, on the other hand, were ‘admirably and perfectly truly rendered’.36 Thus began a trend of criticism to which every colour process was subsequently subjected: how ‘true’ was it to ‘reality’? Why were red and brown ‘admirably rendered’, whereas other colours were not considered to be as well reproduced as, say, in the Lumière brothers’ Autochrome photographic plates, which were receiving very favourable publicity in 1907-08 and, Smith admitted, gave ‘wonderful’ colour records using a triple system?37 The main problem he had found in trying to develop a three-colour process for moving images was ‘time parallax’. If an object changed position during the time it took to expose three records these appeared misaligned when projected, resulting in colour fringing around the moving object.38 Working with only two records helped reduce fringing but was less successful in adequately reproducing a full range of colour, particularly blue. The problems of exaggerating the scope of a two-colour process came back to haunt Urban in a series of legal wrangles in 1913-14 with Bioschemes, a company formed to front William Friese-Greene’s campaign against Smith’s 1906 patent. In December 1913 Bioschemes petitioned for the patent to be revoked. The petition was dismissed but when Bioschemes appealed the company succeeded in getting the patent revoked in March 1914, largely on the grounds that claims to render the colour blue were inaccurate. In the following month Urban liquidated the Natural Color Kinematography Company and soon departed for America. Although Kinemacolor films continued to be shown, the monopoly was lost, and the case contributed to Kinemacolor’s decline.39
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.40 The 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, listed in a series of detailed, retrospective articles on colour cinematography published in the British Journal of Photography in 1922.42 These included only being able to obtain a full exposure at maximum light conditions which limited what could be shot; the irregularity of the panchromatic stock; an unwieldy camera until Charles Raleigh (author of the articles who was involved in developing Prizma) constructed a smaller Debrie model embodying the colour shutter; variable printing results; the special projector that needed to be very robust because of the high speed requirements; complaints about ‘off colour’ resulting from a lack of synchronicity between the colour values of the film and the colour shutter; pictures showing an over-pronounced tone of either red or green; and, the most notorious failings, flicker and fringing. With regard to fringing, Raleigh explained that:
If Kinemacolor had kept to scenic … this eyesore would never have been noticed, but familiarity breeds contempt, and when bold barons fought and fair maidens danced they were all wreathed in gaudy ribbons of red and green, which, however, in the maypole dance was very effective and always brought applause.
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.’43 The 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 A reviewer in The Bioscope warned Smith and Urban about exaggerating Kinemacolor’s capabilities after seeing some films demonstrated in which ‘the least expert in the audience could tell that a leaden blue was not the veritable hue and tint of a young lady’s arm, or that a cornfield was all one dull, sandy yellow’.45
While these problems were considerable the demise of Kinemacolor cannot be attributed simply to its technical shortcomings in comparison with later processes. As McKernan points out, in spite of the difficulties it was nevertheless for a few years a very commercially successful natural colour process whose legacy must be considered in relation to the contemporary context of viewing colour films.46 One has to take into account the cases when people were extremely impressed by what they saw, such as when Theodore Brown visited the Palace Theatre in 1910 and marvelled at the ‘pleasurable intoxication’ resulting from seeing actuality films of phenomena in which ‘delusive nature has at last been captured’.47
23 Benjamin Pask, ‘Capturing Colour: The British Pursuit of Natural Colour Cinema during the Silent Period’, unpublished MA thesis, University of East Anglia, 2004, pp. 78–87. The list was created from British Patent Office records.
24 For the rivalry between Friese-Greene and Urban, see Luke McKernan, ‘The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Colour’, Visual Delights Two, 2004, and Simon Brown, ‘The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Colour – Redux’, unpublished paper given at Colour and the Moving Image conference, Bristol 2009
25 Christine Macleod, Heroes of Invention: Technology, Liberalism and British Identity, 1750-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 9–10.
26 Pask, ‘Capturing Colour’, p. 28.
27 Ibid., pp. 34–5.
28 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, pp. 189–93.
29 Edward Branagan, ‘Color and Cinema: Problems in the Writing of History’, in Paul Kerr (ed.), The Hollywood Film Industry (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), pp. 120–47.
