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.
For as long as celluloid can last, the filmed record of Captain Scott’s last tragic journey to the Pole is at last completed. It has taken years of work, and now posterity can look on it, just as we do, for as long a time as discovered science can ensure (Ponting, 11 August 1924: 8)
The 2010 digital restoration of The Great White Silence (Ponting, 1924) commemorates the centenary of the departure of the British Antarctic Expedition (1910-13). Herbert G. Ponting’s photographic record of the expedition has been integral to the narratives that have emerged around the loss of the polar party. The stills and cine-photography formed a strand of the expedition’s scientific research by offering a visual record of the region. A study of the provenance of the 2010 restoration discerns a supplementary layer of information (residual marks of production and decay) beneath the fascia of image and narrative. The interpretation of instructions that are scratched into the film and attributed to Ponting have informed the “return” of color in the 2010 release of Silence. The restoration refers to and incorporates sections of film from diverse archives and pasts elaborating a historiographic process that embeds ideas of authorship and authenticity in a narrative of irresoluble loss.
Herbert G. Ponting, camera artist to Captain R. F. Scott’s fated polar expedition (1910-1913), re-edited his film footage across an initial twenty-year period in response to the technological and cultural contexts of each release. The material and textual alterations that can be tracked across the different versions reveal a tension between the film as scientific document, historical record and the continuing development of a narrative that underlies its remobilisation as a commercial enterprise in the film market. […]
This discourse, of authenticity and authorship, in which the return of color is keyed to Ponting’s instructions scratched into sections of leader, is invoked in the digital simulation of tinting and toning as applied color processes. These technical alterations open a space in which to address the impact of the digital on the film object and text. It is in this sense that the reconstruction (Busche 2006: 3) of the color scheme operates as a facet of historiography, imagination and memory.
The camera negatives were initially processed by Ponting in the Antarctic and returned to the UK in two consignments to be screened in two parts under the title With Captain Scott R.N., to the South Pole (1911 and 1912). Ponting, who held the rights to the expedition stills photography, subsequently purchased those for the cinematograph films from the Gaumont Company in 1914 for £5,100. […] Work on editing Silence began after the 1921 publication of his written account of the expedition, The Great White South.
[…] During this period Ponting’s correspondence with Frank Debenham who, with his assistant Miss Winifred M. Drake, advised on the accuracy of the film’s illustrations, indicates the difficulties of revitalising the film in keeping with the full breadth of technological developments that would position his “ancient results equal to modern panchromatic photography” (Ponting, 22 October 1932; 15 August 1933).1 Adaptations to the technique required to produce 90° South included the transfer of material to film stock with different perforations and the alteration from the speed of filming at 16 fps to that of the 24 fps of synchronised sound projection. The residual effects of these technical manipulations are visualised in the instabilities of the image in relation to the frame (Ponting, 12 January 1933). Ponting’s revision incorporates additional material including the commissioning of new maps, a 25-foot painting of the landscape, a diorama and an amended animated line and map sequence, each of which was filmed and inter-cut with still photographs to further illustrate the journey of Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans to the South Pole (Ponting, 15 August 1933). […]
In reformulating the film footage to the shifting interests of its anticipated reception the visual appeal of the image and the drama of the story are emphasised. The tension between the film as commodity and expedition record lies in the accumulation of information and its erasure and of the materials and detritus that invoke a direct relationship between the photographic imprint and the cinematic illusion projected of light. While the re-editing of the film footage is responsive to different innovations, indicating its potential to be deciphered as a tract of film history, such alterations in technique also affect the film as a text.
Ponting’s references to the use of color for his still photography primarily concern the selection of hues that enhance the subject: “Ice Blink” is printed “in the green [carbon] tissue” and another “in a very fine blue tissue, which seems to suit the subject exactly” (Ponting, 15 June 1926). In Silence, however, the fourteen different combinations of tinting, toning and hand coloring that are detailed by instructions scratched into sections of film indicate a color design that is also significant to its themes and narrative.
Cherchi Usai tracks the significance of certain colors in the silent period to suggest thematic associations, such as a shift to amber which could signal “when a table lamp was turned on in a room” (1991: 29–38). In Silence the thematic use of color, perhaps unintentionally, maps territory, both by delineating between areas associated with the ship and those inhabited by the Antarctic wildlife. In this context a shift from amber in the record of the expedition member’s daily work to the sepia tone and green tint of zoological studies indicates that of a different realm, whilst combinations of a blue tone and pink tint are associated with the effects of light refracted by the ice. Ponting’s use of color contributes to narrative progression through a historiography practice of editing and commissioning new material.
The initially black-and-white film footage and selected photographs of the Terra Nova seen through an ice cave can be linked to his written account of the expedition, which is particularly attentive to color:
During this first and subsequent visits, I found the coloring of the grotto changed with the position of the sun; thus sometimes green would predominate, then blue, and then again it was a delicate lilac. (Ponting  2000: 68)
[…] Such descriptions suggest what was not immediately recorded by the cinematography. The movement of the ice floe is evoked in Silence through inter-cut still and moving images of the grotto taken a year apart, each shot colored in jewel-like tones to be found in tinting and toning catalogues. The addition of color to these images offers the cinematographer’s perspective as a layer of interpretation over the “subtle shadows of the snow and […] wonderful transparent texture” that Scott notes of his black-and-white photography (Scott  2000: xv).
The significance of color to the narrative is established in the opening section of the film. The initial black-and-white images of Captain Scott and Ponting position them as auteurs of both the expedition and the diegesis before the color scheme is instigated as the Terra Nova sets sail. The changes in color that are contiguous with those of the film’s themes are reduced in the section detailing the final journey to the Pole. This also gives an inflection of coherence across a section that is assembled from a significant number of technical revisions including animation, still-photographs and drawings, to avoid distraction from the tale. A shift in color to a blue tint denotes their imminent demise in the “fateful tent” which persists across the memorial portrait photographs of the five men. The still images screened are the work of duplication across a strip of 35 mm film. This contrasts with the transcendent blue tone and amber tint that transfigures the remaining images: drawings of an angel reaching down to Captain Scott and a cairn of rocks surmounted by a cross that marks the graves of the expedition members. Notably the remaining inter-titles of Silence are dominated by a quote from Scott’s diary and marked by the imaged authorisation of his handwritten signature which forecloses the film.
