Please access detailed information on over 250 individual film color processes via the classification system on this page, display the Timeline of Historical Film Colors in chronological order, search via the tag cloud at the end of this page or directly on the search page, or see the contributing archives’ collections on the header slides.
This database was created in 2012 and has been developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich to provide comprehensive information about historical film color processes invented since the end of the 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.
Timeline of Historical Film Colors was started with Barbara Flueckiger’s research at Harvard University in the framework of her project Film History Re-mastered, funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, 2011-2013.
In 2013 the University of Zurich and the Swiss National Science Foundation awarded additional funding for the elaboration of this web resource. 80 financial contributors sponsored the crowdfunding campaign Database of Historical Film Colors with more than USD 11.100 in 2012. In addition, the Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts provided a major contribution to the development of the database. Many further persons and institutions have supported the project, see acknowledgements.
Since February 2016 the database has been redeveloped in the framework of the research project Film Colors. Technologies, Cultures, Institutions funded by a grant from Swiss National Science Foundation. Since 2016, the team of the research project ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors has been collecting and adding written sources. All the members of the two research projects on film colors, both led by Barbara Flueckiger, have been capturing photographs of historical film prints since 2017.
Follow the links “Access detailed information ›” to access the currently available detail pages for individual processes. These pages contain an image gallery, a short description, a bibliography of original papers and secondary sources connected to extended quotes from these sources, downloads of seminal papers and links. We are updating these detail pages on a regular basis.
In June 2015, the European Research Council awarded the prestigious Advanced Grant to Barbara Flueckiger for her new research project FilmColors. Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Aesthetics, see press release of the University of Zurich and short abstract on the university’s research database.
Subscribe to the blog to receive all the news: http://filmcolors.org/ (check out sidebar on individual entries for the “follow” button).
Contributions to the Timeline of Historical Film Colors
“It would not have been possible to collect all the data and the corresponding images without the support from many individuals and institutions.Thank you so much for your contribution, I am very grateful.”
Experts, scholars, institutions | Sponsors, supporters, patrons of the crowdfunding campaign, April 23 to July 21, 2012
Experts, scholars, institutions
Prof. Dr. David Rodowick, Chair, Harvard University, Department of Visual and Environmental Studies
Prof. Dr. Margrit Tröhler, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Jörg Schweinitz, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Christine N. Brinckmann, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
PD Dr. Franziska Heller, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Dr. Claudy Op den Kamp, Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich
Prof. Anton Rey, Institute for the Performing Arts and Film, Zurich University of the Arts
Dr. Haden Guest, Director, Harvard Film Archive
Liz Coffey, Film Conservator, Harvard Film Archive
Mark Johnson, Loan Officer, Harvard Film Archive
Brittany Gravely, Publicist, Harvard Film Archive
Clayton Scoble, Manager of the Digital Imaging Lab & Photography Studio, Harvard University
Stephen Jennings, Photographer, Harvard University, Fine Arts Library
Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Jared Case, Head of Cataloging and Access, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Nancy Kauffman, Archivist – Stills, Posters and Paper Collections, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Deborah Stoiber, Collection Manager, George Eastman Museum, Motion Picture Department
Barbara Puorro Galasso, Photographer, George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film
Daniela Currò, Preservation Officer, George Eastman House, Motion Picture Department
James Layton, Manager, Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art
Mike Pogorzelski, Archive Director, Academy Film Archive
Josef Lindner, Preservation Officer, Academy Film Archive
Cassie Blake, Public Access Coordinator, Academy Film Archive
Melissa Levesque, Nitrate Curator, Academy Film Archive
Prof. Dr. Giovanna Fossati, Head Curator, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam, and Professor at the University of Amsterdam
Annike Kross, Film Restorer, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator Silent Film, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Catherine Cormon, EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam
Anke Wilkening, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, Wiesbaden, Germany
Marianna De Sanctis, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Paola Ferrari, L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna
Gert and Ingrid Koshofer, Gert Koshofer Collection, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
Memoriav, Verein zur Erhaltung des audiovisuellen Kulturgutes der Schweiz
BSc Gaudenz Halter, Software Development Color Film Analyses, video annotation und crowdsourcing platform VIAN, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab of Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, University of Zurich, (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD) since 07.2017
BSc Noyan Evirgen, Software Development, in collaboration with Visualization and MultiMedia Lab von Prof. Dr. Renato Pajarola, Universität Zürich (Enrique G. Paredes, PhD; Rafael Ballester-Ripoll, PhD), 03.2017–01.2018
Assistants Film Analyses:
BA Manuel Joller, BA Ursina Früh, BA/MA Valentina Romero
The development of the project started in fall 2011 with stage 1. Each stage necessitated a different financing scheme. We are now in stage 3 and are looking for additional funding by private sponsors. Please use the Stripe interface to pay conveniently online or transfer your financial contribution directly to
Account IBAN CH2509000000604877146
Account holder: Barbara Flueckiger, CH-8005 Zurich, Switzerland
SWIFT Code / BIC: P O F I C H B E X X X
Bank: PostFinance AG, Mingerstrasse 20, CH-3030 Bern, Switzerland
Clearing Nummer: 09000
Read more about the financial background of the project on filmcolors.org.
