1908 – 1915
Additive 2 color: Rotary filter
George Albert Smith and Charles Urban (The Natural Color Kinematograph Company Ltd.)
Kinemacolor was the most successful of the so called natural color processes in early cinema. It flourished between 1908 and 1913. However, the principle of recording color separations with revolving shutter filters was first proposed by the German Hermann Isensee as early as 1897. It was further developed by Frederick Marshall Lee and Edward Raymond Turner who patented a system in 1899. George Albert Smith applied for his first patent in 1906.
Kinemacolor was an additive process operated with alternating red and green filters that were applied to the shutter in front of the camera (image no. 5) and in front of the projector (see images no. 3 and 4). With at least 32 fps the frame rate was double the minimal frame rate of 16 fps. Time parallax with small differences between the red and green record resulted in color fringes that became visible when objects or scenes were moving (see image no. 7).
Three color records used by Kinemacolor’s predecessors Frederick Marshall Lee and Edward Raymond Turner and financed by Charles Urban proved to be impractical. It was impossible to keep the three records in register. Both the cameras and the projectors were not devised for these high frame rates.
However, the reduction to only two colors failed to reproduce the whole color spectrum. The two-color system was not able to render blue to violet hues and whites were tending to have a yellowish tinge. To compensate for this problem, George Albert Smith proposed to add blue-violet filters to the projection light. Depending on the color temperature of the projection lamp the green filter had to be adjusted to produce a satisfying result.
Many contemporary witnesses were enthusiastic about the rendition of colors. They are not pictures, but realities was a PR slogan provided by the The Natural Colour Kinematograph Company Ltd. and it was a recurring statement in these reviews. Charles Urban, the owner of the company, incessantly postulated the educational benefit of movies in natural colors.
As George Albert Smith pointed out in his paper from 1908, one of the main challenges in developing the process was to sensitize the orthochromatic black and white stock to the red end of the color spectrum. Basic research on the properties of the filters, the sensitized stock and the projection lamp with regard to the human color perception was crucial to establish the proper balance between the red and the green record.
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Original Technical Papers and Primary Sources
Bennett, Colin N. (1910): On operating Kinemacolor (Urban-Smith patents). London: Kinematograph & Lantern Weekly, .
Kinemacolor Co. (1910): Kinemacolor. The Glories of Nature Permanently Recorded by the Action of Light Only. Handbook of Cameras, Projectors and Appliances for Reproducing and Perpetuating the World’s Events in Natural Colors. London: Natural Color Kinematograph Company.
Smith, G. Albert (1908): Animated Photographs in Natural Colors. In: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 57, 11.12.1908, pp. 70-76.
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.
Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on pp. 37–39and on p. 41. (in German)
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. 275-276.
Brown, Simon (2013): “The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Color” – Redux. In: Brown, Simon; Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 13-22.
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 pp. 19–20.
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. 121-122.
Hanssen, Eirik Frisvold (2006): Early Discourses on Colour and Cinema. Origins, Functions, Meanings. (= Diss. University of Stockholm (Stockholm Cinema Studies, No. 2)) Download PDF in the download section of this page.
Jackson, Victoria (2010): Reviving the Lost Experience of Kinemacolor: David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard. In: Journal of British Cinema and Television, vol. 7, pp. 147-159.
Jackson, Victoria (2011): The Distribution and Exhibition of Kinemacolor in the UK and the USA 1909-1916. (= Diss, university of Bristol) Link to the introduction on Academia.edu
Kindem, Gorham (1981): The Demise of Kinemacolor. Technological, Legal, Economic, and Aesthetic Problems in Early Color Cinema History. In: Cinema Journal, 20,2, 1981, pp. 3-14.
Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 61.
McKernan, Luke (2003): ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’ Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897-1925. Diss., Birkbeck College, University of London.
Mees, C.E. Kenneth (1929): The Processes of Color Photography. III. Color Cinematography. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 6, pp. 44–51, on pp. 54–46, on p. 49 , on p. 50 and on p. 50.
Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. John Wiley & Sons, on p. 121.
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. 20. (in French)
Ramsaye, Terry (1926): A Million and One Nights. New York: Simon & Schuster 1926. See Adventures of Kinemacolor, pp. 562-572.
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. 186.
Theisen, Earl (1936): Notes on the history of color in motion pictures. In: International Photographer, Vol. 8, No. 5, June 1936, pp. 8-9 and p. 24, on p. 8.
Arvidson, Linda (1925): When the Movies Were Young. New York: Dutton, on pp. 245–249and on pp. 249–250.
“ANIMATED PHOTOGRAPHS IN NATURAL COLOURS.
BY G. ALBERT SMITH, F.R.A.S.
It is a pleasure to respond to-night to the invitation of the Royal Society of Arts to describe briefly a rather long course of experimental work carried out with an interesting object in view—that of reproducing by means of photography moving scenes in their natural colours.
The subject of colour photography has been very much to the fore of late, and the main lines upon which the work is done are so widely understood that it is unnecessary to go very fully over rudimentary ground in introducing the subject to an audience like the present one.
But we are to deal with that branch known as “animated” photography, and a s I often find that though most people are familiar enough with the results as exhibited at the places of amusement, they are not always quite clear about the process, it seems desirable to outline briefly the principles of the art.
Briefly stated, animated photography is snap-shot photography, without much interval between the shots. To do the work you provide yourself with a special camera and a roll of sensitive film, which latter may be of any length from, say, 50 to 500 feet, and on this film, you take snap-shots at the rate of 16 per second. A handle on the camera actuates machinery which carries the film forward. You turn the handle at a speed which causes the film to pass behind the lens at the rate of one foot of film for every second of time, whilst a revolving shutter with an opening in it permits 16 images to the foot to fall in rotation upon the travelling sensitive surface. It is important to note that the sensitive film is not travelling past the lens continuously; the machinery causes it to stand still momentarily while the actual snap-shot is being taken, and whilst the film is being-whisked forward preparatory to another snap-shot being recorded, the revolving black shutter intervenes to protect the moving film from light. Thus the film jumps forward 16 times every second, and stands still 16 times every second. When all the film has run through the camera, or when you think enough of the scene has been recorded, the film is developed like any other negative. When dry, a contact print is made on another piece of transparent film of corresponding length, and when that print is finally developed and dried it is ready to exhibit to an audience. It is run through a machine fitted with a lens and provided with a good light, in such a manner that the snap-shots are projected just a s lantern slides are shown, only that they change at the rate of 16 per second. A black shutter here again revolves and obliterates the light every time a picture changes. The sheet is, therefore, being bombarded with a stream of snap-shots at such a rapid rate that before one snap-shot has had time to fade from the observer’s retina another one is in view, and as each view is a record slightly different from its predecessors, the illusion of movement is conveyed. The part played by persistence of vision in this process is important, because we shall meet with that phenomenon again presently.
It is admitted that “animated photographs” are of great interest and educational importance, enabling us, as they do, to participate at our ease in scenes and happenings which we can never witness without their aid. But now that the extreme novelty and wonder of the thing have lost their first spell over our minds, how frequently the thought occurs that if only colour could be added a much more realistic impression of the situation would be conveyed. Personally, I have frequently had the desire for colour during the twelve years that I have been actively interested in the animated picture industry; but I think I date my determination to do what little within me lies to bring about that desired end from the time of the funeral of our late Queen, when it was my sole privilege to cinematograph the scene on the steps of the Chapel Royal, Windsor Castle. The picture that I obtained on that occasion, though a faithful record of movement and incident, conveyed no suggestion whatever of the gorgeous colouring of that historic scene. The rich uniforms of our King and Princes, the gorgeous tunics, plumes, and gold braidings of the great representatives of continental and other countries, made a blaze of moving colour on the broad steps of the Chapel which I shall never forget. My picture, of course, conveyed nothing of all this, and to my mind lost nine-tenths of its interest and truth in consequence. The same lament applies to almost all military scenes, in my opinion; and numerous other cases will occur to all of you where, if we could only reproduce colour as well as movement, a much more realistic and valuable record would result.
But how is it to be done? What methods are open to us ? Science tells us, with proofs that cannot be disputed, that there is no such thing as colour in an objective sense; colour is a sensation—a something supplied by our own minds—a subjective phenomenon entirely. A red object is conveying to our eyes a series of physical impulses numbering some millions per second; a violet object is sending impulses at nearly double the rate; other colours are sending impulses at different rates per second; and the brain translates these different impulses into sensations which we term colour. Colours, then, in all their innumerable shades and gradations, are actually impulses, shocks, or waves of varying intensity and proportion, each impulse or shock having its own characteristic velocity by which we recognise it and assign it its value.
Scientifically speaking, in the light of our knowledge to date, the photographer who sets out to record colour is seeking to record what does not exist outside of his own mind! Apart from his own brain, the beautiful colours and gorgeous tints around him are “oscillations of the ether;” and any experimenter who fails to grasp this scientific proposition and to work in the light of it is handicapped indeed.
Students of photography and of colour phenomena are well aware that the scientific performance of Professor Lippman some thirteen years ago still ranks as the only real “photography in colours.” He passed the focussed picture in his camera through an extremely thin and transparent sensitive emulsion on to a wall of mercury. Thence the colour waves rebounded, and by what is known as interference set up a permanent chemical change in the thin film. The light waves became, as it were, stationary, and revealed colours when viewed at a certain angle in reflected light. Such pictures require an exposure of at least a quarter of an hour in good sunlight. The colours are not always quite satisfactory (white is not at all well rendered) and the picture cannot be reproduced. The process is of intense scientific interest, but has no other practical value.
It appears, then, that in the present state of knowledge the most we can hope to do photographically in the pictorial registration of colour is to record the particular colour waves in any scene in a scale—from white ranging through intermediate greys to black, subsequently translating these neutral gradations back into colour terms by some artifice with coloured lights or dyes.
Some authority has, I believe, laid down the proposition that the human eye is a very imperfect optical instrument. However that may be, it is very certain that the photographic plate is much more imperfect. The photographic plate is partly colour-blind. It is said that some ladies in church are so much absorbed in the millinery that they necessarily bring away a very imperfect impression of the sermon. The photographic plate when put to work is so much impressed by the colours violet and blue, i.e., ether oscillations of high frequency, that it omits to give anything like an adequate rendering of the slower oscillations which human eyes recognise and designate as orange and red. Every amateur photographer knows how sluggishly responsive, comparatively speaking, his plates are to red rays, and for that reason he develops and inspects them in red light. Consequently, before photographic plates can be made to record colour waves, even in terms of neutral greys with white at one end of the scale and black at the other, they must be induced to see things more as human eyes see them. At present, whilst the human eye says that is the most luminous colour next to white itself, the photographic plate says that violet is. Whilst the human eye says that scarlet is a very bright and luminous colour, the photographic plate says it can scarcely see it at all.
So far as is generally known, the only way to make photographic plates see more as we see is to doctor them in very carefully arranged conditions with certain of the curious dyes derived from the by-products of coal. By a course of experimental doctoring of this sort, extending over the past three years, I have found it possible to make cinematograph film as sensitive, for all practical purposes, to red as to white. Thus a negative taken in the sixty-fourth of a second through a piece of red glass of two ladies, one dressed in scarlet and one in white, shows the dresses recorded with equal intensity. This is in harmony with the testimony of the human eye in similar conditions, as we shall find if we take a piece of red glass and look through it at two ladies dressed as I have described.
Apart from the beautifully scientific but impracticable process of Professor Lippman previously alluded to, the only field of operations presented to our view (assuming that we have secured a photographic medium sensitive to all colours of the spectrum) is the three-colour theory promulgated by Thomas Young early in the last century, and since adopted in every process of colour photography with which I am acquainted. This theory refers all human colour sensations to three primary ones—red, green, and violet. It suggests that we have a sort of triple seeing-mechanism capable of exciting sensations in the mind when stimulated by light-waves, and that all the colour sensations we experience are caused by the stimulation and activity of these triple avenues in varying proportions.
Whether the three-colour theory is in accordance with physioIogical facts or not need not be discussed. Sufficient is it for us that its adoption gives a practical working hypothesis, and as expounded and practised by Ducos du Hauron, Dr. Joly, M’Donough, Ives, Lumière, Sanger Shepherd, and others, gives us pleasing reproductions in colour. The applications of the theory are almost as old as most of us in this room; and we have seen from time to time lantern slides of still subjects beautifully produced by methods based on it.
Briefly, the theory indicates that, applied to photography, we are to take a photograph through red glass, which, by cutting out all other rays, permits us to secure a record of all that is red in the view and of all that relates to red; we are to take another through a green glass and so obtain a record of green, and of all that relates to green and of nothing else; finally we are to take a third photograph through a violet glass and secure a record of all that is violet and of all that relates to violet. When these three photographs are ultimately viewed in the coloured light that belongs to each, and they are somehow superimposed so that we view them all at once, each picture will contribute the requisite proportion of colour recorded in it and the reconstruction of the coloured scene will be complete.
The simplest illustration of the principle is perhaps the triple lantern, when the top lantern may shed a light through red glass on the sheet, the middle lantern may throw light through green glass, and the bottom lantern supply a beam of violet light. These three beams of coloured light superimposed upon the sheet will form white light. Then if the photographs, taken as described, and made into lantern slides, are inserted in their appropriate lanterns, and correctly focussed and’ superimposed on the sheet, the proportions of coloured light passed through the three slides suffice to reproduce to our eyes the proportions of colour in the original scene.
The most startling example of the three-colour theory is admittedly afforded by the recently-introduced and wonderful Autochrome plate, in which, by the marvellous skill of the brothers Lumière, the required colour filters are embodied as microscopic particles in the photographic plate itself, so that one exposure secures the photograph in three-colour value, and, when finished, a light at the back of the plate enables us to see the three colours in proper proportion. The multitude of microscopic filters (red, green, and violet) embodied in the plate abolish all the intermediate steps necessary before the introduction of the plate, and at the same time afford the most brilliant example of the application of the three-colour principle.
The three – colour principle having been proved by numerous lines of demonstration to be a sound working theory, it would naturally suggest itself as being applicable to animated pictures; and, judging by the records of the Patent Office, there are plenty of people who have thought so. But it is to be feared that in the rush to the Patent Office the details of experiment and trial have generally been overlooked.
Some years back (1902), I was invited by Mr. Charles Urban to assist in a thorough trial which he was making, regardless of reasonable expense, of a three-colour process applied to the cinematograph. At that date very little was known about the possibilities of sensitising film to red and green, and, to that extent, we were handicapped, although we had very expert assistance. Nevertheless, in good sunlight we did succeed in taking a few negatives in which the three colours were duly recorded. It was when we came to superimpose the pictures on the sheet through three coloured glasses that we found the process unworkable. As soon as the handle of the projecting machine was worked the three pictures refused to remain in register, and no knowledge that any of us could bring to bear upon the matter could even begin to cure the trouble. I do not know whether any other workers, if there are any, succeeded where we failed; but, if they did succeed, the public have never, so far as I am aware, been permitted to see the results. The difficulty is mainly due to the fact that cinematograph pictures are small to begin with (about the size of a postage stamp), and they have to be enormously magnified in exhibiting, as you all know. The slightest defect in registration is pitilessly magnified, and when the minute defects of registration in the first three pictures are followed by minute defects of another sort in the next three, and by yet another sort in the succeeding three, and so on throughout the length of a film, the effect on the observer is almost unbearable.
A plan much recommended, and much patented, I believe, is to use three lenses in taking the negatives, with a colour filter behind each, and to use a similar contrivance with three lenses and colour filters when projecting, adopting one of the usual contrivances to superimpose the images issuing from the three lenses. Whether the persons who advocate and patent this plan ever descend to the trivial detail of trying it is unknown, but when Mr. Urban and I tried it with carefully made machinery, the results were astonishing and painful to behold. It becomes evident on trial that the three pictures taken through the three lenses, however close the proximity of the latter may be, are slightly different from each other, and the attempt to superimpose these slightly different pictures when they are highly magnified, results in unbearable confusion.
The next idea we worked upon was to abandon the attempt at mechanical registration of the three pictures, and to run the films through the projecting machine at such a speed that the colours on the revolving shutter would combine, and so give the desired effect by persistence of vision. This was successful, but the colours were washy and ineffective. In fact, the colours were so pale that, considering the amount of film used up (three times the usual number of feet per subject), and considering that the problem of exposure was made three times as difficult, the experiment assumed a less hopeful aspect. The death of the original patentee put a further damper on the enquiry, and the experiment finally dropped.
During the last four years I have renewed the enquiry, to the exclusion of almost all other work, with the enthusiastic support and ever buoyant encouragement of Mr. Charles Urban. I have concentrated attention specially upon four points:—1. Sensitizing the film to all colour waves, specially pressing the sensitiveness as far into the red end of the spectrum as possible. 2. Superimposing the colour records by persistence of vision. 3. Compressing the colour records into a less number than three, so as to give the least possible interval of time between successive presentations. 4. To conform to the condition that any scheme must be easily applicable to the existing cinematograph machinery, and that the standard film with standard perforations must be used, so that any successful results might be readily adopted by every cinematograph user without much trouble or expense.
The first of these lines of enquiry (sensitizing) has been already referred to; it simply consisted of repeated trials and experiments day by day for a year or more until the required conditions for sensitizing emulsions for cinematograph work were better understood. The third line of enquiry, that of reducing the number of pictures in which the colour waves could be recorded in a monochromatic scale from three records to two, also resolved itself into a matter of repeated trial. For, in addition to deciding upon the particular shades of grey deposit which should be adopted as the equivalent of particular colours, the variations of different emulsions in yielding these greys had to be taken into account. .The final deduction from the experiments under the third heading was that, proceeding from the red end of the spectrum, all rays from dark red to blue could be recorded in proportions which our eyes accept as sufficiently truthful through two filters only.
If we ask individuals to set down the principal colours of nature, placing them in order of luminosity or brightness to the eye, the average of the lists will be as follows:— White, yellow, orange, red, green, blue, violet, indigo, black.
Now reference has previously been made to the unfortunate fact, that photographic plates or emulsions do not see as we do; thus, to the plate, blue and violet come at the top of the scale next to white, and not at the bottom end, as they do in the luminosity scale. I find that it is possible with two carefully-adjusted filters to pass to the sensitised plate or film colours in proportions parallel to the above order. Through one filter I pass white and yellow, then on through orange and scarlet to the darkest red I can sensitize for. Through the other filter I pass white and yellow again, as these two are at the head in luminosity and require fullest representation; then on through green, blue-green, blue and violet in the proportions suggested by the above luminosity list. The aim is to secure, by a careful adaptation of filters to emulsion, a record of colour luminosity stated in gradations of tone from white to black through a scale of greys, this scale being fully represented in two successive pictures.
I take the pictures with an Urban bioscope camera fitted with the required filters to come into action alternately. One film only is used, of the usual standard size, and I take the pictures at the rate of not less than 16 per second through each filter, or 32 pictures per second in all.
When the negative record has been duly developed, and a positive transparency made from it, this positive transparency represents, by its gradations of tone from white to black in each successive pair of pictures, not only a record in form and shape, but it also acts as a filter or sifter of light; for when it is passed in the path of rays of coloured light it will screen or filter them so as to reconstruct for our eyes the various proportions of colour luminosity which were present in the scene when the record was made.
I have said that the photographic record now obtained is to be placed in the path of colour rays, which rays are to be sifted by the travelling record so that the required amounts of colour reach the projection sheet in due proportion. The question now is, What rays of colour are we to use? Apparently, we must use the same colours that we used as filters in the camera, and, in fact, we may do so with pleasing results. But theoretical critics will point out that, owing to the unfortunate over-sensitiveness of the film to violet and blue, we must, of necessity, have cut these colours down to such an extent in our camera that if we use the same filters for reconstructing colour for the human eye, their absence will be sorely missed—our whites will be so deficient in blue and violet, that they won’t be white at all, but orange or yellow.
One reply to this contention is, that white is very largely a comparative sensation. What we agree to call white in a painting, for instance, is often quite different from what we agree to call white in another painting if we take steps to compare the two ” whites ” with one another. One may be yellowish or greyish compared with the other, yet both are white enough in their proper place in the picture, when surrounded with colours in proper “key,” as it were to them. Again, the whitest of paper will look yellow when compared with the purer white of fresh fallen snow. Therefore, our whites produced by the mixture of coloured lights may possibly be somewhat yellow as a matter of spectroscopic reality, but if the human eye accepts them as white by comparison with other colours in the same picture we need scarcely bother our heads further.
But another way of meeting the critical objection that the analytical filters of our camera are necessarily too deficient in violet and blue to give a proper rendering of colour when used as synthetical or reproduction filters in projection is to introduce the missing beams of violet and blue into our projection instrument, and so make ourselves practically secure of the white or ” all-colour light,” required on theoretical grounds. This I find it an advantage to do; and if you examine the light emanating from the projecting machine when lighted up and at work, you will see that beams of red and green are alternately issuing from the lens, and that these beams have added to them by means of a supplementary shutter just those proportions of violet and blue required to make a pure white when all are mixed. Thus we have light on the sheet for our whitest objects which contains, as it should contain to conform to theory, every colour of the spectrum from dark red to violet.
There are some persons so obsessed with the idea that three is the magic number for filters, that they imagine a system in which two only are employed must necessarily restrict the colours recorded and reproduced to two. There is in fact a good deal of confusion on the subject of colour mixture, and there are not a few who argue as though mixing coloured lights and mixing coloured pigments were the same thing. No mixing together of two or more pigments will ever make white; but white light can be produced by the mixture of two correctly chosen coloured lights. The printer who has to make colour prints on paper certainly has to divide the spectrum into three or even four, but he is dealing with printer’s ink or paint, not with light at all. Every writer on the phenomena of light, including Tyndall and Sir Henry Trueman Wood, teaches that white light can be made by the proper mixing of two well-chosen coloured lights; and it is further taught by every authority that white light contains all colours. I hope, however, to demonstrate that by dividing the spectrum into two it is possible to exhibit satisfactorily every colour to the eye, including the purest of white.
The practical method sketched above is possibly open to assault on strictly theoretical grounds—although it must not be forgotten that theories have sometimes to be re-examined in the light of facts. The first consideration to my mind is the production of results. I am not striving to defend a theory; nor do I deem it necessary to keep within the limits of a theory.
I have no doubt whatever that many improvements are in store. Lens makers, emulsion makers, mechanics, will each contribute to the advance. I expect to make important improvements myself when Spring comes and I renew my experiments. The present results are presented as early experiments in the photography of moving things in colour, and as the first serious exposition of work done in that direction. It is to be hoped that the numerous others who, we are led to believe, are working in the same direction will be encouraged to put their theories to the test and come forward with their results.
In conclusion, I submit the reasonable proposition that just as we have seen great advances in animated photography in black and white since the popular advent of the art nearly fourteen years ago, when there were numerous difficulties and limits which have gradually been overcome or broken down, so we shall see great and rapid advances in the new art of recording and reproducing moving scenes in natural colours. My own efforts, now briefly described and illustrated, will, I hope, inaugurate the movement, even if future results are obtained on quite different lines. As I have said, the first consideration is the production of results, and the results of my own researches we will now proceed to examine, with the assistance of Mr. Charles Urban and his bioscope.
Sir HENRY TRUEMAN WOOD (Secretary of the Society) thought the subject of the paper was not one which lent itself to discussion in a large and general audience, but he felt it would be a pity if somebody who had studied and worked at the question of coloured photography did not draw the attention of the meeting to the scientific interest and value of the very beautiful experiments which had been shown. Even an individual without any knowledge of photography was, he was sure, able to appreciate the beauty of the pictures, and the great advance which had been made in kinematography, but it required a little special knowledge before one could appreciate the full merits of the invention. The first point of interest was the way in which “persistence of vision” was utilised to produce colour, as well as movement, and the difficulties of perfect registration thereby avoided. The second point was the substitution of two colours for three. It was easy to understand how it was possible with three colours to represent to the human eye the whole range of colours of the spectrum, but he did not think even those who were most familiar with the subject were able to explain how it was that such good results were obtained with two colours. The only criticism he ventured to offer was, that it seemed to him that, while the reds were admirably rendered, the darker blues, and some of the greens, were not quite as true to nature as theoretically they might be, but, no doubt, that was a matter which would be improved in the future. Even if Mr. Smith progressed no further than he had done, he had made a very valuable addition to the list of photographic inventions. He was very much confirmed in his view by the fact that those colours which required the greater part of the range of the spectrum to represent them, the greys and browns, appeared to him to be admirably and perfectly truly rendered. For instance, the grey of the donkey shown appeared to be perfect; and it was a very well-known fact that the most difficult colour to reproduce by means of three-colour photography, was a grey or a white. The brown of the horses also struck him as being absolutely true to nature. Another point of merit, which he thought ought to be placed on record, was the extreme sensitiveness of the film which the author had obtained. Speaking as an old photographer, he found it hard to realise that a detailed picture could be obtained through a red screen with an exposure which was actually less than a 50th of a second. A great amount of credit was also due for the beautiful mechanism, which was able to stop the film and hold it stationary for the minute portion of time during which the light was allowed to act upon it, and to repeat the operation 2,000 times in a minute: it reflected very great credit both on the mechanical as well as the chemical skill shown. He wished to express, on behalf of the Society, the great satisfaction all present felt at having seen Mr. Smith’s wonderful pictures; and he thought their earnest thanks were also due to him, not only for showing them, but also for the very candid and full way in which he had explained in the paper, which contained a record for future use of practically the whole of his invention, the manner in which those marvellous results had been obtained.
The CHAIRMAN, in proposing a most hearty vote of thanks to Mr. Smith for his admirable paper, thought that the audience must feel they were highly privileged to be present on the very first occasion that such marvellous results of patient industry and remarkable talent had been set before the public. He was much impressed by the fact that the films shown were not taken in a continuous stream, but that each picture on the films was taken separately, a fresh start having to be made after each separate picture was taken. It was simply marvellous to think that the film was not being sent through at a certain rate, but that the machine was stopping and going on again thirty-two times a second. He was sure it would be Mr. Smith’s wish that mention should be made of Mr. Urban, who was associated with him in the production of animated pictures in colours, and to whose assistance a large share of the interest of the paper was due. Mr. Albert Smith’s name struck a very pleasant note in his memories of the past, but the celebrated view of Cologne Cathedral at midnight shown by that eminent popular entertainer was very different from the brilliant views exhibited that evening by the living bearer of the name.
The resolution of thanks was then put to the meeting and carried by acclamation.
Mr. ALBERT SMITH, in reply, after expressing his extreme gratitude for the cordial way in which his paper had been received, said he greatly appreciated the words which fell from the lips of Sir Henry Trueman Wood, who knew as much about the subject as anybody present. Reference had been made to the mechanical skill which was required to construct the camera with which the experiments were made. That camera had been made under the supervision of Mr. Charles Urban in his works, and that gentleman was entitled to the sole credit for the production of that apparatus.”
(Smith, G. Albert (1908): Animated photographs in Natural Colours. In: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 57, 11.12.1908, pp. 70-76. (= London)
“Raising the Colours (Restoring Kinemacolor)
by Nicola Mazzanti
The reason why I think that Kinemacolor, although it is not a completely new subject, might be interesting to discuss in this context is because it raises several issues about reproduction and duplication within archives. With Kinemacolor, the physical duplication of the original nitrate film is quite easy – more complex issues arise because we have somehow to find a method to reproduce the experience in a new way, because we are simply not able to offer the system in the original form, or at least it would be extremely complicated to do so. Kinemacolor offers one example of this problem, and at that probably not the most complicated one – there are several other systems and processes which it is practically impossible to reproduce in their original form. Here the archivist confronts the problem: Where exactly is the film experience? Is it on the film, or in the projector, or on the screen? And precisely how do these many things interact with one another?
I believe that Joao may have left the impression that Friese-Greene was the inventor of colour cinematography, but of course George Albert Smith also claimed that honour. There were several not very conclusive lawsuits between the two men to settle the issue in the English courts. In any case, it was Smith’s first patent in 1906 that marked an important step forward towards a possibly viable system of colour cinematography, because it moved from three-colour additive systems – with all the practical difficulties which Joao described – to two colours. Speaking of that patent in a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts on 9 December 1908, G A Smith said that “two colours give the same result as three colours,” and then showed some films – harvesting scenes and a yacht race – to prove his point. The reviews of this lecture state that the greys were excellent in all of the materials.
Another of Smith’s lectures was reported in the British Journal of Photography on 6 December 1907. It is worth quoting this review, because it tells us a few interesting things: “We were able to compare the colours in the pictures projected with some of the actual accessories used, and the rendering of the colours was strikingly accurate, particularly in the case of the reds. Only two taking and projecting filters were used, an orange-red and a blue-green, the usual third or blue-violet filter being dispensed with. Naturally the whites obtained are not pure, but have a slight yellowish tinge, yet when projected on the screen with brilliant colours this defect is hardly noticeable.” When I began to face the restoration of Kinemacolor a few years ago, I found these comments very striking, because all of the other restorations of early colour systems which I had seen before (such as Friese-Greene’s) had the opposite tendencies. The whites are pure, and there is no yellowish hint anywhere, but they are very high-contrast.
To move on with the story. In 1909 Smith’s patent, which had previously had no commercial identity, acquired the trade name “Kinemacolor”, and was the very first colour process to be commercialised by the Kinemacolor Company. Several films followed, including some fiction films, and the company was rather successful for a while. After that, the films more or less disappeared, or entered into a long period of complete oblivion. Many of these additive systems arrived during those years and then dropped out of film history. In our day, we are starting to know several of these systems again – Friese-Greene in the British NFTVA; Chronochrome, which has been restored at Rochester; and Kinemacolor.
A few years ago the Cineteca in Bologna received a visitor from a local regional archive, who arrived with several cans of nitrate and said, “We have some weird stuff here. I mean, these reels don’t look at all conventional. Can you tell us what they are?” They turned out to be the largest collection of Kinemacolor in the world. There are 23 titles, approximately 6,000 metres of material, on 45 reels. Unfortunately, most of this material was in rather pitiful condition. Most of the reels were already decomposing, and the black-and-white image was deeply affected and was fading. Of course, if the black-and-white image fades in Kinemacolor, you just lose the colours: that’s the point. The titles in the list include some that recall the 1907/1908 screenings that I mentioned earlier: there are scenes of blossoming flowers and, of course, yachts. There are lakes, scenes on the Nile, London Zoo, all sorts of parades and uniforms, and, which was particularly interesting for us, also a few things about Italy. One of the ways in which the Kinemacolor Company operated, actually, was that they sold rights, in a sort of franchising arrangement, so that licensed operators in local countries could buy the machinery, the camera and projectors, film their own films, and distribute them somehow. Some of these films are thus also quite important for Italian history, not just film history.
When we faced the problem of restoring this material, of course our first thought was to try to see how it looked on the screen. So a few years ago, at the Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, we organised a screening of Kinemacolor by modifying a modern projector. The show worked out somehow, except that in the middle of the film there was a join which lost a frame, so that the colour just flipped the other way: the uniforms of Italian policemen changed, and even the Italian flag actually appeared in the wrong colours. Another small problem was that we burned out the motor of the projector. As you will have gathered by now, Kinemacolor is based on a two-colour additive system: a scene is recorded on film on two consecutive frames filmed alternately through a green-and-red filter, and then it is played again on a projector with the same rotating filters at 32 frames per second. Running at 32 fps just destroyed the projector. (Actually, I wanted try to do the same presentation at the National Film Theatre, but they didn’t like the idea for some reason!) We also built a viewing table for Kinemacolor, which is probably the only one in existence. It may strike you as a pretty stupid thing to do, but it is very easy – just add filters to the prism of your viewing table. It also means that you can check all the splices in your films, because otherwise, as I said, you can get the colours wrong.
Thinking of methods for long-term preservation, we decided with the Cineteca that we did not much care for the idea of having colour material as a preservation master for these black-and-white originals, where we thought we might end up with acetate films which might offer much less than the original nitrate prints. Also, an early test we did, involving the production of a colour internegative, gave us slightly too high contrast, which would add to the problems of conserving this colour material. Anyway, of course, straightforward copying like that was no fun, so we decided to go another way. We copied all of the materials just as they were, in black-and-white, trying to keep a faithful record of the originals, and then we separated our copies into two black-and-white negatives, so that the subsequent shots were physically put on two different films. This meant that, if necessary, we could control density and contrast on the two separate strips of black-and-white dupe negative much more easily. These two black-and-white dupe negatives were then recombined, like conventional colour separations, to produce a positive colour print, for projection at 16 frames per second. So you could say that in a way we basically transformed this additive system into a subtractive system, but we have ensured that the two preservation masters are black-and-white.1
There remain a couple of important things to be mentioned. The literature produced by the Kinemacolor Company says that Kinemacolor cameramen had to choose different filters according to the subject. Now, they give no specific information about these different filters, but presumably various degrees of orange/red or blue/cyan/green filtering could be used, according to the subject. In practice, what we sometimes found when grading and printing these materials was that, although the first colour was always basically cyan, with the other colour, the red, we sometimes had to move more to the orange or more to the red, adding more or less of the yellow component to get the better, more natural, result that Kinemacolor wanted to achieve. Of course, the adjustment that we made at the printing stage would not have had its equivalent in the original Kinemacolor days, because even if the cameraman had the chance to vary his red/orange filter, the projection system would have been equipped with only one set of filters.
Traditionally, the major problem with Kinemacolor, as with all these additive systems, was that of time parallax, meaning that when a subject moves fast, it acquires this colour fringe that Joao mentioned. We also encountered another problem that we had not expected – printer parallax. We found that the films were printed in a completely unsteady way, so the image moves around all over the screen, and there is no accurate superimposition in the prints themselves.
And now we can let the restored prints speak for themselves.
1 In the meantime, an alternative approach to Kinemacolor has been developed in Amsterdam by Haghefilm, which involves dyeing, or Desmet-colourising, alternate frames in each of the two colours and then using a projector at 32 fps. The Amsterdam approach has, incidentally, resolved the big issue between Friese-Greene and Kinemacolor, because essentially it has “Friese-Greened” a Kinemacolor!“
(Mazzanti, Nicola (2002): Raising the Colours (Restoring Kinemacolor). In: Roger Smither (ed.): This Film is Dangerous. A Celebration of Nitrate Film. Brussels: FIAF, pp. 123-125.)
“The Demise of Kinemacolor: Technological, Legal, Economic, and Aesthetic Problems In Early Color Cinema History
by Gorham Kindem
Film historians generally agree that Kinemacolor was a significant development in the early history of color motion pictures, but they disagree about why its success was so short-lived. American and British film historians Terry Ramsaye, Rachael Low, Adrian Cornwell-Clyne, and D. B. Thomas all characterize Kinemacolor as the first successful photographic color motion picture process. But they offer slightly different explanations for the limited duration of its success. Ramsaye’s portrayal of Kinemacolor focuses upon Charles Urban, the American impresario who promoted Kinemacolor throughout the world, and he suggests that the source of Urban’s difficulties was the Motion Picture Patents Company, whose disinterest in Kinemacolor prevented him from deeply penetrating American markets.1 Low examines Kinemacolor’s legal problems in Great Britain and argues that the loss of George Albert Smith’s original 1906 patent in 1914 forced Urban to initiate the liquidation of Kinemacolor’s assets.2 Cornwell-Clyne concentrates upon the technical deficiencies of early additive color processes, including Kinemacolor, and argues that they were all destined to fail because they were technologically inadequate and perceptually disconcerting.3 To the technological and legal problems that Kinemacolor encountered in the mid 1910s, D. B. Thomas adds economic and aesthetic problems of supply and demand. He points out that over 70 percent of all British Kinemacolor footage available in 1914 was nonfiction, i.e., newsreel and travel films, and therefore deficient in popular dramatic films, and that there were too few Kinemacolor films overall to offer a high quality, varied, twice weekly change of program to film exhibitors.4
The evidence I have gathered from exhibitor trade papers and other sources indicates that each of these explanations is at least partially valid. Kinemacolor’s demise can be attributed to several sets of negative factors: technological, legal, economic, and aesthetic. The deaths of the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd., in Great Britain and Kinemacolor of America (separate but related companies) in 1914 were undoubtedly hastened by the conjunction of technical and economic problems inherent in Kinemacolor production and exhibition, the loss of Smith’s British patent, the rising popularity of dramatic feature films, which at Kinemacolor were in short supply, and potential difficulties in international distribution and exhibition accompanying the onset of World War I, although the impact of the war is difficult to assess. Determining the precise contribution of each of these factors to the demise of Kinemacolor, however, is extremely difficult and highly speculative given the paucity of hard evidence that currently exists.
Kinemacolor Technology and Two-Color Theory.
Many of the legal and economic difficulties which eventually consumed Kinemacolor have their roots in the specifications for the process G. A. Smith, the Brighton filmmaker/inventor, patented in 1906. British patent #26671 was for “improvements in relating to Kinematographic apparatus for the production of coloured pictures.”
An animated picture of a coloured scene is taken with a bioscope camera in the usual way, except that a revolving shutter is used fitted with properly adjusted red and green colour screens. A negative is thus obtained in which the reds and yellows are recorded in one picture, and the greens and yellows (with some blue) in the second, and so on alternately throughout the length of the bioscope film. A positive picture is made from the above negative and projected by the ordinary projecting machine which, however, is fitted with a revolving shutter furnished with somewhat similar coloured glasses to the above, and so contrived that the red and green pictures are projected alternately through their appropriate colour glasses. If the speed of projection is approximately 30 pictures per second, the two colour records blend and present to the eye a satisfactory rendering of the subject in colours which appear to be natural. The novelty of my method lies in the use of two colours only, red and green, combined with the principle of persistence of vision.5
In his patent application Smith described the technical and perceptual difficulties inherent in previous attempts to produce natural color motion pictures with three color records and argued that two colors, “a certain two, red and green, were sufficient” to have motion pictures exhibited “so as to have the appearance of being in natural colours” that were “apparently” correct. As The Bioscope, a major British trade paper, pointed out soon after the first exhibition of Kinemacolor films in 1908, “Messrs. Urban and Smith do not profess to take photographs of subjects in their natural colours, but by the process just described the effect on the eyes of the spectator are as if this had been obtained.”6
Proponents of classical color theory, from Isaac Newton and Thomas Young to many contemporary perceptual psychologists, have argued that the reproduction of all natural colors requires three different colored lights: red, green, and blue. James Clerk Maxwell put classical color theory into practice when he demonstrated the feasibility of three-color photography in the mid 1800s. Maxwell recorded an original scene on black and white film through three different color filters attached to three separate cameras and then projected the developed positives through their respective color filters onto a single screen. Almost all subsequent experimentation with natural color motion pictures prior to Kinemacolor attempted to apply Maxwell’s three-color additive photographic process to motion pictures.
The technical difficulties inherent in three-color additive motion pictures were virtually insurmountable at the turn of the century. In order to produce three-color motion pictures, three separate color records had to be recorded and projected simultaneously in precise registration or consecutively with sufficient speed to fuse the three images into one multiple color scene through persistence of vision. The visual impact of the former could be destroyed by the slightest misalignment, and the rapid film transport speed required for the latter invariably caused the film to shred. The technological limitations of additive color processes, which are delineated by Cornwell-Clyne in the following quotation, help to explain why this technological innovation was eventually displaced by subtractive processes.
The defects of the additive method were soon obvious to all; the audience suffered from excessive eyestrain, a phenomenon always associated with colour admixture by persistence of vision if the recurrence is only just above the flicker limit of sixteen alternations of the quality of the stimulus per second. The projection speed of 32 pictures per second used for Kinemacolor necessitated a special projector and the life of the film was short.7
Whether or not additive motion picture color processes caused more eyestrain than conventional black and white films of the period is not clear, although the problem of color fringing (the discrepancy in stopped motion between two adjacent color frames) probably was extremely disconcerting to audiences.8
G. A. Smith’s solution to some of the technical problems of three-color additive processes presented a direct challenge to classical color theory. His Kinemacolor process attempted to fuse only two color records into one natural color scene through persistence of vision. To accomplish this, panchromatic (red sensitized) black and white film was exposed through alternating red and green filters and then projected at double normal silent speed. During his presentation to the Royal Arts Society on December 8, 1908, Smith argued that two-color records seemed to give a range of color equal to three-color.9
The validity of Smith’s claim is still in doubt today. In the 1950s and 1970s Edwin H. Land experimented with two-color photography and attempted to demonstrate that two-color records, a long wavelength and a short wavelength, were sufficient to transmit the full range of colors of an original scene.10 While some contemporary perceptual psychologists agree that there is an “illusion” of multiple color in Land’s projected scenes, many argue that the limited saturation of the colors is explained by perceptual processes and optical illusions that do not contradict classical color theory.1l They argue that even if the eye is fooled into thinking that a wide range of colors is present, the colors only exist in the mind’s eye and are much less saturated and more limited in range than three-color projections would be.
Smith’s invention and two-color theory were even more controversial in the early 1900s than Land’s experiments are today. Many competitors and other inventors doubted that Smith’s claims were scientifically valid. By 1911 several competitors began blatantly to infringe upon his patent, and a lack of scientific credibility for his invention did little to discourage them from doing so. Eventually the disputes over rival claims to two-color motion picture inventions had to be decided in the courts.
Patent Law, Two-Color Technology, and the Dissolution of the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd.
Rachael Low has demonstrated that by 1911 many of Kinemacolor’s competitors had begun to infringe upon Smith’s patent with impunity. “Biocolor,” a color process invented by William Friese-Greene and backed financially by S. F. Edge, published the following challenge in an advertisement in The Bioscope:
No attention whatever need be paid to idle threats of legal proceedings. We have been advised by eminent counsel that such threats cannot possibly be enforced.12
The American correspondent for The Bioscope had publicly declared much earlier that Smith’s patent had little or no value.
I do not hesitate to say that the patent as it is published is worthless. In other words, that it would not stand the test of a contest in the courts backed by scientific evidence. That being the case, one of the principal assets of the Kinemacolor Company is of doubtful value.13
Other competitors found justification for adapting two-color technology to their own purposes in these direct challenges to Kinemacolor. A series of suits and countersuits flooded the courts and headlines of The Bioscope until December 1913, when Bioschemes, a competitor owned by S. F. Edge, petitioned for the revocation of Smith’s 1906 patent.14
This petition was heard before Mr. Justice Warrington on December 8, 9, 11, and 12 before it was dismissed. But Bioschemes persisted in their attack upon Kinemacolor and obtained a hearing with Lord Justice Buckley and the Court of Appeal on March 20, 23, 24, and 25. Justice Buckley reversed Warrington’s decision and revoked Smith’s patent on April 1, 1914, staying the order for one month pending appeal to the House of Lords. Although the matter was eventually brought before the House of Lords, Buckley’s decision was upheld.
Justice Buckley argued that Smith’s patent failed accurately to specify the color filters which would successfully record and project all natural colors. Smith had indicated that red and green filters were sufficient, and Buckley interpreted the filters Smith intended to be tristimulus red and green, respectively, which were in frequent use in 1906. Between 1906 and 1914, however, Smith and Urban experimented with a variety of different color filters.15 Projections of objects recorded through tristimulus red and green filters failed to reproduce the color blue. When a “clear red” filter was used, however, the color blue could apparently be reproduced, but Buckley argued that since the filters specified in the patent were tristimulus red and green and these failed to reproduce all natural colors, specifically blue, Smith’s patent was inaccurate and hence invalid. He further argued that if Smith intended just any shade of red or green, then his patent was invalid because some red and green filters didn’t work at all, and that if he intended any two filters that happened to work, his patent was insufficient, and his invention unpatentable.16 Although the patent suit had been initiated on the grounds of prior use of the two-color process by Friese-Greene and others, its resolution was effected by the determination that Smith’s two-color process was unpatentable.
