Western in Pathécolor.
Credit: Frames from the Turconi Collection at George Eastman Museum, Moving Image Collection. Photographs by Barbara Flueckiger.
“THE PATHE KINEMATOGRAPH COLOUR PROCESS.
M. RUOT AND L. DIDIEE.
Meeting arranged by the Kinematograph Group, held at 35, Russell Square, W.C. 1, on Tuesday, December 2nd, 1924, the President (Mr. J. Dudley Johnston) in the Chair.
We propose to-night, in explaining the methods of Pathécolour, to show how the first colourers of film—true miniature artists—are now a thing of the past.
Mechanical aid has not entirely replaced these people, but it has made their work easily reproduceable.
We shall only speak of the method of colouring by stencil—a process which has been used for a long time in the colouring of post cards long before anyone thought of using it in relation to kinematography. One image can be coloured with a brush, but if we had many copies to colour, each of these images would have to be coloured with the same amount of care and precision, however tedious the work might be. On the contrary, if we have to colour part of scenery— trees in green, for instance—we can colour a great number of pictures fairly speedily by the application of a thin layer of colour through a hole made in a stencil, masking out everything else with the exception of the portions to be coloured in green. Evidently, we shall only be. able to lay a flat tint within the exact limits of the designed contours, but this tint, when applied to a photograph, is modified by combining with the various thicknesses of silver which constitute the image. On the picture, therefore, not only one shade of green appears, but a wide range of tints between green and black or, rather, correctly, between green and the various greys.
When we add that this same experiment may be reproduced with any other colour on any part of the picture, it will be realized how it is possible to obtain a vast number of varying tints.
This bringing into play of the range of tints between a definite colour and the blacks of the image only constitutes the elementary rudiments of the process. If instead of placing our colour over a black-and-white print, we place it over a copy toned in any of the tints that can be obtained, the results are more varied still.
To begin with, a specimen or master-copy is made of each picture. Obviously, each colour used in the specimen will mean at .least one stencil. The number of colours used by the painter greatly influences the cost of the finished film, and the art of the director is to apply all his skill in obtaining his effects with the minimum number of colours. To sum up, the responsibility lies with the painter who colours the first film as to how many tints shall be used in the entire process. In the majority of cases six are sufficient. We shall therefore need six separate stencils, through which are applied the six corresponding colours.
A stencil, as is well known, is made from an ordinary positive print, on which we have to cut most patiently image after image, the contour of the surface to be coloured in one tint, green—for instance. A second film, identical with the first, will have to be used in a similar way, so that we may cut on the surface openings through which we shall colour all the portions requiring to be coloured in pink, and so on, in the same way, for six stencils, each to be used for the placing of one colour.
Every one of the stencils comprises, when finished, a set of small holes, distributed here and there all over the surface of the image, according to the position of either the actors or the setting which we want to colour in a certain tint, and the position of these holes moves at the same time as the actors move across the scene.
These six stencils will then have to be degelatinized, as it is through the clear celluloid that we shall have to place our colour on the positive prints needed for exhibition.
The absolute necessity there is for the stencils to be most accurately matched between them need hardly be emphasized, not only as regards perforations, but also as far as the contours of the various images are concerned. We also have to get perfect registration between each of the stencils and the positive print to be coloured.
In the earlier days it was soon noticed that, however perfect the machinery used in placing the colour, the ordinary means of printing films were not sufficiently accurate to allow the reproduction of coloured copies free from fringing. The play that always exists in an ordinary printing machine was a great handicap. For this reason we have had to design a special printing machine, which we might call the “Super-Printer.” The negative film and the positive stock arc not only driven by intermittent movement, but they are also, whilst passing through the gate, laterally registered.
We have to print through our “Super-Printer” a number of positive copies representing both the prints for exhibition and those which will be needed for the making of the stencils. Once printed, all the positive films are developed in the normal way. They must then be examined most carefully by hand, and again on the screen.
Stencil cutting has a history of its own. As far as we are concerned, we began by cutting stencils by hand, using a needle fitted on a special guiding arm, but it was soon found out that cutting by means of a sharp edge was an improvement. Two processes began to be used, one by which the cutting was done on the film itself, and the other process by following the image thrown, enlarged on a ground glass.
With every one of these systems we were still cutting the film by simple hand pressure. Real progress was made when it became possible to animate the needle with rapid and alternating movement.
Pathé Cinema, for this purpose designed their famous stencil-cutting machine, which in the course of years they have kept on improving. The cutting needle vibrates in a continuous vertical movement. Here is, very roughly, how this movement is obtained: We have an electro-magnetic fixed in a vertical position; this is magnetized by alternating current. A small armature of soft iron is allowed to pivot in a horizontal plane, the pivot centre being in the axis of symmetry formed by the two bobbins of the electro-magnet. The alternating current causes the armature to oscillate in a horizontal plane. Oscillations keep on all the time that the alternating current is passing through the bobbins, as the armature is placed in such a way that whilst moving in a horizontal plane it can never enter into contact with the poles of the magnet. Once having obtained horizontal oscillations, nothing is easier than to pass to vertical oscillations, as required for our purpose. One end of the soft iron armature carries a small rod terminated by a steel ball, moving in a socket of the same metal. There is also fitted at the other end of the rod another ball similarly moving in another socket; this second socket is part of a lever. The lever and socket are fitted inside runners allowing movement in a vertical direction only, and exactly in the vertical plane of the line of the poles. That is to say, the centre of the unit, the rod being rigid, each time that the armature passes under the line of the poles it brings the lever to the utmost of its downward movement.
On the contrary, each time that the armature is on either side of the line of the poles the lever will be raised until it reaches its utmost upwards movement, and I at the same time the armature will have reached its extreme horizontal swing.
The lever commands directly the cutting needle or the cutting edge, as the case may be. This lever and the cutting needle are components of the outside frame of the unit; the electro-magnet and the armature form part of the inside I frame of the unit. As the inside frame can slide vertically within the outside I frame, and the only connection between the two frames being the rigid rod, by moving the electro-magnet component up or down the length of travel of the needle varies at will.
As regards cutting stencils, this is obtained by combining the vibration of the needle with the moving of the said needle on the surface of the film ; this displacement of the needle on the surface is the only movement which is really done by the hand of the worker.
The lighting of the cutting machine has always proved a delicate question. We must use a light which will not prove harmful to the eyes. For a long time the cutting machines of the direct type, that is to say, machines where the hand effectively drives the needle, were worked in daylight with the help of a reflecting mirror. The system had a drawback, as we were obliged to alter the mirror attachment at night and artificial light had to be used.
As working in daylight gave better results, and was appreciated by the workers, we fitted our cutting machines with a special lighting system approaching as much as possible to daylight by using a special blue screen.
For either kind of machine the cutting stencil is done image by image. Of the two systems of cutting, either direct or by enlargement, one can hardly decide which is the better, and both systems are now being used with equal success.
We hope we have made it quite clear that in the direct cutting all that is required of the worker is to follow exactly the contours of the section of the image to be cut on the film itself or on the enlargement. The instrument with which the worker follows the contours is very like the ordinary pen-holder, and the mere passing of the point of the holder over the contour of the picture creates contact and causes the vibration of the electro-magnet.
The stencil-cutting machine on the enlargement system was in the earlier stages a very complicated proposition. As a rule, the worker followed the image thrown on the ground glass, this image being projected from a copy different from the one being cut, yet identical in every image, so as to ensure accuracy of the cutting.
Another system is to throw on a ground glass the enlarged image passing under the cutting needle by means of prisms. In both systems the movement is transmitted by a pantograph actuating the guiding point and the cutting needle operating the film.
The system mostly used is a machine in which the “guide film” is thrown on the ground glass by a special optical system. It is, of course, essential that the ” guide film ” thrown on the ground glass be exactly similar in every way—perforations, width, etc.—to the film being cut. It is necessary, before the cutting operation begins, to have a special examination of the film made to ensure that the perforations of the image of the two films tally to perfection.
In all the above types of machine the cutting of the stencil is done image after image, the films being made to move one picture at the time, at the will of the worker, who can move both films at the same time by one turn of the handle commanding both films.
Although we now think that cutting stencils is an easy operation, that is not exactly the case, and it is likely that any one who was to try his hand at this game of patience would find results far from satisfactory. To become a skilled cutter weeks and weeks of learning are necessary. Even a skilled worker cannot cut more than three feet of stencils per hour.
When direct cutting is undertaken the guiding point has to be passed over a very minute image; care must be taken not to get away from the line designed by the painter, and steadiness of hand and good sight is necessary to arrive at this accuracy of cutting. All these qualifications make selection of the cutting staff a difficult question, and there are many rejections amongst the persons who would like to be employed in the department.
If, for some reason or other, the section to be detached holds on to the body of the stencil, the worker has to complete the cutting by means of a sharp cutting point. This operation is, so to speak, the touching-up of the stencil.
If an opportunity were presented to go through the Pathécolour Department, workers would still be found in the cutting room cutting by hand, the earlier and more ancient system still being favoured when we have to cut large surface presenting bold and regular contour. Of course, for this special operation the most skilled of our workers are required ; the work is done on a ground-glass table fitted on an inclined plane, something similar to the photographer’s retouching desk. The greatest care has to be taken, as a slip of the knife might ruin the whole section of the stencils.
It can be realized at this stage what a lacy effect each stencil presents. We have pictures where the same colour has to be distributed into a great number of small spaces. In other cases, on the contrary, we sometimes have to cover in one colour only a large portion of the image. We find that portions of such a large size reduce greatly the strength of the stencil, and to avoid the same getting damaged we then have to space our holes every other picture.
The stencil is now a very costly possession, and has next to be cleaned of the gelatine remaining on the support. This has to be done with great care, and friction of any sort avoided which would be likely to scratch the celluloid. Special care must also be taken so that no alterations in the pitch of perforations or dimension of the film occurs, as it is essential that both perforations and image of the stencil should exactly coincide with the film to be coloured films, of course, not having to undergo the various washing and drying operations to which a stencil is subjected. Degelatinization is best obtained by using a suitable solution of hypochlorite.
The stencil is now made and ready for use. We have next to apply the colour on the copies required for exploitation. Formerly this operatic was done with a flat brush, but improved methods allow us to-day to do this more speedily.
The stencil and the film are made to travel together and to come into very close contact over a drum ; at the moment that the stencil and the film are passing over the drum and held taut the colour is applied through the stencil holes on to the film.
The machine consists of a drum of large diameter, fitted with teeth, the width of which can be automatically set. This setting allows us to obtain perfect register between the films to be coloured and the stencils.
The film and the stencil travel together in the same direction, whilst in the opposite direction an endless velvet ribbon moves, fed with liquid colour by means of a rotating brush, this brush picking up the coloured solution from a small endless metal ribbon. The metal ribbon dips into a small trough containing the colouring solution, and its speed can so be altered as to pick up the exact quantity of colouring matter required for the film ; this varies greatly, according to the size of the surface to be coloured.
The reel to be coloured is made up of all the positive sections that have to undergo the processes, all these being printed on the continuous system and on the same reel of positive stock.
The stencil is placed on the machine in a continuous loop, so that, after passing over the drum it goes back to the top rollers, the number of which varies with the length of the stencil.
The finished film falls into a basket or is passed through a drying cabinet I in order to hasten the drying operation.
To allow the machine to work in a continuous manner it is necessary that the length of each section of the positive print to be coloured be exactly the same as that of the stencil, now joined in a loop. To arrive at this we have sometimes to use spacing in the stencil to make up for the leads that are always to be found on positive copies. These leads on the positive print repeat themselves in exactly the same length, as the positive copies have also been printed on the continuous machine, and from the very same negative from which the stencil was obtained.
The nature of the colouring solution implied by the velvet can easily be pressed. As the body to be coloured is gelatine, we have to get an aqueous solution. The strength of this solution varies according to the depth of tint we wish to obtain.
The colouring must be perfectly even. And as the solution is being applied by velvet it will be readily realized that this velvet has a tendency to become poorer on the very spaces covering the stencil holes, and richer everywhere else. It is, therefore, necessary to spread the solution in a more even manner, and to get this result the worker should continuously rub the top of the velvet whilst it is passing over the film. This spreading operation will be noticed when the film showing you the working of the machine is projected.
Having spoken of colouring matter, it is essential to add that these colours must be light-resisting and transparent. With colours specially tested and proven to have these qualities the worker can obtain all the desired tints. Deciding on tints is not always an easy task. We soon found that with a slight alteration in the lighting of the room trouble occurred in matching colours. For reason we decided to install a permanent system of lighting, which is also, as near as possible, that of daylight. To obtain this result, we had, as we did with the cutting machines, to use blue-tinted lamps.
There mains the registering. We have seen that for the colouring operations the width of the teeth is adjustable, the drum being made of two half-sections, each carrying a line of teeth. These two sections being adjustable, it will be realized that the stencil and the positive print are always perfectly taut one over the other.
Lateral registering between the positive print to be coloured and the stencil openings will depend for mutual register on the perforations. This trouble is avoided, as we have already seen, by taking the precaution of printing from the same negative, not only the positive prints to be coloured, but also the films used as stencils.
The diameter of the drum has been carefully calculated, so that three full images are always resting on the face of the drum ; thus each image is, therefore, coloured by several different sections of the velvet. In this way the tint is more regular.
It must not be concluded that colouring operations are always perfect and never need touching up. This we have sometimes to do. A worker is always liable to make a mistake, and we can usually save the film and avoid reprints by merely washing the colour off.
At this stage a film was projected showing all the stages of the colouring operation This was followed by some specimen sections of films that were then being coloured the Pathé works.
It only remains to add that this method of colouring—which you appreciate in England for the actual value of the work it represents—by stencil will always present the following interest. It can be applied to any film whatsoever without its having been prepared for that purpose. Given a good negative, the colouring operation can be performed on any film.
Whatever the simplifications and modifications that may be brought to bear on this process, it will always remain a curiosity, and we shall feel flattered to two that in retaining your attention all this time we have in some measure succeeded in interesting you in this unique process of Pathécolour.
VOTE OF THANKS
Mr. BLOCH expressed the thanks of the Kinematograph Group in particular for the excellent way in which Messrs. Pathé had arranged the demonstration and the clear manner in which they had made an intricate and highly ingenious process palatable to the audience. The PRESIDENT felt sure those present would wish to thank M. Ruot for the very lucid manner in which he had laid the subject before them and explained a very intricate mechanism. The vote of thanks having been heartily accorded, M. RUOT briefly expressed his appreciation of the kind remarks that had been made.”
(M. Ruot and L. Didiée (1925): ‘The Pathé Kinematograph Colour Process’, The Photographic Journal, new series, vol. 65, no. 3, March 1925, pp. 121-126.)
“The Pathéchrome matrices are cut by hand and are not at all produced by photography. A stencil is made from a celluloid strip, one strip for each color, on a pantograph device which has a vibrating, electrically driven needle that cuts the celluloid away completely in the stencil film. Stencil film is carried under the electric needle while a companion picture film is carried in synchronism with it and projected up to about lantern size, over which the long end of the pantograph swings. object to be traced is followed over the enlarged picture and the needle at the opposite end cuts away the celluloid in the normal picture. Each picture in a series is done in this manner for each of the colors that are to be applied.
The matrix film is then a series of openings through which a color is applied to the finished print. Celluloid to be cut for the stencil is a positive print from which the emulsion is later removed and the film cleaned. Show prints are on a registering printer in which the feeding pins, in a step movement, draw both the negative and positive forward one frame at a time. About midway of the stroke, one of the feeding pins spreads sideways from the other, thus adjusting the films laterally. Prints are sometimes toned to produce one of the shades to be used.
In the Handschiegl process a photograph reproduces the matrix, while in the Pathéchrome process a stencil cut by hand does the work.
In both cases, each frame is worked by hand, for in the Handschiegl all parts not wanted are blocked out with color, by hand.
Coloring by Pathéchrome is more rapid than by imbibition.
Stencil and positive to be colored are brought into contact over a sprocket wheel while a velvet ribbon wipes a color through the stencil to the positive. This color ribbon is a loop of about one foot in diameter. A series of brushes feeds the dye to the ribbon, so that it does not receive too of the colored liquid. Film passes through this machine at the rate of about 60 feet per minute, one strip for each color, on a pantograph device which has a vibrating, electrically driven needle that cuts the celluloid away completely in the stencil film. The stencil film is carried under the electric needle while a companion picture film is carried in synchronism with it and projected up to about lantern size, over which the long end of the pantograph arm swings. An object to be traced is followed over the enlarged picture and the needle at the opposite end cuts away the celluloid in the normal picture. Each picture in a series is done in this manner for each of the colors that are to be applied.
The matrix film is then a series of openings through which a color is applied to the finished print. The celluloid to be cut for the stencil is a positive print from which the emulsion is later removed and the film cleaned. The show prints are made on a registering printer in which the feeding pins, in a step movement, draw both the negative and positive forward one frame at a time. About midway of the stroke, one of the feeding pins spreads sideways from the other, thus adjusting the films laterally. The prints are sometimes toned to produce one of the shades to be used.”
(Kelley, William Van Doren (1931): The Handschiegl and Pathéchrome Color Process. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 18,2, 1931, pp. 233-234.)
Although tinting and toning were used more frequently throughout silent cinema, the process of stenciling was adapted for film in the early 1900s and used through the late 1920s; it garnered more attention by far, especially during the first decade of its use. The process was closely associated with the French companies of Pathé and Gaumont (color plate 4). With this technique, each color had its own stencil that was made by cutting out holes into a positive, black-and-white print of a film, frame by frame, in the spots where color was to be added to the film. Once all these cuts were made in each frame of the film section to be colored, the emulsion was washed off, leaving a clear, perforated stencil that could be placed in alignment over the image of a new, positive print of the film.
Ink was then sponged through the cutaway areas of the stencil into the new print’s emulsion; after it had dried, the process was repeated for the next color. Typically between three and five separate stencils would be used on a film (or segments of a film), and though the preparation of the stencils was laborious, once produced they provided an automated means of reproducing the colors on multiple prints. In the middle of the first decade of the 1900s, Pathé began to develop various mechanical devices for cutting the stencils and applying the dyes, and the results of these efforts were remarkable. Stenciling bolstered the company’s economic fortune and global dominance for a number of years.”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, pp. 4-6.)
“Pathé Stenciling in the Early 1900s
In Gaston Velle’s simple but spectacular hand-colored trick film Métamorphoses du Papillon (A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis, Pathé, 1904), a yellow caterpillar crawls along a green branch and leaf set against a black background. The caterpillar dissolves into a white cocoon, out of which a multicolored butterfly wing then emerges directly toward the camera. There is a cut to the butterfly fully exposed, and its fluttering wings shimmer in various colors (orange, greenish-blue, yellow). Next, a physical transformation takes place in which the butterfly leans forward to reveal that it is actually a woman in a butterfly costume (her full body now visible), and she continues to flutter and pirouette (color plate 18). The black background serves a dual purpose here: it both masks any fringing that may have occurred in the coloring process (the dyes do not show on the dark surface), and it contrasts with the moving colors that seem to protrude from the screen. The coloring adds a sense of depth to the image, yet it does not construct a deep space that beckons one to enter. Rather, the colored image seems to project off the screen toward the spectator in a quasi-erotic direct address that resonates with various colorful and bestial representations of feminine sexuality at the fin-de-siècle?
Various articles from the period discuss color in relation to stereoscopy. This association was strong with natural color systems, which were in fact often marketed as being stereoscopic; however, even from the earliest reviews of applied color films, there was a sense in which colored bodies (especially female ones) in film seemed to leap from the screen. As a Raff and Gammon advertisement for Edison’s Vitascope explains, “With the life tint upon face, hands, arms and other features, and with vivid coloring of costume and accessory, the subjects stand out from the canvas.”4 More recently, Noël Burch has drawn attention to this dimensional aspect of early colored films: “In France, in particular, color played an important part in Méliès’s films and in Pathé’s trick and fairy films. In the earliest years this was primarily to make the characters stand out against a monochrome background by tinting them in bright colors, i.e., to counteract the flattening effect resulting from uniform lighting, camera placement, etc.”5 Claims of the stereoscopy of early color films are at times literal; however, more often they are figurative and draw attention to the tactile qualities of color: the sensuousness that color gives to an image as it perceptually transforms a two-dimensional view into bas- and even high relief.6 Nineteenth-century stereoscopic images in fact create a different sense of depth than what is suggested here regarding color film. The stereoscope creates a three-dimensional image that is in sunken relief. As Jonathan Crary explains, its depth opens from the viewer into the image in “a sequence of receding planes.”7 By contrast, discussions of the “stereoscopy” of early color cinema most often describe what I have termed a projective dimensionality that proceeds in relief from the background into the foreground of the image, out toward the viewer. With this movement, it pulls into the emulsified image beneath it, bringing it sensually within reach. This projective dimensionality of early color cinema is inherently obscene, in the sense that Crary notes regarding the stereoscope’s depth effects having “shattered the scenic.”8 The obscenity of these colors relates to what Tom Gunning has analyzed as the “exhibitionist” quality of the cinema of attractions, exemplified by actors’ recurring looks into the camera to establish “contact with the audience.”9 Color functions as a direct address, rupturing the scenic to project a virtual sense of physical contact with the audience, in high relief. Given how films such as Pathé’s A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis most often localize color upon the female body, these haptic projections are charged with eroticism.
As in A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis, color’s projective dimensionality is exemplified through Pathé Frères’ work with color during the first decade of the 1900s. From the early 1900s to World War I, the company was the leading producer of colored films around the world. The popularity of these films in part fueled Pathé’s global success during the early years of the 1900s. With the broad changes in film production, style, and circulation at the end of the first decade of the 1900s, the company’s dominance slipped, though color still played an important role in its fortunes during the 1910s through its nonfiction and historical dramas. However, as we will see, Pathé subdued the style of its coloring with these genres. Pathé maintained its projective style of coloring evident in A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis when it transitioned to stenciling in the early 1900s. Before Pathé’s use of stenciling, the process was used to color various print ephemera such as wallpaper, illustrations, and postcards in the nineteenth century. In August 1896, Charles-Emile Reynaud adapted the process for his photographic-based animation, Guillaume Tell (William Tell), which he stencil-colored for the Théâtre Optique.10 And during the early 1900s, film companies such as Gaumont and Eclair also stenciled films, but Pathé pioneered the development of the process for film, and it is the company most closely associated with this coloring process.
As documented in Pathé’s business minutes, the “Procès-verbal de la séance du conseil d’administration,” preserved at the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, the company began experimenting with stenciling as early as 1903.11 On March 26 of that year, Charles Pathé, co-director along with his brother Emile, reported at the Pathé management meeting that technicians had been experimenting with stenciling since January, and the initial results were successful. Five weeks later, on May 2, he reported again that experiments were still ongoing, and he was confident that the process could soon be adopted industrially for coloring films. The earliest film stencils were hand cut with scalpels from positive reels of a film (one stencil for each color to be applied). For instance, in a film with three stencil colors—red, green, and blue—at least four film print reels would be needed: one for each color and a final one that would become the colored print. On- each of the stencil reels, the places in every frame that were to be colored that stencil’s specific color were sliced out. After these holes were cut in the stencil reel, the emulsion was stripped from it so that it would be left clear and smooth for the coloring process. This prepared stencil-reel was then lined up in registration with the emulsion side of the corresponding frames in the final, uncut print reel, and the colors were applied by brush through the stencil cuts to the print. The coloring process was then repeated with the next stencil-reel onto the same final print, and so in succession until all the stencil colors were applied.
Early stenciled materials, particularly pre-1905 samples, are often difficult to distinguish from hand coloring. Even in the discourse about color films at the time, hand coloring is not systematically distinguished from stenciling. Indeed, in advertisements and reviews of stencil-colored films, the prints are often promoted as being “hand colored,” as was the case with Segundo de Chomón’s stencil-color fairy film, Le Spectre Rouge (The Red Spectre, 1907).12 Such emphasis implicitly promotes the manual labor of the colorist/artist rather than the semi-mechanical reproductions of the stenciling process—an artisanal emphasis paramount to media debates in the Arts and Crafts movement of the time.13 Pathé strove to convey a sense of handcrafted aura to the colors of its films through a disavowal of their mechanical origin.
In terms of appearance, hand coloring, though time consuming, could be extremely precise, as exemplified by much of Elisabeth Thuillier’s work for Méliès. The earliest stenciled prints at times contain more fringing across contiguous frames than the best hand-colored examples. There are at least two visual means of identifying stenciled films from the early 1900s. The first is that stenciled prints will at times show uniform coloring lines on the otherwise clear edges of a print, lines that were created when dye seeped through the sprocket holes or over the edges of the stencil during the coloring process (color plate 4). When these dye marks are present to the inspecting eye (though they do not show up in projections), they are a sure indication of stenciling.
The other means of identifying stenciling is through a comparative analysis of multiple prints of a film. Stenciled variations should be relatively minimal across the prints, whereas hand coloring introduces more discrepancies and, often, visible brushstrokes. Velle’s A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis is a case in point. The coloring of the print discussed above, preserved by Lobster Films, is very close in quality to stencil coloring; however, copies of the film also exist at the Gaumont-Pathé Archives and at the Cinémathèque de Sarragosse in Spain, and from the variations in coloring in each of these it is clear that the film was hand colored, at least initially. Even with color variations found across these multiple prints, one must remain speculative about whether or not Pathé ever stencilcolored this particular film later on. At the end of the first decade of the 1900s, Pathé began to remake and reprint its popular, earlier titles, and these new versions were recolored with updated stenciling techniques.14 It is conceivable that Velle’s film may have been one such example: hand colored on its initial release and recolored with stencils later, though this is speculation. Of note, Joan M. Minguet Batllori has found that A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis is one of the films that Pathé outsourced to Spain to be hand colored by Segundo de Chomón, who ran a coloring lab in Barcelona. In 1905 he was recruited by Pathé as one of its chief directors in Paris, where he oversaw the company’s trick and fairy genres and rivaled Méliès’s work.15 It is unknown if any of the surviving prints were in fact hand-colored directly by Chomón, but the version at the Cinémathèque de Sarragosse could be one such example.
Influenced by Méliès’s stylistic success, if not his lack of industrial prowess, Pathé adopted color as a fantastic and generic stylistic trait in most of its fairy and trick films. According to Jacques Malthête, 7 percent of Pathé’s prints sold between 1905 and 1906 were stenciled, and 25 percent of its total output contained some form of color.16 Pathé’s minutes in the “Procès-verbal” confirms this increase of color film production during these years. On October 9, 1905, the minutes note that colored films turn the most profit for the company, but its coloring lab in the outlying Parisian neighborhood of Vincennes was too small to keep up with the demand, so the management proposed renting land nearby to expand the facility.17 Yet it appears that the facility was not expanded at this time, for on December 18, 1905, the minutes return to the issue of the Vincennes lab, noting that it could only produce 850 to 900 meters of colored film per day as the facility was out of space and could not seat more than sixty-five workers at a time. However, the demand for color footage was far greater—Pathé was selling 3,000 to 4,000 meters of colored film per day. (Though the minutes do not state this, the company must have been outsourcing the rest of the coloring to other firms, such as Thuillier’s.) Accordingly, the management approved at this time 130,000 francs for the expansion of the lab so that it could employ upward of three hundred colorists.18 As the minutes of 1906 go on to record, Pathé rented space nearby for a temporary coloring lab to meet the sales demands (February 26), and during the course of the spring and summer of 1906 Pathé brought the expanded operation online at the Vincennes factory.19
Along with enlarging its facilities, Pathé also needed to expand its coloring workforce. Chomón’s move to Paris in 1905 is related to this expansion, though, as Minguet Batllori explains, much of Chomón’s energies in Paris were focused on directing rather than hands-on work with film coloring.20 It is also worth noting that Ferdinand Zecca, Pathé’s other key director of colored trick and fairy films and a collaborator of Chomón’s, was hired in early 1906.21 Chomón almost certainly had some role in shaping the expansion of Pathé’s coloring lab at this time, but Henri Fourel was the actual director of the Vincennes lab, and he oversaw the hiring of more female workers to do the coloring. During 1906, the company more than doubled the number of its female colorists from approximately 65 to between 130 and 200.22 As part of this expansion, Pathé attempted to recruit Elisabeth Thuillier and her coloring firm to its Vincennes lab. Pathé had already been outsourcing coloring work to Thuillier, but with the growth of its coloring operation the company sought to hire her exclusively to help run its lab. Thuillier initially signed with the company, but the negotiations broke down after several weeks, when it became apparent to her that she would have to share her authority with another Pathé manager, Mme. Florimond, whose husband was the chief technician developing Pathé’s stenciling machines.23
The expansion of Pathé’s coloring workforce in 1906 coincides with the company’s push to control the French market through industrializing its production methods. A central goal of Pathé was to reduce costs, which allowed the company to undercut its competitors while increasing profits, and it is against this financial backdrop that Pathé began to mechanize the stenciling process.24ß There were two aspects to Pathé’s approach: developing a machine to cut the stencils and a separate one to apply the dyes to the composite prints. With the cutting of the stencils, the aim was to replace the hand incisions with a manually controlled sheer, which at first was similar to a sewing machine needle but was later modified with a sharp, vibrating point powered by an electromagnet. Under license from M. Florimond, Pathé patented its first cutting device in October 1906, for which it paid Florimond 10,000 francs with an additional royalty of 0.109 francs per meter up to 40,000 francs.25 On December 28, the “Procès-verbal” notes that one hundred of Florimond’s stenciling machines were in production, six of which would be ready by mid January:
The Council is pleased with the results achievable with our coloring machine. A series of 100 machines is being manufactured, of which six will be ready by January 15, and the rest will follow. With one machine, one can color 300 meters per day of a single color.
Currently, hand coloring progresses with 130 workers and produces 3,500 meters per day. The cost per hand-colored meter has been lowered from 0.35 francs to 0.22 francs; we continue to sell a meter of colored footage for 2.25 francs.26
This entry sums up Pathé’s work on expanding its coloring production during 1906. Seeking to industrialize its methods, it both refined existing coloring technologies for film (stenciling) and increased its workforce in order to drive down production costs (by 30 percent) and increase profits.
Over the next few years, Pathé continued to modify its stencil-cutting machines. In 1908 the technician Jean Méry joined the company, and Pathé licensed an earlier patent he had filed on January 14, 1907 for a stenciling machine. Méry worked with the company until 1911, when he quit and moved to Eclair, where he continued to develop stenciling devices. During his time with Pathé, he modified the company’s stenciling machines by connecting the stencil cutter to a tracing stylus attached by a pantograph armature that allowed for more precise cutting movements. With the tracing stylus, the colorist would outline the areas of a film frame to be cut on the corresponding stencil reel, and through the connected arms of the pantograph the slicing needle would move in lock-step with the tracer’s movements, cutting out the holes on the stencil-reel. Initially, with Florimond’s machines, the tracing was done on a 35mm reel of film, which could be moved in lockstep with the stencil reel being cut, a frame at a time. Méry developed the devices in such a way that the colorist would trace on an enlarged image projected on glass, which allowed for greater precision. Also, with Méry’s pantograph system, clear, emulsion-free leader could be used for the stencils instead of positive prints, which both saved on the expense of using a film print as a stencil and removed the extra step of stripping the emulsion from the stencil after it was cut to create a smoother stencil. Méry also revised the machine’s slicing device, changing it from a needle that moved up and down as on a sewing machine to an electromagnetic vibrating point that provided greater precision as the stencils holes were cut into the stencil-reel.
The other mechanism that Pathé licensed from Méry was an automated dye applicator that replaced the manual coloring of the stencils by brush. Patented on February 28, 1908, this new device kept the sprocket holes of the stencil (see #23 on diagram in figure 18) and composite print (#24) aligned in registration (stencil on top) and wound them against a looped velvet ribbon (#21) that was saturated with dye from a reservoir (#30) by another ribbon (#27) and brush (#26). When pushed into contact with the dyeing ribbon by the device’s large sprocket drum (#1), the emulsion of the composite print would absorb the ink through the holes of the stencil, three frames at a time. By separating the dyeing ribbon from direct contact with the dye reservoir, the machine offered a greater degree of control over the dyeing process in that the amount of dye absorbed by the ribbon and transferred to the final print could be precisely adjusted. Once the dye was dry, the process was repeated with the next stencil and so forth until all the stencils colors were applied. If necessary, the final print could be corrected with hand coloring.
With the mechanization of its stenciling in place, Pathé was in a position to distribute its color films successfully around the world. A series of advertisements in the Views and Films Index in the United States in 1907 reflected the company’s growing popularity. In the first ad from June, Pathé published a flattering letter from U.S. distributor Carl Laemmle:
The demand for the “Pathé” films, so far as I am concerned, has increased almost two-fold since I made it known that I handled so much of your product. This makes it certain that I shall purchase more heavily than ever before from your house. My customers do not hesitate to declare that your films are the biggest of all’ money-makers and I have quite a number of clients who want “Pathé’s films or none.”
The house of Pathé has been quicker than any other to realize that Quality is the watchword of the film business.27
Laemmle’s letter does not specifically cite stenciling, but from his advertisements a few months later in the same journal one can infer that color was a factor in the company’s success: “I have more hand-colored films in my service than any house in the business. They’re corking good business-getters for you, Mr. Manager! And if you’re a Laemmle customer (or becoming one) there’s no ‘extra charge’ for them. The sooner you write, the quicker I’ll get your letter.”28 Pathé is not directly mentioned here, but given Laemmle’s earlier comments it is almost certain that Pathé prints constituted a major portion of his color titles. Additionally, Laemmle’s announcement that there is no “extra charge” for these color prints may provide some insight into Pathé’s marketing practices. Once Pathé’s stenciling was mechanized, the company could begin to reduce the cost of color prints as it mass-produced them—something that an artisanal producer such as Méliès could not.