The 2010 restoration of Silence, which sees the return of the chromatic schema, is drawn into a discourse of authenticity and authorship through reference to the color instructions scratched into sections of leader that accompany the film negatives. For Silence, as with many examples from the 1920s, the instructions do not consistently distinguish between tinting, toning and hand painting as possible methods of coloring the film. Luciano Berriatúa notes “the variety of these tints and their intensity from year to year. And also from laboratory to laboratory”, indicating potential points of divergence from the color instructions (Berriatúa 1998: 135–139).3 Both Paul Read and Nicola Mazzanti indicate material inconsistencies that occur between prints of what is ostensibly the same film due to differences in the concentration of dye solution and the duration of the submergence of each strip of film (Mazzanti 2009: 67–93; Read 2009: 9–46; BJP 1924: 611–614). For example, the recurrence of a color instruction could incur a variation in color intensity. It is in this sense that the salience of color in the study of Silence encounters numerous factors affecting the variations in hue, transparency and intensity that result from different dyes and processing methods.
[…] In the 1990s Angelo Lucatello’s comparative work, which contributed to the later digital restoration, identified several differences between the 1923 nitrate soft print of Silence and the EYE Film Institute’s holdings which include additional material such as a still-photograph of Dr Atkinson’s frost bitten hand. Such combinations of elements also extend to the duplication of fragments of leader and instructions in the fine grain contact print assembled in the 1990s by the NFTVA. The diversity of materials that informed the reconstruction (see workflow chart in Figure 21.3 […]) indicates the potential for the film image and text to alter.
[…] For Mazzanti the collation of different versions and generations of prints toward what Busche calls a reconstruction (2006: 3) can elicit shifts in the film text by decomposition or design to constitute a “variant” rather than new “version” of a film (Mazzanti 2009: 76–77). While Ponting’s re-editing constructs new versions, the trajectory of the digital reconstruction forms a variant within the cultural context of its production. The “return of color” through digital grading encounters inconsistencies in the filmic elements sourced. The inflection of color across the configuration of assembled materials (see the workflow chart) noted in the exhibition of the 2010 print contributes to the discourse of authorship and authenticity. […]
In evaluating the concepts of “authorship” and “variants”, Ponting’s correspondence with Debenham is significant in its recognition of the involvement of four assistants. The assistants include Mr Gent, who had been the Gaumont Company’s representative in Australasia and acted as their signatory on the agreement with the expedition. Gent was in Ponting’s employment from 1918 until at least 1930 on a wage of £400 per annum. Ponting states that in addition to his work on the cinematographic films Gent was responsible for the care “of the negatives and everything appertaining to them” (Ponting, 29 July 1929; 8 January 1930). […]
In a sense, the process of reconstruction resonates with Ponting’s own practice. The assembled materials therefore map the path of the digital reconstruction to formulate an image of the film elements and a digital simulation of the applied color processes of tinting and toning. Each transfer to a new medium signals a shift in the image and text. The assembled “film” accumulates the characteristics of each medium and process; alterations remain visible through the details that they add or erode from the image. […]
The subsequent image sustains a trace of previous generations of film material. The residual imprints of processing and the simulacra of marks specific to other film elements reveal fragments and images drawn from diverse pasts into a new narrative form. […]
Although an assumption of objectivity underlies the subjective selections made, there are layers of interpretation from Ponting and his assistants, through to those of the reconstruction. The NFTVA’s work documents a trajectory through previous generations of materials now detailed and in storage. A study of the restoration trajectory tracks alterations in design and the contingent marks that register the susceptibility of celluloid and photosensitive emulsion to the impact of the environment during filming and storage. Traces of the technologies of production and decay constitute data which can be read as a supplementary record of the expedition and form a strand of the historiography of its materials and texts. Ponting’s photographic work is integral to the narratives that have emerged around the expedition. The restoration underscores and distances photography and detail as paradigmatic of authenticity. It also offers a new point of access to Silence as film text and to a narrative that plays on imagination, memory and the historicity of the subject. For its historical, narrative and pictorial significance the chromatic scale of the film, like the deictic salience of marks and scratches, offers the illusion of the past in the present that allows the spectator to invest in the digitally colored image as an image of authenticity.
1. Debenham was a geographer on the British Antarctic Expedition (1910-13). He was later Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute.
3. The NFTVA consulted a Pathé catalogue of tints and tones and additional individual frames that form part of the Kodak collection at the National Media Museum Bradford. These sources were used as a point of reference for the 2009-2010 restoration of Silence. Additional reference material included prints of Silence from the EYE Film Institute and La Cinémathèque de Toulouse, and a research screening of tinted and toned prints of The Lodger (Hitchcock, 1926) and South (Frank Hurley, 1919) for NFTVA restoration project members and technicians from Deluxe Digital, London.
Berriatúa, L. (1998) “Regarding a Catalogue of the Tints Used on the Silent Screen”, All the Colors of the World: Colors in Early Mass Media 1900-1930, Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis: 135–139.
British Journal of Photography [BJP] (1924) “A Review of Dye Toning Processes”, British Journal of Photography [BJP], 71, 3360: 611–614.
Busche, A. (2006) “Just Another Ideology? Ethical and Methodological Principles in Film Restoration”, The Moving Image, 1: 1–28.
Cherchi Usai, P. (1991) “The Color of Nitrate”, Image, 34, 1-2: 29–38.
Lucatello, A. (2010) “How Do They Do It? The Great White Silence“, The Discovery Channel, 27 October. Online. Available at http//ww.yourdiscovery.com/ video/how-they-do-it-how-they-do-it-the-great-white-silence/
Mazzanti, N. (2009) “Colors, Audiences and (Dis)continuity in the ‘Cinema of the Second Period'”, Film History, 21: 67–93.
Ponting, H. G. ( 2000) The Great White South, New York: Cooper Square.
Ponting, H. G. (17 December 1913) Letter to Apsley Cherry Garrard, British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, MS559/102/2, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge.
– (11 August 1924) “The Great White Silence Programme Notes”, D. 1500/1/1, Bournemouth Electric Theatre, Dorset History Centre: 3–10.
– (22 October 1932) Letter to Padre Hayes, MS964/7/22, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge.