30 Ibid., p. 137.
31 Quotation from W. W. Harmon, Moving Picture World, 25 December 1910, reprinted in Kinemacolor Handbook, September 1910 (Natural Color Kinematograph Co. Ltd), p. 10.
32 Kinemacolor Supplement to the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 12 September 1912.
33 McKernan, ‘”Something More than a Mere Picture Show”‘, chapter 3 and Hanssen, Early Discourses on Colour and Cinema.
34 A short history of the process is presented in the Technical Appendix of this book.
35 G. A. Smith, ‘Animated Photographs in Natural Colours’, paper delivered 9 December 1908 to Fourth Ordinary Meeting of the Royal Society, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts vol. LVII no. 2925, 11 December 1908, pp. 70–6.
36 Ibid., pp. 75–6.
37 The Autochrome process was additive and dominated still colour photography in the early years of the twentieth century. The plates consisted of fine red/orange, green and violet grains of potato starch, forming a three-colour filter; they were coated with a panchromatic emulsion. For further details of Autochromes see Michel Frizot, ‘A Natural Strangeness: The Hypothesis of Color’, in Michel Frizot (ed.), A New History of Photography (Köln: Könemann, 1998 English language edition), p. 414.
38 Victoria Jackson, ‘Reviving the Lost Experience of Kinemacolor: David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard’ (interview), Journal of British Cinema and Television vol. 7 no. 1, 2010, p. 149.
39 Gorham Kindem, ‘The Demise of Kinemacolor: Technological, Legal, Economic, and Aesthetic Problems in Early Color Cinema History’, Cinema Journal vol. 20 no. 2, Spring 1981, pp. 7–9.
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.
42 Charles Raleigh, ‘Remisciences of Commercial Colour Cinematography – its Possibilities’, British Journal of Photography, colour supplement, vol. XVI no. 189, 4 August 1922, pp. 30–2; vol. XVI no. 190, 1 September 1922, pp. 35–6; vol. XVI no. 191, 6 October 1922, pp. 37–8.
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.
45 The Bioscope, 4 March 1909, p. 23.
46 McKernan, ‘”Something More than a Mere Picture Show”‘, pp. 172–82.
47 Theodore Brown, ‘My Impressions of Kinemacolor’, Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly vol. 6 no. 151, 31 March 1910.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on pp. 11–14.)
Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 127–128. (in Italian)
“Un modo ancora più intenzionalmente sovversivo informò negli anni venti gli usi del colore di Stroheim, che tra i registi della sua generazione fu il più interessato a sperimentare tutte le soluzioni disponibili. Al Technicolor in bicromia ricorse per l’incoronazione finale di La vedova allegra (The Merry Widow, 1925) e per la sequenza della processione di Sinfonia nuziale (The Wedding March, 1928), che la presenza del colore (ottenuto con il successivo Technicolor 3) contribuiva a trasformare in una galleria di maschere26.
Fu soprattutto il passaggio al sonoro, tuttavia, a fare del Technicolor in bicromia una delle attrazioni supplementari della breve ma intensa stagione dei talkie.
26 In Femmine folli (Foolish Wives, 1922), Stroheim fece colorare a mano un’intera sequenza; in Greed (1925) alternò bianco e nero, tintura e sistema Handschiegl (per colorare alcuni inserti simbolici, segnatamente in giallo oro, come nelle féerie delle origini); in La vedova allegra aggiunse a queste tre forme il Technicolor in bicromia. Di queste sperimentazioni resta oggi soltanto il girato in Technicolor di Sinfonia nuziale (cfr. Koszarski 2000). Di Mariti ciechi (Blind Husbands, 1919) è stata recentemente restaurata, a cura dell’ Österreichisches Filmmuseum, l’edizione tedesca, interamente virata. Quanto ai colori di Greed, un tentativo di ricostruzione attraverso la tecnica digitale della colorizzazione è stato promosso nel 1999 dalla Turner Classic Movies (cfr. Id. 1999, pp. 16–22).
Belton. John, a cura di (2000), Colour Film, in “Film History“, XII, n. 4, 2000.
