“TINTED FILMS FOR SOUND POSITIVES
LOYD A. JONES, The Kodak Research Laboratories, Rochester, N.Y.
POSITIVE motion picture film on tinted support has been available for many years. It has been used extensively; in fact during some periods within the past few years eighty to ninety per cent of the total production has been printed on tinted positive film. There is little doubt that the employment of material which imparts a pleasing and variable color on the screen adds to the beauty of the production, breaks the monotony of looking for long periods at a plain black and white picture, and softens harsh outlines which otherwise may produce unpleasant impressions. But of much greater importance than these rather incidental aesthetic contributions of color is its great potential power to enhance, by either objective or subjective association, the emotional significance of the scene with which it is associated. It must be admitted that the language of color—the more or less precise evaluation of the emotional value of the various hues, tints, and shades—is at present in a very rudimentary stage of evolution. Correlations are in many cases subconsciously felt without being consciously defined. It is entirely possible and in fact probable, that careful study and experimentation may lead to the development of this language or symbolism into a powerful emotional tool in the hands of the master motion picture dramatist.
Recent scientific advances have made possible the reproduction of sound along with the motion picture, the sound record, consisting of a series of photographic images varying in either density or width, being carried on the edge of the positive film band. Although this has added enormous possibilities to the dramatic power of the motion picture, it has made it impossible to continue the use of the tinted positive films which have been employed during past years. The recorded sound is reproduced by the action of light which passes through the record on the positive film and excites a photo-electric cell. The majority of dyes used in making these tinted bases absorb strongly those wave-lengths of radiation to which the photo-electric cell is most sensitive. Hence the response of the cell is so reduced in magnitude that high amplification of the photo-electric currents is required to obtain sufficient volume of sound. This high amplification may increase unduly the inherent cell noises, and microphonic disturbances in the amplifier so that the reproduced sound is of intolerably poor quality. As a result, the use of tinted film, has been entirely discontinued in the production of positives carrying the photographic sound record. There is little doubt that this absence of color from the screen constitutes a serious impairment of the beauty and dramatic power of the screen production. It is desirable, therefore, that a means be found for producing a tinted positive film which, when used in making sound positives, will not interfere with the satisfactory reproduction of the sound record carried thereon.
All-over Tints vs. Clear Sound Track
This problem can be solved provided coloring materials can be found which, while absorbing a relatively small amount of that radiation to which the photo-electric cell is most sensitive, will produce, by selectively absorbing the radiation to which the eye is sensitive, colors or tints of the desired hue and brilliance. These dyes, or carefully determined combinations of dyes, can be applied to the film base in the usual manner and thus enable the manufacturer to offer a product at no greater cost than the regular clear base positive film.
Another solution of the problem lies in applying the tinting dyes to the film band in such a mannier as to leave untinted a narrow strip of proper dimensions and position on the film band. The sound record can then be printed on this uncolored area and the sound will be satisfactorily reproduced without interference of the tinting material. Unfortunately this method involves a greater cost of manufacture, since the tinting dyes must be applied to me individual 35 mm. strip after the base has been emulsion coated and cut into narrow widths. It is obvious that technically this represents the most satisfactory solution. This was recognized by us some considerable time ago and applications were made for patents to cover the idea. Methods and machines for accomplishing this have been devised which give very satisfactory results and it is probable that this material will be available in the near future.
The first solution suggested, namely, the use of dyes or other coloring materials applied over the entire area of the film and so adjusted spectrophotometrically as to transmit freely the radiation to which the photo-electric cell is sensitive, seemed worth further study, and after a rather lengthy series of experiments a number of satisfactory tints have been obtained. These represent the entire gamut of hue and. in our opinion, are of the most satisfactory depth or color saturation for use in applying color to the motion picture screen.
Color Sensitivity of Different Photo-electric Cells
In approaching the problem of selecting, dyes for this purpose it is necessary, first of all, to determine just what wave-lengths of radiation most strongly excite the photo-electric cell, with which the tinted material is to be used. It is necessary, therefore, to determine the spectral sensitivity of such cells. Photo-electric cells may be made by using any one of several different materials, such as potassium, caesium, sodium, and other alkali metals. These may be of either the evacuated or the gas-filled type. The spectral sensitivity depends upon many factors and as a result cells differing enormously in spectral sensitivity are available. To the best of our knowledge, however, there are only two types of cells used extensively in commercial installations for the photographic reproduction of sound. One of these, manufactured by the Western Electric Company and used in the-equipment installed by the Electrical Research Products Incorporated, is of the potassium gas-filled type. The other, used in the equipment installed by the Radio Corporation of America, is of the caesium type.
In Fig. 1 are shown the spectral sensitivity curves of these two cells, curve A being that for a potassium and curve B that for a caesium cell. The ordinates of these curves are proportional to the photo-electric currents generated when excited by equal amounts of energy of the wave-length as indicated by the abscissa values. The proportionality constant used in blotting these curves is not the same for the two cells; hence these curves cannot be interpreted as indicative of the relative total sensitivities of the two cells. They do show, however, the way in which sensitivity varies with wave-length, and this is the information in which we are particularly interested at present. The monochromatic radiation used in the determination of these sensitivity functions was of high spectral purity, being obtained by using two monochromatic illuminators operated in tandem so as to effectively eliminate all scattered radiation. The photo-electric current generated was measured with a high-sensitivity galvanometer. The amount of energy incident upon the photo-electric cell was measured by means of the thermopile and high-sensitivity galvanometer. Since the thermo-electric ‘current is directly proportional to the energy incident upon the thermopile (regardless of wave-length) it follows that the sensitivity-of the photo-electric cell, defined in terms of the photo-electric current per unit of energy, is directly proportional to the ratio of the photoelectric current to the thermo-electric current, Pc/Tc. Every precaution was taken to eliminate all possible errors and it is felt that the curves shown in Fig. 1 represent with high precision, the sensitivity of the cells in question. The author is indebted to Dr. Otto Sandvik of these laboratories for these data.
The curves in Fig. 1 show the relative magnitude of the photoelectric currents resulting from the action of equal amounts of energy of different wave-lengths. In practice, the photo-electric cell is excited by an incandescent tungsten lamp which does not emit equal amounts of energy at all wave-length. To obtain the effective spectral response curve it is necessary to know the spectral distribution of energy in the radiation emitted by the incandescent tungsten lamp. This depends upon the temperature at which ‘the filament is operated. In commercial sound reproducing installations this is approximately 3000°K. In Fig. 2, curve A shows the relative intensity of the radiation emitted at different wave-lengths for this source. It will be noted that relatively little energy is emitted in the short wave-length region to which the photo-electric cells are most sensitive, while relatively large amounts of radiation are emitted at longer wave-lengths.
In Fig. 3 are shown the effective spectral response curves for each of the two cells when used with a tungsten lamp operating at , 3000°K. The ordinates of these curves are determined by multiplying, at each wave-length, the ordinate of the sensitivity curve (see Fig. 1) by that of the tungsten energy curve, Fig. 2.
It will be noted that the response curve of the potassium cell (A, Fig. 3) has a relatively high sharp maximum at wave-length 425 mμ. It decreases rapidly for both longer and shorter wave-lengths, reaching a value of 10 per cent of the maximum at 420 mμ on the one hand and 340 mμ (estimated) on the other. The effective response curve for the caesium cell is shown in Fig. 3, curve B, and is of a broad flat type having a maximum at 420 mμ. For longer wave-lengths the response decreases gradually reaching a value which is 10 per cent of the maximum at approximately 750 mμ.
The response at 700 mμ, the long wave-length limit of the visible spectrum, is 35 per cent of that, at the maximum. It will be noted, that the maximum of response is at practically the same wavelength for these two cells, although the caesium cell has a much broader spectral sensitivity than the potassium cell. It is evident from a consideration of these response curves that any coloring material which absorbs strongly in the region between 400 and 500 mμ will have a relatively high density if measured in terms of this photo-electric cell and a tungsten lamp. These wave-lengths impinging on the retina give rise to the colors described qualitatively as violets and blues, and if these wave-lengths are absorbed from white light, the remainder produces a yellow color. Yellow dyes, in general, therefore have high photo-electric densities. This is true qualitatively for both cells although it applies with much greater force in case of the potassium cell which has a relatively narrow sensitivity-band in the short-wave region. As a result of the difference in shape of the response curves, certain colors, such as yellows, give relatively lower photo-electric densities when measured with the caesium cell than when this quantity is determined by means of the potassium cell.
Color Sensitivity of the Eye
The eye is a receptor of the synthetic type and does not analyze a heterogeneous radiation into its component parts. The sensation arising from the impingement of heterogeneous radiation on the retina has a single hue characteristic, and identical sensations of hue may be excited by heterogeneous radiations differing very widely in actual spectral compositions as determined spectrophotometrically. It is evident, therefore, that there is a possibility of obtaining a desired color by several different types of spectral absorption curves. Since the radiation required to actuate the photo-electric cell is localized in a very definite wave-length region, it follows that the course to be pursued in the solution of the problem in hand is to select absorbing materials which most efficiently transmit these wavelengths and at the same time most completely absorb those wavelengths which, when subtracted from white light, operate most efficiently toward the production of a color having the desired hue and saturation characteristics.
In order to proceed most directly and logically in this direction, knowledge of the visibility of radiation is of considerable importance. This knowledge is of assistance in deciding just what particular type of selective absorption will most efficiently produce a desired color and, at the same time, most efficiently transmit those wave-lengths which are required to excite a photo-electric cell. Curve B in Fig. 2 shows this visibility function, the ordinates being proportional to the magnitude of the visual sensation produced by the action on the retina of equal intensity of radiation of the various wave-lengths, as indicated by the abscissa values.
By judicious choice of dyes and dye mixtures which give spectral absorptions correctly adjusted with respect to the photo-electric response and to the retinal sensitivity, it has been found possible to produce a series of colors having hues distributed throughout (the entire hue scale and at the same time having relatively low densities as measured with either the potassium or the caesium photo-electric cell-tungsten lamp (3000°K) combination.
As a preliminary to this work a careful spectro-photometric analysis showing the selective absorption characteristics of several hundred available dyes was made. It was soon found that it would be quite impossible to produce colors of the red-orange-yellow group without absorbing some of the radiation to which these photo electric cells are most sensitive. The question then arose as to the absorption permissible in practice. There are really two phases to this particular problem, one involving a determination or decision as to the magnitude of photo-electric absorption for which satisfactory compensation can be made by increasing amplification without encountering serious electrical difficulties or sacrifice of quality in the reproduced sound. The other involves a consideration of the volume change which takes place in passing from one color to another when these are assembled consecutively in a reel of sound positive.
Permissible Range of Photo-electric Density of Tints
A large number of experiments were made in this laboratory to gather information upon which a rational decision relative to these points could be made. After having reached conclusions as to satisfactory values for maximum and minimum photo-electric density values, the matter was discussed with several authorities in the field of photographic sound reproduction, communicating engineering, and acoustics. The opinions from these individuals corresponded surprisingly well with those based upon our experimental results. There seems to be no difficulty encountered in increasing amplification to compensate a photo-electric density of 0.3. This photoelectric density can be looked upon as equivalent to a certain loss of volume which in turn can be expressed in terms of transmission units (decibels). In order to convert a density value, density being defined as the logarithm of the reciprocal of transmission, to equivalent decibels it is only necessary to multiply by 20. Thus if an optical density of 0.3 (measured, of course, in terms of the photo-electric cell and tungsten lamp combination being used) be inserted between the exciting lamp and the photo-electric cell it will be necessary to increase the amplification by 6 decibels in order to obtain the same volume output. On commercial equipment the volume control is adjustable by steps, in some cases, each step corresponding to 2 decibels, and in others to 3 decibels. Thus, the use-of a tinted film base having a density of 0.3 will necessitate advancing the volume control by either 2 or 3 steps. This represents a relatively small percentage of the total amplification, and there seems to be little doubt that the required. increase in amplification can be obtained satisfactorily.