Ponting, H. G. British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Volume 7, MS280/28/7, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge.
– (15 June 1926) Letter to Frank Debenham.
– (29 July 1929) Letter to Frank Debenham.
– (8 January 1930) Letter to Frank Debenham.
– (12 January 1933) Letter to Frank Debenham.
– (15 August 1933) Letter to Frank Debenham.
Read, P. (2009) “‘Unnatural Colors’: An Introduction to Coloring Techniques in Silent Era Movies”, Film History, 21, 1: 9–46.
Scott, R. F. ( 2000) “Kathleen Scott’s Foreword”, in H. G. Ponting, The Great White South, New York: Cooper Square: xv.”
(Watkins, Liz (2013): Herbert G. Ponting’s Materials and Texts. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 230–242, on pp. 230–240.)
“João S. de Oliveira is director of PresTech Film Laboratories Limited, London, which was founded in 2004. De Oliveira was formerly technical manager at the British Film Institute’s John Paul Getty Conservation Centre and worked at Cinemateca Brasileira, São Paulo, Brazil, Cinemateca Portuguesa, Portugal, and as professor in the Postgraduate Department of Museology FESP, São Paulo, Brazil. He was also chairman of the Technical Commission of FIAF.
de Oliveira, João S., ‘Black-and-White in Colour’, in Roger Smither and Catherine A. Surowiec (eds), This Film Is Dangerous, A Celebration of Nitrate Film (Brussels: FIAF, 2002), pp. 117–22.
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 12 OCTOBER 2010
INTERVIEWER: LIZ WATKINS
LIZ WATKINS: So the colour screened of a film is going to differ according to the projector lamp?
JOÃO S. DE OLIVEIRA: Absolutely right. The logic behind it is that film is experienced on the screen, right? And the technology and conditions of screening change. So you then go into a very complex ethical and philosophical discussion because you probably don’t have two screenings that will be similar. There’s just a range that is more or less the average of these different projectors, light sources and cinema sizes.
LW: The distance between the projector and the screen would also make a difference to the intensity of colour required on the film strip for certain hues to appear on the screen?
JSdO: Exactly, that’s the theatre size, so I spent a long time reading the JSMPE.5 You don’t need to have the opacity very high to have a black on the screen, so in a large theatre, all of your renderings change. You have to have a much lighter print than normal. Imagine that you have a translucent material in front of the projector. The print has to be lighter for a long distance between the projector and the screen and the theatre has to be very dark. This is the other thing people don’t realise, that there is no black – you can’t project black – black is no light. So the blackest bit you have on the film is the white of the screen. It’s the difference between the lightest areas and the darkest areas that produces the image. This is a big problem: when you have a large theatre and an orchestra, then where do you have enough darkness for the integrity of the screened image to be maintained?
For every prestigious restoration, you have a big theatre because normally people like to have 1,000 people watching and you put a sixty-person orchestra with light to read music that then reflects on the screen. This is the terror of the restorer because you know, we spend a huge amount of time with this film. For the previous big restoration we did they had the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and so sixty musicians were playing. It was screened at the Deutsche Oper, which is not a film theatre, so they had to improvise a place to put a projector and there was a massive amount of light reflecting. Normally, the conductor has to be spot-lit because he has to see well.
Obviously, when you do the print for the premiere, you have to warn the client that you have to take this into consideration. So it’s not a print that would look right if you then project it in a theatre just with a pianist with just one little light, which will be the circumstances for 99.9 per cent of the screenings of the same film. So this is the thing for us, the reference or the aim would be to produce on the screen a similar experience that the original process produced at the time the film was made, right? If it were Dufaycolor or Gasparcolor, then you are not going to screen the original elements, but a new print or new digital cinema product, derived from the original. To calibrate your system then, you have to have at least one good-condition print, or, you have to find a way to produce that information.
LW: It’s quite an undertaking.
JSdO: It’s quite a challenge. So would this be always possible? With Gasparcolor the amount of good-physical-quality surviving materials is limited. Everything is too shrunk.
LW: It’s the film support rather than the dyes that have deteriorated?
JSdO: Exactly. If you look to Dufaycolor, then contrary to Gasparcolor, it was always produced on safety film, which means that it’s not at as much risk from fire. It was made on an early safety film that normally decomposes in a much more speedy way than cellulose nitrate. So you have the decomposition of Dufaycolor preventing you from screening it. I think we were reasonably lucky because we found some examples, some surplus film stock and we could extract some basic information from it. This is another part of the work that is an interesting area to investigate, that is, the possibility of recreating some control samples or new materials to calibrate and set your processes to.
LW: New reference materials that are similar to the original materials rather than simulating the screened image?6
JSdO: It sounds crazy, exactly but it’s something that then you could project, checking its limits to see how much the machine really can cope with.
JSdO: Well, now with digital technology, work is coming back to the treasures that people tend to revisit and this is why it’s so crucial to preserve the originals, it’s because technology evolves. You aim to give the next generation of colleagues the chance to do better what you did in your time.
LW: Do you make a preservation copy of the source materials as you find them and then you begin work on a restored print?
JSdO: The interventions that are normally carried out to stabilise the film have to be very carefully balanced, chosen and researched so that you could use the ones that you know are reversible. If possible, you don’t cause a permanent change to the source material. If you have to modify something, it’s better to modify the film equipment that you are using to suit the film, than to modify the film to suit the machines.
This, I think, is crucial: to make sure that they will last. The Lodger was done totally photochemically and the intertitles were very poor quality. They were damaged but they were the only fragments that we have of some of these.
LW: So, when we were talking about Dufaycolor and the distortion of colour resolution in areas of underexposure, I wondered if that was something that you’d come across in your restorations? Would you colour-correct those anomalies or keep the colour distortions?