The loss of Smith’s patent appears to have been catastrophic to Charles Urban. Within a month he voluntarily initiated the liquidation of The Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd.’s assets to pay off his creditors. Urban then left England for America just before the outbreak of World War I.
The Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd., had begun operations on March 16, 1909 with £30,000 of capital. Between 1911 and 1914 it made profits of £37,000 on receipts of £300,000. £100,000 was received from the sale of patent rights abroad and about £21,000 from foreign exhibition rights during this period.17 When Urban initiated his company’s liquidation, The Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd., had assets of £150,000 and liabilities of £64,000.18 The loss of its patent undoubtedly reduced the value of many of its assets, especially the value of color films Kinemacolor maintained for lease and the rights to its color process which it sold throughout the world.
There can be no doubt that Kinemacolor’s financial stability and virtual monopoly on photographic color in Great Britain and France depended upon the maintenance of this patent, but it is not at all clear that the demise of Kinemacolor internationally can be entirely attributed to its revocation. For example, one of Kinemacolor’s liabilities in April of 1914 was £4,000 past due for half a year’s rent at Urban’s Paris theatre. The chairman of the liquidation indicated that this venture had been quite unsuccessful since its opening in December of 1913. His Parisian venture cost Urban about £40,000.19 The Paris theatre, which closed in May of 1919, was relatively small, charged high admission prices, and was not optimally located.
In short, British Kinemacolor encountered financial difficulties with exhibition in 1914, some of which were attributed to theatre location and exhibition policy. Other difficulties were undoubtedly caused by failure to sustain a supply of popular films, like the two-and-a-half-hour Delhi Durbar newsreel, which grossed more than £150,000 between February of 1912 and May of 1913.20 According to D. B. Thomas, Urban was negatively predisposed to the production of “artificial” dramas, and “Kinemacolor was unable to repeat the success of the Delhi Durbar Film with any of its dramatic productions or photoplays.”21
Kinemacolor’s Problems In America.
Terry Ramsaye has written at length about Urban’s early difficulties with the Motion Picture Patents Company in America and has suggested that Kinemacolor’s demise should be attributed in large part to its failure to penetrate American markets. But Ramsaye’s account is misleading. Urban in fact sold his U.S. patents outright to Kinemacolor of America for £40,000 in the Spring of 1910,22 and this American company succeeded in forging an agreement with the Patents Company in 1913. Kinemacolor of America began a major advertising campaign on October 12, 1912.23 Over 300 films had been produced in America in preparation for this event. Kinemacolor enlisted the services of three East Coast production companies, one traveling company, and two dramatic companies in Los Angeles. Many talented performers were brought under contract, including Linda Arvidson Griffith, the former Mrs. D. W. Griffith.24 In 1912 and 1913 Linda A. Griffith was featured in two major Kinemacolor productions, The Scarlet Letter and The Clansman, the latter of which was aborted and eventually picked up by D. W. Griffifth.25
Kinemacolor of America had secured 416 applications for film service only one week after it began offering services in 1912,26 which attests to its initial popularity, and it eventually signed an agreement with the Motion Picture Patents Company to lease color films and projectors as a licensed supplier on August 4, 1913 (3 Record 1335-51).27 The Patents Company agreement followed contracts for Kinemacolor films signed by the F. F. Proctor chain of cinemas and then by William Fox in April 1913,28 which suggests that competition with independent exhibitors encouraged the MPPC to sanction the use of Kinemacolor films by its licencees.
Kinemacolor encountered marketing and managerial problems in America despite the fact that it secured access to MPPC licencees. It may have been difficult to persuade exhibitors that there was a sufficient demand for Kinemacolor films to justify the added expense and difficulties involved in removing their conventional projectors each time a Kinemacolor film and projector was leased. In November 1913 Kinemacolor of America, Inc., began selling rather than leasing its projectors.29 Until that time its marketing strategy had been to lease Kinemacolor films to one exhibitor in each locale. In England a 3000-foot program, including a projector and operator, which changed twice a week, cost £20 a week in London and £25 outside London in 1913.30 In America, Kinemacolor services cost $20+ a week.31
Kinemacolor began selling its projectors in America for $200 to $300 installed, and the same projector could also be used for conventional black-and-white films. But exhibitors may have felt that there was an insufficient demand for Kinemacolor films or an insufficient supply of good dramatic Kinemacolor films to justify the added expense and trouble of acquiring new projectors. In any case, by the end of 1913 Kinemacolor ceased advertising in American exhibition trade papers altogether. In January 1914 Urban made an unscheduled trip to America to sever relations with Kinemacolor of America Vice-President, William H. Hickey, and publicly announced this action in Moving Picture World.32 In June 1914 an advertisement in Variety indicated that the space and production equipment previously used by Kinemacolor in the Mecca Building was available for rent.33
Precisely why Kinemacolor of America failed may ultimately remain a mystery, but the scant evidence that currently exists suggests that several factors played important roles in its demise. There was probably a shortage of product, particularly of dramatic films for which audience demands were intensifying, like that which existed for British Kinemacolor. The Italian features Quo Vadis? and Cabiria were released in 1913 and 1914, and a strong demand for longer and longer American dramatic films was clearly evident during this period.34 Dramatic feature film production magnified the technical deficiencies of Kinemacolor. Twice as much film had to be expended for Kinemacolor as for black-and-white and the film stock had to be chemically treated to be panchromatically sensitive to red light. In common use after 1912, Cooper-Hewitt mercury vapor lighting was very strong on blue light, and this presented difficulties for interior studio production with Kinemacolor.35 In addition, exhibitors had to be convinced that there was a sufficient supply of36 and demand for dramatic Kinemacolor films to justify the added expense and technical difficulties of color projection. Managerial conflict between Charles Urban and William H. Hickey severed relations between the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd., and Kinemacolor of America early in 1914, although the two companies had cooperated on film productions, like The Rivals, in 1913. Finally, it is not at all clear that the dramatic productions offered by Kinemacolor in America and Britain were commercially or critically successful. What evidence does exist suggests that Kinemacolor news documentaries were more successful than the dramatic productions,37 although the public demand for dramatic feature films generally increased through the mid 1910s. In short, the failure of Kinemacolor of America was probably caused by the conjunction of negative technological, economic, legal, and aesthetic factors: the technical deficiencies of color record and projection, the limited supply of an inferior quality of dramatic color films, the loss of Smith’s British patent and the dissolution of the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd., and Kinemacolor’s failure to make color a consistently vital part of commercially and critically successful motion pictures.
In any case, when Urban returned to America just before the outbreak of World War I he became involved in the production of black-and-white newsreels and scientific documentaries.38 Kinemacolor of America forfeited its California charter in 1916 for failure to pay back taxes39 but continued to exist until 1924. Although it was probably commercially defunct by 1914 and never regained its previous stature and commercial successes, Kinemacolor of America’s primary inventor/researcher, William F. Fox, did succeed in improving the technology by patenting a new Kinemacolor process in 1918.40 But these technological improvements were inconsequential in terms of the history of color motion pictures.
Kinemacolor’s Contribution to Color Film History.
Kinemacolor played a significant role in film history, not because it made a major contribution to color motion picture technology, but because its promoter/owner, Charles Urban, initially demonstrated that a significant market existed for color films, specifically color news and documentary films. Subsequent inventors and entrepreneurs were undoubtedly motivated by the hope that significant profits could be made by offering color services to film producers and color films to audiences throughout the world, especially when a technologically superior process demonstrated the commercial value of color for dramatic as well as documentary films.
Soon after Kinemacolor lost its original patent, color technology began to change and the use of alternating color filters was abandoned entirely. Two-color additive color printing and three-color simultaneous projection methods were the technological heirs apparent to Kinemacolor internationally.41 But no color process appears to have rivaled the early commercial success of Kinemacolor until Technicolor patented and successfully marketed its subtractive, imbibition dye transfer process in the mid to late 1920s. The major technological innovations which succeeded Kinemacolor, Technicolor and Eastmancolor,42 obviously benefited from an understanding of Smith’s and Urban’s earlier mistakes. The technological, legal, economic, and aesthetic factors that brought about Kinemacolor’s demise were consciously and successfully avoided by Technicolor and Eastman Kodak (Eastmancolor). Both firms were able to maintain their major color patents for a much longer period of time than Kinemacolor (taken together, for over 50 consecutive years contrasted to 8 years). Unlike Kinemacolor, Technicolor and Eastman Kodak never overextended their financial resources or competed with prospective clients by becoming deeply involved in film production. Instead, they successfully marketed color services to all film producers who wanted and could afford them. In addition, Technicolor films by major producers in the 1930s, like The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, clearly demonstrated the commercial value of color for dramatic films. Technologically, Kinemacolor was simply not as significant an innovation as either Technicolor or Eastmancolor. Economically, however, Kinemacolor’s successful demonstration of a potential world market for photographic color motion pictures requires that it be allocated more than a footnote in the history of world cinema.
1 Terry Ramsaye, “Adventures of Kinemacolor,” A Million and One Nights (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1926), pp. 562-572.
2 Rachael Low, The History of the British Film 1906-1914 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1949), pp. 100-104.
3 Adrian Cornwell-Clyne, Colour Cinematography (London: Chapman & Hall), pp. 6-9. See also Roderick T. Ryan, A History of Motion Picture Color Technology (London: The Focal Press, 1977), pp. 26-30.
4 D. B. Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1969).
5 Ibid., p. 14.
6 The Bioscope, December 17, 1908, p. 15.
7 Cornwell-Clyne, op. cit., p. 8.
8 Thomas, op. cit., p. 31.
9 Journal Royal Society of Arts, 1908, 57, No. 2, 929.
10Edwin H. Land, “Color Vision and the Natural Image,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science , 1959, 45, pp. 115-129; “Experiments in Color Vision,” Scientific American , May, 1959, pp. 84-99; and “The Retinex Theory of Color Vision,” Scientific American, December, 1977, pp. 108-128.
11 Author’s discussion with Dr. Mark Hollins, perceptual psychologist, Department of Psychology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
12 The Bioscope, October 5, 1911, p. 11.
13 Special Correspondent “news From America,” The Bioscope, October 19, 1909, p. 19.
14 Low, op. cit.
15 Thomas, op. cit., pp. 14-16.
16 “Bioschemes, Limited, v. Natural Color Kinematography Company, Limited,” The Bioscope, April 9, 1914, pp. 141-142.
17 Thomas, op. cit., p. 33.
18 The Bioscope, April 30, 1914, pp. 540-541.
20 Thomas, op. cit., p. 30.
21 Ibid., p. 27. According to Thomas, Urban wrote in 1910, “‘With the life and scenery of the world, in every land upon which the sun shines, waiting to be recorded in color, time spent in finding ways and means of photographing artificial comedies and artificial tragedies by artificial light is wasted,’ ” and critics said of Kinemacolor dramatic films that “although the colour was almost invariably praised . . . the acting was poor and the direction worse.”
22 Ibid., p. 30.
23 The Moving Picture World , October 12, 1912, p. 161.
24 The Moving Picture World, October 19, 1912, p. 231.
25 Russell Merritt, “Dixon, Griffith, and The Southern Legend,” Cinema Journal, 12, No. 1 (Fall 1972), p. 31.
26 The Moving Picture World, op. cit.
27 Ralph Cassady, Jr., “Monopoly in Motion Picture Production and Distribution: 1908-1915,” Southern California Law Review, 32, No. 4 (Summer 1959), p. 327.
28 Thomas, op cit., p. 30.
29 The Moving Picture World, November 1, 1913, p. 500.
30 Low, op. cit., p. 101.
31 The Moving Picture World, op. cit.
32 The Moving Picture World , January 31, 1914, p. 561.
33 Variety, 35, No. 2 (June 12, 1914), p. 23.
34 See Cassady, op. cit.
35 Thomas, op. cit., p. 31.
36 According to D. B. Thomas, Kinemacolor never had a sufficient library of films to provide a theatre with a twice weekly change of program, ibid., pp. 32-33.
37 See Thomas, p. 27.
38 Raymond Fielding, The American Newsreel 1911-1967 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972), p. 83.
39 Marvyn Scudder Manual of Extinct and Obsolete Companies, Inc. (New York: 1928), Vol. II, p. 768.
40 See William V. D. Kelly, “Natural Color Cinematography,” Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, November 1918, pp. 38-43.
42 For a more thorough examination of Technicolor and Eastmancolor see Gorham A. Kindem, “Hollywood’s Conversion to Color: The Technological, Economic, and Aesthetic Factors,” Journal of the University Film Association, 31, No. 2 (Spring 1979), pp. 29-36.“
(Kindem, Gorham (1981): The demise of Kinemacolor: technological, legal, economic, and aesthetic problems in early color cinema history. In: Cinema Journal, 20, 2, 1981, pp. 3-14.)
“ADVENTURES OF KINEMACOLOR
The striving for natural color in motion pictures began with the beginnings of the picture itself. The course of color history in the films has been as romantically adventurous as the story of the screen.
Now in 1909 the dreams of the inventors came to flower with the first color picture on the screen.
Many had fancifully played with the idea of screen color, including William Friese Greene of London, whose dallying contact with the motion picture idea has been noted in earlier chapters. But among the first significant laboratory efforts were those of Edward R. Turner, an English chemist. Turner, beginning as a student of processes for making still pictures in color, had been at work on the motion picture color problem several years when in 1901 he enlisted the aid of Charles Urban, as the most aggressive factor in the British film trade. Turner held a British patent, No. 6202, issued March 22, 1889, on a color film process. But it was in effect only an invention on paper, not reduced to practice. Turner’s first backer was F. Marshall Lee, a breeder of fast horses for the British turf. Lee’s participation in this early effort in screen color has a flavor of coincidence when one recalls that it was another horseman, Leland Stanford of California, who financed the Isaacs-Muybridge researches in the ’70’s.
Urban acquired Lee’s interest in Turner’s work in behalf of the Warwick Trading Company, the picture concern which had developed out of his invasion of Britain in behalf of Maguire & Baucus, the Edison agents. Six months later, after £500 had been spent without tangible results, the company wearied of the quest and Urban took up the burden. Turner was laboring with an effort to combine the three primary colors on the screen by projection, in an optical equivalent of the three color printing process. In time he succeeded just sufficiently to give hope. Perfection demanded three perfectly matched lenses, which the optical workers declared impossible.
Turner set to work to seek a new approach to the problem.
One day in 1902, as Urban sat at his desk nearby, there came a crash from the workshop where Turner was striving with his perplexities.
Urban ran into the room and found Turner dead on the floor.
Turner’s notes, models and formulae were scattered about in confusion. No one else knew the meaning of half of them. The most of what Turner had attained died with him. Urban cast about for another researcher to continue the effort and retained G. Albert Smith, a photographer and scientific experimenter. Turner’s materials were removed to Smith’s workshop at Brighton.
Years slipped by, with Urban journeying down to Brighton at week-ends.
At last Urban and Smith decided that the three color process was hopeless. They were in despair. Then, in its usual eleventh hour manner, Fate intervened, this time in their behalf.
Urban was in Paris on one of his monthly excursions to look into the affairs of his Urban-Eclipse studio there, when, with that color problem uppermost in his mind, a street vender of novelty postcards arrested his attention.
These cards, it must be blushingly admitted, were Parisian. They were in two transparent parts, one red, the other green. Either, viewed alone, presented a commonplace view of scenery. When super-imposed and held to the light they presented not scenery but obscenery.
Urban invested a franc in these cards, hurriedly and furtively concealing them in his inside coat pocket. He strolled on down the boulevard, trusting that he had not been observed in this seeming frivolity, and wondering if here in these silly cards might not be something related to the secret that puzzled the week-end conferences at Brighton.
With these cards as the beginning Urban and Smith tried a new attack on the color problem. Instead of continuing the three primary color process, as Urban puts it, “we jumped over the fence of theory,” and sought the same result with two colors. They had been working with red, blue and yellow. Now they divided the yellow between the red and the blue, thus getting two colors to play with, a red-orange, and a blue-green.
This, if it worked, would immensely simplify the process and all of its related devices. Five tedious years had now elapsed. The solution seemed close at hand.
A Sunday in July 1906, came and all was ready for the first test of the two color principle. Camera and projector were waiting. It was a beautifully sunshiny day in G. Albert Smith’s garden at Brighton. He dressed his little boy and girl in gay clothes with a variety of colors. The little girl was in white with a pink sash, the boy in sailor blue and carrying the British Union Jack. They were posed on the green grass, with the red brick of the house as a background.
The camera was loaded with a fifty foot length of prepared color-sensitive film and in thirty seconds an exposure had been effected.
Urban and Smith went together in the little darkroom in a corner of the red brick house and put their precious film into the developer.
Two feverish hours followed, while Smith and Urban dried their color negative and made, developed and dried a positive print for the projection test.
Then, with shades drawn to darken the experimental projection room, they put the test picture into the machine. The projection machine was equipped with the same red and green filters as the camera, the color lesson learned from the absurd French picture cards. It was the hope that the picture just made, projected through these filters, would combine the colored light light rays and endow the effect on the screen with the tints of nature.
The test film flashed through its fifty feet in half as many seconds. There on the screen for that half minute, was the little girl in white with a pink sash and the little boy with his sailor blue suit. And the grass was green and the bricks of the house were red.
For the first time in the world a motion picture in natural colors was projected on the screen.
The little picture was hardly half through the machine when Urban leaped up and yelled.
“We’ve got it—we’ve got it!”
The newborn process was christened “Kinemacolor.”
Urban withdrew from other film interests and set about exploitation of the invention. May Day of 1908 the first public demonstration of Kinemacolor was given at the opening of Urbanora House in Wardour street, London. Urbanora House, by the way, began the movement of the film trade from Warwick Court, known as “Flicker Alley” to the modern “Film Row” of Wardour street.
Kinemacolor was presented for scientific consideration at an exhibition on December 9, 1908, before the Royal Society of Arts. Then the new color pictures, following in the footsteps of the first films, went on the screen for the public at the Palace theatre, under the auspices of Alfred Butt, subsequently Sir Alfred. The commercial career of color began there with a matinee on February 26, 1909.
Now a new company was formed, Urban acquired Smith’s interest in the patent, and a world-wide career for Kinemacolor ensued, with engagements in Berlin, Paris and all the capitals of Europe.
But the United States was the golden land of picture opportunity and Urban looked to America with a special interest. In New York, with the film industry in the throes of the war of the Independents and the Patents Company, Urban showed his Kinemacolor pictures at Madison Square Garden December 11, 1909. The ten chiefs of the Patents Company attended the showing. They were outwardly filled with enthusiasm. A tentative deal was made to buy the American rights for $250,000. It was to be closed the next morning. There was a handshake all around. Among the Patents Company magnates was “Pop” Rock of Vitagraph. He remembered with some sincere appreciation the event of years before when Urban’s plea to Maguire and Baucus, Edison agents, had saved the little Rock picture show, storm-stranded in the South. Rock edged up to Urban and spoke behind his hand.
“Charlie—let me slip you something straight. These fellows are just kidding you. I sat there along with the rest of them and promised to put up my twenty-five thousand, but they’ll never ask me for it. They don’t want Kinemacolor here and they won’t go through with it. It’s scared them. You’ll never get away with it—you watch.”
Urban was disturbed but not convinced.
The next day he turned up for the appointment to close the deal and waited two hours. No one appeared. Word came that the Patents company crowd was in an important conference over the projected making of some prize fight pictures. They would see Urban later. Repeated efforts through the day resulted in an appointment for dinner with the executive committee, at the Republican club, that fated spot where so much of the secret history of the motion picture has been enacted. Seated at dinner, Urban tactfully as may be, opened the subject.
“Let’s not talk shop at dinner,” they reproved him. “After dinner we’ll get at it and clean the thing up.” This from the captain of an industry which does all of its work over the lunch table.
After dinner Urban again tried to open the subject of Kinemacolor.
“Now we want to relax a little, first. We don’t like to talk business right after dinner. We’ll just have a few hands of poker first.”
Up in a private room in the club the august gathering seated itself for the consideration of what may happen with five cards, joker wild. The night wore on, with Urban more interested in his Kinemacolor contract than the cards. “Just a couple of rounds more, and we’ll go into that.” One in the morning came and the game broke up. Urban was conspicuous among the contributors of the evening’s diversion in the sum of perhaps five hundred dollars.
“Now about the Kinemacolor contract,” he remarked cheerfully. “Oh, not how—we are all tired out now.”
Urban went away to his hotel, so annoyed that on second thought he decided to return to London at once and let the deal go hang.
The next afternoon he sailed.
The facts were apparent. The motion picture chieftains of the United States did not want any ventures in color. They were making easy millions in black and white pictures. This color process was to them strange, complicated and speculative. The status quo suited them immensely. Why disturb it? They were making money, why be concerned about making pictures?
Urban’s ship was hardly clear of Ambrose channel when a stranger and an unknown in the motion picture world dashed into New York in a heated quest of the proprietor of Kinemacolor.
This man was Gilbert Henry Aymar, a real estate dealer of Allentown, Pa., who had attended the Madison Square Garden show merely because someone had given him a pass. Aymar was now afire with a desire to exploit Kinemacolor.
Aymar and a friend James Klein Bowen, a wealthy wholesaler of groceries in Allentown, sailed for London where they overtook Urban and acquired Kinemacolor rights for the United States.
The Kinemacolor Company of Allentown, Pa., quickly encountered difficulties and was reorganized through a New York financial house, with J. J. Murdock, the vaudeville magnate, as president.
Ambitious production activities were instituted with a flourish. Studios were established at Whitestone Landing on Long Island, and at Los Angeles yet other studios were put in operation.
David Miles, to be remembered as an early member of the Biograph stock company, became the director in chief. It was about this time that David W. Griffith and his wife, Linda Arvidson Griffith, parted company, Mrs. Griffith went to Kinemacolor as the leading woman for the West Coast studios. In the East, at Whitestone Landing, William Haddock was the principal director.
Many pretentious stories were put into production, among them Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman, which, a few years later under Griffith’s auspices, was destined to mark a great milestone of the screen as The Birth of a Nation. Kinemacolor produced The Clansman in the vicinity of New Orleans with the members of a traveling stock company in the cast. Legal complications concerning the right to the use of the story for the screen arose and the picture never saw the light of a theatre.
Lillian Russell, who, in 1912, was still the reigning queen of stage beauty, went to Kinemacolor to appear in La Tosca this season.
The first theatre showings of Kinemacolor pictures were, naturally enough, of pictures purchased from the British concern. Kinemacolor pictures were of necessity “Independent,” being so thoroughly outside the pale of Patents Company sanction. Projection machines unaccountably got out of order. Films broke and burned. Operators made mistakes and so maladjusted their machines that the red and green images of the color picture were reversed with bizarre but trying optical effects on the screen. Licensed exhibitors who ventured to show Kinemacolor pictures found their licenses cancelled by the Motion Picture Patents company, which brooked no use of Independent film. Kinemacolor went through a career of costly failure in the United States in a period when it was making millions in a world success elsewhere.
The most pretentious effort of Kinemacolor was the picturing of the Royal Visit to India and the famous Durbar at Delhi, which Urban photographed under sanction of the British crown.
Rumors of hostile plots on the part of the black and white film competitors of Kinemacolor floated about. It was whispered that something would happen so that Kinemacolor would never reach London with its negatives. Whereupon a guard of British troops was stationed about the Kinemacolor tents, where Urban and Joseph du Frane, his chief of the camera staff, developed and guarded the precious films. A pit was excavated under Urban’s tent and there the negatives were buried in sand. The tent floor rug was spread over the spot and over it Urban’s bed stood. He slept with his treasure.
Back in London Urban made elaborate and pretentious arrangements for the presentation of the Durbar picture. A vast stage set reproducing the Taj Mahal was built at the Scala theatre. Special musical scores were written for the pictures. The orchestra was augmented to forty-eight pieces.
Urban was laughed at a bit by his competitors with their black and white films, which had reached London in advance of Kinemacolor and had run their life in a few weeks. But he had plunged on Kinemacolor and went on to see it through. The opening at the Scala was a brilliant success and five road shows went out to play the back country. In fifteen months the Durbar pictures grossed three-quarters of a million dollars. Urban was on the high tide of success.
Royal favor beamed. Arrangements were made for a royal visit to the Scala to see the Durbar presentation. The date set was May 11, 1912.
The word was quietly passed to Mr. Urban that it would be well for him to acquire court robes, since knighthood awaited him.
May 10 came and all was prepared for the presentation. Then, abruptly, Urban was stricken desperately ill in his office and went away to a hospital, on the verge of death. It was a tragedy reminiscent of the unfortunate death of Turner, the first of the color inventors, in Urban’s office years before. The night that the royal party was seeing the Durbar in Kinemacolor Urban was coming out from under the ether.
The party at the Scala included King George V, Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, the Dowager Empress of Russia and some thirty other royal personages.
Kinemacolor scored a triumph and an unkind fate cost Urban a knighthood.
The success of Kinemacolor inevitably attracted attack. A suit on the patent was brought by William Friese Greene, the perennial British claimant to film honors, Urban won the fight through the lower courts and lost at last on an appeal to the House of Lords, on the pin-point technicality that the patentee had failed to specify the colors used in the process with sufficient accuracy.
This decision was of no profit to Friese Greene. It threw the Kinemacolor process open to the world. The Kinemacolor method became in consequence the basis of practically all subsequent color processes.
The commercial career of Kinemacolor abroad was interrupted by the World War in 1914. Meanwhile in the United States inventors were at work evolving new applications of its principles.
Kinemacolor depended upon filters in a special projection machine to color the light rays reaching the screen. The newer and subsequent processes have embodied the color in the film. The first of these to command screen attention was the Prizma process, evolved by William Kelley, who appeared first in the early affairs of the Biograph company. In 1912 experimental work began and in 1918, after nearly three quarters of a million dollars had gone into the process, Prizma began its showings with scenic subjects. In 1921, J. Stuart Blackton used Prizma color for a full length feature drama, The Glorious Adventure, produced in England with Lady Diana Manners in the leading role.
Prizma for financial reasons went into a decline, and in the same period the Technicolor process, arriving at somewhat similar results by secret but not entirely unrelated methods, rose to conspicuous position among color enterprises. Also William Kelley engaged in production with Kelleycolor, an ingenious method of applying color to prints made on standard film stock.
As this chapter is closed the color processes appear to be definitely in the process of being made an integral part of the art of the motion picture, as exemplified by the color prologue of The Ten Commandments, and color sections in various dramas. Douglas Fairbanks after several years of tentative experimentation, in 1925 engaged in the production of an all color picture, The Black Pirate, making a special effort to subdue hues and tones to escape the bold garishness which has characterized most color film products.
Nearly ten years were required after the attainment of the screen before the photoplay was evolved. About an equal time has been required since the attainment of screen color to make it a part of the photoplay.
Meanwhile the quality of ordinary “black and white” screen photography is showing marked improvement through the gradual adoption of panchromatic negative, a film stock sensitized to record color values in truer relations of tone. It is estimated that ten percent of dramatic photography is now done with panchromatic film.
Extraordinary possibilities yet to be explored are offered in a special film stock, sensitive to infra-red, evolved by Dr. Kenneth Mees of the research staff of the Eastman Kodak Company. This enables a photographic record made with light entirely below the visual range of the human eye. In a landscape scene a picture made by the full light of day becomes a fantastic thing of black skies and ghostly trees, suggesting an unearthly moonlight.”
(Ramsaye, Terry (1926): A Million and One Nights. New York: Simon & Schuster 1926. See “Adventures of Kinemacolor”, pp. 562-572.)
“Re-creating Kinemacolor on the screen
by David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard
The idea of re-creating Kinemacolor came out of some experiments attempting to colour a new black and white print section of Claude Friese-Greene’s New Natural Colour Process of the mid 1920s. For this experiment, to try and find out how it was achieved, an original alternate frame staining machine made by W. Vinten of London was put back into use to colour alternate frames of print film red and green, followed by the projection of this print at 32 frames per second to attempt to see what the picture on the screen actually looked like.
This was only partially successful, mainly because it proved difficult to get an even colouring across the whole frame. So how it was actually done so well (we looked carefully at the only surviving original stained nitrate print) still remains a bit of a mystery. But at least it showed us how the projected film, with the colours, looked on the screen. From this came the ambition to re-create a successful, though short-lived colour system, known as Kinemacolor.
One of the things that worry us is the lack of understanding and knowledge of colour systems of the past. The fashion today is to copy these so they resemble images we see on the cinema screen and television today. This is fine for new audiences who want to see these films for the first time. These restorations are however, new films and should be acknowledged and catalogued as such.
For technical archivists doing this work, there are only modern ways of dealing with colour. We only have colour inter-negs and colour positive stocks, which have been refined over the years for present day use, so when copying from one system to another, the new version will naturally take on some of the characteristics of Eastman colour or whatever colour stock is being used.
Likewise, mixing computer technology (scanning, digital restoring, recording out onto film) all add different yet subtle differences to the screened image compared with how the film was originally seen. The next generation of restoration, when film is not the end product, but files – along with digital presentation – will take us just that bit further away from what audiences once saw.
This is inevitable, and we are not saying there is anything wrong with this, as this is how things will be.
However, during restoration (and conservation, and preservation) the technical archivist needs to know how the original colour system was made to work, how it was duplicated, how it was shown on the screen and what the audiences actually saw.
This can be achieved by a good library in an archive, original equipment on display (not necessarily in working order), occasional talks and lectures on particular colour systems, emulsions, speed of projection etc, and where they fit into motion picture history, and, if possible, reconstructions of film making, editing sound and picture, laboratory procedures, and presentation.
Recreating a showing as near as possible to how films were presented is fraught with problems, and of course some parts cannot be replicated (such as a nitrate print). However, we think it is always worth trying, as it makes one realise the difficulties engineers, cameramen, laboratory staff, and projectionists had getting the film before the audience, in fact making the system work at all.
Here we are only dealing with one particular colour system used in the cinema. There is so much more – such as sound, widescreen systems, home cinema and home moviemaking, non theatric presentations, television in 405 days etc etc – that need to be looked at before viewers in the future (100 years and more) have no idea where moving images came from, how and why they were made, that they have become processed, homogenised, synthesised, purified. We probably cannot help this happening, but having the knowledge, understanding, feeling, and technical ability, technical archivists can help steer the processes of conservation, preservation, and restoration.
Taking just one example of a colour system from the early part of the twentieth century, Kinemacolor, we thought to demonstrate as near as possible how this worked and roughly what the images looked like on the screen.
Finding a projector
To re-create Kinemacolor, we considered the best way to do this was to present a modern print (we cannot show an original nitrate print for safety reasons) on an original Kinemacolor projector.
Because Kinemacolor was a system of photographing on black and white film alternate frames through red and green filters at high speed – 32 frames per second – and showing at the same high frame rate on a projector with similar revolving red and green filters, special heavy duty projectors had to be manufactured. We located one of these original machines, and sought permission to use it from the custodian. The Principal Museums Officer of the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Colin Simpson, was sympathetic to our plan and helped us by loaning this 1910 projector in the possession of the museum in Birkenhead.
The Kinemacolor projector was in pieces, seized up, and generally in need of attention. We managed to get it to Brian’s workshop, where much work was needed to get it into running order.
The projector had originally been installed in the Argyll Theatre at Birkenhead, but when Kinemacolor as a colour system faded away around 1916, it seems the projector was converted for running ordinary 35mm films at around 16 frames per second.
One of the conditions under which we were able to borrow the projector was that we could not make any permanent alterations to it. This meant that a new shutter shaft and a new vertical shaft had to be made and new gears purchased to change the ratio. The job was made more difficult as the governor for the dowser was fixed to the vertical shaft and had to be moved to the new shaft.
The visits to Bradford also showed that the shutter between the lens and film was missing as was the dowser, the filter wheel and the shield for the filter wheel. Eventually when we had made these parts we were able to test run the machine and, probably for the first time for many years, see Kinemacolor projected on a Kinemacolor projector, a very exciting moment after a year’s work.
The projector was fitted with a carbon arc in the lamp house. This meant that we had to make a new lamp holder as we were unable to use an arc in the locations where we were aiming to use the projector. We started with a 250 Watt tungsten halogen reflector lamp, which did not need a fan for the short periods we were using the projector. After our first show at the University of East Anglia MA course in Film and Television Archiving we decided that we would use a 750 watt tungsten reflector bulb and had to modify the lamp holder to incorporate a fan.
According to Henry Joy’s “Book of Instruction for Operators of Kinemacolor Apparatus” published in 1910, the operator should adjust the size of the double green filter so that the colour of the light on the screen was a pale yellow; if the light was green then the segment should be reduced, if it was orange the segment should be increased. Using our tungsten lamp we found it was necessary to use two thicknesses of the green filter across the full width of the green segment to achieve the required colour on the screen with no film in the gate.
George Albert Smith, a film maker living and working in Brighton, had worked out how to produce a colour system whereby the camera film actually recorded the colours in a scene on black and white film. He mentioned this to Charles Urban, film producer and motion picture businessman, and on March 21st 1904 wrote “Referring to our recent conversation about photography in colours, I am quite assured of the results, the only thing to do is to produce them on a commercial basis. The apparatus requires to be so simple that any good showman or Bioscope exhibitor can exploit it.”
“My object is to market the colour pictures without any dislocation of existing plant, i.e., exhibitors in possession of the best projectors (your new ones for instance) will be able to show the natural colour films. As the new projection outfit which you have in preparation promises to become the standard, it seems desirable to carry out my methods in conjunction with yours, and therefore I should like to arrange a cooperative scheme – you to keep me posted and supply your new perfected machinery and I adapt my colour methods to it. Under this suggested arrangement your company would handle the results of my method, and the advantage would be mutual.”
Charles Urban, of the Charles Urban Trading Company, replied in a letter dated March 24th 1904, saying “I will thoroughly consider the matter and shall be prepared within a few days to outline the basis of co-operation, and the extent to which we will assist you with the mechanical part of the business.”
So the partnership was set up, and Smith continued his colour experiments. One of the problems Smith had been faced with was how to get the orthochromatic type of film stock used at the time (not sensitive to red, only a limited range of colours from blue to green) to record all the colours in a scene in black and white tones. This necessitated “sensitising” the emulsion – making it panchromatic in fact.
A record of how Smith achieved this is described at a later date in a letter of September 12th 1912, to Mr J Birch of the Kinemacolor Company of America. He used a solution of Pinachrome in water and alcohol which was further diluted in filtered water. He treated six 200ft rolls at a time. The first film was bathed for eleven minutes, in absolute darkness, in the solution; it was then washed for 10 minutes before drying in warm air. Subsequent films had longer bathing times to compensate for the dye being used up; the final film had 14 minutes in the solution. Smith also says that different batches of Eastman film varied in their capacity for becoming colour sensitive. He added a little Pinacyanol Iodide to the bathing solution if the red sensitivity was considered insufficient.
Smith evidently had difficulty at first at sensitising the emulsion, for one of the early existing tests held by the BFI National Archive is covered in white spots on the print which have come through from the negative, where of course they would have been black. This is a 1906 test which is titled “Two Clowns”. Smith wrote a number of letters regarding sensitising and its problems. A letter dated March 26th 1913 to Mr Hickey, General Manager of the Natural Color Kinematograph Co. Ltd, from Smith refers to troubles with sensitising in the States. Smith recommended testing several batches, and as soon as a suitable one was found, suggested buying up the rest of the batch. He tested the film by taking a yard (approximately a metre) winding it on a developing frame, immersing it in plain water for 10 minutes then developing it for 10 minutes and fixing it. If the film was only slightly veiled it was suitable. He also says it should be “quite, nearly or very nearly, free from black spots (either pin point or pin head size).”
Urban signed a contract on the February 5th 1912 with Kodak Ltd “to supply cellulose nitrate “cine” film to the customer for the purpose aforesaid, of a width approximately thirty-five (35) millimetres, or one and three-eighths of an inch (1⅜) unperforated f.o.b. London at a price of one and forty-five one-hundredths (1.45) pence per running foot, all such film to be in standard “cine” lengths of two hundred (200) feet and four hundred (400) feet.”
The contract went on to say they could buy short lengths less than 100ft and more than 15ft at 1.0 pence per running foot and had various stipulations about not buying other manufacturer’s film stock, preventing resale, not using the film for duplicating other company’s films, and offering a 5% rebate if the films bought in the last three calendar months were paid for within 15 days of the quarter day.
In a letter dated March 5th 1912 Kodak Ltd referred to the contract and to Mr Eastman’s statement “that provision would be afforded you for testing, if you so desire, films produced by other manufacturers in competition with ourselves…..providing your consumption of Eastman film amounts to not less than 300,000 metres annually….not to exceed 10% of your total requirements from manufacturers other than ourselves.” The letter continued that the 5% rebate depended on Kodak receiving a certificate from Price, Waterhouse & Co or other agreed accountants showing the percentage of other manufacturers stock purchased compared to the total film purchases. The letter also offered a limited quantity of second quality film at a 20% discount but stipulating that this film could only be used for titles, sub-titles, Journal or Topical subjects.
But whatever success Smith had in enabling all colours to be recorded, the red and green filter basis of Kinemacolor was only capable of recording so much. In fact this was well known at the time, and later even publicised. An article in a supplement to the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly of October 10th 1912, states: “Where do the brilliant multi-colours come from, then – the bright yellows, brilliant blues, rich browns? There are no yellows, no blues, no browns. These only exist in the brain of the observer. As the old conjurors used to say, “Quickness of the hand deceives the eye”. If the pictures could be made to fall on the screen slowly enough the spectator would see one picture all red, and the next one all green. But they come so fast he has no time to distinguish them separately. His eye receives a general impression, then his brain proceeds to sort out the colours for itself”. This was the secret of Kinemacolor, and some other colour processes around this time – the brain did most of the work.
It seems Smith’s first experiments involved colouring the film print frames red and green (the letter of March 21st 1904 alludes to this method so that any projector could be used without alteration), but he soon abandoned this and settled for a revolving filter of red and green segments on the projector. The filter wheel had to be behind the gate, between the light source and the projector, so that the light was coloured before it went through the film onto the screen. If the filter had been in front of the lens, sharpness could suffer.
A few of Smith’s original test films survived thanks to a film collector who lived a road or two away from Smith in Hove, the late Graham Head. Graham began collecting equipment and films from 1918, and knew Smith well, as he was a frequent visitor to the Head household. Three of these negatives were passed to Ronald Grant at the Cinema Museum after Graham Head died in 1980. Thanks to Andrea Kalas of the BFI National Archive, new prints have been made by Ben Thompson.
From 1908, we have been able to show “Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs” as well as “Cat Studies”. In 1910, a year after Kinemacolor had been shown to the public, Smith filmed the “New Romney, Hythe and Sandwich Pageant”, but the BFI has recorded that Smith declared that this was “a reject taken with excessive contrast”. This does seem so, but one thing this film does show us today is the problem of parallax error usually known as fringing. Fringing is when the action is fast, and objects have moved between the red and green exposures, so that, for example, men walking quickly have red or green legs!
It was in 1908 that the first examples of Kinemacolor (though it was not known by that name at this time) were shown to selected audiences. At first Urban’s own marketed projector, the Bioscope, was converted and used to show Kinemacolor films. The name Bioscope was cast into the main upright plate that held the gears, gate, lens and feed spool. This machine had a beater movement for pull down (commonly known as a ‘dog’), which produced a reasonably steady picture, and was capable of being used with a powerful arc light. The subsequent Kinemacolor projectors had a modified dog; because running at 32 frames a second caused the dog to put considerable strain on the film. The dog was modified so that there were two rollers, a small roller and a larger roller. The smaller roller started the film moving and the larger roller then pulled the film down quickly. Even with this system the projector was noisy and hard on the film.
Our prints were polyester and apart from some early tests where sticky rollers and corroded gate pressure pads caused us to slightly scratch the film, the projector handled film quite well. We used a second print for the tests so as not to possibly damage our main show prints. The small teeth on the feed sprockets and the lack of a normal intermittent meant the perforations remained undamaged, although our prints had Kodak Standard positive long pitch perforations whereas the original nitrate prints would have had Bell and Howell negative type short pitch perforations.
In Smith’s 1906 patent he states; “If the speed of projection is approximately 30 pictures per second, the two colour records blend and present to the eye a satisfactory rendering of the subject in colours which appear to be natural”. In fact later, at a lecture in December 1908, Smith said 32 frames per second were necessary. Henry Joy always stated; “run at twice the usual speed”.
The first public show of Kinemacolor took place at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in London on Friday February 26th 1909. The Palace is a big theatre with a large proscenium and stage, and plenty of light would have been needed to project a Kinemacolor picture.
The Bioscope trade journal of March 4th 1909 reports: “At the Palace Theatre, on Friday afternoon last, Mr. G. Albert Smith and Mr. Charles Urban gave the first of a series of exhibitions of bioscope pictures in natural colours.”
The programme included a film shot only four days earlier. This was a clear reference by Urban and Smith to the fact that Kinemacolor, recording on the film the colours of the scene in black and white tones, could be printed and reproduced like any ordinary monochrome film – quickly, instead of the laborious and time consuming business of hand colouring or stencil colouring that audiences were used to with coloured films.
The article goes on to say: “In the pamphlet distributed to the audience, Messrs. Smith and Urban claim to present “the veritable hues and tints of nature.” It was true of many of the scenes, but the least expert in the audience could tell that a leaden blue was not the veritable hue and tint of a young lady’s arm, or that a cornfield was all one dull, sandy yellow. It may seem that these criticisms are captious, seeing that the bulk of the effects were excellent, but exaggeration at the present stage, which is so an experimental one, is to be deprecated, and Messrs. Smith and Urban would be the first to admit that they have still much to perfect in their system. In the first place the successful manipulation of the panchromatic film which they use calls for very special knowledge and care, and from the exhibition on Friday it was clear that both the green and red filters easily get “out of register,” as the colour-printers call it, with the result that there are blinding flashes of red or green across the entire picture. Again, one may object – and we have done so before in these columns – to the very vivid tones of the greens and reds in these pictures. The green, in particular, is so aggressive that a single square inch of it in a picture is sufficient to swamp every other detail on the screen. Finally, there was a very general concensus of opinion on Friday that these colour-pictures entail a greater strain upon the eyes than ordinary black and white scenes.”
Because the film had to run at least at 30 frames per second, or 32 to get the illusion to work well for the viewer, Charles Urban realised that a more robust projector had to be made to stand up to repeated showings in a commercial environment. For these he turned to a young engineer, William Vinten.
William Vinten was doing a variety of engineering jobs, when in 1906 he saw an advertisement from Charles Urban asking for sets of hardened steel dies and punches to be made to precise specifications for use in making perforations in 35mm wide film. Vinten was able to supply these, and Urban was very happy with his work. In 1908 Urban offered him a job in charge of the new engineering workshop in Urbanora House in Wardour Street in London. A year later Urban offered Vinten the tenancy of the workshops. One of the jobs was developing Kinemacolor machinery in conjunction with Henry Joy. On January 7th 1910, Urban gave William Vinten an order for “25 Kinemacolor Machines (heavy type)” at £25 each. Vinten was now in business (a company still in existence today) and Urban had his first machines. In fact a total of 150 Kinemacolor projectors were made. The projector that has survived in the museum at Birkenhead is No 19, presumably from that first batch.
Re-fitting the colour filter wheel
The colour filters on Kinemacolor projector No 19 were missing owing to the machine being used as a conventional projector following the demise of Kinemacolor. A new colour filter wheel therefore had to be made with the correct colour segments.