Koszarski, Richard (1999), Come ricostruire “Greed“? Con che durata e con che colore?, in “Griffithiana“, XXII, n. 65, 1999, pp. 4–26.
Koszarski, Richard (2000), “Foolish Wives“: the Colour Restoration that Never Happened, in Belton, a cura di, 2000, pp. 341–343.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 127–128.) (in Italian)
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.
Becky Sharp (USA 1935, Rouben Mamoulian)
“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.)
Troland, Leonard T. (1927): Some Psychological Aspects of Natural Color Motion Pictures. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 11, 26.9.1927, pp. 680–698, on pp. 694–695.
DR. HICKMAN: The claim underlying Dr. Troland’s excellent arguments is that full, natural colors are preferable to monochrome, and his query is why have they not been adopted in spite of their slight extra cost. I suggest that the reason lies in what one accepts as “full, natural color.” Two-color processes, beautiful as they are, do not give full, natural color; it is a question how far the departure affects average persons – whether they would rather see the picture in black and white or pay extra and see the color.
It is well recognized that though a trained eye is required to appreciate true tone rendering, the most inexpert can detect false color. In this respect all color processes are at a disadvantage. However, by representing true colors in terms of some conventionally accepted scale, very beautiful and acceptable results can be obtained. Some few years ago the underground railway in London published a series of scenic advertisements in complementary colors, with green skies, red trees, and purple fields. The color combinations were chosen by artists and the results were pleasing. Now with your two-color process you cannot leave your choice to an artist; you must choose your two primaries so that in appropriate mixture they pass through the flesh tint range. This leaves your other colors dominated by two hues – brick red and blue green. Any psychologist will tell you that these are not favorite colors, favored neither for modern dress nor to be found in nature.
I do not wish Dr. Troland to interpret these remarks as inimical to his process; I greatly admire its beauty. I merely suggest that the limitations imposed by a two-color combination will make such films delightful to see occasionally but tiresome for a steady diet, and that, that is the reason why they have not been patronized to a larger extent.
DR. TROLAND: It is certainly a question of great interest what the relative utilities of the two-color, three-color and black and white results actually are. The only way to get an answer is by collecting the introspective statements of different individuals regarding their preferences. On this basis we find that by far the greater number of people prefer the two-color result to black and white, although there are some exceptions. My own impression has been constantly that the two-color process at its best gives results which are astonishingly close to perfection, if one bases his judgment on memory rather than on simultaneous comparison.
Of course, two-color reproduction can not be theoretically perfect, but examples of it have frequently impressed even professional artists as being so, a reaction which has been somewhat surprising to us. A great deal depends in the two-color process upon the exact selection of primary colors, and if the best choice is made, it is usually difficult for an inexperienced eye to detect any departure from naturalness of colors. In some two-color pictures which have appeared in the past, the selection of primary colors was ill-advised, causing even the flesh tints, which are the most important colors, to be rendered very poorly. If the flesh tints are properly reproduced, other colors can take care of themselves. I am not advocating the two-color process as the ultimate standard of perfection and look forward to the use of three colors when they become economically feasible, as I believe they may.
DR. MEES: This question as to how far a two-color process is satisfactory is one on which one can argue all night. Personally, I am on the side of Dr. Troland.
There is one field of motion picture photography for which I think the two-color methods unsuitable, and that is landscapes.
One thing Dr. Troland said, which is a source of criticism of pictures in colors, is that subjects which have been a failure in black and white have been a success in color. That is one trouble; too many color pictures have been made with the belief that the color would save a picture which didn’t have any story.”
(Troland, Leonard T. (1927): Some Psychological Aspects of Natural Color Motion Pictures. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 11, 26.9.1927, pp. 680–698, on pp. 694–695.)
Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1937): The Development of the Art and Science of Photography in the Twentieth Century. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28,1, pp. 3–20, on p. 13.
“The earliest Technicolor process, again, in which thin films carrying wash-off relief images were cemented in register back to back was a triumph of technical skill; while the imbibition process of the Technicolor Company represented the first really practicable process for the production of motion pictures in large quantities at a cost at which they could be sold. In this process, the wash-off reliefs or matrices are used to form dye images, which are transferred by imbibition to a gelatin layer, and after this operation was carried out successfully with two colors, the Technicolor Company was able to produce three-color images, which today represent the furthest commercial development in the production of color motion pictures.”
(Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1937): The Development of the Art and Science of Photography in the Twentieth Century. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28,1, pp. 3–20, on p. 13.)
Pinel, Vincent (1992): La forêt des techniques. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 17–24, on pp. 21–22. (in French)
“4. LES PROCÉDÉS SOUSTRACTIFS
Autour des années trente, on assiste à la naissance presque simultanée des principaux procédés modernes qui relèvent tous du système soustractif. Dans ce système, la couleur est matérialisée sur la copie destinée à la projection. Le quasi-monopole exercé par les procédés soustractifs tient à un fait très banal: il ne demande aucune transformation du matériel de prise de vues et de projection. Mais cette simplification d’utilisation résulte d’une complexité accrue au niveau de la fabrication et du traitement des émulsions. C’est là que se situe le problème du point de vue de la conservation: les trois couches qui composent la structure de la plupart des films soustractifs sont composées de matières colorantes beaucoup plus instables que l’argent réduit de l’émulsion en noir et blanc.
a. Les procédés bichromes: plusieurs procédés bichromes soustractifs furent expérimentés dans les années vingt. Une solution consistait à coller dos à dos des films minces virés respectivement en rouge-orangé et en bleu-vert (Technicolor n° 2, 1922) ou encore à enduire chaque côté du support d’une émulsion virée dans ces couleurs. Comme pour tous les procédés bichromes, le résultat n’était pas satisfaisant.”
(Pinel, Vincent (1992): La forêt des techniques. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 17–24, on pp. 21–22.) (in French)
Haller, Ernest (1939): Faster Color Film Cuts Light a Half. In: American Cinematographer, Aug., pp. 355–356.
“FASTER COLOR FILM CUTS LIGHT A HALF
For the past six months the camera profession has known that a new, far faster film was available for Technicolor cinematography, and has wondered if the new film was bringing to color cinematography benefits comparable to those enjoyed by black and white since the introduction of Eastman Plus X and Agfa Supreme.
The Technicolor forces, however, have been reluctant to say much about their new film until it had been proved on actual production.
Very wisely, they took the position that no tests – no matter how exhaustive – can tell as much about a film product and its use as do the myriad problems of production.
In theory, color cinematography would stand to gain far more from faster negative materials than does monochrome. Every color process has faced the disadvantage of comparatively low film speed, due to the unavoidably heavy absorption of light by the color filters and beam-splitting devices necessary to produce the required two, three or more color-separation negatives.
Lighting for natural color processes, therefore, has traditionally required abnormally high illumination levels, often to such an extent that there could be scant flexibility in lighting.
Any advances in film speed could logically be expected to minimize these difficulties. With the new, faster Technicolor film, the question was how much did the increase in speed do this, and in what way was it being put to use?
The first production to employ the new film is the much-discussed Gone with the Wind, which entered production late in January. Today, as the production nears completion, hundreds of thousands of feet of the new type negative have been exposed on action covering a wide range of dramatic and photographic moods.
Both Ernest Haller, A.S.C., and Ray Rennahan, A.S.C., codirectors of photography on the picture, are convinced the new film extends the technical and artistic scope of the process to a sensational degree.
A visit to the Gone with the Wind set confirms this opinion. To anyone familiar with the lighting technique necessary with the previous Technicolor emulsions, the change is amazing. Three things are immediately noticeable.
First, the average light levels used are vastly lower. Second, smaller lighting units can now be used. Third, properly filtered incandescent lamps can now be used beside the more familiar arcs.
In a word, the new film has to a great extent revolutionized Technicolor lighting methods.
Director of Photography Rennahan, who has seen and participated in every Technicolor development since the making of the first Technicolor production, seventeen years ago, confirms these observations.
“The new film,” he says, “is three times as fast as the old film under artificial light, and four times as fast to daylight. This brings color lighting to levels practically identical to those used in monochrome before Plus X and the other fast films came into use.