Pathé’s Chromatic Dominance
The popularity and affordability of Pathé’s stenciled films were instrumental to the company’s success in France and around the world in the early 1900s, as is evident in the company’s advertisements for color films in the trade press during the second half of the 1900s. Take for instance Pathé’s advertisements for August 31, 1907, in the New York Clipper and the Views and Film Index.29 Both ads list the films for the current and previous weeks, and in these two weeks Pathé released three of the thirteen films stenciled (the colored films being trick and fairy films): in the current week Modern Painters (442 ft. for $65.94) and in the previous week The Red Spectre (623 ft. for $123.76) and Chrysanthemums (229 ft. for $45.08). In other words, 23 percent of the titles released in the two weeks were stenciled (or approximately 22 percent of the footage released). Although stenciled trick and fairy films did not make up a majority of the titles produced by Pathé” during the first decade of the 1900s, as these ads confirm, these vibrant genres were crucial to the company’s fortunes during these years. Such films showcased the company’s mastery of a particular magical strand of the cinema of attractions. As with Méliès’s use of hand coloring for trick and fairy films, Pathé’s stenciling in the early 1900s was integrated with these genres to such an extent that prior to the single-reel era, Pathé” employed stenciling almost exclusively for these genres.30
One clear reason for this association between stenciling and the trick and fairy genres is that in the early 1900s the process of stenciling was largely thought of as a trick effect, which provides a useful context for thinking about the projective dimensionality of the coloring found in Pathé’s trick and fairy films.31 Color did not make these films literally stereoscopic. Instead the stencil coloring creates the illusion of an image in relief emerging from the two-dimensional screen. This is an effect that in part aims to provide viewers with an uncannily realistic image that haptically moves toward one. However, even if realistic in its sensuousness, the production of a verisimilar image was not the dominant impetus behind Pathé’s coloring of trick and fairy films. It is true that the coloring in these genres tends to obey certain realist codes of verisimilitude—the leaves of A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis are green, the caterpillar yellow, and indeed butterflies are often resplendent. However, these genres in general employ a much more flexible approach to such codes of color representation. One recognizes that their hues could conceivably correlate to a reality, but their brightness and fluidity suggest that it is a reality more spectacular than the everyday we inhabit. Indeed, the realism of these images has less to do with the representation of the everyday than with their correspondence to the popular fairy plays of the nineteenth-century stage. Part of these plays’ appeal was their elaborately colored decors and costumes. Coupled with staged trick effects and fairy-tale plots, fairy plays created a fantasy world for the spectator, and generically the stenciled colors of Pathé’s films reflect the look of these spectacles. Color realism is thus tied to the context of reference.
In a more specific way, one can also draw parallels between the trick coloring of Pathé’s stencils and the fairy play’s use of modern lighting techniques as trick effects. Wolfgang Schivelbusch has discussed the impact that the industrialization of lighting in the nineteenth century had upon the dramatic stage.32 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, stage lighting was weak and typically illuminated the stage’s proscenium frame (from the footlights, the sides, and above). This created a shallow space in which the brightest part of the stage was at the front, near the footlights, whereas the background was relatively dim. With the development of gas, lime, and electric lights in the nineteenth century, a greater articulation of depth was possible on the stage as the more powerful lights not only provided better general illumination but could also be focused for spotlighting areas of the stage to sculpt the space in relief. Additionally, the new lights could be adapted for special trick effects: for example, emulating the rays of the sun or moon to create mise-en-scènes filled with heavenly illumination. As Katherine Kovács points out, such tricks of lighting quickly became an integral part of the nineteenth-century fairy play and “lighting instructions were written directly into the script as an integral element of the story.”33 Though neither Schivelbusch nor Kovács discuss in any detail the use of colored lighting effects, this was an important aspect of the technical transformation of the lighting of the modern stage and can be productively traced from Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg’s experiments in the eighteenth century with colored atmospheric effects (particularly through his Eidophusikon) through various stage practices in the nineteenth century, such as the fairy play and Loïe Fuller’s experiments with colored lighting. Stenciling in Pathé’s fairy and trick films functions in parallel ways to these lighting effects. It provides a means of creating dazzling trick effects that sculpt in depth the films’ mise-en-scène, and the showcase of these colorful attractions is often the guiding principle behind the design of Pathé’s films.
An exemplary case in point is Segundo de Chomón’s Le Scarabée d’or (The Golden Beetle, Pathé, 1907). It begins with an oriental magician in a white headscarf and yellow robe bowing to the camera, or possibly to Mecca, after which he spots a yellow beetle crawling up the black and white wall behind him. Sneaking up, he seizes it, carries it to the middle of the stage where he makes a magic urn appear (through a substitution splice). As he throws the beetle in, orange flames immediately consume it. The fire rises higher until the creature, to the delight of the magician, has been transmuted into a golden winged woman hovering at the top of the frame (the urn has disappeared). In a flash of orange smoke, a large and ornate golden fountain appears below the woman; while the magician mimes his licentious intentions to the camera, she descends into the fountain to his dismay. Seemingly beyond the control of the magician, who now cowers on the floor, the fountain begins to spray water in streams of gold, blue, and green, as if to douse the woman and perhaps break the magician’s spell. Suddenly, the streams erupt into fireworks (pink, red, and yellow smoke and sparks) while the magician rises and dances in panic (color plate 19). A climactic transformation takes place: the winged woman reappears (now bluish-green) within a spectacular red, purple, and yellow rotating circle. She pirouettes as a wheel within a wheel as the vibrant orb shoots around her, throwing sparks upon the magician and seemingly ending any power he may have had over her. The circle then disappears, and the woman—once again with golden wings and body but now flanked by two other (wingless) women in pink—floats to the floor. At the command of the winged woman, the two new women exit to the right, and the magician, now defeated, cowers as the woman chases him around the stage. The two women reenter with the urn from earlier, place it in the center foreground, and cast the magician in. Fire consumes him, and the winged woman, now framed directly behind the flames, walks forward. The fire dies down and she steps onto the urn, and in direct address she flutters her golden wings for the camera.
Similar to countless other trick and fairy films, the plot of The Golden Beetle is skeletal; nonetheless, in its brevity it presents an orientalist fantasy in which a domineering male magician is usurped by his feminine creation. Given the film’s comedic register, these sexual dynamics play out as a parody of the nineteenth-century femme fatale stereotype, though it is crucial to note that the humor derives from the racialized distance at which the spectator is placed from the oriental magician. One does not identify with his gaze; rather, as is characteristic of the cinema of attractions, the film solicits the spectator directly, both through its spectacular views and by the character’s repeated looks to the camera. One is meant to watch the magician’s fate unfold with laughter rather than remorse (even if its stereotyping may now give one pause).
The projective colors of the film’s trick effects structure the action of the plot. At a basic level and related to the spectacular lighting effects on the fairy stage, the colors function as a means of illumination: that which originated as a black-and-white image is now spectacularly lit through color in a magical feat of technology. More complexly, the application of the color corresponds to the structure of the plot: a rising action that begins with only a small amount of color (the magician’s yellow suit and the yellow beetle) and progressively increases (the orange flames of the urn, the golden woman); a climax of increasingly colored tricks (the streams of water from the fountain; the fireworks and smoke; and finally the dazzling sphere); and a falling action that concludes with the woman displaying her regained golden wings and body directly and closer to the camera.
Central to this structure, and as is the case in numerous other stenciled trick and fairy films, the coloring is focused on the female body of the fairy creature: the bright gold of her wings and body, displayed frontally to the camera. The only point at which she is not gold-colored is during the sequence in which she pirouettes in the spinning sphere, but in this climactic sequence, the colors of the trick work to center attention upon her winged body. They form something akin to a transmutation circle, or reflexively a color wheel, or more figuratively a birth canal through which she passes from air to earth. Notably, the magician does not look at her during this sequence. Though gazing at her during the preceding tricks, now he averts his eyes as he dances to and fro in fright. These colors and the spectacle of her body that they illuminate are displayed directly to the viewer, and the film’s association of color with femininity structures both the rhythms of the film and the gaze of the viewer.
Although there is a certain specificity of alchemically inspired color tropes in The Golden Beetle, the dynamics of these colors’ projective address are broadly applicable to any number of Pathé’s trick and fairy films—for example, A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis (1904), La Peine du talion (The Talion Punishment, 1906), and The Red Spectre (1907). Parallel to the transformation of stage space in the nineteenth century, there is a way in which the material layer of color on the film print adds the impression of three-dimensionality to the projected image, and this projective dimensionality reinforces the film’s direct address, particularly as the winged woman obtrudes closer to the viewer toward the end of the film. To turn to the climactic transformation of The Golden Beetle, the sphere recolors the fairy woman (as if its dazzling appearance saturates her body, transmuting it to gold). Taking the colored circle metaphorically as a color wheel, one can playfully interpret these transformations in light of nineteenth-century color theory, for the sphere bears a superficial resemblance to Goethe’s description of the afterimages he experienced inside a camera obscura: “a circular image will now be seen to float before him. The middle of this circle will appear bright, colorless, or somewhat yellow, but the border will at the same moment appear red.”34 The sphere in The Golden Beetle is not literally an afterimage, but part of its effect is certainly physiological: it is the type of dazzling image that Goethe suggests can strike and deeply affect the eye. When the vibrant sphere disappears, it is as if the screen has been inverted into an afterimage: the colors of the circle infuse the woman’s blue-grey body and wings, transmuting them to gold. Though colored similarly before, her reborn body takes on a new materiality that allows her to come to earth, overpower the magician, and finally display herself more closely to the camera as she moves into the mid-foreground of the mise-en-scène. Her physical movement toward the camera at the end is enhanced through the colorful transformations: against a monochromatic background, her golden body, like the orb earlier, seems to move out from the screen in haptic relief toward the spectator.
Plays with dimensionality have always been part of the space of cinema—from the Lumières’ L’arrivée d’un train a La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, 1895) to the various experiments with depth of focus that Bazin relished. However, the relationship established with the spectator through such manipulations of the screen’s dimensionality has varied widely over time. With Pathé’s stenciling in the early 1900s, the colors often produced effects not unlike those of the Arrival of a Train: seemingly pushing out of the screen to astonish spectators. Although locomotives and color have quite distinct associations in the early 1900s, they do share one related and particularly modern connotation: that of impact—of the train wreck rending flesh and of the physiological experience of color striking the eye, producing afterimages.35 With the decline of the cinema of attractions in the latter half of the first decade of the 1900s, the edge of this association was to some extent dulled. The trick and fairy genres largely became exhausted, and during the single-reel era Pathé and other companies worked to integrate stenciling into other modes of filmmaking. As discussed in the next chapter, stenciling was largely redeployed to the historical narrative and nonfiction films, and the dimensional impact of color was incorporated into these genres’ modes of narration and exposition. Though integrated, the obtrusiveness of color’s ability to leap from the screen toward the viewer has never fully been abandoned. This sensational effect is found in various popular and avant-garde films of the 1910s and 1920s, and even still today in the resurgence of 3D cinema, colored objects continue to stretch the limits of the screen toward the viewer.
4. See the Raff and Gammon brochure, “The Vitascope” (March 1896), in Motion Picture Catalogs by American Producers and Distributors, 1894-1908: A Microfilm Edition, ed. Charles Musser (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1984-1985), A-021. For similar descriptions of the dimensionality of color in relation to stereoscopy, see for instance Charles Urban, “The Kinemacolor Triumph in New York,” Moving Picture World 6.4 (January 29, 1910): 122; and “Comments on the Films: Picturesque Brittany (C.G.P.C.),” Moving Picture World 14.11 (December 14, 1912): 1080.
5. Noël Burch, Life to Those Shadows, trans. Ben Brewster (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 171.
6. On haptics and relief, see Antonia Lant, “Haptical Cinema,” October 74 (Autumn 1995): 45-73.
7. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), 125.
8. Ibid., 127.
9. Tom Gunning, “The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde,” Wide Angle 8.3/4 (1986): 64.
10. See the discussion in the previous chapter, along with Laurent Mannoni, The Great Art of Light and Shadow: Archaeology of the Cinema, trans. Richard Crangle (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000), 385.
11. I am grateful to Stephanie Salmon of Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé for granting me access to these records. All date references are to volume 1 of the “Procès-verbal” unless otherwise noted.
12. See the Pathé ad in the New York Clipper 55.27 (August 24, 1907): 716.
13. See T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture: 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).
14. See Richard Abel, The Cine Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914, updated and expanded ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 175.
15. Joan M. Minguet Batllori, “Segundo de Chomón and the Fascination for Color,” Film History 21.1 (2009): 95. Also see Joan M. Minguet Batllori, Segundo de Chomón: The Cinema of Fascination (Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya; Institut Catala de les Indusries Culturals, 2010), 47.
16. Jacques Malthête, “Les Bandes cinématographiques en couleurs artificielles: Un exemple de Georges Méliès coloriés a la main,” 1895 2 (1987): 4-5n4.
17. “Procès-verbal,” 241.
18. Ibid., 248.
19. Ibid., 253, and see the 1906 entries on April 24, 262; May 29, 272; and July 18, 275.
20. Minguet Batllori, “Segundo de Chomón,” 97.
21. “Procès-verbal,” February 26, 1906, 253.
22. See “Procès-verbal,” April 24, 1906, 262, and December 28, 1906, 300-301; and “Le Colons,” in Pathé, premier empire du cinéma, ed. Jacques Kermabon (Paris: Editions Centre Georges Pompidou, 1994), 20-21. Though slightly later, Germaine Berger’s account of her work as a Pathé colorist beginning in 1911 provides a remarkable record of the training and working conditions of the female colorists at Pathé, in Jorge Dana, “Colour by Stencil: Germaine Berger and Pathécolor,” Film History 21.2 (2009): 180-183.
23. See “Proces-verbal,” October 12, 1906, 262; and “Le Coloris,” 20-21. That the business minutes on October 12 note both the problems with Thuillier and the licensing of M. Florimond’s new stenciling machine may clarify the conflict: even though Pathé wanted to hire Thuillier, they perhaps could not replace Mme. Florimond because of the contract with her husband.
24. On Pathé’s industrialization, see Abel, The Cine Goes to Town, 22-23. For detailed technical accounts of the development of Pathé’s stenciling process, see Léopold Löbel, “Le coloris,” in La technique cinématographique: Projection et fabrication des Films (Paris: Dunod, 1922), 312-333; and Jacques Marette, “Les procédés de coloriage mécanique des films,” Bulletin de I’association française des ingénieurs et techniciens du cinéma 7 (1950): 3-8.
25. “Procès-verbal,” October 12, 289.
26. Ibid., 300-301, my translation.
27. See the Pathé ad in Views and Films Index (June 1, 1907): 2.
28. See the Laemmle Film Service ad in Views and Films Index (September 7, 1907): 8; repeated on October 12.
29. See the Pathé ads in New York Clipper 55.28 (August 31, 1907): 762; and in Views and Films Index (August 31, 1907): 11.
30. Biblical tales are one exception; however, these films are often generic hybrids that incorporate elements from trick and fairy genres, but to different effect. See for instance the various trick effects in the stenciled versions of Lucien Nonguet and Ferdinand Zecca’s La Vie et la passion de Jesus Christ (The Passion Play, originally produced in 1903, though it was expanded in 1905, and the stenciled prints that survive undoubtedly date from the expansion).
31. See for instance L. Gardette’s discussion of stenciling as a trick effect in “Some Tricks of the Moving Picture Maker,” Nickelodeon 2.2 (August 1909): 53-56.
32. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Angela Davies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 191-221. For a useful discussion of the history of lighting in relation to cinema; see Murray Pomerance, “Light, Looks, and The Lodger” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 26.5 (2009): 425-433.
33. Katherine Singer Kovacs, “Georges Méliès and the Féerie,” in Film before Griffith, ed. John L. Fell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 248.
34. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colors, trans. Charles Lock Eastlake (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1970), 16.
35. On the connotations of train travel, see in particular Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); and Lynne Kirby, Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997).”
(Yumibe, Joshua (2012): Moving Colors. Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers University Press, pp. 78-97.)
“By the turn of the century, Pathé Frères was exporting to the United States a series of truly striking hand-colored films. Through the use of stencils, one cut 12 for each color to be applied, the application of tints was speeded up to an acceptable level (see Appendix A).
A maximum of six stencils w a s used in certain scenes to provide a wide variety of colors and hues to be projected upon the screen. Thus, a film such as Down in the Deep “could offer pink fairies rising from blue sea froth, green whales, and heroes in gold armor, an effect so striking that it was remembered from his childhood movie-going by the Russian director, Sergei Eisenstein.”8 (In fact, Eisenstein later employed this technique himself when he hand-colored the raised revolutionary flag a deep red in his classic film, The Battleship Potemkin).9 Not all Pathécolor films, however, were in a full range of color.
In recently examined prints of the process, one finds much mono-color tinting with occasional splashes of color. One scene in a typical print shows the appearance of a demon. Up to this time, the film has been tinted only blue. As a puff of smoke announces the demon, we see the smoke tinted in orange.10 Nor was all of the coloring work performed in France. According to Limbacher, some Pathé films were even handtinted in the United States.11 Whether an entire feature-length picture such as The Life of Our Savior (1914) utilized the process, or only certain scenes were colored to accent the highlights of the story or change a mood, Pathécolor films became widely distributed throughout the world. As no special apparatus was needed for projection, Pathécolor pictures could be shown in regular theaters with conventional equipment. This technical factor, coupled with the acceptability of foreign films to American audiences during the silent period, enabled Pathécolor pictures to remain popular in the United States until the advent of sound (see Appendix B for a listing of known Pathécolor films).
8 Parker, p. 19.
9 Roger Manvell, The International Encyclopedia of Film (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1972), p. 29.
10 James L. Limbacher, Four Aspects of the Film (New York: Brussel and Brussel, Inc., 1969), pp. 4-5.
11 Ibid., p. 3.”
(Nowotny, Robert A. (1983): The Way of all Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929. New York: Garland Pub, pp. 11-13.)
“By 1906, Charles Pathé, owner of Pathé Frères and a great innovator in the cinematographic industry, already employed 200 workers in his colouring studio in Paris. The method used was that of manual stencilling (called in French ‘pochoir’) developed by Méliès and Gaumont: for each colour to be painted on the film a positive copy of the same film was stencil-cut by hand, and then the emulsion was washed away. For each colour there was, therefore, a corresponding cutout mask, or stencil, similar to the stencils used for house decoration and ‘silk screen’ printing, with the part where that colour should be cut away. In order to stencil a cinema film a separate stencil will be needed for each colour on each frame.
In manual stencilling the worker holds the stencil in the left hand exactly superimposed on the film and, with the right hand, dips a paintbrush into the colour (usually an acid tint dye, but dyes of all sorts were used), partially dries it on a pad, and places it on the stencil. A light stroke is used to transfer the colour through the cut-out and onto the emulsion side of the film image. The result was very precise (provided the stencil had been cut well), but the colouring process was extremely slow and therefore expensive. Thus, when Pathé mechanised his production and expanded into markets throughout the world, he had to make some compromises in order to accelerate the process (the Pathé company was said to colour 300 to 400 copies of each film by 1910).
By 1908 a first version of a mechanical stencilling system, Pathécolor, was in use. The machine for cutting the stencils was extremely precise. Each frame was projected onto a piece of glass. The outline of the image that was to be cut out was traced on the glass by the operator using a pointer attached to a pantograph, which guided the device (not unlike a sewing machine with an oscillating needle) which cut the stencil. The resulting stencils, one for each colour, were a length of film of the same length as the final print. The emulsion on the stencil film was then washed off. The machine for colouring the positive copies used a sprocket wheel which allowed a stencil and a positive copy to be pulled along together in contact. A velvet ribbon loop, continuously replenished with dye solution from a tank, acted as the brush, transferring the dye through the stencil to the print. The procedure had to be repeated for each colour.
This information is described in the patent literature of the time, which also reports that it was possible to stencil a film with up to seven different colours at a time in a single pass through the machine.
The process was used, with minor differences, by such other companies as Gaumont in France and Ambrosio and Cines in Italy. The system was used less after 1915, though it lasted until the end of the 1920s (Pathé’s colouring studio was closed in 1928).
It seems that the continuous stencilling machinery was considerably more complex than film processing machinery at that time.
Pathécolor (later called Pathéchrome), the trade name given to prints made using mechanised stencilling, used dyes applied on top of the black-and- white silver image, just like early hand colouring, and some of these dyes were the same as those used for dye tinting. A list of nine colours was recorded in the Pathé literature and these seem to have been in use from early in the century to 1929 (it is unlikely that the actual dyes remained the same, but the list was only published once).”
(Read, Paul (2009): ‘Unnatural Colours’. An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies. In: Film History, 21.1, pp. 9-46, on pp. 15-16.)
“In 1906 coloring by hand was gradually replaced by a mechanical system, similar to contemporary techniques of wallpaper and postcard color printing.
This system, known as “stencil coloring,” had two distinct steps. The first required cutting a different stencil for each color. These stencils were then used in a machine that automatically applied the color to the positive print.
Typically, a film required three to six stencils. At first, the cutting was done manually, using a cutting edge or a sharp needle on each frame.
It was a difficult and time-consuming operation, but its advantage was that it needed to be done only once for each color to be applied. The stencils were then immersed in hypochlorite, which functioned as a degelatinizing agent.
This treatment permitted the color to be applied more easily, without scratching the final print, or shrinking or embrittling the stencil.
Manual cutting rapidly became obsolete in favor of a semiautomatic device similar to a sewing machine, with the cutting needle operated by an A.C. electromagnet. At least two patents for this system are known. In a further stage of development, the technician no longer cut the matrix directly but worked instead on a parallel bench with a reference print. The area to be stenciled was traced with a stylus connected through a pantograph to a cutting needle that followed the identical contours on a strip of raw film stock. To ensure that the stencil cut precisely matched the actual shape of the area to be colored, the cutting needle worked only when the stylus was touching the film. A late development of this technique, relatively common around the mid-1920s, involved the use of a series of enlarged images instead of a reference print. These methods were widely used until the end of the silent period.
Such a complex system required the employment of highly specialized personnel. Several weeks of training were necessary to make sure that the technician could prepare the stencils in the most precise and effective way. Even then, the most skilled worker could not cut more than 3 feet of stencil an hour. Despite the fact that a stylus and a pantograph allowed for the use of raw stock, thus avoiding the degelatinizing process, it was periodically necessary to stop and verify the result. Moreover, when substantial portions of the frame were to be cut, manual cutting was still preferred. In such cases, alternate frames were cut from two separate stencils, because a single stencil would have been too fragile for repeated use.8 The second phase in the stencil coloring process, the application of color, was almost completely mechanical. In most coloring machines, a sprocket system matched the matrix to the black-and-white print. All the copies of a particular scene were joined and matched with the stencil, which rotated in a continuous loop. The aniline dye was then spread on the film by a loop of velvet moving in a direction opposite that of the advancing film.
This band was fed past a rotating brush immersed in a tank of dye; the amount of dye transferred from the rotating brush to the velvet band was adjustable depending on the depth of the brush in the tank. In order to ensure uniformity, the velvet band colored three frames at a time.9 As the film was rewound immediately, apparently no drying time was needed. If a mistake was made, the color could be washed out, leaving the base ready for another treatment.
This system- was used throughout the 1920s10 and survived until the dawn of the sound era. Less than 2 years after the invention of the stencil system, however, this method was combined with other techniques of film coloring, nowadays summarized under the terms tinting and toning. The earliest example I have found of this use of combined techniques is a nitrate fragment from a Gaumont film presumably made around 1908, tentatively identified as Roi Midas.11”
8A detailed description of these systems can be found in J. Marette, “Les procédés de coloriage mecanique des films,” Bulletin de l’Association Francaise des Ingenieurs et Techniciens du Cinéma, 7 (1950) 3-8.
9 Some technical drawings of the machines used for stencil coloring are reproduced in Esperanza Londono’s unpublished dissertation “Pour une histoire de la couleur au cinéma” (Paris: Université Sorbonne Nouvelle [D.E.R.C.A.V.], 1985).
10 The film collections of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House hold a print of Cyrano de Bergerac, made by Italian director Augusto Genina in 1923, that is extensively colored with the stencil system.
11 This fragment is now preserved at the Davide Turconi Archives, Pavia, Italy. The source of the tentative title is the catalog of the Josef Joye Collection in Zurich, where the material was found. It is reproduced in Paolo Cherchi Usai, Una passione inflammabile. Guida allo studio del cinema muto (Turin: UTET, 1991), Table of Colors, illustration 12.”
(Cherchi Usai, Paolo (1996): The Color of Nitrate. Some Factual Observations on Tinting and Toning Manuals for Silent Films. In: Abel, Richard (ed.): Silent Film. New Brunswick : Rutgers University Press, pp.21-30, on pp. 24-25.)
“Colour by Stencil: Germaine Berger and Pathécolor
An interview by Jorge Dana, translated by Niki Kolaitis
Germaine Berger was eighty-eight years old in 1984, when this interview was conducted at her home in Montreuil, a Parisian suburb, for a film on her work as a colourist at the Pathé Studio. She died some months later.
Q: When were you born and when did you start working? A: I was born on January 25, 1897 – I’m from another era. I began working August 26, 1911.
Q: Was this the Pathé studio? Wasn’t there an independent workshop in Vincennes, directed by Mme. Thuilier? A: She was in the Colour Division. But she was not the workshop’s director; she was in charge of a particular department. It was the director, Mr. Fourel, who oversaw everything. He was in charge of colour, which included the women and the other managers.
Q: How many workers were there in his employ? A: We were rather numerous – 160 colourists and cutting machine operators, which are two distinct types of work. There were also the technicians who applied ink.
Q: Were you adept at both? A: No, it was necessary to be technically trained. I personally did cutting because I had excellent eyesight and eyeglasses were not permissible. And, since we knew how to draw, we were better at it than someone who wasn’t skilled in it. When you’re using a stencil, you need to know whether to use the same stencil or have recourse to a second one. When we arrived at the studio, we were promoted quicker than the average employee because of our drawing knowledge. Had we not been skilled draughtswomen, and had we not been skilled at colour application, we would have lagged behind in our career – applying ink only.
Q: How were you trained and instructed at work? A: They never officially trained us – they never taught us anything, really, ever…except for the strict technique taught us by experienced workers. When they would see that we finally got the feel for a colour, they let us work solely on that colour for a long time.
Q: One solitary colour? A: Yes, only one colour. For example, blue and ‘flesh’ tones were difficult to perfect: you had to cut a stencil all around to get ‘flesh’ precisely right. Blue was really ‘sky blue’. So, we had to stencil around trees in order to discern whether a part of the tree was incorporated into the sky or remained green. Thus, the longer they left us with a solitary colour, the more expert we would become. After several years experience in this aspect, if we showed a particular flair and talent professionally, then they’d let us do everything. I learned how to apply colour via a hand technique. However, I did work on a few machines which produced colour, but they were scarce.
Q: What were the working conditions? A: They were strict with us and did not encourage chattering and socializing. We had all we needed in that room. For lunch, one could either eat outside or in the workshop. It was all very supervised. Photographs of the workshop were prohibited. The Pathé house forbade many things.
Q: Women only? A: In the workshop, women only. Men were the machinists and electricians.
Q: Why were there only women? A: It was too finely detailed a job for men, something I understood only as I grew older.
In those days, men didn’t touch the actual film stock. Today, it makes me chuckle when I see men actually doing film editing. In my day, they didn’t touch anything, except for the actual manufacture of the film stock, with the large galley proofs. Women couldn’t do that back then.
Q: You mentioned a siren at Pathé? A: Yes, the one at the factory, not at the colour workshop. The siren is still there but no longer in use. Back then, it was so loud you could hear it all the way to the ‘Place de la Nation’ neighborhood – it guided the timing of our workday. It sounded at 7:30 a.m., at noon, at l:30 p.m. and again at 6 p.m.
Q: When you stopped working in 1927, feature-length movies were already in vogue. Do you have any particular reminiscences of feature-length films that you personally had a hand in tinting? A: Yes, I had hand coloured many films by then. Moreover, they needed to be re-coloured on an annual basis. Every year, for example, The Life of Christ, which was very popular, had to be retinted. Sometimes, entire films were shredded due to overuse. Unfortunately, we couldn’t refashion the film in its entirety; only certain more damaged passages – it was quicker and less expensive.”
(Dana, Jorge; Kolaitis, Niki (2009): Colour by Stencil. Germaine Berger and Pathécolor. In: Film History, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 180-183.)
“When the film measuring 400 feet or more came into vogue it was recognised that hand colouring was no longer feasible. The method was too slow and costly. Accordingly a stencil process was evolved, and is in use to-day, giving many of the beautiful effects seen in the moving picture theatres. A mechanical method of tinting the films by means of these stencils was next taken in hand, and finally, after prolonged experiment, was perfected. In this development the French firm of Pathé Frères played the most prominent part, and to-day, despite the strides made in natural colour cinematography, their productions still rank first in popular estimation, owing to the delicacy of the colouring. This Parisian firm has made the colour film a prominent feature of its business, and laid down an extensive and well-equipped establishment especially for colouring operations.
Probably everyone knows what a stencil is. It is a pattern cut out of a solid thin flat surface, which is afterwards laid upon the subject to be treated, and paint applied by means of a brush or some other medium. The colouring only can reach the surface beneath the cut spaces in the plate, and consequently is applied just where it is desired. The process is practised freely in the printing of wall-papers, and in applying designs to other surfaces, as it is both cheap, rapid, and highly effective.
Cutting the stencils for a moving picture film is a long and exacting task. Three stencils have to be prepared for each subject. In the first the spaces corresponding to the red tones in the picture have to be cut; in the second, those for the yellow; and in the third stencil, those for the blue.
By putting one over the other the various mixtures and tones are obtained. The process may be likened to the preparation of the three process blocks for heliochromic illustrations in letterpress printing. Since each picture measures only 1 inch wide by 3/4ths of an inch in depth, we may gather some idea of the labour involved for the treatment of, say, 8,000 pictures contained in a film 500 feet long. It follows that unless a film is likely to have a large demand, colouring is not attempted. In one case which I have in mind, the firm will not attempt colouring unless they are certain of the sale of 200 copies of the subject.
The colours—aniline dyes—are applied successively by means of rollers, the film to be coloured being passed through special machines contrived for the purpose.”
(Talbot, Frederick A. (1912): Moving Pictures. Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott Company, pp. 288-289.)
“Pathe, of course, leads the world in artificial coloring, and some of their mechanically colored films d’art rival the hues of Kinemacolor, although, judging from the records of the patent office, we expect soon to see stencil colored films from an American manufacturer. But pigment coloring is of course vastly more expensive than toning and the latter suffices in most cases. Tinting is sometimes used as a cloak for poor photography but the photograph must be perfect if it is to be toned.”
Toning and tinting as an adjunct to the picture. In: Moving Picture World, 8, 18.3.1911, p. 574.
“Film colour and national cinema before WWI: Pathécolor in the United States and Great Britain
Charles O’Brien Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
His brief paper situates film-colour practice during the years prior to WWI in the context of the distribution of Pathé’s stencil-colour films in the United States. The examination centers on the following questions: What, from a distribution and marketing perspective, were the key distinctions among the period’s various colour processes? Given that film-colour techniques at the time were more advanced and more widely used in Europe than in the United States, how did such techniques differentiate European films on the US film market for promotional purposes? What circumstances, industrial and aesthetic, allowed US film manufacturers during the early 1910s, in response to the American film audience’s evident preference for colour films, especially Pathécolor, to promote orthochromatic black-and- white as a viable alternative? The examination centers on references to film colour in articles, film reviews, and advertisements in the American and British film-trade press between 1910 and 1914.
The focus is on forces and conditions specific to the US film market that allowed film colour to evolve during the early 1910s from an attribute of quality filmmaking associated largely with the Pathé company to a distinguishing feature of European as opposed to American cinema. The focus evolves through a comparative analysis that juxtaposes film-colour discussion in the American publication Moving Picture World with analogous discussion in The Bioscope, the important London-based film-trade weekly. The comparative inquiry is intended to illuminate the distinctiveness of the film-colour situation in the United States during the early 1910s, when aesthetic differences between the stencil colour employed by Pathé and the orthochromatic black and white adopted recently by American film manufacturers came to serve as alternative norms for film-image quality.”
(O’Brien, Charles (2007): Film Colour and National Cinema Before WWI. Pathécolor in the United States and Great Britain. In: Frank Kessler and Nanna Verhoeff (eds.): Networks of Entertainment. Early Film Distribution 1895-1915. Eastleigh: John Libbey, pp. 30-37.)
“Pathécolor: “Perfect in their rendition of the colours of nature”
I know of nothing more artistic than the colouring of Pathé Frères, it is almost as if the pictures it decorates are a true copy of nature, such care do they take to ensure perfection.1
This citation is part of an advertisement in which Pathé Frères sings the praises of the motion picture stencil colour system it had developed, It highlights two particular qualities. Firstly, the colours are artistic and decorative; secondly the colours are a reliable copy of nature.
It was not just a case of Pathé singing their own praises. Others viewed the Pathé Frères stencil colours as being special. Its reputation was based, amongst other things, on the beauty of such colours. A Dutch newspaper reported:
It is again thanks to the work of the Pathé firm that, as to be expected, one is entertained royally, Again it is a picture with beautiful views of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Egypt and finely coloured.2
Although much can be said about the beauty and attraction of such colours, 3 this article will focus on that second quality of the pictures: to what extent they are, as Path6 hoped, a “true copy of nature”. I will investigate whether Pathé Frères did indeed take exceptional care to ensure this so-called perfection, and describe the perfecting of the colouring and stencilling techniques, and the way in which the colours were chosen and combined.
Finally, we shall see how Pathé advertised the colour system, and their reaction to the coming of Kinemacolor as a real competitor on the colour film market.
“Pochoir”: stencil colour
The stencil method was already used in the postcard and wallpaper industries. In the film industry, stencils were made from positive prints of the subject to be coloured. For every colour, a different print was used. That is, if a film was to be coloured in blue, red and yellow, three prints were cut to form stencils: one for the blue, one for the red, and one for the yellow parts af the image. The areas of the image that were to be coloured blue, for example, would be cut out of the blue-stencil print. Subsequently, this cut-out print was placed on top of the final projection copy to be coloured, and the blue colouring applied by brush through the stencil. Therefore, only those parts of the image where the stencil was cut out would be coloured blue. The same procedure would be carried out for the application of the reds, and then the yellows.8 By 1906, Pathé Frères had a workshop with some 600 women making stencils and applying colours. Both operations were still done by hand, however, which was common practice in the film industry of the period.
Jacques Marette, Ingenieur des Arts et Manufactures, says the following on this stencil method used at Pathé:
At this time, the process is not very original; it is the utilisation of stencils for the colouring of film, which was already known in other industries and was also used by Méliès and Gaumont.9
But it was at Pathé Frères that they started improve the stencil system. Henri Fourel, head of the colouring studio, initiated the mechanisation of the process. A colouring machine was patented on 22 October 1906. The engineers of Pathé Frères continued improving the machine until 1908, when the company invented a system based on the principle of a pantograph. This system allowed for a very precise working method. The image to be cut was enlarged on a screen, providing the women who had to cut the parts with a far better view of it, Through the pantograph arrangement, the movements traced over sections of the enlarged image were reduced in magnitude, The end of the pantograph arm in which this reduced movement was induced was fitted with a needle, which cut the corresponding area out of the stencil film copy.