JSdO: Dufaycolor is a particular additive mosaic process and a crucial part of Dufaycolor is the manufacturing and printing of the réseau. Unfortunately, the dye that they used to make the réseau was susceptible to acidic degradation. So for Dufaycolor, the trend of deterioration is to become a shade of ultramarine blue. This happens very often. The BFI National Archive has masses of examples in this condition and it’s normally because the prints decompose. Beyond a certain level of deterioration, the acidity is raised and then its interaction with the dyes has an effect. So we looked at that because it’s a photomechanical printing process and because the colour image is produced by a moderation of the black-and-white image seen through the réseau. When you film, you do so with the réseau to the lens so that the image is ‘analysed’ through the colours of the réseau and you have a resultant density formed in the black-and-white film behind it. So if the réseau is destroyed, you can make a calculation on the basis that it consists of parallel lines at 30 degrees of inclination and that there are squares in between these lines; then you know that these particular lines carry information. In screenings of Dufaycolor film this is always visible. I did remove the réseau and looked just at the image, just at the emulsion and gelatine. I just peeled it off and you can see in the black-and-white emulsion the position of the réseau. So it is possible to design a digital process that will construct the image.
I took some Dufaycolor to be scanned so that I could work with it in a digital device and it was very difficult because it’s always shrunk and discolours all the time. It was so expensive that we never want to put anything that deteriorates that quickly through it, but I managed to persuade a friend and we did a few frames and we did a trial that did work. It was just handmade because we were more chemists than software designers. But now I know that it’s very easily done if you have the resources. So in a way, when I was at the BFI, I was suggesting the preservation of Dufaycolor in black and white, because if you have it black and white you know where the réseau is and you have the information you need to make a restored print. Obviously, some of these deteriorated films did not have the colour, but if you do have colour then of course let’s build the colour, or let’s do the colour separation of it. Dufaycolor itself is a micro-colour separation. You have single squares and the colour lines that are the separation of them.
These are the particularities that I remember in terms of the preservation of the deteriorated material. I think it’s perfectly good to preserve it in black and white and then later, when technologies and resources are available, to create a tool that will digitally reinstate the colours and restore the film to its original aspect. If you are using an analogue photochemical reel, then you are using a film that is designed for printing. It is designed to match film dyes from very standard processes contemporary to the production of that particular film stock and so it is designed to work toward a standardised result. But you get into trouble when you try to copy a film that is not the one that the film stock was designed for. In this scenario, there is an incompatibility between the colours of your new system and those of, let’s say, a non-contemporary or obsolete colour process like Dufaycolor or Gasparcolor.
5JSMPE: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers.
6 Robert M. Fanstone, ‘Experiences with Dufaycolor Film’, British Journal of Photography, 7 June 1935, pp. 358–9. Dufaycolor is characterised by a réseau.”
(Watkins, Liz (2013): Interview. João S. De Oliveira, Hon. FBKS. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 171–185, on pp. 175–181.)
Cinerama samples on Eastman Color Negative from the Kodak Film Samples Collection at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford. Credit: National Science and Media Museum Bradford. Photographs by Josephine Diecke, SNSF project Film Colors. Technologies, Cultures, Institutions and Joëlle Kost, ERC Advanced Grant FilmColors.
“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.)
“Tone dyes are the image, and when these fade the image may be destroyed too, where there is no retained silver. This is particularly true of the metallic tones, especially the various green and blue iron tones, which darken and desaturate. Any negative made from a faded tone will show a loss of detail and may become almost “posterized”, giving the effect of a reduction in tonal range to just a few flat tones. The resulting negative will carry only the detail left in the print.
Some tone effects “decay” in a manner that creates a locally reversed (sometimes erroneously called solarized) image, in which the high densities lose more density than low densities. Commonly associated with this is a irridescence on the image surface, which seems to be a redistribution of the remaining metallic silver.
It has been considered that these reversal effects could have been intentional. In our experiments we found that several formulae for producing green metallic tones were prone to this effect, but that it was almost impossible to control. We are of the opinion that the effect was never intended, may have been retained from sense of serendipity, and some may well date from the original print production, although we cannot be sure.
We do not know a method of preparing a conventional image from a partially reversed print such as this other than by digital restoration.”
(Read, Paul (1998): Tinting and Toning Techniques and their Adaption for the Restoration of Archive Film. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al. (eds.): Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Diabasis, pp. 157–167, on pp. 161–162.)
Color fading of Eastmancolor stock. Credit: Collection Gert Koshofer, Bergisch Gladbach (Germany). Source: Schultze, Werner (1953): Farbenphotographie und Farbenfilm. Wissenschaftliche Grundlagen und technische Gestaltung. Berlin: Springer.
Chris Challis was born on 18 March 1919 in Kensington, London and attended school in Wimbledon. He entered the film industry, working as a camera assistant on Gaumont-British newsreels before working at Denham Studios when three-strip Technicolor was introduced to Britain. Challis was an assistant on the World Windows travelogues shot by Jack Cardiff in the late 1930s and on other productions, including location work in India for The Drum (1938). He worked as a cameraman for the RAF Film Production Unit during World War II. In the post-war years he was camera operator on Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes before photographing The Tales of Hoffmann, Gone to Earth (1950), The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), Oh … Rosalinda!! (1955) and The Battle of the River Plate (1956). During his long career he photographed many popular British films including Genevieve (1953) and Footsteps in the Fog (1955), and worked with British and American directors, most notably Stanley Donen, Billy Wilder, Joseph Losey, J. Lee Thompson and Ken Annakin. He became known for his ingenuity, reliability and expertise and is credited as cinematographer on major box-office successes including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Evil under the Sun (1981). He won a BAFTA for Best Cinematography for Arabesque (1966). He retired in 1985 after working on Steaming (1984), Joseph Losey’s last film. He died in May 2012.
Anon, ‘A Feature Cinematographer Photographs the Olympics’, American Cinematographer vol. 57 no. 4, April 1976, pp. 406–7, 458–9.
Brett, Anwar, interview with Chris Challis, ‘Reflections on a Golden Age’, Exposure, October 1998, pp. 16–17.
Challis, Christopher, ‘Hoffmann sets new pattern in film making technique’, American Cinematographer vol. 32 no. 5, May 1951, pp. 176–7, 194–6.
Challis, Christopher, Are They Really So Awful? A Cameraman’s Chronicles (London: Janus Publishing, 1995).
Film Dope entry on Challis, no. 6, November 1974, pp. 41–3.
Petrie, Duncan, The British Cinematographer (London: BFI, 1996), pp. 80–2.
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 17 OCTOBER 2008
INTERVIEWERS: SARAH STREET AND LIZ WATKINS
SARAH STREET: To start off broadly, we thought we’d ask you how would you define the role of Director of Photography?