Permissible Volume Changes
The permissible change in volume occurring in passing from one tint to another is, in the last analysis, dependent upon the sensitivity of the ear to changes in volume. Under ideal conditions of observation, the change in loudness corresponding to a volume change produced by one decibel variation in amplification is just perceptible. It should be remembered that this change is perceptible only under ideal conditions. The situation is similar to that which exists relative to photometric sensitivity, that is, the sensitivity of the eye to differences in brightness. For instance, in a photometric field where the two halves are immediately juxtaposed in such a manner that when the two parts of a field are identical in brightness the division line is invisible, a difference in brightness of 2 per cent (actually 1.7 per cent) is just perceptible provided that the field subtends a visual angle of 3°, that the brightness level is optical, and that all disturbing factors are removed. Such ideal conditions seldom exist in practical work, however, and it is customary to regard a brightness difference of 5 per cent as the least difference which is of importance. Similarly, in the case of oral sensitivity, when the comparison is made between pure tones of the same frequency immediately juxtaposed in time and of a loudness to which the ear is most sensitive, one decibel is just perceptible. In practice, however, it is probable that 2, or even 3 decibels constitutes a more rational specification of the amplification change which will produce a noticeable difference in volume. On assuming, therefore, that a section of uncolored base is followed by a colored base having a photo-electric density of 0.3, the change in volume of 6 decibels will represent two, or perhaps three, just noticeable differences. Although this variation in most cases may not be unduly objectionable, it is felt that it is somewhat too great to meet the most rigid requirements. It is therefore proposed to establish also a lower density limit of 0.10 and to adjust the selective absorption of all the members of the series so that none shall have a density less than this value. Furthermore, it is proposed that when a hueless screen is desired a positive film tinted with a neutral (non-selective) dye be used. The photo-electric and, incidentally, the visual density of this is adjusted to a value of 0.10 corresponding to 2.0 decibels. If this material is used in conjunction with one having a density of 0.3 the volume change occurring at the transition from one to the other will be that corresponding to a change in amplification of 4.0 decibels. This total change is a little greater than the volume change which under practical conditions is just noticeable, and is certainly less than two such steps. It is felt that volume change of this magnitude are entirely negligible in practical work, especially since all change from one tint to another usually occurs with a scene change at which point a slight volume change may logically be expected. It is of interest to apply this reasoning also to the case of maximum permissible density discussed in the previous paragraph. It will be recalled that a value of 0.3 for photo-electric density was fixed as being a reasonable upper limit. The amplification change is required to give the same volume with such a film, as compared with clear base positive, is 6 decibels, which corresponds to two or perhaps three just noticeable volume differences. It is evident that this represents a relatively small increase in amplification and that no serious difficulty should be encountered in raising amplification sufficiently to compensate for the use of a colored base having a photo-electric density of 0.3.
The conditions which have been established, relative to permissible photo-electric density of tinted base for use in making sound positives, may be summarized as follows:
Maximum photo-electric density 0.3, amplification increment 6 decibels.
Minimum photo-electric density 0.10, amplification increment 2 decibels.
Maximum variation in density 0.20, maximum volume variation 4 decibels.
It should be understood that the values of density specified above are relative to clear film base taken as equivalent to a transmission of 100 per cent, density 0. It seemed desirable to express all results in this manner since the factors of interest are those relating to the changes of photo-electric transmission, volume, etc., as compared to the conditions existing when the sound record is carried on a clear film base.
Visual Characteristics of the Seventeen Tints
In Table 1 are given data relative to the visual characteristics of these tinted materials. Considerable thought has been given to the names by which these tints are to be designated. It seems desirable, from a consideration of the probable associational and emotional value of color when applied to the motion picture screen, to designate these tints by names suggestive of their potential psychological effects and appropriate uses. This particular phase of the subject will be discussed in greater detail in a later section of the paper. In the column designated as “λ” under the title “Hue” are given the values of the dominant hue expressed in wavelength.
These determinations refer specifically to the color of a white screen when illuminated by light from an arc of the reflector type with the tinted base placed between the light source and the screen. It therefore is a specific designation of the screen color obtained when these materials are used with a light source of this character. It is realized that in practice a certain variation in these hue values will result from the use of light sources differing from the one with which these hue measurements were made. For instance, with, a high intensity arc of either the condenser or the reflector type, the color of the emitted light is probably slightly bluer than that emitted by a reflector arc using ordinary hard-cored carbons. Under these conditions the hue values will be shifted slightly. The difference, however, is so little as to be considered negligible from the practical standpoint. If these materials are used in a projector employing a high efficiency tungsten lamp there will probably be a rather great departure from the hue values indicated in Table 1. This light is much yellower than that emitted by the arc and hence the use of a screen illuminated by a tungsten lamp in conjunction with these tinted bases will give appreciably different hues from those indicated in Table I. In the column designated as “No.” under “Hue” are the Ridgway hue numbers. The system of color nomenclature developed by Ridgway1 is one of the test available. The entire hue gamut, including the spectral hues and the non-spectral purples, is divided into 72 hue steps. These hue steps are equally placed on the sensation scale.
Tints Evenly Spaced Along Normal Hue Scale
In setting up a scale of hue it is not satisfactory to adopt intervals which are identical in wave-length difference because the sensitivity of the eye to hue differences varies enormously throughout the spectrum. In order to establish a normal hue scale in which the steps are equal in terms of sensation, it is necessary, therefore, to use wave-length intervals differing widely in magnitude. It will be noted that, with the exception of a region in the orange, yellow, and yellow-green, the hues of these tinted materials are fairly evenly spaced on the normal hue scale. It seems highly desirable to adopt such spacing, since it makes available the entire gamut of hue and a change from one tint to another produces a hue displacement of known and fairly equivalent subjective magnitude. The positions of the dominant hues of these colors are shown graphically on the chart in Fig. 4. At the left are given the Ridgway hue numbers and the names applied by Ridgway to these hues when occurring in colors of high saturation. At the right in the first column are the numbers for the tinted positive films, and the names applied to these, it should be remembered that these colors are in general of relatively low saturation and it is considered that these more delicate tints are )f greater utility for use in applying color to the motion picture screen than those of higher saturation. It is a rather peculiar coincidence that the colors corresponding to the hue numbers 25 to 35, which are absent from this positive film series, are those which, according to all of the available psychological data (see Luckiesh, loc. cit.), are the colors classified as least agreeable or least preferred. These color preference data are derived from a large group of observers and hence are very significant. It has been impossible thus far to obtain these hues with sufficiently low photo-electric density. Possibly further search may reveal dyes which will permit the manufacture of these hues if such seems to be necessary or desirable.
In Table 1, in the column designated as “T” are the values of total transmission for these colored materials as measured visually using the reflector arc as a light source. These values are therefore a direct measure of the screen brightness obtained when using these tinted materials as compared with the screen brightness existing when using clear base positive. It will be noted that the visual transmissions of the red, orange, yellow, and yellow-green colors are relatively high, while those of the green, blue, violet series are relatively low. This condition exists since it is desired to obtain fairly definite color saturation effects. It follows as a natural consequence of the visual sensitivity and transmission characteristics of dyes that the colors in the former group have relatively higher visual transmissions for a specified color saturation, while the transmission values in the second group are in general low when a corresponding color saturation is obtained. In the last column are given short verbal descriptions of the color characteristics.
To show spectro-photometric curves for all of the seventeen members of this series seems unnecessary, but it may be of interest to consider two or three typical cases. In Fig. 5 are given such curves for tint No. 1 (Rose Dorée), a warm deep pink; tint No. 8 (Aquagreen), a clear blue-green; and tint No. 11 (Nocturne), a deep violet-blue. Inspection of the curves shows that each of these colors has a decided density minimum throughout all or some part of that wave-length region in which the photo-electric response is maximum. The minimum density does not fall at the same wavelength in each case but shifts with the demands of the selective absorption necessary for obtaining the desired visual hue.
In Table II are given data relating to the photo-electric density characteristics of these materials for potassium and caesium cells of the types in extensive use in commercial installations. Density values are designated as “D,” while in the columns designated as “TU” are given the equivalent values in decibels, these representing the amplification increment required to compensate for the volume depression occasioned by the use of these materials.
It will be noted that the specifications relative to maximum density and maximum density difference previously set forth as desirable have been met in actual materials with a fair degree of precision. In case of the potassium cell, the maximum density is 0.28 (No. 7, Verdante), slightly less than the value of 0.30 considered allowable, while the density difference between the upper and lower limits is 0.19 (equivalent to 3.8 decibels), also slightly less than considered tolerable. With the caesium cell the maximum density is exactly 0.30 (No. 13, Fleur de lis), while the maximum difference is 0.24, not appreciably greater than the specified 0.20.
The volume variation through the entire series of seventeen tints is shown in Fig. 6. The ordinates indicate the increase in amplification, expressed in decibels, required in each case to give the same volume output, with the tint as indicated by the numbers at the bottom of the figure, as compared with a sound record of identical characteristics on the regular clear positive film. The horizontal lines are drawn at plus and minus 2 decibels from the mean of the entire group. These lines therefore define the allowable volume change as previously specified. In case of the potassium cell all of the tints fall between these limits; with the caesium cell two of the tints fall slightly outside these limits.
Prints have been made on all of these colored bases and sound reproduction with each cell is considered satisfactory, both with respect to the increase in amplification required and the maximum i volume variation. It is hoped that the sound prints to be shown a little later will demonstrate this point to your satisfaction. This concludes that part of the paper which may be designated as technical, dealing, as it does, with the objective or physical characteristics of tinted positive film base. The application of these colors to a motion picture production involves the consideration of a radically different group of relationships belonging to that phase of the motion picture industry which has been designated, for want of better term, as artistry.2 While it may be presumptuous on the part of the author of this paper to invade a field so remote from that of his accustomed activities, he feels that there may be some members of the Society more concerned with the artistic and emotional reactions than with the cold facts of scientific technology, who may be interested (or perhaps amused) by some thoughts and suggestions as to the possible emotional and artistic value of color applied to the motion picture screen. Some of you may have been present on one or two previous occasions when the author has had the privilege of presenting to this Society papers, written in collaboration with Townsend3 and Tuttle,4 discussing the use of color in more or less abstract static and dynamic forms as a valuable element in a motion picture program. You are already aware, therefore, that he has long been interested in the possibilities of color as an aid to the creation of dramatic atmosphere. In fact he is firmly convinced that color per se, if properly employed, may exert a powerful influence on the emotional reactions. He therefore begs your indulgence while in the following pages a few ideas along these lines are presented for your consideration.
The Language of Color
The literature pertaining to the language, symbolism, and emotional effects of color, though scattered and fragmentary, extends over the entire period of recorded history. Mythology is replete with the symbolism of color. On the Greek stage the colors of the costumes wove adjusted to the mood of the action. Color is intimately associated with the entire history of the Christian Church and a very definite color symbolism has developed. Color has been so inseparably linked with sensory experience throughout the evolution of mankind that it has acquired by objective and subjective association definite and important emotional value.
No attempt can be made within the confines of this paper to give anything approaching a complete bibliography of the subject. One or two references, however, may be valuable to those interested. Field in his Chromatograph5 discusses various colors from the standpoint of their emotional value and gives numerous references tending to show rather general agreement as to the character of such effects. A quotation given by Field6 from Opie,7 an English artist of the late 18th century, is of particular interest.