Naturally, such inventions cost a great amount of money and energy. The reason for expending this effort and investment was clear: a large company such as Pathé Frères needed to increase the speed of the application of colours. Charles Pathé stated during a shareholders’ meeting in 1907:
Note that the colouring studio in Vincennes continues to progress and soon we will be able to put to work all of our ingenious and perfect colouring machines, allowing us to produce a considerable amount of footage every day.10
But what is of particular interest is that, from this moment on, Pathé Frères could boast a system which would ensure that virtually no colour at all would overlap the edges of the selected parts of the image, The movements being traced on a larger scale led to a reduction in errors, and consequent increase in accuracy. In 1910, an advertisement appeared for “Cinématographies en couleurs Pathé Frères” in which praise was made of all the wonderful improvements of the previous year:
It was in June 1909, if we remember correctly, that the first cinematograph films in Pathé Frères colours were released; at that moment the undeniable progress that had been made became visible and has been proven ever since. The flooding of the colours, that was so characteristic of the process used until then, was replaced by an absolute neatness that did not degrade the ‘Vues panoramiques’ (panoramic views], that had been impossible to colour previously because of the speed with which the landscape would fly past your eyes.11
This advertisement makes it clear that the new process that functioned with a pantograph was considered both a technical and an aesthetic improvement, making it possible to colour even “difficult” panoramic views. These views had to be shown in black and white previously, because the movement within the image, from frame to frame, was too rapid for the colourist to follow. After 1907, the “vues panoramiques” as a category died I away. But the panoramic shot itself was still used within genres such as “scenes de plain air” and the “scènes d’industrie”. Examination of the volumes of Henri Bousquet’s Catalogue Pathé des Annies 1896 Â 1914 reveals that, until 1909, the firm coloured only films catalogued as “trues”, “féeries et contes” and “dramatiques”,12 Films within these genres were filmed inside a studio and with a static camera. From 1909, the company began colouring substantial numbers of “scenes d’arts et d’industrie” and “scènes de plein air”. The new technique with the pantograph which allowed dynamic scenes to be coloured thus made it possible to offer a greater variety of coloured non-fiction material.
Reflet de la nature
The advertisement quoted above goes on to say that, with the new pantograph system, not only was it possible to colour a wider variety of non-fiction images, but also Pathé Frères marketed these films as being perfect in their reproduction of lifelike colours:
The Pathé Frères cinematograph films in colour are perfect in their rendition of the colours of nature. The foliage possesses all the tones of green; the skies are rendered with an amazing accuracy; the sunsets are aflame as in absolute reality.13
Pathé tried very hard to convince people of the perfect nature of their colour system. But how can we discover whether Pathé really intended to make these colours an absolute imitation of reality? Seeing Pathé stencil films today certainly does give the impression that they were very close to imitating the colours of nature.14 But we can only deduce so much from viewing the films, for realism always depends to some extent on conventions. For each period, each moment in time, there exist specific norms and rules on what can and cannot be considered realistic and true-to-nature.
Hence we need to return to period sources that give descriptions of how to use colour in a realistic way. Unfortunately, there seem to be no manuals extant for the colouring of black and white films.15 But the colouring of photographic images was not an invention of the film industry. The hand-colouring technique had been in use for many years to colour photographs, postcards and lanternslides.
I have found sources describing the rules practised in the colouring of lanternslides: the handbooks meant for lantern-slide amateurs with explanations and rules on when and where to use which colours in order to produce a close imitation of nature. Such rules can be an indication of how colours were considered in this period, and they can perhaps help us to understand more about the “realism” question of the colours in the stencilled Pathé films. Besides these handbooks for the lantern-slide amateur, I have also examined books on painting that give instructions on the efficient use of colour.16 In the following section I give examples of specific films that illustrate the extent to which Pathé Frères followed the rules found in the handbooks.17
The first comparison between the slide colouring handbooks and film concerns the colouring of water. J W Neville tells the amateur colourist:
Everyone who has used his eyes will have seen that water has no colour of its own, and that all the colours seen in the water are reflected tints of other objects. If a smooth lake, having no shadows on its surface, appears in a picture, the colour would be derived from the sky reflected in it, and coloured accordingly; but if shadows appear on the surface then the colours of the shadows would be the same as the objects making them, but a little less intense. For instance, a reflection of a mountain in a lake would be very near to the colour of the mountain itself.18
This we find in Pathé coloured films. For example, in the fourth shot of Ronneby, Ville de la Suède Méridionale (1912: Illustration 12), the green of the trees is reflected in the water. In the third shot of Au bords de la Creuse (1914), we see a similar effect. A very beautiful example of the reflection of a coloured object in water can be seen in Kuala Lumpur – Capitale des Etats Féderés Malais (1912; Illustration 13), The seventh shot is a slow pan to the left, along the “lake of the garden of plants”. At a certain moment, the camera shows a small bridge. The bridge and its mirroring in the blue water are both pink.
There is also the white colour water show when it is streaming or shaken up. This we see in the films where the parts with streaming or foaming water – which appear white on the black and white image – are left uncoloured and thus white. An example is the second shot in Au bords de la Creuse, where a mother and son pose next to a white waterfall Because the water falls and is thus moving, it is shown white.
There are other subjects where Pathé would leave parts of the stencilled image black and white. Gaudreault and Sirois-Trahan have written that they are surprised by coloured and stencilled films often being praised for their natural and realistic effect. “When one considers, for example, that almost the totality of the animated visions coloured by hand or stencil, combined; in the same image, coloured and black and white beaches, one cannot be but surprised”.19 One of the handbooks teaches us, however:
It is not always necessary to color every part of the slide. Very frequently the slide in some portions presents the natural appearance of the object, and color would only detract from the general effect.20
Apparently, this is something that could be considered realistic then, but not now. It is very possible that the sky is “black and white”, as we are used to seeing on a cloudy day (especially in the Netherlands). To my eyes, at least, these uncoloured parts of the image, although uncoloured, still appear realistic.
Concerning the colouring of human skin, and leaving parts of the image black and white, different assumptions have been made.
Tom Gunning states:
[I]n stencil or hand-coloured films, as a rule certain areas are left uncoloured, especially faces, acknowledging colour’s role in highlighting elements and the limits of its realistic effects (flesh tones being too difficult to replicate).21
So one could say that colouring the skin would make the image less realistic, because the flesh tones were too difficult to match with nature. This would be another example were parts of the image were left black and white to keep the overall effect realistic. There are indeed films in which the skin is left uncoloured, which confirms this assumption.
The difficulty of colouring flesh is also proven by the following quotation on the colouring of lantem-slides:
Flesh needs most careful treatment, and careful and repeated application of very dilute colors, until the desired effect is gained, is the best method.22
But this quotation also demonstrates that even if it was considered natural to leave parts of the image black and white, they did colour the skin for lantern-slides. In the extant films in Pathé colours there are examples with coloured skin. The first examples are films with people from exotic countries, where their skin has been stencilled brown. There are many films where this has been done, including Culture de manioc et fabrication du tapioca (1911), India (c.1913) and En Indochine – Consecration d’un Bonze (1910: Illustration 14).
But sometimes Pathé also stencilled the skin pink. In the popular science subjects [“scenes de vulgarisation scientifique”] Insectes imitateurs (1914) and La Chenille de la carotte (1911), we see insects sitting on a finger, as they are presented to the camera. The fingers are stencilled pink. Also the farmer and his wife who appear in Les Ennemies du Pouhiller, les Renards (1914: Illustration 16) have pink faces and hands.23 The reason Pathé sometimes coloured skin, and sometimes left it black and white, probably has something to do with a subject touched on by Gunning, “acknowledging colour’s role in highlighting elements”. I agree that colour was used to highlight parts of the image, and I am of the opinion that the skin was probably left black and white at the moments where it was considered unnecessary for it to be highlighted. Both colouring the skin and leaving it uncoloured were considered a realistic use of colour: which option was adopted simply depended on the importance of the skin part in the overall image.
We can conclude that Pathé did try to apply stencil colours in a realistic way, particularly when one considers the general rules for colouring slides in a natural way that existed at the beginning of the 20th century.24
Pathé Frères invested greatly in developing a high-quality system for the colouring of their films. They tried everything to enhance the productions, to improve the quality of the image, to make the colours as natural as possible, and to develop the ability to colour different sorts of images. But there would always be one unresolvable problem: the colours were not a photographic reproduction of the colours of nature. The colours were artificially added to the photographic image as the “head colourist” directed. Despite the achieved “perfection”, Pathé Frères was not capable of reproducing colours with photographic techniques; ultimately, the artificial colours of the Pathé system could not be anything more than a hypothesis or a suggestion of the colours which the filmed object had in the world in which we live.25
[…] Pathé continued colouring its films until the beginning of the 1930s. This was the time, however, in which indexical colours really broke through onto the market. Systems such as Technicolor surpassed Pathécolor’s quality. During the 1920s, Pathé mostly coloured non-fiction film from the series Pathé Revue, in particular those titles that showed exotic countries and fashion topics.51 It would appear that they became increasingly more skilled at the colouring of films: the colours from the 1920s are beautifully executed with dazzling hues and exquisite detail.
The artificially coloured images of the early years of cinema are still greatly appreciated in various non-commercial film archives, in commercial archives such as Pathé Television, and of course in the academic world. The interest of academics is something that began between ten and fifteen years ago. The reason has to be that it had not been common practice, for various reasons, to make colour preservations of these early coloured films.
Following the FIAF Brighton Conference in 1978 – where early films were shown that had not been seen for decades – film history writing took a turn, as did archive practice.
From that moment, archives changed their preservation priorities. Because new prints of films became available, old myths — which originated in the fact that people wrote about films which they could not view, or did not write about certain films because they could not see them — were dismissed. This happened to the myth that “old films” were black and white. Coloured nitrates were taken from the vaults and made available for new preservation prints on 35mm colour film stock.
These films were shown in film museums, but also at film festivals such as Pordenone and Bologna. The Nederlands Filmmuseum has established a very good reputation for the preservation of coloured films. And today many foreign archives still have colour preservations made at Haghefilm, the laboratory that developed colour preservation techniques with the Nederlands Filmmuseum. As the archives started to show preservations of these films in colour, so academic research in the subject was initiated.
Of course there is still much work to be done on early colour. For example; questions on the use of Pathécolor in the 1920s, the differences in the use of (stencil) colour in fiction and nonfiction, and the differences in the appreciation of colour in the United States and in Europe would be interesting areas of research. And I believe that research on colour is to be encouraged since, as Cézanne says, “[t]here is only one way to render everything, translate everything; colour. Colour is biological, if I may say so. Colour is alive, it is the only thing that makes things [a]live.52
This essay was written under the auspices of the Onderzoekinstituut voor Geschiedenis en Cultuur (OGC; Research Institute History and Culture), Utrecht University. I wish to thank the Nederlands Filmmuseum for the stills, and Thierry Rolland at Pathé Television for permission to reproduce these.
1 Translated from the French: “Je ne connais rien de plus artistique que ce coloris Pathé Frères, on croirait que les tableaux qu’il décore sont un calque fidèle de la nature, tant est pousse loin le souci de sa perfection”. Ciné-Journal, 4 March 1911: 15. The advertisement’s text is signed “Oliver Twist”.
2Translated from the Dutch: “Het is weder het werk van de firma Pathé, en dat weet men, dat men op iets buitengewoons onthaald wordt. Zoo weder is ‘t hier een film met prachtige gezichten op Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Egypte en overschoon gekleurd.” Nieuws van de Dag 30 March 1912, 6e blad: 22. For this quotation from the Dutch press I wish to thank Hominy Albers and Dorette Schootemeyer from the Nederlands Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.
3See, for example, Tom Gunning, “Colourful Metaphors: The Attraction of Colour in Early Silent Cinema”, published hi this volume.
4Quoted in Richard Abel, The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American, 1900-1910 (Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press): 41.
5Translated from the French: “Pour rendre l’illusion complète il ne manquait que les couleurs et le phonographe reproduisant les sons”. André Gaudreault and J P Sirois-Trahan, “A Montréal, des sujets hauts on couleurs, dès 1897”, in André Gaudreault (ed.), Au Pays des ennemis du cinéma (Quebec: Nuit Blanche, 1996): 156.
8 Paolo Cherchi Usai, “The Color of Nitrate: Some factual observations on tinting and toning manuals for silent films”, in Richard Abel (ed). Silent Film (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996): 24.
9 Translated from the French: “Jusqu’à présent ce procédé n’est pas original; c’est l’application au cinéma du coloriage par pochoir connu déjà dans d’autres industries et qui est d’ailleurs utilisé également par Méliès et Gaumont”. Jacques Marette, “Les procédés de coloriage mécanique des films”, in Bulletin de l’AFITEC 7 (1950): 3.
10 Translated from the French; “Notons que l’atelier de coloris a Vincennes continue a progresser et bientôt la mise en marche définitive de l’ensemble de nos si ingénieuses et si parfaites machines à colorier permettra de fournir journellement un métrage considérable”. Livres des Assemblées 28 May 1907.
11 Translated from the French: “C’est en juin 1909 que sortirent, si nos souvenirs sont exacts, les premières cinématographies en couleurs de Pathé Frères; on put se rendre compte, à cette époque, du progrès indiscutable qui avait été réalise et s’est affirme depuis. Le flottement des couleurs, caractéristique du procédé employé jusqu’alors, faisait place à une netteté absolue que ne parvenaient pas a diminuer les vues dites panoramiques, impossibles autrefois a rendre en couleurs par suite de la vitesse avec laquelle le paysage fuit sous les yeux.” Ciné-Journal 2 July 1910: 16-17.
12 Henri Bousquet, Catalogue Pathé des Annees 1896 a 1914 (Bures sur Yvette: Henri Bousquet, 1994).
13 Translated from the French; “Les cinématographies en couleurs de Pathé Frères sont l’absolu rendement des couleurs de la nature…Les feuillages possèdent toutes les tonalités du vert; les ‘ciels’ sont rendus avec une fidélité déconcertante; les couchers de soleil flamboient comma dans l’absolue réalité”. Ciné-Journal, 2 July 1910: 17.
14Paolo Cherchi Usai, for example, agrees with the firm’s claims for the stencils in depicting nature: “the patented Pathécolour [sic] — also known as ‘au pochoir’ in France and ‘stencil’ in English-speaking countries —justified its owners’ claims to supremacy in the colour reproduction of reality”. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London: British Film Institute, 2000): 22.
15 A possible reason for this may be that films were coloured on a professional basis. The only sources I was able to trace were meant for amateurs.
16 A problem in using these sources to investigate colouring of firms is a difference in shading. Colouring lantern-slides and paintings involved far more detail than colouring film allowed. Furthermore, many more images had to be coloured, which forced a certain economical use of colours, in order to save time. For example, in colouring a film, it was impossible to use different green tones when depicting foliage. This was one of the recommendations given to a lantern-slide amateur: “Nothing is less pleasing to the eye than a picture in which foliage predominates which is coloured with a few tints of green”. J W Neville, The Photographic Colourist: A Manual for the Use of Amateurs (Birmingham: B W Tylar, 1903): 20-21.
17 The films analysed are all from the collection of the Nederlands Filmmuseurn.
18 Neville: 29-30.
19 Translated from the French: “Quand on pense, par exemple, que la prèsque totalité des vues animées coloriées à la main ou au pochoir faisaient se côtoyer, dans la même image, des plages coloriées et des plages en noir et blanc on ne peut que s’en étonner”. Gaudreault and Sirois-Trahan: 162.
20D Elmendorf, Lantern Slides; How to make and color them (New York: E & H T Anthony, 1896): 67.
21 Gunning: in this volume: 12.
22 Elmendorf: 67.
23 The confusion as to whether or not the skin was coloured is probably caused by the fact that it is rather difficult to make a modern preservation print that shows the pinks in a satisfactory way.
24 However, there are also examples of films where colours are used in a complete unnatural way. This has to do with the fact that attention has to be drawn to certain objects in the image. An example for this is the blue of the chickens in Les Ennemies du Poulailler, Les Renards.
25 The idea of a hypothesis is more likely, because the head colourist, who decided on what colours to use, worked at the workshop and not in the field.
51 For more information on these series and for some stills, see www.pathearchives.com/FR/300_Editorial/actcinmat/patherevue.asp.
52 Translated from the French: “Il n’y a qu’une route pour tout rendre, tout traduire, la couleur. La couleur est biologique, si je puis dire. La couleur est vivante, rend seule ies choses vivantes.” Paul Cézanne, quoted by Kandinsky in Jacques Aumont (ed), Introduction à la couleur: ces discours aux images (Paris: Armand Colin Editeur, 1994): 119.”
(Lameris, Bregtje (2003): “Pathécolor: ‘Perfect in Their Rendition of the Colours of Nature’” In: Living Pictures. The Journal of the Popular and Projected Images Before 1914, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003, pp. 46-58.)
The Pathéchrome process was a dye tinting process invented in 1905 by Charles Pathé. With this process selected portions of frames were tinted using a stencil to precisely and rapidly apply the dye. Single or multiple colors could be used provided that a separate stencil was cut for each color. Several silent features and short subjects were released in this process. Among those listed under Pathécolor by J. L. Limbacher are Rose Among the Briars, The Beloved Vagabond, Queen Margaret, The Three Masks, and Cyrano De Bergerac.9 To produce color prints by the Pathéchrome process it was necessary to prepare a stencil for each area to be colored. The stencil was prepared using a positive print as the stencil material and a second print as a guide. The operator cutting the stencil sat before a screen and followed the outline of the projected picture with the arm of a pantograph. A vibrating electronically driven needle at the opposite end of the arm cut away the film base on the stencil film. Each frame was individually traced in this manner until a stencil was obtained for the entire scene.
After the stencil was cut, the remaining emulsion was removed from the film base and the base was cleaned, leaving a clear film with cutouts of the proper shape where the color was to be applied. To insure proper registration the release prints were made on a step registering printer. These were normal black and white prints processed in the normal manner. The color was applied after processing by bringing the stencil and the positive to be colored into contact over a sprocket wheel while a ribbon wiped the color through the stencil onto the positive. The ribbon, a loop approximately 12 inches in diameter, was fed the dye by a series of brushes so that it did not receive too much dye. The machine used for this purpose operated at a speed of 60 feet per minute. 10 In preparing multiple color prints it was frequently the practice to tone the prints with an overall toner or to use tinted base as the first step. The choice of this overall color was governed by the scene to be toned.
9 LIMBACHER, J. L., “A Historical Study of the Color Motion Picture,” 1963. (Mimeographed.)
10 KELLEY, W. V. D„ “The Handschiegl and Pathechrome Color Process,” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, August, 1931, pp. 230-234.”
(Ryan, Roderick T. (1977): A History of Motion Picture Color Technology. London: Focal Press, pp. 22-23.)
“SEGUNDO DE CHOMÓN AND THE FASCINATION FOR COLOUR
Joan M. Minguet Batllori
Abstract: Segundo de Chomón was one of the major figures of early cinema, and throughout his career he showed a particular dedication to colour. As early as 1902, in Barcelona, he tinted a copy of Méliès’ Barbe bleu. Between 1902 and 1904 he also tinted several movies for Pathé. In 1905, when he joined Pathé in Paris, he became one of the finest specialists in the cinema of attractions: trick films and phantasmagorias, in which colour was used as an added element to attract and fascinate the spectator. From 1908 or 1909 Chomón began integrating his attractions into more elaborate narratives, and the function played by colour started to change.
Key words: Segundo de Chomón, Pathécolor, Cinemacoloris process, Pathé frères, Georges Méliès, colour film processes
In Spain the cinematographic spectacle was born in black and white, and testimony from the early years of that country’s cinema history sometimes stressed that characteristic. For instance, the Spanish philosopher Eugeni d’Ors compared the cinema to the circus by referring to the values of black and white: ‘The circus was light and color, and the cinematograph is gray and darkness. The circus was slow, elastic, and like the rhythm of a waltz, the cinematograph is restless and jittery. The circus was dream-like and the cinematograph is an anecdotic, almost pedagogic, lesson on reality.’1 When describing the experience of projected movies, Ors stressed a dark and gloomy landscape: ‘They are disturbingly staggered visions: a convulsión gris at the end of a lance of clarity, of brutal whiteness, among darkness. In the convulsión gris, a world: a world of delirium.’2
The Spanish philosopher and writer was one of Barcelona’s greatest enemies of the cinema.3 For him, as for many other poets and painters in the late nineteenth century, the circus was a world of vibrant and chromatic sensations while cinema was a poor copy of reality. ‘The exactness of photography ignobly reveals the comparsas under the tunics of angels or the armor of medieval warriors…. The circus was something for poets: the cinematograph is something for adolescents.’4
Perhaps it was in response to this perception by members of the artistic and cultural elite of the dominance of grayness in films, of the absence of life, that the fledgling cinematographic industry soon added a supplementary device to offer the spectator colored films. Colour in moving images aimed to escape from Gorky’s Kingdom of Shadows: it sought to flee from the grayness, from the darkness and delirium.5 Colour’s function was to seize spectators, to captivate their gaze through a fascination for images that, rather than being dark shadows, provided luminosity, gleam and brightness. Colour was widespread in the popular culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in, for example, postcards, dioramas, panoramas and the circus itself. In fact, the circus show frequently served as a source of reference for the new cinematographic medium. Italian critic and historian Mario Verdone’s later comment that ‘cinema was born out of the circus’ was not unfounded.6 Early cinema is full of circus themes, and films featured the finest circus performers of the time; it was not long before the popular clowns Footit and Chocolat were filmed in Paris by Lumière in 1897 at the Nouveau Cirque for the movie Chaise en bascule. But while the experience of being at the circus was described as ‘light and color’, these characteristics had yet to be associated with the new spectacle.7
The practice of coloring film is one of the elements that characterized, in the early years of the medium, the cinema of attractions. It was not the main feature of early cinematic popular entertainment, although there were times when it could be. Its presence was relevant when used in fantasy themes (trick films, ‘féeries’ or fairy plays, adaptations of children’s tales) or in films in which the movement of figures acquired a fundamental importance (the film performances of Loïe Fuller’s serpentine dance, the final apotheosis of the many films in which a group of dancing ladies appears, films of acrobats or jugglers, etc.) or in shots in which the composition of the frame is particularly full of grandiose and elaborate sets and decorative period costumes (from historical to religious movies). These crowded and densely filled scenes, in which the movements of the figures play a fundamental role, featured exotic characters and landscapes, items disappearing or being substituted, and all kinds of other implausible actions. They typically relied on hand-coloring to create supplementary fantasy effects, and it is here that the cinema of attractions gained its maximum splendor.
Spanish special effects artist Segundo de Chomón became renowned for his skill and dexterity at creating moving images that captivated the spectator’s gaze through complex visual and chromatic effects. In addition to his work in the trick and fairy genres, Chomón was also intimately involved in colour throughout his career, from his initial contact with cinema in Paris and Barcelona, throughout his long relationship with the French company Pathé, and finally during his work in Italy with Itala Film of Turin.
Chomón in Barcelona
Chomón was born in the Spanish province of Teruel in 1871, and likely came into contact with the Parisian cinema industry through his wife, Julienne Mathieu, whom he met in 1895 and with whom he would have one child.8 Between 1897 and 1899 Chomón traveled outside of Europe when he was enlisted in the Spanish army during the Cuban colonial war between Spain and the United States. While Chomón was away Mathieu began working for the main cinematographic companies, specifically Georges Méliès’ Star Films and Pathé. It seems to have been Méliès who introduced Julienne Mathieu to the art of coloring films. When Chomón returned to the French capital in 1899 his wife brought him into contact with the emerging world of cinema. And it was at this time that he made his first contact with the materials and techniques of the cinematographic industry: the distinction between negative and positive, developing film, the possibility of modifying film by translating titles and intertitles, coloring frames, etc.
It would likely have been in Paris where he learned all these subsidiary trades, but perhaps not yet those for actually shooting films. And it must have been there that he decided to take up this new trade professionally, although at first he did not do so in Paris, but in Barcelona. In late 1901 the Chomón family moved to the capital of Catalonia (in the north of Spain) and, as historian Juan Gabriel Tharrats notes, set up a small film coloring studio and later a rudimentary truca for making the subtitles for Pathé movies translated into Spanish.9 Moreover, Chomón was in charge of distributing Pathé’s films in Barcelona; we have evidence that in late 1904 he supplied several Pathé films (Chez le dentiste, Au téléphone, Un accident d’automobile, Nuit de Nöel, among others) to be shown in the Sala Mercè, a theater designed by the reputable architect Antoni Gaudí and managed by the painter Lluís Graner. It is likely that this was something he had already been doing for some time, yet it is interesting to note that early on Chomon had come into contact with Catalan’s artistic elite, as the Sala Mercè offered theater, music and cinema spectacles aimed at attracting a middle class audience.10
Chomón’s cinematographic studio was located in Calle Poniente (today known as Carrer Joaquin Costa, in downtown Barcelona), but we know almost nothing about it: we don’t know where the negatives and machines he used came from, nor how he established his business relations, nor what type of camera he used to make his first films. The possibility that Charles Pathé himself provided the material seems plausible enough, for Chomón was the French company’s distribution representative in Barcelona at one point, and the Pathé catalog included some films made by Chomón in Catalonia, such as Ascension du Mont Serrat en Espagne (1901), Descente du Mont Serrat (1901), Panorama de Tibidabo (1903) and Panorama circulaire de Barcelone (1903).11
We do know that as early as 1902 Chomón was coloring films in Barcelona. An advertisement published on 12 February of that year in the Barcelonan newspaper La Vanguardia announced that the following day the local Cinematógrafo Martí in Las Ramblas would be opening a new film: ‘Thursday. Opening at this Cinematographic Theater of the 500 meter movie Barba Azul, the finest example to be presented in Barcelona hand-tinted ex professo by the reputable film colorist, Don Segundo Chomón.’12
The announcement is, in itself, extraordinary, because at this time it was extremely rare and unusual for any newspaper reference to cinema to so accurately stress the participation of a specific member. So in his Barcelona studio Chomón apparently hand-colored a copy of Barbe bleu (1901) by Georges Méliès, although this was likely not his first experience working within the production branch of the film industry. We do not know for sure, but by publicly Segundo de Chomón and the fascination for colour acknowledging Chomón as a reputado iluminador the announcement suggests that this was an honor he had earned beforehand, perhaps in Barcelona itself, or maybe in Paris. The same ad ran in La Vanguardia the following day, reinforcing the significance of Chomón’s talent as a ‘reputable colorist’. This, in addition to the fact that the Cinematógrafo Martí was going to project the ‘best example’ of Méliès’ film, suggests that this particular presentation of the film was indeed special. In fact, a few days earlier several theaters in Barcelona (including the Real Cinematógrafo Napoleón in the Rambla de Santa Mónica, and Cinematógrafo X, in Plaza Cataluña) had screened copies of Barbe bleu, but these were probably black and white reels, as I have found no evidence indicating that colour prints were shown at these venues.
So it appears possible that the only colour copy of Méliès’ film presented in Barcelona at this time was the one that had been hand-colored by Segundo de Chomón. Had this work been directly commissioned by the French magician and filmmaker? Or, more likely, was it the owner of the Cinematógrafo Martí that had commissioned the work from Chomón after acquiring a black and white copy of Méliès’ film, thereby hoping to attract the crowd away from other competing venues screening the film at the same time? As is so often the case when investigating early cinema, we end up with more questions than answers. Coloring work was important for the cinematographic community, both in terms of the developing industry and the relationships that were established with the audience, so either case could be argued. On the one hand, hand-colored copies were substantially more expensive, among other reasons, because they had to cover the costs of specialists like Chomón who did the work. On the other hand, spectators must have found much pleasure in viewing colored copies of films that were otherwise black and white, and especially films that took advantage of themes to chromatically highlight certain aspects of the costumes or sets (imagine, for example, the plasticity achieved by some of the Pathé studio’s ‘final apotheoses’). Since hand-coloring was a highly meticulous and slow process involving attention to detail, it required a level of skill and patience that can be considered equal to the level of enthusiasm it might generate in the audience. Chomón seemingly distinguished himself in this painstaking task. However, we do not know whether any of the copies that he hand-colored survive. Coloring at this time was an anonymous art form, with the exception of the aforementioned newspaper announcement, traditionally done by women. Because Chomón was publicly credited for his work and soon became known as a consummate specialist in the art, there is little doubt that his case was unusual for the time period.
Moreover, after Chomón worked on the Méliès film, or perhaps at the same time, Pathé commissioned him to colour some of their own films. Correspondence between Chomón and the Pathé headquarters in Paris indicates that in Barcelona between 1902 and 1904 he hand-colored such films as Danses cosmopolites à transformation (1902), in which a pair of dancers continually change folk costumes and perform a wide variety of choreographed performances; the phantasmagoria La fée printemps (1902); the succession of transformations shown in Metamorphoses du papillon (1904); the biblical movie Samson et Dalila (1902); the reconstruction of the legend of Guillaume Tell (1903); and the comedy La valise de Barnum (1903), among others.13 Notably, the copies Chomón coloured in Barcelona were not products intended for distribution to the Catalan or Spanish markets. When they were completed they were sent back to Paris, a costly and time-consuming process that indicates Pathé must have highly valued Chomón’s work, which was apparently good enough to compensate for all of these inconveniences. And Chomón was well aware of this, and actually asked Paris to pay him more, a request that was eventually fulfilled.
We know this from a series of letters that Chomón received between 1902 and 1904, first from Jacques A. Berst and later from Charles Sattul, both managers at Pathé. This correspondence tells of the commercial dealings that the Spaniard made with the French producer; for example, Chomón earned 50 centimes for every meter of film he colored, but when he asked for a raise to 75 centimes per meter while working on the film La fée printemps, his request was rejected. Later, when coloring a copy of Ali Baba, Chomón was granted an increase. With regard to following Paris’s instructions about which colours were to be selected and used, Sattul more or less left the final decision up to Chomón: ‘If all of the figures are ready it matters little whether the colors are those we have decided upon as long as they are beautiful and good’. The fact is that Pathé had full faith in Chomón’s professional criteria when it came to choosing and applying colours to hand-colour a film and the fragments of a frame that had to be highlighted using these chromatic additions.14
Chomón’s talent and his gift for precision facilitated his long term interest in colour throughout his career. He soon created new, more versatile, and complex colour systems that used stencil-based techniques and machinery to achieve a greater ratio between the meters of film that were colored and the time required to do so. Chomón’s arduous and professional work led Pathé’s managers to decide that they no longer wanted him to work for them from Barcelona, but instead they invited him to transfer to the company’s Paris headquarters.
Chomón at Pathé Frères
Pathé quickly became the leading player in the international film market, opening offices in London, Moscow, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, New York, Shanghai and, as we have seen, Barcelona, the city used to distribute copies throughout the Iberian peninsula. The company made at least one film a day and sent the North American market twelve new films with a run of seventy five copies of each. Some of the copies sent to the American market may already have been colored, or they may have been colored in specialist studios in the cities where they were to be shown.15 Pathé’s increased rate of production and widespread distribution network required a large-scale internal structure, including a large and diverse work force of professionals who were specialized in different ‘scènes’ or genres, and a division of labor that could meet the schedule requirements of the different theaters around the world.
Not surprisingly, in 1905 Chomón accepted the Pathé management’s offer to return to Paris and become one of the main supervisors (and shortly after, the manager) of the company’s trick film section. As Richard Abel notes, the genre probably reached its highest level of production after Gaston Velle left Pathé to work in Italy and Chomón took charge.16 Chomón’s arrival was timely, as the company was reconstructing its studios in Vincennes in order to meet the international demand for its films. That same year Charles Pathé replaced the system of selling films outright with that of a rental system, which also helped to increase the marketing of colored copies world-wide. When Chomón moved to Paris the cinema industry there was going through one of its initial periods of change: Gaumont reconstructed its studios in 1905, and two years later Méliès built a second studio in Montreuil-sous-Bois.
So Chomón’s arrival in Paris placed him in an environment that encouraged and facilitated his talent to such an extent that he played a prominent role in the development of the cinema of attractions.17 Most of the films he worked on stirred the imagination through fantasy effects that could enrapture the spectator, such as double or multiple exposures, stop motion, transformations, substitutions, overhead shots, and pyrotechnical effects, all of which demonstrate Chomón’s desire to surprise. Considering his previous dedicated interest in colour, we can assume that Chomón likely planned the films with coloring effects in mind. Either he did the work himself, or Pathé contracted it out to film coloring companies. Considering his new career as a cameraman and trick specialist, he would have little time for doing the work himself, but probably did give instructions regarding methods, colours and the parts of the image that should be colored.
In fact, the fantasy films that Chomón made for Pathé seem to conceive colour as an added element of magic and fascination; colour in these films functions as an added attraction, ‘contributing less to realism than to sensual intensity’, as Tom Gunning argues: ‘The attraction of this added intensity opened the potential for color to be used as a signifier of fantasy, or as a metaphor’.18 Between 1905 and 1907 Chomón worked on a series of phantasmagorias in which the showiness of the sets and costumes, and more importantly the quality of the tricks, seemed to have been conceived for colored scenes. For example, in L’écrin du Rajah or Le coffret du Rajah (1906), directed by Gaston Velle, photography and tricks by Chomón, we see the thief of the casket mentioned in the title riding upon a monstrous creature, flying against a black background; both the character dressed in exotic costume and the animal with fire belching forth from its mouth almost cry out to be colored. [Plate 1] I also have in mind the splendid development of the action in Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse (1906), directed by Albert Capellani, photography and tricks by Chomón, with its fabulous apotheosis at the end, in which the characters are seen before a huge lamp in the background and a large troupe of dancing girls appears. [Plate 2]
Most of the films Chomón made for Pathé suggest this tendency towards fantasy and the use of colour as a metaphor. He knew better than most how to use colour to intensify the make-believe nature of such characters as fairies, wizards, shape-changers, clowns, acrobats, demons and so on. And Chomón was just as skillful at incorporating everyday objects, such as bottles or vases, into complex and visually fascinating fantasy scenes that recall live magic performances, but which provide a point of view which only moving images could provide for all spectators.19 For example, in Le spectre rouge (1907) a demon moves a table with three bottles on it towards the camera, close enough for the spectator to see that some imprisoned ladies are dancing inside the bottles as the demon pours liquid into them. In Les verres enchantés (1907) a similar trick is used to draw the spectator’s attention to a closer view of the action: again we see some transparent bottles, and when a liquid is poured inside them a group of dancers start moving. The magically fascinating nature of these shots places the spectator in an unreal, almost oneiric, world that colour intensifies.