CHRIS CHALLIS: I think it’s different on every film. It depends on the film, the style of the photography and very much on your relationship with the director. Some directors have a great visual sense, they know exactly how they want their picture to look and it’s an integral part of the way they’re going to direct it. That’s the ideal situation because it gives you a lead into what you want to do. Others who don’t have a visual sense, and they’re in the vast majority I think, then you’re in a bit of a vacuum because you don’t know which way to go with it. Now I think it’s [DOP] a very important part of the film and I admit that I’ve always felt that you are the director’s sort of paintbrush. He’s the artist, although you’re sort of carrying it out and doing the artist’s part of it, and it does differ from working in the initial stages and pre-production with the art director, the costumes and looking for locations. Of course it’s all changed now because of digital – it’s incredibly easy I think. You can photograph anywhere really – you could come in here and cover us talking to one another with these [domestic] lights. For Technicolor it’s different because it’s all arc lights and building a set, and the equipment was impressive, I mean physically impressive.
SS: When did you first become aware of Technicolor as someone who was keen to get into film and cinematography? Can you remember when you first heard of it?
CC: I started in the film industry with Gaumont British News. My father knew the managing director of Gaumont British News and Castleton Knight,1 and they were just starting to use live sound for doing interviews and things. They didn’t use sound normally and newsreel cameramen were like photographers. The cameras were quite small and they didn’t have assistants or anything like that. With the advent of sound they needed help to lug the gear around and everything like that and so I think I was one of the first people ever to get that job and I had a year or just over a year of covering all the sort of things that the newsreel seems to ply.2 They were a major part of cinemagoing; there were cinemas that just showed newsreels and there was great competition between the films. I happened to see or read that Technicolor were coming to England and doing the first colour film in Europe which was Wings of the Morning . It was made at Denham but Technicolor brought their own technicians. They took over a couple of machines in Humphries Laboratory in London, processed the negatives and made a black-and-white rush print, and then the negatives were shipped out to the States and the colour didn’t come back for four weeks and then it was only a pilot, it wasn’t a whole scene. It was a scientific process at that stage. I took myself down to Denham and the head of the camera department, George Kay, gave me a job. It was only loading magazines in the darkroom but I thought it was a step toward realising my ambitions. I suppose it was in a way but I spent most of my time loading these enormous magazines. At the end of the film the demand for colour was growing so rapidly that Technicolor decided to build a laboratory in Europe and they chose England in Harmondsworth on the Bath Road. So at the end of Wings of the Morning the laboratory was almost built – just the building because it didn’t have any of the equipment in it – because all the processing machines had to come from the States. They kept me on and so I was the first actual employee and I was very lucky because it was like going on a sort of university course.3 I went through every department as they were installing the equipment which came over without lenses. The lenses and the prism, which was the heart of the process, were made by Taylor and Hobson in England; I went through all of that and so I knew exactly how the process worked.
SS: Did they screen Wings of the Morning and have discussions about it because it was the first feature film? Do you remember anything of the reaction to that particular film?
CC: Do you mean during the making of it?
SS: Yes, during the process. I imagine everyone was intrigued to see this first British feature?
CC: Yes, of course they did, but it didn’t involve me, I was too busy loading the camera!
SS: Have you seen it since?
CC: I have, yes.
SS: Do you like it?
CC: Yes, and they were terribly impressed with it because Technicolor was a scientific process originated in California, where colours appear harsher and that’s the way they expected colour to be rather than how it was, particularly in the Irish locations that were a bit misty and hazy.
SS: It was quite soft, wasn’t it?
CC: There’s less contrast and everyone thought it was beautiful. The advent of colour had an enormous impact because people thought in terms of black and white.
SS: Yes, people seem to judge colour very harshly if it was seen to be not quite right.
CC: Technicolor retained a very strict control over what people did with it. Natalie Kalmus4 especially was in charge of colour control and she interfered with everything that our directors wanted to do, or the cameramen. They [the Color Advisory Service] didn’t like things like contrast and it was only later when it got into the hands of Jimmy Wong Howe5 and people like that that they started to experiment.
SS: Did you feel that the Color Advisory Service was something that took part in the production process? In reality, how did it impinge on people’s work?
CC: In the early stages it took a very big part because they vetted everything. There was no such thing as white and they dipped all the whites to a one- two- or three-grade dye because of the contrast which was a great problem. It was very difficult to get a good result because of the light levels. Dark colours went black and light colours [went] blue. There’s no such thing as having a pale blue or a pink because it would photograph white under certain conditions and you couldn’t see dark colours because they went black. So they tried to keep all the clothes the same, toward the middle range.
SS: So was that quite useful to some extent to prepare the production side?
CC: Yes, I think it was, so as far as the look of the picture was concerned it was very difficult to do anything unusual. They didn’t like low key lighting or anything like that.
SS: I’ve read about Natalie Kalmus developing charts for films. Is that true? Were you aware of a chart that was devised in these terms, because they don’t seem to be in the archives anywhere?
CC: Well if you were to see Natalie Kalmus you’d think she was the last person in the world to have anything to do with it because of course she dressed, well, she looked like an explosion in a paint shop.6
SS: Did you work with Joan Bridge because I get the impression that she was somebody who really knew about colour and was very helpful?
CC: Yes, she was very much better, much less aggressive than Natalie Kalmus, and she got along better with the artists. Joan Bridge was much more diplomatic. She only worked on the English films and became a colour consultant when they [Technicolor] opened up here. She had most of the contacts and during shooting she would come down once a week and maybe she would see the rushes and things.7
SS: We’re very interested in The Drum which was one of the early Technicolor British films.
CC: Oh yes, that was the first feature film made from the Technicolor laboratory in Harmondsworth.8
SS: Was Technicolor very helpful with advice about humidity controls and temperature or did you pioneer filming in a difficult location?