“Every passion and affection of the mind has its appropriate tint and coloring, which if properly adapted, lends its aid, with powerful effect, in the just discrimination and forcible expression of them; it heightens joy, warms love, inflames anger, deepens sadness, and adds coldness to the cheek of death itself.”
The most recent, complete, and by far the best publication on this subject is that by Luckiesh.8 This is a carefully considered conservative treatment in which are given numerous data collected from many fields along with the valuable contributions of the author to this subject. The book will repay careful study and is earnestly recommended to the attention of those interested. The following quotation9 is of interest as it indicates, the attitude of the author toward the subject and is an admirable statement of the point of view which should be taken by any investigator in a little known field:
“It would be unscientific to deny the existence of a language of color because we do not understand it thoroughly at present and quite unprogressive to reject the possibility of finally completing the dictionary of this language. Color experiences are indeed very intricate at present but it is likely that this is due to our scanty knowledge of the elements and processes involved in the emotional appeal of colors, and to our inability to interpret and to correlate properly the various factors. Much knowledge must be unearthed before a rudimentary dictionary of this language is available but first the scientific attitude should admit the possibility that the language of the group of experiences associated with color eventually will be understood.”
In considering color from this point of view it must be remembered that we are now dealing with color as it appears, that is, the sensation evoked in consciousness, rather than with the objective character of color as determined by its physical characteristics. All of the various factors, therefore, which determine the character of the subjective reactions, such as simultaneous contrast, previous retinal excitation, and many others must be considered in attempting to define the emotional reaction that may be induced by subjecting the eye to stimulation by radiation of known physical composition. Moreover, a color may, just as a word or phrase, have more than one emotional value or significance; and, as in the case of the spoken language, the intended meaning must be determined by the contextual factors such as general character of the scene structure, subject matter of preceding sequences, type of dramatic action, etc. For instance, a green matching in hue and saturation characteristics the color of spring foliage, may connote by direct subjective association, springtime, trees, grass, gardens, etc. Used on radically different types of scenes, however, such as interiors, it may be found particularly valuable for suggesting by indirect or subjective association certain more abstract concepts, such as youth, freshness, hope, aspiration, and those moods closely linked in our consciousness with the springtime of life.
Objective and Subjective Color Associations
A rather careful analysis of the admittedly rudimentary color language indicates that the great majority of existing connotations may be classified in two rather distinct groups which may be designated as (a) direct objective association and (b) indirect subjective association: It is relatively easy to quote, many examples of the class a correlations. For instance, sunlight is quite definitely suggested by yellow. Now, as a matter of fact, sunlight is not yellow, and it has been shown definitely that when the retina is excited by sunlight or by radiation of identical spectral composition in a visual field from which all possible contrasting areas have been removed the sensation evoked is hueless, that is, corresponding to gray or white. A white object, however, illuminated by sunlight under a clear blue sky appears yellow. It seems quite evident, therefore, that through centuries of evolution a definite conscious or subconscious relationship between sunlight and yellow has been so established that under artificial conditions yellow almost invariably suggests sunlight. Thus a motion picture scene printed on yellow-base, such as tint No. 6 (Sunshine), should definitely suggest sunlight illumination whether it be an exterior flooded with light from the sun or an interior into which light is streaming through open doors or windows.
In a similar manner there seems to be a very definite relationship between other colors and the well-known artificial sources of heat and light. Artificial illumination of interiors is definitely suggested by a color which is either more saturated or has a hue somewhat more orange than the yellow suggesting sunlight. Firelight may be suggested by a color even more reddish in character. Such examples of objective association can be multiplied almost indefinitely. Subjective associational relationships are somewhat more tenuous and difficult to establish with certainty. Some of these undoubtedly have been built up in consciousness by somewhat artificial association of certain colors with definite emotional states. Others of these correlations may probably be traced to extensions of more direct associational factors. For instance, there seems to be a character of warmth associated with all of the colors in the yellow, orange, red, magenta category, while the remainder give a definite impression of cold or coolness. This is very probably an extension of the more direct associational value arising from the color of sunlight and fire and the atmospheric conditions normally associated with coldness. The association of color with certain temperamental phases of life, such as youth, maturity, old age, etc., can probably be traced to an extension, of a more direct association with the seasons of the year. Space does not permit us to carry this analysis into greater detail, but a serious study of this subject can hardly fail to convince the fair-minded student, that there is really some definite and psychologically sound relationships between colors and emotional states. Although a great deal of the work on this subject has been of purely qualitative, and perhaps temperamental type, there are available some rather definite and significant data. For instance, Luckiesh10 (loc. cit. p. 200) gives some very interesting data compiled by Wells11 relative to the general types or mood reactions produced by twelve different colors. These data are shown in Table III. They are derived from sixty-three subjects and the correlation is indeed striking. There seems to be no escape from the conclusion that those colors designated as yellow, orange-yellow, deep orange, scarlet, and crimson have a definitely exciting influence. In the mid-spectrum yellow-green, green, and blue-green, seem to be definitely tranquilizing or soothing. Blue, violet-blue, violet, and purple are depressive or subduing. The student who approaches this subject with an open mind and with the intension of seriously searching for correlation factors can scarcely fail to be convinced that here is something of a very tangible nature which can be ascribed to a definite psychological reaction to color. The chart in Fig. 7 shows the affective values of the various colors as computed from Wells’ data. No definite information is available relative to the dominant wave-length of the colors used by him so they are plotted arbitrarily at equal intervals along the base line. The ordinates are computed from the data in Table III, each number being reduced to a percentage of the total number of decisions. The curves have the following significance: (A) curve of exciting influence; (B) curve of tranquilizing influence; (C) curve of subduing influence.
These curves are surprisingly similar in general shape and position to the three fundamental retinal excitation curves for red green, and blue-violet. Although, the present data are too meager to established [sic!] any correlation between emotional effect and the retinal processes, the similarity is certainly sufficient to encourage some further consideration.
Along the top line of the chart are placed the numbers referring to the positive film tints, the position of each relative to the color scale at the bottom being determined as carefully as the qualitative data will allow. The dotted lines dropped from these points cut the three curves and the heights of these ordinates give some ideal of the character and strength of the mood reaction which each color maye be expected to induce.
In the upper part of the chart is drawn a curve showing in a qualitative way the position on the warm-cool mood reaction scale. This, it must be confessed, is based on very insufficient evidence being determined by the rather casual judgments by a few observers working under poorly controlled conditions.
Characterization of the Seventeen Tints
In the following paragraphs an attempt has been made to give a brief description of the visual and psychological characteristics of the film tints. It is evident that no very definite statements can be made or rigid specifications set up for the use of these colors. It is hoped that these rather disconnected and rambling remarks relative to the various colors may be of interest to those concerned with working out the application of color to the motion picture screen and serve, as a foundation, however insecure, upon which something of real value may be built by others more qualified by training and temperament for such work. Although these characterizations of the symbolic and emotional values of these colors are necessarily tinged by the author’s own reactions and by the results of his own introspective analysis, they are based, in so far as is possible, upon a careful summary and integration of data derived from the available literature. They should therefore represent approximately the reactions to be expected from the average observer.
Tint No. 17, Argent. This is a hueless color, a silvery gray showing no chromatic characteristics. It may be regarded as the zero or starting point on the scale of saturation or color strength. It is very necessary as a means of establishing a visual accommodation in terms of which a hue may be appreciated by contrast. It may be used to fatigue the eye to the point of monotony, after which the presentation of a hue will have enhanced effect.
Tint No. 6, Sunshine. A clear brilliant yellow approximately complementary to sky-blue, therefore quite closely matching the subjective color of sunlight when seen in contrast to blue sky. The visual transmission is high (83 per cent); therefore it is particularly adapted for use on a scene designed to give the impression of brilliant sunlit conditions and where an interior is obviously illuminated by sunlight entering through windows and open doors. This color is definitely warm but not to the same extent as Candleflame, Firelight, and Afterglow which make with this color a series increasing progressively in warmth. It is mildly stimulating, suggesting a mood of lively interest and attention, but not one of high excitement of nervous tension.
Tint No. 5, Candleflame. A pastel orange-yellow. It is slightly lower in transmission (75 per cent) than Sunshine, giving a screen more orange in hue and lower in brilliance which definitely suggests artificial illumination when used on interior scenes. Somewhat warmer than No. 6. Possibly useful on exteriors in suggesting morning or afternoon with less intense sunlight than prevails at midday. By objective association useful in inducing rather mild mood re- , actions such as feelings of coziness, comfort, intimacy, well being, peace and plenty without opulence, etc.
Tint No. 4, Firelight. A soft yellow-orange. This is warmer than Candleflame to which it is closely akin in mood reaction value. The lower transmission (66 per cent) gives a somewhat less brilliant screen and this with the more orange hue makes it particularly adapted for use on an interior scene where it is desired to suggest an artificial illumination softened and subdued perhaps by shaded lamps and candles. It is suggestive also of illumination eminating [sic!] from an open fire; but it is not quite orange or red enough to satisfactorily render the lire itself if visible, for which Afterglow is perhaps better. It stimulates mood reactions of the same category as Candleflame but with greater intensity. Suggestive of warmth, comfort, intimate home relationships, mild affection, etc.
Tint No. 3, Afterglow. A soft rich orange color. It is probably the warmest color of the series. It is appropriate to exterior scenes at dawn and sunset. It lends to interiors an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy stronger than Firelight. It should excite mood reactions in general connected with luxury, wealth, security, and relatively strong affections. It is also related to the autumnal mood by obvious direct association with the autumn colors of nature. By indirect or subjective association it is symbolic of the same relative period in the life of an individual and its associated moods. It is indicative, therefore, of repose, ambitions attained, accomplishment, and similar psychological aspects of maturity.
Tint No. 2, Peachblow. A delicate flesh pink. This has a small but definite blue content, making it somewhat less warm than Afterglow. It is adapted to the rendition of close-ups where it is desired to do full justice to feminine beauty. The hue and saturation are such as to suggest the glow of life.
Tint No. 1, Rose Dorée. A deep warm pink suggesting sensuousness and passion. Amorous, romantic, and exotic. It is adapted to the rendition of scenes representing an intimate atmosphere, such as a luxuriously appointed boudoir. In keeping also with feelings of happiness, joy, and excitement.
Tint No. 7, Verdante. A pure green, rather pastel in character. It is the hue of spring foliage, suggesting directly, trees, grass, and vernal landscapes. By subjective association typical of youth, freshness, unsophistication, innocence, etc. It is only slightly warm, but definitely not cold. It is very close to the neutral point in the warm-cool scale.
Tint No. 8, Aquagreen. A brilliant blue-green. The color of more northern waters and suitable to the rendition of the sea under clouds and in storm. It is suggestive of wetness. Its transmission (40 per cent) being lower than that of Verdante, it gives a less brilliant screen. This together with its greater blue tint probably makes it more suitable for the rendition of the darker green of mature foliage, dense forests of pine, jungles, etc. By extension from the objective correlation to summer it is suggestive of such mood reactions as pertain to maturity, wisdom, dignity, repose, and restfulness. It is cool but not cold; tranquil, but not subduing.