An existing Kinemacolor machine that has the original filters (or so it seems) were examined thanks to Michael Harvey at the Media Museum at Bradford. Using a swatch of lighting gels we matched the colours by eye. Those selected were No 25 Sunset Red, and No 122 Fern Green. In order to complete our records the filter were measured on a densitometer using Status M Filters. The results were:
With the information gathered about the filters, David Cleveland approached a stage lighting company, and procured gelatine filters both of which appeared to match our specifications. Brian Pritchard then mounted these in a newly constructed wheel.
The filter wheel on Kinemacolor projectors often appears slightly different in construction depending on which photograph one looks at, or which literature is read. Even the two surviving machines in Britain had different spaces between the red and green filters. This difference does not alter the way the filters work. As long as there is a red filter in place during the time the “red” frame is projected onto the screen, and a green one in place for the “green” frame, everything is OK. Between these two coloured filters, sometimes the construction shows a black metal area, sometimes a clear space – to cut down on weight.
It seems that the system was being improved all the time during Smith’s developments. For instance, to get a bit of blue into the pictures, a small area of purple filter was tried on the wheel at one time, but was not incorporated in the final Kinemacolor projectors.
In those days, the light source was an arc lamp, which had to be properly looked after. The width of the gap between the negative and positive carbons had to be constantly adjusted as the carbons slowly burned away, and the arc kept in the middle of the crater. If not adjusted properly, then the light might go brown or blue, as the carbons became further apart, or too close.
The Kinemacolor cameras, specially made wider and heavier than the normal wooden cameras of the time, had a space inside the gear train side for an additional filter wheel, so the cameraman could change the filters to get the best results depending on the light and scene being photographed at the time.
The “panchromatic” negatives were developed normally, but a lot must have depended on the grading of the prints. It was necessary to get a balance between full gradation and keeping the brightness of the picture as high as possible. If the prints were too light or too high contrast then there would be loss of detail in the highlights and shadows. We experienced this with the rejected film of the New Romney, Hythe and Sandwich Pageant. There was a loss of colour as well as a loss of detail in the highlights and no good mid tones. In contrast the print of Italian Lakes had very good mid tones and this gave an excellent range of colours.
In the Kinemacolor days, the prints were made direct from the cut camera negative (no dupe positives and negatives), so they were second generation, and were quite good quality.
There have been reports of unsteadiness in Kinemacolor pictures. In the camera, which moves the film intermittently by claw, the linear speed of the film is high at 32 frames per second, so maybe a certain amount of unsteadiness occurred at this stage. However, it is in projection where possible further unsteadiness took place. The Kinemacolor projectors used dog movements described above to pull the film down intermittently in the gate. This was becoming an old fashioned method by 1910, for most good machines now used the Maltese cross and sprocket system which not only held the film by the perforations, but stopped it in the right place in the gate, and held it in position by the locking nature of the Maltese cross gear assembly.
The dog movement just knocked the film down frame by frame, with the tension of the gate runners only stopping the film, and holding it in place. This allowed for a certain amount of movement, especially at 32 frames per second. This movement on the screen can result in slight flashes of red or green. Another problem with the Kinemacolor dog is that it is not “relieved” – that is hollowed out between the perforations – so that the metal part of the roller is actually also touching the image area of the film. This can, and does, tend to add scratches to the base side of the film.
It has been said that the opening titles were red, but Henry Joy states; “All titular matter is printed in transparent letters with a black background upon every alternate picture space, so that, when the film title is run through the machine, either red or green lettering is seen on the sheet, according to the relative position of the colour filter to the running film. When a reel of Kinemacolor subjects is despatched to the Licensee, the containing box is provided with either a red or a green label, indicating which color must first appear on the sheet”.
At our demonstrations to the students on the University of East Anglia’s Film and Television Archiving Course, and to the Technical Archivists at the John Paul Getty Jnr Conservation Centre at Berkhamsted, we showed the Smith test films mentioned above, as well as Entrainement Des Boyz Scouts 1912, and Les Lacs Italiens – Lac Garde 1910. These new prints were very kindly made by the Netherlands Filmmuseum, thanks to the generous help of Ad Polle and Annike Kross.
We are pleased we were able to re-create on the screen using original apparatus a colour system that so excited the motion picture world 100 years ago. Though short-lived, it was the first successful system of colour cinematography – even though it had its limitations. We need to know how these things worked, how the inventors and engineers made them work, and what the audiences saw on the screen. It may not always be possible to use ageing equipment as used a century ago, but there is no reason why Kinemacolor, or any other early colour or sound system, cannot be reproduced by either adapting existing equipment or building new. Archives should consider the origins and presentation of all moving picture systems, whether it is film or television, not only for the education of their own staff, but also for the cinema going public, who, when these things are presented and explained to them, become fascinated in the past – the past which is in our own archives, and it is up to us to unlock.
In our own presentation, there is a lot more we could have done, for the room was small, and we did not use an original arc light source. In Joy’s “Book of Instruction for Operators of Kinemacolor Apparatus” he says “We strongly recommend Kinemacolor Licensees to show as small a picture – ranging from 12 to 17 feet across – as the hall or theatre will allow; also that the sheet be placed as far from the audience, and the projector at as great a distance from the sheet (but not more than 120 feet), as the construction of the building will permit. For unduly large pictures, excessive current is necessary and near objects are magnified out of true proportion; therefore much of the beauty and charm of Kinemacolor subjects is lost to the audience”.
“The success of a show is either made or marred by the operator, who is engaged to supply the brain power, or thinking part, to the apparatus under his charge”.
Well, we did our best.
David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard 2008
“The Bioscope” (trade journal), March 4th 1909, April 15th 1909, July 15th 1909
“Book of Instruction For Operators of Kinemacolor Apparatus” By H. Joy 1910
“The First Colour Motion Pictures” D. B. Thomas. Science Museum 1969
“Hopwood’s Living Pictures” by R. B. Foster 1915
“Images of Success” Stuart Sansom and Luke Vinten. The Vinten Group 1993
“The Lumiere Project” Editor Catherine Surowiec 1996
“This Film is Dangerous” Editor Roger Smither FIAF 2002 Urban Papers in BFI Collections
“A Yank in Britain” Luke McKernan. The Projection Box 1999
David Cleveland, former Director of the East Anglian Film Archive, has been a film maker, archivist, and restorer for over 40 years. He founded, along with colleague Jane Alvey, the MA in Film and Television Archiving Course at the University of East Anglia in 1990, and has taught on it ever since. In 2001 he was the recipient of the Silver Light Award from AMIA. David is now an archive consultant, specialises in searching and identifying early film, and regularly produces and presents re-creations of what it was like to go to the cinema a century ago.
Kinemacolor in Australia
Reviving the Lost Experience of Kinemacolor: David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard
In 1908 American entrepreneur Charles Urban and British inventor George Albert Smith held the first official “exhibitions of Kinemacolor, culminating in December with a screening and lecture by Smith to the Royal Society of Arts.1 Audiences responded enthusiastically to the screenings and on 11 December 1908 the Daily Telegraph commented on Smith’s lecture, stating that, ‘[Smith’s] admirably explicit discourse and intensely realistic moving pictures in colour evoked enthusiastic applause’ (Anon. 1908). The paying public’s first opportunity to see the process was on 26 February 1909 at the Palace Theatre in London. By March 1910 exhibition in the provinces had begun and during its lifetime Kinemacolor was shown around the world, although never enjoying the same success abroad as it did in the United Kingdom.2 The system continued until 1914 when a combination of factors lead to its ultimate failure.3 Kinemacolor went on to become the first workable ‘natural’ or ‘photographic’ colour system to enjoy commercial success. In 2008, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of those first official screenings, film archivists David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard successfully restored an original Kinemacolor projector to screen films once again. This article will provide a brief introduction to Kinemacolor before an interview with Cleveland and Pritchard about their restoration project.
The Kinemacolor process
Brian Coe notes that the earliest instance of publicly exhibited coloured films, painted by hand, was in April 1896 (1981: 112). Hand painting, stencilling, tinting and toning involved the application of colour to a black and white print after the image had been filmed. As hand-colouring prints was a costly and time-consuming task more mechanised methods such as stencil colouring and tinting and toning were developed.4
‘Applied’ colour systems and in particular tinted and toned prints were produced through the silent period despite the added expense. However, for many contemporaries such techniques were only a substitute for a ‘photographic’ colour process that would capture the ‘natural’ colours in a scene. From the earliest days of motion pictures researchers aimed to bring ‘natural’ colour to film but it took several years before Kinemacolor, the first workable system, was developed. The reproduction of colour in any ‘photographic’ colour film system is based upon the scientific principles of light. As Steve Neale explains:
Light is made up . . . of different wavelengths of energy which we perceive as different colours. Objects are perceived as being differently coloured in so far as they absorb and reflect different colours in the spectrum . . . For each of the different colours in the spectrum there have been found to be three key or ‘primary’ colours – red, green and blue. (1985: 110–11)
All the colours of the spectrum can be created using these three primaries and when added equally together they produce white. Alternatively subtracting the primary colours from white can also produce any colour in the spectrum.
James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated these principles using an additive method in 1861 during a lecture at the Royal Institution in London. Maxwell used three lanterns to project three identical slides of a tartan ribbon. Each slide was made from a negative exposed through a red, green or blue liquid filter. In this way the three slides recorded the proportion of light found in the image of these three colours. During projection the three positive slides were screened through similar filters used for exposure and overlaid to reproduce the colour of the original (Coe 1981: 116).
The origins of Kinemacolor can be traced to 1901, when Charles Urban agreed to finance ongoing research by Edward R. Turner into a colour system he was developing known as the Lee and Turner system.5 After Turner’s death Urban asked George Albert Smith to continue the research, leading ultimately to the development of Kinemacolor. The Lee and Turner system from which Smith began his research into Kinemacolor was based on the principles Maxwell had demonstrated for still photography. However, neither Smith nor Turner before him were able to develop a method to capture three records of a scene that could be precisely overlaid during projection. The system captured the three colour records successively but if the frame contained a fast-moving object this created a problem of time parallax. That is to say the object could change its position within the frame in the time it took to expose the three records. During projection this caused the misalignment of the three records producing colour fringing around the moving object. Smith eventually reduced the problem by using only two colour records. Nevertheless time parallax was not completely eradicated by this development and it was to remain a problem for Kinemacolor throughout its duration (Enticknap 2005: 80–1). Inevitably the system could not reproduce a full spectrum of colour using only red and green records; blue was particularly difficult for the process to record (Coe 1981: 118). Yet despite this it appears to have produced an adequate range of colours acceptable to most contemporary audience members.6
To capture successive colour records the Kinemacolor camera ran at 32 frames per second and used black-and-white film. Contemporary black-and-white stock was orthochromatic, sensitive only to blue and green light. It was necessary for Smith to develop a method to panchromatise the film to make it sensitive to red light. Colour records were recorded on the treated black-and-white stock by filming through a filter wheel with two sections of coloured filters. The first frame was filmed through the green section and the second through the red section of the filter wheel. During exhibition the images were projected at the same speed through complementary green and red filters. The human brain is unable to detect the individual images at 32 frames per second thus the red and green records merge together creating the illusion of colour.
Cleveland and Pritchard have worked in the field of film preservation for many years. Their backgrounds in film preservation and their personal interest in colour systems made them ideally suited to undertake the project. Cleveland founded the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA) in 1976 and in 1990 co-founded and taught the MA in Film Studies with Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Now retired from both he continues to work in the field organising early film exhibitions. He first heard of Kinemacolor as a boy reading about the history of film. Later while working at the EAFA and researching for the MA programme at UEA he learnt more about the process. He was also able to examine original nitrate negatives and prints made by Smith at the BFI’s John Paul Getty Junior Conservation Centre at Berkhamsted. When Cleveland saw an opportunity to undertake a project to exhibit Kinemacolor films using an original projector he approached Pritchard to carry out the restoration of the projector. Pritchard has worked in the archive laboratory field for nearly thirty years and currently works as a motion picture and archive film consultant. During this time he has worked with older filmic technology and is also a keen amateur engineer. Both began the project with a sound knowledge of the process and of the difficulties surrounding any restoration of an obsolete film format.
The intention of this interview was to discover what motivated Cleveland and Pritchard to embark on the project, how they planned and accomplished it and the technical issues which they faced. The interview also sought to explore the ethical issues inevitably surrounding a reconstruction of an obsolete moving image format such as Kinemacolor and the value of such work to the archive world and beyond. The interview took place on 14 October 2008 at Film and Photo Ltd in Acton, London.
Victoria Jackson (VJ): What motivates your interest in archival film?
David Cleveland (DC): I want people today to see what contemporary audiences actually saw. I want them to understand the content of the films and how the pictures appeared on the screen. Today we only see archive film reproduced as copies on modern machinery and heavily altered by today’s film stocks, digital processes and computer colours. In addition we see archive on small screens – laptop players, computer screens, television sets and plasma screens – often without any regard to the quality of the original. By seeing how films were presented originally we can appreciate what the audiences saw at the time and the issues faced by film-makers regarding the equipment and processes at their disposal. This background information is hugely important for the archivist who has to preserve material, restore it and make it available.
Brian Pritchard (BP) : I have a great interest from a technological point of view. A piece of 35mm film can be taken anywhere in the world and most places will have a projector and will be able to show it. In five hundred years time if a piece of film was given to a competent engineer he would be able to build a projector from first principles, from seeing a series of images and realising they should be shown one after another at an appropriate speed. Most of the modern media, like DVD and digital files, do not have this advantage. I have always thought it important that films should be preserved because older films have a limited life. Unfortunately films with cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate bases will eventually decompose, breaking down to their original components and giving off corrosive fumes. There is no way to predict how long these films will last but correct storage has a great influence on their life.
VJ: Why did you decide to embark on the Kinemacolor project?
DC: Kinemacolor always intrigued me. I kept reading about it but I never saw a piece of equipment or saw it on screen. Nobody was actively restoring it because it was an obsolete colour system requiring a particular type of film and equipment. In more recent years it has received attention. For example, the Lumière project of 1992 provided money for the copying of some Kinemacolor films that were discovered by the Cineteca di Bologna and more recently I have seen it on television, but these are transfers. The outcome of all this was that I wanted to recreate it although I am not the first to have done it.7
VJ: What did you hope to achieve with the project?
DC: I want these films to be shown as they were originally seen. The Claude Friese-Greene system of 1924–5 was made into a television programme by the BFI and the BBC in 2006.8 They did a wonderful job and modern audiences had the chance to see it but it is not what was originally shown. It had been cleaned up for modern audiences and so it was a completely new object. So it spurred me on to do the project.
BP: I have worked for several digital companies who have carried out restorations. It used to concern me that those doing the restoration did not know very much about the work they were carrying out; their knowledge of the archive world was often very poor. So I have always been concerned that these people should understand what they are doing. When David approached me I was also very interested because there are so few people who have ever seen Kinemacolor as it was originally shown. To restore Kinemacolor it is necessary to know how the original looked and how it worked to know what to aim for in the restoration. While I was at the BFI at the National Archive in 2001 the curator David Pierce gave a lecture at the National Film Theatre on early colour systems and he wanted to include some Claude Friese-Greene material. I was a technical consultant and he asked me to be involved. The National Film and Television Archive restoration of the Claude Friese-Greene material had been done twenty years previously. The commercial laboratory doing the restoration had completely misinterpreted the way it should have been restored. I was working for a digital company at the time who offered to do a digital restoration. We achieved a good result by understanding the process, how it was made and finding original samples. So when David Cleveland suggested the project I was very keen.
BJ: What were your individual roles in the project?
DC: My job was to find the projector and the films, write scripts and compile a programme.
BP: I worked on the technical side and the engineering side; I am a keen amateur engineer.
VJ: How was the project funded?
BP: All the funding was done by us.
VJ: How do you begin a project like this? How did you research it?
DC: Of course I had to do a lot of reading, mainly technical books, to find out how the system worked.9 I viewed material held at the BFI’s conservation centre in Berkhamsted. I learnt a lot from the original letters of George Albert Smith and Urban which were invaluable. I also viewed the Kinemacolor projector at the National Media Museum at Bradford.10 However, the main task was searching for a Kinemacolor projector. It took me a number of years to locate any surviving examples. Eventually I found Kinemacolor projectors at the National Media Museum and at the Wirral Museum. I also learnt there are two in Paris at the Service des Archives du Film du Centre National de la Cinématographie. However, only the machine in the Wirral Museum was available for us to use.
VJ: What work did you do to the projector?
BP: When we collected the projector it was in pieces but it was obvious looking at various pictures that parts were missing. We had to do some research to find out what was missing and I visited the National Media Museum to look at their machine which was nearly complete. First I reassembled the machine without making any parts for it other than a few basic pieces to make it run. I also had to attach a motor to it but once we got it operating it was obvious that it was not capable of producing Kinemacolor. A Kinemacolor projector has a filter wheel with red and green sections. The wheel sits behind the lens between the lamp and the gate. The filter rotates and one frame is recorded red and one green – for that to happen it must go round half a turn for each frame. When we ran the projector the filter wheel was going round once for every frame. In addition the shaft at the filter wheel was bent. As I straightened it I also found the shaft had been extended and someone had deliberately moved the filter wheel from behind the lens to the front. From examining the machine at the National Media Museum we concluded that the wheel had been moved to the front of the projector to modify it to show black and white. To return it to its original condition I had to strip the machine down and buy and refit several new gears. I also had to make a filter wheel and a shutter which was missing and replace the dowser. The dowser is a piece of metal which, when the projector stops, moves between the film gate and the lamp house. It prevents the film being burnt should the projector stop with the lamp still on.
VJ: Why did you choose to use an original Kinemacolor projector?
DC: I wanted to use the Kinemacolor projector because that was the closest way to reproduce how the system worked and looked to the audience. Kinemacolor has been recreated by printing the monochrome red and green records through filters onto a new colour stock and producing a composite print. It becomes a normal colour film which can be run on a conventional projector but it will not produce the same experience. Audiences will not witness the projection of alternate red and green frames and they will not experience the way the human brain merges these two colour records together.
VJ: Did you consider modifying another projector?
DC: I may yet do that when our machine has to go back to the Wirral Museum next year. However, to use a Kinemacolor projector made in 1910 by William Vinten working in his workshop in Urban’s building in Wardour Street is amazing.
VJ: Originally, Kinemacolor projectors used a carbon arc light for throwing the image on the screen. Were you able to do that in the restorations?
DC: We could have. They used a low-intensity carbon arc in those days as opposed to the high-intensity carbon arcs. The low-intensity arc does not produce smoke or anything dangerous but there are health and safety issues. The arc is a burning flame between two rods so a physical flame is produced. Flames are not allowed in most buildings but we do occasionally demonstrate it and it gives a slightly different colour light.
VJ: Along with money and time, what sort of constraints were you faced with?
BP: Well, for example, the drive from the motor to the machine is via a chain, on the original machine that chain was just in the open. When we took the projector to the BFI National Archive at Berkhamsted they were concerned from a health and safety point of view that the chain was exposed. They were good enough to examine it and provided people were kept well away from it they permitted us to use it because it was a museum machine. They certainly would not have allowed us to use a carbon arc though. We also had to use polyester prints instead of nitrate. Nitrate film is highly inflammable and health and safety regulations prevent its projection in the venues we were using. Obviously it would have been ideal to have a carbon arc and use nitrate film but it was just not possible.
VJ: What impact did the change of light source and the use of the polyester prints potentially have on the Kinemacolor images you were able to exhibit?
BP: It did make a difference. The Kinemacolor images that are produced are affected by the colour of the silver image, the film stock and the light source. Kinemacolor images are produced from black-and-white film where the image consists of particles of silver. The colour of the silver image will be different between nitrate film and polyester film because of the different composition of the film’s emulsion and the developing solutions used. In addition polyester film stock is much more transparent than nitrate film and nitrate always has a slightly warmish tinge to it. Nitrate prints probably had a much blacker black to them and the silver was heavier. The tungsten lamp we used is a normal projection bulb similar to a household lamp. It is much warmer than a carbon arc that produces very blue light similar to a welding torch and so will affect the colour balance on the screen.
VJ: You located the safety prints from the Netherlands Filmmuseum?
DC: Yes, the Netherlands Filmmuseum was very helpful and supplied us with two new prints to run so we have a projector and we have two prints. One film is about Boy Scouts and the other is a travel film of Lake Garda. Once we worked out which frames should be projected through which filters we were able to run it. The BFI let us have polyester copies of test films made by George Albert Smith. They show problems with the process when it did not work because of time parallax or problems making the emulsion sensitive to red.11 So we have a few test films from around 1906 and two 1910 films. I wanted a section of the Dehli Durbar as it was a great commercial success. It is the one film many people are aware of and associate with Kinemacolor. Only a section survives in the Russian archive but unfortunately I was unable to obtain a copy.
VJ: Does the projectionist have any control over the colour produced?
BP: The official manual says that the projectionist is supposed to adjust the green filter because of the variation in light sources [Joy 1910]. Not every carbon arc was identical; it altered depending on the voltage and current. There are two thicknesses of green filter on the filter wheel, there is a complete green filter which covered half of the wheel and then a small section in the middle which was double thickness and could be adjusted until a pale yellow colour was produced on the screen without any film in the gate. We tried to do that and ended up without any double section in the middle because of the light source we were using. So changing the filters will change the colour as will changing the voltage on the lamp. The lamp will get bluer with a higher voltage but it is not something we attempted to do. We matched the colour as closely as we could to the colour of the filters in Bradford. We were fairly pleased that the white light on the screen looked correct and having seen the films on the screen we thought the colour was very good and looked reasonable.
VJ: What informed your decisions during the restoration of the projection?
Did you draw on your own knowledge or contemporary patents and records?
BP: First of all because the machine is a museum piece we were not permitted to make any permanent alterations so I had to make new parts for everything that had to be changed. It was my aim to restore the machine, as near as possible, to its original condition. I wanted to do an ethical restoration, I wanted to make sure everything was the way it would have been but obviously there were some things we could not do or were unable to find out. For example, we could not find any references to the specific hues of the red and green filters so all we could do was match the colour filters to the machine at Bradford. We do not know if they are the original filters but it was the only machine available to us with a filter.
The patents are as vague as they possibly can be to avoid other people copying them. Quite often the description in the patent is not the final design because alterations are made but the patent is not updated. We tried to match our projector to the Bradford machine. Where parts were missing from Bradford we had to work from photographs of other machines. I could have gone to Paris and looked at the machines there but unfortunately we had financial restrictions.
VJ: Do you have a code of ethics or guidelines which inform your decisions?
BP: I am very conscious of the ethical side. It is very difficult; sometimes it is almost impossible to make an ethical decision. Someone told me of a Technicolor film involving soldiers. It is quite clear from the original paperwork that when the costumes were made the soldiers were wearing navy blue trousers. It was filmed in Technicolor and looking at a Technicolor nitrate print the trousers are black. They are black because the Technicolor system could not cope with the navy blue. So what should a restoration project do? Is it ethically correct to have navy blue trousers because we know that the trousers were navy blue? But audiences who saw the film at the time would have seen black trousers. My general attitude is that a result should be produced that matches as closely as possible to what people would have seen then. The only way to do that is to have sufficient information on how it would have looked.
One of the biggest ethical issues I have come across is ‘colorization’, something I totally disapprove of. It requires someone to decide the colours of a scene with no idea if these were the original colours of the objects. It completely alters a work of art without any input from the originators. Unless records are kept and the film has information in its credits to say it has been altered, in the future it is possible people may believe this was the way the film was made. It is vital if changes are made to a film that meticulous records are kept. In the early days of digital restoration sections and even complete films were scanned and dirt removed, scratches removed and other alterations made which were not recorded. As a result there is no way to tell how the film now differs from the original.
VJ: Alongside technicians and film archivists do you think that film historians, theorists and others can learn from research like this?
BP: I have been disappointed with people who are not technicians who have seen restorations and been happy with them. Some people are more interested in the content than a technically correct result. However without the knowledge of what a film should look like audiences rely on the people producing the restorations to ensure they produce the right result.
I am not a film historian but I believe the result on the screen determines how technology progresses. There was a constant battle to improve colour results; for example, with Friese-Greene and Kinemacolor there was a time parallax problem, the result of taking sequential frames. If anything moves between frame one and two it produces a colour smear. I have dealt with restorations where they have attempted to remove such problems but it is important to know that people saw this and were not happy with it.
VJ: So technological limitations can affect the content of these early colour films?
BP: Yes exactly, very fast-moving subjects cannot easily be filmed using sequential colour records. So, for example, Gasparcolor, which can only be made from separations, was invariably used for animation because it had to be shot sequentially. It was not able to capture fast-moving subjects and without understanding this people might ask why are so many Gasparcolor films cartoons?12
VJ: Have you documented the project?
BP: There is an article with photographs on my website about the restoration.
VJ: Were you happy with the results that you created?
BP: Yes, we were very pleased, bearing in mind we were projecting a duplicate print that had been made from original nitrate. Factors such as the contrast of the print and the density of the print will affect the colour but we did not have any control over that. Unfortunately we were not able to see the original nitrates and be sure that our prints were identical.
VJ: If you repeated the project would you do anything different?
BP: To a certain extent I did not do some of the restoration work on the projector because it would have been expensive and was not necessary for a limited number of shows. There are some gears on the projector which are quite badly worn. We were only going to do three or four shows so I did not change them. With a good source of funding we could do whatever we wanted. We could have completely rebuilt the projector. It would haven been good to have held more screenings. We had quite a number of people who would have liked to have seen it. When we first announced it people in America wanted to see it and the Netherlands Film Museum would like a show but it is not easy to take the equipment over there.
VJ: What did you learn from completing the project?
DC: I have learnt I have got to show more films to people, particularly early silent films and how they looked because they are wonderful.
BP: I now have a pretty full understanding of how and why Kinemacolor works. My knowledge of the projector is first hand, I have taken it to pieces and put it together and I know what every part does. I found it quite fascinating.
As Tom Gunning observed at the 1995 Amsterdam Workshop on colours in silent film: ‘Colour is in many respects one of the most tenuous things we can investigate and that can be rather depressing’ (Hertogs and De Klerk 1996: 39). Present-day archivists and technicians cannot be certain how the original image looked. The colour produced by the Kinemacolor process was ephemeral. Without using the exact materials and the same conditions used by contemporary exhibitors the colour produced today will be different. Consequently it is difficult to be certain how close a restoration is to the original. While acknowledging this, Cleveland and Pritchard sought to recreate Kinemacolor as closely as possible to the original in order to learn more about the process. As Gunning contends, while ‘it’s an impossible quest for historians to get back . . . to the original experience . . . it’s a fine ambition, fuelling so much research and knowledge’ (Hertogs and De Klerk 1996: 18–19). The results of their project were the closest Cleveland and Pritchard could practically get to the original image and provide us with new understanding of the Kinemacolor image which will benefit research on Kinemacolor and early film more generally. It sheds fresh light on technological aspects of Kinemacolor and offers the possibility of seeing how the system may have looked to contemporary audiences which can be used to inform future restoration projects using modern formats.
Other restoration methods used today restore colour to Kinemacolor films using modern processes.13 Such approaches remove the need for specialist equipment and make access to Kinemacolor film much easier. However, restoration projects trying to recreate the original colour of Kinemacolor need to appreciate how the process originally looked. Here the work of Cleveland and Pritchard has been invaluable in contributing to our understanding of the original appearance and characteristics of the Kinemacolor image. For example flickering and colour fringing, which many contemporaries mentioned, were seen by members of the audience in Cleveland and Pritchard’s screenings. The work carried out by Cleveland and Pritchard is not only of value to archivists. It is also of use to wider research on colour film and early cinema from studies into Kinemacolor itself to research on the exhibition of Kinemacolor and on the exhibitors who elected to screen the process. Thanks to the work undertaken by Cleveland and Pritchard new audiences have had the opportunity to experience Kinemacolor at first hand and our understanding of the process has been greatly enriched.
1 For more information on the screenings in 1908 see “‘Wonders of Urbanora House”. Colour photography and educational subjects’, Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 7 May 1908, pp. 449–53; ‘Cinematography in natural colours. Mr G. A. Smith’s paper read before the Royal Society of Arts’, The Bioscope, 24 December 1908, pp. 6–7.
2 The first exhibitions in the provinces were held in Nottingham and Blackpool. By 1914 Kinemacolor had been screened at 162 different towns around Great Britain and Ireland for periods varying from one week to twelve months. See list of theatres in Great Britain to have held a licence to screen Kinemacolor, Charles Urban Papers, National Media Museum, URB 3/2, p. 60. Exhibition rights were sold for fixed time periods in a large number of countries. The patent rights to Kinemacolor were ultimately sold in only eight countries: Switzerland, Brazil, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, Italy, France, Japan, Canada and the United States (McKernan 2003: 164–8).
3 The decline of Kinemacolor was the result of many factors including its technical limitations as a sequential two-colour process and its restrictive exhibition policy regionally and internationally. In addition, not enough films, particularly fiction films, were produced for the process. However, the repeal of Smith’s 1906 patent right seems to have been the catalyst for the decline of the process in 1914. Although the petition was initially dismissed at the Court of Appeal in March 1909 this decision was later reversed and Smith’s patent was revoked on 1 April 1914. The case was taken to the House of Lords but the repeal of the patent was upheld. Within a month of the court case Urban voluntarily liquidated the Natural Color Kinematograph Co. Ltd and although the process did not disappear immediately, it never recovered. For more information on the failure of Kinemacolor see Kindem (1981) and McKernan (2003: 164–8).
4 For more information on stencilling, tinting and toning see Cherchi Usai (2000: 21–7), Coe (1981: 112–16) and Neale (1985: 114–20).
5 The Lee and Turner system was a three-colour additive system, named after Edward R. Turner and the original financial backer Frederick Lee. For more information see Coe (1981: 117), Enticknap (2005: 80–1), McKernan (2005: 205–18), Neale (1985: 120–1) and Thomas (1969: 4–11).
6 Later colour systems overcame the problem by recording the three colour records simultaneously so creating identical colour records. In addition improved methods of combining the colour images were developed. For more information on the development of later colour processes see Coe (1981: 120–39), Enticknap (2005: 82–97) and Neale (1985: 123–44).
7 Previous attempts to screen Kinemacolor took place at the Kodak Museum in Harrow in 1978, the Cineteca di Bologna in 1992 and at the Museum of Moving Image in 1995.
8 The Lost World of Friese-Greene (BBC, 2006); The Open Road (1924/2007 [DVD]). 9. Cleveland referred to contemporary articles from The Bioscope and The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly; Joy (1910), Talbot (1923), Jones (1915), Gregory (1927) and Coe (1981).
10 The National Media Museum also holds the Charles Urban Collection containing numerous documents relating to Kinemacolor.
11 Some Kinemacolor films suffered from spots on the image caused when the film was panchromatised. For an example of this see Two Clowns (1906).
12 Gasparcolor was a multilayer printing film developed by Dr Bela Gaspar. A number of animations were made on the process but only one live action film was made, Colour on the Thames (1935) directed by Adrian Klein. For more information see Coe (1981: 132–5).
13 For more information on modern restoration methods see Cherchi Usai (2000: 54–7), Mazzanti (2002) and Read and Meyer (2000).
Anon. (1908), Daily Telegraph, 11 December, Charles Urban Papers, National Media Museum, URB2.
Cherchi Usai, P. (2000), Silent Cinema: An Introduction, London: BFI.
Coe, B. (1981), The History of Movie Photography, London: Ash & Grant.
Enticknap, L. (2005), Moving Image Technology from Zoetrope to Digital, London: Wallflower Press.
Gregory, C. L. (1927), Motion Picture Photography, New York City: Falk.
Hertogs, D. and De Klerk, N. (1996), Disorderly Order: Colours in Silent Film, London: BFI.
Jones, B. E. (1915), The Cinematograph Book. A Practical Guide to the Talking and Projecting of Cinematograph Pictures, London: Coswell.
Joy, H. W. (1910), Book of Instruction for Operators of Kinemacolor Appliances, London: Natural Color Kinematograph Co.
Kindem, G. (1981), ‘The demise of Kinemacolor: technological, legal, economic, and aesthetic problems in early colour cinema history’, Cinema Journal, 20: 2, pp. 3–14.
McKernan, L. (2005), ‘The Brighton School and the quest for natural colour’, in V. Toulmin and S. Popple (eds), Visual Delights Two: Exhibition and Reception, Eastleigh: John Libbey, pp. 205–18.
McKernan, L. (2003), ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’: Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897–1925, PhD Thesis, Birkbeck College, University of London.
Mazzanti, N. (2002), ‘Raising the colours’, in R. Smither (ed.), This Film Is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film, Brussels: FIAF, pp. 123–5.
Neale, S. (1985), Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Colour, London: BFI.
Pritchard, B. (2008), Kinemacolor Project. Available at: http://www.brianpritchard.com/Kinemacolor%20Project.htm (accessed 16 March 2009).
Read, P. and Meyer, M. P. (2000), Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.
Talbot, F. A. (1923), Moving Pictures. How They are Made and Worked, London: William Heinemann.
Thomas, D. B. (1969), The First Colour Motion Pictures, London: HMSO.
Victoria Jackson is a PhD Student at the University of Bristol.”
(Jackson, Victoria (2010): Reviving the Lost Experience of Kinemacolor: David Cleveland and Brian Pritchard. In: Journal of British Cinema and Television, vol. 7, pp. 147-159.)
“‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’ Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897-1925
Submitted by Luke McKernan
3. The Eighth Wonder of the World
And what shall be said of ‘Kinemacolor’, the eighth wonder of the world? At the outset it was regarded with mistrust and mentioned with dubiousness – just as Daguerre’s first sun-pictures were; just as John Hollingshead’s first searchlight from the roof of the Gaiety Theatre was in ’69; aye, just as the Lords of the Admiralty of Queen Victoria’s girlhood once solemnly reported that steam power could never be of any service in her Majesty’s Navy … The history of its development would read like a page of romance, of seemingly insurmountable problems finally solved …1
While Urban had been building up his career as a producer of documentary and educational films, he had also been nurturing a strong interest in the possibility of natural colour cinematography,2 leading to what became the world’s first successful such system, Kinemacolor. The period 1908-1913, when Kinemacolor flourished, was to see Urban become a public figure of note. Kinemacolor lay at the core of everything Urban wanted to achieve.
The Age of Colours
In 1909, in an essay surveying the history and philosophy of colour printing, Charles T. Kock declared, ‘This is the age of colours; it is colour everywhere’.3 The inference was that it would be within the memory of the writer, or his audience, when it was not an age of colours. This is not to say, of course, that those of the mid-nineteenth century lived their lives in monochrome, but it was undoubtedly from around 1870 that manufactured colour in the form of illustrations, advertisements, popular prints, posters, magic lantern slides, wallpaper designs and artificial dyes began to make its particular mark on people’s lives in Western society.
The emergence of colour reproduction in Europe and America can be traced along a number of routes. Particularly significant was the invention of lithography by the Austrian Alois Senefelder in 1796, a means of producing prints from limestone or a metallic plate using a greasy ink. Senefelder experimented with producing colour prints, but it was not until 1837 that the term ‘chromolithographie’ was named in a French patent, and the first chromolithographs were produced in Britain in 1839 and in the United States the following year.4 Chromolithography proved to be a popular and democratising force that brought colour and culture into millions of homes in the form of reproductions of oil paintings between the period 1840-1900. In the words of Peter C. Marzio, ‘At the peak of America’s Victorian age, the mass-produced color lithograph waved unchallenged as the flag of popular culture … Chromolithography was a technical accomplishment with a vibrant social presence’, a phrase that could serve as a fine description for Kinemacolor in its time.5
Such mass-production of ‘high’ culture inevitably brought about a reaction, particularly in response to some of the more garish reproductions that cheaper processes created. Chromolithographs seemed to be emblematic of a dilution of culture through mechanical reproduction, and the snobbish term ‘chromocivilization’ arose to describe the supposedly meretricious tastes exposed by mass culture. Louis Prang, the most noted and most vocal of American chromolithographers, protested that, ‘the business of this age is to make the products of civilization cheap … what the people want and admire are not the dry bones or the syntax of art, but life pictures, full of the bloom and brilliancy of nature, to brighten their homes and make their own existence more pleasant’, but E.L. Godkin, editor of the elitist journal The Nation responded that ‘the confusion of ideas which assumes that “what the people want and admire” is the same thing as “what the people need and ought to admire” is strange to see’. Chromolithography for Godkin represented a ‘pseudo-culture’ which, taken with other popular media such as newspapers, magazines and lyceum lectures, ‘diffused through the community a kind of smattering of all sorts of knowledge, a taste for “art” – that is, a desire to see and own pictures – which … pass with a large body of slenderly-equipped persons as “culture”, and give them unprecedented self-confidence in dealing with all the problems of life, and raise them in their own minds to a plane on which they see nothing higher, greater or better than themselves’.6
The arguments put forward by Godkin and others were two-fold: that the colours were inherently, and often palpably, inferior to those displayed in the original works; and that a colour work produced mechanically rather than by the hand of the artist was, by definition, a diminution and cheapening of the original. The counter-argument was democratic in sentiment but driven by commercialism. This did not simply mean in terms of the number of units that could be produced. Colour itself was the attraction. The Lithographer’s Journal assessed the effect of the chromolithograph on American popular taste by stating:
…within a few decades, public taste has been lifted out of the sluggish disregard for the beautiful … and now seeks to adopt the decorative accessories, which beneficent enterprise has so cheapened as to place them within the reach of all, to the ornamentation of its homes … [T]he depressing monotony of plain walls are [sic] now relieved by bright touches of color … awakening in some degree, however faint, the innate love of beauty which marks the scale of aspiration in the human soul.7
There are, however, two kinds of colour reproductions to be considered here. There is the colour picture in the purely naturalistic sense, which offers an approximately faithful record of nature (or, as was more accurately the case with chromolithographs, a faithful record of a work of art that reproduced nature), and there is the colour picture where colour itself, to whatever form or degree, is the attraction in itself. These two forms were not mutually exclusive. The attraction, the desirable commodity, was colour. It was seen as something additional to that which had gone before, an enhancement which could denote beauty, superiority, social status or commercial value, according to usage. Colour was truer, better, brighter; colour drew attention to itself. This twin appeal of colour as natural and colour as the subject in itself was central to the exploitation of Kinemacolor. Tom Gunning sets out colour’s ‘contradictory role’ in cinema by stating that on one hand ‘there is the claim, made most explicitly by Bazin’s essay “The Myth of Total Cinema”, that color plays an essential part in the fulfilling of the ideal of cinema’s first inventors, “the reconstruction of a perfect illusion of the outside world in sound, color and relief”’, while on the other, ‘color can also appear in cinema with little reference to reality, as a purely sensuous presence, an element which can even indicate a divergence from reality’.8 The evidence of chromolithography, Kinemacolor, and other media from this period, however, indicates a more complex situation, a desire for reality and super-reality at the same time, which was to a significant extent created by the very limitations of the technical processes that enabled such colours to be reproduced.
Kinemacolor and other means of reproducing colour from the some age are part of a key period in modern cultural history, where colour became a recognisable force in how society understood itself at a time of social upheaval and democratising change, how its products were commodified, marketed, owned, displayed and comprehended. It is where salesmanship met both art and science (a natural crossroads for Charles Urban); it is when colour reproduction is equated with social attainment.
The Invention of Kinemacolor
The technical history of Kinemacolor has been told elsewhere, though never the complete story.9 Essentially, Urban became interested in colour cinematography when he was approached by in 1901 by Edward Raymond Turner, inventor of a putative three-colour motion picture system, patented on 22 March 1899.10 The Lee and Turner system employed a rotating wheel with red, green and blue sectors positioned on a camera, and a three-lens projector of marked complexity. Requiring a running speed of forty-eight frames per second combined with the precise synthesis of three separate images over three lenses, the results were unwatchable. Urban funded the development himself after Warwick lost interested, but Turner died of a heart attack on 9 March 1903. Urban turned to G.A. Smith to try and produce a workable system. Smith spent the next two years trying in vain to make the three-colour system work, before experimenting with just two colours, red and green. In experiments with lantern slides, he found that this compromise solution could produce a surprisingly acceptable range across the spectrum, and it would not have the same problems of film speed and registration that Turner’s system had had.
The colour process was patented in November 1906 by G.A. Smith, B.P. 26671, ‘Improvements in & relating to Kinematography Apparatus for the Production of Coloured Pictures’, in which he described the action of the process thus:
1. An animated picture of a coloured scene is taken with a bioscope in the usual way, except that a revolving shutter is used fitted with properly adjusted red and green colour screens. A negative is thus obtained in which the reds & yellows are recorded in one picture, & the greens & yellows (with some blue) in the second, & so on alternately throughout the length of the bioscope film.
2. A positive picture is made from the above negative & projected by the ordinary projecting machine which, however, is fitted with a revolving shutter furnished with somewhat similar coloured glasses to the above, & so contrived that the red & green pictures are projected alternately through their appropriate colour glasses.
3. If the speed of the projection is approximately 30 pictures per second, the two colour records blend & present to the eye a satisfactory rendering of the subject in colours which appear to be natural. The novelty of my method lies in the use of 2 colours only, red and green, combined with the persistence of vision.11
The complete specification stressed that the natural colour was apparent rather than actual. ‘I have found that persistence of vision is such … that only series of two colour records … are necessary to present to the observer the appearance of the picture being in its natural colours, or approximately so’. Smith did not claim to have achieved natural colours, but their illusion.
The first test films in the new colour process were undertaken in 1907. Smith experimented with sensitising emulsions and variations on the colour filters. Smith’s patent refers simply to the use of red and green filters. Subsequently he experimented with orange-red and blue-green filters, soon discovering that too great an emphasis on blue would produce a parallel diminution in greens. It was further discovered that different light conditions and different subjects demanded changes in the filters used, with consequent expertise required of both Kinemacolor cameraman and projectionist. A two-colour system was inevitably bound by practical compromise when it came to the faithful reproduction of nature, and a red-orange/blue-green system offered the widest range of possible colours.
The CUTC’s offices were the location for the first, trial demonstration to the photographic press. On 6 December 1907, the British Journal of Photography reported:
We have had an opportunity of seeing some results achieved by Mr. G.A. Smith of the Urban Trading Company, Rupert Street, in cinematography in colours, and whilst there is yet room for considerable improvement the progress made is extremely satisfactory. We were able to compare the colours in the pictures projected with the actual accessories used, and the rendering of the colours was strikingly accurate, particularly in the case of the reds. Only two taking and projecting filters were used, an orange-red, and a blue-green, the usual third or blue-violet filter being dispensed with. Naturally the whites obtained are not pure, but have a slight yellowish tinge, yet when projected on the screen with brilliant colours this defect is hardly noticeable. The progress achieved is so satisfactory that we are warranted in saying that the process should be commercially valuable in a very short time.12
The opportunity to compare the original objects with their appearance on film is precisely the kind of scientific demonstration in which Urban took pride. The audience was being invited to take part in a pseudo-scientific experiment, judging for themselves the integrity of the entertainment put before them. It was this kind of active engagement with what was being shown on the screen that Urban had encouraged through his Urbanora programmes at the Alhambra. The key to popular science was making the audience feel that it had discovered something for itself. By witnessing what was presented on the screen, the audience’s own eyes furnished the final proof that the colour miracle had occurred. Smith retained the patent rights, but Urban was now in a position to make Kinemacolor a commercial success.