CC: They’d never done a location like that ever, and of course we didn’t shoot sound at all so the camera wasn’t quite as heavy.9 I was a trainee assistant [listed on Film Index International and IMDb as ‘focus puller’] and we had a unit if you could believe it; it was a major film. We didn’t take artistes [to India] but the unit consisted of a cameraman who was Osmond Borradaile10 and Geoff Boothby was the director. Henry Imus was the American Technicolor technician and I was his trainee assistant.11 I flew to India and yes, Technicolor did a lot of research on conventional film under extreme conditions such as heat leads to a build up of latent exposure; it’s like a fogging over which eventually ruins it. Also you can get static if the film gets very brittle and looks like lightening, and humidity affects it. So they did a lot of research in California and produced a whole series of recommendations about temperatures. Their thinking was that where we were going we would have the facilities that they had in California; in actual fact we hadn’t anything, there was no such thing as refrigeration. They had this idea of packing the film stock in drums, which was rather strange considering the film’s name! Each drum took what we termed two ‘groups’, and a group contained 1,000 foot screen footage but 3,000 foot linear footage of separate cans [because of the three records needed for three-strip Technicolor].12 The film was put in the drums with a silica gel which acted as a dehumidifier, and then tightly sealed and then soldered the metal drums. But of course when they [Technicolor] gave me a list of the film’s useful life at various temperatures, they were so unrealistic. I’d arrived in Karachi and had to go by train to Delhi across the Sinai desert and the temperature was well over 100 in the shade. I thought I might as well go home because I wasn’t even going to get to Delhi with the film let alone the rest of it, but thought we could try various ways of keeping it cool. The train didn’t have corridors so you had half a carriage with a shower and everything else but there was no air conditioning. They had galvanised tin baths in which they put eighty-pound blocks of ice. I had all the film stock in my compartment surrounded with these and covered with a tarpaulin sheet to try and keep it cool, and by the time we arrived in Delhi we had to renew the ice because it had gradually melted. The dust was colossal crossing the Sinai desert and so with all this water melting and everything I was in sort of two inches of mud. But finally the only check that I could develop was hand tests: I could break off a foot of film of each of the unexposed negatives, develop it and then see whether the fog level was building up.13
SS: But you wouldn’t be aware of how the colour might be affected?
CC: No, because we were dealing with three black-and-white images. The other interesting thing was that they had these camera report sheets which the assistant was responsible for and they were very, very extensive in their coverage; you had to record everything and they had this thing called a ‘lilly’. There’s three white cards, one at right angles, and two at forty-five degrees on either side, and you took a reading either side with a photometer so it would be whatever setting, 1,500 foot candles this way and 2,000 that way, 4,500 this, and all this had to be noted for each single shot and then you also had to give a brief description of the scene. If it was a close-up of you then I would have to describe the colour of your clothes and the settee behind you and the colour of your hair, and so they had all this data and they were really quite ridiculous about it. All this built up but for four months we’d had no contact; we couldn’t send any film back so we had it with us all the time.
SS: I wonder what happened to that kind of documentation because it strikes me that those kinds of records would be wonderful for researchers because British studios weren’t very good at keeping records.
CC: They went to Technicolor. They took the Technicolor cameras apart and I’m told that when we came back from India with what was the first film George Kay sat up all night reading all of my reports and he congratulated me. I got a rise and was made a qualified technician.
SS: So your notes would be very useful for other films, other texts?
CC: They would give a good lead, yes. When they printed the rushes they didn’t print in colour, they printed these pilots. Every shot you did a ten-foot or a fifteen-foot take with the ‘lilly’ in front and the colour chart and a greyscale, and that’s what they printed up. So we’d got the rushes in black and white and the colour pilot so we could see what it was like. They needed all these notes for the people who were to do the grading. When I became the Director of Photography I certainly sat in on all the grading and added my comments to everybody else’s. It was such a laborious process because once the negative had been cut – the final cut – they had a black-and-white print of it. The negative was handed over to Technicolor for negative cutting and they cut the negatives into this master, then they started printing in colour. Well of course when you saw it side by side cut together it was sometimes wildly different from how you thought it looked during shooting. This is when grading started. They would make a print based on the grading of the colour pilot, which they’d made originally, and then you would screen that and they might say ‘it’s too dark or it’s too blue and it was minus point this’, and they would make those corrections and make another print which took another two or three days and you’d see that and if that still wasn’t right, then you’d have to make more corrections. If you think you had to do this for every shot in the film then you can imagine how long it took. But Technicolor was a wonderful process because as a cameraman one had enormous control, not in the shooting but in the printing of contrast because the final colour print consisted of a black-and-white key which was printed from the blue record which was the sharpest of the three films. What defeated Technicolor in the end was definition, and they put this black-and-white key on to improve definition, contrast or reduce colour saturation. They used this idea in A Matter of Life and Death (1946).
SS: In the transition shots?
CC: Yes, they were all done that way, by increasing the black-and-white density and losing the colour. You could slowly do away with the colour and bring it back vice versa. I think, I believe Ossie Morris used it quite a lot to do some effects.
SS: Can you say more about blue being the particularly dominant register in the Technicolor process?
CC: Of course. The basis of the process was a prism and it reflected a third of the light and transmitted two-thirds approximately and you had two gates at right angles; in one of them ran the green record which was by itself because it had filters on the back. So the green record only recorded the subtractive colour, and on the bi-pack the two films ran emulsion to emulsion. The red record, which was the back one of the two, was photographed through the blue record so the definition on the red record was very, very poor. The blue record was a different type of emulsion so it was much sharper and that’s why they used that to make a black-and-white picture. If you hadn’t the least idea of how it worked you’d say of course that it can’t be done.
IN CHALLIS’S BECTU INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN GOUGH-YATES ON 11 OCTOBER 1988, HE GIVES SOME INTERESTING DETAIL ON TECHNICOLOR CAMERAS AND TECHNOLOGY WHICH IS INCLUDED HERE:
KEVIN GOUGH-YATES: Can you say something about the Technicolor cameras of this time?