Tint No. 9, Turquoise. A clear brilliant blue. It is definitely cool, but less cold than Azure or Nocturne. The visual transmission (43 per cent) is high for a blue of this hue but low as compared to the warm colors. This gives a screen of depressed brightness which together with the hue tends to producer mood of peace, reposefulness, and tranquility. It is the color of calm tropical seas under clear skies. It is suggestive of the Mediterranean and the South Sea Islands. If used on interiors it should impart a feeling of restfulness, dignity, and reserve without inducing appreciable depressive moods. With proper contextual influence it might be used for the suggestion of brilliant moonlight effects, although No. 10 may be somewhat better for this purpose.
Tint No. 10, Azure. A strong sky-blue. It is colder than Turquoise, tranquilizing to the point of becoming depressing. The visual transmission (28 per cent) is relatively low and hence gives a screen of low brightness. It is suggestive of the sedate and the reserved, even approaching the austere or forbidding, under certain conditions slightly gloomy.
Tint No. 11, Nocturne. Deep violet-blue. The visual transmission is low (28 per cent) giving a screen of low brightness. It definitely suggests night, shadows, gloom, coldness, etc. By subjective associational reactions appropriate to depressive conditions, despair, failure, unattained ambitions, intrigue, the underworld.
Tint No. 12, Purplehaze. A bluish-violet or lavender, rather pastel in character. It has a relatively high visual transmission (40 per the adjacent tints Nocturne and Fleur de lis, to both of which it is closely related in emotional value. The mood induced by this color is particularly dependent (more so than many of the other colors) upon contextual factors. For instance, to a twilight scene on the desert with distant mountains it imparts a feeling of distance, mystery, repose, and languorous warmth; used on a scene containing snow fields, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, etc., it has a pronounced cooling effect. The hue of this color is approximately the same as that of the shadows on sunlit snow under a clear blue sky.
Tint No. 23 Fleur de lis. A rich royal purple. This color has long been the badge of royalty, high office, power, and pomp. In ancient times the dye was very costly and was used to color the garments of the aristocracy. The transmission of this film tint is low (25 per cent), thus giving a depressed screen brightness suggestive of reserve, dignity, and austerity. It has a relatively cool color but not as cold as Nocturne.
Tint No. 14, Amaranth. This is also a purple but has a greater red content than Fleur de lis, therefore it is warmer and less austere. It is adapted to the rendition of scenes showing opulence and luxury together with refinement. With proper contextual relation it may be well adapted to scenes approaching sensuality and abandon such as bacchanalian revels staged in settings of wealth, luxury, and elegance.
Tint No. 15, Caprice. Cool pink. Visual transmission (53 per cent) relatively high, thus giving a brilliant sparkling screen. It is a jolly, carefree, hilarious color suggestive of carnivals, Mardi gras, fête days, and merry making in general.
Tint No. 16, Inferno. Fiery red tinged with magenta. Since it is directly suggestive of fire, it is adapted to scenes of burning buildings, glowing furnaces, forest fires, etc. By subjective association indicative of riot, panic, anarchy, mobs, turmoil, strife, war, battle, and unrestrained passion.
Proper Use of Color on the Screen
It is not desired that the reader shall gain the impression from this rather enthusiastic discussion of its potential emotional value of color that the lavish and unrestrained use of color treatments is advocated. On the contrary it is desired to emphasize the necessity of using the color accompaniment to a motion picture production with care and discretion. The use of too strong or saturated colors is in general not good, since such colors are usually obtrusive and distracting and may defeat rather than promote the attainment of the desired effect. A more subtle method will yield better results. This involves the employment of pastel tints which may be increased in subjective strength for a brief period of time by the action of successional contrast or juxtaposition in time. Thus the eye accommodated to, or fatigued by a green, such as Verdante, will perceive, at the beginning of the following scene done on a pink tint, a color of enhanced subjective saturation. This immediately fixes the mood of the scene, after which the accommodational processes in the retina begin to operate and cause the effective saturation to decrease appreciably. Thus the color having fulfilled its mission, saying definitely that this scene has a specific emotional atmosphere, fades into the background and while continuing to make itself felt, in the subconscious mind of the observer by lending a warmth and softness to the scene permits the action to carry forward the dramatic sequence without the unpleasant and distracting influence of pronounced color.
There are perhaps some who may question the advisability of attempting to use color on the screen as an aid to the creation of an emotional atmosphere on the ground that individuals react differently to the same color. Is it not true that the same musical composition may excite different feelings in individuals, and that the same word or phrase may convey to different minds somewhat divergent ideas? Perhaps it will be necessary to spend much time and effort on the development of a language of color, to compile dictionaries with definitions of the symbolical, associative, and emotional values, just as we write and agree upon definitions of words in order that specific ideas may be conveyed from one mind to another by spoken and written language. If there is in the human mind, or, more specifically, in the collective mind of the motion picture public, a color consciousness, even though it be at present latent Or but slightly developed, is it not worth considerable effort in thought and experimentation to develop a technic such that color can be applied to the screen in such a way as to enhance the emotional and dramatic values of the motion picture of the future?
1 Ridgway. Color Standards and Nomenclature. 1912.
2 Loyd A. Jones. Trans. Soc. Mot. Pict. Eng. No. 18:15. 1924.
3Loyd A. Jones and L. M. Townsend. Trans. Soc. Mot. Pict. Eng. No. 21:38. 1925.
4 Loyd A. Jones and Clifton Tuttle. Trans. Soc. Mot. Pict. Eng. No. 28:183. 1927.
5 George Field. Chromatography. Charles Tilt, 1835.
7 Opie’s Lecture IV, p. 147.
8 Luckiesh. The Language of Color. Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920.
9 l.c. p. 4.
10 l.c. p. 200.
11 N. A.Wells. Psych. Bul. 7: 181. 1910.”
(Jones, Loyd A. (1929): Tinted Films for Sound Positives. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, No. 37 (May 6–9, 1929): pp. 199-226.)
“Tinted film base
At quite an early time, maybe as early as 1915, print stock with an already-dyed film base was available, and by the mid 1920s many manufacturers were selling dyed film at the same price as clear film base.
Nine colours were offered Eastman Kodak: red, pink, orange, amber, light amber, yellow, green, blue and lavender. This didn’t create any printing problems because the printing light did not pass through the raw stock base.
The method of identifying this on an original tinted print is to scratch the emulsion off in an area outside the perforations. If the scratch is clear and uncoloured the film was tinted in the film laboratory using dye solutions; if the scratch is the same colour as the picture highlights, the film base was dyed before coating. (This can be confused by some nitrate film bases that have discoloured and have a yellow stain.
The only disadvantage to this was that, since credits and intertitles were often shot directly onto print film and displayed as a negative (that is, white lettering on a black background), to get the writing the right way round on the screen the camera exposure of titles was usually through the film base, and the film was loaded in the camera back to front. A tinted base would have increased the exposure so much that only untinted film could be used, which would require tinting after processing. For this reason some coloured films have black-and-white intertitles, whereas previously the titles were tinted.
It is interesting that manufacturers (especially Kodak) promoted their pre-dyed film stock on the basis of the inconsistency and unevenness of the tinting process and the technical difficulties that it posed for the laboratories. Some specialists at film laboratories that handle a lot of tinted film originals (among them Noel Desmet, Cinematheque Royale de Belgique, and Bob Mabberley, Soho Images) report that tinted film base is far less common in archive material than laboratory tinted film, despite the amount apparently sold. Possibly the sale of dyed film base was more common in the United States.”
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’. An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies. In: Film History, 21.1, p. 14)
“For some reason that isn’t clear, at least to me, Eastman Kodak did not perceive the market as having now finished with tinting, toning and ‘arbitrarily coloured’ films when sound arrived, and in 1929 introduced a new range of coloured bases to replace their tinted film base print film, Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film-coloured base. Called Eastman Sonochrome Tinted Positive Film, it was designed especially for RCA Photophone-type combined sound-on-film feature films.
Eastman Kodak’s Loyd Jones, in a 1929 paper to the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, provided a technical statement of how Sonochrome managed to be tinted and yet still permit both reasonable sound quality and, in particular, good sound levels.
He was writing for the membership of the Society, mostly film laboratory and studio technicians, many of whom were chemists or engineers. Some of the previous tint dyes had significant densities in the infra-red and reduced the signal to noise ratio of optical sound tracks, and these were either replaced by other dyes or were made available only as pale versions with lowered effect on sound track quality.
Much of the paper describes the dye selection process used to avoid infrared absorptions and is a written for a scientific audience. At the end he lists the seventeen selected pre-tinted bases for sound prints, and not only describes the colours in dramatic terms but also propounds their potential use. He describes for almost the first time what colours could (and in his opinion, should) be used for providing realism on the one hand and guiding the audience’s emotions on the other! The film stock manufacturers from 1910 onwards employed specialist chemists, but most of these were faceless experimenters and technical report writers who worked their research days out ‘at the bench’, their own (and indeed once my own) euphemism for an eight hour day spent in the laboratory.
Most of their research was never published openly due to its potential commercial value. What was published openly was designed to instruct the film laboratories and, although rarely before the 1930s, the filmmaker and the cinematographer. The main sources of real technological information on any industrial process are patents, which of course must be read with both care and scepticism. Patents were written to protect inventions, but also, more often than is realized, to disguise the reality of a marketable process. At this period the individual chemists at Agfa and Pathé, for example, were generally unknown and published little, but several names do stand out in the English speaking world, mostly from Eastman Kodak in Rochester. One of them is Loyd Jones.
Loyd Jones, however, was not just a ‘rude mechanical’. He was well known in the Society of Motion Picture Engineers in the 1920s (he later served as its President), was also President of the Optical Society of America, and was a prolific writer and inventor. He was instrumental in many major innovations in the film industry (for more on Loyd Jones see Joshua Yumibe’s article in this issue of Film History). It seems that as a commissioned US Navy lieutenant he had joined Kodak in Rochester early in World War I to manage a research group designing camouflage patterns for warships. In his obituary he was described as an ‘optical physiologist’.
He was clearly interested in what was to become known as the ‘psychology of vision’, which was probably at that time controversial (even ever so slightly subversive), in the same way that chaos theory has been regarded. But by the time I joined Kodak Ltd in 1960 it was becoming mainstream. It involved, for example, understanding the principles of general and local adaptation in human colour vision, recognizing why images looked sharper when the contrast was greater, and the effects that certain colours, brightnesses, and images had on our perception (and even our psychological reaction to them. So Loyd Jones cut his teeth on dazzle-patterns painted on warships, and stayed to design workable methods of measuring film speed, contrast rules and duplication mathematics, sensitometric control methods for printing and processing, and exposure determination – all the basic technology we need to make, shoot, post-produce and project film that we use today without a second thought.
His paper on Sonochrome looks like the work of a man who is enjoying writing a technical paper, has immense enthusiasm for his company’s product, has played a major part in the Sonochrome concept, and has been given his head. It seems that the names given to the tinted base colours and the descriptions of their use were also his; his paper to the SMPE was given before the first sales to laboratories, and the advertising posters and pamphlets appear to be later, too. Also, his descriptions are far more detailed and specific, and even more florid, than any other motion picture sales literature I have seen. Colleagues of mine, after reading his Sonochrome paper for the first time, have said that he appears to be a film technologist trying to make sense of something that seemed to many of his colleagues to be illogical, but which he understands as universal emotional experience and an integral component of the new ‘psychology of colour’.
Colour had not always or even routinely been used as a representation of reality, although there are clear cut cases where that is the case. But few references in the silent period refer to any principles used in selecting colours (some that do exist also have Loyd Jones’s name as an author). Previously, Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film-coloured base had been sold by colour: for example, one was called Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film, Red Base.
Others were just called, plainly, pink, orange, amber, light amber, yellow, green, blue and lavender base. (This lavender base film was a completely different film to the later duplicating positive film nick-named ‘lavender’ by the industry because of its base colour.)