The Triumph of Natural Color
Urban had a well-thought-out strategy for introducing Kinemacolor by stages and marketing its aesthetic, scientific, educational and high cultural values. The first crucial decision had been to make Kinemacolor a product exclusive to Charles Urban’s organisation. There would be no marketing to the film industry in general. It would be exploited by a Kinemacolor company (later several Kinemacolor companies), partly on account of the need for special equipment to exhibit the films (a projector with colour filters showing the films at double normal speed), and a consequent concern for quality control. There would be no money to be made from licensing Kinemacolor out to other productions; all revenue would have to come from exhibition, and later from the sale of patents to national territories. That latter stage could only come after the public appetite for Kinemacolor had been sufficiently whetted; indeed, it could only come once Urban became the possessor of the patent rights.
At the press opening of Urbanora House on 1 May 1908, Urban introduced to the privileged audience what were billed as ‘Animated Photographs in natural colours’. Smith gave an address, acknowledging Urban’s ‘buoyant and determined encouragement’, and stressing that he was merely ‘on the way to solution’. He went on to stress the universality of the equipment that he had used, before showing a selection of subjects, apologising for their rough-andready state and how they were not taken with any thought of presenting them before an audience.13
A second British demonstration took place at Urbanora House on 23 July before the Lord Mayor of London and sixty guests, comprising the sheriffs of London and various other dignitaries. Urban was working to a calculated strategy of approval by esteemed sections of society. Most important in this strategy was the lecture that Smith gave before the Royal Society of Arts on 9 December 1908. Smith presented a paper, ‘Animated Photographs in Natural Colours’, in which he gave an account of the development of his work in colour cinematography from the time that he took over the work left by Edward Turner, and described the particular problems and their effective resolutions presented by Kinemacolor (though it was still not named as such). Smith concluded by saying that so far the films could only be taken in bright sunlight, pending the discovery of still more sensitive emulsions than they had so far discovered, and he invited all those who were interested in photography, bioscope manufacture and lens manufacture, to come together to advance further this particular invention.14 Then came the films themselves. The Bioscope reported:
Round after round of applause greeted the appearance of each picture as it appeared on the screen. Many of the films portrayed the colours of nature in a remarkably life-like manner. Some of the colours appeared to be intensified; that is, the reds appeared redder than necessary, the greens greener and the blues bluer. But this defect should in time be remedied. The two last pictures, however – the march past of the Lancers at Aldershot and a red-coated soldier with a monkey on his shoulder – were marvellously true representations. These were the result of their latest experiments, and deservedly gained the heartiest applause of the evening.15
Smith was awarded the Society’s Silver Medal, inscribed ‘G.A. Smith, for his paper on kinematography in natural colours, Session 1908-9’.16 From this point on, however, it would be Urban’s name that came to the fore in the promotion of Kinemacolor, as what had been Smith’s invention came in effect to be his.
The same month that Urbanora House opened and Kinemacolor was first demonstrated, Urban divorced his wife Julia. She had been having an adulterous relationship with an American doctor, neglected by the frantically industrious Urban, who worked ‘fifteen to eighteen hours per day at the office and travelling’, his evenings often spent editing films in the office, many weekends spent in Brighton following the progress of Smith’s colour cinematography work, and regular trips to Paris (once every month) and Berlin (once every sixty days).17 There were no children. It was at the time of the divorce proceedings that Urban met Ada Aline Jones. She was married to Alexander James Jones, a salesman with the cinematograph firm of Butcher’s & Sons. It was, according to Urban, an unhappy marriage, when he was introduced to Mrs Jones at dinner party organised by Jock Haddow. The attraction was immediate and mutual, and Urban resolved to marry Mrs Jones as soon as both were free.18
Ada Aline Jones was independently wealthy, and became directly involved in the business development of Kinemacolor. Urban was now preparing for Kinemacolor to be launched commercially at the Palace Theatre, to which his flagship Urbanora show had transferred on 3 August 1908, following the end of the long run at the Alhambra on 25 July of that year.19 The Palace, with its high-class reputation and prominent Cambridge Circus location, was ideal for the programme of entertainment combined with cultural uplift and scientific credibility that Urban now planned. The public first saw a programme of films in natural colour at a special invitation matinée performance at the Palace on Friday, 26 February 1909, at 3.00 p.m. The system now had an name – the word ‘Kinemacolor’ was suggested by Urban’s friend, the Sporting Life journalist Arthur Binstead, after Urban offered a prize of £5 to anyone suggesting a suitable name for the new colour process.20 The programme was billed as ‘The First Presentation of “Kinemacolor”, Urban-Smith Natural Colour Kinematography (Animated Scenes and Moving Objects Bioscoped in the Actual Tints of Nature)’. Kinemacolor was now officially an Urban-Smith production, and the programme comprised films taken by Smith in the Brighton and Southwick area, a number of which had featured in the Royal Society of Arts’ programme, and new titles that Smith had taken on the Riviera only days before:
1. Representatives of the British Isles (England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Group)
2. View of Brighton Front from West Pier
3. Band of Queen’s Highlanders on West Pier
4. Incident on Brighton Beach
5. The Letter (showing most difficult tests for colour photography, namely Grey)
6. Sailing and Motor Boat Scenes at Southwick. (Note effect of sunshine on varnish of Boat rounding the Buoy)
7. Carnival Scenes at Nice and Cannes (Taken Sunday, February 21st, 1909)
8. Riviera Coast Scenes. Panoramas of Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo, including Street Incidents
9. ‘Waves and Spray’ (Three examples of Rocky Coast Scenery)
10. ‘Sweet Flowers.’ This picture will first be shown as an ordinary Black and White Bioscope view. After an interval of two seconds for adjusting Colour Filters to the Urban Bioscope Machine, this same picture will be shown in its natural hues and tints
11. The Rabbits. – Sheep. – A Carrot for the Donkey
14. A Visit to Aldershot. – The Guard at Government House
15. A Detachment of Gordon Highlanders
16. Church Parade of the 7th Hussars and 16th Lancers
17. Soldiers’ Pet
18. Riviera Fish Folk
19. Cascade de Courmes, France
20. Children’s Battle of Flowers, Nice (Sunday, February 21st, 1909)
21. Water Carnival at Villefranche. As this picture affords special opportunities for colour effects, it is hoped that the audience will remain to witness21
What is noticeable about the show is its lecture format, with the audience being instructed to look out for specific points of interest, and being advised not leave before the end (a not uncommon habit among variety theatre audiences) lest they miss some of the most interesting colour effects. As with the earlier exhibitions, the audience was invited to verify the product’s scientific claims. With its parades, scenic views, quaint animals and even that oldest of film subjects, waves breaking on the shore, the first Kinemacolor programme reads like a Lumière programme of 1896, certainly a rejection of cinema as diversionary entertainment. Urban was aware that the library of Kinemacolor films was very limited at this stage, but the tone was nevertheless established that he wished to pursue. This was film as a scientific art, which the high-minded had always hoped for it at its inception. Urban was reinventing cinema.
The matinée was greeted with acclaim, although some criticisms were starting to be made of the claims to present the true colours of nature. The Bioscope said that Smith and Urban were right to stress that there was still much to do before they perfected their system:
In the pamphlet distributed to the audience, Messrs. Smith and Urban claim to present ‘the veritable hues and tints of nature’. It was true of many of the scenes, but the least expert in the audience could tell that a leaden blue was not the veritable hue and tint of a young lady’s arm, or that a cornfield was all one dull, sandy yellow … [I]t was clear that both the red and green filters easily get ‘out of register’, as the colourprinters call it, with the result that there are blinding flashes of red or green across the entire picture. Again, one may object … to the very vivid tones of the greens and reds in these pictures. The green, in particular, is so aggressive that a single square inch of it is sufficient to swamp every other detail on the screen. Finally, there was a very general consensus of opinion on Friday that these colour-pictures entail a greater strain upon the eyes than the ordinary black and white scenes.22
All of the criticisms, especially those of colour fringing and eye-strain, would become familiar adjuncts to Kinemacolor programmes in the years to come. Nevertheless, Urban had been successful in encouraging analysis of what was depicted on the screen. Here was reality and super-reality at one and the same time, with pleasure offered both in the colour itself and in the critical understanding of how that colour was produced.
Regular Kinemacolor shows started daily at the Palace from 1 March, continuing uninterrupted for the next eighteen months. Kinemacolor was finally starting to make money.23 That same month Urban formed a new company to exploit Kinemacolor, and G.A. Smith sold the patent rights for £5,000. He sold them, however, to Ada Aline Jones. The circumstances are complex, and Urban’s own jaundiced point of view fails to illuminate Smith’s side of the picture. Urban had decided to finance the new company without recourse to outside capital. It was proposed that the company should take over the British patent (and all future patents to be granted abroad) in exchange for 30,000 £1 shares, the total stock of the company. Fifty per cent would then be assigned to Smith. According to Urban, Smith preferred to realise his assets. Urban implies this was due to Smith’s lack of faith in Kinemacolor as a potential business, though this seems hardly credible. In 1921 Urban wrote witheringly of Smith’s business acumen:
Mr Urban commenced to have trouble with Smith who objected to Mr Urban’s deciding vote as Chairman of the Board of Directors. He wanted the deciding vote as to business policy, etc. but while I had a certain regard for Smith as a Scientist, I had none for his ability as a business man. He was prompted by his lawyer to suggest buying out my interests. There was not enough money in Brighton to buy me out, in the mood I was in at the time. I made him a counter proposal to buy him out. He gave me an option to buy his share interest for $25,000 [£5,000]. I paid him $1,250.00 for the one week’s option. He was ‘tickled to death’ with such easy money. At that time, there only existed about 3,000 feet of Kinemacolor, mostly scenes of nature. I went home that night and told Mrs Urban of this option, suggesting that she buy Smith’s interests and thus become my partner – I thought – much easier to manage. Why should she buy an interest in which Smith had lost faith? I told her to put faith in my judgement – which she did – and bought Smith out before the end of the week.24
Smith may well have been out-manouvered by the financially cannier Urban, but Urban nevertheless needed the capital that Ada Jones could provide. Smith got his £5,000, and was tied to a £500 per year contract during which his services were to be exclusively to the new company. Smith’s views of the business are largely hidden, though he would certainly come to feel that he had been cheated by Urban and had sold his patent rights too cheaply, a fact which became all too evident with the success of Kinemacolor over the next few years. The Natural Color Kinematograph Company was formed on 16 March 1909, with nominal capital of £30,000. The registered directors were Charles Urban, John Avery, and Ada Jones. By October 1909 the original allotment of shares was completed with Urban (ambitiously describing himself on the Return of Allotments as ‘Scientist’) holding 12,398, Ada Jones 12,500, Avery 100, Eclipse 5,000 and single shares held by Urban’s friends Arthur Binstead and Cecil Graseman.25 One hitherto overlooked feature of the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, therefore, was that it boasted a female director, a thing unheard of in British films (and rare enough in British industry), making Ada Jones the most powerful woman in British film production, indeed probably the only woman of power in British film production at this time.
Urban had planned a slow build-up for Kinemacolor, both to generate longterm interest and because only a few thousand feet of Kinemacolor film existed to be exploited when the first public shows started. For the remainder of the year Urban’s energies were devoted towards assigning foreign licences, negotiating for an expansion of British exhibition, and ensuring that new films were being added to the catalogue. However, for all of his astute planning, Urban could not have imagined how fortunate he would be in the succession of major news spectacles that were to occur in 1910 and particularly 1911, each of which was perfectly suited to the Kinemacolor eye.
The British royal family was essential to the development and identity of the British actuality film. It provided glamour, exclusivity, guaranteed audience appeal, a popular subject for export, and a means to mark the particular Britishness of the native film industry. In particular since the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1887, the propaganda value of royalty as spectacle, the importance of pageantry, colour and display had been well understood by the royal household. Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 had become a testing ground for the emergent film industry, where all of the production firms of any account secured positions along the route, and pride in the event transferred to pride in the young film industry in how it came together to honour the occasion.26 The succession of major royal events that occurred in the period 1910-1911 similarly brought the industry together, while showing that Urban and Kinemacolor were placing themselves on a higher plane. The funeral of King Edward VII on 20 May 1910 served as the first such news event, and led to those that followed. The unveiling of the Queen Victoria memorial on 16 May 1911. The coronation of King George V on 22 June 1911. The investiture of the Prince of Wales on 10 July 1911. The Coronation Durbar at Delhi on 12 December 1911. Pageantry, patriotism, news immediacy and colour all combined, as the British royal family obligingly supplied Urban with ideal material.
Royal favour had already been shown towards Kinemacolor on 6 July 1909, when King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra had seen a Kinemacolor programme at Knowsley, at the invitation of the Earl of Derby. Smith himself presented the programme, and was introduced to the King and Queen. The films included the King filmed at Kensington the previous month, and a film taken during the house party at Knowsley, ‘which unfortunately was taken in a bad light’. ‘Very good, very good’, the King was reported to have said. How long, America’s Moving Picture World asked, before we would have Sir Charles Urban or Sir G.A. Smith?27
The first event in this sequence was the funeral of Edward VII. The day of the funeral was overcast, problematic even for those filming in monochrome. Nevertheless, the Kinemacolor production, first shown at a charity matinee at the Palace Theatre on 27 May 1910 (where Anna Pavlova and a troupe of Russian dancers was also on the bill), generated much press interest and overwhelmingly warm praise for the colour effects, its realism being remarked upon repeatedly. The Times reported:
… [I]t is now possible for visitors to the Palace to look at pictures representing the late King’s funeral which give an extraordinarily good idea of what the procession was like, a far better view, indeed, than was probably enjoyed by many people in the huge crowds. As the public … was entirely dressed in black on the two days of the processions the contrast in colour between the Kinemacolor pictures and the more familiar illusions produced by the Kinematograph is not as marked as would naturally be the case, and in some of the views the red of the soldiers’ tunics is practically the only new note. But in others the greens and blues of some of the foreign uniforms, the red, white and blue of the Union Jack, the gold of the Royal Standard, and the green of the trees produce an extraordinarily faithful copy of the actual scenes.28
The Times‘s dissection of the projected images into the realistic reproductions of individual colours would become a familiar critical response to Kinemacolor. For the Morning Advertiser, ‘Some clouds effects are reproduced with remarkable delicacy, whilst the colours of the flags fluttering at half-mast against that background were not more clearly distinguishable at the scenes themselves’. The Daily Mail enthused over the ‘completeness, beauty [and] impressiveness [of] the wonderful series of colour cinematographs’. The Morning Post felt that the film was ‘especially successful in reproducing the red uniforms of the soldiers’, the Yorkshire Post said that it was ‘surprisingly realistic’, while Sporting Life praised it in terms that would have particularly pleased Urban, calling the film, ‘something more than a mere picture show – it is a beautiful record of surely the most pathetic comparisons in vivid and sombre colours England has ever seen’. Delicacy of effect, vivid yet sombre, something more than a mere picture show: the tones of Kinemacolor had successfully captured the mood of the moment. Only the Liverpool Courier felt that the Kinemacolor record was in any way inadequate, and even then found points to praise in a surprise political observation: ‘Not all the natural tints were there, and the kaleidoscopic glories of the foreign uniforms were too severe a test. The scarlet and gold of the British troops came out perfectly, however, the “Kinemacolor” apparently being sympathetically better attuned to those colours than Mr Keir Hardie’.29
The funeral of Edward VII was the first notable Kinemacolor production, and a financial success. This was because exhibition of Kinemacolor had started to expand throughout Britain. The first provincial Kinemacolor shows took place in Nottingham and Blackpool on 24 March 1910, and by the time of the release of the funeral film in May there were Kinemacolor shows in Blackpool, Burton-on-Trent, Derby, Glasgow and Nottingham; other towns soon followed.30 Urban had initiated a nationwide advertising campaign in support of five touring ‘companies’ which would take Kinemacolor programmes to the major towns and cities of the country (over 130 in all), taking up residencies of between one to four weeks. Kinemacolor programmes also featured in up to forty theatres within the central London region over the next two years.31 The system of exclusive exhibition rights saw all Kinemacolor exhibitions in Great Britain and Ireland (outside a ten mile radius from Charing Cross) granted to Provincial Palaces Ltd., while all London exhibitions within that ten mile radius were controlled by Kinemacolor (London District) Ltd., a subsidiary set up by Urban for the purpose. However, within this agreement there was a further exclusive contract covering any theatre within a two mile radius from Cambridge Circus, the location of the Palace Theatre, which continued to be the premier location for Kinemacolor presentations.32
The film of Edward VII’s funeral also set a pattern for the future successful Kinemacolor royal news stories in that it was no exclusive. Many other film companies filmed the same subjects, in monochrome, and although Kinemacolor would come to value scoops when they came, there was a special piquancy in pointing to the colourless inadequacy of other news reports. The difference, the greater naturalism, the greater fidelity to patriotic values, were all understood to be those qualities that made Kinemacolor the only true purveyor of royal moving picture news. If the attainment of colour was equated with social attainment, then the Kinemacolor films of British royalty marked a peak of recognition for British film, and for the medium as a whole.
The month following the royal funeral Urban opened a new headquarters for his Kinemacolor operations. While Urbanora House remained the home of the Charles Urban Trading Company and Kineto, a few yards away across the road 80-82 Wardour Street became Kinemacolor House, opening on 1 June. It was handsomely equipped, with twenty printing machines anticipating a substantial increase in output, which included the first Kinemacolor fiction films. Consideration of Urban’s dramatic Kinemacolor production lies outside the concerns of this thesis. Briefly, therefore, Urban began fiction film production in 1910, using converted studios in Hove purchased from James Williamson. These were for use in the summer months, while fiction films would be made at studios in Nice during the winter months. His first director of fiction material was the Dutchman Theo Bouwmeester; later productions were directed by the American F. Martin Thornton.33 Urban’s commitment to fiction film production was therefore serious, and the 1913 Kinemacolor catalogue lists seventy-six titles. The first to be released was By Order of Napoleon (1,240 feet) in November 1910.34
The Kinemacolor catalogue emphasised the qualities of heightened realism and pictorial beauty that such colour brought to the established fiction film:
[I]t will be readily imagined that a far greater sense of realism will be created if the actors and the surroundings of the plays can be reproduced not as monochrome photographs in motion, but endued with every shade and nuance of actual color.35
Kinemacolor dramas offered ‘delightful and most effective additions to the interest of the subject’ from heightening such details as ‘the pictures on the walls, a blazing fire in the grate, or a vista through an open door’. Chiefly, they made the performers appear all the more real: ‘flesh tints, the color of the hair and every detail being reproduced exactly as in life’. It was a desire to emphasise the advantages of colour that encouraged Urban to concentrate on historical dramas, to show off the colourful costuming (‘stories thus presented have an educational as well as an entertaining usefulness’). Titles produced in Kinemacolor (most of them one-reelers) included Dandy Dick of Bishopsgate, An Elizabethan Romance, The Flower Girl of Florence, Nell Gwynn, The Orange Girl, Oliver Cromwell and The Passions of an Egyptian Princess. They were uniformly terrible. Even by the low standards of most of British film production of the period, Kinemacolor fiction films were notably poorly acted and ineptly directed. Needing to be filmed in sunlight, because Kinemacolor absorbed so much available light, they looked like the naïve prestudio productions of earlier years. The choice of subjects was equally mistaken, and included bizarre decisions to film Sophocles – Oedipus Rex: A Mythological Play (an ambitious 3,700 feet) and Britain’s first colour Western, Fate (‘the spectator realises probably for the first time in his experience of moving pictures that the cowboys’ costumes are not only picturesque but full of color’).36 Kinemacolor was technically unsuited to studio work, which greatly limited its value for the production of dramatic films, but inept handling made the films still worse than they might have been. It was only because the one-reelers could be absorbed among exclusive Kinemacolor shows, and their colour curiosity value, that Kinemacolor’s dramatic output could be sustained at all. Urban’s mind was always elsewhere.
Kinemacolor shows were now touring the country; studios had been established and fiction films were being made; technical advances in image quality were drawing increasing praise from the film trade press. Urban now wanted to establish a flagship programme which would show only Kinemacolor films. Kinemacolor programmes had hitherto been mostly halfhour turns in an evening’s variety programme. A continuous programme of only Kinemacolor film (predominantly non-fiction in character) in a London theatre was a risky venture. It was also difficult to set up, as no suitable London theatre seemed to be available. Eventually Urban selected the one theatre that was free, though it was far from the ideal choice.
The Scala Theatre stood between Charlotte Street and Tottenham Court Road. It seated only 920, and its isolated location to the north of London’s main theatre-land made it an awkward proposition. It was managed by Dr Edmund Distin Maddick (1857-1939), who now became one of Urban’s closest associates, at different times a good friend and a firm enemy. Distin Maddick had been a surgeon in the Royal Navy, rising to become Admiral Surgeon of the Fleet. He enjoyed an active place in high society, and had counted among his friends King Edward VII himself. He took the unusual step of turning theatrical impresario, purchasing and improving the abandoned Prince of Wales’s theatre, which opened as the Scala with Johnston Forbes-Robertson appearing in The Conqueror on 23 September 1905.37 The theatre had thereafter enjoyed mixed fortunes, and it struggled to attract audiences.
Urban leased the Scala originally for one year from 22 February 1911 on a basis of 20% of box office receipts in lieu of a fixed rental. He immediately set about refurbishing the theatre at his own expense to suit the needs of Kinemacolor. He launched an extensive advertising campaign aimed at making London aware of the newest attraction at its most obscure central theatre.38 The opening programme at the Scala was on 11 April, when (somewhat cautiously) a Kinemacolor programme was included alongside a two act operetta by Paul Lincke entitled Castles in the Air, which appears to have run for a month.39 Similar such combinations of stage productions with Kinemacolor programmes, either as a separate entity or occasionally forming part of the dramatic action, would feature throughout the Kinemacolor residency at the Scala, but predominantly the Scala became a showcase for an evening’s entertainment of Kinemacolor films alone. The opening Kinemacolor programme at the Scala (immodestly billed as ‘the Greatest Invention of the Century’) was in three parts, each typical of Urban’s interests. Part I (General) featured Farmyard Friends, The Chef’s Preparations (Cav. L. Azario of The Florence seen preparing various foods, the cookery film being an unusual film ‘first’ for Urban), Picturesque North Wales and The Rebel’s Daughter (a Peninsular War drama). Part II (Urban Science) featured the work of Percy Smith in Insects and Their Habits, Animal Studies and a notable early success for Kinemacolor, the stop-motion The Birth of Flowers, then Reflections of Color, The Soap Bubble and Rainbow and Egyptian Sunset. Part III (Topical) showed Launch of S.S. Olympic, White Star Liner S.S. Celtic, 3,000 Children Form US Flag, A London Fire Call, A Day with the Exmoor Staghounds, The Pet of the Regiment, Lord Kitchener’s Review of the Egyptian Troops at Khartoum, German Infantry Berlin and Changing the Guard at St James’ Palace. A ten minute interval, and then followed Castles in the Air.40
For the first four months of the lease, it seemed Urban had made a grievous mistake. The costs of refitting the theatre and advertising had been great, and the takings poor – the deficit was some £7,000.41 But it was at this point that the series of spectacular royal news stories started making Londoners look again at the map and seek out the Scala. It was important to Urban, and to his whole strategy for Kinemacolor, that he attract a monied and generally high class audience, many of whom would not think to go to moving pictures in a cinema, but who could more readily be persuaded to see films in a theatre setting. Other film producers were to pursue this policy of elevation through the production of films based on established theatrical properties – Famous Players (‘famous players in famous plays’) in America, the Film d’Art in France and Italy, films of Shakespeare by Will Barker, Cecil Hepworth and the Co-operative Cinematograph Company in Britain. Urban pursued the same audience (and their purses), firstly through the production of educational films, and then through the avowedly superior qualities of natural colour cinematography, and its actuality subject matter, especially newsfilm of royalty. That which was transparently natural was inherently superior, in Urban’s simple reasoning, and in the reasoning of many others, who felt along with the Sporting Life‘s assessment of the film of Edward VII’s funeral, that here indeed was ‘something more than a mere picture show’.
The first in the series of key royal films produced throughout 1911 was that of the unveiling of the Queen Victoria memorial on 16 May. Kinemacolor had a privileged position directly in front of the memorial, ‘a concession only shared with the [German] Emperor’s photographer’, Urban boasted in a Scala programme. The Kinemacolor catalogue acclaimed it as the quintessence of motion pictures:
It is not too much to say that the KINEMACOLOR record of this ceremony sets a new standard in motion photography. No one henceforth can regard monotone pictures of the glories of pageantry as anything but obsolete and unsatisfying – mere shadows of the real thing.42
Commentators agreed. The Times found it ‘probably the most complete record of the ceremony in existence. Their advantage over the ordinary biograph pictures is patent, for the black-and-white effects of the latter cannot convey the sense of pomp and pageantry which rely for their very success upon a blaze of colours’.43 The film trade press was ecstatic, and in the comments of the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly one may infer a belief that colour fidelity could be equated with fidelity to the monarchy:
We have no hesitation in saying that the Queen Victoria Memorial Unveiling in Kinemacolor is the greatest piece of kinematograph work ever accomplished in the history of the industry. As an absolutely lifelike representation of an actual scene it is simply superb … The sun flashes on the burnished breast-plates, every colour is true, and the whole thing is without blemish – magnificent, beautiful and inspiring.44
The film encapsulated a patriotic experience. An exhibition tactic that came to be regularly used for such royal news films was to reproduce ‘every choral, orchestral and realistic effect’, that is, to produce as complete a visual and aural facsimile of the events as could be recreated on the Scala’s stage, reproducing where possible the music that played at the event itself.45 As the Kinemacolor catalogue said of the Victoria memorial film, ‘[w]ith suitable music and effects the film is the most perfect resuscitation of an actual occurrence that it is possible to conceive’.46 Kinemacolor, in its exemplary form of exhibition at the Scala, was achieving the fundamental goals of the non-fiction film producers of Urban’s time – to make the film experience the equivalent of the experience itself, to bring the past back to life. ‘The spectator gets from the picture exactly the same impressions that he would if he occupied the best possible seat at the actual ceremony’, the catalogue stated.47 Urban was appealing to the snobbery in his select Scala audience, but effectively he was granting to any one in the country with the price for a Kinemacolor show to have the most privileged seat at the highest of ceremonies. The spectator could be at one with the princes, dukes and emperors. Such an act of levelling was never in Urban’s mind, but in placing his cameras in positions of privilege, he unwittingly played his early part in the progressive undermining of the royal mystique which film and then television exercised throughout the twentieth century.
Interest was inevitably all the greater in the next royal story, that of the coronation of King George V on 22 June. As with previous major royal events, the coronation became a significant showpiece for the native film industry. The Bioscope listed some seventeen companies that had secured camera positions along the route. The Charles Urban Trading Company and Kineto were listed, but not the Natural Color Kinematograph Company.48 Urban was setting his company aside from the rest, partly by its unique use of colour and select appeal, but also simply because the film was not openly available to exhibitors, only to those with the exclusive Kinemacolor licences and projection equipment.
The coronation was soon followed by the Investiture of the Prince of Wales on 10 July, and in September Urban followed the logic of this related succession of royal events (and demonstrated his instinctive propensity for reissuing and rescheduling old material) by creating a special programme of royal newsfilm at the Scala. Beginning with The Unveiling of the Queen Victoria Memorial, there followed Animal Studies and Scenes in the Indian Camp at Hampton Court before The Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. A Day at Henley and The Royal Progress, June 23rd came next, before an interval of ten minutes. The programme resumed with The Investiture of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, K.G. There followed an in-joke production, Kinemacolor Sweet Pea Competition, Aeroplanes and Bird Men, The Royal Yacht Club Regatta, Edinburgh During the Royal Visit, Bathing at Ostend, and finally The Royal Naval Review (which had taken place on 24 June after the coronation). In the standard Scala pattern, there were shows at 2.30pm and 8.00pm, with the former concluded and latter opened by a one-act play based on the W.W. Jacobs short story The Bosun’s Mate.49
Urban was enjoying the greatest success of his career. He had ensured, as always, that he himself was strongly identified with the product that he was promoting, and he was starting to become known as a figure of note, beyond the narrow confines of the film world. Within that world, Kinemacolor was having a marked influence on production and promotion. Demand for colour was coming from exhibitors, and hence by extension from audiences. The Bioscope noted the advances made by Kinemacolor throughout 1911, and the influence it was having:
Within the year – almost within the last six months – Mr Charles Urban’s Kinemacolor process has come right to the front, and has become a formative influence upon the future of the business, the importance of which cannot be over-estimated. ‘Colour’ has become the sine qua non of the picture theatre programme, and one cannot pass along the streets without seeing from the announcements of exhibitors that they are fully alive to this, and, if they have not a Kinemacolor licence, they are making a special feature of tinted or coloured films in order to cope with public demand.50
Monochrome was not enough. It was demonstrably an inferior reflection of reality, a point that Urban’s publicity had repeatedly stressed, and however intricate the colour effects of the stencil colour work of the Gaumont and Pathé firms, they were damned as false to nature. Urban included attacks on artificial colour systems in advertisements, theatre programmes, and pamphlets. One of latter states:
Kinemacolor is the only process in existence reproducing actual scenes in living, vivid colours. The real tints and hues of an object are secured at the moment of photographing; in all other processes colours are applied afterwards by hand or machinery – a crude and laborious method, possible only with the simplest of subjects.51 Kinemacolor was a ‘scientific system of colour-reproduction’, and argument was therefore redundant. The tone becomes jeering: A Kinemacolor expert … set his camera against the setting sun near the famous Pyramids in Egypt … The sun dips beneath the horizon, and lovely, translucent colours – reds, greens, yellows, blues and violets – glow and melt into one another before our very eyes? Could that be painted by hand upon film?52
Gaumont and Pathé fought back, though in 1911 Pathé gave Urban the greatest compliment by renaming its stencil colour process Pathécolor, in imitation of Kinemacolor.53 Pathé’s publicity reminded the film trade that Kinemacolor meant double the film length and double the price, arguing that its process was no less scientific while being demonstrably more artistic.54 Gaumont responded in 1912 with its own natural colour system, Chronochrome, which achieved the seemingly impossible, a three-colour additive system such as Edward Turner had failed to achieve. Although exhibited in Britain in January 1913, the high degree of skill required to manage the system, combined with and the wear-and-tear on film being shown at forty-eight frames per second, ensured that it did not become a commercial rival to Kinemacolor, despite what was acknowledged to be excellent colour reproduction.55
The Delhi Durbar
A great sigh of relief went up from the Nation last week upon receipt of a telegram from Mr CHARLES URBAN, at Delhi, stating that satisfactory cinematographic films had been taken of the events there. It would have been too terrible if the trouble and expense devoted to the preparation of these ceremonies had been wasted.56
Unquestionably the greatest triumph of Urban’s career was the Kinemacolor film of the royal tour of India over December 1911 and January 1912, with the centre-piece attraction of the Coronation Durbar held at Delhi. It was a huge success, financially, socially, and personally for Urban. It has acquired a legend over the years, being given at least a passing mention in most histories of British film, and certainly in any historical account of colour cinematography. Generally referred to simply as the Delhi Durbar (often without an understanding of what the ceremony was or what exactly the contents of the film were) and its current status as a ‘lost’ film has made its potential rediscovery a film archivist’s dream.57
There were three Delhi Durbars in history. Durbar was a Mughal word (taken from the Persian) meaning a reception, a court, or body of officials at such a court. The term was appropriated by the British Raj and used to describe the formal ceremonies held in 1877 to acknowledge the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India. Delhi was selected as the location, being the old Mughal capital, and the Viceroy Lord Lytton devised a celebration that set the pattern for the Durbars that followed. A temporary city of tents was constructed, and an amphitheatre wherein the main ceremonies were staged. In a richly colourful display, British rule in India, and the privileged but inferior position of the Indian princes (on whose presence particular emphasis was placed) within the ruling hierarchy was illustrated through procession, pageantry and obeisance.58 Queen Victoria did not attend. When the second Delhi Durbar was held in 1902-3 (at the same location), to recognise Edward VII as the new Emperor of India, once again the King-Emperor did not go to India and was represented instead by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. The ceremonies attracted several film companies, including Urban’s Warwick Trading Company, which sent out the Reverend J. Gregory Mantle as its single film correspondent.
The significant difference for the Delhi Durbar of 1911 was that this time the King-Emperor himself attended. King George V believed profoundly in the solemnity and responsibility of his position, and he wished to see his anointment as Emperor of India properly sanctified, as well as expressing a wish to do what he could to calm seditious tendencies by his presence. Preparations took over a year, and were organised by Sir John Hewett, the Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces. The ceremonies were to take place in the same location outside Delhi as in 1877 and 1902/3, and a giant ‘city’ of 40,000 tents was erected, which was eventually to house some 300,000 inhabitants. On 11 November 1911 King George V and Queen Mary, with an entourage that included an official historian (Sir John Fortescue) and an official artist (Jacomb Hood), but no official photographer or cinematographer, left on the P&O ship Medina for the three-week voyage to Bombay.59
The organising committee had received its first enquiry from a film company by April 1911, and as the result of the official invitation to tender, by September five firms had been given official permission to film the ceremonies, to be represented by some thirty staff. The five were Barker, Gaumont, Pathé, Warwick and Urban.60 Urban took a team of seven, of which probably five were camera operators: Joseph De Frenes (who headed the team), De Frenes’ nephew Albuin Mariner, Alfred Gosden, Hiram Horton, and another unidentified.61 Urban’s account exaggerates his personal importance (‘Mr Urban had been appointed by His Majesty King George to proceed to India and personally supervise the work of recording the proceedings and incidents connected with the ceremonies at Bombay, Delhi, and Calcutta’), but certainly he was able to obtain preferential treatment, not least in the allotment of camera positions and official protection. Again, Urban’s imagination leads him to melodrama:
We were met in India by Sir John Hewitt [sic] who had charge of all arrangements re the Durbar etc, he gave me a half hour to tell him what we required but drove about with me the entire afternoon in order to select the positions I wanted … We had the choicest of all possible positions; the officials afforded us the best of protection. They had heard rumors that rival film companies were bent on damaging or destroying our pictures and inasmuch as the King expected to see these pictures in London, it was up to the Army to see that we got them safely there. Each night we used to develop the negatives exposed during the day, and bury them in cases dug in the sand in my tent with a piece of linoleum and a rug on top – my bed on top of them, a pistol under my pillow and armed guards patrolling our camp.62
It is highly unlikely that any of Urban’s rivals were planning sabotage, but not unlikely that Urban could have persuaded himself that they were, and the burial of the developed films and Urban sleeping with a gun under his pillow all seem quite in character. Developing the film was a considerable undertaking. As Urban says, the exposed negatives were developed each day, which entailed their precise panchromatisation, and the necessary plant and dark-rooms were all assembled and tests prior to any film being taken. The damp heat was the major problem, but copious supplies of ice were on hand to keep the solutions sufficiently cool.63
The King and Queen arrived at Bombay on 2 December, and the filming began. The royal party stayed in Bombay for four days, before journeying to Delhi, where Urban’s team filmed their arrival at the Selimgarh Bastion, and then the formal state entry into the city. The King rode through the Kings’ or Elephant Gate, and on film the results were spectacular, with the life-size stone elephants on either side of the gate offering perhaps a prefiguring of the Babylonian sequence in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, four years away.
The day of the Coronation Durbar itself was 12 December. Up to 100,000 people filled the amphitheatre before the formal ceremonies began. At the head of the procession came veterans of past wars, including over a hundred survivors of the 1857 Mutiny, both Indian and British. Next came the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge (temporarily divested of his official power during the King- Emperor’s visit) and Lady Hardinge in an open carriage. An escort and the sound of fanfares preceded the entry of the royal carriage, with its canopy of crimson and gold, the King-Emperor and Queen-Empress dressed in their purple Imperial robes, each wearing crowns. They processed down the central road, then round in a semi-circle past the central Royal Pavilion, to the Shamiana (a pavilion at the far end of the arena in front of the guests’ enclosure), where the Viceroy led them to their thrones. Here the Indian princes were to do homage to their Emperor, and after the King had given a short address, the maharajahs and princes of India came one by one (in strict order of precedence) to express their loyalty to the crown. The Emperor and Empress then rose from their thrones and walked to the central Royal Pavilion. Fanfares sounded. The official proclamation of the King’s coronation in June was made, in English and Urdu, and there were various announcements concerning beneficial funds and concessions made to the people of India. The royal couple returned to the Shamiana, while a salute was fired and cheers were taken up by the thirty thousand troops, then the sixty or more thousand guests, then those many thousands more outside the arena. At the Shamiana, the Emperor gave two last announcements concerning political changes, which had been kept in the greatest secrecy for months. These were that the capital of India was to move to Delhi, and that the partition of Bengal (an unpopular decision from the Curzon era) was to be cancelled. The Durbar was declared formally closed, the royal couple returned to their carriage, and departed.64
The Delhi Durbar of 1912 is frequently seen as being the very apex of the British Empire, and in terms of ceremony, display and sentimental symbolism it probably was. It laid out in purely visual terms the pomp and precedence of the imperial system, appealing to what was understood as an Indian love of the ceremonial, but which struck an equal chord in the British. Its sensory impact underlined the almost religious impact of the Durbar, something which King George certainly believed in, and which journalist Philip Gibbs expressed in terms of sound and colour harmony:
Sound and colour combined to form a panorama of beauty and grandeur such as one might suppose could have its being only in a dream. Uniforms, robes, turbans of every shade and tone produced an effect which, though infinitely varied in its contrasts, was blended into one flawless harmony by the orderliness of the entire scheme. There seemed a mystic bond that welded the tremendous music of the bands, the clear notes of the bugles, and the tramp-tramp-tramp of marching hosts, into one vast paean of triumphant praise to the King-Emperor, and that found its more material counterpart in the riot of colour displayed so lavishly on every side.
However, something of the ineffable experience had been preserved, for as Gibbs noted:
Words are inadequate to describe that which the brush and the camera alone can depict … Happily, some measure of its sheer magnificence still remained even when the ceremony had ended and the mighty gathering had dispersed, for a cinematograph record of the superb programme was taken, in natural colours.65
The king himself, temperamentally uneffusive, did however record something of his feelings in an otherwise plain diary entry, confessing that the Durbar had been ‘the most beautiful and wonderful sight I ever saw’.66
Urban had cameras at two positions in the amphitheatre. Stephen Bottomore has shown, through an analysis of existing films and published frame stills, that there were Kinemacolor cameras alongside those of the Gaumont team in the inner circle to the right of the Royal Pavilion, and probably a further cameraman on the roof of the spectators’ enclosure, close to the Shamiana. There, in an arc, were camera operators from Gaumont (at ground and roof level), Barker, Pathé, Warwick and Urban (Bottomore suggests, however, that this Urban cameraman may have been filming in monochrome, and certainly there was a monochrome film of the Durbar issued by Kineto and the Charles Urban Trading Company). There is a panoramic photograph in the India Office Library, reproduced in part by Bottomore and in its entirety in Stanley Reed’s The King and Queen and India, which shows the Gaumont and Kinemacolor cameramen on a raised stand just behind a line of troops before the Royal Pavilion. The cameramen are in khaki, but in front of them is a figure in a dark suit and white pith helmet who is Charles Urban himself.67
The royal progress continued in the following days, but all of those filming in monochrome left but for a single cameraman, whereas Charles Urban had far greater ambitions for documenting the royal visit to India. On 14 December there was the Royal Review of 50,000 imperial troops at the Badli-ki-Sarai review ground. The State Departure from Delhi followed on the 16th, whereupon the King left for two weeks of hunting for tigers and bears in Nepal, away from the Kinemacolor cameras, which instead filmed the Viceroy’s Cup horse race in Calcutta. The King and Queen returned from their break for an official entry into Calcutta at the Prinsep’s Ghat landing stage on 30 December; they departed the city on 8 January 1912.68
Exhibiting the Durbar Films
At the same time as the royal party was entering Calcutta, the first films of the Delhi Durbar were being shown in London. In the fashion typical of topical producers, those who had filmed in monochrome made frantic journeys back to Britain and thereafter rushed to their printing houses to be the first to have film of the Delhi Durbar on British screens. It was the practically only way that the topical film companies knew how to excel, through speed. The nonchalant Urban had a different strategy:
When I arrived in London one month after our competitors had hurried after the Delhi ceremonies … I was met on every side with cries of derision. ‘Your stuff is old; everybody has seen the Durbar and is tired of it’. But they had seen it only in the monotone and I had no fear of the reception of the pictures in Natural color.69
Urban’s strategy was to present the living history as theatre, to recreate the experience and the emotion of the Delhi Durbar as far as might be possible on a London stage. It was not that people were tired of the Durbar; they had not seen it as it had been seen, and as it could now be presented. Urban organised the Kinemacolor footage into a two and a half hour programme (16,000 feet), a previously unheard of length for a single film show, and with introductions and intervals it stretched to three hours in full. However, in what was both a clever marketing ploy and a genuine wish to exhibit as much of the footage as possible, Urban arranged the material into two different programmes, to be shown at 2.30 and 8.00, though the core material remained the same for each show. It is erroneous to think of Urban’s major Kinemacolor productions as single film entities. They were protean conceptions whose component parts could be altered, added to or subtracted as desired. The full programme was called With Our King and Queen Through India; the centrepiece was entitled the Coronation Durbar at Delhi, but the programme covered the whole tour. The Scala stage was turned into a mock-up of the Taj Mahal. Music was specially composed and scored for forty-eight pieces, a chorus of twenty-four, a twenty-piece fife and drum corps, and three bagpipes. As in previous films of royal ceremony, the music used at the original event was followed where ever possible, including fanfares. An accompanying lecture was written by the Scala’s stage manager St John Hamund. There were special lighting effects devised, elaborate programmes produced, and much advance publicity, as Urban patiently bided his time until all was ready and fault-free. With our King and Queen Through India finally opened at the Scala on 2 February 1912.70
The profound impact of the show is best judged from a review in the Bioscope, which merits quoting at some length:
Last Friday evening, at the Scala Theatre, was an occasion in many respects as significant and memorable as it was wonderful. It may be left for future generations to realise the full extent of its importance – men and women yet unborn who, by the magic of a little box and a roll of film, will be enabled to witness the marvels of a hundred years before their age, in all the colour and movement of life. Perverse old grandfathers will no longer be able to indulge disdainfully in reminiscences of the superiority of the times ‘when they were boys’; the past will be an open book for all to read in, and, if the grandfathers exaggerate, they may be convicted by the camera’s living record. Man has conquered most things; now he has vanquished Time. With the cinematograph and the gramophone he can ‘pot’ the centuries as they roll past him, letting them loose at will, as he would a tame animal, to exhibit themselves for his edification and delight. The cinematograph, in short, is the modern Elixir of Life – at any rate, that part of life which is visible to the eye. It will preserve our bodies against the ravages of age, and the beauty, which was once for but a day, will now be for all time.71
This review, which Urban had reprinted to be distributed as a testimonial, shows that the Delhi Durbar film engendered in cinema’s devotees that most fond belief in film as a time machine. Though the writer at least acknowledges that the cinematograph can only preserve life’s outward show, the colour, movement and patriotic spectacle persuaded many that here was the ultimate beauty, something that somehow by that very beauty could not die. The value of the show’s effect on the status of cinema was also noted:
Mr Charles Urban may be dubbed the ‘Official Recording Angel to the State’. How much more effective his visual report is than the efforts of the most eloquent descriptive journalist or the most assiduous notetaker, all who visit the Scala can bear witness. There is, however, another side to Mr Urban’s activities, which is on even greater importance to the members of the cinematograph industry – as distinct from the public at large – and that is the enormously elevating influence of his work as regards the dignity and prestige of the Trade as a whole. Few people, for instance, would have been able, ten years ago, to credit the fact that a performance of mere animated photographs could possibly have drawn together a fashionable, even a brilliant, audience, in a large West-End theatre, and evoked three hours’ wild and untiring enthusiasm. But such was undoubtedly the case on Friday. It was not simply a ‘scratch audience’ brought there out of idle curiosity, but a representative gathering, largely composed of the people who really matter in the social world. And this sort of thing has been going on for the past six months.72
Elsewhere, the Bioscope recorded the sort of society names to be seen at the early screenings of the Delhi Durbar films. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Dom Manoel of Portugal, the Marquis of Soveral, the Marchioness of Ripon and Ely, the Marquis of Tullibardine, the Duke of Atholl, the Dowager Countess of Dudley, the Ladies Granard, Nina Balfour, Reay, Petre, Legard, Albu and Neumann, Lord Iveagh, Lord Boston, the Hon. Cecil Cadogan, the Hon. A.E. Guinness, Sir Berkeley Milne, Sir Sidney Greville, Sir E. Sassoon had all seen the programme before the first month was out.73 Those who had seen the actual ceremonies in India came to see the experience recreated on the Scala. Royalty would soon follow.