CHRIS CHALLIS: There was only the one camera which was three-strip, it had three films running in it so it was large as you can imagine. It hadn’t got a turret – it had single interchangeable lenses in its mount and magazines had 3,000 foot and so were jolly heavy to cart around. It was a difficult camera to take on location because obviously the heart of the Technicolor process, which is still an engineering miracle to me, was that, it had two gates in the camera which were at right angles to each other and one was a single film and the other was a bi-pack. Two films running together, emulsion to emulsion, and the image coming through the lens was split, intensity-wise, allowing approximately a third of light through to the single film and two-thirds to the double. This was done by the means of a prism which had a spotted surface across the middle which allowed part transmission and part reflection of the image. The location of this prism was unbelievably critical. The images had to exactly coincide in the registers so when finally the thing was printed you could enlarge it up on a cinema screen and you could get reasonable definition. There was a degree of adjustment in the printing, but nevertheless it had to be as right as one could have it in the camera and it was adjustable by means of moving the prism, but it was a jolly difficult thing to do on location. I mean the reading of the register was done in the cameras when you were working in England – the camera came back to the laboratory every night and they went into the mechanical department and they were serviced and the register was checked and then you did a photographic check of the register every morning on the floor before you began to shoot. You photographed a chart which was read that evening under a toolmaker’s microscope so they could check the image size and the spread and [that] everything was within the tolerance to get the sort of definition they wanted in the final print. Well when you were away from home, a long, long way, you obviously couldn’t have a microscope check because there was nobody to do that, so you had to do it visually. And of course you were into all sorts of problems if you were out in hot countries because you had a jig in which you put two pieces of film and you drilled this with this special jig of five holes; one in the middle and one in each corner of the actual aperture and these I think were twelve-thousandths of an inch in diameter. Then you put the film into the camera, the strip of film that you’d drilled, and you put it down into the register so that you actually used the claws to pull it into the right position and the register pins would hold it just as the film would actually come down when the camera was being used. You took the pressure plates out of the gates and you put lamps so you were shining light through the back of the film and then you put the prism in and you looked through the lens with a telescope and then you could see these five holes one at a time. If they coincided as you were looking through the filters on the prism they were white, but if they didn’t you had a magenta or green fringe around it and you had to then adjust this prism on a rocker as it was on a sort of knife edge until you got the best distribution of error over the whole area. I mean it was never absolutely perfect but you had to get it as right as you could get it. It was an awful business doing this; we had to do it every night when you were away from home.
KGY: How did the equipment change over the years?
CC: Very little. It was incredibly advanced compared to any other camera when it came out. The lens mounts were just magnificent. They were on roller-bearings and they had a motor focus so the assistant could stand away with a slave motor and follow focus on it. It had a parallax corrector at a time when many other cameras, you know, the old Mitchells had the image upside down and no parallax corrector. It was a very advanced camera for its time and never really changed. The blimp was enormous; it had to be housed in all this to make it quiet. It had wonderful geared heads which have now become universal although they had them when nobody else had them. The geared heads were by Moy of England which is rather interesting [the geared head, which was operated with handles, fixed on to the studio dolly and made the camera easy to operate despite its weight]. To give you an idea of light levels, in the studio on Wings of the Morning and around that time you had to use 700 foot candles, wide open on the lens; you had to shoot wide open. It had to be an arc, basically because the process was balanced to white light or daylight. So there was no incandescent, no other coating of film that was compatible; it was all balanced to daylight, to white light. So anything that you used you had to balance, so of course arc was all right, it was slightly blue and you used a very pale straw-coloured filter. [CC notes that internal filters and effects were problematic in this system because of the high lighting levels required; CC gives an example of an internal filter in the camera which would cut the light by 35 per cent as problematic because with ‘700 foot candles you could just about light a head and shoulders’].
[REVERT TO 2008 INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT]
SS: Were you aware of other processes like Dufaycolor and Gasparcolor?
CC: Yes. Of course colour was available to amateurs long before it was professionally. They raked up a lot of that early film for this BBC series [The Thirties in Colour, BBC4, 2008].
CC: Technicolor had other processes before the final one. They had a bi-pack process where they stuck the two films together for the final print.
LIZ WATKINS: The colour on some of the World Windows films14 seems quite distinctive from what’s found in feature films and I was wondering if they were definitely filmed using the three-strip process?
CC: Oh yes, they were made fairly shortly after The Drum. Jack Cardiff photographed them. He was a camera operator on Wings of the Morning and he worked for Denham Studios. He was a very unusual sort of chap who wanted to be a Director of Photography (they didn’t call them that then, they called them cameramen), but this was a break for him and his contribution to the World Windows films was enormous. They came into being in a very strange way because Kay Harrison met Count von Keller and his wife socially.15 Count von Keller was German and he had escaped from Germany. He was a bon viveur, an extraordinary man, and he had this American heiress wife who had a lot of money. His great love was fast cars and I suspect fast women, but they’d also travel and Kay Harrison said to him, ‘Well, if you’re going to do all this travelling and go to all these places, why don’t you make films?’ To which he apparently said, ‘I don’t know anything about film.’ Kay replied ‘I can put you in touch with people who do’, and that’s how it all started. The first three were all made in Italy and an Italian named John Hanau who worked in the film industry was a partner with von Keller. We did one of the Rome Hunt [Fox Hunting in the Roman Campagna] which is the only fox hunt in Italy. The hounds were imported from Yorkshire. It’s quite unique because it’s very pictorial. You’ve absolutely got a conventional hunt that could be in England. Then we did one of Rome itself [Rome Symphony] and we did one of Vesuvius [The Eternal Fire]. They were so impressed with them because they were much better than any other travel films, different from the Fitzpatrick travelogues.16 Jack’s contribution was great I think visually and they became much more than simple travelogues. United Artists distributed the films and was very impressed and wanted more. So we went to the Middle East and it became more complicated because we wanted to be able to track the camera. We wanted a dolly, tracks and reflectors so we needed a camera car. We built a special Bedford truck which we took out to Palestine, drove it across the desert to Damascus and then down to the Persian Gulf. Then we made a whole series of them and the final lot were made in India. I went back to India and we made a whole series of films there. They would have gone on had it not been for the war.
LW: We were wondering if you could tell us about the lighting levels for exterior filming for Technicolor?
CC: We didn’t take any lighting equipment; it was all exterior shooting. We didn’t have electricians or anything like that with us.
LW: So that was sufficient light?
CC: Yes. We had this truck and we had a camera car which was Count Keller’s. He loved motor cars and he had a Packard shooting break camera car and two open Buicks for transporting people or anything like that. So it was quite a little convoy and we drove enormous distances. It was very exciting and they were lucky that they had Jack, who was very imaginative. He had ideas such as in the one about Petra [Petra], a rose-red city which is half as old as time; he had lovely shots of these steps that had been cut into the rock, going up them with the camera. Petra was a strange, enormous building. I think now there’s a Hilton you can go and stay in but when we went we had to stay in chaos in camps, and you went in through this gorge where you could either walk or ride on a donkey and you can really touch both sides and that’s the only way in.