Gone with the Wind involves a great deal of dramatic effect lighting, so it is hardly fair to consider that our lighting averages would apply equally to more routine pictures, where higher keyed, less dramatic lightings might be required.
Fifty Percent Less Light
“But I should estimate that for normal effects we have been able to use a keylight of around 250 foot-candles, sometimes, of course, going considerably higher or lower than this average, according to the requirements of the scene.
This compares very favorably with the pre-Plus X monochrome lighting standards which ranged between 200 and 300 foot-candles, according to the scene and the cinematographer. With the older, slower Technicolor film our own average would probably have been in the neighborhood of 500 or 600 foot-candles.
“In other words, this new film enables us to reduce our lighting levels by a good 50 percent.
“This means that we use not only less light overall but that we can break our lighting down into smaller, handier units, affording greater flexibility, especially in lighting people.
“At the same time we are now able to take advantage of another technical development of the past year – the development of filters which correct incandescent light to match the same daylight standard of our arcs.
“This was actually accomplished some little time ago, but the exposure requirements of the slower film prevented us from taking full advantage of it, since where light of high intensity is concerned the arc is the most efficient lightsource. The “inkie” can be made in smaller, handier units than the arc, but the old film was too slow to utilize them.
Use Smaller Lamps
“Today, we can and do use the familiar Fresnel-lensed inkie spotlights of 1000, 2000 and 5000 watts: but, even more important, we can now use the smaller baby spots for precise lighting of faces in close ups, exactly as they would be used in black and white. Only the speed of the new film makes it possible to make effective use of such small units in color photography.
“The new film has naturally increased the scope of projected-background cinematography tremendously. Heretofore, except when we used the big triple-head background projectors, we were limited to relatively small background screens.
With the new, fast film we can use screens as large as those generally employed in monochrome, and with equal flexibility.
“Another important improvement brought by the new film is improved color rendition, particularly in the greens. Every color process has found green one of the hardest colors to reproduce faithfully, and it is an especial problem here in California, where the natural greens of foliage, grass and the like seem to have a somewhat rusty shade unknown in moister climates, such as Ireland, where I made so much of Wings of the Morning.
“The new film has given us some beautiful greens on exteriors, which will be an asset to the completed picture, which as you know is laid in the South.
“The improved color rendition has also enabled us to make more extensive use of projected color in our lighting, getting warm-toned effects for lamplight and firelight, colder tones for moonlight, and so on. For some of these, we have projected the colored light only on the set, while in others we have used it on the faces of the players as well.
“The new film, with its finer-grained characteristics, also gives us considerably better definition. When this is combined with the constant improvements in print-definition the laboratory is always giving us, I predict that the final release prints of this picture will show really noticeable improvements in color-print quality.”
Rennahan’s associate, Ernest Haller, A.S.C., who came to Gone with the Wind fresh from his notable monochrome achievements in Dark Victory, is equally enthusiastic over the advances of the new film.
Years ago he had worked with the old two-color Technicolor process, and he had also made some of the very first tests of the newer three-tone system, so he came to the current production not only fresh from notable successes in monochrome with Super X, but with an active memory of the earlier requirements of the color process.
“I was amazed,” he says, “to step into Technicolor production and find that instead of requiring immensely high light-levels it now permitted me to light very much as I did for black and white on Super X.
Less “Filler Light”
“In the old days, shadows were strictly taboo in Technicolor; you had to crowd in “filler light” from every angle, to make sure that the shadows wouldn’t vanish in inky blackness. Today it’s different – you don’t notice much “fill-in” light here, do you? We don’t need it any more than we do in monochrome.
“The shadow-speed of the film has been increased so that we can light much as we would for black and white, knowing that we will get, in color, the same shadow illumination we would under similar conditions in black and white.
“You’ll notice another thing that is different from any previous Technicolor lighting: we can now make about the same use of diffusion on our spotlighting units that we would in black and white. Up to now, about the only lighting units on a Technicolor set that have used much diffusion have been the broadsides.
“The spotlights that did the modeling on set and players were pretty generally kept clear and undiffused. But now with the fast film, we can soften our modeling light just about any way we wish, to say nothing of using the softer beams of inkie spots, with or without diffusers, exactly as we choose. Any cinematographer can tell how that will improve the quality of the pictures we’re putting on the screen!