At other times, Chomón made films in which the screen was presented as if it were a theater stage with a fixed decorative motif around the borders of the frame of the shot and a black background in the middle against which appearances and transformations were shown. These two parts of the screen, as in Le trobadour (1906), Les Chrysanthèmes (1907) and Les oeufs de pâques (1907), enabled (and almost required) the fixed part to be colored one way and the characters performing in the center in another.20 [Plate 3]
This emphasis on the use of colour was fundamental to some of Chomón’s films, such as those in which flowers or animals are transformed into people, as in, for example, Les fleurs animées (1906), L’abeille et la rose (1908), and Les papillons japonais (1908). At the end of this last film a worm turns into a beautiful, colorful butterfly, which then becomes a girl dressed up as a human butterfly, also colored, who starts performing the serpentine dance. [Plates 4 and 5] Even in an apparently realistic setting, such as Kiriki, acrobates japonais (1907), in which a group of acrobats in oriental costume perform a series of extravagant balancing acts that defy the laws of gravity (filmed on the floor using an overhead camera), the monochrome colour of the supposed stage on which they perform gives the entire composition a greater sense of enchantment. This film is an excellent example of the links between Chomón’s cinema and the circus, as many of his films from this period feature clowns, not always for a justifiable cause but in response to the enormous popularity and simple characterization of such figures: Ah! la barbe (1905), Les cent trucs (1906), Les lunatiques (1908). Acrobats also appear, as in Kiriki, noted above. Due to the power acrobats have to grasp the audience’s attention, acrobatic movements are one of the characteristic features of the cinema of attractions. They function to draw the spectator’s attention to the action occurring on screen, as if to acknowledge in the spectator senses and memories of watching a first class performance in the big top.21
The presence of colour combined with fantasy effects in Chomón’s splendid animated films increases the visual impact of objects and figures appearing on the screen. In the marvelous Le théâtre électrique de Bob (1909) some children are playing in a room when Bob places a toy theater before them (and before the spectator) and waves at them, whereupon a shows begins involving animated puppets: a fencing duel, a boxing bout, a fight over a pipe that one of the puppets is smoking and a series of gymnastic exercises on parallel bars.22 The layout of the screen is the same as in my earlier description of other trick films, a permanent decorative border around the image and a black background in the center over which the characters appear: in this case, animated puppets. Here, however, colour doubles the attraction of this type of film. The inanimate objects that start moving by themselves produce a fantasy effect, and this effect is emphasized when, in the case of the puppets, they are colored. During his time at Pathé Chomón became a consummate specialist in animated cinema, as seen in such other examples as Le courant électrique (1908), Les jouets vivants (1908), Sculpteurs modernes (1908), Le petit poucet (1909) and Métamorphoses (1912). One of the most interesting movies in this genre, in which actors are combined with moving objects, is Electric hotel (1908), in which a couple staying in a hotel where everything works by electricity are abruptly disturbed when an operator presses the establishment’s general switches and all of the hotel’s devices, furniture and services seem to come to life.
Chomón later developed this specialty at Itala Film in Turin, where he made I guanti di Rocambole (1912) and, most importantly, the extraordinary La guerra e il sogno di Momi (1916), made with director Giovanni Pastrone. La guerra is comprised primarily of animated battle scenes of toy soldiers which come to life in the dream of a young boy who has fallen asleep after reading a story of the same subject. It is a typical example of how Chomón’s attractions were later integrated with narrative in longer and more complex feature films.
Around 1908 Chomón began to use dream sequences, and objects or instruments (such as a book, a telescope, or a microscope) to motivate action and set up complex visual effects.23 For example, attractions function within the simple narrative Voyage au planète Jupiter (1909) as Chomón integrates in one story a series of visual resources that until then had only been presented to the spectator in isolation. The film starts by introducing a very simple plot: in the Middle Ages, a king and his wizard look through a telescope and observe the planets; that night, the king dreams of a trip to the planet Jupiter. The plot is presented with great visual skill and sumptuousness. In the first shot we see the king, the wizard, and a jester in a room in a medieval castle; in the second, the characters look through the telescope; in the third, the spectator sees what they are looking at: a planet in the form of a mysterious face surrounded by clouds [Plate 6]; in the fourth (the same as the second), the wizard opens an enormous book that shows the heavens in permanent movement [Plate 7]. In the following shots, the king and the wizard go outside the castle and look at the sky; then a dream begins in which the king climbs up a ladder (filmed using an overhead camera), goes past the moon and the stars (all of which are in human form performed by actors and actresses) until he reaches Jupiter, from where he is expelled by the ruler. The film ends as the king falls from the ladder in the dream to land on his real-life bed, and wakes up. The story is phantasmagoric, but Chomón combines studio work with outdoor shots, establishes a comic tone, uses highly iconic sumptuousness in the images of the journey (such as enacted figures for the moon and the stars) and finally ensures that everything fits into a certain logic and continuity.
He also began to move away from single shot films to increasingly more elaborate structures. One example of this appears in Le voleur invisible (1909), in which he includes tricks in a considerably more complex narrative consisting of 27 shots, several of which appear in a syntagmatic chain that has a strictly illative function in order to make the story more easily understood. Moreover, because it is set in a contemporary period, the film loses the tone and typical atmosphere of phantasmagorias, which are almost always situated in ancient, exotic and remote worlds, and becomes a liberal adaptation of the novel The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.24 The story begins with the protagonist standing next to a newsstand while taking an interest in a book that the vendor shows to him. We immediately see the cover of the book: L’homme invisible, then we return to the former shot where the protagonist pays for the book and leaves the scene. The following shots show the character arriving at his home, walking up the steps and going inside. He then reads the book he has bought and discovers an ‘invisibility formula’. In the following scene, the character prepares the formula and gradually starts disappearing. From here on, Chomón links comical effects (the character exploits his invisibility in order to carry out a robbery and is chased by some inept policemen) and animated objects (the thief enters a house he intends to burglarize and moves the furniture, papers and jewels, but as he is invisible, all the spectator sees are objects moving by themselves, as in Electric hotel) with the narrative involving the police in pursuit of the thief.
So from late 1908 fundamental changes occur in Segundo de Chomón’s cinematographic conception and use of colour: now there are films that appear to reduce the impact of colour as solely an attraction, i.e. colour as a signal of fascination, as an indicator of an unreal world. The Japanese, Chinese, Arabians and Europeans dressed in folk costumes, and the medieval scientists extracted from children’s imaginaries, are not colored to make them seem more real or more plausible, but to stress their marked exoticism and their belonging to the kingdom of the imagination. However, this kingdom was now being depicted in different ways.
The first indications of a change in the use of colour start to appear in the coloring of some of the characters and some of the flowery or decorative motifs that Chomón carried out in Barcelona while working on early Pathé films, where we see coloring of the entire frame and not just details in it. The idea was not to colour a fragment of the frame, but to colour everything the spectator could see on the screen. This aspect is especially noted between the years 1910 and 1912, when Chomón returned to Barcelona to work for himself in a company he formed along with industrialist Joan Fuster (although he would never break contact with Pathé). In mid 1911 Chomón started working for Ibérico, a satellite of the French firm in Barcelona (similar to those that Pathé had set up in other cities around the world), for whom he made eleven films between August 1911 and May 1912. In eight of these films the director Segundo de Chomón and the fascination for colour proposed his own coloring system, known as Cinemacoloris, which was referenced in the Pathé catalog for 1913.25
Cinemacoloris was one of Chomón’s inventions, the result of his obsession with finding mechanical methods for coloring films, thus overcoming the laboriousness of the hand-coloring process. The system was apparently similar to Pathécolor’s stenciling method. Cinemacoloris, as Tharrats explains, consisted of projecting a film onto a 25 to 30 centimeter pane of frosted glass, whereupon the characters or objects to be colored were traced directly onto the glass and then cut out using a burin to create a stencil.26 What I would like to highlight here is that, when filming for Ibérico, Chomón was actively considering the notion that the films would eventually be colored. These films were actually shot in Barcelona, but the undeveloped film was sent to Paris to be assembled along with strict indications about the order of the shots, their duration, and the general layout. In other words, Chomón had devised a script, or at least what over time would come to be known as a script.27 In Paris, the films were assembled on the basis of the instructions they received for developing the original negatives and producing a certain number of copies. The copies that were to be colored, or at least some of them, were most probably sent back to Barcelona for Chomón to colour using his new Cinemacoloris system. These copies would have eventually been returned to Paris for distribution.
That is what must have happened to a copy of the extraordinary Superstition andalouse, which opened in Paris on 22 August 1912. The film is important due to the masterful way in which Chomón is able to include a series of seamlessly refined tricks in a story involving a chase, which is well resolved by the narrative, and the use of a dream or flash-forward.28 The film tells the story of Juanita, who gets angry with a gypsy who wants to read her fiancé Pedro’s palm. Juanita then starts daydreaming and imagines the gypsy devising a terrible plan of revenge against her. [Plate 8] In the dream the gypsy contacts a band of thieves and orders them to kidnap Pedro; a group of men start chasing the kidnappers, but the thieves set off an explosive and manage to escape. They take Pedro into a cave, which contains a phantasmagoric chamber where Pedro opens some cupboards, takes out some bottles, and sees that inside them are creatures with insect bodies and human heads; superimposed over them are threatening hands, one of which turns into the gypsy, who tries to seduce Pedro. At this moment Juanita returns to reality and makes her peace with the gypsy.
The copy of this film preserved by the National Film Archive (BFI) of London is an interesting example of the results of the Cinemacoloris system, as it is not colored in isolated fragments of the frame but tends more towards the coloring of entire scenes, seeking what we refer to as a realistic contrast between the characters and the environment (an Andalusian country estate, or cortijo, the landscape in which the chase takes place, the cave in which the tricks happen, etc.). Considering that the BFI print was likely printed on modern day colour stock, it is difficult to properly assess the colour effects of Cinemacoloris, but it seems plausible to say that the colours were probably not as lively as those that were used in the early cinema of attractions; here the fascination for the medium of colour, colour as solely a sign of attraction, seems to have been lost (at least in the aforementioned copy, without having been able to observe the original nitrate). Or at least colour appears to have been reconciled with other uses, in the ‘delicate pas de deux orchestrated between realistic motives and metaphorical or spectacular effects’ that Tom Gunning analyzed.29
However, among the films he made for Ibérico there are others in which Chomón evidently did seek to continue working on solutions, including chromatic solutions, for the cinema of attractions. Among Chomón’s written indications are references to the film L’Iris fantastique (1912) in which a succession of transformations are presented to the spectator by a magic fairy (played by France Mathieu, Julienne’s sister); these transformations rise out of moving water that produces fountains, and each scene was to be associated with a specific colour. In his notes to Pathé, Chomón indicated the changes of colour that had to be produced during the successive manifestations in these fountains.30 It is interesting to note that in this period, in his Barcelona studio, Chomón was still making movies like this, or Métamorphoses (1912), in which he returned to trick movies stricto sensu, the type of cinema he had filmed to such perfection a few years earlier.
Beyond Colour as Attraction
Unlike most of the major pioneers of early cinema, colour remained a constant for Chomón throughout his career, as confirmed by his work for Itala Film in Cabiria (1914) and the aforementioned La guerra e il sogno di Momi. Chomón also worked as a cameraman, or as an effects specialist, on a series of films in which the mythological figure of Maciste was featured as one of the icons of Italian cinema; on some comedy films; and on such literary adaptations as Hedda Gabler (1919), directed by Pastrone, and Cirano di Bergerac (1922), directed by Augusto Genina.31
As late as 1923 he became associated with the Swiss engineer E. Zollinger, and from him obtained a mechanical film coloring system using bichrome (green and soft red). He used this system to make the film La natura a colori, which won an award at the International Exposition of Photography, Optics and Cinematography in Turin in July 1923. The Italian newspaper Gazetta del Popolo published an enthusiastic review of the results:
Children and animals, flowers and fruit, skies and marinas, auroras and crepuscules, and living nature appeared on the screen giving the audience the illusion of not being in an enclosed building, but in the presence of great natural spectacles. Such were the veracity of the colors, the crispness of the images and the naturalness of the movement.
The anonymous journalist writing this review perceived this colour as reaching new heights that bypassed experimental stages of early colour technology: ‘We can now say that cinematography in colour has passed from the experimental field to being put into practice and it will soon be ready to be completely mastered by the industry’.32
Chomón and Zollinger made another film using the same system, Mimosa, which was never released. The film was forty-five minutes long, was shot on the Italian Riviera, and apparently told the love story of two adolescents in visual comparison with the flower named in the title.33 Unfortunately, their system involved tinting positive copies in two colours, but what the industry was now after was a way of obtaining colour during the recording process and not in development.
Chomón’s final involvement in the quest for colour cinema was in Paris in 1926, when he was working for the Societé de Cinematographie et de Photographie-Film en Couleurs, a company that was competing with the Americans to perfect a trichrome system called Keller-Dorian.34 At that moment the cinema was still being compared to the circus, as Eugeni d’Ors had done years earlier in 1906. However, writing in 1927, French poet Marcel Achard compared the cinema with the circus in very different terms by assessing the power of fascination and liberty of the circus in relation to what the audience found on screens: ‘The circus dazzles but does not seduce. It fascinates the illusions of young people, but it does not divert them towards reflection or dreams in the way that theater and cinema do’.35
The cinema (and its colours) had changed; now, according to Achard, it led to reflections and dreams. Chomón persisted in his search for colour in film, but the advent of colour cinematography took much longer to arrive. As he died in 1929, Chomón would not be around to enjoy it.
1. Eugeni d’Ors, ‘Elegia’, Obra Catalana Completa. Glosari 1906/1910 (Barcelona: Editorial Selecta, 1950), 790-792.
2. Eugeni d’Ors, ‘El cimatófago’, La Veu de Catalunya, 30 April 1906. Ors, through the expression ‘convulsión gris’, literally gray convulsion, is referring to the agitation, paroxysm and delirium that, in his opinion, could be observed on cinematographic screens.
3. Joan M. Minguet Batllori, ‘L’Eglise et les intellectuels espagnols contre le cinéma’, in R. Cosandey, A. Gaudreault and T. Gunning (eds), Une invention du diable? Cinéma des premiers temps et religion, Actes du 1er Colloque International de Domitor (Sainte-Foy and Lausanne: Les Presses de l’Université Laval y Editions Payot, 1992), 12-20.
4. Eugeni d’Ors, op. cit. As we can see, for Ors, cinema was a long way from poetry and more in keeping with a frivolous world that, rather than tending towards great art, offered a false and artificial reality, a world in which the writer assimilated adolescent tastes. The word ‘Comparsas’ which appears in the quote refers to groups of performers dressed in similar costumes during stage shows and, most of all, in carnival celebrations.
5. ‘Last evening, I was in the Kingdom of the Shadows’, wrote Maxim Gorky in his first experience as a cinema viewer, in 1896, at a Lumière session in his hometown of Nizhni-Novgorod. See Harry M. Geduld (ed.), Authors On Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972).
6. Mario Verdone, ‘Il cinema nasce dal circo’, Cinema & Circo in Italia (Roma: Comitato Ecumenico per le Comunicazioni Sociali, 1992), 89-90.
7. It did not take long for hand-coloured films to be seen in public in Spain, but these were the exception as most movies were shown in black and white. At least that was the impression given by some writers, many of whom opposed the addition of colour to films. As late as 1913, for instance, a Catalan poet named Josep Carner had diagnosed the lack of success of colour in cinematic narratives: ‘The cinematographic theater in itself is the most Calvinist pleasure in the world: people congregate in it to see saints, black and white saints; and when attempts are made to put color into films, it is best to abandon the idea, as the preacher said’. Josep Carner, ‘El bes en el cinematògraf II’, Catalunya, 9 August 1913.
8. Julienne Mathieu, before entering the world of cinema, was a humble actress performing in popular Parisian theaters. From 1905 she took the leading role in many of the films directed by Chomón for Pathé, playing the role of a magician, performing tricks and amazing transformations, and presenting other characters.
9. Juan Gabriel Tharrats, Los 500 films de Segundo de Chomón (Zaragoza: Universidad de Zaragoza, 1988), 61.
10. Gaudí designed the theatre to resemble a natural cave. Its promoter, Lluís Graner, was a firm proponent of the Modernist movement and a supporter of Richard Wagner’s ‘Total Art Work’. The films screened there were advertised as ‘spoken films’ and the experiment consisted of the projection of Pathé films to which actors from dramatist Adrià Gual’s theatrical company provided voices from behind the screen. Joan M. Minguet Batllori, ‘La Sala Mercè de Lluís Graner (1904–1908): un epígon del Modernisme?’, D’Art. Revista del Departament d’Història de l’Art de la Universitat de Barcelona 14 (1988): 99-117; J.M.M. Batllori, ‘La Sala Mercè, el primer cinematógrafo de la burguesía barcelonesa’, De Dalí a Hitchcock. Los caminos en el cine. Actas del V Congreso de la Asociación Española de Historiadores del Cine (Asociación Española de Historiadores del Cine/ Xunta de Galicia, La Coruña, 1995): 63-71.
11. Henri Bousquet, Catalogue Pathé des annés 1896 à 1914: 1896 à 1906 (Paris: Henri Bousquet, 1996).
12. La Vanguardia, 12 February 1902. The Spanish original describes Chomón as a ‘reputado iluminador’, a reputable illuminator, associating the profession of adding colour to films with the artistic tradition of coloring manuscripts, engravings and photographs.
13. Tharrats, Los 500 films de Segundo de Chomón, 65-68.
14. Ibid., 62-63.
15. Charles Musser, The Emergence of Cinema: the American Screen to 1907 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 488.
16. Richard Abel, The Cine Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 169. Gaston Velle likely left Pathé in the middle of 1906. In July 1906 he became one of the artistic directors of the Italian company Cines. See Kim Tomadjoglou, ‘Rome’s premier film studio: Società Italiana Cines’, Film History 12, 3 (2000): 264.
17. Joan M. Minguet Batllori, Segundo de Chomón, beyond the cinema of attractions (1904–1912) (Barcelona: Filmoteca de la Generalitat de Catalunya, 1999).
18. Tom Gunning, ‘Colorful Metaphors: the Attraction of Color in Early Silent Cinema’, Fotogenia No. 1 (1994).
19. I thank Kim Tomadjoglou for pointing this aspect of Chomón’s work out to me.
20. Kim Tomadjoglou explains this contrast in her analysis of Les glaces merveilleuses or The Wonderful Mirrors (1907) in the ‘Film notes’ section of Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism (New York: PaceWildenstein, 2007), 176-178.
21. On the relationship between Chomón and the circus, see Joan M. Minguet Batllori, Paisaje(s) del cine mudo en España (Valencia: Filmoteca de la Generalitat Valenciana, 2008), especially the chapter ‘La memoria estética: magia, circo y cine de atracciones’.
22. For a detailed analysis of this film see, Carlo Montanaro, ‘The Strange Case of Le Théâtre du Petit Bob’, Griffithiana, No. 32-33 (1988): 278-280.
23. I thank Kim Tomadjoglou for pointing out this aspect of Chomón’s work to me with regards to attractions and narrative motivation. See note 20, above.
24. See Minguet Batllori, Segundo de Chomón, beyond the cinema of attractions.
25. Henri Bousquet, Catalogue Pathé des annés 1896 à 1914: 1912–1913–1914 (Paris: Henri Bousquet, 1995).
26. Tharrats, Los 500 films de Segundo de Chomón, 175.
27. Chomón’s grandson conserved this documentation until his death. Some fragments have been reproduced in Tharrats, Los 500 films de Segundo de Chomón and Agustín Sánchez Vidal, El cine de Segundo de Chomón (Zaragoza: Caja de Ahorros de la Inmaculada de Aragón, 1992).
28. On Superstition Andalouse, see Minguet Batllori, Segundo de Chomón.
29. Gunning, ‘Colorful Metaphors’.
30. Tharrats, Los 500 films de Segundo de Chomón, 124.
31. On Chomón’s period at Itala Film, see Simona Nosenzo, Manuale técnico per visionari. Segundo de Chomón in Italia, 1912–1925 (Turin: Biblioteca Fert, 2007).
32. ‘Brillanti risultati della cinematografia a colori’, Gazzetta del Popolo, 4 July 1923. Cited in Nosenzo, ibid.
33. Nosenzo, Manuale técnico per visionari.
34. Tharrats, Los 500 films de Segundo de Chomón, 277.
35. Marcel Achard, ‘La philosophie du cirque’, Conferencia. Journal de l’Université des Annales (No. 22), 5 November 1927.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joan M. Minguet Batllori is professor in the Art History department at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (Spain). His most recent books include Buster Keaton (2008), Paisaje(s) del cine mudo en España (2008), Salvador Dalí, cine y surrealismo(s) (2003), and Segundo de Chomón, beyond the cinema of attractions (1999). He is presently working on an exhaustive analysis of Segundo de Chomón’s cinema for the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Web page: http://www.joanminguet.net. Email: Joan.Minguet@uab.cat”
(Minguet Batllori, Joan M. (2009): Segundo de Chomón and the fascination for colour. In: Film History, Vol. 21, No 1, pp. 94-103.)
“17.3 STENCIL COLOURED FILMS
By 1906 Charles Pathé, owner of Pathé Frères and a great innovator in the cinematographic industry, already employed 200 workers in his colouring studio in Paris. The method used was that of a manual stencilling developed by Méliès and Gaumont: for each colour to be painted on the film a positive copy of the same film is stencil cut by hand and then the emulsion is washed away. For each colour, there is, therefore, a corresponding transparent outline, or stencil, similar to the stencils used for silk screen printing, with the part cut away where that colour should be.
In manual stencilling the worker holds the stencil in the left hand exactly superimposed on the film while, with the right hand, dips the paintbrush into the colour (usually a basic aniline dye, but dyes of all sorts were used), partially dries it on a pad and places it on the stencil. A light stroke is used to transfer the colour through the cut-out and onto the emulsion side of the film image.
The result was very precise (provided the stencil had been cut well), but the colouring process was extremely slow. Thus, when Pathé mechanized his production and expanded into markets throughout the world, he had to make some compromises in order to accelerate the process (the Pathé company coloured from 300 to 400 copies of each film by 1910). By 1908 a first version of the mechanical stencilling system was in use. The machine for cutting the stencils was extremely precise, based on a pantograph that enlarged the frame on a piece of opaque glass. The outline of the image that was to be cut out was traced on the glass by the operator using a pointer which guided the device (not unlike a sewing machine with an oscillating needle) that cut the stencil. The resulting stencils, one for each colour, was a length of film of the same length as the final print. The emulsion was then washed off. The machine for colouring the positive copies used a sprocket wheel which allowed a stencil and the positive copy to be pulled along together in contact. A velvet ribbon loop, continuously replenished with colouring agent from a tank, acted as the brush, transferring the dye through the stencil to the print. The procedure had to be repeated for each colour.
With the mechanized stencil colouring system as described in the patent literature of the time, it was possible to stencil a film with up to seven different colours at a time, in a single pass through the machine. Several investigators believe that even more than seven stencils were sometimes used. The process was used, with minor differences, by other companies as well, such as Gaumont in France and Ambrosio and Cines in Italy. The system was used less after 1915, though it lasted until the end of the 1920s (Pathé’s colouring studio was closed in 1928), and it seems that the continuous stencilling machinery was considerably more complex than the film processing machinery at that time.
The Pathéchrome process, the trade name given to prints made using mechanized stencilling, used dyes applied on top of the black and white silver image, just like early hand colouring, and some of these dyes were the same as those used for dye tinting (see below). A list of nine colours was recorded in the Pathé literature and these are listed in Table 17.1.
These same nine colours seem to have been in use from early in the century to 1929. The actual dyes used may not have remained the same, however.
Stencilling seems not to have been common in the USA. The Handscheigl Process of 1916 in the United States was used to colour some 15 or 20 movies and this produces prints with similar appearance.
The process used conventional lithographic printing to create separate printing plates to make up to three colours for printing onto a conventional black and white print. The areas to be coloured were defined by hand for every frame! De Mille’s Joan the Woman was the first film to use this process, called then the De Mille Process. Eric von Stroheim’s Greed also used it as well as printing onto yellow tinted film for some sections. The process was also called the Wyckoff Process.”
(Read, Paul; Meyer, Mark-Paul (2000): Stencil Coloured Films. In: Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer: Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 181-182.)
“Pathécolor (1905-c. 30)
Applied colour process
Pathé introduced a process of colouring films using stencils in 1905 and in developing this between 1905 and 1908 they industrialised the painstaking traditional method of hand-colouring film by painting directly onto the frame. Initially Pathé’s stencil process was equally laborious and not unique, similar processes being used by both Gaumont and Georges Méliès. A print was made for each colour which was to be added, and the area to be coloured was cut out with a scalpel to make a stencil. Each stencil was then overlaid one at a time on a release print and an operator would brush paint onto the stencil and thus through the cut out and onto the film. By 1906, hundreds of women were employed in the stencil laboratory in Pathé’s studio complex at Vincennes. However, as the length of films and the number of prints required increased, due mainly to Pathé’s aggressive expansion at the time, this system, like hand-colouring, became impractical. In 1908 the system was mechanised. Stencils were cut by projecting each frame onto a ground glass screen, where an operator would outline elements to be coloured a certain colour using a pointer. This was linked to a cutter which moved over a blank film strip, cutting out the same area and malting a series of stencils for different colours. The prints were run through dyeing machines in which the print and the stencil were overlaid in precise register on a wheel and held in place by sprockets. The dye was applied via a velvet ribbon. The process would be repeated with the same print, but a different stencil and different-coloured dye until all the colours had been added. This process was named Pathécolor.
Pathécolor offered the prestige of high-class colour presentation at a fraction of the cost of hand-colouring, and helped Pathé in its bid to make its product stand out in the marketplace. Although Pathé’s interpretive stencil process was initially threatened by the commercial success of Kinemacolor, it nevertheless remained successful until the 1920s. However, in December 1924 a lecture on the current methods used for Pathécolor was given at the Royal Photographic Society, and the system had barely changed since 1908. It was noted at that time that it took one hour to cut three feet of stencil strip for a single tinting. In the age of the feature film, what was once Pathé’s mechanical innovation was very old fashioned and labour intensive. Pathé closed its stencil-colouring labs in 1928 and renamed the process Pathéchrome in 1929. The use of stencil colouring continued into the early 1930s.
Abel, Richard, The Cine Goes to Town: French Cinema 1896-1915 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 20-5.
Coe, Brian, The History of Movie Photography (London: Ash & Grant, 2000), pp. 113-15.
Lameris, Bregtje, ‘Pathécolor: Perfect in their Rendition of the Colours of Nature’, Living Pictures vol. 2 no. 2, 2003, pp. 46-58.
Read, Paul, ‘Unnatural Colour: An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies’, Film History vol. 21 no. 1,2009, pp. 9-47.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London : BFI, 2000), pp. 21-43.”
(Brown, Simon (2012): Technical Appendix. In: Sarah Street: Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 259-287, on pp. 277-278.)
“Things get more complicated: the stencil
The underlying principle of stencil colouring is similar to the one still in use today to dye fabrics and wall-papers by applying perforated shapes to the surface to be covered by a layer of colour. As regards film colouring, stencils were made with positive prints or just fragments. The prints used as stencil materials were as many as the colours to be applied, one per each colour. From the stencil print the areas corrisponding to one given figure to be coloured were cut out: it could have been the dress of a character, an object found in the frame, a meadow, a river, the sky, and so forth. Even this method, like hand-painting, derived from previous techniques, such as colouring of magic lantern slides, but also postcards and photographs.
The figure 1, from Rathburn (1914), gives an idea of how stencils were cut up. The colouring method entailed two different steps: the first one consisted in cutting the stencils, the second in applying the colours to the positive prints for the screening through the stencil (one per each colour). These two operations were initially carried out by hand: a given shape was cut in each of the frames where it was supposed to appear, by tracing its outline with a sharp tool. Before applying colour it was necessary to wash the stencil in hypochlorous acid solution (or simply warm water) to eliminate the gelatin from the film, so that the latter would not scratch the final print once the two films would come into contact with each other. Therefore, by overlapping the cut film on the other, a true colouring could take place. In this case as well, the most common dyes were aniline-based. The procedure was repeated for each cut stencil, that is for each colour to be applied; usually the colours applied in this way in the same scene were not more than seven. The same stencils were therefore used for each positive print for marketing and screening. The first examples of movies coloured with this system probably date back to a period ranging between 1904 and 1905. It should however taken into consideration that sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a hand-painted movie and one with hand-applied stencils. In a short period of time the system was mechanised: the machine used to cut the stencils was similar to a pantograph, a tool employed in technical design to reproduce drawings or shapes. It consists of a joined parallelogram, with a tracing tip and another one which could either draw a line or in this case cut. The figure 2, from Lobel (1922) shows a pantograph used to cut stencils. The worker (as previously remarked, most workers were women) followed with the tracing tip (R) the outline to be cut over a magnified projection of the frame (V) and the pantograph reproduced the same reduced outline on the film (X), by cutting up the area with an intermittently moving needle, similar to the ones found in sawing machines. The mechanised version of the colouring process consisted instead in pulling the stencil and the final print over a perfectly synchronous drum, and under a rotating velvet belt continuously soaked in dye.. The flickering defect, found in hand-painted films, almost disappeared in stencil coloured movies, especially when the system was totally mechanised. But colouring produced with the mechanised stencil system was not free of imperfections; in any case the system required a manual process (following the stencil outlined to be cut) and if watched closely, it is possible to see how the colour oversteps the outlines of the shapes.
The stencil system was widely used by Pathé production company which throughout the silent era claimed to produce the best movies coloured with this system. Pathé’s engineers were the ones to patent the machines for mechanised stencilling, called Pathécolor. Between 1907 and 1910 in Pathé laboratories the colouring system was totally mechanised; however some touch-ups had also to be applied by hand to the final product. In 1929 the Pathé colouring system was changed into Pathéchrome, although the process was not changed. Other production companies, such as Gaumont and Cines and Ambrosio from Italy, used the stencil method but never reached the level of sophistication of Pathé, although Gaumont in particular claimed that it employed the best artists as colouring supervisors. Obviously production companies sold coloured movies at higher prices than the ones without any colour. The same movie could be sold in several versions: without colour, partially coloured or coloured with several procedures (for example, a stencil coloured print and another either toned or tinted). As already remarked, the first stencil coloured movies date back to 1906; their number decreased substantially soon after W.W I and the last ones were produced at the end of the twenties.
The movies which were mostly coloured in this fashion were féeries, in particular up to the first decade of this century, historical dramas and non-fictional movies. Among the latter in particular, great care in colour application was paid to fashion movies. In the mid teens, Pathé applied the stencil colouring method also to a series of long feature films.
Bibliography: texts until 1930
Leopold Lobel, La Technique Cinematographigue. Projection, Fbrication des films, Paris, Dunod ed. 1922.
John B. Rathbun, Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting, Chicago 1914.”
(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. 123-124.)
“Combination of several colouring methods
The several methods described here were also used together to colour the same scene. The combination of tinting and stencil colouring was quite common, while toning and stencilling was less frequent.”
(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.)
“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 Grey’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 wis de l’ air. Gaumont used the Chonochrome 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-fuctional 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 produced also films coloured by stencils.12
12 In those years another important system for colour photographic reproduction was exploited in England by Charles Urban: the Kinemacolor. Differently from Gaumont’s Chronochrome, Kinemacolor used only two dyes, green/blue and orange.
Bibliography: texts until 1930
Colin N. Bennett, The Handbook of Kinematography, London, The Kinematograph Weekly, 1911; The Handbook of Kinematography, London 1913.”
(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. 127.)
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.”
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.)
The Colours of the Film d’Arte Italiana
For some years, the Cineteca di Bologna and the Cinémathèque Française have been running a project for the restoration and preservation of the Film d’Arte Italiana collection (from here on the FAI) conserved in the French archive. Along with the evident importance of the discovery and restoration of this material for the history of Italian cinema of the 1910s, there is an added reason for interest.
The collection, in fact, gives us the possibility to study up close an homogenous body of films, produced over a relatively brief period of time, and all certainly processed in the same laboratory. The study of the original surviving elements (mostly camera negatives on nitrate base), that are accompanied – in some if not all cases – by the original screenplays and/or Pathé’s launch summaries (FAI was a branch of Pathé) preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France – Departement des Arts du Spectacle, allows us to cast a ray of light on a world still substantially unknown to us: that of the daily practice of the laboratory and the processing of film in the 1910s, in what was undoubtedly the most important productive structure in the panorama of European cinema of those years.
We have been able to examine the original camera negatives of the major part of the films preserved in the FAI holding, while for some only dupe positives, or positive prints produced by the Cinémathèque Française in “modern” times, remain to us.
The original negatives have come down to us as they were preserved by Pathé and as was the practice of the time, that is, unedited; each shot – tableau as defined in the screenplays – was processed (that is, printed on positive and then coloured) separately from the others. In some cases – rather rare in the films of the earliest years of the 1910s, and more frequent with the passage of the years when one notes a more complex editing and therefore a greater number of shots – a reel of negative can contain more shots relative to the same tableau (in which, for example, a detail or a close-up is inserted) or also relative to different tableaux which are however set in the same place and hence shot in sequence (as occurs in La justice de l’abime/La giustizia dell’abisso, shots 13 and 18). Obviously, those shots in which for some reasons the colouring changes in the course of the action are separated (as for example in De I’amour au deshonneur/Dall’amore al disonore, shots 7 and 7bis).