The Bioscope emphasised that the motion picture record had far exceeded what the pen could achieve, in imparting not only the spectacle but perhaps its final meaning. When it came to describing the physical experience of watching the show, the writer, in common with others’ reaction to Kinemacolor, highlighted the memorable effect of individual colours, thereby underlining Kinemacolor’s super-real as well as its naturalistic effect, and giving the impression of a sensory over-load:
If one were questioned as to the main impression made on one’s mind by the entertainment, one would say that it was an impression of vivid light and moving colours. Pageant after pageant unrolls itself before one’s dazzled eyes, scintillating with a thousand tones of scarlet and blue and gold and purple. Some of the scenes are like the slow unfolding of a jewelled banner, so wonderful is their magnificence. We have often heard tales of the barbaric splendours of the Orient, but never before, perhaps, have we been given an equal opportunity of realising them in their full gorgeousness. Even the sky, which throughout serves as a frame for the human spectacle, is a thing to wonder at; it is one pure sheet of palpitating light, blue with a blueness of which one can only dream here in grey England, deep, intense, unruffled, like one gigantic sapphire.74
The modern elixir of life, in this sad case, has been poured away. With Our King and Queen Through India is a lost film. In common with the great majority of Kinemacolor productions, no complete copy is known to survive in any of the world’s film archives. One can at least put in the qualification ‘complete’, because in 2000 a ten minute section showing part of the review of troops at Badli-ki-Sarai that took place after the main ceremony was discovered in the Russian national film archive at Krasnagorsk.75 The survival of a fragment from the edges of a much greater and spectacular work only makes the loss of the main films that much more regrettable. The rediscovery of the complete Kinemacolor Delhi Durbar remains a film archivist’s dream.
Urban’s critics were proved wholly wrong. The public was not tired of the Durbar; it was in fact thirsting for the experience, and the Scala show offered a patriotic and sentimental display of colour, sound, pageantry and exoticism that accurately reflected the picture-book understanding that many had of the British Empire. For many, this is what India meant. For David Cannadine, the ‘image of India protected and projected by the Raj – glittering and ceremonial, layered and traditional, princely and rural, Gothic and Indo-Saracenic – reached what has rightly been called its “elaborative zenith” at the Coronation Durbar of 1911’.76 That image was literally projected by Urban on the Scala screen (Cannadine’s study of how the British Empire displayed itself regrettably ignores the role of cinema), a meticulous reflection of the surface, an uncomplicated marvel.
The success of the film was immediate. It made a fortune, Urban calculating that through a combination of the Scala programme and five touring road shows in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the film grossed more than £150,000 (though this figure is more likely for all Kinemacolor exhibited in UK). Over the two years that Kinemacolor had its residency at the Scala, gross receipts (from a theatre that seated just 920) were £64,000.77 It also made Urban the talk of the town, practically a national celebrity. He was commented upon as a man about town in society columns, he was interviewed in journals, and his portrait was painted for Mayfair magazine (the painting being entitled ‘The King’s Kinemacolorist’),78 and most notably by Leslie Ward (‘Spy’) for one of the renowned series of Vanity Fair cartoons. Spy’s painting of Urban perfectly captures the elegance, poise and style (not to mention the trade-mark cigar) of a man at the very top of his world.79 A letter to the editor of Punch recommended that the best way to revive moribund English cricket was to take it out of the hands of the M.C.C. and put it under a management committee to include Lord Northcliffe, Imre Kiralfy, George Robey, Charles Frohman and Charles Urban, placing Urban in a company of men renowned for their dynamism.80 Urban’s social success was finally crowned by an entry in Who’s Who.81
The Delhi Durbar film became an essential sight for the discriminating Londoner, and American newspapers recommended a visit to the Scala as a necessary part of the itinerary for any American visiting London.82 For many visitors it was their first visit to a film show, both exotic and socially acceptable, and children were taken to a show whose worthiness greatly commended it to those who might otherwise be suspicious of moving pictures. Among such visitors were the young John Grierson, Ivor Montagu and Paul Rotha, future lions of British documentary and politicised filmmaking.83 Urban averred, ‘the superior character of the film subjects, as well as the beauties of the process, have been the means of attracting tens of thousands of the public who had never previously visited a picture theatre, but who have since become ardent supporters of the new art’.84
Such interest was accentuated by the attendance of royalty itself. King George V and Queen Mary went to the Scala on 11 May 1912, accompanied by Queen Alexandra, the Empress Marie Féodorovna of Russia, Princess Christian, Princess Victoria, Princess Henry of Battenburg, the Grand Duchess Olga, and Prince and Princess Alexander of Teck.85 The Empress wrote enthusiastically to her son Tsar Nikolai:
We are lunching today with Georgie and May at Buckingham Palace. They both send you greetings. Last night we saw their journey to India. Kinemacolor is wonderfully interesting and very beautiful and gives one the impression of having seen it all in reality.86
It was one of the great personal tragedies in Urban’s life that he was not there. Urban fell suddenly ill on his birthday (15 April), enduring violent internal spasms eventually diagnosed as a perforated gastric ulcer, and with his life under threat he underwent an operation from which it took him several weeks to recover.87 It meant that he had to miss the royal visit, an event which would undoubtedly have been one of the highlights of his life. In later years he developed the naive fantasy that had he only been there he would have been knighted on the spot, illness robbing him of the honour that was surely only his due.88 He therefore missed the scene, reproduced in a fine illustration on the front page of the Graphic, of the royal couple watching in rapt attention while their triumph passed once more before their eyes, and the lecturer St John Hamund described the passing scene.89
Royalty had already shown Kinemacolor its favour. Following King Edward’s Knowsley programme in 1909, the Prince of Wales visited the Scala on 25 July 1911 to see the Kinemacolor films of the coronation and his own investiture, and four days later Urban gave a Kinemacolor show by command of Queen Alexandra at Sandringham.90 On 14 and 15 September the same year the films of the coronation and the investiture of the Prince of Wales were shown for King George V and Queen Mary at Balmoral. The Durbar films were a particular draw. The Duke and Duchess of Teck visited the Scala on 14 March, while Princess Mary and three of her younger brothers attended on 24 April.91 Georgie and May had not tired of Kinemacolor, because they requested a further showing of the Indian films at Buckingham Palace on 12 December, ending an extraordinary year of royal patronage for Kinemacolor.92 The lowly British film trade now saw its most prestigious product mentioned regularly in The Times‘ Court Circular. Urban’s triumph was a triumph for the industry overall. Kinemacolor had managed, through its richly coloured parades and obeisant mise en scène, to reflect royalty’s image of itself. It brought royalty to royalty. There is no written evidence from this time of any royal figure reflecting on the curious phenomena of witnessing one’s own public display, but unquestionably the Kinemacolor films, in their content and quality, were the starting point of a conscious realisation of screen presence in the members of the British royal family.
International licences and patents
With Our King and Queen Through India was to prove the apex of Urban’s career, but through 1912 and 1913 there seemed no indication of any waning for Kinemacolor. The money was coming in from the sale of international patents and exhibition licences. Kinemacolor fiction films were generally acknowledged to be poorly made, but a new revolving studio (to catch available sunlight) was constructed in a meadow behind Urban’s newly-acquired mansion in Bushey Park, outside London, which opened in April 1913.93 Kinemacolor’s greater successes continued to be films of actuality combined with pageantry or spectacle, and Urban enjoyed a further succes d’estime with The Making of the Panama Canal, first exhibited in October 1912. A nine-reeler, lasting around two hours, this was the longest Kinemacolor production since the Durbar films, and it pushed the latter to the matinee slot at the Scala.94 This coup was soon followed by films of the Balkan War, filmed by James Scott Brown and others under the supervision of the war artist and journalist Frederic Villiers, who introduced the films at the Scala from January 1913. Billed as ‘the only genuine War Pictures in Natural Colour’, the films inevitably showed nothing of the front line. Villiers admitted in interview that war no longer featured the ‘pomp and circumstance … stern charges and hand to hand conflicts’ of the battles of old, in which he had made his reputation as an illustrator, but it was his reputation as a vivid chronicler of war’s reality that Urban was playing upon. Poor weather and distance from the conflict rendered the Balkan War Kinemacolor films little more than travelogues, but Villiers gave them their artistic and journalistic credibility.95
From 1910 onwards, Urban’s chief business was selling Kinemacolor international licences. The original patent rights had been purchased from G.A. Smith by Ada Jones in 1910, and in Britain the rights were now owned by the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, of which she and her husband remained co-directors. With the latest and most glittering object in the window to offer for sale, Urban pursued a strategy of putting on glamorous exhibition screenings, which whetted the appetite of exhibitors and led to a succession of lucrative sales, wherein Urban sold exhibition rights and sometimes the patent rights to an individual territory, while frequently keeping a share interest. However, without Urban’s personal drive behind the product, once the sale had been made Kinemacolor abroad seldom matched the success that it had found in Britain.
France was the first country that Urban approached. He had close links through Eclipse, and France was also the home of Pathé and Gaumont’s stencil colour processes, systems which had defined what colour in the cinema meant. Kinemacolor opened in France with a special exhibition in Paris on 8 July 1908 before members of the Institute of Civil Engineers, just two months after the opening of Urbanora House. Among the invited guests of scientists and film industry representatives were the inventors of the Autochrome colour process for still photographs, Auguste and Louis Lumière. The highlight of the programme was a film of the Grand Prix motor race from Dieppe, which had taken place the previous day. A stencil coloured film of the same event would have taken weeks to produce, and by this simple coup Urban demonstrated that his system was of a different order. Further one-off exhibitions followed, before a three month engagement began at the Folies Bergère from September 1909.96
The French patent rights (Kinemacolor was patented in France on 22 August 1907)97 were sold in 1912 to the Raleigh et Robert firm, which created a prestige centre for Kinemacolor exhibition in Paris at the Biograph Theatre, Rue de Peletier. In July 1912, an attempt to float an independent company, Kinemacolor de France to supersede Raleigh et Robert’s business failed when insufficient working capital was raised by subscription.98 The Natural Color Kinematograph Company bought back the French patents for £5,000 more than they had sold them for, and this action together with the success of the Scala operation led Urban to attempt to repeat the formula through purchasing the lease on premises in the Rue Edouard VII, Boulevard des Capucines, Paris. Here Urban undertook to build his very own theatre, the Théâtre Edouard VII, a reckless act with severe repercussions. The theatre took over a year to construct and to furnish to the sumptuous standard deemed necessary. It was decorated in white and gold in the Louis Quatorze style, a two-tier house with lounges, smoking saloons, tea rooms and a grand foyer, and even a statue of King Edward outside in the Place Edouard VII which was unveiled on the opening night (emphasising the spirit of entente cordiale).
For all the theatre’s gorgeousness, the delay was the first ominous note, as enthusiasm for the novelty of Kinemacolor waned. The theatre did not open until 12 December 1913, and it seated only 800, fewer even than the Scala. The small size of theatre demanded higher ticket prices than usual, higher than the French public was generally prepared to play. The location was still more obscure than that of the Scala. Urban had understood that the street would be cut through into the Rue Camartin, turning the Rue Edouard VII into a regular thoroughfare, but it was still a cul de sac by the time the theatre closed for the summer season on 30 May 1914. In short, too few could even see the theatre, and all of the faults that Urban had overcome regarding the Scala’s location were here magnified just that little bit too far. The venture cost Urban personally somewhere between £40-45,000. Negotiations became complicated through Urban negotiations with the firm of Viscos, producers of an artificial silk. One of the partners claimed that they could produced a non-flammable film base. The profits from this were to enable Viscos to purchase the theatre from Urban, but the film base never materialised, and Urban was left personally responsible for all the debts. On top of the Bioschemes court case (which also opened in December 1913), the Théâtre Edouard VII was the chief cause of his financial downfall in 1914.99
Germany was the second foreign territory Urban approached, though he was unable to find a buyer for the patent rights. A five month engagement started at the Berlin Wintergarten from June 1909. In 1910 the German exhibition rights went to the Theater-Betriebs-Geseltschaft, Dusseldorf, and later licences went in 1912 to Berlin’s Kroll Theatre, Tiergarten and the Passage Theatre, Unter den Linden, followed by a four-week residency at the Nollerndorf Theatre in December 1913. Urban instigated a system of international licences covering from three to twelve months. Urban was sometimes managing to sell Kinemacolor three times over: the national patent rights, the exhibition rights (for restricted periods, then to be re-negotiated) and naturally the exclusive Kinemacolor apparatus and films necessary to put on such programmes. The sale of patent rights was the most lucrative business, though they were negotiated for eight territories only. £2,500 was paid for Switzerland, £4,000 for Brazil, £6,000 for Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, £8,000 for Italy, £10,000 for France, £10,000 for Japan, £10,265 for Canada, and £40,000 for the United States of America.100 Few of these sales resulted in success for the purchasers. Urban recalled that the Canadian company had been undercapitalised, leading to voluntary liquidation in 1914 after just two years of trading. The patents rights for Italy were sold in 1912, but Urban said that strong opposition from French and Italian monochrome production led to the company’s failure after just six months. This therefore preceded a significant publicity coup, when the Pope witnessed a programme of Kinemacolor films at the Vatican on 11 June 1913. Other territories similarly failed, Urban noting that ‘the purchasers of these rights evidently had in mind “getting rich quick” at a comparatively limited outlay of capital’.101
One comparative success story was Japan. The patent rights for Japan and East Asian were acquired in 1912 by the Fukuhodo company, which paid 40,000 yen (£10,000 according to Urban’s records). The rights then passed on to Toyo Shokai. A three-hour Kinemacolor programme was given before the Emperor of Japan in August 1913, and in October the first commercial Kinemacolor programme opened at the Kirin-kan in Asakusa, Tokyo. Toyo Shokai reformed itself on 17 March 1914 as Tennenshoku Katsudoshashin Kabushiki Kaisha (Natural Color Kinematograph Company), abbreviated to Tenkatsu. Kinemacolor exhibition in Japan was well-managed and profitable, and local film production followed, predominantly fiction films, which were adaptations from kabuki plays. However, the onset of the war led to a sharp rise in the cost of film stock, and as Kinemacolor used double the amount of film to monochrome production, its use became restricted to special scenes in selected productions. After a gap of two years the last Japanese film to use Kinemacolor, Saiyûki Zokuhen, was released in July 1917, but the novelty had passed.102
Kinemacolor Company of America
By far the most important territory was inevitably the United States of America. The rise and fall of Kinemacolor in America is related only tangentially to Urban himself, because he sold the patents rights outright without retaining a share interest, a decision he would later describe as ‘the biggest mistake of my business career’.
The patent application for Kinemacolor in the United States had been filed in June 1907 and was granted on 30 November 1909.103 The first exhibition in America took place soon after on 11 December 1909, at Madison Square Gardens. Urban and Smith were both present, Smith introducing and explaining the system (Urban was a poor public speaker). Interest had been building up in America, and an audience of 1,200 representatives of the general press and film trade attended the debut programme. ‘In point of attendance it was probably the largest meeting interested in the subject of film photography which has been brought together in this country’, reported the Moving Picture World.104 The reception matched the anticipation, the enthusiastic acclaim fuelled by Urban’s flourish of ending the programme of twenty subjects with a film, taken by John Mackenzie, of 2,000 children forming the American flag. The Moving Picture World declared, ‘Kinemacolor has all the possibilities of an enormous, an epoch-making and a revolutionary success in front of it.’105 Urban tried to do a deal with the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), the monopolistic organisation established in January 1909 to license film production, distribution and exhibition exclusively, through control of the patents of Edison and others, but he failed to do so before leaving for Britain on 14 December. His business timing was unfortunate, both because the MPPC was striving earnestly to stifle all independent film activity in America, and because the special equipment required for Kinemacolor ran counter to its wish to standardise the American film industry.106 If Urban could not persuade the MPPC and its member companies to accept Kinemacolor, the American market would very likely be closed to him.
Salvation came from outside the film business in the shape of two businessmen from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Gilbert Henry Aymar and James Klein Bowen. They pursued Urban to London and secured the patent rights for $200,000 (£40,000), with a plan to follow the British pattern by exhibiting Kinemacolor through a system of local licences in variety theatres rather than picture houses. They established the Kinemacolor Company of America in April 1910, with Urban taking a token hundred shares. The company’s plan was to concentrate on exhibition and to rely for the most part on the proven success of the British product.107 The business, however, was badly run and bedevilled by technical problems. Urban had some unspecified control over the company and its patent, because in January 1911 he approached New York stock speculator, George H. Burr & Co., which paid the $200,000 for the patent rights and floated a new Kinemacolor Company of America (KCA), raising a reported $6,000,000. The resultant company with patent was sold in April to John J. Murdock, a man with a theatre background.108
The revitalised company now enjoyed the same success with exclusive films of British royalty as had occurred in Britain, the film of the coronation of King George V being a notable hit in August 1911, and the Delhi Durbar films creating almost as much of an impact as they had in Britain.109 There was the same talk of the effect Kinemacolor was having in elevating the tone of American film-going, attracting a discerning, middle class audience prepared to pay ticket prices comparable to theatres. However, the significant feature of the KCA was its interest in fiction films. One of the earliest, most ambitious, and what would certainly have been the most notorious of their productions was The Clansman, based on Thomas Dixon’s inflammatory novel about the Ku Klux Klan. Produced throughout 1911 in the New Orleans area, and completed by January 1912 at a cost of some $25,0000, the ten-reel film was never released, owing to unresolved legal problems regarding the story rights. Kinemacolor employee Frank Woods brought the property and his own film treatment of it to the attention of his new employer, D.W. Griffith, who would transform it into The Birth of a Nation.110
Late in 1912 a new head of the company was in place, Henry J. Brock, and fiction film production was fully underway, with studios at 4500 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Production and exhibition in America were each beset by technical problems, however, and too few films were produced to sustain the company, despite KCA eventually obtaining a licence from the MPPC in August 1913, making it the only new company to join the trust after its original formation. Exhibitors in particular resisted including Kinemacolor films requiring separate projection facilities within their programmes. The Hollywood studio closed in June 1913, ironically taken over by the D.W. Griffith company, which renamed it the Fine Arts studio, where The Birth of a Nation would be filmed. KCA opened a studio in New York in October 1913, but the company headed for extinction, a clear indication of how Kinemacolor’s best chances as an attraction had to be in specialised theatre settings rather than as part of a conventional cinema programme.111
Kinemacolor’s ultimate failure in America was deeply frustrating to Urban:
If I had kept a voice in the American directorate I firmly believe that the American Kinemacolor Company would today  be the biggest company of all. … If I had not sold out completely in American Kinemacolor, I could have come here and made the company a vital progressive force. I have always thought it was mismanaged or it would not have failed.112
There has to be considerable doubt that Kinemacolor would have prospered in America had Urban taken charge. Karl Brown, who processed KCA films and would move on to become assistant to D.W. Griffith’s cinematographer, Billy Bitzer, watched the results of his labours, and saw them gradually die at the box office:
Why? Because Kinemacolor required the expert care of specially trained technicians to make its glories come to life. It had begun with royalty no less, having recorded in full faithful color the great Durbar staged in India to commemorate the accession of George the Fifth. Every true Briton throughout the empire felt bound to see this picture, if it took his last farthing. … The profits were so huge that the Kinemacolor Company [in America] decided to go into commercial production. In that decision lay the cause of its eventual downfall, for Kinemacolor was expensive. There were not enough theaters equipped with the Kinemacolor projectors, or enough projectors, or enough free grand spectacles to be filmed. What Kinemacolor really wanted was another Durbar, but George the Fifth was in remarkably good health.113
Brown neatly sums up both the appeal and the limitations that spelt the end of Kinemacolor, not only in America but worldwide. Its immediate appeal was considerable, bred of a period where motion pictures were in the ascendant and were ready to capture a wealthier market than had hitherto been available to them. That market wanted quality to be an integral part of its entertainments, and it found this in the theatre settings, exclusive presentations and emphasis on royal pageantry that characterised the most successful Kinemacolor shows. It was a period when fascination with ceremonial display was at a peak, for its luxurious qualities, for its visual expression of the apparent solidity of Empire, and because it provided a reassuring curtain to hide the darker undercurrents that were manifested in the dock and railwaymen’s strikes that Britain faced at this time. That immediate, urgent appeal brought about huge revenue in Britain, and a pattern of elaborately presented trade shows and screenings before personages such as the Pope and the Emperor of Japan led to hurried speculation, as exhibition and patent licences were snapped up and the investors sat back and waited for the profits to come pouring in. But Kinemacolor was a complex process, both technically and in exhibition terms. It required special projectors and special talents to maintain them; the system suffered badly if it was not expertly controlled. It could only survive as an exclusive. Lastly, it was dependent on those ‘free grand spectacles’ which had created its reputation. It failed completely with the dramatic film. It needed the super-reality of another Delhi Durbar. But King George V was in remarkably good health.
Kinemacolor and its Critics
Various commentators have tried to pinpoint why Kinemacolor’s success was so short-lived. Gorham Kindem provides a summation of these theories. Terry Ramsaye (Urban’s confidant) puts some of the blame on the Motion Picture Patents Company. Rachael Low argues that it was the loss of the 1906 patent and the liquidation of Kinemacolor’s assets in 1914. Adrian Klein considers Kinemacolor alongside other early additive color processes and feels that that they were technologically inadequate and simply hurtful to the eyes. D.B. Thomas acknowledges these points, but considers also the economic and aesthetic problems created by a production policy which concentrated too heavily on non-fiction film. Kindem adds his own observation that Kinemacolor over-extended its resources and made the mistake of not marketing its product to outsiders, contrasting it with the success of Technicolor and Eastmancolor, which each learned from Kinemacolor’s mistakes and were able to maintain their colour patents for far longer and make them available to all who could afford them.114
Each of these arguments, though valid, presupposes that Kinemacolor was ultimately a failure. But it may just as equally be argued that Kinemacolor was a notable success, when one considers fairly what it was supposed to be, and what it might reasonably have been expected to achieve. It was for five years an outstanding commercial, critical and aesthetic success, technically at the peak of what could be achieved for its time, extending and elevating the range of film exhibition, and establishing natural colour motion pictures as a practical means of communication. Urban made a reasonable claim when he stated that ‘our presentation of Kinemacolor was the beginning of the splendid presentations in picture houses today’, and he felt that America’s leading exhibitor Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothapfel ‘got his inspiration for orchestra, lighting, stage setting and prices for the Strand resulting from his visit to the Scala Theatre’.115 Beyond inspiring to some degree the elaborate feature film presentations of the 1920s, Urban’s Kinemacolor shows broke with all established patterns of film exhibition, in pricing, duration of run, and subject matter of exclusive presentations. The Bioscope observed:
It is necessary to be very cautious in drawing lessons from the rise of Kinemacolor and applying them to the cinematograph industry as a whole. It seems more than likely that the new process will develop as an entirely separate branch of the motion picture business. Because at the Scala Theatre the policy of a weekly or twice-weekly change of programme has been disregarded, and programmes have runs for two months or more, it does not follow that all moving picture exhibitors would be safe in following this plan. Similarly, because high prices are being obtained at the Scala, it would not do to counsel exhibitors everywhere to raise their charges by some hundreds per cent. It will be generally admitted that Mr Urban has inaugurated what is practically a new phase of cinematography, and one which will reach the highest development without necessarily interfering in any way with the scope of the black-and-white industry.116
Urban had shown the way for extended runs of film programmes in the future, and alarmed a conservative British film trade. As it was, the very difference of Kinemacolor caused it to be seen as something separate from the regular cinema industry. Its films were not available for general distribution and were seldom advertised in the film trade press. Kinemacolor programmes were, in Britain and America, as likely to be reviewed as theatre productions as they were to be noted as film shows. American trade papers would divide their reviews into licensed, independent, and Kinemacolor productions.117 Its difference carried prestige. Prestige was urgently sought by the film industry in every land to establish its good name and to attract the monied middle class audience. The industry was proud of the achievements of Kinemacolor. The pride was partly a reflection of the feeling generated by the films of royal pageantry that lay at the core of Kinemacolor’s reputation, but chiefly it was pride in a product, a phenomenon that exuded pure class, acclaimed by the arts, sciences and society.
Kinemacolor was dependent on an illusion (as is any film, ultimately), an illusion with all the greater effect in the way in which it was exhibited. People saw, to a significant degree, what they were conditioned to see. The illusion could not always be sustained, however. The technical deficiencies of the system too often broke the spell. Two main objections were raised. The first was colour fringing. Inherent in any sequential additive system was the separation of the colour records which went to make up a single, combined colour image. The Kinemacolor film strip had alternate red and green records, but at the high speed of projection necessary (around thirty frames per second, or double the regular rate, as double the number of frames was needed to create a single record), the effect was sufficient to give, as Smith’s patent stated, ‘the impression that the colours obtained from the alternating records are super-imposed, or blended, so that the moving picture appears … to be in its natural colours, or approximately so’.118 However, moving objects necessarily would be recorded imprecisely as the image changed in the fraction of a second interval that took place between each red and green exposure. The result was colour fringing, edges of red or green appearing around moving objects, and particularly noticeable with lateral movement.
The second key objection was eye-strain. With the usual two-bladed projector shutters employed at that period, sixteen frames per second for a normal piece of (silent) film is close to the threshold point where the viewer becomes aware of the intervals between frames, the phenomenon known as ‘flicker’ which distressed early film audiences. Kinemacolor was running at double speed but with double the number of frames, and the thirty frames per second recommended in Smith’s patent hovered close to that awkward threshold. There was a similar, extra problem with the colour fusion rate, which needed to be at a minimum of thirty frames per second (colours alternating every fifteenth of second) to achieve the rate at which a such series of pictures could become a motion picture in the mind. A faster speed was no less problematical, owing to the considerable wear and tear on the prints (it is certainly due in part to the hard use that they received that so few Kinemacolor prints survive today). There were numerous complaints of eye-strains and headaches throughout the Kinemacolor period.
There were further criticisms of Kinemacolor. Several commentators observed that the pictures seemed over-bright, presumably owing to over-compensation for brightness on the part of the operator, because projection through filters led to considerable absorption of light. Others felt that tonal values were lost through the need always to film in bright sunlight. F.A. Talbot observed:
The public has sometimes drawn attention to another defect in colour cinematography. It appears to photograph the subject in brilliant sunshine, regardless of the fact that sunlight kills colours. … The brilliantly lighted points are lacking in tone, and some very bizarre effects are produced in consequence. When an essentially scenic subject is thrown upon the screen these defects are very manifest, but when it is applied to such a subject as the Coronation of the King the flaws are overlooked, because public interest is concentrated upon the principal actors.119
Indeed the intense interest that the royal subjects attracted enhanced what the audience saw, and slow processions would not in any case betray much in the way of colour fringing. But even without such excuses, Robert Humfrey and other witnesses to the Delhi Durbar film were general in their belief that ‘the Indian light seemed to suit it [Kinemacolor] and the colours were well-nigh perfect’.120
Kinemacolor was also expensive and awkward to operate. The cost in film stock was high (see Table 4), not only because twice as much film was required as standard monochrome stock, but because the severe wear-and-tear meant that prints had frequently to be replaced. Kinemacolor required a special projector, engineered to handle the double-speed and colour filters. Operating the projector was a skilled job, requiring a specialised operator, and the cost of both machine and operator added further to the expense.
A further limitation, was the emphasis on actuality or non-fiction film. Commentators such as D.B. Thomas and Rachael Low mark it as a failing that such a high percentage of Kinemacolor’s output was actuality film. This was of course wholly to Urban’s taste, and central to his particular mission. Kinemacolor meant the pageant of true life. Nevertheless, the dictates of the film business demanded that fiction films be produced to create a rounded programme, but in Britain too few were produced, and those that were made were of a dispiritingly poor standard. Greater emphasis was put on the fiction film in America, but that merely exposed the great difficulties of filming with Kinemacolor under studio conditions, and further exposed the fact that there were an insufficient number of theatres available to support such exclusive production.
Against all such complaints came the repeated delight in the effect of Kinemacolor at its height. Testimonies ranging from the sober nod of approval to the ecstatic reverie are legion. For Theodore Brown, Kinemacolor had attained the perfect apprehension of nature, science superseding art:
They are not pictures, but solid realities, the faithful re-creations of nature. I have been told that the function of pictorial art is not to create realities, but merely to suggest them. It is fortunate that it is so; otherwise the function would remain unfulfilled. The function of kinemacolor appears to be the re-creation of Nature as she is seen by the human eye, not from one point of view only, or at one moment of time, but from all points of view, and at all moments during the evolution of motion. Hence the mark aimed at in this science seems to stand higher than any other, and kinemacolor does not fail to hit it. It is difficult to understand how so simple a process succeeds so admirably in reproducing any and all the tints of solar refraction, and in showing withal their constant variations. The fact is, many of the tints one perceives are accidentals or preceding hues, throwing up their complementary colours, and thus contributing to a perfect whole.121
There is, in this elusive passage, an effort to demonstrate that Kinemacolor showed more than rational analysis might suggest that it was able to. Brown was interested in the stereoscopic qualities of film, and in the time lapse inevitable from separate red/green images coming together as one, Brown thought he detected what he termed ‘binocular solidity’. What is more intriguing is Brown’s apprehension of ‘accidental or preceding hues’, of colours making up ‘a perfect whole’ where none might expected to be.
In 1959 Edwin H. Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, conducted a simple experiment which challenged accepted theories of colour vision. Land took black-and-white photographs of an object, one through a red filter, the other through a green filter (he would subsequently experiment with other combinations, including red and white). The resultant black-and-white transparencies he showed through slide projectors, in front of which he placed red and green filters. Turning on both projectors, with the images superimposed, resulted in an image that demonstrated almost the full range of colours, with reds, blues and greens all as they appeared in the original image, or approximately so.122
Land’s experiments were an illustration of a phenomenon, recognised since the eighteenth century, known as ‘colour constancy’. It describes the tendency of colours to retain their appearance despite changes in illumination. Land posited that the Newtonian concept of a wavelength of light creating colour of itself was inadequate. Colour perception (as opposed to colour sensation) was determined by the brain interpreting wavelength information, which it did in conjunction with information derived from other aspects of the image. A comparative process was at work in the eye, so that what the brain deduces is only partly what the eye sees.123
It would be out of place for a thesis on early non-fiction film to go too far down the route of the physiological/psychological means by which images are constructed in our minds. Simply put, we may see more colours, or colours of a different hue, that those that may be calculated from light wavelength alone. More, cultural conditioning will determine for us what colours we see and what significance they have for us, and still more we may see what we wish to see. All of these factors came into play in the exhibition of Kinemacolor. The plain physics of red and green light were insufficient to explain a phenomenon created out of cultural conditioning, comparison in people’s minds with colour in other media, comparison with (or ignorance of) colour as it previously existed in the cinema, and audience expectation created out of the aura surrounding Kinemacolor than Urban so assiduously created.
While Urban was the quintessential example of someone who saw all of the colours in Kinemacolor that he wanted others to see, G.A. Smith had some intimation of its suggestive effect. In the Bioschemes court case, he made this statement about what for Kinemacolor would be the fateful colour blue:
One has a very curious illustration about that with flags. I very often amuse myself about it, because this matter of blue has been on my mind a good deal, and I have discussed it a good deal. There is a rather curious thing that crops up in everyday life about blue, and that is in the Union Jack. You will find a Union Jack is very often indeed in a shocking state; it is a sort of dull drey [sic], red and black almost, and yet if you were to say to anybody, What colour is that? he would say, Red and blue; but when you took it down you would find there was no blue in it, it is red and black and dark grey, but no blue at all. I do not deny that you do get blue in Union Jacks, but it is called blue often when it is not; it is described as the good old blue and red Union Jack.124
Smith understood the illusion and the need. Smith’s own fiction films had both employed trickery and made trickery their theme. The X Rays (1897), The Mesmerist; or, Body and Soul (1898), Photographing a Ghost (1898), The Haunted Picture Gallery (1899), Let Me Dream Again (1900) and other similar titles all indicated not only an ability in Smith to deceive, but an understanding of how people can or even need to be deceived. Kinemacolor was no less an example of the art of deception. It seemed to offer the full range of natural colours from only a red and green source, an illusion dependent on the viewer’s deep-rooted wish to be taken in. Those who criticise Kinemacolor now for its inadequate colour reproduction are ignoring both the cultural conditions that were prevalent, and the physiological processes that enriched the colour effect. Of course, not all were taken in, but for a time there were enough who wanted to be.
There are enough Kinemacolor films in existence today to judge for ourselves some of the effectiveness of its colour. It is not possible to recreate the cultural conditions under which such films were originally exhibited, but unfortunately it is also seldom possible to see true Kinemacolor projected at all, owing to the need for specialised projection equipment (and the expertise to manage it). Compromise solutions have come in the creation of colour positives, using black-and-white negatives from the red and green records effectively as colour separations to create a colour print which can be shown on a conventional projector at sixteen frames per second. This conversion from additive to subtractive has been employed by the National Film and Television Archive and the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna.125 More regrettable has been the solution devised by George Eastman House and Haghefilm of Amsterdam, of dyeing the alternate frames red and green and showing the results at thirty-two frames per second, effectively applying a Friese-Greene system to Kinemacolor, something which would have horrified Urban.
The verdict of this witness (who has seen true Kinemacolor projection, modern colour prints, colour video copies, but not the dyed alternate frame variants) is that Kinemacolor is surprisingly effective. There is a fuller range of colours than one would logically expect from a red-green palette, and in common with the original audiences one encounters sequences where suddenly the colour recreation seems exceptionally true. Such epiphanic moments occur at particular points of recognition, notably landscape and human faces, while the more obvious subjects for a colour process wishing to impress, such as costumes or flowers, too often emphasise the inadequacy of the reproduction. Some sequences survive that appear so true to nature that one almost forgets the colour entirely, only to be startled by a realisation that here is a colour moving picture record from a time when our own cultural conditioning wants to persuade us that nothing but monochrome should exist. The colours are not strident; indeed, they impress all the more by their restraint, and if there are shots where such restraint leads to a washed-out look, at best there is an affinity with Lumière Autochromes. Autochromes without the grain that gave them their particular Impressionist effect, perhaps. However, one has to acknowledge that this relatively muted effect may well be choice of the person who processed the colour print. Kinemacolor was manipulated in projection in its day, enhancing individual colours through filters or simply accentuating the brightness. Today, the taste is for naturalistic restraint. Colour is a social construct; Kinemacolor, as with any colour film system, is relative to the times in which it is seen.
Colour fringing is evident wherever there is movement, and Kinemacolor is undoubtedly at its most effective with relatively static travel films. Blue and yellow are poorly reproduced, skies being generally shown as a washed out grey. But red, brown, green, purple, pink and black are reproduced very well. It is a conventional wisdom that the primary test of a colour film system is its ability to recreate skin tones, and Kinemacolor’s subtle reproduction of these (and hair colour) now seems to lie at the core of its effectiveness. Contemporary witnesses praised the realism, or often hyper-realism of its reproduction of costume. Today, its fidelity to human appearance seems the greater boon, the more effective window on the past. One is also aware of a feeling within oneself to see more colours than are actually represented. This must be partly the brain trying to rationalise what is not there but should be, and partly a wish to be entranced by Kinemacolor, whose aura is hardly less (at least among early film enthusiasts) than it was in 1912. One can see why some in the original audience were wholly captivated, while others saw only the faults. It was the imperfection of Kinemacolor that stimulated the different critical responses. As with the best of Urban’s exhibitions, it encouraged an active audience engagement with the screen entertainment. Kinemacolor was a success not because it was true to life, but because it stimulated analysis of what was true to life, an understanding of the meaning of colour.
Kinemacolor vs. Bioschemes
Urban believed he could have a monopoly on colour. He always mixed hard business sense with romantic faith in his product, and he came to be particularly convinced by the peerless quality of Kinemacolor. Adrian Klein writes:
It is remarkable how men who have spent a large part of their lives in pioneering colour processes have retained their ability to observe faulty colour reproduction in other processes, but long familiarity with their own process has blinded them to its imperfections; and to sometimes such a degree that they are prepared to swear that brown is green and grey is violet. They are like men in love, who cannot conceive that others may see obvious defects in the supposedly perfect person, or their processes are like old friends whose faults they have long since ceased to be conscious of.126
Such blindness is not uncommon in many other fields, of course, but has a particular aptness when considering natural colour and the apprehension of reality. It would not be too idle to suggest that Urban was in love with Kinemacolor, that its success fitted in perfectly with the personal trajectory of his life. His fall came through blending this love with business. Love, however, may be questioned as an appropriate term; the better word is faith. It was faith that powered him, inspiring others that worked with him or hoped to profit by association with his works, and it was faith that made him by turns myopic, arrogant and fallible.
From the very moment that his natural colour system was launched upon the world in 1908, Urban was dogged by the baleful presence of William Friese-Greene. The self-proclaimed ‘inventor of kinematography’ had been experimenting in colour cinematography since 1898, and he had come into close contact with G.A. Smith because he worked with Captain William Norman Lascelles Davidson, one of a number of rival experimenters in colour cinematography from the Brighton/Hove area, whose films Smith had processed.127 Friese-Greene patented a system in 1905 which he believed was the master patent for colour cinematography. Adrian Klein dismisses the patent as ‘hopeless’.128 It involved a beam-splitting prism which obtained two pictures of orange-red and blue-green, side by side. Despite a series of failed public exhibitions, Friese-Greene persisted with it, and kept up a nagging presence, either directly or through his supporters, in the film trade press.
In 1911 a company was registered, Biocolour, by Walter Harold Speer, the manager of the Montpelier Electric Theatre in Brighton. The intention was to exploit two-colour films made under Friese-Greene’s 1905 patent, and the films started to be shown regularly at the Montpelier.129 The venture was a humble one, but with ambitions of attracting investment for wider distribution. Taunting advertisements claiming Biocolor was the only true natural colour system were carried in the trade press in October 1911, leading Urban to reply in kind and to serve a writ.130 The Bioscope reported that the result of the action would be ‘awaited with considerable interest by everyone in the Trade’, and then revealed blatant bias by publishing a glowing, unsigned article in praise of Kinemacolor, entitled ‘The Triumph of Colour’.131 Urban was inevitably distracted by the filming of the Delhi Durbar, but in the very week of that film’s debut at the Scala, Biocolour counter-sued the Natural Color Kinematograph Company for infringement of the Friese-Greene patent. Again, sniping advertisements stating each company’s point of view appeared in the trade press, this time resulting in Biocolour issuing a writ for libel.132
The tit-for-tat exchanges finally resulted in Urban applying for an injunction to restrain Biocolour from exhibiting their two-colour films, as these were an infringement of Smith’s 1906 patent. The application was heard on 22 August 1912, and the injunction granted. The screenings in Brighton ceased. That, however, was not the end of it. Friese-Greene had found a wealthy backer to support his claims. Selwyn Francis Edge was a celebrated motorist, motor manufacturer, motor boat racer and cyclist. He belonged to various learned societies, and it was at a meeting of one of these that Friese-Greene told him of the manifest injustice that he was facing. Edge took on the cause with enthusiasm. He formed a new company, Bioschemes, in 1911, not long after the Biocolour company itself, taking over most of the Biocolour shares, with the overall intention of challenging Kinemacolor’s perceived monopoly.133
Urban had his own particular view on events:
Of course, success brought its trials. Friese-Greene started his patent suit, egged on, I have always believed by Smith. His attacks on the Smith patent, which I was operating were financed by S.F. Edge, a motor car man … Edge called on me and said he had expended 6500 pounds in Friese-Greene’s color work on which a patent had been obtained and said he would upset my patent unless I put up 8000 pounds. I showed him the door. It was simply a case of blackmail.134
Urban was convinced that Smith had betrayed him and was passing on the secrets of Kinemacolor’s sensitising chemicals to Friese-Greene and Speer. There seem to be no grounds for such a suspicion, and Smith’s general contempt for Friese-Greene makes it exceedingly unlikely that he aided his work in any way. But Urban’s view of Smith had been soured over the sale of the patent. Smith remained an employee of the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, however.
The climax to years of rivalry, dispute and enmity came in December 1913. Bioschemes petitioned for the revocation of Smith’s patent. The validity of the patent was attacked on six grounds, which can essentially be summarised by the claim that the patent was not detailed enough, and the invention had been known of and used by others before Smith.135
The hearing took place at the Royal Courts of Justice before Mr Justice Warrington on 8-12 December. Urban himself was not called upon to give evidence, but Smith and Friese-Greene were. A significant point came early on the second day, when scientists speaking for the Natural Color Kinematograph Company were called upon to give their impressions of Kinemacolor. Professor Sylvanus Thompson said found it ‘both wonderful and beautiful’. He nevertheless confessed that he had never seen a satisfactory sky blue.136 Dr Reginald Clay, however, confessed:
… it was not until I actually saw with my own eyes the results that were obtained that I believed it was possible that the eye could be deceived so successfully as this patent shows that it can. I had always been under the impression that you could only distinguish yellow from white when blue was present or absent, and to my surprise I find that undoubtedly one can see both the yellow and the white, and so with other colours, that one had expected three colours to be necessary, for I find that, as far as one can judge in the absence of something to compare them with, one can get a very good deception.
Clay was then asked the question, ‘You would not have expected to get blue, but to the ordinary observer, partly because he thinks he is going to see blue or something like it, you get a fair deception?’. He replied, ‘I saw an Indian river scene in which the sky was undoubtedly – well, as far as one could judge, blue’.137 On the judgement of blue, and the understanding of deception, would ultimately rest the whole of Kinemacolor’s fortunes.