“Using the smaller units we can now employ is another photographic advantage. With the old, slow film about the smallest unit we could use was a 65-ampere arc spotlight. Now we can light our closeups with filtered (and if necessary, diffused) 500-watt baby spots, just as we would in monochrome.
Will Please Women
“Whenever an established feminine star makes her first appearance in a color film the critics almost always exclaim at great length about the new personality color gives her.
Now that we have this fast film, which enables a cinematographer to use all the little tricks of precision lighting he has used in monochrome to glamorize his stars, I am sure that color is going to be more flattering than ever to the women!
“In other words, I like color photography with this new film. The film and laboratory engineers have at last brought color to the point where, except for the slight inconvenience of the larger, three-color camera, one can work with the same freedom that is the accepted thing in black and white.
At the same time, by adding color to whatever artistry his experience has made him capable of in monochrome, it will extend his artistic and dramatic expression far beyond the best he can do in monochrome.
“Gone with the Wind has not been an easy picture to photograph; it is physically a very big picture, covering an exceptional dramatic range. Doing this in a way that will measure up not only to the high expectations of the public, but to Producer Selznick’s still higher standards of perfection, has kept all of us straining every effort.
“Yet color cinematography, especially with this new film, is such an expressive medium that I’m sorry to see the end of our work coming in sight. I don’t know what will be my next assignment when I return to my home studio – Warner Brothers – but I would certainly rejoice if it could be another color production.
“Now that color has become more flexible technically, its artistic possibilities are so great one wants to keep on exploring them!”
(Haller, Ernest (1939): Faster Color Film Cuts Light a Half. In: American Cinematographer, Aug., pp. 355–356.)
Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 130–131. (in Italian)
The King of Jazz (USA 1930, John Murray Anderson)
“Il re del jazz (The King of Jazz, Anderson, 1930), uno dei musical revue girati in Technicolor, rivela efficacemente il funzionamento di questo dispositivo spettacolare. Ai numeri musicali prelevati dalla omonima rivista teatrale, il film integra una serie di effetti specificamente cinematografici, chiamati a moltiplicare all’ennesima potenza i richiami visivi: dissolvenze, sovrimpressioni, arresti di ripresa, mascherini, scomposizioni prismatiche. Sulla superficie dello schermo tutto diventa possibile, le leggi ordinarie della gravità e della logica possono essere allegramente sospese, il grande e il piccolo possono contenersi reciprocamente: una sovrimpressione può far fluttuare nel vuoto un gruppo di ballerini sullo sfondo di una girandola rotante; un mascherino può avvolgerli in una rutilante moltiplicazione di immagini caleidoscopiche. Il film è disseminato di inviti a godere dell’interazione sensibile tra musica e colore. Nel prologo, la comparsa di un presentatore su un palcoscenico rende esplicito come la modalità prevalente di comunicazione sia assai più nell’ordine dello spettacolare che in quello del diegetico.
L’appello del presentatore è seguito da un breve filmato di animazione, che sfrutta in maniera efficace le possibilità comiche del sonoro e del colore, attraverso numerosi effetti di sincronizzazione tra note musicali e movimenti ritmici. Le sequenze successive sono costruite sull’assemblaggio eterogeneo e discontinuo di scenette comiche e numeri musicali, che costituiscono altrettante occasioni di ascolto offerte agli spettatori, rese ancora più seducenti dalla esibizione di effetti di luce e di colore. Nella sua strutturazione in quadri, il film ripercorre il campionario dell’effettistica luminosa e cromatica che fino a pochi anni prima aveva costituito uno degli ambiti funzionali precipui della colorazione applicata: dalle luci colorate alle ombre proiettate, dalle silhouette agli effetti atmosferici.
Il film contribuiva così a dimostrare come l’intera tradizione passata della colorazione potesse essere agevolmente annessa al nuovo regime del colore analogico, con gli innumerevoli vantaggi che avrebbero potuto derivarne. Questo ritorno in forza delle attrazioni rivelava anche il grande potenziale di energia che il colore era in grado di liberare sullo schermo.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 130–131.) (in Italian)