The author has exercised the greatest care in seeking all necessary permissions to publish the material on this website. Please contact the author immediately and directly should anything infringe a copyright nonetheless.
“Dr Paolo Cherchi Usai is senior curator of the Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and director of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, which he established in 1996. He is also curator emeritus of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) since 2010 and resident curator of the Telluride Film Festival. Cherchi Usai was the founder of the Haghefilm Foundation, which he directed until 2011, and is a founding member (1982) of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. He previously worked as director of the NFSA (2004–8) and as a curator at George Eastman House (1994–2004).
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, ‘The Demise of Digital (Print #1)’, Film Quarterly vol. 56 no. 3, 2006, p. 3.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, ‘An Epiphany of Nitrate’, in Roger Smither and Catherine A. Surowiec (eds), This Film Is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (Brussels: FIAF, 2002) pp. 128–31.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, ‘The Legend of the Earth Vault’, in Smither and Surowiec, This Film
Is Dangerous, pp. 541–4.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age (London: BFI, 2001).
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, Silent Cinema: An Introduction (London: BFI, 2000).
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, ‘Film Preservation and Film Scholarship’, Film History vol. 7 no. 3, 1995, pp. 243–4.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, ‘The Color of Nitrate’, Image Magazine vol 34 nos. 1-2, 1991, pp. 29–38.
Cherchi Usai, Paolo, ‘Archive of Babel’, Sight and Sound vol 59 Winter 1989/1990, pp. 48–50.
Williams, Linda, ‘Passio-Review’, Film History vol. 60 no. 3, 2007, pp. 16–18.
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 13 SEPTEMBER 2010
INTERVIEWER: LIZ WATKINS
LIZ WATKINS: There are instances in which technical records, such as those detailing the adjustments made in colour grading, have been kept by the person undertaking the restoration and that have been a point of reference for subsequent restorations of the same film.
PAOLO CHERCHI USAI: There is objective information that can be kept, but then there is also the subjective expertise that resides with the person. When a preservation element is created, the archive will then take good care of it. This opens another can of worms about the correct fashion of repeating a preservation of a given film a number of times; sometimes you lose track of how many times it has been done, but you redo a preservation because you always think you can do better. This is happening with titles like Visconti’s The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) and Metropolis (1927).1
LW: And The Red Shoes?
PCU: Yes, but the case of The Red Shoes is again different in the sense that there are, to my knowledge, two main sources for this film.2 I do not recall if and how the two sources were combined in the versions of the film that were available earlier; if they were not, then it is a good idea to do it.
LW: For restoration projects, some archives work towards the viewing experience of the initial screening of the film; so a point which is subject to interpretation. This resonates with questions surrounding the perception of colour and fading. How would you estimate what colour a film might have been when there are multiple film elements that the restoration could utilise?
PCU: Most viewers don’t have the elements necessary to judge. When a viewer is told that the colour of The Red Shoes looks better than it did in the last preservation and they have no way to evaluate this, then as consumers they take it at face value.
LW: Thinking about different prints of the ‘same’ film, would it be okay if I asked you about Passio (2007)?3 You’ve described it as a film version of The Death of Cinema.4 There are seven prints, each of which is hand-coloured to a different design and the negative, as a source element, has been removed or destroyed.5 Do you consider this practice a way of foregrounding the dilemmas film archives are faced with?