Friese-Greene gave contradictory and sometimes foolish testimony, claiming that his 1905 patent was now worth £50,000. The hearing concentrated on the school of invention in colour cinematography that had existed in Brighton and Hove 1898-1906, whose ideas influenced the others, and where the idea might have come from that led to Smith’s patent. Smith, cool and superior throughout, aimed to appear at a remove from it all. It was a performance that impressed Justice Warrington. He found Smith to be the true inventor; he found the patent to be sufficiently detailed for the user to put the invention into practice; and other, minor charges similarly failed. The petition for revocation of the patent was therefore dismissed.138
‘I won the first tilt’, recalled Urban, and he must have felt that he had finally crushed the Friese-Greene claims. More triumphs now surely beckoned, as the opening of the Théâtre Edouard VII in Paris on 12 December was reported on the same page of the Bioscope as Justice Warrington’s decision.139 The Natural Color Kinematograph Company announced four new major fiction films for the year to come, each of them adaptations: Maurice Maeterlinck’s Mary Magdalene, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy, Baroness Helen Gingold’s Abelard and Heloise, and Laurence Cowen’s The World, the Flesh and the Devil. New non-fiction productions promised were Round the World in Two Hours and Armies and Navies of the World, each of which sound like Urban’s habitual re-use of library material. There were also rumours of a new Kinemacolor theatre opening in London’s West End.140
Bioschemes appealed, however, and at a hearing in March 1914 Lord Justice Buckley overturned the previous judgement. Buckley found the patent to be imperfectly worded and too imprecise in its language and meaning. He homed in particularly on the concept of a true blue. The patent stated that it would provide ‘a practical method by which the well-known animated photographs or bioscope moving picture may be projected in the colours of nature approximately’.141 Buckley was taxed by the meaning of the word ‘approximately’, but decided that the patent should mean blue when it meant blue, and not the delusion of blue. He summed up the point ruthlessly:
The patent is I think invalid because it does not achieve the result which the patentee says it will achieve. The matter may be summarised thus: The patentee says his process will reproduce the natural colours or approximately so. Blue is a colour. He says: Drop the tri-colour blue; do not employ the blue end of the spectrum – blue or approximately blue will still be reproduced. It will not. The patent is consequently invalid. 142
Buckley then argued that if the patentee did not specify particular filters, but meant that any red or green filter might be used, then the patent was again invalid, because it had been shown that some red and green filters did not work. ‘The fact is’, he observed, ‘that the red and green which succeed best are to be determined by experiment, and I think by experiment which will vary according to the particular colours of the object which it is intended to reproduce’. Imprecise wording made the patent insufficient and unworkable. The whole Kinemacolor edifice had been built upon a lie.143
The argument put forward by Lord Justice Buckley could certainly be challenged, rounding as it does on words such as ‘approximately’, ‘sensation’ and ‘impression’, when compromise and suggestion were at the very heart of Smith’s conception of an effective colour cinematography system. Nevertheless, the decision was finely and accurately argued, and the case has become a standard reference in patent law. In a report on the case when it came before the House of Lords on appeal in March 1915, Lord Loreburn wrote a judgement which is often cited in legal texts:
It is the duty of a patentee to state clearly and distinctly, either in direct words or by clear and direct reference, the nature and limits of what he claims. If he uses language which, when fairly read, is avoidably obscure or ambiguous, the Patent is invalid, whether the defect be due to design, or to carelessness or to want of skill. Where the invention is difficult to explain, due allowance will, of course, be made for any resulting difficulty in the language. But nothing can excuse the use of ambiguous language when simple language can easily be employed, and the only safe way is for the patentee to do his best to be clear and intelligible. It is necessary to emphasize this warning.144
The effect on Urban’s business was devastating. Although he did take the case to the House of Lords, where the decision of the Court of Appeal was to be upheld a year later, his immediate action was to put the Natural Color Kinematograph Company into liquidation, to be able to pay off his creditors. Figures exist (Tables 4 and 5) for the financial performance of the company for the period 1 April 1911 to 31 March 1914, and they indicate that a business which began in March 1909 with £30,000 capital had enjoyed considerable revenue, but equally considerable expenses. Receipts over the three years amounted to £297,048; expenditure came to £260,070. This left profits (as dividends paid) of £36,977.
Table 4: Kinemacolor (London): Expenditure 11 April 1911 to 30 March 1914145
Table 5: Kinemacolor (London): Statement of Sales 1 April 1911 to 30 March 1914148
Schedule of Assets150
The Natural Color Kinematograph Company had therefore enjoyed a good, if not outstanding, profit of around £37,000 over the three years 1911-1914. At the creditors’ meeting held at the end of April 1914 an apparently positive picture was given of a company whose liabilities amounted to some £64,000, but which enjoyed assets of £150,000 (see Table 6). The liquidator reported that he had examined the company’s balance sheets, and that they had shown ‘very satisfactory results’ up to March 1913, but that the final year had seen legal costs diminishing that performance. It was the view of the creditors that the assets of the company were of great value, and that it would be in everyone’s interest to stay the call for payment, awaiting the hopeful successful reversion of the Court of Appeal’s decision, for which they were willing to pay the required £1,200.151 The business therefore continued, under the name Colorfilms. This was a company which Urban had registered in 1911, with nominal capital of £1,000 and himself and Ada Urban as directors, but which does not seem to have traded at all until 1914; a company kept to one side until Urban had need of it.152
Table 6: Natural Color Kinematograph Company: Liquidation Hearing – Assets and Liabilities153
The reality was darker by far. Urban, in his own balance sheets, claimed to have assets of £240,000, of which stock in hand came to £84,000, and foreign patents, trade marks and good will came to £150,000. This was sheer fantasy. With the British Kinemacolor patent now worthless, the foreign patents were now on very unsure ground, and in any case foreign Kinemacolor production and exhibition was in almost every country coming to a halt. Furthermore, the court’s decision had not spelt the end of Kinemacolor, merely the end of the validity of the patent on which it was based, so that the system was available for anyone to use, destroying the great value of exclusivity. The stock in hand (machinery, positive and negative Kinemacolor stock) had also to fall in value now that Kinemacolor was no longer a monopoly. Urban had assessed his business as though that monopoly was still operational. The film stock was, of course, quite useless unless shown on a Kinemacolor projector. Still worse, £40,000 had been expended on the Parisian venture, but as the liquidator reported, the venture had not been a success in the four months that it had been running, and £4,000 rent for six months was owed to the landlords, who might possibly claim the entire concern. In truth, the only certain assets were the fixtures and fittings and the freehold on the Brighton property, perhaps some £6,500. Much of Urban’s future business career would now be devoted to the progressively hopeless task of proving that his film library was indeed the major asset (cultural and commercial) that he had stated that it was at these proceedings.
It is extraordinary that Kinemacolor should have existed on so slender a thread. Of course, Urban was a victim of his own restrictive policies. Kinemacolor operated by licence and the allotting of exclusive rights to territories, a system which film history had already shown was profitable only in the short term and which was bound to meet resistance from competitors in a young, aggressive industry. Edison, Lumière and Biograph had adopted strict controls over the licensing and exhibition of their product in the 1890s, when companies were aiming to make their product generic for cinema itself. Urban, in following a pattern established a decade or more before, showed as he did in his early selection of Kinemacolor subjects that he was in some sense going back to the roots of the film industry, presenting his product as the only true expression of cinema. Edison had had the power and money to sustain a policy of restrictiveness that resulted ultimately in the Motion Picture Patents Company; Urban was never in that league. Urban certainly awoke the industry to the power and popularity of the colour film, but from his downfall the industry also learnt of its pitfalls.
The saddest outcome of the fall of Kinemacolor for Urban was that no one was interested in it. The revocation of the patent meant that the system was free for anyone to use, yet none did. ‘Apparently nobody knows how’,154 was Urban’s lugubrious comment, but more realistically the technical and cost disadvantages of Kinemacolor outweighed its value, once the exclusivity was lost. The various international ventures had largely ended in failure by 1914 in any case. Some of those formerly associated with the Kinemacolor Company of America were working on means to improve the system, among them William Francis Fox, Urban’s former editorial assistant William Crespinel, and William Van Doren Kelley, one of the fruits of which would be the latter’s Prizmacolor, first demonstrated in 1917. But essentially by 1914 Kinemacolor had run its course. The source of its power had always been Urban himself, and away from his influence Kinemacolor floundered in the hands of those who lacked his zeal and faith. It was always meant to be ‘something more than a mere picture show’. When a mere picture show was all that it could be, it died.
4. The Motion Picture Object Lesson for America
I suppose I ought not to feel badly about these accusations because they put me in a very illustrious class. I know of no man who has ever tried to do a big unselfish thing, from Jesus Christ to Kitchener, who has not been villified [sic] and barked at. At the same time, I am not going to allow myself to be discouraged by these things. I am not working for any Committee; but like the ‘Boys at the Front’ I am doing my best for my King and Country.155
All of Urban’s successes had been predicated on control. Where he had been able manage his product and exhibit it as he saw fit, he had triumphed. Where others took on the same product, as with the foreign licences for Kinemacolor, or where other concerns laid siege to his authority, as with the Bioschemes court case, the illusion crumbled. The First World War would present an opportunity to Urban that to someone who had spent so long promoting the value of the cinematograph to the military and in matters of state seemed to promise his great stage so far, yet it was to prove the background to his further downfall. This chapter documents Urban’s responses to forces greater than himself. His anger at the situation in which he found himself is illustrated through the contrasting testimony of Urban’s papers and those of the government bodies in charge of information and propaganda during the war.
With the Fighting Forces in Europe
On the outbreak of war, Urban was telling friends that he was contemplating retirement from the film industry. He was only forty-seven years old, but the loss of the Kinemacolor case felt like one battle fought too many. There was the appeal to the House of Lords pending, in which Urban still invested some faith, but he was weary and disappointed. However, this was only one side of the man. He was also angry, ambitious, certain of the value of his life’s work, and still able to exploit Kinemacolor even if it was no longer his exclusive preserve. The war provided the spark. Now was the time when the cinematograph might prove itself the valued servant of mankind, when the arguments that he had put forward in The Cinematograph in Science, Education, and Matters of State might be put to the test.
Urban had argued in his publication for the use of the cinematograph as a means to record military procedure, and as a recruiting agent.156 Hence Urban’s instinctive action following Britain’s declaration of war on 4 August 1914 was to write to Field Marshal Lord Roberts, proposing that the Kinemacolor programme then showing at the Scala, With the Fighting Forces of Europe, should be taken on a recruitment tour, sponsored by the War Office, with an army official at each screening who would ‘make a short address to the audience on the needs of the country for further military forces, and enrol many of the eligible men while they are enthused’. But in August 1914 the abounding enthusiasm for the war rendered the gesture futile. Roberts’ secretary wrote back to Urban, thanking him for his interest, but stating that there was no need of such films as recruitment to the services was ‘extremely brisk’ as it was.157
British officialdom appeared to be showing almost no interest in film or the cinema, and such interest as existed was negative. On 10 August the War Office announced its intention to suppress all topical films with a ‘bearing upon the war and its preparations’, an action promised on the same day that a Press Bureau had been formed to control war information to journalists.158 The film trade was alarmed at this prospect of a total ban, which was bred of a fear of films revealing any information on the movements of the British Expeditionary Force. It responded with self-censorship. The British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), formed in 1913, assumed censorship of war films from early September, with the approval of the Press Bureau and the War Office.159 Topical films and newsreels, hitherto exempt from censorship, now all carried an opening title reading, ‘The sections of this film dealing with the National Crisis have been passed by the British Board of Film Censors’.160
Censorship existed not only in Britain, but effectively in Belgium and France, where attempts by British cameramen to film were repeatedly frustrated by local military authorities. No access was granted to the war fronts, and scarcely any footage was obtained of the British forces. Some war news footage was released in the first few months of the war, particularly in Belgium where local permits seem to have been marginally easier to obtain. But thereafter the supply of film dried up entirely, as the Belgian army retreated and withdrew all permits. If the war was going to be reported on film, then it would have been to conducted through War Office channels. The film trade now sought collectively to lobby the War Office with proof of its loyalty and respectability, and pleas for the importance of the medium in wartime to be recognised officially.161
1 ‘Junius Junior’, ‘Mayfair Gallery: Men of the Day no. 163 – Mr Charles Urban’, Mayfair, 14 August 1912, p. 996.
2 ‘Natural’ here means images as a photo-chemical record of light, as opposed to ‘artificial’ means of adding colour to film such as hand painting, stencil colour or tinting and toning.
3 Chas. T. Kock, ‘Colour Printing: A Treatise on the Possibilities, History, Philosophy and Technic of the Art’, Penrose’s Pictorial Annual: The Process Year Book – A Review of the Graphic Arts Vol. XIV, 1908-9, p. 100.
4 Peter C. Marzio, The Democratic Art: Chromolithography 1840-1900 – Pictures for a 19th- Century America (Boston: David R. Godine, 1979), p. 6.
5 Marzio, The Democratic Art, p. xi.
6 Neil Harris, ‘Color and Media: Some Comparisons and Speculations’, in Cultural Excursions, pp. 320-321; Marzio, The Democratic Art, pp. 1-2.
7 ‘Art-Lithography of the United States’, Lithographer’s Journal, September 1893, p. 52, quoted in Marzio, The Democratic Art, p. 5.
8 Tom Gunning, ‘Colorful Metaphors: the Attraction of Color in Early Silent Cinema’, Fotogenia 1: Il Colore nel Cinema/Color in the Cinema, p. 249.
9 D.B. Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures (London: HMSO, 1969). See also Coe, The History of Movie Photography; Jack H. Coote, The Illustrated History of Colour Photography (Surbiton: Fountain Press, 1993); Adrian Bernard Klein, Colour Cinematography (London: Chapman & Hall, 1936).
10 British Patent (B.P.) no. 6,202 (1899), 22 March 1899, ‘Means for taking and exhibiting cinematographic pictures’.
11 B.P. 26671 (1906), ‘Improvements in & relating to Kinematograph Apparatus for the Production of Coloured Pictures’, p. 1.
12 British Journal of Photography, 6 December 1907, quoted in Klein, Colour Cinematography, pp. 8-9.
13 ‘Wonders of “Urbanora House”: Colour Photography and Educational Subjects’, The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 7 May 1908, p. 451.
14 G.A. Smith, ‘Animated Photographs in Natural Colours’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. LVII, 11 December 1908, pp. 70-76.
15 ‘Natural-Colour Films: Demonstration by Mr G.A. Smith at the Society of Arts’, Bioscope, 17 December 1908, p. 15. 16 Low, History of the British Film: 1906-1914, p. 100.
17 Urban, A Yank in Britain, pp. 68-69.
18 Urban, A Yank in Britain, pp. 72-74.
19 Urban, A Yank in Britain, list of dates and memoranda.
20 ‘Cinema Pioneer Passes’, Brighton and Hove Herald, 5 September 1942, p. 1.
21 The Palace Theatre of Varieties, programme for 26 February 1909, URB 2, p. 65.
22 ‘The Kinemacolor Pictures’, Bioscope, 4 March 1909, p. 23.
23 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 5.
24Urban, Terse History of Colour Kinematography, p. 6.
25 PRO, BT 31/18763/102030, Natural Color Kinematograph Company.
26 Barnes, The Rise of the Cinema in Gt. Britain, pp. 178-198.
27 Booklet, Kinemacolor: The World in the Tints of Nature (1909), URB 3/1, p. 3; ‘Animated Pictures in Natural Colours: King Edward Honours the Inventor’, Bioscope, 15 July 1909, p. 4; Moving Picture World, 31 July 1909, p. 1.
28 ‘Palace Theatre’, The Times, 28 May 1910, p. 12.
29Quotations from newspaper reviews written on 28 May 1910, URB 3/1 p. 14.
30 Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures, p. 22.
31 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 7.
32 Colin Bennett, On Operating Kinemacolor (London: The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 1910), p. 25.
33 Geoffrey N. Donaldson, ‘English Films Directed (or possibly directed) by Theo Bouwmeester’, in Roger Holman (comp.), Cinema 1900/1906: An Analytical Study by the National Film Archive (London) and the International Federation of Film Archives (Brussels: FIAF, 1982), pp. 131-154.
34 Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects, p. 93.
35 Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects, p. 91.
36 Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects, pp. 243, 263, 126, 247, 115, 269 and 141. There are no catalogue numbers.
37 Chris Byng-Maddick, ‘Edmund Distin Maddick CBE FRCS FRSM (1857-1939)’, Friends of West Norwood Cemetery Newsletter, May 1999, pp. 6-10.
38 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 8.
39 J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1910-1919: A Catalogue of Plays and Players – Volume I: 1910-1916 (Metuchen, NJ/London: The Scarecrow Press, 1982), catalogue number 11-82.
40 Scala Theatre programme for 11 April 1911, BFI Special Collections, Cinema Ephemera: London: The Scala; ‘“Kinemacolor” at the Scala’, The Era, 15 April 1911, p. 27.
41 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 8.
42 Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects, p. 148.
43 ‘Royal Ceremony in “Kinemacolor”’, The Times, 22 May 1911, p. 12.
44 Quoted in Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects, p. 152.
45 Scala Theatre programme for 11 September 1911, BFI Special Collections, Cinema Ephemera: London: The Scala.
46 Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects, p. 148.
48 Bioscope, 22 June 1911, p. 605.
49 Scala Theatre programme for 11 September 1911, BFI Special Collections, Cinema Ephemera: London: The Scala.
50 ‘The Triumph of Colour’, Bioscope, 26 October 1911, p. 283.
51 Kinemacolor versus ‘Colour’ Cinematography , Barnes collection, Hove Museum.
53 Maurice Gianati, ‘…Les couleurs et les sons se répondent…’, 1895: L’année 1913 en France (1993), p. 284.
54 Bregtje Lameris, ‘Pathécolor: “Perfect in their rendition of the colours of nature”’, Living Pictures: The Journal of the Popular and Projected Image Before 1914 [special colour issue], vol. 2 no. 2 (2003), pp. 46-58._
55 ‘A New Colour Process: Gaumont’s Chrono-Chrome’, Bioscope, 23 January 1913, p. 251; Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures, pp. 36-37.
56 Punch, 20 December 1911, p. 447.
57 Allen Eyles and David Meeker (eds.), Missing Believed Lost: The Great British Film Search (London: British Film Institute, 1992), pp. 100-101.
58 David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 2001), p. 46.
59 Kenneth Rose, King George V (London: George Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983), pp. 131- 136; Stanley Reed, The King and Queen in India: A Record of the Visit of Their Imperial Majesties the King Emperor and Queen Empress to India, from December 2nd, 1911, to January 10th, 1912 (Bombay: Bennett, Coleman & Co., 1912), p. 9.
60 Stephen Bottomore, ‘“Have You Seen the Gaekwar Bob?”: Filming the 1911 Delhi Durbar’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, vol. 17 no. 3, 1997, pp. 313-314.
61 ‘The Durbar in “Kinemacolor”’, The Times, 16 November 1911, p. 11; Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 9; Arthur Edwin Krows, ‘Motion Pictures – Not for Theatres’; The Educational Screen , part 14 (December 1939) p. 363, and part 18 (June 1940), p. 235; Henry E. White, The Pageant of the Century (London: Odhams Press, 1934), p. 200; Oceana passenger list, 31 October 1911 and Maloja passenger list, 6 November 1911, PRO BT 27/727.
62 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, pp. 8-9.
63 Robert Humfrey, Careers in the Films (London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1938), p. 92.
64 R.E. Frykenburg, ‘The Coronation Durbar of 1911: Some Implications’, in Delhi Through the Ages: Essays in Urban History, Culture and Society (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986) pp. 369-390; St. John Hamund (comp. and arr.), ‘Explanatory Lecture on the Pageants, Processions and Ceremonies Connected with the Imperial Durbar at Delhi as Reproduced by Kinemacolor for Use at the Scala Theatre’ (1912), URB 12/2-2.
65 Sir Philip Gibbs (ed.), George the Faithful: The Life and Times of George ‘The People’s King’ 1865-1936 (London: Hutchinson, ), pp. 214-217.
66 Rose, King George V, p. 135.
67 Bottomore, ‘Have You Seen the Gaekwar Bob?’, pp. 319-321; Reed, The King and Queen in India, between pp. 144-145; India Office Library, MSS.Eur.D995/2 9460569.
68 Bottomore, ‘Have You Seen the Gaekwar Bob?’, p. 323; Hamund, ‘Explanatory Lecture on the Pageants, Processions and Ceremonies Connected with the Imperial Durbar at Delhi’.
69 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 9.
70 Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures, p. 26; Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 9; numerous papers in URB 3, including programme for With Our King and Queen Through India, URB 3/1, p. 16; ‘The Durbar in Natural Colours’, The Times, 3 February 1912, p. 10.
71 ‘The Durbar in Kinemacolor’, Bioscope, 8 February 1912, pp. 363, 365.
72 op. cit.
73 ‘Items of Interest’, Bioscope, 29 February 1912, p. 571.
74 ‘The Durbar in Kinemacolor’, p. 365.
75 York Membery, ‘Film of British Raj in Living Colour Found in Russian Archive’, The Sunday Telegraph, 11 March 2001, p. 7.
76 Cannadine, Ornamentalism, p. 51.
77 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, pp. 8, 10.
78 Mayfair supplement, 14 August 1912, painted by H.C.O., copy in URB 3/1 p. 34.
79 Copy held in URB 3/1 p. 33 and reproduced in Colin Harding and Simon Popple, In the Kingdom of Shadows: A Companion to Early Cinema (London/Madison & Teaneck: Cygnus Arts/Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996), between pp. 158-159.
80 Punch, 26 June 1912, p. 482.
81 URB 3/2, p. 48. In a sad omission, the publishers failed to learn of Urban’s death in 1942, and he is not included in the decade’s Who Was Who.
82 Undated New York Review clipping, URB 3/1 p. 17.
83 Grierson, Grierson on Documentary, p. 134; Ivor Montagu, Film World (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964), pp. 75-76; Paul Rotha, Documentary Diary: An Informal History of the British Documentary Movement, 1928-1939 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), p. 3.
Penguin Books, 1964), pp. 75-76; Paul Rotha, Documentary Diary: An Informal History of the British Documentary Movement, 1928-1939 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), p. 3.
84 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, pp. 10-11.
85 ‘A Visit to the Scala Theatre’, The Times, 13 May 1912, p. 8.
86 Letter quoted in Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960), p. 47.
87 URB 3/1 p. 20 verso; Bioscope, 2 May 1912 p. 317.
88 Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights, p. 570.
89 Graphic, 18 May 1912, p. 701.
90 ‘Court Circular’, The Times, 26 July 1911 p. 11 and 27 July 1911, p. 11.
91 ‘Court Circular’, The Times, 14 March 1912, p. 11 and 25 April 1912, p. 9.
92 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 10; Kinemacolor programme, 12 December 1912, URB 3/1 p. 15 verso.
93 Low, The History of the British Film, 1906-1914, p. 103; Thomas, The First Colour MotionPictures, p. 28.
94 Press cuttings, URB 3/1 p.6.
95 Villiers was credited as having had a supervisory role over the filming. ‘How War Pictures are Made: The Experiences of Kinemacolor Artists in the Near East’, The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 23 January 1912, pp. 1264-1265; Scala Theatre advertisement, The Times, 20 January 1913, p. 6; Frederic Villiers, Villiers: His Five Decades of Adventure (New York/London: Harper & Brothers, 1920), pp. 302-303.
96 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, pp. 6-7.
97 F.P. 376,837, ‘Procedé et appareil pour la projection d’images colorées’.
98 PRO BT 31 13953 file 123546, Kinemacolor de France Limited.
99 ‘Trade Topics’, Bioscope 18 December 1913, p. 1177; John Cher, ‘Triumph of British Kinemacolor in Paris: The Theatre Edouard VII’, Bioscope, 25 December 1913, p. 1302; Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures, p. 30; Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, pp. 10-11; ‘Report of Jacob William Binder on the Henry W. Joy process for taking making and projecting motion pictures in natural colors and on the Joy Duplex machine for projecting the same’, URB 9/3-3.
100 ‘Kinemacolor (London): Statement of Sales etc., and Expenditures’ (see Table 5).
101 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, pp. 10-13.
102 Hiroshi Komatsu, ‘From Natural Colour to the Pure Motion Drama: The Meaning of Tenkatsu Company in the 1910s of Japanese Film History’, Film History, vol. 7 no. 1 (1995), pp. 69-86; Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, pp. 10, 12.
103 USA patent 941,960, ‘Kinematograph Apparatus for the Production of Colored Pictures’, URB 7/1-5.
104 Moving Picture World, 25 December 1909, p. 912.
105 Moving Picture World, 18 December 1909, p. 874.
106 Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights, pp. 567-568; Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, pp. 228-229.
107 Terry Ramsaye, ‘The Romantic History of the Motion Picture; Chapter XX; The Hitherto Untold Story of Colored Motion Pictures’, Photoplay, vol. XXIV no. 6 (November 1923), p. 129; Nowotny, The Way of All Flesh Tones, pp. 59-63.
108 Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights, p. 568; Ramsaye, ‘The Hitherto Untold Story of Colored Motion Pictures’, p. 129; Thomas, First Color Motion Pictures, p. 30; New York Dramatic Mirror, 10 June 1911, p. 1307, quoted in Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, p. 229.
109 Charles Musser with Carol Nelson, High-Class Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880-1920 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 229-230.
110 Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, p. 230; Richard Schickel, D.W. Griffith (London: Pavilion Books, 1984), p. 206; Mrs. D.W. Griffith [Linda Arvidson], When the Movies Were Young (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1925), pp. 245-251; Ramsaye, ‘The Hitherto Untold Story of Colored Motion Pictures’, p. 129.
111 Schickel, D.W. Griffith, p. 208; Slide, The American Film Industry, p. 186; Kindem, ‘The Demise of Kinemacolor’, p. 10; Karl Brown, Adventures with D.W. Griffith (London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1973), p. 4.
112 Urban, Terse History of Color Kinematography, p. 12.
113 Brown, Adventures with D.W. Griffith, p. 3.
114 Kindem, ‘The Demise of Kinemacolor’, op. cit.
115 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 9.
116 ‘The Triumph of Colour’, Bioscope, 26 October 1911, p. 283. d and green
117 Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, p. 228.
118 ‘Improvements in & Relating to Kinematograph Apparatus for the Production of Coloured Pictures’, p. 3.
119 F.A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (London: William Heinemann, 1912), p. 297.
120 Humfrey, Careers in the Films, p. 92.
121 Theodore Brown, ‘My Impressions of “Kinemacolor”’, Moving Picture World, 28 May 1910, p. 886.
122 Edwin H. Land, ‘Experiments in Color Vision’, Scientific American , vol. 200, no. 5 (May 1959), pp. 84-99.
123 Helen Varley (ed.), Colour (London: Marshall Editons, 1983), p. 40.
124 Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd, p. 292.
125 Nicola Mazzanti, ‘Raising the Colours (Restoring Kinemacolor)’ in Roger Smither (ed.), This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (Brussels: FIAF, 2002), pp. 123-125.
127 The complex history of the pre-Kinemacolor inventions in colour cinematography that took place in Brighton/Hove is covered in Luke McKernan, ‘The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Colour’, paper given at the Visual Delights conference, University of Sheffield, July 2002.
128 B.P. 9,465 (1905); Klein, Colour Cinematography, p. 7.
129 Allister, Friese-Greene, pp. 137, 144; PRO BT 31/13680/117253.
130 Bioscope, 5 October 1911, supp. p ii and 19 October 1911, supp. p. xxviii.
131 Bioscope, 26 October 1911, p.201 and ‘The Triumph of Colour’, p. 283.
132 Bioscope, 8 February 1912, pp. 392 and 393, 15 February 1912, p. 422.
133 Allister, Friese-Greene, p. 146; PRO BT 31/20311/118694.
134 Urban, Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 13.
135 Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd, p. 346.
136 Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd, pp. 92-101.
137 Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd: 104-107.
138 ‘In the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, Royal Courts of Justice 19 December 1913. Before Justice Warrington: In the Matter of Letters Patent No. 26671 of 1906, granted to George Albert Smith, and In the Matter of the Patents and Designs Act, 1907. Petition for Revocation’, in Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd, pp. 345-357; ‘An Important Action: Bioscope Schemes, Limited, v. Natural Color Kinematograph Co., Ltd.’, Bioscope, 18 December 1913, pp. 1219, 1189; ‘Bioscope Schemes, Limited. v. Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited: The Petition Dismissed’, Bioscope 25 December 1913, p. 1302.
140 Bioscope, 25 December 1913, p. 1276.
141 ‘Improvements in & Relating to Kinematograph Apparatus for the Production of Coloured Pictures’, p. 1.
142 ‘In the Supreme Court of Judicature. Court of Appeal, Royal Courts of Justice, Wednesday, 1st April 1914. Before the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Buckley, Mr. Justice Channell. In the Matter of G.A. Smith’s Letters Patent No. 26671 of 1906 and In the Matter of the Patents and Designs Act 1907’, in Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd, p. 367.
143 ‘Bioschemes, Limited, v. Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited’, Bioscope, 9 April 1914, pp. 141-142.
144 ‘Natural Colour Kinematograph Co. Ld. (in liquidation) v. Bioschemes Ld. (In the Matter of G.A. Smith’s Patent.)’, Reports of Patent, Design, and Trade Mark, and Other Cases, Vol. XXXII (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1915), p. 266.
145 Adapted from ‘Kinemacolor (London): Statement of Sales etc., and Expenditure from April 1st 1911 to March 30th 1914′, URB 3/2 p. 59 verso.
146 ‘including cost of Library Reels £20,358-19-4’ [note on original balance sheet].
147 ‘10% = for hire of films’ [note on original balance sheet].
148 Adapted from ‘Kinemacolor (London): Statement of Sales etc., and Expenditure from April 1st 1911 to March 30th 1914′, URB 3/2 p. 59 verso.
149 The figure was £20,121-02-09, ‘less Share from Scala Theatre included in £64,965-13-7’ [note on original balance sheet].
150 Note added to Schedule of Assets: ‘Kinemacolor Exhibitions Ltd. – £85,723.13.9d Operating 5 Travelling Shows in England’.
151 ‘Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited’, Bioscope, 30 April 1914, pp. 540-541.
152 ‘Kinemacolor – and a Chat with Mr. Charles Urban’, Bioscope, 15 October 1914, p. 259; Colorfilms Ltd., registered 2 February 1911, PRO BT 31 19847 file 114003.
153 Adapted from ‘Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited’, Bioscope, 30 April
154 Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography, p. 13.
155 Charles Urban to Charles Masterman, 28 October 1916. URB 4/1-82.
156 Urban, The Cinematograph in Science, Education, and Matters of State, pp. 25-26.
157 Urban to Lord Roberts, 31 August 1914, URB 4/1-1; R.J.K. Mott to Urban, URB 4/1-4.
158 Nicholas Hiley, Making War: The British News Media and Government Control, 1914-1916 (PhD thesis, Open University, 1984), p. 369.
159 ‘Trade Topics’, Bioscope, 3 September 1914, p. 861.
160 Luke McKernan, Topical Budget: The Great British News Film (London: British Film Institute, 1992), p. 22.
161 Hiley, Making War, pp. 374-380; McKernan, Topical Budget, pp. 20-24.”
(McKernan, Luke (2003): ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’ Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897-1925. Diss., Birkbeck College, University of London, pp. 122-194)
Two-colour additive process
Kinemacolor was the first commercially successful natural colour motion picture process. It was developed between 1902 and 1906 by British film pioneer George Albert Smith under the patronage of American film producer Charles Urban. In 1902, while managing director of the Warwick Trading Company, Urban purchased the rights to the patents for an additive colour process filed by Lee and Turner from Turner’s widow, believing that a working system could be developed from Lee and Turner’s experiments. He handed the task over to Smith, who was at that time doing processing work for Urban. From 1903 onwards Smith, who had been successfully making and selling his own films, gave up film-making and focused his attention on the development of this colour system. His major breakthrough was to abandon the idea of three additive primary colours in favour of two, red and green. This discovery addressed two significant problems with the Lee and Turner process, the first of which was the complex projection system. The second problem was one of fringing (see Additive processes), which Smith solved only partially.
Smith’s simplified version was patented in November 1906. The process recorded successive frames on a single snip of film through an alternating red and green filter. The frames were taken successively at 30-2fps, up to twice the normal speed of 16fps. In projection the positive copy was projected, again at 30-2fps, through corresponding red and green filters. After several test films in 1907, the system was launched in May 1908 at Urbanora House in Wardour Street.
The first public screenings took place at the Palace Theatre in February 1909. In March Urban formed the Natural Color Kinematograph Co. Ltd to exploit the system commercially. Urban took the decision to retain the rights to the process and make money purely from exhibition and overseas patent rights sales. Thus, the Natural Color Kinematograph Co. Ltd controlled the exhibition and patent rights to the process.
Kinemacolor was a great success in the UK, running continuously for eighteen months at the Palace Theatre and swiftly moving out from London to the rest of Britain. While at first all Kinemacolor films were non-fiction, in 1910 Urban hired Theo Bowmeester, who had previously worked for Cecil Hepworth, to direct fiction films in Kinemacolor. In 1911 Urban hired the Scala Cinema in central London as a flagship venue for Kinemacolor films.
Urban then focused his attention on overseas development, selling international licences to the process. However, Kinemacolor achieved only limited international success, due in part to the problems with fringing but also because the system required a special projector in order to show it, which limited its attractiveness to exhibitors. This proved less of an issue in the UK where many highly successful royal-themed films offered an additional attraction, culminating in 1911-12 with the epic coverage of the Delhi Durbar. Ultimately it was not these problems which caused the demise of the system, but William Friese-Greene and Biocolour. When Biocolour was launched in August 1911 Urban sued for infringement of Smith’s 1906 patent and ordered that Biocolour cease all trading. The dispute continued until December 1912 when Bioschemes – a company set up to fight Kinemacolor in the courts – petitioned for the revoking of Smith’s 1906 patent on the grounds that it was insufficiently detailed. This was rejected, but Bioschemes appealed and in March 1914 Smith’s patent was revoked on the grounds that its implicit claims to offer the colour blue were not proven. Urban lost his monopoly on natural colour, and immediately liquidated the Natural Color Kinematograph Co., although he carried on the business under the name of Colorfilms until 1915, the same year his appeal against the 1914 ruling was rejected. Internationally, Kinemacolor survived a little longer, with Kinemacolor films being exhibited in Japan until 1917.
A Visit to the Seaside (1908)
A Kinemacolor Puzzle (1909)
SS Olympic (1910)
From Bud to Blossom (1910)
From Factory Girl to Prima Donna (1910)
By Order of Napoleon (1910)
King Edward’s Funeral (1910)
A Lucky Escape: The Story Of The French Revolution (1911)
The Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary (1911)
Unveiling of the Queen Victoria Memorial (1911)
The Flower Girl of Florence (1911)
Fall of Babylon (1911)
Telemachus: A Mythological Play (1911)
A Love Story of Charles II (1911)
The King of Indigo (1911)
Scenes in the Indian Camp at Hampton Court, 18 June 1911 (1911)
With our King and Queen Through India (1912)
Gerald’s Butterfly (1912)
Studies in Natural Colour (1913)
With the Fighting Forces of Europe (1914)
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1914)
Britain Prepared (1915)(monochrome film with Kinemacolor sequences)
British Journal of Photography, 14 April 1911, p. 286.
McKernan, Luke,’”Something More than a Mere Picture Show”: Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897-1925′, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 2003. Chapter 3 on Kinemacolor, ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’, is available at www.lukemckernan.com/kinemacolor.pdf
Thomas, David B., The First Colour Motion Pictures (London: HMSO, 2nd edn, 1983).”
(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. 275-276.)
“The Romantic History of the Motion Picture
The Hitherto Untold Story of Colored Motion Pictures
NATURAL color in motion pictures has, for nearly fifteen years, glimmered on the motion picture horizon, occupying the speculative, dallying attention of the art of the screen and its followers, lay and professional.
Back of the intermittent color efforts that have, from time to time, come to the screen, is a tale of engaging romance, a drama high-lighted with scarlet successes and shadowed with purple failures. It is a tale which extends from the little cubby hole workshops of experimenters to the palaces of kings. Along the course of the story of color are startling incidents of fate, the intervention of sudden death and strange trivialities of yesterday rising up to determine the history of tomorrow. Greed, selfishness, jealousy and intrigue come in to play their parts, obscuring the paths of sincere endeavor.
Today, in 1923, the career of screen color has hardly more than begun, and the affairs of its twenty-year life are so closely involved with that which is yet to come that it is difficult to discuss them with all of that detachment and perspective that historical record should require. To tell the story of color now is somewhat like writing the biography of a promising youth as he nears the age of his majority, with his creative years all ahead.
As this chapter is written in the midsummer of ’23, the natural color motion picture is sleeping. It is in something of the same state of apparent decadence and apathetic neglect as was the whole art of the motion picture in the dark days close to 1900, when its novelty of pictures that moved had been exhausted, and the photoplay, the story film by which the screen became articulate, had not yet been discovered.
To the many who feel that the career of color as a passing but expensive and complicated novelty has been run, it may be pointed out that just before E. S. Porter brought forth the first adventure story picture, The Great Train Robbery, at the Edison studios, the whole amusement world was fairly well agreed that the motion picture had reached and passed its zenith. The screen was then less than ten years old.
The beginnings of natural color on the screen are now about an equivalent distance in the past. And now, significantly indeed, the butterfly of screen color is again stirring in its cocoon, preparatory perhaps to a rebirth like that which came to the screen with the discovery of the story picture and the rapid development of the art which created the stars.
The story picture, born in the wee years of the new century, has enriched the world with a new kingdom and a new race, the actor-great, from Broncho Billy Anderson at the founding of Essanay of then, to Pola Negri of now.
Natural color, by all of the signs, may, in like manner perchance, bring to the screen new realms of glory, hardly yet to be imagined.
Color had about ten years of an amazing and all but unknown laboratory career, beset with curious circumstance. Then came ten years’ sleep.
Turning back those twenty years to the remotest beginnings, we come to the year of 1901 when Edward R. Turner, a chemist with an idea, called on Charles Urban in London to enlist his cooperation toward applying natural color processes to the screen. Turner was a student of natural color photography as applied to the still pictures of the ordinary camera, under the celebrated Sanger Shepherd, a name high in the annals of the development of the photographic art in Great Britain.
Turner had been struggling with his problem for some years then. He already had a British patent, No. 6202, issued March 22, 1899, a date of interest in view of the general impression of the youth of color processes. The motion picture had been on the screen only four years. This patent, which had not been reduced to actual practice, was merely an idea on paper, about as significant in its way as the patented idea of Louis Ducos DuHaron, the Frenchman who dreamed the motion picture in the sixties, before film was born.
Turner seemed to be close upon the solution of the problem of making the screen present the colors of the scene that the camera recorded. He had an idea, still pursued today, by some experimenters, of making three images, each in one of the primary colors, to take the place on the screen of each single frame or image of the ordinary black and white film. This required a camera which would embody three-color separation filters and which would make at least forty-eight exposures a second, or three times the number required for the ordinary color blind camera.
Obviously, if this color record were to be projected on the screen at the same rate so that the images would be superimposed and blended together, the colors would reproduce the scene, just as the superimposed printing blocks of the color process produce the color effects on the cover of Photoplay Magazine.
Turner turned to Urban as the aggressive leader in British motion picture affairs. This same Urban had progressed a long way up the ladder since the day when he evolved and introduced the little portable motion picture projectors of 1897 in the wilds of Michigan. Turner needed not only expert motion picture cooperation, but money as well. He was a scientist with little interest in material affairs outside of his workshop. He was also just losing a backer.
Turning the records of the period over, it is found that the basic patent issue was to Lee & Turner. F. Marshall Lee, Turner’s first backer, was a breeder of fast horses for the British turf.
Lee’s participation in this early labor in screen color has decidedly the flavor of coincidence, when one recalls that it was another horseman, Senator Leland Stanford, of California, who financed and encouraged Eadweard Muybridge. one of the pre-Edison experimenters on the problem of making motion pictures, way back in the eighties.
The tedious and expensive pursuit of Turner’s experiments had exhausted Lee’s patience and interest. He did not care to go further. Urban acquired Lee’s interest in behalf of the Warwick Trading Company, the picture concern which had developed out of his invasion of Britain in behalf of McGuire & Baucus, Edison agents. Turner was set to work on a six-month program to bring his patents idea to practice.
When Turner’s first six months were up he had made no appreciable progress, in the opinion of the somewhat impatient directors of the Warwick Trading Company, Ltd. They voted to drop the project and write off their investment of £500. Urban was more interested. With the permission of the directors, he took up the burden where the company left it and personally financed the experiments.
At last a camera and projector were evolved which gave a flickering promise of success, just enough suggestion of a color picture to justify a hope. As a color picture it was probably not quite as promising as the dancing shadows that Woodville Latham got on the wall back in the winter of 1894-5, when he was trying to put the picture on the screen.
But new optical problems arose. Zeiss, Goerz, Voightlander Ross, and all the great optical workers of Europe were consulted and contributed to the experiments at great expense and with little success. The Ross concern produced a lens which would be remarkable indeed even today, a color corrected optical system working at the amazing aperture of F 1.1. and with a focal length of five inches. This cost a hundred pounds. Meanwhile, three exactly matched lenses, equally corrected, were required for the proposed projection machine. To make and match three lenses within the degree of perfection required was declared impossible.
Turner went back to his workshop to battle with the problem. Another method must be found. Urban followed the process only as closely as his rather extensive interests elsewhere would permit.
One day in early 1902, as Urban sat at his desk, there came a crash from the workshop nearby where Turner was brooding over his baffling problem.
When Urban ran into the room Turner was stretched on the floor, stone dead. His heart had failed.
Turner’s notes, models and formulae were scattered about, where he had been laboring over them, striving for a clue to the solution. No one else knew the meaning of half of them. The most of what Turner had attained died with him.
Urban had no chemical knowledge, and no time to spend on the mystery of trying to piece back the fragments of progress that Turner had left. But he acquired Turner’s interest from the widow and then cast about for some one to continue the research.
G. Albert Smith, of Brighton, England, a photographer and scientific experimenter, was finally retained by Urban to go forward with the work. All of Turner’s experimental devices and data were taken down to Brighton. Urban was to continue financing the work, and he and Smith were to share and share alike on any commercial benefits that might accrue.
Years went by. Week-ends, Urban journeyed to Brighton to help Smith and contribute to his efforts.
It became evident that the three-color process would probably never prove practical, even though theory demanded it. It was entirely too complicated and costly to hold a commercial future. The researchers were in despair.
Then, in its usual eleventh hour manner, fate again intervened, this time in their behalf.
Mr. Urban was in Paris on one of his monthly excursions to look into the affairs of the Urban-Eclipse studio, when, having color on his mind, he was interrupted on the boulevard by a street faker’s display of novelty picture postal cards.
These cards, it must be blushingly admitted, were decidedly Parisian. They were made in two transparent parts, one red and one green. Either viewed alone presented a simple and perhaps commonplace view of scenery. When super-imposed and held to the light together, they presented scenery that was neither simple nor commonplace.
Urban invested a franc in these cards, hurriedly and furtively installing them in his inside coat pocket. He strolled on down the boulevard, trusting that he had not been observed in this seeming frivolity, and wondering if here in these silly cards might not be something related to the secret that puzzled the week-end conferences at Brighton.
With those cards as the beginning Urban and Smith tried a new attack on the color problem. Instead of continuing the three primary color process, as Urban puts it, “we jumped over the fence of theory,” and sought the same result with two colors. They had been working with red, blue and yellow. Now they divided the yellow between the red and the blue, thus getting two colors to play with, a red-orange, and a blue-green.
This, if it worked, would immensely simplify the process and all of its related devices. Five tedious years had now elapsed. The solution seemed close at hand.
A Sunday in July, 1906, came and all was ready for the first test of the two color principle. Camera and projector were waiting. It was a beautifully sunshiny day in G. Albert Smith’s garden at Brighton. He dressed his little boy and girl in gay clothes with a variety of colors. The little girl was in white with a pink sash, the boy in sailor blue and carrying the British Union Jack. They were posed on the green grass, with the red brick of the house as a background.
The camera was loaded with a fifty foot length of prepared color-sensitive film and in thirty seconds an exposure had been effected.