Each reel of negative is preceded by an “identification leader”, a length of transparent film (on which the emulsion has evidently been scratched away) on which are written in India ink the following data:
title of the film (usually written in full);
number (or numbers) of the tableau, given as an
Arabic numeral followed, if necessary, by “bis”,
“ter” or “quater”;
length of the tableau;
To this identification leader is added a “protection leader” of variable length made up of a section of original negative belonging to another film (alternate takes, presumably). Normally, on the first frame of the tableau is incised the number, at a dimension that practically takes up the whole frame; this is followed by a cross, again scratched on the emulsion, that indicates the frame that corresponds to the splice with the positive. At the end of the tableau the cross is repeated and only the protection leader is added. In the case in which another shot, intertitle or an insert (“projection” for the FAI screenplays) has to be inserted within the tableau, the point of insertion is indicated by one or two crosses incised on the emulsion. If a reel which unites more tableaux is being dealt with, at the end of the first one there is only the cross, and the second is preceded by the usual cross and only the number scratched on the frame; the “identification leader” is not repeated.
With regard to films meant to be coloured by stencil, the identification leaders are identical, except for the fact that the stencil colouring is not indicated in any way, that is, it has no identification code of its own. A further characteristic that allows the sure identification of negatives destined for stencilling, is the fact that the film shows a sort of “footage number”, a progressive numbering; a patient hand has in fact written on the frameline a progressive number every 25 frames that starts with the number 1 on the frameline of the first usable frame (that follows, that is, the splicing cross). This numbering was evidently used to allow a continuous check of the perfect synchronisation between the stencilling masks and the positives to be coloured even in the case of accidental breaking of one or the other. That this numbering identifies a film destined for stencilling is further proved by the fact that the numbering appears on Pathé or FAI positive prints coloured by stencil, and also by the Pathé catalogues, that define as “coloured with Pathécolor” those films in which the negatives in our possession are “numbered”.
It is necessary to raise the fact that there are at least two exceptions to what has been said so far. In fact, the negatives of Marco Visconti and La conjuration de Fiesco/La Congiura di Fieschi do not show the numbering on the frameline, neither are there indications regarding the colours on the “identification leader”. Given that both films are datable to December 1911, that the genre (historical drama) is typically meant for stencilling, and that the literature of the time does not indicate if one is dealing with stencilled titles, one can make two hypotheses.
One can obviously hypothesise that the colouring is not indicated for some reason in the identification leaders; the most likely would be a change during the course of the work (if, that is, it was decided to print them only in black and white), less likely would be that the identification of the colours was given over to another system, above all because other preceding films (such as La mort civile/La morte civile) already showed the “usual” colour indications.
The second hypothesis, which seems the most probable to us, is that the films may have been effectively destined to be coloured by stencil, but that Pathé had introduced the system of numbering on the frameline only after a date later than December 1911; we know for sure that all the other negatives destined to be stencilled that show numbering in our possession are datable between 1912 and 1914; it remains to be checked if other Pathé or FAI films coloured by stencil earlier than 1911 show frameline numbering.
A further problem that remains to be gone into is to establish the existing relationship between the indications for tinting and toning codes and the numbering for stencilling. In some cases the colour codes are completely different from those normally used, which would make one think of a type of toning and tinting destined to work with the stencilling, a practice that can be verified on some prints of the time (not only in Pathé productions, even without mentioning the extraordinary case of Rapsodia satanica), vice versa, in at least one case – Drame a Florence/Dramma a Firenze (1912) – the indicated colours are those used for normal non-stencil print; something – as that could make one think – but only as a hypothesis – of a double version, that is, of the possibility of the distribution of a stencil-coloured version or a “plain” tinted and toned version; or, maybe more likely, of a change in the use of the negatives; the film was at first destined to be stencilled, then, later it was decided that it was not adapted to the process, or that it was the case to produce a “cheaper” version just tinted and toned.
The production process
As can be shown from the data collected from the analysis of the material that we have, the system for the identification of each single length of negative – and consequently of the positive printed from it – is such to allow an easy and immediate identification not only of the original film, but also of the processing that that particular part of the film had to undergo.
Nothing (title, colouring, length of raw stock necessary for printing) in fact is left to chance or to information from other sources (written notes, for example); neither, on the other hand, was it possible to imagine that it could have been otherwise, considering the size of the Pathé labs, the complexity of the processing, the quantity of film processed at one time and the number of prints produced.
Thanks to this system, the printer could proceed autonomously already knowing beforehand if the shot he was about to print had to be tinted and toned later and he could consequently check the exposure (regarding this point, the literature of the time is rich in indications as to photographic quality – density and contrast – that a scene had to have according to the colouring it had to undergo). It was equally important for the film developer, who at that time developed using a rack, “at sight” (i.e. the operator evaluated the development process watching the film as it gradually developed), who could correct printing errors in such a way as to obtain a positive that was always correct for density and contrast in relation to the colouring.
Obviously, by saying that the system allowed an unequivocal identification of each short reel of negative (then positive) through the various processing phases (printing, developing, colouring, positives cutting), we do not want to give to laboratory practices of the early 1910s a continuity, consistency and regularity that they obviously could never have had, but it is evident that the variations in the colours can only be attributed to the differences and unevenness of the process (inconsistency of colouring agents, imprecision in development or printing) and certainly not to the casualness of the procedure. In other words, it is always possible that a specific colour is not even between one film and another or between prints of the same film, or even between one shot and another on the same film, but it does not seem at all probable (save the fact of a major human error which would be easily detectable and correctable) that a scene meant to be tinted blue could become yellow or green.
Reconstruction and colour
During the job of reconstruction and restoration of the FAI collection (undertaken by the Cineteca di Bologna and the Cinémathèque Française at the Bologna laboratory of L’lmmagine Ritrovata) the problem of the identification of the colour code was posed for us. Without this, it was impossible to give back to the FAI films their original colours.
Excluding from the start the attempt to purchase coloured positives of the period, since no cases were given of positive or negative copies with the colour code of the films at our disposition, it only remained to try and propose a hypothesis of inductive and “investigative” identification.
An analysis of the elements at our disposal was, therefore, embarked upon, with the aim of producing a database of the codes placed in relation to the frames to which they referred and of researching the information concerning the practice of colouring of the period through the technical literature of the time.
An initial analysis of the films produced a list of colour codes that correspond, clearly to those applied, to the period 1910-1917 for/the FAI films in the Pathé Frères laboratories. Some of the codes that we list below appear very frequently while others are rare or even isolated, as we shall see later.
4, 4 lég[er], 4s, 4s lég[er]
5, 5s, 5s fort, 5s lég[er], 5t lég[er], 5 e5
8, 8 léger, 8b
Combinations of numbers and letters:
Ac 2 lég[er]
A 2c, A 2, A 2spécial, A 2 lég[er], A 2t,
A 8, Ac 8, A 8 léger, Ac 8 t lég[er], Ac 8
v t lég[er]
Ac 4s t lég[er],
Ac 5s lég[er]
B 5s, B 5 s t lég[er], B 5s lég[er], B 5t,
B 4s t lég[er]
Considering the basic colours (according to us identified by the upper case letters and the numbers), the variants of these (signalled by the lower case letters, such as s for special and by the note lég[er] and the different combinations, one reaches the surprising figure of forty (!) colours used, a fact that makes, on the one hand, the establishment of a hypothesis for the identification of the codes more complex, and on the other hand makes the effort even more important. One could certainly not leave untried the chance to take account of such a chromatic range, establishing coloured versions of those FAI films originally destined to be toned and tinted (it is obviously not possible to reconstruct the colours applied by stencilling), thus obtaining copies that witness – a rare case in the field of early film restoration – to the original indications and production choices, rather than a surviving print in which the colouring bears the uncertainty of the imprecision concerning the procedures used at the time and the decay of the colouring agents and tones.
Identification of the code
Analysing the list of codes placed in relation to the content of the scenes to which these refer, with the editing of these and the narrative logic, and in the light of experience acquired in recent years regarding the colouring used in silent cinema, the formulation of an hypothesis has been reached, based on some fixed points that seem immediately evident.
Above all, it is clear enough how the letters indicate the toning and the numbers the tinting, with relative combinations. The frequency with which some codes recur allows us to put them in relation with the more habitual colours used at the time. The A is thus certainly the sepia toning, while the 5 and 4, being the two most used tints, above all in interior scenes, surely indicate amber/orange and rose.
On the other hand, the narrative logic indicates without a shadow of a doubt that the 2 – alone or in combination with toning A or B – is the colour used for night scenes. Still using narrative logic, it was easy to deduce that the toning G corresponds to green (it is used in few cases and exclusively in exterior shots in woods or gardens, and is coupled only with tinting n. 8) while B refers to the toning blue. Equally one can say for the number 8, whose interaction with A-sepia and B-blue in addition to the content of the scenes where it is applied, lead one to deduce that it indicates yellow.
It only remains at this point to give a colour to number 7, something that proves to be practically impossible, since the code figures only once in the two tableaux of the cell in the finale of Les Carbonari/I carbonari; the adoption of a colour – violet – has been opted for, a colour that would not figure under other codes and that might be very different to the others used in the film, in such a way as to take account at least of the fact that for those two tableaux a colour different to all the others was foreseen, not only from I carbonari but also from other FAI films.
Another question that was not simple was the attribution of pink and amber that, as we have seen, are particularly frequent and above all both used liberally in interior scenes (with artificial light or daylight) and sometimes in daylight-exteriors.
An indirect clue is held in the negative for Le baiser de la gloire/Il bacio della gloria. The negative in our possession shows both identification leaders containing the usual indications described above, and leaders in which the indications have been carefully erased and substituted with wording in English; evidently, at a later period to the printing of the prints in the French laboratory, the negative had been sent to England for printing and to that end the original codes had been substituted with indications written out in full: dye rose, light green. Here, some interior scenes are indicated as 4s lég[er] and analogous scenes have the indication Rose. As the presence of the code and the English name are never given together, the proof cannot be definitive, above all when considering the fact that in the rest of the film the English colours are evidently simplified and do not correspond to the usual practice – or style, or logic, if you prefer – evident in the other FAI films. Consider for example that almost the whole film, including the long battle sequence in the desert between Italian bersaglieri and Libyan warriors, is tinted in light green, a choice that is not only curious, but also unheard of in FAI films, where certainly an 8-yellow or an orange would have been preferred.
Holding this “English” clue as poorly relating to the truth, a more careful analysis of the scenes indicated by the codes 4 and 5 was undertaken, with the aim of finding a new more conclusive clue. The tableau number 29 of the film La modèle/Flora la modella (1916) shows a man and a woman in front of the fireplace, with the colouring code 4s; at the point where the man lights the fire, the scene is interrupted and recommences with 29bis, with 5s fort colouring, to indicate the light from the flames; from that point on, the rest of the long scene takes place in the same setting – but far from the fire – is tinted 5s lég [er]. In short, the special wad fort version of tinting 5 is held ideal for representing the light produced by flames of a fire, and in the léger version is ideal for the diffuse light of a fire when if s not in shot. At this point it remains to identify what is the colour identified by 5. Turning to the literature of the time we have been able to find two interesting references. First of all the “famous” list of pre-coloured film produced by Kodak and also adapted to sound films, described in the article Tinted Films for Sound Positives (Lloyd Jones in. Vol. XIII, no. 37) to which reference is often made as it offers psychological interpretations for the use of different colours (Characterization of the Seventeen Tints). Here no. 5 Firelight is a soft yellow-orange, which is “suggestive also of illumination emanating from an open fire”, that is to say exactly as in our shot. The reference from Lloyd poses, however, according to us, two types of problem, the first is the date; the list of colours and the proposed associations refer to 1929, that is to a period in the history of the colouring of silent films that has little in common with 1916, both from the point of view of the aesthetics of colour and of laboratory practices. The other doubt is that it is very difficult that a soft yellow-orange can be considered the reinforced and intensified version (fort) of a base colour orange-amber.
We therefore turned to a text of 1911, amongst the first to deal with the colouring of positives published as Handbook of Kinematography in the English; here the author, Colin Bennett, also occupied with the task of suggesting the most appropriate colours for different narrative situations, refers to a “firelight effect” obtained with a solution of Eosin, a colouring agent tending towards rose.
In this second case, 1911 appeared to us a nearer period to the colours and procedures of the FAI, and the probability decidedly more likely that a rose (5) in its special and fort versions – hypothesising thus that it tends towards red – could be used to indicate the flames of a fire. Therefore, at the risk of error, and with a few precautions – also in the light of deductions from other similar scenes – we have decided to opt for 5 as rose and 4 as amber.
With the aim of completing the list of colours and their codes, there still remains the analysis of the problem of variants. It is useless to start by saying that it was impossible for us to securely identify any of the variants indicated by the codes, with the absolute lack of objective checks. We do not, in fact, have positive print references, we do not know the formulae or the colouring agents on the basis of which Pathé carried out colouring and toning (the only information one can call on is the manual Le film vierge Pathé, published only in 1926 and thus useless); even if we were to know the base formulae, we would not have, anyway, access to the “variant” formulae (in what they differ: concentration?, time?, in acidity?,…).
As one deduces from the list, the variants are numerous; some are easily identifiable léger, fort, others obscure (spécial), others completely incomprehensible (t léger is maybe très léger, but what is v t léger? Or 2t, 2c). Furthermore, an interesting fact is that the variants seem to appear in a given period in the history of the FAI films; La mort civile of 1910, for example, has only basic colours (8, 2, A, 4), while already the films of 1912 show a distinct variety.
It was, therefore, decided to take into consideration the existence of these variants of the base colours, creating different tonalities for tinting and toning in such a way as to obtain prints that might be able to reproduce, if not the original colours, at least the articulation of the original colours, a fact that appeared to us of notable importance in the study of colour in the silent cinema.
From the notes published here, we believe that it is clear that the entire job of reconstruction of the codes and thus the production of tinted and toned copies is both highly hypothetical and to be considered to all effects as a work in progress open to revision and correction when new data and research becomes available.
As already stated previously, the intention that convinced us to press ahead, even considering the uncertainty of the available data, has been that of providing to the audience, researchers and historians the chance to study how tinting and toning might have been used in the Film d’Arte Italiana, not based on prints more or less decayed, but from the indications of the process. While accepting the possibility that the colours may not be exactly those chosen at the time, or that there may have been an error in the interpretation of the code (always a possibility, given the scarceness of data), the fact remains that the colour prints of the FAI films can testify to at least two important elements. On the one hand it is possible to go back to the use of colours within each film (passages between different tinting, between tinting and toning, and between different toning), and trace the evolution in the use of colouring in different years of production; on the other hand it is possible to check when, within the same film, it was felt necessary to change the base colours, introducing variants that had no doubt have a desired value and meaning.
Finally, the restoration of the colours in the Film d’Arte Italiana films, and the data collected in this work, poses – we believe – completely new problems to film restorers. In most recent years, the increasing use of techniques enabling us to “restore” (i.e. to modify according to film restorer’s judgement, knowledge, and, also, personal taste and aesthetics) the colours of the silents, against decay or process mistakes occurred at the time – I mainly refer to the so-called Desmetcolor system and the re-born attention to re-creation of old techniques of colouring – is continuously posing new problems. To have the possibility of “restoring” a colour to its original characteristics of hue, and saturation, implicitly implies to know what the characteristics of that particular colour were at the time when the film was first produced. A chemical answer to this problem – analyses of colours survived on the prints, identification of the original dyes, etc – is still far to be reached successfully. Also, the attempt to rely on the technical literature of the time, is often frustrated: there are long periods in film technology history, for which we have little or incomplete information, and, more dramatically, what we can find on literature is always “how thing should have been done”, not “how things were really made”; i.e. theory is far away from laboratory practice, as everyone knows.
In this context, the FAI films add even more confusion. Let’s imagine that we come across a positive print of a FAI film where two adjacent shots are tinted yellow, and the two yellows are different. The narrative logic (our narrative logic) tells us that the yellows should be the same; the literature of the time describes how to produce one yellow, giving probably a precise formula, so we must assume that the difference in saturation or hue is due to a mistake in process, or to a different fading. What we know now from FAI, is that Pathé lab deliberately chose and used three different yellows, according to a colouring system, and an aesthetic that is hard to understand for us, mainly because we do not have enough data (i.e. enough films properly restored in colours, or enough non-film sources) to study and to understand.
Somehow, FAI films tells us a different story, made by subtle changings in colours, careful choices and careful handling of film materials in order to produce a final result that could be uneven and inconsistent in itself, but that was meant to be able to produce a precise balance among different colours and different variants of the same colour (within the same film or in several films), all of them chosen according to a system that we must penetrate in order to understand colours in the silent. Only by doing so, we could finally get to the point of making hypotheses about how to restore the colours and their function in the film. As in other field of restoration (painting, e.g.) we are at a point where we must acknowledge that is not the correspondence between each single colour with the original that is so crucial, as the relationships between the different colours and their different shades in the creation of the complete film.”
(Mazzanti, Nicola (1998): The Colours of the Film d’Arte Italiana. 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. 141-146.)
“Lorsqu’on n’a à tirer d’un négatif qu’un nombre très restreint de positifs, le coloriage à la main est le seul pratiqué. Mais, le plus souvent, les éditeurs de films tirent de chaque négatif un grand nombre de bandes positives, et il ne serait pas pratique de recommencer le même travail pour chaque exemplaire. On économise la main-d’œuvre, et l’on gagne du temps, en effectuant le coloriage au patron.
Ce terme désigne, en impression, une feuille de tôle mince, de carton ou de toute autre matière, dans laquelle est découpée la forme delà surface qu’il s’agit de recouvrir de couleur, et tout le monde a vu les emballeurs marquer des caisses en y appliquant une plaque ajourée sur laquelle ils frottent rapidement une brosse garnie d’encre.
Pour colorier un film au patron, on commence par en tirer quelques positifs, autant qu’il y a de teintes à employer. Supposons, pour simplifier, que les couleurs soient réduites à trois : le bleu, le jaune et le rouge. La bande qui doit servir de patron pour le bleu sera découpée, à l’aide d’un instrument tranchant, de manière à en enlever toutes les parties qui doivent recevoir la couleur bleue : par exemple, dans un paysage pris par un temps serein, l’emporte-pièce découpera tout le ciel. On enlève de même, sur le second film, les parties correspondant au jaune, et, sur le troisième, celles qui sont réservées au rouge. On plonge les trois bandes ainsi découpées dans l’eau chaude, afin d’en enlever la gélatine, et elles sont prêtes pour la distribution des couleurs.
Le premier film à colorier est mis en contact, du côté gélatine, avec le patron du bleu, de façon que leurs perforations coïncident, et les deux bandes ainsi accolées sont placées sur la machine à colorier : des rouleaux d’entraînement, dont les dents pénètrent dans les perforations, les amènent sous un rouleau souple imprégné de couleur bleue, ou sous une sorte de vaporisateur qui projette la couleur en minuscules gouttelettes. Dans un cas comme dans l’autre, la couleur ne peut atteindre l’image que sous les parties ajourées du patron, et le coloriage des images successives s’accomplit à la fois très vite et très régulièrement. Quand le film tout entier a défilé dans la machine à colorier en bleu, on le sépare du premier patron, on l’applique contre le second, et l’on fait passer les deux bandes dans la machine à colorier en jaune. On procède de même pour l’impression du rouge, et l’on obtient ainsi des résultats assez intéressants, mais qui ne font point perdre de vue le but à atteindre, c’est-à-dire les couleurs automatiquement reproduites à l’aide d’opérations purement photographiques.”
(Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on pp. 162-163.) (in French)
“Albert Wulffers: For me, looking at these films, and at the primary colours in more recent films like Godard’s MADE IN U.S.A.,1 or Derek Jarman’s BLUE,2 there’s not so much meaning in these colours. It doesn’t really add anything to what I see. If I make a distinction between tinting and toning on the one hand, and hand painting and stencilling on the other, then having been trained as a graphic designer, I don’t find tinting and toning very interesting, they don’t really add much to the image. Tinting, to me, is like what you do in graphic design when you’ve only got enough money for black-and-white printing, so to make it a little more fancy you use red paper. For me these films are like a soccer-club or church magazine. In high-school they made our ‘blackboards’ green, because it was supposed to be better for our eyes, but this didn’t change the information on the board, for me it was still a blackboard; changing the colour only changes the mood.
Toning is a bit different. When I see a black-and-white film toned in some colour I have a feeling of incompleteness, because as soon as I see a black-and-white image in blue, I miss all the other colours. In a way, I have all those colours in my head. With one colour it’s like one of the four different plates you make when you’re printing a poster — that’s the feeling I get when I see toning. I like hand-colouring and stencilling much better. Here again, there’s a further distinction between the more realistic stencilling you see in travelogues, where they try to make the image more like what we see with our own eyes, and the more artificial approach you get in more theatrical images, which I like best of all. It’s a technique I could myself imagine using in a film, because by putting a colour in one particular place you can introduce more framing within the overall frame that’s already there. You get this in painting, in a Warhol portrait or a Leger canvas. Leger dissociates the colour from the contours in a drawing, so it’s linked to the black-and-white image but still an independent element. That’s the sort of thing you can do with stencils.
1 MADE IN U.S.A., France/Italy 1967
2 BLUE, Great-Britain 1993″
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 56-57.)
“The silent era witnessed innumerable attempts, applying widely varying levels of technical sophistication, to show films in colours. Such attempts fall into two major categories: ‘natural’ or photographic methods depending on the mechanical combination of two or three differently coloured but otherwise identical monochrome images on the celluloid or screen (in systems such as Kinemacolor, Dufaycolor and Kodacolor, to mention some betterknown examples), and applied colour methods, in which a black-and-white print was treated in some way with coloured dyes after photographic processing. The applied colour systems comprise hand-painting, stencilling, toning and tinting. The Workshop focused mainly on these techniques, partly because they are far better represented than early photographic colour in the archive of the Nederlands Filmmuseum, but perhaps more importantly – a virtue of this necessity – because they jointly present the full range of early colouring from black-and-white and the varieties of whole-image monochrome to complex local and multiple colours. Hand-painted and stencilled images, owhich are particularly resistant to casual or stereotypical interpretations of early coloured film, have too often been overlooked or marginalized in early film history. To disregard stencil colouring is, moreover, virtually to disregard an entire genre – the feerique – and a significant part of the output of such studios as Pathé and Gaumont.
The variety in colours found on early films is also, finally, a result of their instability. The Nederlands Filmmuseum has a certain reputation for its preservations of silent coloured films. But no preservation process is ‘perfect’ (whatever exactly that might mean to different people) and we wanted, among other things, to demonstrate to participants of the Workshop (and eventually, to readers of this book) that any process of preserving coloured film on acetate safety stock tense to depart in some measure from the applied colours on the original nitrate prints. We also wished to emphasize that there is more than one way to preserve coloured film and that each method has specific advantages and limitations as a way of reproducing applied colours. The choice of methods partly determines, for example the extent to what, an archivist or technician can choose between reproducing colours as they now appear on the nitrate or as they are thought to have appeared when the nitrate print was in circulation. This consideration itself reflects the fact that applied colours have, from the time of their initial application to the black-and-white positive print, been subject to unrelenting changes occasioned first by the wear and tear of projection in the silent era and then by ageing and decay in the vaults of film archives.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 6-7.)
“Stencil colouring involves a two-step process. First, the stencil must be made from a positive print where the area to be coloured in each frame is cut out; each colour requires a separate stencil – usually no more than six were used. The prints used as stencils must exactly match the black-and-white projection prints to be coloured, with excised areas in the stencil corresponding exactly to the appropriate shapes in the eventual projection print. After each stencil is cut, the photographic emulsion is washed from its surface to provide a clean and inert celluloid template. The cutting was initially performed manually, but between 1907 and 1910 the process was mechanized by using a pantograph. A technician traced out the area to be excised on a magnified projection of each frame, and the pantograph relayed this tracing movement to a needle which cut out the corresponding area in a positive print with a sort of sewing-machine action.
The second step in the process was to colour each projection print with the sequence of different stencils prepared in this way, one stencil for each colour. Initially this also was done manually, with a brush, but the process was subsequently mechanized, using an apparatus in which the stencil, aligned with the black-and-white reel that would eventually become a projection print, passed under a velvet loop or pad constantly fed with dye. Individual stencils were of course used to colour several projection prints; after each run through the colouring apparatus, the stencils were washed before being re-used. We only have a reasonably complete documentation of how the work changed over the years in the case of Pathé, and it is not always easy to differentiate between stencilling and hand-colouring on a nitrate: it is quite difficult to determine whether, say, DANCE OF THE FAIRIES was hand-coloured or manually stencilled. But THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FANS IN THE WORLD was clearly stencilled mechanically. Here, the colours are extremely precise but sometimes ‘out of shape’ because the extensive movements made it more difficult to follow the shapes here than in less ‘dynamic’ fashion films.
Stencilled films are preserved, like hand-coloured films, by being copied onto a colour internegative from which a positive colour print is made. It is not always possible to reproduce all the colours on the nitrate since some colours, especially ‘warmer’ magentas, pinks and so on, are sometimes too faint to register on the colour internegative without distorting the overall spectrum. This is simply a problem with current Kodak colour internegative stock.
Tinting in its simplest and most common form is pretty much like dying clothes. A strip of film is immersed in a solution of aniline dye. Although the film emerges uniformly dyed, only the white areas in each frame – the transparent areas of the processed gelatine emulsion from which all the silver has been removed – transmit the colour of the dye. The blacks remain black, transmitting no light before or after absorbing the dye, while the intermediate greys are tinted in various degrees. Tinting therefore reduces contrast, and a black-and-white positive that is to be tinted should be printed with higher contrast than a positive intended for black-and-white projection.
Toning is a sort of converse process, or range of processes, in which the print to be coloured is bathed in a chemical solution that either converts the black silver in the emulsion directly in a differently coloured material or into a material which fixes coloured dye when the treated print is subsequently immersed in a dye solution. The density of the new colour depends on the amount of silver or darkness in any particular area of the original black-and-white image.
Tinted or toned nitrates are preserved, like hand-coloured or stencilled films, by transferring the image to a colour internegative then taking a positive print. By constantly referring to the original nitrate, one tries to obtain a spectrum as close as possible to the tinting or toning on the nitrate, though, as I have already noted, the nature of modern positive and internegative colour stock makes an exact reproduction almost impossible. It is very difficult, for example, to reproduce the difference between tinting and toning on safety stock, since the colours produced by nitrate tinting in the whites tend to be lost in the NFM process of transfer to safety stock. Thus an NFM acetate reproduction of a tinted nitrate has the same ‘white’ whites as a toned nitrate. Another problem is that the ‘black-and-white’ of colour stock isn’t really black and white, since the black always has a blue or brown ‘tone’.
Tinting and toning were sometimes combined in one strip of film – tinting was also sometimes combined with stencilling. Thus, in WINDMILLS THAT CHEER AND WEEP, a sunset scene has been toned blue then tinted pink. The darker areas are variably toned and the lighter areas tinted, giving a blue landscape under a pink sky. The preservation of this shot posed the problem we encounter preserving the pinks in stencilled films: it’s sometimes impossible to transfer very light pink tinting to acetate stock without unacceptably distorting the colour in toned areas.
Toward the end of the twenties – the beginning of the sound era – colouring positive prints became less common. Tinting and toning were said to interfere with the optical soundtrack laid down on the initial black-and-white positive print, but manufacturers introduced new dyes to reduce this effect, along with pre-tinted positive stock. The problem is in fact completely removed in our preservation process by transferring the soundtrack of tinted talkies onto black-and-white negative stock, while the images are copied onto colour internegative stock. So maybe today we have better sound than the original audiences.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 12-14.)
“Mark-Paul Meyer: Archivists are constantly confronted with the problem of whether they should preserve a film just as they find it – in this case, whether to restore the colours. Of course, more knowledge of the techniques of the teens and twenties would be a great help in restoring these films. The general approach of archives has been, and still is, to restore the print as found in the vaults. The questions for the scholars are: should we restore the colours; should we do research on the faded dyes; and when a film or a shot was blue but has become black-and-white, should we give it a new blue tinting? These are the questions archivists have to deal with all the time. And I would like to know what scholars think: should we preserve these films just as we find them, or should we try to get as close to the original as possible?
Tom Gunning: One of the issues here, the difference between film and painting, turns precisely on the idea of a unique original – physically unique – which is there in painting, but probably not in film. For Walter Benjamin, the difference was that the traditional arts had the aura of such unique originals, but the mechanically reproduced arts didn’t, and he felt in fact that this was a revolutionary aspect of art in the modern age. What is interesting now, after another fifty, sixty years of film, is that we approach it as preservationists. We begin to feel there’s something rather unique about certain prints, which ought to be preserved. But we’re still stuck in a land of paradox, because what are we preserving? We have a different mindset from say twenty or even forty years ago, when a film was supposed to have a kind of unique, aesthetic essence. Now we have the idea that a film has many variants, that it is important to look at different prints, and that a number of things, which were considered just simple additions, are now increasingly considered important. Musical accompaniment, for instance, has become more and more important. Part of the paradox is that maybe it’s an impossible quest for historians to try to get back, not so much to the original object, as to the original experience. It’s very interesting when people see colour, they very often ask ‘How did the audience experience it?’ Which, of course, we don’t know. There’s a sense of wanting to completely recreate a film. It’s a fine ambition, fuelling so much research and knowledge, but it’s somewhat paradoxical, because what we’re trying to recreate is something that can never be completely recreated. To respond to Mark-Paul Meyer’s question, my feeling as a scholar, bracketing money issues, is that ideally I would like both his alternatives: for the print to be preserved with all the marks of time and history on it as a unique object, and at the same time for there to be another print that we would try in some sense to restore. Preservation and restoration are both important, though preservation is probably primary.
Sabine Lenk: Mark-Paul Meyer’s question is very difficult, because as a historian working in an archive, I’d like to get as close as possible to the original. You could use the manuals produced by Kodak, Gevaert, Agfa, Pathé, which often give samples of colours, in order to get as close as possible to the original colours. But what is ‘the original’ if, as so often, you have several prints? Watching these films today, it was sometimes a relief to see parts in black-and-white, because these colours all the time can get very tiresome. The problem is that colours, especially tinting, leave a very hazy image, and I find myself wanting sharper contrasts. Sometimes, seeing a very sharp black-and-white picture is like relaxing my eyes.
Daan Hertogs: One important thing that Giovanna Fossati mentioned was the consciousness that when the original colours were applied, they were not meant to last. In other words, from the very beginning colours were condemned to a process of decay. So we should ask ourselves how the technical knowledge of the teens and twenties can be used for researching these films.
Peter Delpeut: Sabine Lenk also mentioned something important, which is taste. Can our personal appreciation of colour – what we like or don’t like – be introduced into the discussion? I’d like to ask Mark-Paul Meyer, for example, whether he’s ever tempted in a preservation just to bring in a colour he likes, and to say: why bother about authenticity, it makes a beautiful print?
Mark-Paul Meyer: Sometimes we do something like that. Often you know, or you have a quite clear idea, about the colour a scene should be, but sometimes you have to guess and invent. In DAMNED BE WAR, for instance, we decided not to colour a black-and-white sequence. First, because the context of the sequence was stencilled and we could not of course apply the stencilled colours frame by frame; secondly, just before the sequence there was a black-and-white photograph, and we thought it wouldn’t be too visually disturbing to leave the black-and-white. But a later sequence in the film, the throwing of the bombs from the airplane, comes from the same black-and-white print, and we tinted it blue, because the immediately preceding and succeeding shots were blue. We also added colour in various other places, because you appreciate the film better when you’re not being disturbed by black-and-white fragments.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 18-19.)
“William Uricchio: Seeing the colour systems next to one another, what’s striking is the breadth of colour systems, the breadth of colour effects, the range of uses to which colour is put over an extended period. Having a very impressionistic feeling for this, I wondered about a couple of things. I’m curious about the range of colour effects we’ve seen – a range of technical systems and visual effects that cover a relatively long period during which, within many national cinemas, there’s a standardisation of certain dramatic forms, certain camera techniques, yet so many variations in colouring. Giovanna Fossati, have you found patterns in this, patterns differentiating genres, patterns differentiating particular producers – Pathé versus Vitagraph, say – patterns across time, say 1912 versus 1922?
Giovanna Fossati: From what I’ve seen in the archive here, I’d say that with stencilling there are patterns within production companies. There’s a difference between Gaumont stencilling and Pathé stencilling. But I haven’t really noticed any characteristic patterns in tinting and toning.
Daan Hertogs: As for patterns over time, with fiction films, I wondered whether narrativity becomes so strong in the twenties that the range of colour effects common in the teens just cannot be used anymore. I discovered in a manual that in the twenties a lot of films were printed on pre-coloured stock. Only about twelve colours were available, although that doesn’t prevent you from using blue for a love scene, but somehow the limited number of colours shows that conventions were stricter than in the teens.
Peter Delpeut: Watching these coloured silent nitrate prints over four or five years in the archive, my very disturbing experience was that I could find no recipe, no hidden theory, no codes that applied to all the films I saw. This was very disturbing because we’re always looking for logic, for codes, but I simply couldn’t find any. Every film is a new experience and any code you find in one film is broken in the next. This is what we found in the archive and this is why colour poses such a big problem. Because when you’re working through all these films it would be so nice to have recipes and codes to fall back on when you have to make decisions.
Nicola Mazzanti: In the archives and in the labs, where we decide about the colours, as Peter Delpeut once said, ‘we are editing film history’. This is absolutely true, and I always keep this in mind as I work on preserving films. We are actually editing film history, we are doing a job which will influence the future. And this is very tempting and dangerous ground when you’re working with colour. Colour in the silents, but also in the sound era, is completely unstable ground. Colour is ‘unstable’ from the very beginning, because the aesthetics on which colour in the silents is based, is a complicated mix of factors reflecting production, distribution, audience appeal, and sometimes even some colour theory that must have been somewhere in a director’s head, for him to leave precise colour plans for a film. We have several examples of very precise colour plans, not just mentioning green, say, but ‘green number five’, or colouring the intertitles to match the preceding or succeeding scene. Colours were sometimes changed for distribution in other countries – some Italian and French films were given a different set of colours for exhibition in England. So there must have been someone whose job it was to choose the right colours for England. For distribution in a peripheral country or market, you’d have a different set of colours; toning and stencilling would be replaced by simple tinting. Actually, tinting a film is still, like toning, a hell of a job. At the end of the day you’re completely yellow, or blue, or green; it’s expensive, and the aniline dyes are poisonous. So you need a very good reason to colour a silent film, you didn’t just do it because you liked the colours. Colours are literally unstable, too. In the NFM print of The Lonedane Operator the blue is stronger at the left and right margins simply because the light of the projector has faded the colour in the centre of the nitrate print. And in a tinted film the colour at the beginning of a 300-metre reel is usually different from the colour at the end. There was just no way of getting the colour even right through the film. I’m not talking about fading here, but simply noting that after you’ve tinted 5,000 feet of film in one dye bath, and edited a reel, then a shot from an early phase of the colouring process may end up beside a shot from the end of the process, and they will be a different colour.