Jones described, in depth, and in much greater detail than the subsequent leaflets on Sonochrome, the potential value and use of these colours, employing language almost unknown to film technologists (before or since!). It can be seen from his introduction and explanations that he was expecting changes of colour to be used within a reel, for specific scenes, not only for their dramatic effect but to make use of some of the psychology of colour concepts, especially general adaptation. He describes the use of the crucial Argent base print film as a means of achieving more or less uniform sound levels when intercut with other colours and as a method of enhancing the dramatic effect of a coloured tint that follows it.
In fact, all the Sonochrome colours were relatively pastel by comparison with the tints of a few years earlier. This was principally to ensure no sudden sound volume changes between colours, as was the use of the Argent base, and it is possible that in the late 1920s pastel colours may have been more common anyway.
Sonochrome as a product was a marketing disaster. Sound-on-film and the twenty frame separation between image and sound made tinting a process of the past. Negative cutting was here to stay, and anyway it seemed that arbitrary colours had had their day. I have seen no information or descriptions of Kodak embarrassment other than indirect evidence: Sonochrome is extremely rare in archives, and so far I have yet to hear of a single feature printed on this stock (and there were very few tinted films anyway after its release in 1929). It seems that it may not have been marketed in Europe.
In the Eastman Kodak Motion Picture Laboratory Manual of 1936 Sonochrome gets a short paragraph mention (large stocks were presumably still unsold!), but I have seen it recorded on several websites that Sonochrome was discontinued in 1970! There may have been some stocks still around until the end of the 1940s, when all nitrate stocks ceased to be available, and perhaps they were used for a few trailers or for locally made cinema advertisements.
But the tinted 16mm titles made by Kodak (and some other laboratories) for insertion into amateur films until the early 1950s were acetate, and in some cases (in the UK for example) were dyed using conventional tinting technology – tinting’s last flowering.”
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’. An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies. In: Film History, 21.1, pp. 21-24.
“Jones repeats this suggestion about the emotional influence of colour in his discussions of Kodak’s Sonochrome film stock, which he helped develop at the end of the 1920s. Sonochrome was a pre-tinted film stock meant to be used for positive prints with soundtracks. The tints were specifically engineered so as not to interfere with the soundtrack; hence, the name combines sound (sono) with colour (chrome) to invoke a synaesthetic analogy. [Fig. 6] In a full-colour, four-page Kodak advertising insert promoting Sonochrome, one can get a sense of what the iconography of Jones’s kaleidoscopic projections may have looked like: abstract, pastel beams of yellow, green, pink, and blue criss-cross in the background to illustrate and advertise the film stock.31
Eastman Sonochrome advertisement.Variety (17 September 1930).
Not only was Sonochrome based at least metaphorically on a colour-sound correspondence, but also inherent to it was the codification of the sensual and emotional resonance of its tints with the cinema spectator: it was, according to this same advertisement, ‘keyed to the moods of the screen’.
This and various other descriptions of the Sonochrome tints propose an elaborate, Goethean system of colour correspondences between the hues of the tints and the emotions unobtrusively produced in spectators.32 For instance, the second page of the advertisement explains that:
Sonochrome colors have definite affective values. Some excite, some tranquilize, some repress. Properly used, they enhance the moods of the screen and aid the powers of reproductive imagination in the observer, without making a distinct impression on the consciousness.
A description of one of the tints provides a sense of what Kodak means by this: ‘ROSE DOREE: A rose pink that quickens the respiration. The tint of passionate love, excitement, abandon, fête days, carnivals, heavily sensuous surroundings’.
In a 1929 article in the Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, Jones historicized the emotional resonance of Sonochrome tints.
Color has been so inseparably linked with sensory experience throughout the evolution of mankind that it has acquired by objective and subjective association definite and important emotional value.
33 Again, one finds here a discourse on the senses being used to theorize colour perception and ground arguments about the emotional resonance of Sonochrome tints. Reinforcing this connection, Jones cites the early nineteenth-century British chemist and romantic colour aesthetician, George Field, and the early twentieth century colour theorist, Matthew Luckiesh.34 Through these writers, Jones mobilizes an understanding of the physiology of the eye, which he then relates to colour style. Ultimately, he intends for Sonochrome stocks to be incorporated as abstract elements in motion pictures. However, likely because film tinting was much less obtrusive than the abstract patterns create by his kaleidoscopic device, here he emphasizes much more strongly Sonochrome’s usefulness in narrative films:
It is not desired that the reader shall gain the impression from this rather enthusiastic discussion of the potential emotional value of color that the lavish and unrestrained use of color treatments is advocated. On the contrary it is desired to emphasize the necessity of using the color accompaniment to a motion picture production with care and discretion.
The use of too strong or saturated colors is in general not good, since such colors are usually obtrusive or distracting and may defeat rather than promote the attainment of the desired effect. A more subtle method will yield better results. This involves the employment of pastel tints which may be increased in subjective strength for a brief period of time by the action of successional contrast or juxtaposition in time. Thus the eye accommodated to, or fatigued by a green, such as Verdante, will perceive, at the beginning of the following scene done on a pink tint, a color of enhanced subjective saturation. This immediately fixes the mood of the scene, after which the accommodational processes in the retina begin to operate and cause the effective saturation to decrease appreciably. Thus the color having fulfilled its mission, saying definitely that this scene has a specific emotional atmosphere, fades into the background and while continuing to make itself felt in the subconscious mind of the observer by lending a warmth and softness to the scene permits the action to carry forward the dramatic sequence without the unpleasant and distracting influence of pronounced color.35
This passage epitomizes an approach to colour design that first developed during the single-reel era: the earlier, colourful attractions of the beginning of the first decade of the 1900s began to give way to restrained uses of colour that are amenable – synaesthetically like styles of musical accompaniment – to unobtrusive narration. Colour style became less distracting and as such more narratively realistic.
Various theorists of classical cinema have related stylistic restraint and verisimilitude to causally based modes of unobtrusive narration. Bordwell, Thompson, and Staiger, for instance, discuss the subordination of realism to causal motivation in classical Hollywood style: ‘verisimilitude usually supports compositional motivation by making the chain of causality seem plausible’.36 Following this logic, if colour becomes unreal and pronounced, it will thus hinder the spectators’ absorption by the causal chain of the narrative.
Aspects of this classical logic are clearly present in Jones’ passage, for part of his aim in the essay is to promote the colour stock as being amenable to classical norms of narration. However, as he also makes clear, the incorporation of colour as a restrained, abstract element in film is indebted not only to unobtrusive standards of motivation, narration, and style but also more broadly to nineteenthcentury colour theory. His discussion of successive and juxtaposed tint contrasts derives at least indirectly from Chevreul’s De la Loi du Contraste Simultané des Couleurs (1839), which was the first systematic work to theorize the visual effects of colour contrast, and directly relates to Jones’ understanding of the affective nature of his kaleidoscopic device. Colour is conceived as an abstract element that harmonizes sensually and, by synaesthetic/ metaphoric extension, emotionally with an audience.
This synaesthetic correspondence constitutes for Jones a primitive, underdeveloped ‘language of colour’.37 Developing this point further, he discusses the educational value of the cinema. According to Jones, colour cinema’s social purpose as a mass medium is to refine the primitive language of colour ‘in the collective mind of the motion picture public’ thus uplifting the public’s ‘colour consciousness’ through a modern education of the senses.38”
31. I am grateful to Anthony L’Abbate of the George Eastman House for sharing this item with me. It can be found, for example, in the July 1929 issue of American Cinematographer, inserted after page 24. Similar rhetoric about the film stock can be found in other Kodak promotions of the film, such as Eastman Kodak Company, New Color Moods for the Screen: A Spectrum of Sixteen Delicate Atmospheric Colors, Keyed to the Moods of the Screen (Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Company, 1930).
32. See Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colors, trans. Charles Lock Eastlake (Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1970), 304–336.
33. Loyd A. Jones, ‘Tinted Films for Sound Positives’, 225.
34. Of George Field’s works, see his Chromatics, or, An Essay on the Analogy and Harmony of Colours (London: A.J. Valpy, 1817); Chromatography: Or a Treatise on Colours and Pigments (London: Charles Tilt, 1835); and Rudiments of the Painter’s Art: Or, a Grammar of Colouring Applicable to Operative Painting, Decorative Architecture, and the Arts (London: John Weale, 1850). Of Matthew Luckiesh, see his Color and Its Applications (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1915); The Language of Color (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920); and Light and Color in Advertising and Merchandising (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1927).
35. Loyd A. Jones, ‘Tinted Films for Sound Positives’, 224–225.
36. Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson, 19.
37. Jones, ‘Tinted Films for Sound Positives’, 225.
38. Ibid. Though without reference to him, Natalie Kalmus adapts Jones’ notion of ‘color consciousness’ (and many of the same justifications for colour) to promote three-strip Technicolor six years later in the same journal. See Natalie Kalmus, ‘Color Consciousness’, Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 35. 2 (August 1935): 139–147.
(Yumibe, Joshua (2009): ‘Harmonious sensations of sound by means of colors’: Vernacular colour abstractions in silent cinema In: Film History, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 164-176. pp. 170-172.
“A study was made of the dyes available for the production of tinted support and in 1929 Eastman Kodak introduced its series of Sonochrome colored support for motion picture positive. The Sonochrome tints were described as “a spectrum of sixteen delicate atmospheric colors keyed to the mood of the screen, in the new series of Eastman Sonochrome Tinted Positive Films for silent or sound pictures.”4 A list of these appears in the following table.
4 JONES, L. A., “Tinted Films for Sound Positives,” Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, May, 1929, p. 208.”
(Ryan, Roderick T. (1977): A History of Motion Picture Color Technology. London: Focal Press: p. 17.)
“17.4.3 Using pre-tinted positive film on which to make the print
The inconsistency of the tinting, the technical difficulties that it posed for the labs, and the unpredictability of a toned image on an emulsion which had already been tinted (and vice versa), led the main film manufacturers to introduce raw stock coated onto film base that had already been tinted. This did not create any printing problems (the printing light does not pass through the raw stock base) and permitted a much more stable tinting that resisted better the heat of the projector lamp as well.
Most, if not all, film manufacturers offered some black and white print film on tinted base support as early as 1915. Nine colours were offered in 1910 by Eastman Kodak (called red, pink, orange, amber, light amber, yellow, green, blue and lavender).
As optical sound arrived in 1929, it was realized that sound prints could not use some of these dyes without a high amplification of the signal from the sound photocell and that this would result in a poor quality, especially at the high sound levels in cinemas. Eastman Kodak introduced a new range of coloured bases in 1929 as a series of print films called Eastman Sonochrome Tinted Positive Films specially for sound films. The names of the colours followed the pattern used by other manufacturers, suggesting the purpose of each colour and adopting the rather high flown language of symbolism common to the cinema at the time (see Table 17.3).
Eastman Kodak, Kodak Ltd, Agfa, Gevaert and Pathé offered such a wide selection of coloured bases in the 1920s that the market was saturated to the extent that at one time coloured print film stocks were sold at the same price as black and white! Its only disadvantage was that, since credits were generally shot directly and displayed as a negative (i.e. not printed from a negative), and the contrast needed to be as high as possible, they could not be shot on a coloured base film. The camera exposure of titles was generally through the film base (to get readable writing it was necessary to load the film back to front in the camera). For this reason some well-coloured films have credits that are in black and white at this period, whereas previously the titles were dyed in a dye bath along with the picture.