Urban and Smith went together into the little darkroom in a corner of the red brick house and put their precious film into the developer. Because the film was color sensitive, the process had to be carried on in absolute darkness, lest the ruby light ordinarily used fog the emulsion. When the film came out of the hyposulphite fixing bath it was at last safe to look at it. There was a flaming thrill as the experimenters held it to the light and noted the gradations of the alternate frames of the film, the red and green records.
At any rate, there was an effect. What it might be, remained to be tested on the screen.
Two feverish hours followed, while Smith and Urban dried their color negative and made, developed and dried a positive print for the projection test.
Then, with shades drawn to darken the experimental projection room, they put the test picture into the machine.
The projection machine was equipped with the same red and green filters as the camera, the color lesson learned from the absurd French picture cards. It was the hope that the picture just made, projected through these filters, would combine the colored light rays and endow the effect on the screen with the tints of nature.
The test film flashed through its fifty feet in half as many seconds. There on the screen for that half minute, was the little girl in white with a pink sash and the little boy with his sailor blue suit. And the grass was green and the bricks of the house were red.
FOR the first time in the world a motion picture in natural colors was projected on the screen.
The little picture was hardly half through the machine when Urban leaped up and yelled.
“We’ve got it—we’ve got it!” His voice rang out very loud in that little projection room.
Smith was more nonchalant. He smiled sagely.
“I thought so—in fact I was so sure of it I have taken out a patent on it in my name.”
Urban gasped and swallowed hard.
It was rather obvious he felt that the patent should have been taken in the names of Urban and Smith, in accordance with their agreement and in keeping with the spirit of their cooperation.
But ahead lay the bigger problems of manufacturing and marketing this invention. Urban’s shrewdness and practicality made him hide his chagrin, and bide his time. He wanted Smith to go ahead, and swiftly decided there in the projection room that this was no time to come to an issue. Eventually developments may perhaps indicate that it would have been better to have had it out on the spot—perhaps it would have made no ultimate difference.
Smith and Urban wore to divide the profits of the new process. Urban was at that time the managing director of the Charles Urban Trading Company, Ltd., and in charge of the Eclipse concern in Paris. He resigned his posts with these concerns and sold his interest in them to withdraw and devote his entire attention to the color adventure, now named “Kinemacolor,” from the obvious and simple combination of cinema or kinema, the established Greek or English adaptation for motion picture, and the word color.
MAY day of 1908 the first demonstration of Kinemacolor was made at the opening of Urbanora House, in Wardour Street, which was the first building in Europe especially constructed for the film trade. Urbanora House, by the way, was the beginning of the movement of the motion picture business of London to Wardour street, now known as Film Row, the successor to “Flicker Alley” of Warwick Court. The next showing soon followed, a special function for the Right Honorable Lord Mayor of London and the Sheriffs of London, accompanied by an array of civic dignitaries.
Following on the success of these showings, Mr. Urban presented his process for scientific consideration at an exhibition on December 9, 1908, at a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts, with Sir Henry Truman Wood presiding. Kinemacolor made a profound impression and the entire issue of the subsequent number of the society’s journal was devoted to articles and discussions of this revolutionary development in the art of the motion picture.
Then Kinemacolor, walking closely in the footsteps of the infant motion picture of 1896, went on the screen for the public at the Palacetheater in Shaftesbury avenue, London, upon the insistence of Alfred Butt, subsequently Sir Alfred. The opening was at a special matinee on February 26, 1909. After that, beginning March 1 for eighteen months, Kinemacolor was included on the Palace program.
Two weeks later Urban incorporated and financed the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Ltd., with a nominal capital of 30,000 pounds. The logical next step of the concern was to acquire the patents on which the Kinemacolor process was based. G. Albert Smith, however, demurred at accepting half of the stock for his interest in the patent. He wanted cash. Then differences were arising between the erstwhile partners. Smith objected to Urban’s deciding vote as chairman of the board of directors of the new concern. Urban apparently was more impressed with Smith’s scientific ability than his business acumen. The subject was debated back and forth. Smith’s lawyer suggested that he buy out Urban.
“There’s not enough money in all of Brighton to buy me out,” Urban responded. He made a counter proposal and Smith gave him an option for one week for 250 pounds at a total price of 5,000 pounds, or $25,000, for his half interest.
By this time Mr. Urban had rather thoroughly invested his liquid resources in the development of Kinemacolor. He had little notion of where or how he was going to get that five thousand pounds, on such terms as would let him keep all of Kinemacolor.
He paid over the 250 pounds to Smith, who chuckled at easy money.
Then Urban went home to think it over. Mrs. Urban had an independent fortune. He propounded his predicament.
“You might buy out Smith’s interest and become my business partner,” Urban suggested at what he deemed the diplomatic moment over the after-dinner coffee. “I think we might get along better. Smith’s hard to manage.” This may or may not have been diplomacy.
“You mean,” responded Mrs. Urban, “that you want me to buy something in which Mr. Smith has lost faith!”
“You do not have to put faith in Kinemacolor, just have faith in my judgment.”
Of course, when a husband puts it that way, it is different. By the end of the week Mrs. Urban bought H. Albert Smith’s interest in Kinemacolor for $25,000—a fortune to the experimenter at Brighton.
A condition of the purchase included a contract for Smith’s exclusive services for 500 pounds a year for five years. In that period he was not, according to the terms of the agreement, to participate in the efforts of any other experimenter in natural color photography.
A series of promotional showings of Kinemacolor followed. On March 24. 1900, the first exhibit in France was given before the members of the Institute of Civil Engineers in Paris. The showing somewhat sensationally included pictures of the Grand Prix motor races at Dieppe, photographed by Kinemacolor the day before.
A swift, world-wide career for Kinemacolor ensued, with engagements in Berlin at the Wintergarten, the Tiergarten and the Passage Theatre, Unter den Linden; the Folies Bergere in Paris, and others of the principal capitals of Europe. Foreign rights were sold in Australia, Argentine, Austria, Italy, all the Scandinavian countries, Russia and many lesser countries. Five road companies took the new color pictures through the British Isles.
But the United States was then, as now, the dominant factor of the world trade in motion pictures and Urban looked to America as Kinemacolor territory with a special interest.
A press and trade display of Kinemacolor was given on December 11, 1909, in the Concert Hall of Madison Square Garden, New York. This was America’s first sight of motion pictures in natural colors. Internally and secretly, the motion picture industry of the United States was apathetic toward the revolutionary process. All of the makers of pictures were making enough money and enough trouble among themselves to absorb all their capacity for interest. It is true that the Motion Picture Patents Company group was supposed to have sent one of its members to London to look into the Kinemacolor process, but Urban is unable to recall that this emissary ever reached the Kinemacolor establishment.
THE ten members of the Patents company group occupied the choice seats at the Madison Square Garden showing. It was anticipated by Urban that this group would naturally desire to control and exploit Kinemacolor in the United States. It presented a new opportunity, and if the successes of the processes elsewhere in the world were to be taken as an index, it was a large commercial opportunity. Furthermore, since the products of Urban studios for the making of ordinary black and white motion pictures were sold through the licensed exchanges of the General Film Company, the political situation seemed favorable.
The showing of the picture was a pronounced success, largely attended. There were many strangers in the room, there with a casual curiosity. They sat and marvelled. Among them was one of future importance, G. H. Aymar, a real estate dealer, who had chanced into New York from Allentown, Pa. Some one had given him a pass to the showing of natural color pictures and he had come merely because the evening had offered nothing more interesting. He stayed through the show and perhaps lingered a bit afterwards to gather the fact that the American rights on the wondrous invention were for sale. Then he hurried away to Allentown, filled with an idea.
An outwardly enthusiastic and informal meeting of the Patents company group followed the showing. Urban was warmly congratulated. It was agreed that he should be paid a quarter of a million dollars for his American rights on Kinemacolor, each of the ten members of the Patents company aggregation to take shares in the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars. The formalities were to be concluded the next morning at an appointed time and place.
They shook hands all around and Urban was muchly patted on the back. The last man to leave the room was William F. Rock, the same “Pop” Rock of Vitagraph fame. He remembered with some sincere appreciation the event of years before when Urban’s plea to McGuire and Baucus, Edison agents, had saved the little Rock picture show, storm-stranded in the South.
Rock edged up to Urban and spoke behind his hand.
“Charlie — let me slip you something straight. These fellows are just kidding you. I sat there along with the rest of them and promised to put up my twenty-five thousand, but they’ll never ask me for it. They don’t want Kinemacolor here and they won’t go through with it. It’s scared them. You’ll never get away with it—you watch.”
Urban was disturbed but not convinced.
The next day he turned up for the appointment to close the deal and waited two hours. No one appeared. Word came that the Patents company crowd was in an important conference over the projected making of some prize fight pictures. They would see Urban later. Repeated efforts through the day resulted in an appointment for dinner with the executive committee, at the Republican club, that fated spot where so much of the secret history of the motion picture has been enacted.
Seated at dinner, Urban tactfully as may be, opened the subject.
“Let’s not talk shop at dinner,” they reproved him. “After dinner we’ll get at it and clean the thing up.” This from the captain of an industry which does all of its work over the lunch table.
After dinner Urban again tried to open the subject of Kinemacolor.
“Now we want to relax a little, first. We don’t like to talk business right after dinner. We’ll just have a few hands of poker first.”
Up in a private room in the club the august gathering seated itself for the consideration of what may happen with five cards, joker wild. The night wore on, with Urban more interested in his Kinemacolor contract than the cards.
“Just a couple of rounds more, and we’ll go into that.”
ONE in the morning came and the game broke up. Urban was conspicuous among the contributors of the evening’s diversion in the sum of perhaps five hundred dollars. “Now about that Kinemacolor contract,” he remarked cheerfully.
“Oh, not now—we are all tired out now.”
Urban went away to his hotel a trifle annoyed. In fact, he was so much annoyed that on second thought he decided to return to London at once and let the deal go hang.
The next afternoon he sailed.
The facts were apparent. The motion picture chieftains of the United States did not want any ventures in color. They were making easy millions in black and white pictures. This color process was to them strange, complicated and speculative. The status quo suited them immensely. Why disturb it? The were making money, why be concerned about making pictures?
Urban’s ship was hardly clear of Ambrose channel when a stranger and an unknown in the motion picture world dashed into New York in a heated quest of the proprietor of Kinemacolor.
These men were Gilber Henry Aymar and James Klein Bowen, the latter a wealthy wholesaler of groceries, who had arrived in haste from Allentown, Pa. They wanted to see the proprietor of Kinemacolor. At the hotel they were informed that Charles Urban had sailed. They booked passage and followed on the next ship.
Aymar had filled Bowen with his own enthusiasm for Kinemacolor. On their arrival in London they found Urban willing to dispose of his American rights with great dispatch. New York was a bad taste in his mouth and he was glad to be done with this thing promptly. Aymar and Bowen acquired Kinemacolor for the United States on an agreement to pay $250,000 for the patents and certain royalties.
The Kinemacolor Company of Allentown, Pa., was organized and the grateful organizers presented Urban with a certificate for a block of one hundred shares of stock, which constituted his sole connection with the concern. It was to operate entirely independently of Urban and his British company. Mr. Urban still has the stock certificate. Its value is doubtless very great—as a memento.
The Allentown concern rapidly encountered difficulties, and, under a new agreement dated January 16, 1911, George H. Burr & Co. of New York completed the purchase of the patents from Urban and organized the Kinemacolor Company of America. Large blocks of stock were distributed among investors.
J. J. Murdock, now a vaudeville magnate with the United Booking Office, and who appeared earlier in this history in connection with the International Film and Projecting concern of the early Independent days of ’08-’09, was made the president of the concern, which also enjoyed a considerable succession of managers.
AMBITIOUS production activities were instituted with a flourish. Studios were established at Whitestone Landing on Long Island, and at Los Angeles yet other studios were put in operation.
David Miles, to be remembered as an early member of the Biograph stock company, became the director in chief. It was about this time that David W. Griffith and his wife, Linda Arvidson Griffith, parted company, Mrs. Griffith went to Kinemacolor as the leading woman for the West Coast studios. In the East, at Whitestone Landing, William Haddock was the principal director.
Many pretentious stories were put into production, among them Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman, which, a few years later under Griffith’s auspices, was destined to mark a great milestone of the screen as The Birth of a Nation. Kinemacolor produced The Clansman in the vicinity of New Orleans with the members of a traveling stock company in the cast. Legal complications concerning the right to the use of the story for the screen arose and the picture never saw the light of a theatre. The negative is still in existence, but no one knows its legal status, or whether it was really completed. Some day yet, by the whimsies of destiny, it may come to the screen.
Abroad, under Urban’s administration, Kinemacolor was progressing to world triumphs and such a recognition as the motion picture had never before received, but in America the path was erratic and strewn with troubles.
The first theatre showings of Kinemacolor pictures were, naturally enough, of pictures purchased from the British concern. Amazing accidents overtook these exhibitions. Kinemacolor pictures were of necessity “Independent,” being so thoroughly outside the pale of Patents company sanction. Projection machines unaccountably got out of order. Films broke and burned. Operators made mistakes and so maladjusted their machines that the red and green images of the color picture were reversed with bizarre but trying optical effects on the screen. Licensed exhibitors who ventured to show Kinemacolor pictures found their licenses cancelled by the Motion Picture Patents company, which brooked no use of Independent film. Kinemacolor went through a career of costly failure in the United States in a period when it was making millions in a world success elsewhere.
The California studio was shut down and presently the eastern studio went dark, too. The Kinemacolor Company of America went into the limbo of glories that never dawned.
The most important and significant venture of Kinemacolor was its two-year run at the Scala Theatre in London beginning February 22, 1911. For the first four months, while London was finding the obscure Scala, the show ran at a loss of $35,000, and in the next twenty months rose to the success betokened by gross receipts of $320,000, this with only 920 seats.
At the Scala, Kinemacolor drew the patronage of the nobility and became something of a furore of fashion. A large factor in the show and the great high light of the history of Kinemacolor was the Durbar picture, covering the Royal Visit to India and the barbaric splendors of the great pageant of Delhi.
Kinemacolor had won royal recognition before when Mr. Urban showed Kinemacolor before King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, at Knowsley, in July, 1909, again at a command performance for Queen Alexandra at Sandringham in July, 1911, and subsequently when the Coronation Ceremonies and the investiture of the Prince of Wales were reproduced at Balmoral Castle by command of King George V and Queen Mary. This royal approval presumably influenced His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Japan, who made his first indulgence in motion pictures a three-hour Kinemacolor show at the Mikado’s palace in Tokio the next year. A special showing was also given to his Holiness the Pope at the Vatican, in August, 1913.
The attainments of Kinemacolor in India gained notable attention. Sir John Hewitt, in charge for the British government at Delhi, was inclined to be a bit abrupt about the picture making. He announced that he would devote thirty minutes to making the arrangements for the Kinemacolor operators. He got absorbed in the plans and spent two days.
Rumors of hostile plots on the part of the black and white film competitors of Kinemacolor floated about. It was whispered that something would happen so that Kinemacolor would never reach London with its negatives. Whereupon a guard of British troops was stationed about the Kinemacolor tents, where Urban and Joseph du Frane, his chief of the camera staff, developed and guarded the precious films. A great pit was excavated under Mr. Urban’s tent and there the negatives were buried in sand. The tent floor rug was spread over the spot and over it Urban’s bed stood. He slept with his treasure.
BACK in London Urban made elaborate and pretentious arrangements for the presentation of the Durbar picture. A vast stage set reproducing the Taj Mahal was built at the Scala. Special musical scores were written for the pictures, for the first time in film presentation. The orchestra was augmented to forty-eight pieces. There was a chorus of twenty-four, a tife and drum corps of twenty, and three Scotch pipes. Electric lighting color effects were installed, all on a scale of magnificence and detailed elaboration that is commonly supposed to belong exclusively to the present era of Broadway presentation.
Urban was laughed at a bit by his competitors with their black and white films, which had reached London in advance of Kinemacolor and had run their life in a few weeks. But he had plunged on Kinemacolor and went on to see it through. The opening at the Scala was a brilliant success and five road shows went out to play the back countries. In fifteen months the Durbar pictures grossed three-quarters of a million dollars.
Urban was on the high tide of success.
Royal favor beamed. Arrangements were made for a royal visit to the Scala to see the Durbar presentation. The date set was May 11, 1912.
The word quietly passed to Mr. Urban that it would be well for him to acquire court robes, since knighthood awaited him.
May 10 came and all was prepared for the presentation. Then, abruptly, Urban was stricken desperately ill in his office and went away to a hospital, on the verge of death. It was a tragedy strangely reminiscent of the unfortunate death of Turner, the first of the color inventors, in Urban’s office some years before.
The night that the royal party was seeing the Durbar in Kinemacolor Mr. Urban was coming out from under the ether.
The party at the Scala included King George V, Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, the Dowager Empress of Russia and some thirty other royal personages.
Kinemacolor scored a triumph and an unkind fate cost Urban a knighthood. It was one of the taps of fate. Many a chapter back in this story, the reader can recall that amusing day when the same Charles Urban, in a tall silk hat and frock coat broke into the office of Marshall Field and sold him a set of books. The American book agent had gone far on his way.
The Kinemacolor process, as might be expected, ran through the course of litigations and competing claims characteristic of well-near every invention. Kinemacolor had no more than well established its success when arose William Friese-Green, the perennial claimant to first honors in photographic invention, with a suit against the patents under which Urban was operating. His attack was financed by S.F. Edge, a motor car man, with whom the photographer had been associated in experimental screen work. There is again a curious coincidence in this. Turner’s backer, when he started his color researches, had been a race horse breeder. Also it was a horseman who financed Muybridge in his pre-screen picture work. There seems to have been some obscure affinity between the film and the race track.
Edge called upon Urban prior to the filing of the patent suit.
“He said he had expended 6,500 pounds,” remarked Mr. Urban, “in financing Friese-Green’s color work on which a patent had been obtained and said he would upset my patent unless I put up 8,000 pounds.”
Urban answered by indicating the location of the door.
WHEN the suit was brought Urban won the verdict. On appeal on a pinpoint technicality, specifically the charge that the Kinemacolor patent did not describe with sufficient accuracy the redness of the red and the greenness of the green used, the patent was upset. Urban took the case to the House of Lords, where the decision of the Court of Appeals was sustained.
This threw the basic patented process of color photography open to the world, free to any one to operate. Despite this, many patents have since been issued, both in Great Britain and the United States, with how much fundamental merit the reader may easily guess.
Kinemacolor went on its commercial way with increasing profits. Baron Henri Rothschild bought original rights on the continent and sold them at a handsome Rothschild profit.
Kinemacolor was a vital factor in motion pictures everywhere save the United States. In August, 1914, the World War began and the motion picture industry of Europe passed into virtual eclipse, Kinemacolor along with it.
Presently, abandoning the European field, Urban removed to New York, locating his Kineto Company of America at Sixth Avenue and Twenty-third Street in the Masonic Temple building, just across the corner form the spot where the Armat Vitascope introduced the motion picture screen to the amusement world in 1896.
The Kinemacolor library of negatives, with its remarkable collection of pictures of personages from Kaiser Wilhelm to the Gackwar of Baroda in the days of their magnificence and splendor, is probably the world’s most valuable film from a historic point of view. It was destiny that Kinemacolor should record the last of the days of the monarchs, their trappings and panoplies and splendors, their great fleets and their gayly uniformed show troops and armies. The military world has become field grey and khaki since then, and the glory of the kings is gone. The one visual record of their past greatness is in Kinemacolor.
The end is not yet for Kinemacolor and there are indications as this is written that perhaps it will come to the screen again under the new name of Kinekrom, and still under the control of Charles Urban.”
(Ramsaye, Terry (1923): The Romantic History of the Motion Picture. Chapter XX: The Great Story of Color on the Screen. In: Photoplay, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp. 64-66 and pp. 125-130.)
“The systems based on natural colours which were experimented in the first decade of this century made use of the principle of colour additive synthesis. According to this principle, it is possible to break down and combine together again all the chromatic hues by using three primary colours, red, green and blue. The systems based on colour additive synthesis were many, but no one came to dominate the market. Two relevant examples are Kinemacolor,2 introduced by Charles Urban, from England, and Chronochrome,3 designed by Gaumont, the French production company, which were slightly more than simple experiments and were quite successful. In Chronochrome three consecutive frames of a black and white film were exposed simultaneously under three superimposed lenses, one for red, another for green and the third one for blue, each of them provided with a filter for the corresponding colour. Also in the projection stage three lenses and three coloured filters were necessary in order to reproduce the “natural colours” of the images. Kinemacolor, as other similar systems, used only two colours, greenblue and orange, with a more limited chromatic effect.
2 After the discovery on an interesting collection of Kinemacolor movies in Archivio Cinematografico Ansaldo di Genova, a restoration work was started within the framework of the Lumière project, funded by the European Union. Cineteca del Comune di Bologna and London’s National Film and Television Archive are now working together in order to bring back these movies to the audiences’ attention. Kinemacolor filmography lists a great number of films, of which many were considered lost, before the discovery made in Genoa.
3 A short experimental feature illustrating flowers was shown in Pordenone during the 15th Edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 13th-21st October 1995, with the following title: The same bouquet by Chronochrome Gaumont. Its screening came after the presentation of the film A bouquet of flowers by ordinary cinematography. This and other features shot with the same system, but reprinted on contemporary standard colour film, were shown more recently during the International Seminar organised by Udine University on 23nd-25th March 1995. Beside the already-mentioned film other features were shown, such as King Alphonso XIII During His Visit in France, [Flower Studies], The Island of Majorca, Venetian Glass-Ware (Salviati Collection), all short experimental features produced by Gaumont in 1912 and now belonging to George Eastman House, in Rochester, N.Y.”
(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. 121-122.)
BICHROMIE. Ce procédé consiste à limiter les couleurs composantes à deux seulement : le rouge et le vert. En fait, l’appareil de prise des vues et l’appareil de projection sont disposés comme nous l’avons indiqué pour la trichromie par images successives, avec cette différence que le disque tournant ne porte que deux filtres sélecteurs. Il n’y a, dès lors, que deux sortes d’images, et la vitesse d’entraînement usitée en cinématographie est seulement doublée. C’est sur ce principe qu’est fondé le procédé Urban-Smith, exploité sous le nom de kinémacolor.
La bande négative est recouverte d’une émulsion panchromatique, c’est-à-dire sensible à toutes les couleurs. Elle est déroulée, au foyer de l’objectif, à raison de trente-deux images par seconde, et l’obturateur ordinaire est remplacé par un disque qui ne tourne que d’un demi-tour à chaque image. Deux secteurs opaques y alternent avec deux secteurs transparents, colorés l’un en rouge et l’autre en vert. Au moment où le film avance, l’un des secteurs opaques intercepte la lumière ; puis, quand la bande est immobilisée, l’un des secteurs transparents, le rouge par exemple, laisse passer les radiations rouges. Le second secteur opaque vient ensuite s’interposer, le film progresse de nouveau, puis s’arrête, et le second secteur transparent laisse passer les radiations vertes. On a donc une suite d’images alternativement impressionnées par le rouge et par le vert.
Les négatifs obtenus de la sorte servent à imprimer des bandes positives, qui doivent être projetées, à raison de trente-deux images par seconde, en interposant un filtre coloré, alternativement rouge et vert (fig. 44). Afin d’obvier, dans la mesure du possible, à l’imperfection résultant de l’absence de l’une des trois couleurs fondamentales, les secteurs opaques de l’obturateur de projection ont été percés de fenêtres garnies de verres bleu violet assez peu transparents pour que l’œil ne perçoive pas le changement d’image. La sensation de lumière bleue que l’on produit ainsi compense suffisamment la dominante jaunâtre des projections bichromes. Il est bien évident que cet expédient ne remplace pas les nuances absentes, car la lumière bleue ainsi projetée est répartie sur tout l’écran, au lieu d’être localisée sur les parties bleues du sujet; mais notre œil est très tolérant : en fait, la synthèse s’effectue d’une façon purement subjective. Néanmoins, le rendu du coloris est très loin de la perfection qu’a atteinte M. Gaumont avec son chronochrome. Si intéressantes que soient les projections réalisées par le kinémacolor, on ne saurait y voir qu’une solution partielle et provisoire de la cinématographie en couleurs.”
(Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on pp. 169-171.) (in French)
“3. LES PROCÉDÉS ADDITIFS
Le système additif, employé par l’image vidéo, n’est plus utilisé en cinématographie. Il a pourtant l’avantage de prendre appui sur une émulsion en noir et blanc facile à conserver. Par contre, sa conversion sur un support soustractif moderne pose des problèmes difficiles et oblige souvent à un véritable bricolage technique quand il s’agit de superposer les images successives ou contiguës analysant les couleurs ou de recopier les films utilisant les réseaux colorés ou optiques.
a. Les procédés à images successives sont les plus simples et les premiers employés en cinématographie. Il suffit de placer des filtres colorés dans les secteurs évidés de l’obturateur à la prise de vues et à la projection. Dans le Kinemacolor bichrome (1908) les images sont impressionnées successivement derrière un filtre rouge et un filtre vert puis projetées ensuite à travers les mêmes filtres. Ce procédé simple présente un inconvénient grave : des franges rouges et vertes apparaissent lors des mouvements rapides (parallaxe de temps).”
(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. 20.) (in French)
“A program of Madison Square Garden, dated December 11, 1909, announces the first showing of Kinemacolor in the United States. This rare piece of memorabilia was located in Hawaii by Dr. William A. Bryan and through the enterprise of Charles Urban, Kinemacolor, was brought to this country and may be seen by visitors to the [Los Angeles] museum.
Wally Clendenin, the walking movie encyclopedia recalls that the first Los Angeles showing of Kinemacolor was the roadshow of the Durbar picture exhibited at the Trinity Auditorium, in 1910. Later it was shown in regular movie house in Venice.
Tally’s theater, in Los Angeles, became known for a time as the “Kinemacolor,” running nothing but color subjects. After Tally discontinued the color films, “Clune’s Broadway” exhibited Kinemacolor for awhile.
Kinemacolor established a Hollywood studio in 1912 taking over the “Harry Revier lot” which was located at the junction of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. Later it had a studio at the “Fine Arts lot,” having as director E. J. LeSaint. The leading ladies were Mabel Van Buren, Linda Arvidson (Then Mrs. D. W. Griffith), Stella Rogers (Mrs. LeSaint), and others. Murdock MacQuarrie was character man. The interior sets were shot in the sunlight without diffusers in order to get enough light for the slow lenses and raw-stock of that period.
The projection speed of Kinemacolor was 32 frames a second, using beater movements which almost shook the theaters down. The flicker of the alternating colors and color fringe of this additive process was disliked by many persons.
The American Kinemacolor went out of business about the time of the war.”
(Theisen, Earl (1936): Notes on the history of color in motion pictures. In: International Photographer, Vol. 8, No. 5, June 1936, pp. 8-9 and p. 24, on p. 8.)
“IMPRESSIONS OF KINEMACOLOR FILMS.
By Burton H. Allbee.
Whatever the trade may say it is to the layman, the people, those who go to the motion picture theaters, that pictures must appeal if they repay the inventor first, and the manufacturer next, for the effort exerted and the money expended in the development of a new process and the manufacture of the films after the process is perfected. Or, to put it another way, the pictures when finally shown on the screen must please the people or this is all useless. It may be, therefore, that the impressions of a layman will not be out of place in helping the trade to form an opinion of the merits of this revolutionary process and its value as an attraction in the theaters before an every-day audience.
Color may almost be said to be the life of the average picture. The principal objection to photography in pictorial work is it lacks color. Everything must be reproduced in monochrome, either black and white, brown or sepia and white or some other single color or tone. And though the photographer himself, and a few who have devoted some attention to art subjects appreciate the art quality of a perfectly graduated monochrome print, almost invariably the average person will say: ‘What a pity it is you can’t get the color in that print.’ And unquestionably much the larger proportion of those who see photographs sympathize with this remark.
The same observation has applied to motion pictures, and the same feeling has led manufacturers to undertake the long, laborious process of painting the films by hand. When well done hand coloring is a reasonably satisfactory substitute for nature’s colors, but even the best of them lack life; and this is said in no spirit of criticism or fault finding. It is stating an absolute fact, and no one recognizes it more forcibly than the manufacturers. But it is, in a great degree, a reproduction of nature, and has been brought to a high degree of perfection.
After seeing the wondrous delicate half tints in the different flowers shown in the new process, and after watching the horses and cattle walk across the screen in all the depth of full, rich, yes, pulsating, color and life of the original, the weakness of the really excellent substitute becomes more apparent, and the revolutionary character of the new invention is the more readily comprehended.
Perhaps the most marvelous thing shown at the Madison Square exhibition was the little rainbows in the spray rising from the Potomac Falls. To be able to catch and forever preserve for reproduction whenever one desires those little, flickering, flashes of color is an achievement quite as epoch making as the invention of the motion picture itself. The colors of flowers are permanent, and even in the ordinary printing out or developing paper their values can be preserved and pictures of great beauty can be made; but no film or plate has ever recorded those little, dancing, evanescent rainbows that dart here and there in the spray of all water falls. And yet there they were, reproduced in all their delicate beauty on the screen. It seemed like a glimpse of fairyland, with life and color and beauty appearing at the touch of some magic wand.
The home scenes, the harvest in England, rich in the beauty of coloring of the Autumn, the scenes about the farmyard, with the different animals and the varying color tones of their bodies perfectly reproduced suggested the multiplication of such pictures, taking the place, perhaps, of some of the questionable stories which form such a considerable portion of the motion pictures now shown. They will never supersede good dramas, of course, but they are infinitely more beautiful and will unquestionably prove infinitely more attractive than the artificial picture shown in so many theaters.
During the picture of the harvest in England the spectators saw nothing else. A bit of England, as much, perhaps, as the eye would ordinarily see, was spread before them, and they saw nothing else. The rich tints of the harvest, the life color of the horses and the men and women with their variegated costumes were all there, quite as plain, yes, and quite as lifelike as they would have been had one been standing on an eminence watching the various operations at a little distance. The life of the scene was all there but the spoken word, and a little distance away that would have been inaudible.
The possibilities of reproducing characteristic scenery of every clime are little short of infinite. One may be comfortable at home and yet see the life of the most distant regions perfectly reproduced. One may have brought to his door the brilliant colors of the Orient or the sombre hues of the Arctic. The brilliant bird of paradise may flash before one like a touch of flame from some invisible source, or the sober plumage of the farmyard fowl may be perfectly illustrated. The brilliant scarlet coats of the British soldier, the gay plaids of the Scotch and the dark hues of other costumes and objects are thrown on the same screen, side by side, as in actual life, and each color appears in its full strength, adding its share to the marvelous kaleidoscopic features of every-day life, little noticed because so common.
And with it all there was a stereoscopic quality about the pictures that made them appear the more real. The flowers stood out from the screen like real blooms, and the horses, straining at their tasks, seemed actually walking, so strongly accentuated was this quality, and when the birds with bright plumage fell from their perches one half expected to see them fluttering on the floor below the screen.
This is a layman’s view, the opinion of one who understands something of photography and has followed the films closely for some considerable time. These pictures satisfy. They supply the lack. They reproduce life. No more would be possible.”
(Allbee, Burton H. (1909): Impressions of Kinemacolor films. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 5, No. 26, 1909, pp. 915-916.)
“CINEMATOGRAPHY IN NATURAL COLORS.
By Our Foreign Correspondent.
Mr. Albert G. Smith, of Brighton, England, demonstrated his cine film in natural colors before a gathering of 500 scientists in Paris on July 8. Among those present were the Lumiere Bros., well known as the inventors of the only hitherto practical method of color photography, but whose process cannot be applied to motion photography on account of the length of exposure required. Mr. Smith has devoted years of research to the problem of motion pictures in natural colors and the results of his latest demonstration were very encouraging and referred to by the French papers as ‘one of the most promising events in the history of cinematography.’ The foreign daily press, and especially the trade papers, have given much space to the subject, but in its present stage the Smith method is only a very successful experiment towards the solution of a problem that has occupied the mind of the scientific world for years. It is by no means solved yet, for the Smith film falls far short of reproducing the ‘natural’ colors. There is a marked absence of certain colors and a noticeable defect in the blending and corresponding covering of the picture, the effect being that of a poorly colored lantern slide where the carelessly applied colors lap over the outline. The Smith film seemed to be most sensitive to the red and gives only an approximate distinction between the other colors. With all its defects the Smith process is certainly a wonderful step in advance and all the more remarkable when it is understood that the film shows no trace whatever of color when examined in the hand. So far as can be learned, the principle of Mr. Smith’s method is the use of a panchromatic film in the taking camera, which is equipped with revolving light filters of orange and blue-green, and the use of blue and red filters in projecting.
In order to secure financial backing, Mr. Smith became associated with the Charles Urban Trading Co., of London, and Mr. Urban had great faith in his invention and assisted him in every way possible, and a demonstration was given some time ago in the Urban factory, but since that time Mr. Urban seems to have cooled off in his enthusiasm. The French papers are making much of the suggestion that it was to get the proper backing and encouragement that Mr. Smith was compelled to abandon England and come over to that dear France, where brain is more appreciated than brawn. Be that as it may, all the French papers have not gone into ecstasies over the demonstration. Gil Blas, one of the leading dailies, said that ‘the Smith picture was a photograph without consistence, weak and flickering, with some red and some black spots.’ The Phono-Cine Gazette, one of the French trade papers, begins a lengthy article with the most friendly congratulations to Mr. Smith and says that ‘the notable efforts of this inventor certainly will in a very short time bring good fruits and prove of great value for the further development of cinematography in natural colors.’ (Rather cautious commendation, is it not?) In introducing himself before the gathering of French savants, Mr. Smith apologized for the necessity of a public demonstration to overcome the prevailing skepticism which is clue to the many claimants for color photography who have filled the patent offices with their patent applications but who never have been able to show results. He then exhibited a number of films, such as the automobile races in Dieppe, scenes in the Bois de Boulogne, marching soldiers, girls with flowers, etc., all of which showed colors on the screen, though the films themselves could not be told apart from a plain film. Mr. Smith’s invention is, without doubt, of extreme importance and will, when perfected, certainly create a furore in the moving picture industry. But, by all accounts, that time is yet in the dim future.”
(Anonymous (1908): Cinematography in Natural Colors. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1908, p. 197.)
“MOVING PICTURES IN NATURAL COLORS.
By Thomas Bedding, F.R.P.S.
Specially contributed to the Moving Picture World.
The hall of the Royal Society of Arts, London, has been the scene of many notable gatherings in the history of photography, at some of which the writer of this article has been present. I recall one of those gatherings in particular. It was when Professor Gabriel Lippmann, of Paris, described and demonstrated his wonderfully beautiful process of interferential color-photography. Great things were predicted of that process, which remains, even after the lapse of sixteen years, the only known method of making color photographs direct in the camera – if we exclude the starch-grain method of the Messieurs Lumiere. But time has not verified those predictions, and the Lippmann system at the present hour is little more than a scientific curiosity. It is inapplicable to paper or film, and even on glass the colors are only visible by reflected and not transmitted light. Obviously, therefore, such a process responds in no degree at all to the requirements of the every day practical worker.
G. ALBERT SMITH’S PROCESS.
A happier fate, I am convinced, awaits the two-color method of reproducing moving objects in the tints of nature, which was described at the Society of Arts on December 14 last, and a full account of which was printed in the World of last week. To begin with, it is experimentally practicable; it gives good results; and. above all, it embodies the logical development of a close study of trichromatics, which is, so far, the only feasible system of making natural color photographs on glass, film or paper. The process, therefore, is deserving of serious notice and as one who has attentively followed the working of Mr. Smith’s mind as revealed in his Patent Specification, and his other publications, I should like to congratulate him on the successful outcome of his experiments – experiments, which he tells us at the conclusion of his paper, are not complete. To one who, like myself, has studied for many years the whole known field of color photography, this frank avowal of the incompleteness of the process augurs well for Mr. Smith’s ultimate success. Many inventors mistake tentative success for complete success; two totally different things. Lecture room demonstrations and triumphs are pretty enough in their way; the final test of merit, however, must alway be sought in the inexorable requirements of every day practice.
MOVING PICTURES IN NATURAL COLORS NEEDED.
How then, does the Smith process comply with those requirements? I grant its practicability; but is it workable? The moving picture in natural colors is bound, sooner or later, to displace monochrome images. The public is waiting for it; so are the makers of film subjects; so, indeed, is the entire moving picture industry throughout the world. Hence the very great importance of Mr. Smith’s contribution to the science and practice of the subject. He may certainly claim to be the first to have handled the matter in a workmanlike manner; he has produced some very beautiful results, and the British press, as we have been reminded during the past few months, has praised those results very highly. In no carping spirit, but from an entirely sympathetic viewpoint, I propose for the information of the readers of The Moving Picture World to give a brief and clear description of how the Smith process, as it stands in the inventor’s own words, is worked out. Then I will offer a few criticisms of its theory and practice.
THE PROCESS BRIEFLY DESCRIBED.
First of all the film is made panchromatic by suitable dyes, and it is exposed in the camera, behind a revolving shutter in which are fitted two filters (or screens) colored red and green. Thirty-two pictures a second are taken, one for each filter. When the negative is developed a positive is made from it and this is projected through red and green filters at the rate of 32 per second on the screen. The eye of the observer then perceives the moving picture approximately in the colors of nature. When he showed his results in London last month Mr. Smith appears to have supplemented the colors of his filters by adding color to the illuminant in his lanterns – he colored the light, in fact – and the total effect on the screen was said to have been much admired. No doubt it deserved to be, for I believe that, carefully worked, the process will give very fine results.
In the foregoing description I have endeavored to avoid highly scientific terms, and to assume that the reader is a practical maker of moving pictures and wants to know if the Smith process is one he could take up straight away and make pictures in natural colors with. My best reply to the latter of these two points is that probably Mr. Smith himself is the only man in the world at the present time who could make his process work satisfactorily.
WEAK POINTS OF THE PROCESS.
In the hands of an ordinary moving picture photographer, unless he be of phenomenal knowledge and skill, the process is doomed to failure at the very start. Observe that a panchromatic film must be used – and made, by the way. For the information of those unversed in the chemistry and technique of the subject, I may say that a panchromatic film is one that has been sensitized for all rays of the spectrum; and that it cannot be handled in an ordinary dark room. No; it must be placed in the camera in total darkness and it must be developed in total darkness, or the image will fog. Red light does not affect an ordinary moving picture film, red light would ruin a panchromatic film. The successful manipulation of panchromatic plates and films is one of the most difficult things in the whole field of photography, as my technical readers know. In moving picture work I don’t think one photographer in a thousand would (or could) successfully use panchromatic films, and what is more I don’t think the manufacturers would take the trouble to make them.
Thus, the Smith process is hampered by enormous difficulties at the very start. Personally I admire the inventor’s scientific ingenuity in selecting a panchromatic film to work on – and here let me say that if I went into the scientific minutiae of the process I should exhaust more space than the World could afford to give me – but I unhesitatingly pronounce it as entirely impracticable for every day use in moving picture work.
Thirty-two pictures a second must be taken and projected, instead of about half that number. This is not a fatal drawback, but it is sufficient of a departure from ordinary practice to constitute a disadvantageous innovation, always a risky thing to attempt, for it involves some interference with existing methods. Then Mr. Smith colors the projection light. He is vague and unspecific on this point, although I for one appreciate the delicate ingenuity of the provision. But in ordinary practice the idea would introduce error and vitiate the purity of the results, unless great care were exercised. This is a very weak part of the process, indeed it is unsound; it is unscientific and it is empirical. You must not talk about coloring a light unless you give plain directions for doing so. To sum up, then, the Smith process though vastly ingenious and well thought out is, in its present stage, utterly impracticable and can only be regarded as a valuable step forward.
The practical value of this process being, as I submit it is, open to such grave objections, no useful purpose would be served by dissecting the theory upon which it is based. A two-color process, however, as worked out by Mr. Smith, is certainly open to ordinary photographic criticism and the purist may reasonably object to such vague terms as ‘red’ and ‘green’ filters. Reds and greens are very numerous; and the spectroscope, I may say, is a very useful instrument.
Finally I should like to say I admire the way in which Mr. Smith has handled a very complex problem. He is on the way to success; but it is a long way off yet a while. His process does not comply with the requirements of any ordinary moving picture plant with which I am acquainted. Taking the process as it stands, special provision would have to be made for it at very great expense, and, as I have shown, it would have to be worked with extraordinary care. Nothing is said about the exposures. How much do the ‘red’ and ‘green’ filters increase the time? What is the H. & D. (or any other) speed number of the film? What dyes are used to render it panchromatic? What sort of lens is used – a specially computed apochromatic or what? How did Mr. Smith develop his negatives and with what? And the positives? What dyes were used for the screens? Is it a fact that persistence of vision is a function of color blending as well as of motion-blending? I doubt if Helmholtz, Young, or any other noted physicist, has taught this. Tyndall, I know, as an authority on light; but not Sir H. T. Wood. What has he published on the subject? Where is the two-color theory scientifically enunciated? Lastly, is it scientifically correct?”
(Bedding, Thomas (1909): Moving Pictures in Natural Colors. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1909, pp. 30-31.)
“‘THE BRIGHTON SCHOOL AND THE QUEST FOR NATURAL COLOR’ – REDUX
In his article ‘The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Colour’ (2004: 205-218) Luke McKernan illuminates the history surrounding early color processes developed in Britain, particularly Kinemacolor and its rival, Biocolour. Kinemacolor was the first commercially successful natural color process, developed by George Albert Smith around 1906, premiered in 1908 and successfully exploited by American entrepreneur Charles Urban through the early part of the 1910s. Biocolour on the other hand was considerably less successful commercially, barely being exploited at all. It was developed by William Friese-Greene who was championed, notably by early cinema historian Will Day (Bottomore 1996: 38) and Ray Allister (1948), as the founder of cinematography, a view later cemented in popular opinion through the The Magic Box (1951), a British feature film starring Robert Donat as Friese-Greene. Yet the historical evidence fails to bear out this romantic and idealized tale. An alternate view is offered by McKernan who mercilessly describes Friese-Greene as “a man of scant technical genius, an opportunist, fantasist, and an incorrigible borrower of others’ ideas” (2004: 209).
On a technical level, Kinemacolor and Biocolour were similar additive two-color processes. The principle of additive systems involved using filters to record a particular portion of the color spectrum and then in projection adding that portion of the spectrum to white light. By combining the two additive primary colors of red and green, a broad range of color could be achieved. Both Kinemacolor and Biocolour films were taken the same way, recording successive images through red and green filters at twice the normal speed, resulting in a black-and-white film which was alternately a record of the red and green components of the spectrum. In projection they used the same principle that by projecting at twice the normal speed, persistence of vision would blur the red and green records and thus give the illusion of natural color. The methods by which they achieved this were however different. While Kinemacolor projected through similar filters, Biocolour film was stained red and green and projected without filters. What links these together historically is not only their technological similarities, but the fact that Urban threatened to sue Biocolour for infringement of his patents and after a series of court battles and appeals, Smith’s patent was revoked leading to the end of the commercial lives of both processes.
McKernan’s research is significant because unlike the majority of studies of color it does not focus upon technological development but instead examines the more complex history of the people involved, how they came together and how their involvement led to technological change. To do this he links the story of Biocolour and Kinemacolor to the invention and activity which grew up in Brighton in the early years of the British film industry, termed by Georges Sadoul as the ‘Brighton School’ (1948: 155-176). While focusing on the figures of Smith, Urban and Friese-Greene, McKernan also highlights the role in the development of color played by lesser known figures including William Norman Lascelles Davidson, Dr Benjamin Jumeaux and Edward Turner, all of whom were involved in various ways in bringing natural color to the screen.