Then there are the problems of restoration associated with Peter Delpeut’s remark that we can never find the code, or rather, that there is no code, or there are hundreds of different codes or patterns for melodrama, for documentary, and so on. Some production companies definitely did follow patterns – Film d’Arte Italiana stencilled more or less systematically, as did Pathé, for some genres, but more work has to be done on this.
We have to preserve what we have now, and very often we don’t know exactly what this is, just how faded a certain colour is, say. If we see from the margins that the blue in The Lonedane Operator was a certain shade, then we have to restore that blue to the faded centre of the image too. If there’s evidence that one particular shot was in black-and-white, then we have to print it in black-and-white. If we can reproduce tinting and toning differently, then we have to do that. In STRAIGHT SHOOTING1 for instance, there’s just one toning, but if you lose it you lose the film. It’s in the shot where Harry Carey changes his mind, crying at the graveside, and turns into a good guy. This is emphasized by the toning, it’s the only toned shot in the whole film. Make it tinted, or make the rest toned, and he’ll remain a bad guy right through the film.
1 STRAIGHT SHOOTING, United States (Universal) 1917, Dir. John Ford.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 23-25.)
“Paul Read: We’re all constantly investigating how to reproduce the sort of results produced by these old techniques. We’re still some way from that goal – there’s simply no mechanical way of taking a piece of film and exactly reproducing the colour. We can get very close, often at great expense, but we cannot make a facsimile copy. A better line of research is probably to try and reconstruct the old techniques, and literally reproduce the colour in that sense. But that’s not going to be easy and it will take quite some time. We’re working with modern materials, which have been developed for quite different purposes. The materials used in the film industry today are not designed for restoring archival film but for something completely different, and we have to twist and turn them to adapt them to this archival job. It’s going to take some time to get back to the old technology, but that is our fundamental aim.
There are basically four different ways to reproduce any coloured film. First, you can re-film it on colour negative material, and then make a new colour print. This colour-internegative technique, or direct photographic reproduction, is the standard method in most archives and is the method currently used by the Nederlands Filmmuseum. The problem with this approach is that you’re simply copying the present state of the colours, after various degrees of fading. You don’t get any sense of the saturation that might have been there originally.
A second approach is to try and reproduce the original saturation. One technique uses colour film as the print stock. If you expose the nitrate to a black-and-white negative, you can either print a black-and-white image or a monochrome image of any colour you like by using filters in the printer – this is effectively a form of toning. You can also directly expose the nitrate film to colour reversal stock, without using a negative at all, and get whatever colours are possible with the three dyes in the printstock, but this is of course limited by the nature of the dyes available in the final print stock. This approach is relatively inexpensive and can be extremely flexible. The problem here is that somebody has to tell the technicians what colour they want.
The third method is to transfer the nitrate image onto digital tape and then manipulate the signal. You can do that either in a framestore, taking as long as you like, which is very expensive, or you can do it in real time, as you transfer the image onto the tape, which severely limits your range of intervention. In either case, with the tape in the form you want, you still have the problem that somebody has to tell the technicians how the colours should be printed. They then take it back out onto a piece of colour negative and make a print, so that you’re back on film again.
The fourth method is to go back to the original technology and make a duplicate black-and-white negative from your material. You can then make a print which you can tint or tone using the same technology that was used to colour the original material, but the chance of being able to do that properly is very remote, because you’re using modern materials. Yet this is something we should all attempt, if only to better understand the archival material and the old techniques.
Mark-Paul Meyer: This imitation or simulation of the old techniques is used in the Prague archive. They’ve succeeded in tinting and even toning films the oldfashioned way, using black-and-white stock which is immersed in a dye or chemical bath. I recently saw an example of their work, and it comes very close to what you see on nitrate, though there were problems with that particular print. It’s very difficult to get the same density of colour over a whole sequence. They’ve developed a way of tinting a film without making splices by dipping the entire film, but then the changes of colour are sometimes a little inaccurate. This technique is also very difficult and messy, but Noël Desmet from the archive in Brussels has developed a simple alternative method for tinting and toning, which he will now outline, and which has how been adopted by various other laboratories.
Noël Desmet: This technique was developed at the request of Jacques Ledoux, the former head of my archive. He asked me to find a way to preserve colours, preserve the image, that wasn’t too expensive, since then as now there were very limited funds available. This meant I couldn’t use expensive colour internegative stock, and had to rely on black-and-white negative material, but I’d already been thinking about the way newspapers used colour-separation, and wondering whether one could apply this to film. Ledoux was very strict about getting as close as possible to the original, and wasn’t easily satisfied.
We first make a black-and-white internegative on panchromatic stock that is sensitive to all the colours on the nitrate. This black-and-white negative is then collated with the original on a viewing table in order to get the right colours in the right places. I reconstruct the colours of the original at the viewing table by using three strips – magenta, cyan and yellow. This takes quite a lot of adjustment, and you need the right contrast and density on the negative to get a good match. With relatively low contrast you can manipulate the process more easily.
Normally, you run print stock through a printer and expose it with white light. Of course, you can also expose it with light that has a certain colour temperature, for which you’ve worked out the gradations. In essence you can choose any colour. So, if you want a toned image, you expose the positive stock through the negative with the desired coloured light, but if you want a tinted image, you directly flash the positive print. If you want a combination of both, you expose right through the negative to get your toned image, then flash the whole positive image for your tint. This involves further separating the nitrate colour into tinted and toned components, which isn’t easy, but comes with experience.
The actual colouring decisions are not my responsibility, but are made by an archivist or historian. These decisions are very difficult. I could show you dozens of different types of, say, blue toning with a black-and-white internegative. How do you base your decision on the nitrate? First you have to decide how much the colour has faded, then the degree of toning in the original, as the duration of the chemical bath used to affect the character of the result greatly. And the same sort of considerations apply of course to tinting.
Unfortunately, technicians get only one chance to get all this right, because it’s too expensive to make correction prints. We’re not always completely happy with the result, and you should perhaps bear this in mind as you watch these films, because I’m sure that for certain films it would be possible to make better prints.
Mark-Paul Meyer: Thank you. Mario Musumeci from the archive in Rome will now outline the methods used there.
Mario Musumeci: As an example of our work, I’ll take THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII1 We found three different copies; two were only tinted and toned, but the copy we found in London had stencil in some scenes. For the tinting, we made a duplicate black-and-white negative from the original positive print, then made a new positive print on black-and-white stock, which we tried to colour by immersion in an aniline bath. The technicians used the old techniques and did some preliminary experiments colouring fragments of the film in an ordinary washing machine on a very long cycle. It takes some time to work out the right composition and concentration of the dye, and the right setting for the ‘wash’.
For the stencilled sequences of the film we used colour negative stock, but a camera negative rather than an internegative. This is now standard practice at Rome: our laboratory found that camera negative gives softer contrast and a better reproduction of the colours. We’ve also experimented with Ektachrome to reproduce stencilled sequences. It generally gives a very good result, but there’s the problem that, since you’re copying directly onto positive material, you don’t get a negative.
In general, we try whenever possible to use black-and-white rather than colour negative stock for preservation since colour negative fades; another problem with the Kodak internegative stock is that it’s very difficult to reproduce the typical stencil colours.
Mark-Paul Meyer: I’ll now ask Nicola Mazzanti from Bologna to say something about his experience in the archive, where he formerly worked, and their laboratory, where he now works.
Nicola Mazzanti: My experience may help link the work of laboratories and archives, duplication and restoration. Laboratories supply films, documents, for scholars and historians to look at and theorize about. I’d also like to try and link this discussion to what you’ve actually been seeing on the screen, and the question of why we’re so desperate to get as close as possible to the original colour.
I’m acting as a sort of ‘intermediary’, working in a sort of ‘intermediate’ laboratory, somewhere between a commercial laboratory and an archive. The laboratory was set up by the archive, which needed somewhere they could get good preservation work done. It was set up by people like myself who had worked for many years in an archive, and then suddenly found themselves on the other side of the fence. Our aim with coloured silent material was to find a preservation technique that was cheap and could be applied systematically on a large scale to produce results as close as possible to the original material. The key thing is to find a method that doesn’t restrict the range of colour choices in the future, That’s why we have opted for the Desmet method, because when you produce an internegative your interpretation of archival material and the resulting choices will probably determine the appearance of the film in the future, unless some other researcher goes back to the nitrate again in the next twenty or thirty years.
Let me give you some idea of the sort of interpretations and choices we regularly make. You may have the original camera negative of an Italian silent film, with colours indicated on the edges – say, giallo, yellow, for scene number ten. Suppose there’s no positive nitrate print, then you must yourself choose what particular yellow to use. Or you may have a coloured positive print on which the colour indications written on the original negative have been printed onto the positive. And this information may then contradict the colours you actually see on the positive. Or take the specific case of Murnau’s NOSFERATU.2 We had materials from a number of different sources. Most of this material was in black-and-white, but we also had an incomplete coloured print. There must have been a colour change in one scene where the wind blows out the light – the scene would have to become blue. We only had this scene in black-and-white, but we could see where the colour should change, because you could detect on this print where there had been splices in an earlier coloured positive, joining two pieces of nitrate, yellow and blue.
1 GLI ULTIMI GIORNI DI POMPEI / LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, Italy 1926, Dir. Carmine Gaiione, Amieto Paiermi
2 NOSFERATU, Germany (Prana-Film) 1921″
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 71-76.)
“Giovanna Fossati: The simulation of colours on a projection print is not an automatic and neutral process. It is not automatic because there is more than one method available; it is not neutral because the choice of the method affects the result that will appear on the projection print. In other words, choosing a method is the final step in an interpretative process. During the Workshop three different methods were discussed in some detail: the colour internegative method, the Desmet method, and the method of imitating the original tinting and toning techniques. The second and the third methods can only be used for tinted and toned films, while the colour internegative method can reproduce stencilled and hand coloured films as well.
A solarized film is a good example of how the choice of methods affects the result. Solarization is a term used for the chromatic disintegrations that show up on a nitrate film, irrespective of whether an entire sequence is affected or just a limited number of frames. A blue tinting that has turned yellow would for instance be called solarization. Now, the colour internegative method is the only method in which solarizations are inevitably copied from the nitrate to the acetate print. To put it more simply, the colour internegative method is like taking a photograph of the nitrate, with all its damage and decay. The, Desmet method and the ‘imitative’ method, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to copy solarizations. To use the same metaphor, these methods are like taking a black-and-white photograph of the nitrate, then adding colour to the image.
We are dealing here with (at least) two different conceptions of a preservation of a coloured film. One aims at the simulation of colours as they were at the moment of preservation. This conception is exemplified by the colour internegative method. The other aims at the simulation of the colours as they appeared on the nitrate print before being affected by projection and the passage of time (fading, solarization and other forms of decay). This conception is exemplified by the Desmet method and the ‘imitative’ method. While the Desmet method uses an acetate print’s colour emulsion, the ‘imitative’ method in particular reveals a strong desire to recreate exactly what was, or might have been, once there, even to the point of imitating the systems that coloured the prints.
But things, as usual, are more complicated than this. The colour internegative method does not simulate the colours exactly as they now appear on the nitrate print today.1 And the other two methods cannot actually recreate what was there, because it is not possible to determine accurately how the colours appeared, say, eighty years ago. Thus each method suits a certain conception of preservation only potentially. Aid as each coloured nitrate poses different problems, my feeling is, rather, that there is no final solution, no particular method that solves all these problems. Each nitrate print or group of prints may inspire different approaches, in both analysis and preservation. When, for instance, the colours function on a narrative level, it may be necessary to undo such traces of time as solarizations or fadings in order to make the narration intelligible. In the NFM print of THE LONEDALE OPERATOR,2 a blue tinting has faded in most of the frames of the shot in which the heroine switches off the lights in the room to make the bandits think she is holding a gun in her hand. Without the blue her trick fails – for her adversaries as well as for the audience: instead of a gun she’s holding a harmless object – a small monkey wrench – in what is perceived as a fully lit room. To restore narrative comprehension it is necessary here to restore the blue tinting. A different approach is followed with the print of CAPTAIN F.E. KLEINSCHMIDT’S ARCTIC HUNT,3 a great number of travelogue shots have turned into a strikingly antinaturalistic, not to say hellish, red. Instead of trying to recreate the colours as they might have been, retaining these solarizations may well add to the beauty of further projections of the film and would not in itself interfere with the intelligibility of the images. It is important then to remain flexible in the preservation of coloured prints.
Something else has to be kept in mind too, which is that preservation methods are constantly being improved, adapted and occasionally even superseded. Digital preservation is already a possibility, but it is still too expensive to be adopted on a large scale. But as soon as this happens, it will necessitate a lot of rethinking in the area of colour preservation. The method is much more flexible than any other method in use today, allowing digital simulation of a much larger range of colours (although the film will suffer a certain loss of colour quality in performance, through the process of transfer to acetate). With the freedom this offers it is evident that one should have a very clear idea of the result one wants to achieve. For that reason it is very important to explicitly state the interpretation that led to the preservation of a certain print in a certain way.
On the other hand, from the researchers’ point of view, it is important to be aware of what film restoration can actually achieve. I am not implying that film researchers should have detailed knowledge of the technologies involved in film preservation, as long as they are aware of the range of choices, of how preservation methods affect the film in performance, of what film archives and film laboratories do, and, finally, of the materials used, since even contemporary colour film stock ‘already embodies a certain ideology of colour, of certain balances and limits’ as Tom Gunning pointed out during the Workshop.4 It is important to have a clear image of all these factors, because that is the only way to discuss a film performed by the projection print in a critical way.
1 See Session 1 [chapter 1] for some of the limitations of the colour internegative method.
2 Session 1 [chapter 1]: DE DOEDIGE DOCHTER VAN DEN STATIONSCHEF / THE LONEDALE OPERATOR, United States (Biograph) 1911 Dir. D.W. Griffith.
3 Session 5 [chapter 5] IN HET NOORDPOOLGEBIED / CAPTAIN F.E. KLEINSCHMIDT’S ARCTIC HUNT, United States 1924, Dir. Frank E. Kleinschmidt.
4 Session 4 [chapter 4], p. 57.”
(Hertogs, Daan; De Klerk, Nico (1996): Disorderly Order. Colours in Silent Film. The 1995 Amsterdam Workshop. Amsterdam: Stichding Nederlands Filmmuseum, on pp. 87-88.)
“1. LES PROCÉDÉS ARBITRAIRES
Les premières machines à colorier apparurent aux alentours de 1905 chez les grands producteurs (Pathé, Gaumont). Ces machines fonctionnaient sur le principe du pochoir : des ouvrières découpaient manuellement des “réserves” dans des films-matrices, à raison d’une matrice par couleur. Chaque couleur était appliquée par brossage du colorant sur une copie neuve à travers la matrice correspondante. Ces machines seront utilisées (avec parcimonie étant donné leur coût élevé) jusqu’à la fin du muet.”
(Pinel, Vincent (1992): La forêt des techniques. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 17-24, on p. 18. (in French)
“Der Farbige Film. Von Maximilian Maulbecker.
Die Haupttriebfeder allen Vortschritts ist das Ungenügen des menschlichen Willens an dem einmal Erreichten… “so buhlte er fort nach wechselnden Gestalten –”. Kaum hatte die Kinokunst die ersten Gehversuche erfolgreich hinter sich, da begann sich auch schon der Wunsch, der Vater des Willens, zu regen, aus dem eintönigen Schwarzweiß herauszukommen und was in der Natur grün ist, auch im Bilde grün zu sehen. Dem Willen folgte die Tat auf dem Fuße nach, und so wurde uns der kolorierte Film beschert.
Die Technik des Kolorierens der Filme ist eine der allermühsamsten Arbeiten. Wirklich farbige kinematographische Aufnahmen zu machen, ist bisher nicht sehr befriedigend gelungen. Was auf diesem Gebiet gezeigt wurde, wie zum Beispiel die auf Zweifarbenprojektion beruhenden “Kinemakolor”-Filme [Kinemacolor], war nicht sonderlich ermutigend. Man musste daher einen Ersatz suchen durch Kolorieren mit Pinsel und Farbe, also zum “a-posteriori-Verfahren” übergehen. Diese, bei der Kleinheit der einzelnen Bilder (ist doch eine ganze Figur im Filme selten größer als ein Zentimeter) ausserordentlich schwierige Arbeit wurde in letzter Zeit bedeutend vereinfacht, indem man – so paradox es klingt – eine noch schwierigere Arbeit einschaltete.
Man stellte zunächst einige farblose positive Filmbänder her und schnitt nun bei einem diese Filmbänder unter der Lupe mit einem scharfen Messerchen alle jene Stellen heraus, die z. B. dem grünen Laub und Rasen entsprechen. Aus dem zweiten Bande schnitt man alle Himmelspartien aus, die blau werden sollten, aus einem dritten die rosa Gewänder und Fleischpartien, aus einem vierten die gelben Stellen usw. Man hat so für einen bei der Vorführung 10 Minuten dauernden, etwa mit 5 Farben zu kolorierenden Film etwa 50 000 Bildchen, jedes kaum so groß wie ein Markstück auszuschneiden! Ist aber einmal diese endlos scheinende Arbeit ausgeführt, so hat man fünf Schablonenbänder. Man paßt nun eines davon genau mit einem unverschnittenen Positivfilm zusammen und läßt es durch eine Maschine laufen, die den Positivfilm durch die Ausschnitte des Schablonenfilms hindurch grün färbt. So lässt man den Film nach und nach mit jedem der fünf Schablonenfilme zusammen durch die Maschine laufen, bis alle Farben aufgetragen sind. Auf diese Weise kann man rein maschinell beliebig viele weitere gleiche Positivfilme kolorieren.”
(Maulbecker, Maximilian (1919): Der farbige Film. In: Film-Kurier, 25.7.1919.) (in German)
“By the late 1890s, a considerable proportion of films were being hand coloured, in a painstaking process that involved applying paint, frame by frame, to individual images on the exposed film. In a fascinating study of silent film, Usai acknowledges the extraordinary effects that this process could achieve, quoting as an example Georges Méliès’s Le Royaume des fées/The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903), in which colour achieved ‘the sparkling beauty of medieval miniatures’ (Usai 1994: 12). However, the process was very time consuming, necessitating the employment of whole legions of women, armed with tiny paintbrushes, and it was almost impossible to ensure either consistency or precision in the colours themselves. In an attempt to remedy such problems, and to satisfy the growing market for more and longer films, in 1906, the French company Pathé patented a mechanical system of colouring the emulsion, known as Pathécolor. Basically, the process involved the use of stencils that allowed the application of up to six different dyes. While still slow and expensive, this method nevertheless represented considerable progress and could produce excellent results. (For more detailed accounts of the practice and the aesthetic impact of this early technology, see Yumibe, in this volume, also Neale 1985: 115-16, Usai 1994: 12-13, Nowell-Smith 1996: 9.)
Neale, S. (1985), Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Colour, London: British Film Institute.
Nowell-Smith, G. (ed.) (1996), The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Usai, P.C. (1994), Burning Passions. An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema, London: British Film Institute.”
(Everett, Wendy (2007): Mapping Colour. An Introduction to the Theories and Practices of Colour. In: Wendy Everett (ed.): Questions of Colour in Cinema. From Paintbrush to Pixel. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 7–38, on p. 18.)
“As the cinema developed into a mass-production industry, techniques were developed to tint and tone movies by mechanical means. In 1905, Charles Pathé invented the Pathécolor stencil process so that the application of colour in films could be mechanized.”
(Stokes, Melvyn (2009): Colour in American Cinema. From The Great Train Robbery to Bonnie and Clyde. In: Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard (ed.): Cinéma et couleur. Paris: M. Houdiard, pp. 184–192, on p. 185.)
Machine-colored pictures are being produced by Pathé Frères commercially, the present output being at about the rate of one picture released per week. These pictures are properly classified as “hand-colored” because the color apparently is laid upon the film after it has been printed in the regular way. The distinction between hand-colored and machine-colored pictures is not seen in the projected picture upon the screen, and the Pathé product may properly be called hand-colored so far as the resultant picture is concerned. The process of producing the Pathé colored picture is held secret at present, and all of their colored pictures are made in France.”
(Hulfish, David Sherill (1909): Pictures in Color. In: David Sherill Hulfish (ed.): The Motion Picture. Its Making and Its Theater. Chicago: Electricity Magazine Corporation, pp. 41–44, on p. 44.)
Um 1900 erschien Farbe zum ersten Mal im Film, und zwar mit einem Farbverfahren das vor allem in der Dekoration verwendet wurde: der Schablonenkolorierung. Diese Schablonen waren “aus Pappe oder Metall angefertigte Platten, aus denen die einzufärbenden Formen und Figuren ausgestanzt waren; über die Schablonen wurden anschließend die Farbstoffe mit einer Bürste aufgetragen”. Es handelte sich also um eine handwerkliche Technik, die nun für das Kino angewendet wurde. Für jede Farbe wurde eine eigene Schablone entworfen, die sowohl für die feststehenden Elemente der Dekoration wie auch für die sich bewegenden Personen angefertigt und mit der anschließend jede einzelne Filmkopie eingefärbt wurde. Dies war ein zeitlich und finanziell aufwendiges Verfahren, trotz des geringen Lohns, der damals für weibliche Handarbeit gezahlt wurde.
Diese Art der Kolorierung wurde in Frankreich vermutlich zuerst von Georges Méliès angewandt, ihm folgten Charles Pathé und Louis Gaumont. Sie eignete sich besonders für die “Phantasmagorien”, diese kleinen, dem Varieté verwandten Trickfilme mit Teufeln und Tänzerinnen. Sie gehören in den Bereich der Kindheit und des Staunens. Das Kino war die Fortsetzung der wunderbaren Welt der Laterna magica, vermehrt um die Bewegung; aber die Art des Kontaktes zwischen Leinwand und Zuschauer wird die gleiche gewesen sein. Dieses Farbverfahren wurde nur selten für Spielfilme verwendet, das einzige bekannte Beispiel in Frankreich ist der von der Cinémathèque de Toulouse aufgefundene und vom Filmarchiv in Bois d’Arcy restaurierte Film La Sultane de L’AMOUR von René Le Somptier (1919), der zunächst monochrom herauskam und anschließend schablonenkoloriert lief. Aber es handelte sich um ein orientalisches Märchen, das den Charme der Postkarten um 1900 ausstrahlte und bei dem die Farbe ebenso Staunen machen sollte wie bei Méliès.”
(Borde, Raymond (1988): Die Filmarchive und der Farbfilm. Eine Einführung. In: Gert Koshofer: Color. Die Farben des Films. Berlin: Wissenschaftsverl. Volker Spiess, pp. 7–10, on p. 7.) (in German)
“Der Archivar, der heute das mit Schablonen kolorierte Material restauriert, ist mit einer Gewissensfrage konfrontiert. Er steht vor einer naiven und grellen Kolorierung. Er wird beim Kopieren zum Abschwächen der Farben zu uns vertrauteren Nuancen tendieren. Doch hat er das Recht dazu? Die Antwort heißt ohne Zögern: Nein. Selbst wenn man Gefahr läuft, Kitsch herzustellen, fordert die Berufspflicht die identische Reproduktion des Originals. Dies ist bei der Schablonenkolorierung umso einfacher, als es sich um ein Verfahren handelt, dem die Zeit nichts anhaben konnte: die Filme von 1905 sind heute noch so frisch in ihren Farben wie am ersten Tag.”
(Borde, Raymond (1988): Die Filmarchive und der Farbfilm. Eine Einführung. In: Gert Koshofer: Color. Die Farben des Films. Berlin: Wissenschaftsverl. Volker Spiess, pp. 7–10, on pp. 7–8.) (in German)
“Pathe [Pathé], of course, leads the world in artificial coloring, and some of their mechanically colored films d’art rival the hues of Kinemacolor, although, judging from the records of the patent office, we expect soon to see stencil colored films from an American manufacturer. But pigment coloring is of course vastly more expensive than toning and the latter suffices in most cases.”
(Anonymous (1911): Toning and Tinting as an Adjunct to the Picture. In: Moving Picture World, 8, 18.3.1911, p. 574.)
“During the months of August through October, 1905, one of the most popular films on Keith’s circuit of “high-class” vaudeville theaters in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States was Pathé’s The Wonderful Album. According to the Keith theater managers’ reports, this “beautifully colored” film was “heartily applauded” in Boston and judged so “excellent” that it was “held over for a second week” in New York.1 The surviving NFTA print (which, unfortunately, could not be shown at this conference) offers some sense of The Wonderful Album‘s appeal as an early example of Pathé’s unique stencil-color process, a process that set many of the company’s films apart from those of its competitors in both the United States and Europe.
1 See the Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatre, New York (21 and 28 August 1905), Philadelphia (4 September 1905), Providence (18 September 1905), and Boston (2 October 1905)-Keith-Albee Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Library, Iowa City, Iowa.”
(Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on p. 56.)
“The impact these French color films were having on a range of audiences in the United States was significant enough by the spring of 1904 that some American manufacturers and sales agents began to seize on them as a promotional device. In April, for instance, Harbach & Co. of Philadelphia was one of the first to advertise “original ‘Pathé-Frères’ ‘films’,” calling attention to their color titles and intertitles as a sure sign of quality.11 A month later, Sigmund Lubin (also in Philadelphia) was announcing “colored films” as his own “new discovery.”12 Yet many of the films Lubin offerred for sale were Méliès and Pathé titles apparently duped in black-and-white and then either hand-colored or perhaps even roughly tinted. By summer’s end, and in preparation for the upcoming vaudeville season, not only was Kleine Optical (headquartered in Chicago) claiming that “feature films” (including Pathos) were in “great demand,” but both George Spoor’s Film Rental Bureau and Eugene Cline (also located in Chicago) were promoting “foreign” color films (again, all Méliès and Pathé titles).13 Yet, if French films were being lauded for their finely crafted color effects, differences between Méliès and Pathé also were emerging. Both companies seem to have shifted around this time to a stencil process, similar to that used in chromolithography,14 by which “colorists” (all women) could apply up to three different colors within a single film frame, with greater precision and uniformity.15 Pathé, however, used stencil-color on a much wider range of films; moreover, as early as May 1903, the company had innovated the practice of adding tinted titles and intertitles to all its films (whether colored or not), titles bearing large red block letters as well as a “red rooster” logo in each bottom corner of the frame.16 A full range of color effects, in other words, was becoming a distinctive Pathé trademark.
Recognizing the demand for its films on the American market, the French company finally opened its own sales office in New York in late August 1904.17 At the same time, Pathé arranged for Kleine Optical to serve as its principal sales agent in Chicago.18 These parallel moves were well timed to stimulate and take advantage of new exhibition openings during the 1904-1905 season, especially now that the venue of “ten-cent” or “family” vaudeville houses was expanding rapidly along the West Coast and into the Midwest Pathé ads in the New York Clipper not only offered stencil-color films in a variety of genres but complemented them with 47″ X 63″ “imported color posters.”19 Much like Méliès, the company also continued to describe these films as “hand-colored,” in a marketing strategy which invested its mass-produced commodities with the cultural capital of “individual artistry.” Short trick films like Fireworks or A Butterfly’s Metamorphosis were “hand-colored” throughout, for instance, whereas a biblical film like Joseph and His Brethren culminated in a final multi-color scene.20 Such Pathé titles continued to be well received on the Keith circuit: in Boston, for instance, audiences watched stencil-color versions of both the sensational melodrama, The Strike (in December), and the “beautiful” historical film, Louis XIV (in January), “with deep interest.”21 But the company’s stencil-color prints also drew “big crowds” elsewhere: witness its 1903 Passion Play, which closed the 1904 summer season at one of Kansas City’s amusement parks and played a family vaudeville house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the week of Christmas.22 With only one Méliès title, The Impossible Voyage, gathering comparable notices during this period,23 Pathé now seemed to enjoy something close to a monopoly in supplying stencil-color films on the American market.
As I stated in my opening, the summer and fall of 1905 was a crucial moment in the development of American cinema, chiefly for a marked expansion in the exhibition market. Although that expansion occurred in amusement parks and the growing circuits of family vaudeville houses, it was perhaps most notable in the new venue of permanent storefront theaters or nickelodeons emerging in large cities from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to Cleveland and Chicago. Elsewhere, I have argued that by this time, Pathé had become the principal supplier of moving pictures for this expanding market, but I have not insisted enough on the importance of its stencil-color films.24 Throughout August and September, for instance, many Keith theaters showed almost nothing but Pathé films on their programs. And here the company’s color films were unusually prominent. These ranged from trick films like The Language of Flowers and A Stunning Creation (in Boston) to comic chases like Two Young Tramps and actualités like Scenes at Steel Mill (in Philadelphia).25 The most remarked on of these throughout the Keith circuit, however, was The Wonderful Album, in which a magician produces a halfdozen life-size figures, each in a differently colored costume, out of an enormous album of illustrations for an appreciative spectator.26 Emblazoned on the cover of that album, of course, and suggesting the real source of its magic, was Pathé-Frères’ own name in shimmering gold letters. In other words, this film was nothing less than an advertisement or “heavenly billboard” for the French company and its release was perfectly timed not only to help establish the Pathé trademark as a guarantee of fine film product but, in modern marketing terms, to promote the new “product category” of moving pictures as a whole.27 The “high-class” vaudeville theaters on Keith’s circuit, as well as others, now seemed to serve chiefly as a venue to advertise Pathé titles which could then circulate more widely in the growing number of family vaudeville houses and nickelodeons.
Throughout the 1905-1906 season, Pathé itself gave special attention in trade press ads to its distinctive color films. Some of these like the actualité, Different Hairdresses, the trick film, Fire Cascades, and the comic féerie, Tit for Tat, were stencil-colored throughout28 The grand guignol melodrama, The Deserter, however, was offered in a special tinted print.29 And The Hen with the Golden Eggs included both tinted and stencil-colored scenes.30 Moreover, Pathé received additional support from Kleine Optical (perhaps the largest sales agent in the country) when its November 1905 catalog strongly recommended the French company’s Passion Play as the best version on the American market.31 By spring 1906, Pathé was addressing its ads directly to “moving picture men” and releasing no fewer than three and sometimes as many as six film titles per week, at least one of which was singled out for its stencil-color.32 In one of the initial issues of Views and Films Index, the first trade press weekly devoted almost exclusively to moving pictures, J. A. Berst, Pathé’s New York office manager, now claimed that his company not only “had made a specialty of color films” (employing at least 300 women to produce stencil-color prints in Paris) but “had made a great success of it”33 Several weeks later, Views and Films Index called attention to the expense involved in Pathé’s stencil-color process, which it labelled “mono-tinting,” implicitly praising the effects this process created as far better than those of what it called the “cheap method” of “aniline dye tinting.”34 Based on the evident popularity of its color films, particularly on the American market, Pathé now directed one of its chief engineers, Henri Fourel, to develop a mechanized system for the stencil-color process in order to reduce its costs further and achieve an even greater degree of efficiency and standardization.35
Over the course of the next year, as the nickelodeon market boomed throughout the country, Pathé ads continued to highlight the company’s stencil-color films, even as its production capacity increased to an astounding average of one film title for each day of the week.36 Again, these included trick films from Magic Roses to The Golden Beetle, fairy tales like Aladdin, historical melodramas like The Venetian Tragedy, and a new version of The Passion Play.37 Newly established rental exchanges such as William Swanson & Co. and Laemmle Film Service (in Chicago) began to attribute their own rapid success to their purchases of Pathé films.38 In December 1906, for instance, a Swanson ad in Billboard cited the following testimony from several of its customers: in Duluth, Minnesota, “the hand-colored pictures [brought] applause after applause”; in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the “many Hand-Colored Subjects” helped increase receipts by “over fifty percent.”39 The next summer, Laemmle was advertising Pathé’s stencil-color films such as Harlequin’s Story and Red Spectre as “rattling good attractions.”40 Even Moving Picture World reprinted a Chicago Record Herald article in which someone sounding very much like Laemmle was plugging such French color films as “the greatest advances in the biograph.”41 Indeed, the French company’s biggest selling film that year, as E. H. Montague, the new Chicago office manager, first suggested, turned out to be the new stencil-color version of The Passion Play, whose four reels took a full hour to project.42 In September 1907, the Lyric (in Des Moines) held the film over for an extra week and estimated that it was seen by 13,000 people.43 In November, the Wonderland (in New Orleans) reported that the Pathé film had been running for six weeks (with fifteen shows per day); in December, it even gave several benefit performances for the city’s public school teachers.44 At the same time, the Theatre Royale (in Detroit), which had opened with the Passion Play in August, revealed that over the course of thirteen weeks “nearly 250,000” people had seen the film.45
That fall, Pathé’s financial and technological position seemed secure enough for the company to let Views and Films Index reveal the specific details of its new mechanized stencil-color process.46 As many as three positive prints were made from the film negative and then perforated in such a way as to produce three different stencils, each of which, when passed over rollers, in turn, applied a separate color to a fourth positive, resulting in a final three-color print. […] Stencilcolor was reserved for fairy tales like Ali Baba and The Pearl Fisher, trick films like Wonderful Mirrors, and historical dramas like The Vestal and Don Juan.49 […] However colored, Pathé films continued to be received with enthusiasm, at least given their “headliner” status at the new vaudeville-houses-turned-cinemas in New York. In March and April 1908, for instance, both the Unique and the Manhattan featured Pathé films almost exclusively, from Ali Baba to Christmas Eve Tragedy.51 A month later, in a detailed account of Keith’s 14th Street Theater program, the New York Sun‘s Walter Eaton described the latter film as “a touching domestic tragedy,” made all the more effective by the ballad which followed, “about a forsaken maiden ‘in a village by the sea’.”52
Let me pause here in this historical sketch of Pathé’s color films on the American market, in order to return to, rephrase, and address some questions raised in my opening. David Hulfish’s article, “Colored Films of To-day,” published in the first issue of The Nickelodeon (January 1909), provides a good point of reentry.53 According to Hulfish, there were “three classes of colored picture films” available in the United States at that time: tinted and/or chemically toned, hand-colored, and machine-colored. Machine-colored films were the only one to “exhibit all the colors of nature,” and Hulfish attributed them solely to Pathé. Moreover, the company continued to ship its stencil-color titles from Paris (where the process was fully mechanized thanks to the patents of a M. Méry),54 rather than produce them at its new printing factory in New Jersey, as if to emphasize their “special status.”55
11 See the Harbach & Co. ad in New York Clipper (16 April 1904), p. 188.
12 See the Lubin ads in New York Clipper (7 May 1904), 244, and (28 May 1904), p. 32.
13 See the Kleine Optical ad in New York Clipper (20 August 1904), p. 594; the Eugene Cline ad in New York Clipper (20 August 1904), p. 592; and the Film Rental Bureau ad in New York Clipper (20 August 1904), p. 600.