Tinted films are often dark, with between 25 and 95% of the projection light absorbed by the dyes. However, recently some of the prints that were previously thought to have faded to very pale tints are now considered to have been only delicately tinted to begin with. Tinted prints can be rather difficult to watch as the eye becomes fatigued to being exposed to one colour for a long time, an effect known as general colour fatigue, caused by fatigue to individual colour receptors in the eye. In time, sometimes only a few minutes, the eye accommodates to compensate for the dominant colour and if the colour is relatively weak, after a while, the colour is not noticed. This was probably recognized by early film makers using tinted films as strong colours are often used for long scenes, whereas weak colours are sometimes frequently changed.
In the early 1930s tinted films disappeared over a very short period. Sound was not in itself the cause but the printing systems developed for optical sound prints meant that films were generally printed in one pass through the printer and no longer needed positive joins. Specialized duplicating stocks were introduced in the 1930s and these helped to overcome the problems of making large numbers of release prints from one original negative.
From 1930 to 1936 black and white reigned supreme and only in a few countries did colour make the occasional appearance prior to Technicolor imbibition prints. This disappearance of coloured films over quite a short period seems difficult to explain. There seem to be no technical reasons why coloured films could not continue to be made; neither the new sound technology nor the advent of specially made duplicating stocks meant that colour was no longer possible. If colour was still needed it could have been continued.
The new Sonochrome print stock, released on the US market in 1929 to make colour prints with optical sound, was withdrawn within two years.
Perhaps the viewing public no longer accepted these often unrealistic images.
In order to distinguish tinted from toned films, view the white parts that, with tinting (which colours the entire film), become coloured too. With simple toning the area outside the picture remains completely white, although this is not so well defined with mordant toned film in which the highlights and edges are often coloured or stained. Tinting always colours the perforated edge of the film as well (except in the case of Agfa’s lacquering method). Tinting of the emulsion can be identified by scratching the edge of the image on the emulsion side; if the colour comes away it is the emulsion that has been coloured not the base (or the base lacquered).”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Using Pre-tinted Positive Film on which to Make the Print. In: Restoration of Motion Picture Film. Oxford, pp. 184-185.)
“FILM A SUPPORT TEINTÉ PATHÉ
151. La teinture de la gélatine nécessite un traitement spécial postérieur au développement. Cette opération, rapide d’ailleurs dans le développement mécanique, est délicate dans le développement sur châssis, et où elle immobilise en outre un certain nombre de cuves.
D’autre part, un film viré peut être assez difficilement teinté dans la gélatine ; le virage doit précéder la teinture, et celle-ci peut elle-même modifier et altérer le virage ; les virages par mordançage sont particulièrement affectés par la teinture.
Ces divers inconvénients ont conduit à teinter le support lui-même.
L’avantage du film teinté est évident. Il supprime l’opération de teinture toujours sujette à des irrégularités, en assurant une teinte rigoureusement uniforme. La place gagnée dans une installation qui n’a plus à user des bains de teintures, est un avantage supplémentaire.
Les films teintés Pathé comportant une émulsion positive identique à celle des films positifs sur support incolore, le tirage peut être pratiqué de façon analogue. Le tirage des titres au travers du support est la seule opération qui ne soit plus possible. Nous avons précisé, dans le paragraphe relatif à l’impression des titres § 108, les modifications de pose nécessaires et surtout le moyen pratique de tourner la difficulté par l’impression directe sur le côté émulsion.
152. Stabilité du film teinté. — La teinte du support du film positif est très stable dans les bains de développement, fixage, virage et mordançage, et à la lumière de projection (qui ne l’altère nullement, même après un grand nombre de passages). On comprend toute l’étendue des combinaisons possibles entre virages et teintures conduisant à des effets très variés impossibles à réaliser autrement.
Les supports existent en neuf teintes correspondant aux teintes couramment obtenues par coloration de la gélatine.
153. Spécimens de films à support teinté Pathé (images argentiques).
(Didiée, L. (1926): Le Film vierge Pathé. Manuel de développement et de tirage. Paris: Pathé, pp. 139-140. (in French)
“Jones suggests the emotional resonance of color again in his discussion of Kodak’s Sonochrome film stock, which he helped develop at the end of the 1920s. Sonochrome was a pre-tinted film stock meant for use on positive prints with sound tracks, and the tints were specifically engineered so as not to interfere with the sound track; hence, the name combines sound (sono) with color (chrome) to invoke a synaesthetic analogy. If one examines Sonochrome advertisements, one can even get an idea of what the iconography of Jones’s kaleidoscopic device may have looked like: in a four-page brochure for Sonochrome film stock, abstract, pastel beams of yellow, green, pink, and blue crisscross in the background of the brochure’s pages to illustrate and advertise the stock (color plate 32).42 Not only was Sonochrome based at least metaphorically on the purported correspondence of color and sound; inherent to it as well was the codification of the sensual and emotional resonance of its tints with the cinema spectator: it was, according to the brochure, “keyed to the moods of the screen.” The brochure and various other descriptions of the Sonochrome tints propose an elaborate, Goethean system of color correspondences between the specific hues of the tints and the emotions produced unobtrusively in spectators. The second page of the brochure explains that ‘Sonochrome colors have definite affective values. Some excite, some tranquilize, some repress. Properly used, they enhance the moods of the screen and aid the powers of reproductive imagination in the observer, without making a distinct impression on the consciousness.’ Color film could be used, then, to influence and manipulate viewers without their knowledge. A description of one of these tints provides a sense of what Kodak meant: “Rose Doree: A rose pink that quickens the respiration. The tint of passionate love, excitement, abandon, fete days, carnivals, heavily sensuous surroundings.”
In a 1929 article in the Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, Jones historicizes the emotional resonance of Sonochrome tints. ‘Color,’ he writes, ‘has been so inseparably linked with sensory experience throughout the evolution of mankind that it has acquired by objective and subjective association definite and important emotional value.’43 Again, one finds here a discourse on the senses being used to theorize color perception and fundamental arguments about the emotional influence of tinting. Reinforcing this connection, Jones cites the early nineteenth- century British chemist and romantic color aesthetician George Field and the early twentieth-century color theorist Matthew Luckiesh. Through these writers, Jones mobilizes an understanding of the physiology of the eye, which he then relates to color style. As with his kaleidoscopic device, he intends for Sonochrome stocks to be incorporated as abstract elements in motion pictures. Probably because film tinting was much less obtrusive than the abstract patterns created by his kaleidoscopic device, he emphasizes Sonochrome’s usefulness in narrative films:
It is not desired that the reader shall gain the impression from this rather enthusiastic discussion of the potential emotional value of color that the lavish and unrestrained use of color treatments is advocated. On the contrary it is desired to emphasize the necessity of using the color accompaniment to a motion picture production with care and discretion. The use of too strong or saturated colors is in general not good, since such colors are usually obtrusive or distracting and may defeat rather than promote the attainment of the desired effect. A more subtle method will yield better results. This involves the employment of pastel tints which may be increased in subjective strength for a brief period of time by the action of successional contrast or juxtaposition in time. Thus the eye accommodated to, or fatigued by a green, such as Verdante, will perceive, at the beginning of the following scene done on a pink tint, a color of enhanced subjective saturation. This immediately fixes the mood of the scene, after which the accommodational processes in the retina begin to operate and cause the effective saturation to decrease appreciably. Thus the color having fulfilled its mission, saying definitely that this scene has a specific emotional atmosphere, fades into the background and while continuing to make itself felt in the subconscious mind of the observer by lending a warmth and softness to the scene permits the action to carry forward the dramatic sequence without the unpleasant and distracting influence of pronounced color.44
This passage epitomizes the approach to color design that began to develop in narrative cinema during the single-reel era: color was restrained in ways that made it amenable—like musical accompaniment—to unobtrusive narration. Color style became less distracting and more narratively realistic. Various theorists of classical cinema have related stylistic restraint and verisimilitude to causally based modes of unobtrusive narration. Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson, for instance, discuss the subordination of realism to causal motivation in classical Hollywood style: ‘Verisimilitude usually supports compositional motivation by making the chain of causality seem plausible.’45 Following this logic, if color becomes unreal and pronounced, it will hinder spectators from being absorbed by the causal chain of the narrative.
Aspects of this classical logic are clearly present in Jones’s writing, since part of his aim in the essay is to promote the use of the tinted stock in Hollywood. However, as Jones makes clear, the incorporation of color as a restrained, abstract element in film is indebted not only to norms of unobtrusive narration but also more broadly to nineteenth-century color theory. His discussion of successive and juxtaposed tint contrasts derives at least indirectly from. Michel Eugene Chevreul’s influential study of color harmony, which was the first systematic work to theorize the visual effects of color contrast for industrial production.46 Jones’s understanding of the affective nature of his kaleidoscopic device is inherently harmonic: color is conceived as an abstract element that harmonizes sensually and, by synaesthetic extension, emotionally with an audience. This synaesthetic correspondence constitutes for Jones a primitive, underdeveloped ‘language of color.’ Developing this point further, he discusses the educational value of the cinema. According to Jones, as a mass medium color cinema’s social purpose is to refine the primitive language of color ‘in the collective mind of the motion picture public,’ thus uplifting the public’s “color consciousness” through a modern education of the senses.47 To tease out the implications of this educational impulse toward color in abstract and narrative cinema, I have focused here on Jenkins and Jones partially because their work on color technologies neatly spanned silent cinema, from its emergence in the nineteenth century to its decline at the end of the 1920s. As such, they illustrate and bracket key attitudes toward color during the silent era—attitudes that still persist even as they are reconfigured through new technologies of color, from Technicolor to Eastmancolor to today’s digital intermediates. Jenkins and Jones also provocatively emphasized the potentials of color abstraction in the cinema in ways that have typically been associated with high modernist artwork rather than with the vernacular context within which they worked. Jenkins’s early color experiments preceded the heyday of modernist abstraction by several years, and artists such as Scriabin, Kandinsky, and Survage would not likely have been influenced by his work. Jones was familiar with at least some of these artists; his writings, however, do not engage them in any substantial way.48
What is of more relevance than influence is the broader, intermedial history of nineteenth-century color theory and practice, which was the shared basis for many of these modernist and vernacular experiments with color abstraction. The study of color in the nineteenth century—and particularly the study of afterimages—was interwoven with the physiological study of the senses, and in the latter part of the nineteenth century many of these studies began to explore how the senses interrelate with one another synaesthetically to mediate our experience of the world. At the same time, painters, poets, and musicians experimented with cross-modal effects of color, and so did filmmakers, from Jenkins and Jones to Pathe and King Vidor. Vernacular experiments with synaesthesia call attention to how the sensual appeals of color abstraction are often sublimated by a more pragmatic call for the aesthetic uplift of the public and its color consciousness. Through its mass appeal, the cinema is in a unique position to carry out this mission, in Walter Benjamin’s sense of having the potential to establish at the level of sensory experience a playful equilibrium between the viewer and the environment.49 This is to say that the cinema might then be configured as a synaesthetic training ground of the senses for the navigation of the modern world. However, these claims by Jenkins, Jones, and others in the film industry who promoted the uplifting nature of the cinema should not be taken uncritically, for a political and economic dimension undergirds their rhetoric. There is a well-established tradition of ballyhooing the artistic and educational value of the cinema as a means of promoting its cultural value to critics. In this chapter’s examples, color was promoted as being artistic and sensually edifying for the spectator both in abstract and narrative cinema. But this should give one pause, for at the same time color’s potential to influence audiences unobtrusively was also noted through film narration, in advertisements promoting consumption, and in potentially ideological public broadcasts. What remains significant is that through the abstract elements of color cinema, Utopian claims of uplift and their actual ideological effects are lodged at the level of the senses. Elucidating the unobtrusive ways in which the viewer sensually interacts with and adapts to modern technology is a necessary step toward a historical and critical aesthetics of the cinema.