McKernan’s focus serves to illuminate the importance of these previously unknown characters and by shining a light on the people rather than the processes he illustrates the complexities behind even the most seemingly straightforward history of inventors and invention. Such an approach has broader implications not only for the history of color cinematography but also film history in general. It is tempting to interpret the growth of cinema as either a series of technological advancements which build upon one another, or as a series of aesthetic developments which similarly move consistently forward. Equally however the development of cinema is an industrial history, and behind each inventor are investors and supporters whose contributions may have little to do with technology but who may have exerted influence or pressures on the inventors.
The research which informs this chapter was provoked by a query about McKernan’s statement that with the formation of Biocolour “the intention was to exploit two-color films made using the prism color process from Friese-Greene’s 1905 patent” (2004: 213). However, as mentioned [above], Biocolour used a successive frame system which did not involve the use of a prism. In undertaking what appeared to be a relatively simple task of clarification, it became clear that the reality of the situation was more complicated than even McKernan’s detailed study reveals, and involved a number of significant figures whom McKernan does not mention.
The key to this history is the patent no. 9465 filed in 1905 by Friese-Greene who at the time was working as an assistant to Captain William Norman Lascelles Davidson at 20 Middle Street, Brighton. Friese-Greene’s patent was a version of an earlier one, no. 7179, filed by Davidson and Benjamin Jumeaux in 1903. Which suggested using colored prisms to split the light from the object and direct it through lenses onto a film strip where it registered images side-by-side. Friese-Greene proposed that a prism be placed in such a way as it lay behind and halfway across the lens, thus refracting half of the light. The light which was not refracted passed through a yellow-orange color screen whilst the remainder passed through a blue-red color screen, and the two images were registered side by side.
Friese-Greene insisted his 1905 patent was the master for color cinematography, one of the claims which later formed the basis of the legal battle between Biocolour and Kinemacolor. Biocolour Ltd. was formed in 1911 by the exhibitor Walter Harold Speer to commercially exploit the Biocolour process. As part of the formation, Biocolour was granted the rights to the Friese-Greene 1905 patent which was owned by a Brighton furniture dealer named Harry Birch. While he was still working for Davidson, in 1905 Friese- Greene had shown Birch some examples of color films. On the strength of the prism process Birch advanced Friese-Greene £500, and in August 1906 Birch acquired the patent in lieu of an outstanding debt of £150 (URB 7/2-6: 172). Friese-Greene left Davidson’s employ in October 1906 and Birch set Friese-Greene up in a photographic shop at 203a Western Road in Brighton. Part of the deal by which Biocolour Ltd. was founded was an agreement made in August 1911 between Speer and Birch that for the sum of one fully paid up share Birch would sell the company the rights to the 1905 patent.
So far the information agrees with McKernan’s assertion that the company was formed to exploit two-color films made by the prism system, but it is at this point that the problems emerge. The first is that the company was formed and acquired the prism patent in August 1911, and yet only a month later announced that Biocolour was ready for commercial exploitation. A public demonstration was held at the Piccadilly Cinematograph Theatre and on 8 September a deal was struck with the exhibitor Montagu Pyke for exclusive rights to show Biocolour on the Pyke circuit in all London districts (Bioscope supplement, 14 September 1911: xv). An advertisement suggested that showmen in the provinces had already started acquiring rights and that a large factory and studio had been built in Brighton (Bioscope, 14 September 1911: 577). There is no record of a Biocolour lab and factory but it is possible that in 1911 Biocolour was granted use of the studio which was being built for The Brighton and County Film Company, later Brightonia. Brighton and County was formed in 1911 by Speer and was funded by the cyclist, boat manufacturer and adventurer Selwyn Francis Edge who in November 1911 would fund Biocolour’s battle with Kinemacolor by helping to re-form Biocolour into a new and better resourced company, Bioschemes Ltd.
The second problematic issue, which explains why Biocolour was able to launch so quickly after the company was formed, was that the process was not based upon Friese-Greene’s 1905 patent at all. It did not use a prism system registering images on the frame side-by-side using instead, as described above, a rotating disc containing red and green filters through which successive frames were taken at double speed, then stained red and green and projected again at twice the normal speed.
In fact the 1905 patent formed the basis for a completely different natural color system, known as Cinechrome and developed by a company called Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. While working with Davidson on a prism system for natural color, which Davidson and Friese-Greene demonstrated in January 1906 at the Royal Institution and in July at the photographic convention of Great Britain in Southampton, Friese-Greene was also trying to perfect a successive-frame system of color using a rotating filter wheel, which would become the basis of Biocolour. A number of witnesses testified in court during the Bioschemes v Kinemacolor court case that Friese-Greene, both while working for Davidson at Middle Street and shortly after moving to Western Road in October 1906 with Harry Birch, demonstrated color films taken with both a prism system and a rotating filter system using a projector made by Robert Royou Beard which was modified so that the mechanism could be changed to accommodate both (URB 7/2-6: 164-165). Friese-Greene therefore had two color processes in development.
Confusingly, not only was the 1905 patent which Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. developed actually owned by Biocolour, but also it was the only patent registered by Friese-Greene which Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. did not own. In November 1907 Friese-Greene assigned the rights to all his patents, excluding the 1905 patent owned by Birch, to Charles James Morris. This assignation bore the provision that Friese-Greene and George Walter Chapman would subsequently secure the rights of these patents from Morris for an engineer named Allan Ramsay. The deal securing the rights for Ramsay was signed in July 1908 and that same month Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. was formed with a capital of £2,400 and a registered office in Ramsay’s premises in Victoria Street in London. Ramsay agreed to sell his rights to the company and became the Managing Director and Friese-Greene was appointed as Technical Director for a period of four years (BT 31/18498/98940, Friese-Greene Patents Ltd., 1908).
Under the auspices of this new company, Friese-Greene continued his experiments to develop a successive frame rotating disc system. Somewhere between 1908 and 1910 Friese-Greene came into contact with the aforementioned Walter Harold Speer. In 1909 Friese-Greene opened a workshop at 130 Western Road in Brighton above Speer’s Electric Bioscope Theatre. In December 1909 Speer and Friese-Greene, along with Friese-Greene’s head electrician James Clifford Crawley, invited members of the National Association of Cinematograph Operators to his workshop, grandly named the New Scientific Hall, to demonstrate a new process of tri-color stereoscopic cinematography (Bioscope, 2 December 1909: 29). Then between November 1910 and August 1911, Speer, who was not involved in Friese-Greene Patents Ltd., took the impetus to build up an infrastructure with a view to forming a company to exploit under the brand name Biocolour the successive frame color system which Friese-Greene was developing whilst working for Friese-Greene Patents Ltd., acquiring at the same time the unrelated 1905 patent presumably because it was the only Friese-Greene patent which was available (BT 31/13680/117253, Biocolour Ltd., 1911).
Friese-Greene evidently had no qualms about taking the money to develop rival processes for competing companies. In 1911 he therefore found himself with his patents divided between two companies and his attention divided between competing color systems, one using a prism to record images side-by-side, owned by Biocolour Ltd. yet being developed by Friese-Greene Patents Ltd., and another using a rotating disc to record successive frame images, owned by Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. but being exploited by Biocolour Ltd. Friese-Greene himself was working for both companies at the same time, patenting a color stereoscopic process in February 1912 under the auspices of Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. while simultaneously involved with Biocolour’s court case with Kinemacolor (British Journal of Photography, 28 March 1913: 255-256).
It was between 1911 and 1912 that Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. became involved with another significant figure, Colin Noel Bennett, who was a journalist, a photographer and cinematographer who became well known for his regular columns published in the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly (Kine Weekly), The Handbook of Kinematography, published by the Kine Weekly in 1912, as well as a 25-page booklet for Kinemacolor operators called “On Operating Kinemacolor” (Bennett 1910). Bennett was also experimenting with color cinematography. In January 1911 he filed patent no. 1642 in association with Conrad Beck, a London optician, for a specially designed camera using two small lenses one above the other behind a rotating shutter with cutaway sections which worked in synch to expose two frames simultaneously. Before the lenses were two filters, one red and one green. Both the red and green images were therefore recorded simultaneously but successively. Bennett’s involvement in color experimentation led to his becoming associated with Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. This may have been facilitated by the fact that in late 1911 or early 1912 Bennett granted the rights to his 1911 patent to Friese-Greene (Bennett 1912: 236-237) which seems to have been a move to create links between Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. and his own work. The result was that negotiations began in 1911 to re-form Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. with Bennett as the driving force. In December 1911 the two directors of Friese-Greene Patents Ltd., Ramsay and Morris, resigned and were replaced by R. H. Crooke and F. W. Pendleton, with William Holden appointed as secretary. The registered office moved to Crooke’s premises at 7 Little St. Andrew Street in London. In November 1912 a new company was registered, Colin Bennett Ltd., with both Pendleton and Holden as directors, along with Bennett, James Marsden and John Sharp Higham. The company had the financial backing of Sir William Pickles Hartley, owner of Hartley’s Jams, who was Higham’s father-in-law, Higham having married Pollie Hartley in 1899.1 Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. continued to operate in name only until around 1917.
So by the end of 1912 both Biocolour and Colin Bennett Ltd. were drawing upon and utilising the inventions of William Friese-Greene with backing from influential figures from the world of business, Selwyn Francis Edge and William Pickles Hartley. Curiously, at the moment that both companies were well financed and had the potential for success, both Friese-Greene and Bennett walked away. Bennett continued his color work into 1913 and then stopped. He filed no more patents and had nothing more to do with his company, returning to journalism and writing a regular technical column for the Kine Weekly. In 1915 Colin Bennett Ltd. was re-formed as Cinechrome Ltd., without Bennett but still with Hartley, Higham and Marsden as directors, registering three patents that year adapting Bennett’s original ideas under the names of Higham, Frank Twynam and Harold Workman, the latter two being involved with a company called Adam Hilger Ltd. By 1921 the system had developed from the original ideas outlined by Bennett, and used a beam splitter to record two color records side-by-side on an extra-wide film with perforations down both sides and in the middle. It was this version of the process which was used by S. J. Cox to film the visit of the Prince of Wales to India and which was subsequently premiered at The Royal Society of Arts in 1922 and later had a public run at the Stoll Picture Theatre. By this time Hartley was dead and the company was acquired by Cox and Demetre Daponte, who had also worked with Twynam for Adam Hilger Ltd. Cox and Daponte reworked and remarketed the process as Cinecolor, and the patents were ultimately taken over in 1937 by Dufay-Chromex, producers of the Dufaycolor process.
Equally, almost every account of the life of William Friese-Greene stops with the climax of the court case with Kinemacolor, and then jumps to 1921 when he died at a meeting of the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association. The court case with Kinemacolor dragged on into 1914 without Biocolour being able to exploit its product, which was at best mediocre, and in the end only one fiction film was made in Biocolour after the court case ended. The Earl of Camelot was released in November 1914 and produced by Aurora Films, which had been set up by William’s son Claude Friese-Greene. The film was not successful and while Aurora was registered as a Limited Company in February 1915 for the purpose of making films in Natural Color using the Biocolour process, the company went into voluntary liquidation in November the same year, by which time Claude had joined up to fight in the First World War.
Rachael Low cites a claim by R. H. Cricks that around 1915 Friese-Greene was experimenting with color at the Cricks and Martin Studio (1950: 101). Certainly by the end of 1915 he was in sufficient financial straits that Will Day made an appeal in the Bioscope for funds to help him out (Bioscope, 23 December 1915: 1,306, 1,369). According to Ray Allister’s unreliable account, Friese-Greene took the money, moved to London and got a job in a government lab doing dye research (1948: 162). In 1918 however he returned to inventing, patenting a number of color related inventions in 1918 and 1919 and going into business with a photographer, John Newlands Thompson. In 1920 they formed Colour Photography Ltd. to acquire, develop and exploit these patents in association with some of the independent investors who had helped Friese-Greene in their development. The company was formed in February with a huge nominal capital of £25,000 which was doubled in July, but after three years of research and development, in which no trading of any kind was done, the company went into voluntary liquidation in November 1924.
This begs the question as to why Bennett and Friese-Greene abandoned their experiments and the companies with which they were involved. Did they decide they had had enough? Were they removed by the boards? Or did they sit back, having done the initial development and leave further research and commercial exploitation to the professionals? It seems evident that Friese-Greene watched his Biocolour process falter and die in 1914 and 1915, leaving him in a woefully impecunious state, but why then did he not get involved with Cinechrome once more? They owned the rights to his patents so owed him nothing, and the process had been moved on considerably from the 1905 patent by the work of Bennett and others, so perhaps there was no room for him there. There might also be a very good reason why Colin Bennett stopped experimenting with color. Perhaps he took his ideas as far as he could and then passed them on, or another possibility is that there was an irreconcilable disagreement between himself and Friese-Greene or with the board of Colin Bennett Ltd.
Such questions may never be answered without the discovery of personal diaries or letters, but I would argue that raising them is nevertheless important because they demonstrate that what seems on the surface to be a simple history hides a great deal of unknowable variables. When considering the history of Biocolour and Kinemacolor it is straightforward to see it as a polarized conflict of two sides with no common ground. Yet Bennett wrote an operating manual for Kinemacolor whilst working with Friese-Greene. It is equally easy to see Biocolour and Cinechrome as separate technological processes, yet they were inextricably linked by common personnel at a management and technical level.
This chapter is very much a micro-study of a small and seemingly insignificant moment in British cinema history; the formation of two companies which did not survive, the development of two processes for color cinematography which did not achieve long-term commercial success, and the stories of a number of people whose impact on the wider film industry is perhaps negligible. Nevertheless, it suggests the chaotic and unstructured nature of technological development during the formative years of the film industry, and that notion of the film industry is key to our understanding of cinema’s development. The financial dealings behind this story are striking. While Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. was funded by a local Brighton furniture dealer, Colin Bennett Ltd. was backed by Sir William Pickles Hartley. While Biocolour Ltd. was formed by exhibitor Walter Speer, Bioschemes Ltd. was supported by Selwyn Francis Edge. Ultimately neither backer saw major returns but their presence in this history indicates that both companies were formed and transformed on the cusp of an investment boom which effectively raised cinema to the level of a global media business. This case study ultimately suggests that an examination of the figures on the margins of the technological and aesthetic developments which form the thrust of the history of the development of cinema can offer insightful and provocative new perspectives on histories both known and unknown.
1 Adrian Klein states that Hartley and Bennett were involved in the formation of Friese-Greene Patents Ltd. (Klein 1936: 9) but Board of Trade files indicate that they were not involved until at least 1911.
Allen, R. C. and Gomery, D. (1985) Film History: Theory and Practice, New York: McGraw Hill.
Allister, R. (1948) Friese-Greene: Close-up of an Inventor, London: Marsland.
Anon. (1911) Bioscope, 14 September: 577.
Bennett, C. (1910) On Operating Kinemacolor, London: The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly.
Bennett, C. (1912) The Handbook of Kinematography: The History, Theory and Practice of Motion Photography and Projection, London: The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly.
Bottomore, S. (1996) ‘Will Day (Wilfred Ernest Lytton Day)’ in Herbert S., and McKernan, L. (eds.) Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, London: BFI.
Friese-Greene, W. (1905) ‘Improvements in and Relating to the Production of Negatives and Positives for Multi-colour Projection and Improved Means for Projection on to a Screen’, Patent No. 9465, 14 June.
Klein, A. B. (1936) Colour Cinematography, London: Chapman & Hall Ltd.
Low, R. (1950) The History of the British Film 1914-1918, London: George Allen and Unwin.
McKernan, L. (2004) ‘The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Colour’ in Popple, S. and Toulmin, V. (eds.) Visual Delights Two: Exhibition and Reception, Sydney: John Libbey and Co.: 205-218.
Sadoul, G. (1948) Histoire générale du cinema 2: Les pionnieres du cinema 1907-1909, Paris: Denoel.
‘In the House of Lords On Appeal From His Majesty’s Court of Appeal (England) In the Matter of Letters Patent no 26671 of 1906 Granted to George Albert Smith and In the Matter of the Patents and Designs Act, 1907 Natural Colour Kinematograph Company Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd.’ URB7: ‘Papers, Patent Specifications and Court Report relating to the Urban V Bioschemes Court Case 1913-1915’, Charles Urban Papers Collection, National Media Museum, Bradford.
Board of Trade Files, National Archives, Kew.”
(Brown, Simon (2013): “The Brighton School and the Quest for Natural Color” – Redux. In: Brown, Simon; Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 13-22.)
“Late in the summer of 1912 the Kinemacolor Company of America, a subsidiary of the English company, started the production of movies in color at a studio in Whitestone, Long Island. The year of Kinemacolor’s endeavor also marks Mr Griffith’s last year with Biograph, for he went to the Mutual with Harry Aitken while I became leading woman with the Kinemacolor.
Messrs. Urban and Smith had rather startled the world with their color pictures of the Coronation of George the Fifth of England, and the Durbar Imperial at Delhi; and even though their pictures were a bit fringy, they were becoming ambitious for honors in color movies along dramatic lines.
Great things were achieved in America in the movies, and great things might have been achieved in America in Kinemacolor, but it was destined otherwise. Kinemacolor was fated to be but a brief though fruitful interlude in color-photography in the movies, which, for some seemingly mysterious reason, is so long in arriving.
Sunshine being imperative for Kinemacolor, southern California’s staple brand could not be denied, and soon the company left its studio in Whitestone and repaired to the modest little town of Hollywood where it took over the Revier Laboratories at 4500 Sunset Boulevard.
That the place had been used as a studio was not discernible from the front. It was a pretty corner on which, some distance apart, stood two simple cottages, Middle Western in character. They represented office and laboratory. Dressing-rooms and stages of a crudeness comparable to the original Biograph studio were at the back.
No fence gave privacy from passers-by, but a high board fence, decorated with pictures of foxes and the words “Fox Pictures,” protected the lot in the rear. It was not the William Fox of today who thus sought to advertise his trademark and his wares. Another Mr. Fox it was of whom we seem to hear nothing these days.
Here Kinemacolor moved in, with David Miles at its head, Jack Le Saint director of the No. 2 company, and our old friend Frank Woods making his movie-directing debut as teacher to the actors of the No. 3 company. For Mr. Woods having tasted movie blood through his little Biograph scenarios and his position as chief reviewer of the movies, had grown anxious to plunge more deeply into the swiftly moving waters of reel life. So Mr. Miles opened the way for him. And although Kinemacolor opened up financially to a salary of only seventy-five dollars a week, the Woodses made the most of it, for from that humble beginning in less than ten years they have come to own a town near Barstow, California. They have named it “Lenwood.” Charles H. Fleming, who was assistant to David Miles, afterwards became a director and tastefully executed a number of pictures.
When the Kinemacolor Company was gathering in what youth and looks and talent it could afford, Mr. Miles, remembering a little deed of kindness, recalled Gaston Bell and took him to Hollywood, and when the much-loved and generous-souled Lillian Russell came out to do some pictures in Kinemacolor, Mr. Bell was rewarded by being made her leading man. Mahlon Hamilton loaned his good looks to the same films. The Russell pictures were used to illustrate “Beauty Talks” in an act in which Miss Russell was headlined on big vaudeville time throughout the United States.
Mahlon Hamilton and Gaston were the company’s two best “lookers.” As to “acting,” Mahlon made not a single pretense. He and the company quite agreed as to his dramatic ability. To be so perfectly Charles Dana-ish, and histronic also, was not expected of one man in those days. We had not reached the Valentino or Neil Hamilton age. Mr. Mahlon Hamilton, of late, not quite so Gibsonesque, has become a surprisingly good actor. So do the years take their toll and yield their little compensations.
The wonderful possibilities of Kinemacolor had not even been scratched when the American subsidiary was formed, for the foreign photographers – English, French, and German – who had “taken” the Coronation and also some picture plays that were produced in southern France, insisted that the close-up was impossible in color. But Mr. Miles, having had Biograph schooling, insisted contrariwise, and after a long and hard scrap with his photographers, he succeeded in inducing them to do as he said. The result proved his contention. The Kinemacolor close-ups were things of great beauty.
During its short life, Kinemacolor made some impression; for Dan Frohman after seeing some of the pictures said that The Scarlet Letter was the most artistic movie he had seen up to that time. Many distinguished visitors stopped at its Hollywood studio to see the new color pictures. Madame Tetrazzini, the opera singer, among many others, was tremendously enthusiastic.
It has been stated in error that the Kinemacolor pictures were never released. They were very much released, being shown at the New York Theatre Roof, besides many other theatres in New York, and contracts for their service all through the country were made by the Kinemacolor Company. Things started off with such a bang, we never did get over the shock of the sudden closing.
It was one exciting year with Kinemacolor, but it ended suddenly and tragically with the death of the president, Mr. Brock. While preening our wings for a flight to southern France, a telegram arrived from the New York office announcing the finish of picture production in Kinemacolor.
The sudden disruption of the Kinemacolor Company sent a flock of actors and a few directors scouting for new jobs. Frank Woods took up with Universal, only to suffer a six weeks’ nightmare. Being unable to turn out the class of stuff wanted, and anticipating what was coming, he resigned, dug up the return half of his Kinemacolor roundtrip ticket, and was not long in New York before he got busy as a free-lance; and not so long after that a telephone from D. W. Griffith asked him to become his scenario writer. With great joy he accepted, filling the position with Mr. Dougherty, who was now back at Biograph after a short spasm with Kinemacolor.
After a short time at the Mutual studio, Mr. Griffith and his company went to California. At the old Kinemacolor lot they encamped, the Mutual having taken over that studio. The carpenters got busy right away, and soon little one-story wooden buildings crowded to the sidewalk’s edge, and the place began to look like a factory. The sprinkling can that had given sustenance to red geraniums and calla lilies was needed no more.”
(Arvidson, Linda (1925): When the Movies Were Young. New York: Dutton, on pp. 245–249.)
“Now before the Kinemacolor Company had started work at Whitestone they had held a contract with George H. Brennan and Tom Dixon for the production in color of Tom Dixon’s The Clansman. The idea was that the dramatic company touring through the Southern States in The Clansman would play their same parts before the camera. In these Southern towns all the Southern atmosphere would be free for the asking. Houses, streets, even cotton plantations would not be too remote to use in the picture. And there was a marvelous scheme for interiors. That was to drag the “drops” and “props” and the pretty parlor furniture out into the open, where with the assistance of some sort of floor and God’s sunshine, there would be nothing to hinder work on the picture version of the play.
But the marvelous scheme didn’t work as well as was expected; and eventually the managers decided that trying to take a movie on a fly-by-night tour of a theatrical company was not possible, so the company laid off to take it properly. They halted for six weeks and notwithstanding the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars was spent, it was a poor picture and was never even put together. Although Tom Dixon’s sensational story of the South turned out such a botch, it was to lead to a very big thing in the near future.”
(Arvidson, Linda (1925): When the Movies Were Young. New York: Dutton, on pp. 249–250.)
“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.”
(Maulbecker, Maximilian (1919): Der farbige Film. In: Film-Kurier, 25.7.1919.) (in German)
The earliest practical cinematographic color process was a two-color process utilizing persistence of vision for the addition of the pictures. By means of a rotating disk (Figure 17) of color filters placed in front of the camera, pictures are taken on panchromatic film alternately through a red and a green filter, the pictures being taken at twice the normal speed, so that for each complete picture two negatives are made, one through each filter. The positives from these negatives are so projected through a machine similarly equipped with a rotating shutter, which is made to operate synchronously with the picture, that the pictures taken through the red filter are again projected through a red filter, and the green pictures similarly through a green filter (Figure 18). The succession of red and green pictures upon the screen produces complete synthesis by persistence of vision and gives the effect of a two-color additive picture.
This process was known as the Kinemacolor process and enjoyed a considerable success. It has often been revived with various modifications, such as coloring the successive frames on the film instead of using rotating filters or modifying the colors of the filters in the hope of improving the color rendering.”
(Mees, C.E. Kenneth (1929): The Processes of Color Photography. III. Color Cinematography. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 6, pp. 44–51, on pp. 54–46.)
“Taking the Negative.
There are three general methods of arranging a camera for color photography:
In the first, which was that originally used in Kinemacolor, the pictures were taken serially, a rotating filter being used in front of the lens, so that the pictures were taken alternately through a red and a green filter (see Figure 17).
The objection to this is that a quickly moving object is in a different position when the red negative is taken from that which it occupied when the green negative was taken; and there will therefore be shown on the screen alternate bands of red and green, which produce a colored striping at the edges of quickly moving objects. There is also the disadvantage that the exposure must necessarily be shorter because the two pictures must be taken in the same period as that in which one picture is normally taken. Sometimes an attempt is made to lessen this disadvantage by using very light filters. Such filters cannot be recommended, as they are invariably detrimental to the color rendering.”
(Mees, C.E. Kenneth (1929): The Processes of Color Photography. III. Color Cinematography. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 6, pp. 44–51, on p. 49.)
“Production of the Positive.
The practical making of the positives for projection in the additive processes presents little more difficulty than for black and white work. More attention to detail is required, and a rather higher standard of regularity of quality must be maintained, but the process does not involve any special difficulty.”
(Mees, C.E. Kenneth (1929): The Processes of Color Photography. III. Color Cinematography. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 6, pp. 44–51, on p. 50.)
The additive processes require, of course, their own special projector, the Kinemacolor machine having rotary filters which can be thrown out of the way, thus converting the machine to a black and white projector. […] These special projecting machines are the great disadvantage of the additive processes and will probably always restrict their use.
The absorption of the Kinemacolor filters, which are as light as possible, is such that only two-thirds of the incident light reaches the screen, and for equal brightnesses two and a half times as much current must be used.”
(Mees, C.E. Kenneth (1929): The Processes of Color Photography. III. Color Cinematography. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 6, pp. 44–51, on p. 50.)
“The first commercially successful additive colour system was Kinemacolor, patented in England in 1906 by George Albert Smith and later exploited by Smith and Charles Urban, through their Natural Color Kinematograph Company. (Note the inclusion of the term ‘natural’ in the title, indicating new objectives of colour development: the ‘faithful’ reproduction of ‘natural’ colours that reflect of the real world.) However, the additive process was flawed and, despite the successful release in 1911 of the first major colour film, The Durbar at Delhi (director unknown), the system was soon replaced by the subtractive process which dominated the film industry from the late 1920s onwards (although research and experimentation with additive colour systems did continue through the mid-1940s).”
(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 pp. 19–20.)
“Although the principles on which colour photography was based had been established by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell as early as the 1850s, there would be many false dawns on the way to developing a cinema of colour. What Maxwell demonstrated was that all the colours of the spectrum are composed of three primary colours – red, green, and blue – that, if mixed together, produce white. To produce colour, it was necessary either to add together various amounts of the primary colours or to subtract elements from white light. The two methods – additive or subtractive – became the ones used to produce colour on film (Cook, 253-54).
The first process to use these principles successfully – if eccentrically – was developed by the Kinemacolor Company, organised in Britain in 1909. The Kinemacolor system was based on the notion developed by Brighton film-maker/inventor G. A. Smith that if two primary colours – red and green – were fused together through persistence of vision, they could produce a range of colours nearly equal to that produced by three. In December 1911, Le Figaro greeted with enthusiasm the opening of the first Kinemacolor theatre in Paris. The newspaper had especial praise for the “superb animated views and natural colours” that reproduced nature so faithfully and – at the same time – made newsreel shots of processions, parades, and personalities seemed much more realistic. Kinemacolor became even more famous as a result of the spectacular 150-minute long The Durbar at Delhi, shot in India and released in 1912. But by 1915, Kinemacolor – which had attempted and failed through its autonomous American subsidiary to film Thomas Dixon’s lurid melodrama The Clansman – had virtually disappeared, a victim of litigation over patents and its own determination to make only non-fictional films.4
4 On the decline and fall of the American branch of the company, see Gorham Kindem, “The Demise of Kinemacolor: Technological, Legal, Economic, and Aesthetic Problems in Early Color Cinema History,” Cinema Journal, vol. 20, no. 2 (Spring 1981), pp. 3-14.
Cook, David, A History of Narrative Film, New-York: WW. Norton, 3rd ed. 1996.”
(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. 186.)
“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.)
“The most prominent early commercial process was Kinemacolor, a “two-color” technology first demonstrated in 1908 that reproduced red and green, but not blue, wavelengths of light (Nowotny 1983: 49–53). The process involved filming alternate frames through red and green filters: as a black-and-white film negative passed behind the lens of a specially modified camera, a rotating disc placed red and green filters alternately in front of the lens. The resulting print could then be reconstituted by a projector fitted with a similar spinning disc. Though briefly successful, Kinemacolor – like many other early color processes – was dogged by color registration problems and failed to last beyond the 1910s.
Nowotny, Robert A. 1983. The Way of All Flesh Tones: A History of Colour Motion Picture Processes 1895–1929. New York: Garland Publishing.”
(Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. John Wiley & Sons, on p. 121.)
“Subtractive color employed principles opposite from those of additive. Instead of combining colored light to create an image, subtractive processes worked by absorbing wavelengths of light, removing parts of the spectrum to leave the remaining colors visible. These techniques were preferable in obtaining good color rendition for motion pictures, but they were difficult to achieve. Additive processes may have been successfully demonstrated and commercialized first – most prominently by Kinemacolor – but the results on screen tended to be flawed and often difficult to watch. In recombining the color records in projection, fringing, flickering, and poorly illuminated images were frequent side effects.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 61.)
“Die erste Blüte des Farbfilms: Das britische Kinemacolor 1908-1914 und die Folgeverfahren
Als um 1900 in mehreren europäischen Ländern die ersten Forschungen zur Farbkinematographie einsetzten, lehnte man sich zunächst an die damals einzig praktikable Methode der Farbfotografie an: die Aufnahme von drei Farbauszügen für die roten, grünen und blauen Farbanteile des Aufnahmegegenstandes und die anschließende, möglichst deckungsgleiche Projektion. Während die Farbfotografien dank längerer Belichtungszeiten bestechende Resultate in Portraits, Stillleben und Landschaftsaufnahmen lieferten, musste der Film gezwungenermaßen mit der Bewegung seines Motives Schritt halten: Die ersten Versuche mit drei Farbauszügen scheiterten daher an der Unmöglichkeit einer deckungsgleichen Aufnahme und späteren Wiedergabe von drei Teilbildern. Der gangbare Weg führte hier über eine Beschränkung auf nur zwei Farben und brachte mit dem britischen Kinemacolor-Verfahren in den Jahren vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg die erste, heute weitgehend vergessene Blüte der Farbkinematographie hervor, die zeitlich mit der zunehmenden Verbreitung der Farbfotografie zusammenfiel.
Nach dreijähriger Forschungsarbeit hatte der britische Filmpionier George Albert Smith, der im Auftrag des amerikanischen Unternehmers Charles Urban die Experimente Edward Turners und Marshall Lees mit dem Ziel eines dreifarbigen Additivfilms (Lee-Turner-Process)42 fortführte, die praktische Verwertbarkeit eines auf nur zwei Farben beschränkten Verfahrens festgestellt, das nichtsdestoweniger verblüffend wirklichkeitsnahe Resultate lieferte. Smith verwendete ein Rot- und ein Grünfilter, die in eine vor dem Kameraobjektiv rotierende Scheibe eingesetzt waren und den jeweiligen Farbauszug auf Schwarz-Weiß-Film aufzeichneten (sogenanntes Folgeverfahren). Wie die Aufnahme, so erforderte auch die Wiedergabe die doppelte Geschwindigkeit beim Filmdurchlauf (32 statt der damals üblichen 16 bis 20 Einzelbilder in der Sekunde) und das erneute Vorschalten des Filterrades. Das auf diese Weise erzeugte Projektionsbild bot eine Farbwiedergabe, deren Naturtreue jede Kolorierung weit hinter sich ließ. Der nicht korrigierbare Nachteil Kinemacolors (und aller seiner Nachahmungen) bestand in den unvermeidbaren Zeitparalaxen, die bei schnell bewegten Objekten in Form flackernder weißer Ränder auftraten – überall dort, wo die aufgenommenen Farbauszüge nicht weitgehend deckungsgleich waren.
Das 1906 patentierte Verfahren erlebte ab 1909 eine kommerzielle Auswertung durch die von Urban gegründete Natural Color Kinematograph Company. Der ersten öffentlichen Vorführung von Kinemacolor-Kurzfilmen am 26. Februar 1909 im Londoner Palace Theater war u.a. eine Demonstration des Verfahrens vor der Royal Society of Arts vorausgegangen, die daraufhin George Albert Smith für seine Erfinderleistung mit der Silbermedaille ausgezeichnet hatte. Mittels der exklusiven Kommerzialisierung durch seine eigene Gesellschaft strebte Charles Urban danach, dem Verfahren über die kurzlebige Attraktion hinaus einen nachhaltigen Erfolg zu sichern: Zum einen weckte er das Interesse britischer Adelskreise, deren Familien im Mittelpunkt des öffentlichen Interesses und somit auch der zeitgenössischen Filmberichterstattung standen.43 Zum anderen begann er noch 1909, seine Expansionspläne voranzutreiben, indem er mit Vorführungen in Paris, Berlin und New York für Kinemacolor warb. In den folgenden Jahren konnte er die Rechte zur Ausübung des Verfahrens in mehrere Länder verkaufen und eine umfangreiche nationale Produktion von Kinemacolor-Filmen in den USA (Gründung der Kinemacolor Company of America 1910 in Pennsylvania) und Japan (ab 1912) ins Leben rufen. Dagegen schlugen die Versuche fehl, Kinemacolor in Frankreich, Italien, der Schweiz und den Beneluxländern zu etablieren. In Deutschland wurden zwar Kinemacolor-Filme vorgeführt, die Ausübung des Verfahrens jedoch mangels Interessenten nicht lizenziert.44
Sowohl die britische als auch die amerikanische Kinemacolor-Gesellschaft produzierten vorrangig nicht-fiktionale Filme, darunter zahlreiche Reise- und Aktualitätenberichte sowie Stadt- und Landschaftsbilder. Höhepunkte des Œuvres bildeten die aufwendig produzierten Dokumentationen politischer Großereignisse: Der am 2. Februar 1912 in der Londoner Scala uraufgeführte zweieinhalbstündige Film The Durbar at Delhi/With Our King and Queen Through India, der die Indienreise des britischen Königs George V. zeigte, wurde so begeistert aufgenommen, dass er ein ganzes Jahr lang die Kinosäle der britischen Hauptstadt füllte. 1912 wurde auch das von der Kinemacolor Company of America hergestellte Epos The Making of the Panama Canal in England gezeigt.45 Geringere und vergleichsweise verspätete Aktivitäten entwickelten die Kinemacolor-Gesellschaften im Spielfilmbereich: Zwar produzierten sie eine Reihe Kurzfilme mit Spielhandlung,46 aber nur einen einzigen abendfüllenden Spielfilm, The World, the Flesh and the Devil (UK 1914, F. Martin Thornton). Heute ist von der ehemals großen Zahl Kinemacolor-Filme nur ein Bruchteil meist in fragmentarischer Form erhalten geblieben.47
1914 erlitt Charles Urban eine Niederlage im Patentstreit gegen William Friese-Greene, der sich bereits ein Jahr vor Smith und Urban ein zweifarbiges Folgeverfahren (Biocolour) hatte patentieren lassen, ohne dieses jedoch zur Praxisreife weiterentwickelt zu haben. Die Kinemacolor-Ära in Großbritannien endete noch im gleichen Jahr mit dem Konkurs der Natural Color Kinematograph Company; Charles Urban stellte sich nach Kriegsausbruch in den Dienst der britischen Filmpropaganda, für die er u.a. den populären Schwarz-Weiß-Film The Battle of the Somme (UK 1916) montierte. Im Juli 1917, als auch die amerikanische Kinemacolor-Gesellschaft bereits aufgelöst war, erlebte in Japan der letzte Kinemacolor-Film eigener Produktion seine Aufführung.48
Der Niedergang Kinemacolors bedeutete gleichwohl nicht das Ende der Folgeverfahren, die bis in die 20er Jahre eine Randerscheinung vor allem des britischen, französischen und US-amerikanischen Filmmarktes blieben.49 Bedeutung erlangte vor allem das erstmals dreifarbige Gaumont-Chronochrome-Verfahren der Gesellschaft Léon Gaumont in Paris (auch Gaumontcolor genannt), das, im Januar 1913 vorgestellt, nun tatsächlich eine weitgehend naturgetreue Farbwiedergabe ermöglichte – allerdings um den Preis einer derartig komplexen Vorführungstechnik, dass Chronochrome eine mit Kinemacolor vergleichbare Verbreitung versagt blieb.
42 Vgl. Koshofer: Color, S. 22.
43 Die Geschäftsstrategien Urbans zur Vermarktung Kinemacolors sind Gegenstand des dritten Kapitels The Eighth Wonder of the World in der Dissertation des britischen Filmwissenschaftlers Luke McKernan: ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’. Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897 – 1925. Birbeck College, University of London, 2003, S. 122–197, vor allem S. 128 f. Der entsprechende Auszug der Dissertation ist als PDF-Dokument unter der URL http://www.lukemckernan.com/kinemacolor.pdf abrufbar (Stand: Juli 2012).
44 Vgl. McKernan: ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’, S. 164.
45 Dieser im Vergleich zu den britischen Produktionen weniger bekannte Titel ist auf der Internet-Präsenz www.charlesurban.com unter Twenty Famous Films aufgeführt. (http://www.charlesurban.com/films.htm – abgerufen im Juli 2012.)
46 In Großbritannien etwa Mephisto (1912), An Elizabethen Romance (1912, Theo Frenkel), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913) und Little Lord Fauntleroy (1914, F. Martin Thornton), in den USA Jack And The Beanstalk (1912), The Scarlet Letter (1913, David Miles) und den frühen Farb-Western The Call of the Blood (1913)
47 Ein Überblick über die weltweit verstreuten Kinemacolor-Zeugnisse ist unter http://www.charlesurban.com im Abschnitt Sources abrufbar. (Stand: Juli 2012.)
48 Vgl. McKernan: ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’, S. 165.
49 In Großbritannien rivalisierte zunächst das erwähnte Biocolour-Verfahren William Friese-Greenes mit Kinemacolor, ohne sich jedoch auf dem Markt durchsetzen zu können. Technisch unterschied sich Biocolour dahingehend vom Kinemacolor-Verfahren, dass Friese-Greene orangerot und blaugrün eingefärbten Positivfilm verwendete. Der Erfinder soll das Verfahren schon vor Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkriegs für eine Reihe Kurzfilme verwendet haben (vgl. Koshofer: Color, S. 23). Sein Sohn Claude Friese-Greene stellte zwischen 1924 und 1926 nach dem Verfahren die filmische Chronik einer Autoreise durch das britische Königreich her, die zum damaligen Zeitpunkt nur eingeschränkte Verbreitung erfuhr, 2005 jedoch vom British Film Institute unter dem Titel The Open Road restauriert und wieder zugänglich gemacht wurde. Als weitere Folgeverfahren nennt Gert Koshofer:
– das russische Biochrom-Verfahren (dreifarbig) um 1914 (Color, S. 24)
– das britische Cinechrome (zweifarbig) ab 1914, 1925 durch Cinecolour ersetzt (Color, S. 25)
– William van Doren Kelleys Panchromotion in den USA (dreifarbig, ab 1913), das 1915 unter dem Namen Prizmacolor weitere Verbreitung erfuhr (ebd.)
– der Technicolor-Prozess Nr. 1 (zweifarbig, 1916-20)
– das französische Herault-Trichrome-Verfahren (dreifarbig, 1927-29) (Color, S. 27)
– das britische Raycol (zweifarbig, 1929-35) (ebd.)
Literatur: Fachaufsätze nach 1945, Monographien und Nachschlagewerke
Koshofer, Gert: Color. Die Farben des Films. Berlin: Volker Spiess 1988.
McKernan, Luke: The Eighth Wonder of the World. In: ‘Something More than a Mere Picture Show’. Charles Urban and the Early Non-Fiction Film in Great Britain and America, 1897 – 1925. Birbeck College, University of London, 2003, S. 122–197. http://www.lukemckernan.com/kinemacolor.pdf (abgerufen im Juli 2012)”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on pp. 37–39.) (in German)
“Ein weiterer Vorteil gegenüber den additiven Zweifarbenfilmen der Vorkriegszeit bestand in der Vermeidung gravierender Deckungsfehler, wie sie für Kinemacolor charakteristisch gewesen waren.
In der praktischen Auswertung blieb Kodachrome jedoch hinter Konkurrenzverfahren ähnlicher Funktionsweise zurück, wie dem zwischen 1920 und 1923 florierenden Prizmacolor Prozess Nr. 2 (William van Doren Kelley), bei dem es sich um ein additiv-subtraktives Kombinationsverfahren handelte: Die Aufnahme der Farbauszüge erfolgte nach dem seit Kinemacolor bewährten Folgeverfahren; die Anfertigung subtraktiver Kopien ermöglichte die unbeschränkte Auswertung der durch die Prizma Inc. produzierten Filme.”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on p. 41.) (in German)
Cleveland, David; Pritchard, Brian (na): Re-creating Kinemacolor on the Screen. = http://www.brianpritchard.com/Recreating%20Kinemacolor%20on%20the%20Screen.htm
Mazzanti, Nicola (2002): Raising the Colours (Restoring Kinemacolor). In: Roger Smither (ed.): This Film is Dangerous. A Celebration of Nitrate Film. Brussels: FIAF, pp. 123-125.
Allbee, Burton H. (1909): Impressions of Kinemacolor films. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 5, No. 26, 1909, pp. 915-916.
Anonymous (1908): Cinematography in Natural Colors. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1908, p. 197.
Anonymous (1910): First Kinemacolor Dramatic Picture. In: The Moving Picture World 7, 17.12.1910, p. 1413. Repr. from: Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly.
Anonymous (1910): Kinemacolor in Germany. In: Moving Picture World 6, 2.4.1910, p. 513.
Anonymous (1913): The Catalogue of Kinemacolor Film Subjects. Animated Scenes in Their Actual Colors. (1912-1913). London: Natural Color Kinematograph Co. 1913, 318 pp.
Bedding, Thomas (1909): Moving Pictures in Natural Colors. In: Moving Picture World, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1909, pp. 30-31.
Brown, Theodore (1910): My Impressions of Kinemacolor. In: Moving Picture World 6, 28.5.1910, p. 886.
Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on pp. 169-171. (in French)
Harrison, Louis Reeves (1913): Sauntering with Kinemacolor. In: Moving Picture World 15, 15.2.1913, pp. 661-662.
Hulfish, David Sherill (1909): The Motion Picture. Its Making and its Theater. In: Electricity Magazine Corporation 1909, pp. 45-48.
Joy, Henry (1912): My Impressions of Kinemacolor. In: Penrose’s Pictorial Annual. The Process Year Book for 1911-1912, 17, 1912, pp. 161-164.
Joy, Henry (1913): The Advance of Kinemacolor. In: Penrose’s Pictorial Annual. The Process Year Book for 1911-1912, 18, 1913, pp. 217-219.
Maulbecker, Maximilian (1919): Der farbige Film. In: Film-Kurier, 25.7.1919. (in German)
Ramsaye, Terry (1923): The Romantic History of the Motion Picture. Chapter XX: The Great Story of Color on the Screen. In: Photoplay, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp. 64-66 and pp. 125-130.