14 For a good description of the kinds of color lithography developed during the nineteenth century, see Peter Marzio, The Democratic Art: Pictures for a 19th-century America (Boston: David R. Godine, 1979), p. 9.
15 See the Pathé-Frères Catalogue (Paris, août 1904), 8; J. Marette, “Les Procédés de Coloriage Mécanique des Films,” Bulletin de l’association française des ingenieurs et techniciens du cinéma, 7 (1950), p. 3; S. Richard, “A Beginner’s Guide to the Art of Georges Méliès,” in P. Cherchi Usai (ed.), A Trip to the Movies: Georges Méliès, Filmmaker and Magician (Pordenone: Edizioni Biblioteca dell’Immagine, 1991), p. 43; and “Le Coloris,” in J. Kermabon (ed.), Pathé, Premier Empire du Cinéma (Paris: Editions Centre Georges Pompidou, 1994), pp. 20-21.
16 The first announcement of Pathé’s tinted red block titles, including the trademark ‘Coq,’ appeared in the Pathé Cinematograph Catalogue (London, May 1903), p. 12. One of the earliest extant prints having a red-block title is Valse excentrique or Eccentric Waltz (1903-1904), at the National Film/Television Archive, London.
17 See, for instance, the Pathé Cinematograph ad in New York Clipper (27 August 1904), p. 613.
18 See, for instance, Kleine Optical, Complete Illustrated Catalogue of Moving Picture Machines, Stereopticons, Slides, Views (October 1904). See, also, Musser, Before the Nickelodeon, pp. 278-279, 482.
19 See the Pathé ad in New York Clipper (21 January 1905), p. 1141.
20 See the Pathé ads in New York Clipper (10 September 1904), p. 664, (31 December 1904), 1072, and (28 January 1905), p. 1161.
21 Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatre, Boston, 5 December 1904 and 16 January 1905.
22 See “Kansas City,” Billboard (3 September 1904), p. 10; and “Iowa,” New York Clipper (31 December 1904), p. 1053.
23 Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatres, Boston (19 and 26 December 1904), Providence (2 January 1905), and Philadelphia (30 January and 6 February 1905). During the period from 1904 to 1906, Georges Mélès seems to have adopted a strategy of producing ever more costly long films, particularly for exhibition at the most respected music halls and café-concerts in Paris. More important, Méliès never industrialized his production and distribution practices as Pathé did. See Abel, The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 19, 157-160.
24 See Abel, “Pathé Goes to Town: French Films Create a Market for the Nickelodeon,” forthcoming in Cinema Journal, vol. 35, no. 1 (Fall 1995).
25 Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatres, Boston (21 August 1905 and 18 September 1905) and Philadelphia (31 July 1905 and 23 October 1905).
26 See, also, Managers’ Reports, Keith Theatres, Philadelphia (4 September 1905) and Providence (18 September 1905).
27 See, for instance, S. Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market (New York: Pantheon, 1989), pp. 34-35.
28 See the Pathé ads in Billboard (21 October 1905), p. 42, and in (20 January 1906), p. 1207, and (17 February 1906).
29 See the Pathé ad in Billboard (27 January 1906), p. 35.
30 See the Pathé ads in Billboard (9 December 1905), p. 34 and in (9 December 1905), p. 1069.
31 Kleine Optical, Complete Illustrated Catalog (November 1905), p. 272.
32 Throughout May and June, Pathé ads in Views and Films Index listed three to six new subjects per week. Slightly later ads flaunted the company’s production of 80,000 feet of positive film stock per day-see, for instance, the Pathé ad in Views and Films Index (4 August 1906), p. 11.
33 “Pathé-Frères: A Chat with Mr. J. A. Berst,” Views and Films Index (19 May 1906), p. 8.
34 “Tinting,” Views and Films Index (9 June 1906), p. 10.
35 See Marette, “Les Procédés de Coloriage Mécanique des Films,” p. 3. Pathé’s first stencil-color machine, developed by Florimond, received a patent on 22 October 1906.
36 See the Pathé ad in Views and Films Index (20 April 1907), p. 2.
37 See the Pathé ads in Views and Films Index (8 December 1906), p. 2, (22 December 1906), p. 2, (2 March 1907), p. 10, and (20 April 1907), p. 2.
38 See, for instance, the Laemmle Film Service ad in Billboard (13 April 1907), p. 33, and the Pathé ads in Views and Films Index (1 June 1907), p. 2, and (13 July 1907), p. 2.
39 See the Swanson ad in Billboard (15 December 1906), p. xv.
40 See the Laemmle Film Service ad in Billboard (31 August 1907), p. 34.
41 See “Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World (11 May 1907), p. 153.
42 See “The Rapper,” Views and Films Index (17 August 1907), p. 8. Pathé issued a special “booklet of forty-four pages, describing their new Passion Play film,” in preparation for the fall season and later offered a large color poster to exhibitors – “Trade Notes,” Views and Films Index (17 August 1907), p. 4, and (5 October 1907), p. 4.
43 See the Lyric ad in the Des Moines Register (29 September 1907), III, p. 7.
44 See “Moving Picture News from Everywhere,” Views and Films Index (7 December 1907), p. 6; and “Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World (14 December 1907), p. 667.
45 See “Moving Picture News from Everywhere,” Views and Films Index (9 November 1907), p. 6; and S. Wire, “The Casino Amusement Co.,” Billboard (23 November 1907), p. 20.
46 “Film Coloring,” Views and Films Index (5 October 1907), p. 3. This revelation was then taken up in a well-known magazine article on early cinema, Joseph Medill Patterson’s “The Nickelodeons,” Saturday Evening Post (23 November 1907)-reprinted in Moving Picture World (11 January 1908), pp. 21-22.
49 See the Pathé ads in Views and Films Index (23 November 1907), p. 2, (7 December 1907), p. 2, (28 December 1907), p. 2, (21 March 1908), p. 2, and (6 June 1908), p. 13. W. S. Bush praised Don Juan as one of several models to follow, in “The Film of the Future,” Moving Picture World (5 September 1908), p. 173.
51 See, for instance, “Moving Picture News and Reviews,” Variety (1 March 1908), p. 12, (21 March 1908), p. 15, and (18 April 1908), p. 13; and “Film Reviews,” Variety (25 April 1908), p. 13.
52 W. P. Eaton, “New Theatrical Problem: Age of Mechanical Amusement,” Views and Films Index (9 May 1908), p. 5.
53 D. S. Hulfish, “Colored Films of To-day,” The Nickelodeon (January 1909), p. 15.
54 Marette, “Les procédés de coloriage mécanique des films,” pp. 4-7.
55 See, for instance, “Pathé-Frères,” New York Dramatic Mirror (14 November 1908), p. 12.”
(Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on pp. 57–61.)
“By the spring of 1907, for instance, where as many as 100,000 people in Chicago attended the cinema each day, the “cheap amusement” of the “5-cent theaters” (now numbering several hundred) was fast becoming “a permanent fixture of municipal life.”75 That May, Views and Films Index attributed this boom in nickelodeon audiences principally to “the patronage [of] women and children.”76 This was confirmed by the Chicago Daily Tribune, which reported that the early evening audiences on Chicago’s lower State Street “were composed largely of girls from the big department stores,” and by Moving Picture World, which observed that nickelodeons everywhere were “great places for the foot-sore shopper” and that “mothers . . . take the children and spend many restful hours there at small expense.”77 That fall, Views and Films Index even concluded that, of the “people who will go to a picture show every day and night if the programme is changed accordingly,” most were “women and children.”78 Assuming such an audience of spectators/consumers, why was it Pathé rather than one or more of its American rivals that produced and circulated the vast majority of colored moving pictures? What would make the middle-class shopper on New York’s Union Square, the immigrant worker on the Bowery, or the white collar saleswoman on Chicago’s State Street, once drawn through a “Bijou Dream” facade into the semi-darkness of a nickelodeon hall, prefer black-and-white American films to Pathé’s stencil-colored or specially tinted-and-toned films?79 How could American film companies hope to prosper if they did not exploit “color and light” as the principal “visual materials of desire”?
Obviously, they did prosper, so what was there that countered Pathé’s successful exploitation of this “commercial aesthetic” of color? I myself, following the lead of others, have pointed to the bitterly contested economic competition which not only pitted one sector of the emerging cinema industry against another but divided American against “foreign” players.80 In short, the formation of the Film Service Association, in late 1907, and its transformation one year later into the Motion Picture Patents Company, had as one of its chief effects curtailing Pathé’s considerable clout within the industry. Yet this difference which privileged the “American” over the “foreign” also was central to the “Americanization” debate which then dominated public discourse in the United States.81 Provoked by fears that the swelling number of immigrants could jeopardize the “Americanization” process of assimilation, that debate had ramifications in the industry’s trade press. There, the competition between American and “foreign” companies and their film products was framed in terms of taste and morality, with the French, and Pathé in particular, often associated with “bad taste” and immorality.82 Tellingly, the Pathé subjects most frequently condemned were grand guignol melodramas which the company offered in special tinted-and-toned prints. Christmas Eve Tragedy, for instance, which Walter Eaton had seen well received by Keith theater audiences in New York, Variety instead found “as well conceived for children as an interior view of a slaughter house” and reprehensible enough to justify censorship.83 In contrast to such films, the trade press sought to promote what were called “clean, wholesome” subjects, in the American tradition of “ethical melodrama” and its “bright, happy denouements.”84 Even Laemmle, usually a stalwart Pathé supporter, began to adopt this position: “Let’s cater more to the happy side of life,” he said in an interview for Show World, “there’s enough of the seamy side without exposing it to further view.”85 By the summer of 1908, Moving Picture World would turn this promotional tactic into a demand for “good, clean, wholesome, national, patriotic, educational films.”86
75 See George Kleine’s 10 April 1907 letter to the Chicago Tribune, printed in Moving Picture World (20 April 1907), p. 102; “Regulation of the Cheap Theaters,” Chicago Record-Herald (2 May 1907), p. 8; “Social Workers to Censor Shows,” Chicago Tribune (3 may 1907), p. 3; and Sherman C. Kingsley, “The Penny Arcade and the Cheap Theatres,” Charities and Commons (8 June 1907), p. 295.
76 “The Propriety of Some Film Subjects,” Views and Films Index (11 May 1907), p. 3.
77 See “Nickel Theaters Crime Breeders,” Chicago Tribune (13 April 1907), p. 3; and “The Nickelodeon,” Moving Picture World (4 May 1907), p. 140. Similarly, a Chicago manager for Eugene Cline offered this simple strategy as a rule for the industry: “better business in the long run” came to those theaters patronized by “ladies and children” – see F. C. McCarahan, “Chicago’s Great Film Industry,” Billboard (24 August 1907), p. 4.
78 “Editorial,” Views and Films Index (21 September 1907), p. 4.
79 These representative figures are drawn from “Our Head Office Boy Wants to Be a Reporter,” Views and Films Index (25 April 1906), pp. 10-11; and “An Unexplored Field and Its Possibilities,” Views and Films Index (6 October 1906), pp. 3-4.
80 See Abel, “The Perils of Pathé of the Americanization of Early American Cinema,” in L. Chamey and V. Schwartz, (eds.), Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life, forthcoming from University of California Press. See, also, K. Thompson, Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market, 1907-1934 (London: British Film Institute, 1985), pp. 6-19.
81 See, for instance, Herbert N. Casson’s thirteen-part series, “The Americans in America,” in Munsey’s Mazazine, from January 1906 to January 1907; and B. Matthews, “The American of the Future,” The Century Illustrated no. 74 (July 1907), pp. 474-480.
82 See, for instance, L. France Pierce, “The Nickelodeon,” World Today (October 1908) – reprinted in G. Mast, (ed.), The Movies in Our Midst: Documents in the Cultural History of Film in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 56.
83 “Moving Picture News and Reviews,” Variety (18 April 1908), p. 13. See, also, H. Leigh, “Exhibitors Are Not Satisfied With Their Bill of Fare,” Moving Picture World (23 May 1908), pp. 454-455.
84 See, for instance, “Editorial: Public Opinion as a Moral Center,” Moving Picture World (11 May 1907), pp. 147-148; “The Melodrama,” New York Dramatic Mirror (1 June 1907), p. 14; and “Public Taste in Pictures as Viewed by M. E. Fleckles,” Show World (7 September 1907), p. 9.
85 “Moving Picture Industry Great,” Show World (29 June 1907), p. 29.
86 J. B. Law, “Better Scenarios Demanded,” Moving Picture World (29 August 1908), pp. 153-154.
(Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on pp. 63–64.)
“During the last few decades of the nineteenth century, the chromolithograph or “chromo” circulated so widely – in cheap art reproductions, magazine ads, comic strips book covers, posters, mail order catalogs, and other illustrations – that the United States, according to Peter Marzio, came to be dubbed the “chromo-civilization.”96 That began to shift in the 1890s when chromolithography rapidly gave way to half-tone photo-engraving. This new process allowed photographs to be reproduced on cheap paper (usually in black-and-white) and radically transformed newspaper and magazine journalism, where the photo now served to “guarantee” accuracy and authenticity.97 This change, Harris writes, had the effect of creating new “categories of appropriateness” which gave certain kinds of visual reproduction more value than others.98 It was bad enough that “chromos” sold in the millions, but they also became inextricably tied to women and children (many, for instance, decorated the walls of middle- and lower-class homes).99 Although “chromos” could be exceptional in quality, many were not; as a consequence, the term soon came to stand for all that could be labelled either “feminine,” vulgar and debased, or simply old-fashioned in early mass culture.100 These “categories of appropriateness” may well have played a role in trade press efforts to limit the reception of Pathé’s color films, around 1908-1909, particularly in contrast to the widespread valorization of Charles Urban’s Kinemacolor, based on a new technology (or “scientific” discovery) of reproducing moving pictures in “natural color.”101
96 P. C. Marzio, The Democratic Art: Pictures for a Nineteenth Century America (Boston: David R. Godine, 1979),, p. xi.
97 Harris, Cultural Excursions, pp. 305-306, 340. See, also R. Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Atheneum, 1992).
98 Harris, Cultural Excursions, p. 307.
99 Marzio, The Democratic Art, pp. 116-128: and Harris, Cultural Excursions, p, 322.
100 Even in France, by the 1880s chromo meant “vulgar” – see, for instance, H. Beraldi, Les Graveurs du XIXe Siècle (Paris: Libraire L. Conquet, 1888), quoted in Marzio, The Democratic Art, p. 209.
101 See for instance, “Cinematography in Natural Colors,” Moving Picture World (12 September 1908), p. 197; “Color Kinematography,” Moving Picture World (14 November 1908), p. 375; and “Color Photography Realized,” Film Index (30 January 1909), pp. 11-12, (6 February 1909, pp. 4, 11 and (14 February 1909), p. 5. Neither Urban nor Smith tried to market Kinemacolor in the United States until the following summer – see, for instance, “Urban to Introduce Color Photography on This Side,” Variety (26 June 1909), p. 13.”
(Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on p. 65.)
“Let me conclude by sketching out the trajectory of my research through 1909. Up until at least 1907, Pathé’s stencil-color and specially tinted films not only were unusually popular in the United States but served to promote the “product category” of moving pictures as a whole, especially within the market of nickelodeons. Over the course of the next two years, however, as the company was forced to accept limits in marketing its products, many of its films, including its colored titles, were increasingly marginalized in trade press discourse. In late 1908, for instance, the Mirror restricted its praise of Pathé’s “colored spectacular pictures” to those “telling magic or fairy stories and sometimes religious allegories.”108 Yet it was precisely at that moment that the company began to produce and promote a new line of “art films” (from Film d’Art and SCAGL) and to release most of them in stencil color – in a frankly ostentatious display of French wealth, ambition, and taste. Not unexpectedly, given the “foreign” subjects of these films d’art, their reception in the trade press was guarded or cool, and sometimes even critical.109 More specifically, Variety branded Pathé color films such as Gaul’s Hero as offensive to American standards of good taste, fenced off others into the space of the “feminine,” and tagged still others such as Elastic Transformation, like tarnished billboards, as simply passé.110 After all, the generally accepted objective of the industry during this period was to ensure the dominance of American companies, partly through the promotion of “American subjects” which were imagined to operate in the privileged space of the “masculine.”111
Once the Pathé “red rooster” no longer ruled the American market, of course, color could safely be reintroduced as a significant visual material of desire, but with a difference. In the fall of 1909, both Variety and the Mirror found the stencil color process perfectly appropriate for relatively minor subjects, like the French company’s new series of travelogues.112 In one rare column, even Moving Picture World grudgingly cited “the very satisfying effect” of Pathé colored films-which it likened to “richly colored stage scenes by a Belasco or a Mansfield”– as well as their “enormous popularity.”113
108 “Earmarks of Makers,” New York Dramatic Mirror (14 November 1908), p. 10. This article suggests that Gaumont, too, was now releasing some titles in stencil color. See, also, the review of Gaumont’s Bernard Palissy in “Reviews of New Films,” New York Dramatic Mirror (6 March 1909), p. 12; and that of Gaumont’s Dream Spectres in “Moving Picture Reviews,” Variety (8 May 1909), p. 13. Gaumont’s stencil-color process may also have been applied to the Edison titles the company distributed in Europe beginning in January 1910 – see, for instance, the stencil-color print of The Cowboy and tlie Schoolmarm (1908) in the Desmet Collection of the Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.
109 Hulfish, “Colored Films of To-day,” p. 15; Marette, “Les procédés de coloriage mécanique des films,” pp. 4-8. See, for instance, the reviews of The Scar and The Assassination of the Duke of Guise – “Reviews of New Films,” New York Dramatic Mirror (6 February 1909), p. 16; “Reviews of New Films,” New York Dramatic Mirror (27 February 1909), p. 13; “Comments on Film Subjects,” Moving Picture World (27 February 1909), p. 236; and Correspondence,” Moving Picture World (6 March 1909), p. 277.
110 See, for instance, the reviews of these films in Variety (10 April 1909), p. 13, (21 August 1909), p. 17, and (28 August 1909), p. 13.
111 See the Carl Laemmle ad in Moving Picture World (5 June 1909), p. 740.
112 See, for instance, the review of Manufacturing Bamboo Hats in New York Dramatic Mirror (4 September 1909), p. 13; and that of Across the Island of Ceylon in New York Dramatic Mirror (13 November 1909), p. 15. This series seems to have begun in late August-see the Pathé ad in Film Index (4 September 1909), p. 14.
113 “On the Screen,” Moving Picture World (25 December 1909), pp. 918-919. See, also, “E. H. Montagu,” Moving Picture World (16 October 1909), p. 528.”
(Abel, Richard (1996): Pathé’s “Heavenly Billboards”. In: Monica Dall’Asta, Guglielmo Pescatore and Leonardo Quaresima (eds.): Il colore nel cinema muto. Bologna: Clueb, pp. 56–76, on pp. 66–67.)
“Bei dem im Bundesarchiv als DIE “HAUER-REVUE” IM ADMIRALSPALAST BERLIN. JOSEPHINE BAKER TANZT IN TRAVEL CUNARD archivierten Fragment handelt es sich offenbar um dokumentarische Szenen aus NACHTGESTALTEN (NUR EIN GASSENMÄDEL) von Hans Steinhoff aus dem Jahr 1929.91 Es sind eindeutig keine Viragen oder Tonungen, sondern vermutlich perfekt aufgebrachte Schablonenkolorierungen. Eine Einstellung allerdings ist ungeschickt mit der Hand nachgefärbt, denn die Farben verlaufen deutlich über das kolorierte Motiv hinaus. So belegt dieses Fragment, dass Techniken des frühen Kinos nach ihrer eigentlichen Blütezeit weiterleben und sei es auch nur als Spezialeffekte.
91 Vgl. das handkolorierte Aushangfoto zu dem Film auf filmportal.de.”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on p. 42.) (in German)
“In den 1909/10 erschienenen Anzeigen der zwei konkurrierenden Kinos in Trier wird aber nur einmal mit “herrliche[r] Farbetönung!” bei einem fiktionalen Film geworben; häufiger werden “koloriert” und ganz allgemein “herrliche Farbenpracht” inseriert.99 Auch die Bewerbung der großen Kinos in Berlin um 1910 hebt gelegentlich die Farbgestaltung einzelner Programmpunkte hervor. Sie bezieht sich aber ebenfalls nur auf die hand- oder schablonenkolorierten Filme von Gaumont und Pathé.100
99 Dank an Brigitte Braun für diese Hinweise. Eine systematische Durchsicht dieser Anzeigen auf die Bewerbung der Farbe hin steht noch aus.
100 Anfang September bewerben die Union-Theater in Berlin den Film DIE GOLDENE ROSE (FR 1910, LA ROSE D’OR) von Pathé als “grosse Feeerie mit farbenprächtigen, auf keiner Bühne möglichen Effecten” (Berliner Tageblatt, Nr. 448, 4.9.1910). Das einige Tage später eröffnete Empire-Theater antwortet in einer Anzeige, dass ganz Berlin “von den Meisterwerken der Farben-Kinematographie [spricht], die in nie gesehener Schönheit in den Kunstspielen” des neuen Theaters vorgeführt werden (Berliner Tageblatt, Nr. 461, 11.9.1910). Die Union-Theater kontern kurz darauf, indem sie ATHALIA (FR 1910, ATHALIE) von Pathé “mit noch nie gesehenen Bühnen-Effekten und herrlicher Farbenpracht” inserieren (Berliner Tageblatt, Nr. 474, 18.9.1910).”
(Goergen, Jeanpaul (2010): Bunte Bilder aus dem Farbenbottich. Tonung und Virage in dokumentarischen Filmen der 1910er und 1920er Jahre. In: Filmblatt, pp. 3–52, on p. 44.) (in German)
“Stencils for Pathécolor prints were created by using a pantograph connected to a needle, which cut out pieces of each frame of a film print. Like needlework, the process was considered (by men) to be too delicate for men, and so was carried out by an exclusively female workforce – a rare example of patriarchal stereotypes benefitting women in the workplace.4 The resulting stencil was placed in front of a second print of the film and the two prints were run together under a roller saturated with colored ink or put in front of an airbrush.5 Each extra color required a different stencil, but stencils could be re-used many times, so the process was far more efficient than hand painting.
4 For details of the conditions at Pathé’s stenciling workshop, see Jorge Dana’s interview with veteran Pathé colorist Germaine Berger (Dana 1992). The reluctance of men to engage in detailed craft-based work also helps explain the fact that many early film editors were women. Following the closure of Pathé’s stenciling workshop in the 1920s, Berger became a negative cutter.
5 For a more detailed account of the process of hand painting and the materials involved, see Usai (1996). For a more detailed account of film stenciling process, see Coe (1981: 113). For a more technically focused summary of the various “unnatural” color processes used in early cinema, and a thorough account of the dyes used in these processes, see Read (2009).
Coe, Brian. 1981. A History of Movie Photography. London: Ash and Grant.
Dana, Jorge. 1992. “Couleurs au pochoir.” Positif 375–6: 126–8.
Read, Paul. 2009. “‘Unnatural Colours’: An Introduction to Colouring Techniques in Silent Era Movies.” Film History 21.1: 9–46.
Usai, Paolo Cherchi. 1996. “The Colour of Nitrate: Some Factual Observations on Tinting and Toning Manuals for Silent Films.” In Silent Film, edited by R. Abel, 21–30. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.”
(Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. Chichester: A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Publication, on p. 15.)
“Stenciling resulted in blocks of color whose outlines were more clearly defined and whose density was more consistent, but which often did not quite register with the cinematographic image they overlaid, creating a slight visual mismatch between the outlines of objects and their colors. In addition, both hand-painted and stenciled colors were translucent.”
(Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. John Wiley & Sons, on p. 16.)
“Kolorierung und Virage
Da sich mit ihnen keine Naturfarben wiedergeben lassen, bilden die Techniken der Kolorierungen und Virage streng genommen eine eigene Kategorie. Im Grunde ein Ersatz und eine Behelfslösung, erreichten kolorierte und viragierte Filme jedoch bis in die 20er Jahre hinein eine so große Verbreitung, dass sie sich stärker im kollektiven Gedächtnis verankert haben als die zeitgleiche echte Farbkinematographie.
Einzelbild für Einzelbild manuell kolorierte Buntfilme wurden bereits in den Filmkatalogen der späten 1890er Jahre als besondere Attraktionen gehandelt. Zunächst in Paris, dann in London entstanden Ateliers, in denen die Handkolorierung als Kunst- und Präzisionshandwerk verfeinert wurde. Später wurde dieser mühsame Nachbearbeitungsprozess durch halbautomatische Schablonenverfahren erleichtert (Pathécolor ab 1905, Handschiegl-Verfahren ab 1916). Zwar verlor die Kolorierung in den 20er Jahren allgemein an Bedeutung, doch bedienten sich British International Pictures sogar noch bei der Herstellung der ersten beiden britischen Farb-Ton-Spielfilme The Romance of Seville (1929, Norman Walker) und Harmony Heaven (1930, Thomas Bentley) des Pathécolor-Schablonenprozesses.41
Die Virage-Technik, die ebenfalls bereits kurz nach 1895 ausgeübt wurde, bestand in der monochromen Einfärbung schwarz-weißen Filmmaterials. Je nach Schauplatz und Aufnahmegegenstand wurde eine passende Grundfarbe gewählt, um die Stimmung der Sequenz zu verstärken: z.B. Blau für nächtliche Szenerien, Gelb für Interieurs, Dunkelrot und Violett für Kaminbeleuchtung oder Kerzenschein, grelles Rot für Feuersbrünste und dramaturgische Höhepunkte. Die im Vergleich zur Kolorierung preiswertere Virage gewann in den 1910er Jahren eine solche Beliebtheit, dass die Mehrheit aller Filme auf viragiertem Material verbreitet wurde.
41 Dank an Luke McKernan, Rochester/Kent, für diesen Hinweis.”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on pp. 36–37.) (in German)
“Beginning in 1905, a technique of hand-stenciling color directly onto film was first used by Charles Pathe in short subjects (Aloha Land, Land O’Lea). The method was tedious but the results were often stunning. Pathe’s process, called Pathecolor, was one of the first to be identified commercially and was used, starting in 1914, in a series of colorful full-length productions. Among them were A Rose Among the Briars, The Life of Our Savior, The Three Masks, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Of Cyrano, one New York critic noted: ‘The characters appear in eye-smashing creations, consisting of purple trousers, pink shirts and green capes or blue gowns, yellow hats and indigo hose.’ The reviewer added that the film possessed ‘all the artistic effectiveness of a succession of penny postal cards.’”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on p. 14.)
“Per i colori del muto, il problema si pone in termini ancora più complessi. Colorazione manuale e a pochoir, tintura e viraggio – come è noto – danno vita a modalità cromatiche che si è soliti definire con il termine colore applicato, in quanto le tinte vengono deposte solo ed esclusivamente sui fotogrammi di un positivo nitrato in bianco e nero. Di conseguenza, la colorazione diventa un’operazione legata a ciascuna singola copia e non già – come gli sviluppi del colore cinematografico ci hanno abituato a pensare oggi – al singolo film. Se dalla fine degli anni venti sarebbe stato possibile individuare una linea di demarcazione netta tra film in bianco e nero e film a colori, con i colori applicati questa operazione non è possibile, dal momento che la distinzione si opera di copia in copia. Sul piano tecnologico, il fatto che il colore non venisse registrato una volta per tutte sul negativo implicava che il lavoro di colorazione dovesse essere ripetuto un numero di volte pari al numero di copie colorate che si volevano ottenere.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 20.) (in Italian)
“Un ponte con la realtà o con i contesti spettacolari circostanti poteva essere costruito al momento soltanto per via adattativa. Di fronte all’impossibilità di catturare fotograficamente i fenomeni cromatici sulla pellicola, le prime soluzioni che si offrivano erano rappresentate dall’adattamento di tecniche già largamente diffuse nei settori della stampa, della lanterna magica e della fotografia: la colorazione manuale e, qualche anno dopo, la variante meccanizzata del pochoir9.
9 Per la stampa, cfr. Préaud 1996, pp. 18–21. Per la lanterna magica, cfr. Crompton/Henry/Herbert, a cura di, 1990; Brunetta/Zotti Minici 1996. Per la fotografia, cfr. Coe 1978, pp. 8–17; Frizot 2001a, p. 751–753.
Brunetta, Gian Piero; Zotti Minici, Carlo Alberto (1996), Il colore dalpre-cinema al cinema, in Dall’Asta/Pescatore/Quaresima, a cura di, 1996, pp. 9–19.
Coe, Brian (1978), Colour Photography. The First Hundred Years 1840-1940, Ash & Grant, London.
Crompton, Dennis; Henry, David; Herbert, Stephen, a cura di (1990), Magic Images. The Art of Hand-Painted and Photographic Lantern Slides, The Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain, London.
Dall’Asta, Monica; Pescatore, Guglielmo; Quaresima, Leonardo, a cura di (1996), Il colore nel cinema muto, Mano, Bologna.
Frizot, Michel (2001a), Les rites et les usages. Clichés pour mémoire, in Id., a cura di, 2001b, pp. 747–754.
— a cura di (2001b), Nouvelle histoire de la photographie, Biro, Paris.
Préaud, Maxime (1996), Du coloriage à l’impression en couleur, in Rodari, a cura di, 1996a, pp. 18–49.
Rodari, Florian, a cura di (1996a), Anatomie de la couleur. L’invention de l’estampe en couleurs, Bibliothèque nationale de France-Musée olympique Lausanne, Paris-Lausanne.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 28.) (in Italian)
“Nei primi anni del secolo la Pathé promosse una serie di ricerche che avrebbero condotto al varo del Pathécolor, che costituiva un adattamento cinematografico dell’antica tecnica del pochoir, impiegata fin dalle origini dell’incisione e della stampa per la colorazione delle carte da gioco. Il sistema consentiva di applicare in maniera meccanica, con maggiore precisione e uniformità, fino a sette diverse tinte su più copie dello stesso film, limitando le imprecisioni della colorazione manuale. L’uso del pochoir comportava l’impiego di positivi intagliati in corrispondenza delle zone da colorare con una determinata tinta, in modo che ciascun positivo funzionasse come una maschera per il trasferimento di un singolo colore sulla copia da proiezione. Tra il 1906 e il 1908 furono introdotte significative innovazioni per meccanizzare l’intaglio dei positivi (inizialmente realizzato a mano) e la colorazione delle copie.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 29.) (in Italian)
Rapsodia satanica (ITA 1917, Nino Oxilia)
“Negli esperimenti che furono tentati, la relazione sinestetica tra musica e colore si offriva in forma immediata alla percezione dello spettatore. In presenza di modalità narrative, invece, la stessa relazione poteva essere mediata dall’universo emotivo e psicologico dei personaggi. Questa seconda modalità sarebbe stata più spesso messa in atto all’interno dell’istituzione cinematografica, per supportare diverse ipotesi di riqualificazione estetica del colore e della musica. Tra i non molti casi degli anni dieci in cui l’effetto fu intenzionalmente perseguito, uno dei più significativi è rappresentato da Rapsodia satanica (Oxilia, 1917).
La presenza del colore – attestata da una copia ritrovata a restaurata negli anni novanta – rivela invece quello che rappresenta forse un unicum nella storia del cinema muto, vale a dire la compresenza sistematica all’interno dei fotogrammi di tinture o viraggi e di aree colorate a pochoir59. La forma policroma viene così a sovrapporsi a quella monocroma, producendo un’originale combinazione dell’una e dell’altra. Questa particolare scelta accresce notevolmente la plasticità e il pittoricismo delle immagini, che diventano così leggibili come una sorta di correlato visivo della musica, in termini di armonia, melodia e contrappunto. Sul piano della sintassi cromatica, tintura e viraggio tendono a definire il tono generale dell’immagine, all’interno del quale le singole macchie del pochoir determinano i potenziali accordi armonici, prodotti sia per minime variazioni che per accentuati contrasti.
Nel prologo del film, quando Mephisto fa irruzione nel salotto di Alba (Lyda Borelli) uscendo da un quadro, le campiture verdi e rosso porpora del pochoir, corrispondenti rispettivamente ai velluti delle poltrone e al mantello di Mephisto, definiscono gli accenti visivi dell’immagine, evidenziati dalla relazione di complementarità. Sul piano della sintassi narrativa, l’articolazione dei diversi accenti contribuisce a definire degli effetti di melodia e di contrappunto della scansione drammatica. Il contrasto dei complementari verde e rosso, ad esempio, torna, talora con variazioni di nuance, per tutta la prima parte nei drappeggi indossati da Alba e negli eleganti interni liberty, ripetendosi nella passeggiata finale del bosco tramite gli alberi, il vestito della donna e il mantello di Mephisto60.
Di natura per così dire contrappuntistica risultano invece alcuni effetti giocati sulla rottura della continuità cromatica. Nella sequenza conclusiva della prima parte, Alba trattiene Tristano all’interno della villa mentre all’esterno, scoccata la mezzanotte, Sergio tiene fede al proposito di uccidersi: la donna è inizialmente coperta da un mantello verde che lascia intravedere il sottostante corpetto rosso dell’abito; facendo cadere il mantello, Alba scopre in vita una sontuosa cintura gioiello, colorata della stessa tinta del vestito, e una gonna verde. Nel momento in cui Alba attrae a sé Tristano facendosi baciare, proprio mentre dall’esterno i due odono lo sparo con cui Sergio si toglie la vita, la stessa cintura è colorata con un vistoso giallo dorato. Subito dopo, quando i due escono dalla casa, la tinta non è più presente. Nel corso della sequenza, lo stesso giallo dorato è utilizzato in due piani ravvicinati di un lussuoso orologio da tavola che ricorda l’approssimarsi della mezzanotte; curiosamente, questo oggetto appare giallo nelle inquadrature che lo ritagliano dallo spazio circostante, mentre in tutte le altre torna a essere un semplice elemento scenografico e, in quanto tale, a ricevere la tinta generale dell’ambiente. Questa intermittenza del giallo mostra come lo spettatore non sia invitato a intendere il colore come descrittore ambientale della scena, né come suo correlato simbolico, quanto piuttosto come accentuazione contrappuntistica dei momenti drammatici.