42 I am grateful to Anthony L’Abbate of George Eastman House for sharing this brochure with me. When L’Abbate found it at a flea market, it had been clipped from an unidentified magazine, likely the July 1929 issue of American Cinematographer, inserted after page 24.
43 Loyd A. Jones, “Tinted Films for Sound Positives,” Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 13.37 (May 6-9,1929): 225.
44 Ibid., 224-225.
45 David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 19.
46 Michel Eugene Chevreul, The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts (New York: Reinhold Publishing, 1967). 47 Jones, “Tinted Films for Sound Positives,” 225.
48 See Jones’s brief discussion of Scriabin, Mary Hallock Greenewalt, and Thomas Wilfred in “The Use of Color” 41.
49 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (Second Version),” trans. Edmund Jephcott and Harry Zohn, in Selected Writings, vol. 3 (1935-1938), ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2002), 117-118.”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, on pp. 144-147.)
“At the end of the twenties pre-tinted films were available on the market, that is films where the base was coloured before the emulsion was applied. During the teens and twenties several companies started supplying this type of films showing a perfectly even and lasting colouring despite the continuous exposure to the heat of projection lamps. But mostly the advantage of pre-tinted films was that they did not interfere with the sound track which at the end of twenties started to make its appearance. Kodak for example produced a range of pre-tinted films called Sonochrome in 1929. Despite the presence of these films and the fact that throughout the twenties it was very difficult to see a movie which was not at least partially coloured, in just a few years, from the introduction of sound, film colouring decreased rapidly to totally disappear soon after.”
(Fossati, Giovanna (1998): When Cinema Was Coloured. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 121-132, on p. 125.)
Let us now take into consideration the contemporary literature which mostly dealt with colouring techniques. These are manuals dedicated to the practice of cinematography and articles published in several specialised journals. These texts are mostly technical and describe in detail the different colouring systems, by paying special attention to procedures. There are indications for tinting and toning baths, descriptions of machines used in the stencil system, etc, but they do not delve on critical analyses on the different film colouring forms, nor on explicit aesthetic considerations. These texts also rarely mention specific movies with relation to their colouring, while general indications and standards are frequent concerning the methods of colour application, the dyes more suitable for some scenes, and the reasons behind these choices of colours. It should also be recalled that only the direct examination of the films and the reconstruction of the applied dyes can help us understand a practice which disappeared in cinema several decades ago.
Handbooks do however represent a very important point of reference in order to reconstruct the aesthetic milieu of arbitrary colouring and offer an invaluable understanding of the taste of contemporary audiences and how film colouring tried to respond to it.
By reading these texts it is clear that arbitrary colouring was not considered an artistic approach; expectations in the field of photographic colour reproduction that in that period were experimented were a different matter, and handbook authors saw in the application of arbitrary colours only a provisional solution to the problem, although this technique was used for thirty years.
Authors discussed why and when a film should be coloured, which scene should be chosen, and what dyes to use for a given scene. These indications referred mostly to colouring which could be defined as monochromatic (toning and tinting) more than to polychromatic colouring (by hand or stencil). They entailed sufficiently precise and homogeneous choices which would become with the passing of time a precise standard for film colouring. For example, in an article published in 1929 Loyd Jones, an Eastman Kodak’s researcher, described pre-tinted films available in seventeen dyes, which were marketed by Kodak, thus offering us the opportunity to understand that colour application had already become conventional at the time when that practice was coming to its end. It should however be mentioned that the strict standards found in technical texts are not sufficient to explain the colouring which was applied to films. Even in practice there was a strong component of conventionality, especially in the mid-teens, but there was also a large component which entailed a non conventional usage. In other words we could say that films colouring spoke a language which could not be explained by the codification expressed on contemporary text books: a language which today rings differently than it did in the early century.
As previously mentioned, there was also that attitude, which could be defined as “purist”, where textbooks refer to the applied colour as something totally foreign to cinematic practice: colouring was accepted in order to better satisfy audiences while waiting for research to find ways to reproduce “natural” colours by photographic means.
Usually technical texts dealt separately with the different colouring techniques, subdividing them into monochromatic and polychromatic. Hand-painting and stencil colouring are polychromatic techniques because they usually entail the use of several dyes, from three to six. Tinting and toning provide instead even colouring for the whole scene or shot and therefore they are to be considered monochromatic colouring systems.
The manuals from the teens and twenties referred to a context where hand-painting was already a rarity. Therefore, when discussing polychromatic systems they delved mostly on stencilling. It was usually placed in relation with photographic systems which were already being experimented in the teens. In Croy’s text written in 1918 it is said: “The effect of coloring by stencils, while often pleasing, is no rival in fidelity to the original of the more successful photographic processes.” A few years earlier another author when speaking about Pathé’s and Gaumont’s production coloured by stencils had written that in either cases, as also for all the commercial movies both hand and stencil coloured, “…there is no mechanical guarantee that the colours as projected are either identical or even near to those of the original. They may and probably will be pleasing” (Bennett, 1911). Similar comparisons between hand-painting and colour photographic reproduction seem completely unfeasable as in the former the colours were applied on film in an arbitrary fashion.
In 1912, when Gaumont started marketing some movies produced thanks to the system of “natural” reproduction of colours, Chronochrome (which we have already mentioned), stencil colouring was already quite popular. We could say that in that period Pathé’s coloured films offered the best results, as shown in several long features dating back to the mid teens, such as Maudite soit la guerre and Les rois de l’air. Gaumont used the Chronochrome for the same subjects on which in those years the other production companies applied colouring by stencils. It almost seems that by comparing the two systems on the same subjects they wanted to show the superiority of photographic colouring vis-à-vis the manual application. For example, Chronochrome was used for non-fictional movies about plants, where flowers were seen rotating in the middle of the frame over a black background. Naturally it should also be considered that Gaumont was the main competitor of Pathé which had always dominated the field of “colour” cinematography thanks to its advanced stencil system. Despite the introduction of Chronochrome, Pathé continued to be very successful thanks to its coloured long features, while Gaumont could afford only short experiments with its revolutionary system, and thus it continued to produce also films coloured by stencils.12
The dominating idea more extensively covered by cinematography manuals seems to be the search for a system which could faithfully reproduce original colours, thus completely eliminating arbitrary mechanical colouring. Coustet (1921), for example, after a detailed description of the mechanical colouring process au patron, as he called stencils, concluded by stating: “…rather interesting results are thus obtained, but they should not waylay us from our goal, that is automatic reproduction of colours thanks to purely photographic means.”
The comparison between photographic means for colour reproduction was never mentioned when monochromatic colouring methods, tinting and toning, were discussed; nor was “realism” ever mentioned when results of these methods were examined, while preferring to delve on aspects such as “effects” and “athmosphere”.
Manuals discuss widely tinting and toning, describing both methods and their specifical technical features; nonetheless, authors often make aesthetic judgements or offer indications. The descriptions of these methods and advice on their best usage seem to widen and expand as we move closer to the time of their disappearance from the screens.
Indications concerning the best colours to apply to a given scene are many. Bennett (1912) stated that “also, like tinting methods, [toning] must be employed intelligently if sensible results are aimed at which shall help instead of hinder the audience in following the motive of the picture presented. Thus a discerning film producer would not countenance the toning of a snow scene warm russet brown, any more than he would present the happy finale of a drama in such a tone as blue and green.” A precise correlation was then necessary between the employed colour and the content of the scene: it could be determined according to the colour “temperature”, so that a scene portraying icy slopes or snow, would require a cold colour, such as blue. A scene with a heat source, a raging fire for example, would instead require a warm tint, such as red. Besides, red is the colour of fire and blue the colour of ice. In the texts from the teens indication on how to use colour were not yet codified as it would happen in the manuals published a decade later. In Mariani (1916) some advice on how to employ the most common dyes can be found: “Blue toning. It is used to produce night effects. […] Green toning is the best one to colour landscape with trees, gardens, woods. Blue tint, perfect to produce night effects. […] Red tint. It is perfect to simulate fires, battles, intense sunsets. […] Rose tint. It effectively reproduces landscapes, dawn, sunset, the complexion of characters with light effects. […] Green tint. It is extensively used for tree-covered landscape, meadows and so forth. […] Orange tint. It effectively produces indoor light effects and outdoor intense sunlight effects. It eliminates image flickering when there is a very light sky as a background.” Others, instead of listing dyes with indications about their best application, preferred giving direct, although slightly far-fetched, examples: “Thus a scene depicting nymphs dancing at a fountain takes on the brilliancy of outdoors by giving it a rose tint over a green tone without necessity of hand-painting or stencilling each frame in its natural colours” (Croy, 1918). From Diamant-Berger’s words it clearly appears that in 1919, the publication date of his book, a codification, based maybe solely on usage, already existed and it was quite precise: “Usage calls for tinting or toning landscapes in green, the sea and the night in blue. The effects on waves and clouds in the twilight are produced thanks to a rose toning and a blue tinting. Outdoors and indoors in the daylight are tinted yellow. Mauve and rose tinting create intermediate effects” (Diamant-Berger, 1919). In Coustet (1921) we find again a brief description of the most widely used tints and the circumstances they were employed: “The majority of positive films are treated with a dyeing solution giving them a red/orange tone. This is a very light tinting aiming at softening the harshness of tones during projection. This warm tint should be employed only for movies depicting full light situations. Underbrush is often coloured in green, but it should be used moderately. Twilight effects are produced by bright red or purple. As regards night scenes, they should usually undergo a blue tint bath. It should be recalled that night scenes are in reality shot during the day, outdoors or in lit up studios (either with sunlight or electric lamps).” Here there are at least two elements which should be further considered.
The first one refers to the fact that “the majority of positive films are treated with a dyeing solution giving them a …very light …red/orange tone.” Yellow or orange colouring is the most common in tinted films. It is found in indoor scenes lit up by artificial light and in outdoor scenes under sunlight. The impression is that this type of tint would represent a neuter colour, as a sort of diffused light not particularly noticeable: a colour becoming a non colour. In some instances in fact, after introducing the various settings with initially different colours, in the progression of the film they are all coloured with the same yellow dye. In other instances instead all the film is entirely tinted in yellow.
The second question raised by Coustet’s words refers to the contrast produced by black and white. He wrote that colour “aims at softening the harshness of tones during projection.” From statements such as this one, often found in manuals and articles discussing monochromatic colouring, we can presume that tints were used and recommended in order to liven up black and white monotony and downplay contrast harshness.
All seem convinced that tints and tones should be employed as substitute for a better solution not yet found, which already in the early teens was much desired. It seems that in the late twenties, when experiments made to reproduce colour by photographic means were numerous, although none had yet been widely adopted, all had already accepted the notion of monochromatic films. In 1927 Lutz wrote: “Photographically-made color films have now arrived which interpret some colors of nature in a wonderful and pleasing way. […] …although developed far enough to have public exhibitions, still are more or less in transmutation, and it is difficult to say whether they will combine as one form of expression…[…] It seems now that the ordinary silent, one-toned motion picture, with its explanatory titles, has become a distinct form of expression”.
Pre-tinted films: conventions become stricter
We have already mentioned Loyd Jones, a technician in Eastman Kodak’s research laboratories, dedicating a very long article to a series of pre-tinted films developed by Kodak in 1929: the reasons behind the choice of different tints seem to suggest that already each colour would now evoke very precise feelings and sensations, according to accepted conventions. In 1929 the author wrote, although quite belatedly as regards coloured film production, as applied colouring substantially decreased with the introduction of sound track. For just a few years coloured pictures would continue to circulate thanks to pre-tinted films, but then colouring would disappear completely for technical and aesthetic reasons.