PCU: It was my way of highlighting certain issues, of presenting a case where you have a film, making seven copies, the negative has been destroyed and even if the negative had not been destroyed no other print will be hand-coloured in the same way. The prints can be duplicated, but if they are, this will probably not be coloured by hand and the experience of these films and of these duplicates will differ. So as each film and its potential duplicate are different, then each viewing experience will be different; each film will mean something slightly different, depending on which print you view.
LW: I read that you had put them in different archives: if each film is unique, do they immediately get held for preservation and take on the status of master print? Archival practice around master prints would make them inaccessible.6 Have the films been screened since? Do you keep track of them?
PCU: The prints can and should indeed be screened! Some archives have received a print of the film; one of them was acquired by Martin Scorsese for his personal collection. As a matter of contractual agreement, the prints are not to be reproduced or duplicated in digital or analogue form.
LW: Right, but that they can’t be duplicated made me wonder about the status that conferred on them?
PCU: What the archives want to do with the prints is their decision.
LW: You’ve set them a dilemma!
PCU: The prints are all different and under archival rules they would be considered masters. But they are and they are not. They are master copies because they are unique, and they are not masters because the prints are meant to be screened. That is part of the experiment in a way.
LW: So, it’s about the effects of deterioration and what is desirable in a print after ‘to preserve, to show’?7
PCU: It all boils down to the question, ‘Do you want the moving image to bear the traces of history?’ If you say ‘yes’, then you have to accept the consequences, which means accepting the fact that the film will begin showing the effects of time. If you say ‘no’, then you will be aiming at a perfect image, which is fine, but you will be denying the image the right to have a history. I call it the right to have a history, because I do not see why we should give this right to other forms of human expressions and not to the moving image. I have a feeling that my problem with what we call restoration is that it seems a way to deny the materiality of the work. The challenge of preserving film as the object of an event called ‘projection’ is not much different from preserving the object where the digital image is stored. I am not satisfied by the answer ‘just migrate’ [film to another medium]: that’s no solution. It is only a way of postponing the problem. It is still duplication and the issue is that it is presumed to give you an identical copy, but the question of materiality has not disappeared. Nothing is new. My book The Death of Cinema came out in 2001, but there was a book called The Death of Film that came out around 1927. There is a book here in my library that is also around 1927 called The Crisis of the Film, now film is in a crisis?8 Film has always been in a state of ‘crisis’ since it was born.
1 A Brilliant Evening: Restoration of Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard‘, Film Foundation, 2010, http://www.film-foundation.Org/common/11004/aboutNewsStory.cfm?QID= 7593&ClientID=11004&TopicID=0&sid=1&ssid=3, accessed May 2012. Refers to different restorations of The Leopard undertaken in Italy, then by Criterion and then by the Film Foundation (US). Metropolis was restored by Giorgio Moroder in 1984. Sections of Metropolis on 16mm film stock were identified at the Buenos Aires Museo Cine in 2008, leading to a further restoration released in 2010.
2 Robert Gitt, The Red Shoes – Preservation Booklet (Film Foundation, 2009), p. 7, http://www.film-foundation.org/common/news/articles/detail.cfm?Classification=news&QID=6654&ClientID=11004&BrowseFlag=1&Keyword=&StartRow=1&TopicID= 0&Subsection=&ThisPage=0, accessed April 2012. The Eastmancolor print produced by Paul de Burgh at the Rank Film Labs for the BFI restoration in the 1980s was a point of reference for this restoration. It also referred to three-strip Technicolor transfer prints, nitrate and acetate protection master copies and the original Technicolor negatives.
3 Linda Williams, ‘Passio – Review’, Film Quarterly vol. 60 no. 3, 2007, pp. 16–18.
4 Paolo Cherchi Usai, The Death of Cinema (London: BFI, 2001).
6 Ernest Lindgren, ‘The Work of the National Film Library’, read to the British Kinematograph Society, 1 November 1944; Paul Read, ‘Film Archive Is on the Threshold of Digital Era: Technical Issues from the EU FIRST Project’, Journal of Film Preservation, December 2004, pp. 32–45.
7 Snowden Becker, ‘See and Save, Balancing Access and Preservation for Ephemeral Moving Images’, Spectator vol. 21 no. 1, 2007, pp. 21–8 refers to FIAF’s advocacy of ‘to preserve, to show’.
8 John Gould, The Crisis of the Film, 2nd edn (Seattle: University of Washington Book Store, 1929).”
(Watkins, Liz (2013): Interview. Paolo Cherchi Usai. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 208–218, on pp. 215–218.)