Un esempio altrettanto interessante ricorre nella seconda parte del film, quando Alba, in procinto di velarsi “sacerdotessa dell’amore e della morte”, si avvicina alla finestra per osservare la silhouette di Tristano a cavallo. Nella prima inquadratura, raffigurante la donna, la luce radente al tramonto che penetra dalla finestra è resa con un effetto violentemente discontinuo: nella parte destra, i vetri della finestra lasciano trasparire una colorazione gialla, mentre a sinistra il corpo di Alba si trova investito da una tinta blu chiara, arricchita da una campitura rosa sul corpetto. Segue un’inquadratura che si configura come una soggettiva intensificata della donna: la sagoma nera di Tristano a cavallo si staglia in forte controluce sullo sfondo del cielo rischiarato dal sole al tramonto, reso attraverso una tintura blu chiara del tutto simile alla precedente. Si torna infine alla prima inquadratura e ai suoi colori, finché Alba solleva un velo ed esce di campo.
L’organizzazione cromatica risulta palesemente incongrua. La luce al tramonto, resa attraverso una tintura blu, sembra diventare gialla attraversando i vetri della finestra, salvo poi tornare al colore iniziale cadendo sul volto della donna. La discontinuità è poi ulteriormente accresciuta dall’illuminazione chiaroscurale che accompagna tutte le inquadrature, prolungandosi anche nelle successive, dedicate alla danza dei veli e costruite attorno alla stessa gamma. Risulta chiaro come l’intera sequenza acquisti senso come momento di pura liberazione della luce e del colore, di originale fusione tra sensazione visiva e musicale.
Il lavoro promosso da Rapsodia satanica rivela in maniera molto forte le possibilità di un utilizzo musicale del colore all’interno del discorso narrativo, anticipando almeno in una certa misura certi approdi successivi di autori sedotti dalle possibilità contrappuntistiche del colore.
59 Sul restauro, cfr. Mazzanti 1996.
60 In questa ultima passeggiata nel bosco, un violento baluginare di tinte ormai sfatte, che non aderiscono più ai contorni, potrebbe segnalare un intenzionale effetto contrappuntistico tra il colore e la figura, teso a segnalare il simbolico disfacimento del mondo illusorio di Alba. Questa ipotesi è sostenuta in Kuyper (1996, pp. 58–59): “Esaminandolo con la loupe sulla copia nitrato, si può constatare che questo verde ‘gocciola’ per davvero, che la tecnica non è affatto la stessa che viene utilizzata in altre parti del film (tranne che nella scena del lago, che ne diviene dunque anticipatrice); essa è volontariamente ‘espressionista’”.
Kuyper, Eric de (1996), “Rapsodia satanica” o il fremito de! Colore, in “Cinegrafie“. VIII, n. 9, 1996, pp. 53–60.
Mazzanti, Nicola (1996), A nuova vita. Note sul restauro di “Rapsodia satanica“, in “Cinegrafie“, Vili, n. 9, 1996, pp. 61–63.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 76–79.) (in Italian)
“Reste encore le problème des pellicules coloriées au pochoir et de celles teintes à la main. A ce qu’on a déjà dit à propos des premières il faut seulement ajouter que ces pellicules, qui – je le répète – ne représentent qu’un pourcentage assez modeste du patrimoine ayant échappé à la destruction, ont donné de très bons résultats grâce à l’utilisation de la méthode du contretype négatif couleur, telle qu’elle a été appliquée, par exemple, par la Cinémathèque d’Amsterdam.
Je pense que pour le moment il n’y a rien d’autre à dire. Il faudrait peut-être ajouter que ces systèmes sont évidemment applicables, avec d’aussi bons résultats, aux films teints à la main. A propos de ces derniers, on peut à juste titre faire encore cette considération: si nous laissons de côté les films assez longs, entièrement teints à, la main, qui sont tout à fait exceptionnels et pour lesquels vaut le discours fait pour les pochoirs, et en nous attardant aux films les plus fréquents, c’est-à-dire ceux qui ne contiennent que très peu de séquences teintes à la main, pourquoi ne pas envisager de reprendre la technique originale? Rien n’empêche que quelques expériences de peinture jointes à la nécessaire disposition manuelle, ne permettent de teinter à la main, avec des couleurs plus ou moins identiques à celles de l’époque, les photogrammes autrefois teintés de cette façon-là. On ne négligera évidemment pas les modifications qui auront eu lieu et toute expérimentation qui aura été faite en ce domaine.”
(Boarini, Vittorio (1992): La couleur dans le cinéma muet. Des techniques anciennes pour une restauration moderne. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 33–36, on p. 36.) (in French)
La poule aux œufs d’or (FRA 1905, Gaston Velle)
“Si pensi al motivo magico dell’oro presente in tanti racconti fiabeschi, tradotto visivamente nella féerie attraverso l’uso abbondante del giallo per dare risalto a oggetti magici, tesori nascosti o ambienti regali e lussuosi. Il motivo ricorre in molte vedute, come La poule aux œufs d’or della Pathé (La gallina dalle uova d’oro, Velle, 1905), ispirata alla favola in versi di Jean de La Fontaine, da cui mezzo secolo prima aveva preso spunto il drammaturgo Adolphe d’Ennery per una féerie teatrale dal medesimo titolo43.
In La poule aux œufs d’or, la forma monocroma accompagna il normale svolgimento della vicenda (la piazza del mercato, il cortile, il pollaio), mentre la colorazione a pochoir subentra in corrispondenza di effetti pirotecnici e accadimenti soprannaturali (la personificazione della gallina, la visione della testa di Satana dentro l’uovo, l’esplosione dell’uovo).
43 Cat. Pathé n. 1311 (cfr. Bousquet 1996, p. 916). Sulla féerie di d’Ennery (Cirque National, 1848), cfr. Ginisty 1910, pp. 198–199.
Bousquet, Henri (1996), Catalogue Pathé des années 1896 à 1914. 1896 à 1906, Bousquet, Bures-sur-Yvette.
Ginisty, Paul (1910), La féerie, Michaud, Paris.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 43–47.) (in Italian)
La peine du talion (FRA 1906, Gaston Velle)
“Con l’introduzione del pochoir verso la metà del primo decennio, la cura del dettaglio colorato poteva essere perseguita con risultati particolarmente apprezzabili nelle vedute della Pathé.
In La peine du talion (La pena del taglione, Velle, 1906), féerie in undici inquadrature disponibile da catalogo in versione bianco e nero e colorata, lo spettatore è posto di fronte a uno scenario boschivo in cui un precettore e le sue due allieve vanno a caccia di farfalle50. Dopo aver catturato e osservato alla lente d’ingrandimento alcuni esemplari, l’uomo è condotto da un gruppo di donne alate davanti al tribunale delle farfalle, che lo condanna a venire infilzato con uno spillone a un enorme tappo di sughero. La prima parte è costruita sull’alternanza tra la visione d’insieme della scena e le tre soggettive del protagonista che osserva con la lente d’ingrandimento le sue prede. Nella seconda parte, la legge del taglione impone il ripetersi del medesimo schema in forma condensata: la veduta d’insieme del tribunale è intercalata dall’immagine dell’entomologo infilzato. Nella versione impreziosita dalle tinte a pochoir, i dettagli ingigantiti delle farfalle divengono oggetto di una valorizzazione spettacolare del colore, ottenuta per mezzo di vivaci accostamenti cromatici51. Le tre soggettive sono filmate attraverso l’uso del mascherino circolare su fondo nero, soluzione comune a molte visioni ingrandite del cinema delle origini. Quando si manifesta in presenza di colorazioni, questa tecnica finisce per far risaltare i valori di chiarezza e brillantezza delle tinte, per effetto del contrasto creato tra la superficie nera e quella colorata.
50 Cat. Pathé n. 1347 (cfr. Bousquet 1996, p. 921). Per una descrizione analitica, cfr. anche Gaudreault, a cura di, 1993, pp. 177–184.
51 Cfr. Dubois 1995, pp. 78–79.
Bousquet, Henri (1996), Catalogue Pathé des années 1896 à 1914. 1896 à 1906, Bousquet, Bures-sur-Yvette.
Aumont, Jacques a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris.
Dubois, Philippe (1995), Hybridations et métissages. Les mélanges du noir-et-blanc et de la couleur, in Aumont, a cura di, 1995a, pp. 74–92.
Gaudreault, André, a cura di (1993), Pathé 1900. Fragments d’une filmographie analytique du cinéma des premiers temps, Les presses de l’Université Laval-Presses de la Sorbonne nouvelle, Sainte Foy-Paris.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 47–48.) (in Italian)
Voyage sur Jupiter (FRA 1909, Segundo de Chomón)
“Il carattere abbacinante, addirittura allucinatorio, di una realtà avvicinata attraverso uno strumento ottico emerge in maniera ancora più forte in Voyage sur Jupiter (Chomón, 1909)53. La veduta, di cui circolarono versioni colorate a pochoir, presenta una sintassi narrativa più elaborata rispetto a quelle prese in esame finora. In un generico e anacronistico medioevo, tipico di molte féerie, un re visita l’osservatorio di un astronomo; con l’ausilio di un grosso cannocchiale, costui gli mostra la luna, Giove e Saturno, non senza prima avergli illustrato lo spazio siderale attraverso un grande libro di immagini animate. Impressionato dalle inusitate visioni, la notte seguente il re sogna di salire fino a Giove arrampicandosi su una lunghissima scala da circo. Rispetto ai viaggio fantastici di Méliès e alle vedute Pathé di pochi anni prima, sono qui articolati effetti speciali di vario tipo con modalità di concatenazione più complesse.
Nella prima parte, le due visioni ravvicinate (la luna vista dal cannocchiale e il libro animato) sono alternate al totale dell’osservatorio; subito dopo, sono mostrati gli spostamenti dei personaggi per raggiungere un balcone, dove hanno luogo la nuove visioni (la luna, Saturno, Giove), intercalate dall’inquadratura del balcone; infine, viene ripetuto il percorso a ritroso. Una medesima struttura ricorre nella rappresentazione del sogno nella seconda parte, con il movimento orizzontale terrestre sostituito da quello verticale: dalla camera da letto, il re sale la scala tra le stelle e i pianeti, si getta su Giove, viene catturato, condotto da Giove ed espulso, ripercorrendo al contrario le tappe precedenti (caduta, discesa della scala, camera da letto).
Non diversamente da La peine du talion, anche qui le visioni ravvicinate su fondo nero costituiscono momenti particolarmente propizi all’esibizione del colore, in occasione delle soggettive dei pianeti riccamente colorati o delle due inquadrature del re in caduta libera, prima attratto poi respinto dall’orbita di Giove.
53 Cat. Pathé n. 2869 (cfr. Bousquet 1993, p. 188).
Bousquet, Henri (1993), Catalogue Pathé des années 1896 à 1914. 1907-1908-1909. Bousquet, Bures-sur-Yvette.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 48–49.) (in Italian)
“Duplication of hand coloured and stencilled films
In stencilled films and other systems in which discrete patches of colour are applied, the use of colour internegatives is really the only photographic method possible, and acheiving a better representation of the original in its pristine form can only be done by using enhancement of video signals and retransferring back to film.
The procedure for reproducing a copy of a coloured print is exactly the same as for any print duplication using an integral tripack such as Eastman Colour Internegative Film, and setting up needs the rigorous application of the LAD system for optimum results.”
(Desmet, Noël; Read, Paul (1998): The Desmetcolor Method for Restoring Tinted and Toned Films. In: Luciano Berriatúa, Manlio Brusatin, Noël Desmet, Enrico Fornaroli, Giovanna Fossati, Bertrand Lavedrine, Bob Mabberley, Nicola Mazzanti, Ruggero Pierantoni, Paul Read and Sonja Snoek: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizione Diabasis, pp. 147–150, on p. 147.)
“Nous savons tous que dans le passé, d’énormes quantités de films sur support nitrate en couleur ont tout simplement été transférés sur un support safety, non-flamme, noir et blanc, sans tenir compte du fait que parmi ceux-ci, certains étaient peints à la main, au pinceau, au pochoir, teintés ou virés. Les raisons de ce choix étaient sans doute d’ordre économique mais mettaient en évidence un manque de coordination entre archives à l’échelle internationale, ce qui n’est plus le cas à présent.
En effet, les derniers témoignages de ces premiers procédés qui ont traversé un siècle de cinéma sont aujourd’hui restaurés dans leur splendeur d’origine et des appels de collaboration sont lancés entre les archives dans la plupart des cas. Mais qu’en est-il de la conservation à long terme des éléments restaurés? Il n’existe, en fait pour le moment, que deux solutions à ce vrai problème:
Conservation d’une matrice couleur à basse température dans des locaux spécialement conçus à cet effet, ce qui représente un investissement coûteux et complexe à gérer pour la plupart des archives.
Conservation d’éléments intermédiaires noir et blanc, appelés “séparations” dans le jargon technique, et qui sont en fait les reproductions séparées sur trois films noir et blanc des trois couleurs fondamentales réunies dans un film couleur, bleu, rouge et vert. L’avantage de cette solution est que le film noir et blanc est plus stable que le film couleur et peut se conserver à des températures plus élevées. En cas de besoin, ces trois séparations peuvent être recombinées pour obtenir un nouvel élément de tirage couleur.
Dans l’un et l’autre cas, les coûts de conservation s’ajoutent aux coûts de la restauration. Aux Archives du film (CNC), nous avons calculé que le coût au mètre de la conservation et de restauration d’un film couleur est de trois à douze fois plus élevé que pour un film noir et blanc.
Dans ce contexte et compte-tenu des responsabilités budgétaires de plus en plus importantes allouées à ce travail, il ne peut y avoir de décisions prises sans une analyse complète des options et des problèmes à résoudre. La restauration des films en couleur doit être liée à tous les aspects de notre travail.
La politique de programmation des films: restaurer pour qui? dans quel but? dans quel contexte juridique? Ce dernier point est particulièrement important dans le cas des films technicolor populaires des années quarante et cinquante par exemple, ou des films récents, où il existe des ayants droit qui désirent exercer leur propre contrôle sur ces œuvres. D’autre part, les éléments d’origine essentiels aux travaux de sauvegarde sont souvent entreposés chez les ayants droit ou sous leur contrôle dans un laboratoire.
La politique de recherche historique et esthétique des films: quelles étaient les intentions des auteurs et des techniciens quant à l’utilisation de la couleur? Est-il possible de les contacter lors des travaux? Quels témoignages existe-t-il des premières projections? Y a-t-il, hors des archives, des éléments complémentaires à trouver, chez les ayants droit, dans d’autres archives? Les filières envisagées correspondent-elles aux intentions des auteurs et à l’authenticité de l’œuvre?
La politique des restaurations et de conservation: quelles filières concevoir pour répondre à ces deux besoins? Quels budgets a-t-on prévus? Comment répondent-ils aux deux précédentes politiques? Est-on sûr du laboratoire choisi pour les travaux envisagés?”
(Aubert, Michelle (1992): Pour une déontologie de la restauration des films en couleur. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 25–28, on pp. 26–27.) (in French)
“Le lavage des bandes virées
Dès 1906, la question du lavage des éléments virés pose problème. On constate en effet que les films virés en bleu sont “couverts d’un léger précipité”17, une forme de cristallisation. Cette situation oblige les ouvrières à essuyer les pellicules à la main, avec du coton, une fois que le positif est séché, ce qui occasionne “une main-d’œuvre exagérée”18. Dès lors, Dubois étudie la possibilité d’étudier un nettoyage mécanique de la bande. En 1908, une machine à essuyer les films coloriés est inventée afin d’éviter 1’étape du nettoyage manuel19. Cette machine contient des tampons imbibés d’alcool. Elle semble aussi servir pour le nettoyage des films à pochoirs [Fig. 3].
En outre, les dépôts d’hydrosulfite qui tachent les pellicules après le développement et forcent les ouvrières à nettoyer les copies au coton, entraînent un ajout de deux bains supplémentaires, composés d’acide azotique (ou acide nitrique). Une description précisant la procédure est dès lors notifiée: “1. Lavage à l’eau pendant 10 minutes; 2. Trempage de l’acide azotique 5 à 8 minutes; 3. Lavage à l’eau pendant 20 minutes; 4. Virage, 5. Lavage de 10 minutes, 6. Nouveau passage à l’acide azotique, 7. Lavage d’une demi-heure. Les résultats sont probants et abolissent le nettoyage a la main de l’hydrosulfite”20
17 Dubois, “Virage”, le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision, livre de fabrication noº 1, association CECIL et Fondation Pathé, 16 juin 1906, p. 6.
18 Ibid., p. 6.
19 Anonyme, “la Machine à essuyer les films coloriés”, le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision, 1908, pp. 430–431.
20 Dubois, “Virage”, le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision, 23 Juin l906, pp. 10–11.”
(Ruivo, Céline (2013): Le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision. À propos d’une source pour l’histoire des recherches sur la couleur chez Pathé Frères entre 1906 et 1908. In: 1895. Revue d’Histoire du Cinema, 71, 2013, pp. 47–60, on pp. 52–53.) (in French)
Des références à la photographie trichrome apparaissent dans les rapports dès le 30 juin 1906. Des tests avec une chambre 9 x 12 cm à plaques photographiques, dotée d’un châssis spécial faisant passer successivement les trois plaques devant l’objectif muni de trois écrans (filtres) de couleurs différentes. Deux photogravures projetées avec deux lampes à arc forment les références des tests effectués pour ce nouveau prototype. La technique de sensibilisation des plaques s’effectue avec ce qu’ils appellent le “pinachrome” […]
En parallèle aux recherches de Lair sur le procédé photographique au charbon, Dubois entame des recherches en septembre 1907 sur la “pinatypie” ainsi que des essais de sensibilisation de la pellicule38. La pinatypie est différente de la photographie au charbon: il s’agit d’un procédé photographique trichrome usant d’encres colorées, lesquelles sont absorbées dans une émulsion comprenant des reliefs. Les origines de cette invention remontent au français Charles Cros, considéré comme l’inventeur de la trichromie en photographie39 et qui nomme son invention l’hydrotypie. Le procédé fut par la suite amélioré par Léon Didier puis commercialisé par la firme allemande de colorants Meister, Lucius & Brüning sous le nom de Pinatype40. La nature de certains colorants était plus appropriée que d’autres pour ce procédé. On finit par désigner ceux-ci comme des “pinatypes” ou “colorants pina”. Ils furent commercialisés par la firme allemande I.G. Farben, un groupe de sociétés qui compte notamment BASF et Agfa. Un manuel “Pina” aurait d’ailleurs été publié par Agfa. Les recherches sur la pinatypie ne semblent pas vraiment aboutir chez Pathé. Néanmoins, Dubois note un essai réussi en avril 1908 dans lequel le procédé est associé à une bande coloriée au pochoir, ce qui donne selon lui “des images coloriées très jolies en projection fixe”41.
Les recherches sur la trichromie se poursuivent tout de même. Ainsi, en mars 1908, un rapport de Dubois se redirige vers un procédé additif qui consiste à prendre trois négatifs pour les exposer à travers trois écrans (filtres) de couleur comme le rouge, le jaune et le bleu (ou le violet). Au moment du développement des négatifs, ce sont les couleurs complémentaires qui apparaissent sur les positifs. Dubois s’interroge dès lors sur le principe de fonctionnement d’une caméra cinématographique permettant d’élaborer cette séparation des trois couleurs. Les idées s’orientent vers un écran tournant devant l’objectif de la caméra sur lequel trois filtres de couleur seraient réunis:
Pendant l’ouverture de l’obturateur, on aura une bande constituée par une série d’images dont chacune représente un monochrome. Si l’on tire un positif des négatifs ainsi obtenus et qu’on le projette au travers d’un écran tournant disposé d’une manière analogue à celle qui a servi pour la prise de vues, on aura par suite de la persistance des impressions lumineuses sur la rétine une projection animée en couleurs.42
Toutefois, les essais les plus pertinents sont finalement réalisés en bichrome, avec seulement deux filtres de couleurs intégrés à la caméra et au projecteur.
Il va sans dire que l’invention du Kinemacolor, appareil bichrome commercialisé par Charles Urban dès 1908 en Angleterre et qui concurrence Pathé sur le terrain des couleurs naturelles43, influence sans aucun doute les recherches de Dubois. Néanmoins, à aucun moment Dubois ne cite directement le Kinemacolor. Par ailleurs, le procédé trichrome tel qu’il est décrit par Dubois ressemble beaucoup au Chronochrome, commercialisé par Léon Gaumont en 1911. Dubois conclut ses recherches d’une façon quelque peu défaitiste, en avouant que, finalement, il est plus simple de colorer les bandes au pochoir – surtout avec la récente machine à colorier – ou bien qu’il faudrait proposer éventuellement une combinaison des deux procédés: pochoir et trichromie44. Des films hybrides usant des deux techniques auraient-ils vu le jour? À l’heure actuelle, rien ne semble le prouver, même si des bandes tests ont existé comme nous le démontre ce livre. La Cinémathèque française conserve dans ses collections des caméras trichromes Pathé qui ne sont pas datées et qui possèdent trois objectifs disposés en verticale, en forme d’escalier.
38 Dubois, sans titre, le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision, livre de fabrication noº 1, association CECIL et Fondation Pathé, 1907, p. 304.
39 Cette donnée est à prendre avec précaution, car d’autres inventeurs font précédé.
40 Joseph S. Friedman, History of Color Photography, Boston, The American Publishing Company, 1945, p. 462.
41 Dubois, “Essais de pinatypie”, Avril 1908, le Livre de fabrication…, op. cit., p. 451.
42 Dubois, “Sur l’obtention d’une vision en couleurs au cinématographe”, 5 Mars 1908, le Livre de fabrication…, op. cit., p. 408.
43 Benoît Turquety, “le Naturel et le mécanique: le Kinémacolor à la conquête de Paris, ou Charles Urban vs. Charles Pathé”, dans infra.
44 Dubois, “Sur l’obtention d’une vision en couleurs au Cinématographe”, le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision, 1908, pp. 408–410.”
(Ruivo, Céline (2013): Le Livre de fabrication de la compagnie générale des phonographes cinématographes et appareils de précision. À propos d’une source pour l’histoire des recherches sur la couleur chez Pathé Frères entre 1906 et 1908. In: 1895. Revue d’Histoire du Cinema, 71, 2013, pp. 47–60, on pp. 58–60.) (in French)
“Couleurs au pochoir
entretien avec Germaine Berger, coloriste chez Pathé
par Jorge Dana
Quand êtes-vous née et quand avez-vous commencé à travailler?
Je suis née le 25 janvier 1897; je suis de l’autre siècle. J’ai commencé à travailler le 26 août 1911.
Dans un atelier?
Chez Pathé, mais le “coloris” était en dehors de l’usine. Le directeur du coloris était alors jeune marié, et il cherchait des meubles sculptés. Il est allé dans une fabrique à plusieurs reprises pour les choisir. Il questionnait le fabricant: “La personne qui fait la sculpture, est-elle jeune? a-t-elle de grands enfants? savent-ils dessiner? voulez-vous me les présenter? voulez-vous me les envoyer au coloris?” Ma sœur Lucie et moi, nous nous sommes rendues au coloris à Vincennes, et il nous a prises tout de suite parce qu’on savait dessiner. Mon père était dessinateur, c’est lui-même qui dessinait ses fleurs et les sculptait, surtout des roses. C’est lui qui les découpait pour les frontons, les pieds, elles étaient destinées à la fabrique.
Vous aviez quel âge?
A ce moment-là, quatorze ans et demi. On ne devait pas travailler avant seize ans; j’ai donc eu une dispense.
Etait-ce l’atelier de Pathé? N’y avait-il pas un atelier indépendant à Vincennes, dirigé par Mme Thuilier?
C’était là au coloris. Mais ce n’était pas elle qui dirigeait, elle s’occupait d’un service particulier. C’était le directeur, M. Fourel, qui s’occupait de tout. Le coloris, c’était lui, même s’il y avait des femmes, des chefs…
Combien d’ouvriers étiez-vous?
Nous étions assez nombreux, puisque nous étions cent soixante coloristes et découpeuses, ce qui n’est pas la même chose. Il y avait aussi les essuyeuses.
Faisiez-vous les deux?
Non, parce qu’on était obligé de connaître la technique. Moi, je faisais la découpe car il fallait avoir de très bons yeux. On ne pouvait pas porter de lunettes, il fallait voir très clair. Et comme on savait dessiner, on comprenait mieux ce qu’il fallait faire que quelqu’un qui ne sait pas. Quand vous avez des choses à découper, il faut savoir si on doit toujours avoir la même, ou si on doit en prendre une deuxième.
Quand nous sommes arrivées à l’atelier, nous sommes montées en grade plus vite parce qu’on savait dessiner. Si on n’avait pas su dessiner, mettre la couleur, on serait restées à essuyer.
Dessiniez-vous beaucoup avant de travailler à l’atelier?
Ah oui! N’importe quoi!
Vous aviez déjà vu des films quand vous avez commencé à travailler?
Pas du tout, jamais. Avant, on ne sortait pas. Pour ma sœur et moi, c’est le dessin qui nous a permis d’entrer à l’usine.
Et avec votre père ou votre mère, vous n’aviez jamais vu un film? Vous ne sortiez jamais?
C’était interdit. Nous n’avions pas le droit de sortir! Rien à faire, et quand vous étiez fiancée, que le fiancé vous raccompagnait, vous lui disiez au revoir à la porte, il vous embrassait une fois, pas deux. Et les jeunes mariées, elles étaient surveillées quand elles manquaient deux lundis de suite. Avant, il y avait des bals à Vincennes, puis sur la Seine. Si les femmes manquaient deux ou trois fois, le mari le savait. Alors, vous voyez comment nous étions tenues.
Nous n’avions pas le droit de sortir, mais mon frère, qui était le dernier de la famille, on l’emmenait au cinéma tous les jeudis. Et moi qui travaillais dedans, je n’y allais pas!
Vous aviez entendu parler du cinéma, ou vous ne saviez pas qu’il existait?
Non, rien. On n’avait le droit de rien faire du tout. Mais, quand nous sommes arrivées dans l’atelier, cela ne m’a pas surprise de voir ça.
Vous ne saviez pas que c’était pour faire des images qui bougeaient sur un écran?
Non, mais on avait vu des choses comme ça dans le journal, dans les livres.
Que vous a-t-on dit pour vous apprendre à travailler?
On ne nous a rien dit. On ne nous a pas informées, rien… sinon la stricte façon de faire les choses. C’était les personnes qui avaient fait ce travail avant nous qui nous montraient. Quand ils voyaient que l’on était bien sur une couleur, que l’on avait bien compris, ils nous laissaient longtemps sur une couleur.
Une seule couleur?
Oui, une couleur. Parce que le bleu, la couleur “chair”, c’est difficile à faire: il faut bien découper tout autour pour avoir juste la chair. Il fallait donc quelqu’un qui connaissait cela très bien et qui était très sûr. Le bleu, c’est le ciel, donc il faut savoir découper à travers les arbres, savoir si la part de l’arbre est dans le bleu, ou s’il faut qu’il reste vert. Quand on avait plusieurs années d’expérience, que l’on faisait bien les choses, ils nous donnaient tout à faire. Moi, on ma appris à faire la couleur à a main. Il y avait les machines qui coloriaient, sur lesquelles j’ai travaillé, mais pas beaucoup.
Quelles couleurs faisiez-vous?
Tout de suite?
Non, au bout de six mois, quand ils ont été sûrs de ma main et de ma compréhension du dessin. Le rouge n’était que du rouge. Il ne fallait pas mélanger avec le bleu ou avec le jaune, mais le faire exactement.
Avez-vous posé des questions sur ce qu’était le cinéma?
Non, pas du tout.
Est-ce qu’on vous montrait des films?
De temps en temps, on nous faisait voir ce qu’on avait fait si c’était bien. On faisait du bon travail tout de suite.
Entre 1911 et 1927, alliez-vous au cinéma?
Non, car nous étions payées tant la semaine, et il fallait apporter notre semaine chez nous.
Le travail était-il agréable?
Oui, très agréable. Plus on connaissait le dessin, moins on dérangeait les gens pour leur demander ce qu’il fallait faire. Comme cela, tout allait beaucoup plus vite.
Comment étaient les conditions de travail?
Nous étions serrées et nous n’avions pas le droit de bavarder. Quand on avait besoin, il y avait ce qu’il fallait au bout de la salle, mais il n’était pas question d’y aller à deux. Il fallait y aller seule. Pour le déjeuner, vous pouviez déjeuner soit dehors, soit à l’atelier. Tout était très surveillé. Les photos de l’atelier étaient interdites. La maison Pathé empêchait beaucoup de choses.
Vous n’étiez que des femmes?
Dans l’atelier, il n’y avait que des femmes; des hommes pour les appareils, et des électriciens aussi.
Pourquoi y avait-il seulement des femmes?
C’était un travail trop fin pour les hommes, ce que j’ai compris en vieillissant. Avant, les hommes ne touchaient pas aux films. Aujourd’hui, ça me fait “drôle” quand je vois des hommes au montage. Avant, ils n’y touchaient pas, sauf pour la fabrication de la pellicule, avec les grands “placards”. Ça, ce n’était pas les femmes qui pouvaient le faire.
Vous nous avez parlé de la sirène de Pathé.
Oui, celle de l’usine, pas au coloris. Elle existe toujours, mais on ne l’entend plus. A l’époque, on l’entendait jusqu’à La Nation et elle dirigeait tout le monde. Elle sonnait le matin à 7 h 30, à midi, à 1 h 30 et à 6 h.
Est-ce que vous vous souvenez du premier film que vous avez vu?
J’en ai tellement vu à la fois! Je les avais dans les mains.
Quand vous avez connu Méliès, venait-t-il faire colorier ses films chez Pathé?
J’ai connu Méliès après la guerre. Quand il avait des sous, il venait chez Pathé pour faire colorier ses films. Il avait aussi du personnel. Comme cela coûtait très cher et qu’il dépensait beaucoup d’argent, il ne pouvait pas toujours faire colorier chez Pathé. Sinon il amenait ses films. Derrière moi, dans l’atelier, il y avait l’étage pour aller à la direction. Un jour, celle qui était à côté de moi entend marcher, se retourne et dit: “Tiens, voilà le fou!” Je lui dis que je ne connaissais pas de fou dans la maison. Elle me répond: “Alors, tu ne connais pas le fou de Montreuil!” Il était à Montreuil où il a fait le premier studio du monde. Moi-même j’habitais Montreuil depuis 1904. On n’avait pas le droit de se retourner ni de parler. Quelque temps après, Méliès revient voir si les films sont prêts. Ma collègue me dit à nouveau : “Tiens, voilà encore le fou qui vient” – “Mais pourquoi vous l’appelez le fou?” – “C’est simple, tu n’as donc pas vu ses films?” – “Non” – “C’est lui qui prenait la place d’un autre acteur. Il devait courir, sauter.” On l’appelait le fou parce qu’il était toujours en train de courir.
Vous ne saviez pas qu’il s’appellait Georges Méliès?
Non, je ne l’ai su qu’après la guerre. Je l’avais vu plusieurs fois, mais je ne lui parlais pas. Il montait voir la direction, puis il redescendait. C’est tout.
Ensuite, vous avez vu ses films?
Oui, bien sûr, parce que sa petite fille en avait. Elle les avait chez elle, ce qui était assez dangereux car les films étaient inflammables à l’époque.
Avez-vous colorié des films de Méliès?
Oui, bien sûr.
Avez-vous connu les studios de Méliès à Montreuil?
Oui, après la Première Guerre mondiale. Mais on lui a pris ses maisons, ses studios.
Avez-vous le souvenir d’autres personnalités?
Max Linder, l’acteur. Je connaissais ses films.
Quand êtes-vous partie de chez Pathé?
En 1927, quand le coloris a cessé et que la pellicule couleur est arrivée. Le coloris à la main revenait très cher. Les services ont été fermés. Ensuite j’ai travaillé pour des compagnies américaines pendant quinze ans. J’ai fait du montage car il n’y avait plus de coloris. J’ai plusieurs fois changé de sociétés pour progresser. Comme chez Pathé, j’ai appris comment se fabrique un film. On nous montrait tout le temps le labo: le film qu’on mettait dans des cuves, les gros cylindres en argent sur lesquels la pellicule était montée. Le cylindre tournait, et on coupait la pellicule en bandes de 35 mm; pendant que la pellicule était chaude, on la perforait. J’ai appris ça là-bas et j’ai pu l’enseigner à d’autres. Puis Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer a fermé et a cédé ses services à une autre société qui avait son propre personnel et nous a renvoyés. Je suis entrée à la télévision où j’ai travaillé pendant douze ans. J’ai encore appris beaucoup de choses, et je leur en ai appris d’autres.
Quand vous avez arrêté, en 1927, on faisait déjà des longs métrages. Avez-vous le souvenir de longs métrages que vous avez coloriés?
Oui, beaucoup et tous les ans c’était à refaire. Chaque année, par exemple, La Vie du Christ qui se louait beaucoup était à refaire. Il y avait aussi des choses qui se déchiraient. Mais on ne refaisait pas les films en entier; des morceaux seulement, pour aller plus vite et parce que ça coûtait trop cher.
Combien étiez-vous payée à l’époque?
On était payé vingt et un francs par semaine, avec une pièce en or et une en argent. Les hommes qui étaient dans les ateliers autour du nôtre et qui faisaient les grandes affiches nous appelaient les “poules de chez Pathé” parce qu’on gagnait beaucoup plus qu’eux. Ils touchaient quinze francs par semaine, et c’était des hommes qui faisaient du gros travail. Il y avait beaucoup d’usines autour et ils en avaient après nous car on gagnait beaucoup plus qu’eux.
(Enregistré à Montreuil en 1984, quelques mois avant le décès de Germaine Berger.)”
(Dana, Jorge (1984): Couleurs au pochoir. Entretien avec Germaine Berger, coloriste chez Pathé. In: Tobin, Yann (1992): Dossier. La couleur du cinéma. In: Positif, 375–376, May, pp. 121–158, on pp. 126–128.) (in French)
Timeline of Historical Film Colors by Barbara Flueckiger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.