In Loyd Jones’s article there is a rather interesting although superficial digression on what he defined as the “language of colours”. After an introduction on the importance of colours in the various cultures throughout the centuries, from Greece to Christianity, Jones made a distinction between two groups of possible associations produced by colours: “A rather careful analysis of the admittedly color language indicated that the great majority of existing connotations may be classified in two rather distinct groups which may be designated as (a) direct objective association and (b) indirect subjective association.” He believed that it would not be difficult to designate objective associations and took as an example the colour yellow to indicate sunlight which in reality is not yellow but “…is hueless, that is corresponding to gray or white. […] A white object, however, illuminated by sunlight under a clear blue sky appears yellow. […] This a motion picture scene printed in yellow base, such as tint No. 6 (Sunshine), should definitely suggest illumination whether it be an exterior flooded with light from the sun or an interior into which light is streaming through open doors or windows.” He continued with other examples: electric light is associated with a more saturated orangy yellow, while fire with reddish orange.
Things get more complicated for the association he defined as subjective: “For instance, there seems to be a character of warmth associated with all the colors in the yellow, orange, red, magenta category, while the remainder give a definite impression of cold or coolness. […] The association of color with certain temperamental phases of life, such as youth, maturity, old age, etc., can probably be traced to an extension of a more direct association with the seasons of the year.”
By employing these vague categories, subjective and objective associations, Jones described colouring processes developed by Kodak for its pre-tinted films. Thus tint No. 3, Afterglow, that is the colour of light after sunset, would be appropriate for outdoor scenes at dawn or sunset, and “it should excite mood reactions in general connected with luxury, wealth, security, and relatively strong affections. It is also related to the autumnal mood by obviously direct association with the autumn colors of nature. By indirect or subjective association it is symbolic of the same relative period in the life of an individual and its associated moods. It is indicative, therefore, of repose, ambitions attained, accomplishments, and similar psychological aspects of maturity.” Following the same approach, tint No. 2, Peachblow, a pale rose, would be suitable for women’s close-ups and warm pink, Rose Dorée, for scenes in “a luxuriously appointed boudoir”. Tint No. 10, Azure, an intense sky blue, “can be tranquillizing to the point of becoming depressing. […] It is suggestive of the sedate and the reserved, even approaching the austere and forbidding; under certain conditions slightly gloomy.”
Some of these descriptions seem quite foreign to our ways of thinking. If indications relative to “objective” colour associations seem slightly superficial, but nonetheless quite reasonable, the ones referring to “subjective” associations are sometimes involuntarily hilarious. The technical and scientific approach of the article confers them the status of absolute truth, but because these colour associations are subjective they are linked to cultural models which change in time and space. For us war is not any longer “red”, as in the times of the Great War when fire and blood were its most apparent symbols. Today war is better represented by cold colours, such as white and blue, the colours of “surgical” bombing over Baghdad. For Loyd Jones instead there were obvious associations to the point of marketing “tint No. 16, Inferno. Fiery red tinged with magenta. Since it is directly suggestive of fire, it is adapted to scenes of burning buildings, glowing furnaces, forest fires, etc. By subjective association indicative of riot, panic, anarchy, mobs, turmoil, strife, was, battle, and unrestrained passion.”
There are obviously many analogies between chromatic codifications found in motion pictures and the ones presented in manuals, although practice is likely to have influenced the theory. Cinema manuals were in effect published because those practices were widely used. As previously said, there were many differences between the use of monochromatic colouring as suggested by manuals and the ones effectively adopted. Loyd Jones’s strict codification did not have the time to influence production: the black and white era was soon to commence. But black and white, in theory, at first in photography and then in cinema, had already been the first-choice option for decades in the field of photographic reproduction. Let us now move to the previously mentioned “purist” attitude.
How colours were seen: purist attitude
Whoever in the past had strongly stressed that cinema has an artistic status, usually overlooked the topic of applied colours. Soon a notion of cinema took hold, which we could simply define as “purist”, which saw motion pictures as immaterial “work”, more than concrete and real objects which time could deteriorate. For photography at first, and later for cinema, this “purist” notion insisted on the autonomy that photographic reproduction means should maintain by rejecting any additional contribution by diverse fields. For this reason applied colours not produced by the medium itself (the photographic or cinematic equipment) were never really appreciated, and they also put photography and cinema in relation to other non artistic practices. An issue of “The Amateur Photographer” stated in 1903: “Photography is a translation into black and white, characterised by the fullest possible rendering of infinite varieties of tones and tone values; no other exercise of art work can equal photography in this.”13 This artistic photography was only black and white or toned. Toning in fact played a special role in the realm of applied colours, and in particular sepia toning was considered an acceptable alternative to black and white. This maybe is due to the fact that toning – as it acts upon silver salts in the emulsion – is part and parcel of film development and printing, and it is not a totally independent phase such as tinting, or hand and stencil colouring. Whoever produced commercial photographs, for postcards or lantern slides, etc., was not interested in following a precise artistic standard and therefore continued to colour them. This is also true for the great majority of cinematic images which, as we know, were coloured in great numbers at least for thirty years (from 1895 to the late twenties). This fact was however overlooked by critics and reviewers. It is also certainly true that some motion pictures were left in black and white or only partially coloured (often in the credits and titles) and sold at lower prices than completely coloured films; but we know also that projectionists often added colour directly by employing coloured filters (we saw the example of Griffith’s Broken Blossoms). It seems therefore that not only coloured motion pictures were offered to audiences of silent cinema, but that they could not do without them, so that when a projectionist had to work with a black and white film he did not hesitate to add colour to it, thus making of each projection a unique event. The notion I have described as “purist” continued to take hold throughout the years in several forms and theories till recent times. Colours, even the ones obtained by photographic means, have often been perceived as something separate from motion pictures. An example of this sensation can be found in Roland Barthes’s pages: “An anonymous daguerreotype from 1843 shows in an oval a man and a woman, subsequently coloured by the miniaturist of the photographic studio: I have always had the impression (it does not matter whether this is true or not) that in the same way in every photograph colour is just a sort of whitewash applied later on the original truth of Black and White. Colour for me is a sort of make-up (as on corpses).” 14 Historiography of cinema has usually ignored colour in the silent period and when taking this aspect into consideration it has always labelled it as a primitive feature of that cinema, as the “symptom of desire.”15 In the edition of Sadoul’s General History of Cinema published in 1947 we can read: “Méliès’s coloured films do not attract us for their inevitable colouring imperfections, but in spite of them.”16 It would be interesting to know on which Méliès’s films did Sadoul base his analysis. We do not know the level of conservation of those films and their colours in 1947 and most of all whether their colouring dated back to the film first screening or maybe was prepared (maybe too sloppily) for the Gala Pleyel organised in 1929 in Méliès’s honour. Jean Mitry showed a similar attitude concerning applied colours when he wrote: “The first colour films were then only simply coloured by stencils, a series of positive prints made from the negative so that they could be cut with the pantograph. It was only a naive and hesitant bricolage applied over black and white (Pathécolor).”17 In general colouring is discussed only briefly in texts on the history of cinema, where stencilling was considered as an extravagant oddity and tinting (often confused with toning) as the conventional means to convey feelings and create athmosphere: from there the most frequent examples are blue for the night, red for fire, rose for love. But the colour language cannot be constricted to mere conventions, but it is rather richer and more complex. Following conventions does not explain why there were so many types of blue, red or pink, so different one from the other; neither the use of many more colours and in particular the combination of more dyes in several motion pictures where diverse colouring techniques were used together (tinting and stencilling, tinting and toning, stencilling and toning), without mentioning the sudden changes of colour also responding to aesthetic choices going beyond strict codification.
At the closing of this excursus on past techniques employed to respond to audiences’ taste, we should ask ourselves what is the meaning of all this. How do we consider today tinted and toned, stencil coloured and hand-painted motion pictures when we see them emerging again on the screen? We are no longer expectantly waiting for a “natural” reproduction of colours as the cinema technicians of the early century did, and we have already overcome the teleological approach which was the norm in cinema history about twenty years ago, by which past production was justified merely in the light of subsequent developments made in cinematic technique. For many year now we have been submerged by colour images and even our attitude towards black and white has changed; purist approaches have also changed as well, and they do not have the upper hand any longer in the way we think about cinema, and in general about reproduced images.
Coloured cinema, which today is brought again to our attention thanks to restoration and conservation work carried out by film archives, challenges us as theatre-goers. Finding a way to relate to these colours, which for years have been cancelled from our memory and recollection, is now up to us.
12 In those years another important system for colour photographic reproduction was exploited in England by Charles Urban: the Kinemacolor. Differently from Gaumonts Chronochrome, Kinemacolor used only two dyes, green/blue and orange.
13 Evans, in “The Amateur Photographer”, 1903.
14 Roland Barthes, La chambre claire, Paris, Gallimard, Seuil, 1980.
15 “Symptom of Desire”, see Terry Ramsey, A Million and One Nights: a History of the Motion Picture through 1925, New York, Simon & Schuster, p.118.
16 Georges Sadoul, Histoire générale du cinéma, cit, p.98.
17 Jean Mitry, 1965, p.125.
Bibliography: texts until 1930
Colin N. Bennett, The Handbook of Kinematography, London, The Kinematograph Weekly, 1911; The Handbook of Kinematography, London 1913.
Ernest Coustet, Traité pratique de la cinématographie, Paris, Charles Mendel éditeur, 1913.
Ernest Coustet, Traité général de photographie en noir et en couleurs, Paris, Librairie Delagrave, 1929.
Homer Croy, How Motion Pictures are Made, New York, London, Harper & bros.
Henri Diamant-Berger, Le cinéma, Paris 1919.
Frederick H. Evans, Artistic Photography in Lantern Slides, in “The Amateur Photographer”, vol. 37, n. 959, feb. 1903, pp. 148-149.
Loyd A Jones (Kodak Research Laboratories, Rochester, N.Y.), Tinted Films For Sound Positives, in “Transactions of Society of Motion Picture Engineers”, vol. XIII, no. 37, 1929, pp. 198-218.
E.G. Lutz, The Motion-Picture Cameraman, New York, Charles Scribner’s sons (re-edited in New York, Arno Press, 1972).
Mariani, Vittorio, Guida pratica delta cinematografia, Milano, Hoepli 1916.”
(Fossati, Giovanna (1998): When Cinema Was Coloured. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 121-132, on pp. 126-131.)
“At RKO Bird of Paradise emerged, not in Technicolor, but not in black & white, either. The film was almost entirely printed on tinted stock, evidence of a popular trend to use Kodak’s Sonochrome stock, introduced in the summer of 1929.76 Specifically designed so that the tint would not interfere with the reproduction of optical sound, this was an inexpensive way of adding hues. This technique was used by Warners for one sequence in The Crowd Roars (1932). Cecil B. DeMille’s Romans vs. Christians epic, The Sign of the Cross (1932), and Raoul Walsh’s western romance Wild Girl (1932), filmed in Sequoia National Park, were printed entirely on “Candleflame” tinted stock.77
76 An inspection by Anthony L’Abbate of nitrate print of Bird of Paradise at George Eastman House shows that Reel 1 was printed on “Candleflame,” Reels 2 and 3 used “Firelight” and “Verdante,” and Reels 4 to 9 were on “Peachblow.”
77 Victor Milner, “Tinted Stock for Better Pictures,” American Cinematographer, June 1932, 11 and 28.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 258.)