SS: Had the films been scripted?
CC: They were scripted, yes. It wasn’t a tight script but the two directors who directed them [Hans Nieter and John Hanau], leap-frogged so while one director directed one, the other chap was preparing the second; he went there and got an outline to the script. The Arabian Bazaar was one of the second batch. We also did Jerusalem, Wanderers of the Desert, that’s the one with the Bedouins, and we did the one in Petra; that was quite a handful.
LW: In Wanderers of the Desert there’s a sequence that looks as though it’s shot at night. It has very intense blues, but the lighting levels would have been problematic?
CC: Well, that’s called ‘day for night’ photography. It was very phoney really but you couldn’t do it any other way than with a special heavy blue filter and neutral densities. It may look like night, I don’t know.
LW: [laughs] It was very blue.
SS: So because there were no lights you were using filters on the lens?
CC: No, no filters. I don’t think we did much in the early stages but later on I used to if one had a very bright sky. On a fixed, or static shot, I’d put a neutral density one on; I’d cut it more or less to fit so it would cut down on the exposure on the sky without affecting anything else. You didn’t use colour filters unless you wanted to for an effect. We cameramen, Jack certainly, and to an extent myself, had filters made for us by a couple of ladies who used to make them by hand; graduated colour filters and things like that for special effects.
SS: I suppose with the camera being different it wouldn’t be the kind of filter that would be current?
CC: It wouldn’t be used for anything else, that’s right.
SS: Would you perhaps be putting filters on lights sometimes instead?
CC: Yes, but of course you couldn’t for something like World Windows, you’d just cut the exposure down for the night [scene]. To give you an idea of the light levels, the Technicolor process was colour-balanced to daylight, to the colour temperature of the daylight. The only light source that matched daylight was arc, so it was all arc lighting. Well the arcs were enormous and they gave off a lot of fumes so if you had a big set with a lot of arcs you very quickly built up a haze in the studios and you started to see the beams of all the lights. Of the conventional incandescent lights, the biggest one listed in those days was five kilowatts and you could direct it to the colour temperature of daylight with a blue filter. If you had that largest incandescent light available with the blue filter on you could just about light a seated figure in a domestic interior and daylight from a window, two or three metres away. But that’s all it would give enough light for. So you could imagine what it was like lighting a big set. On The Tales of Hoffmann, which was shot on a silent stage, it was the old shape of things to come because we recorded at Worton Hall studios, Isleworth, for all the model work. They moved to Shepperton and it was known as the ‘silent stage’, the biggest in Europe but it was not soundproofed. We shot the whole film on that stage because it was shot to playback. Sound didn’t bother us and so we had the space and light.
SS: Shall we talk about The Tales of Hoffmann because we’ve read that one of your favourite memories is working with Powell and Pressburger?
CC: The art director was Hein Heckroth. Hein came from the background of opera; he was art director of the state opera in Hamburg and also a very good painter. But when they made the ‘Red Shoes ballet’ which was a film which was within a film [The Red Shoes], it was such a success Micky said, ‘Well we’d better do a complete opera and that’s the way we’re going to do it and we’re not going to do many special effects in the laboratory. We’ll have to do everything in the camera’, so we did most of the effects theatrically as you would do them on the stage; we did a lot of work with gauzes. As you probably know if you have a black gauze, paint something on it and light it from the front, it becomes more or less solid so you can paint a backdrop. If you take the light off the front and light from behind it disappears and you can do a tremendous change. Now that’s the theatrical side of the thing but of course light levels in the theatre are nothing and the human eye adapts so well, whereas we were doing the same thing with enormous light levels and changing had to be done with dimmer shutters because you can’t fade an arc light like you can with a resistor electric light. If you’ve got a lot of them then they have to be mechanised so they all worked electrically, then they all stuck and jammed and it was an absolute nightmare. My favourite sequence was the Venice sequence.
SS: Did you feel able to have ideas accepted and that you were very much part of the collaborative team?
CC: Oh yes, terrifically so. In fact we had one wonderful thing where the silent stage was built quite a little way off from the main studio buildings at Shepperton and Micky had the idea that after we’d seen the rushes we’d want to discuss them and talk about what we were doing. So he had a marquee put up by the silent stage and we used to have lunch brought out to us there so we didn’t have to go to the studio restaurant. It was a lovely idea really and it worked jolly well. Micky’s films were exciting because he was a great, efficient director and he had enormous energy. They were the most extraordinary unconventional couple; I mean, you would never have thought that they would ever work together. They had really nothing in common. Emeric was a mid-European Jew; Micky was a 100 per cent English. Emeric spoke with a heavy Hungarian accent, and they were a wonderful team. I knew them both very well as friends as well and I worked for them for years and I never, never heard either of them run the other one down which is pretty unique in the world of entertainment. They were great, great friends and welded together as a wonderful team. Either Micky or Emeric told me that they had been in America for the premiere of I Know Where I’m Going! (1945). They came back on the Queen Mary and Micky said that on the first night at dinner they were just talking about things and Emeric said to him, and I can’t do his accent, ‘Michael, would it not be a good idea if we made a film in heaven and on earth and earth was in colour and heaven was in black and white?’ and Micky said straight away that it was a great idea. Now Emeric didn’t know whether it was technically possible, and Micky said that when they got off the boat five days later they had an outline of the working script of the film which they took to Rank and they got the go-ahead. It was a brilliant piece of filmmaking.
SS: Oh yes, so imaginative with the colour composition.
CC: It was pure cinema, as much as Disney.
SS: Am I right in thinking that the black-and-white sequences were actually, in the transition scenes leading up to when the film flips from black and white to colour, filmed with the Technicolor cameras but then not processed for the Technicolor printing?
CC: Yes that’s right because they needed the three negatives.
SS: I’ve read that that was supposed to be less jarring than if it had been filmed with a conventional black-and-white camera?
CC: Yes with all the transition scenes.
LW: So you could print a black-and-white film from the three-strips of Technicolor negatives without any problem?
CC: Yes, it would come out in black and white.
LW: So the printing process introduces the problem with contrast and colour?
CC: The definition was fine, as good as straight black and white really, but then colour had an enormous impact as much as sound. They were the people that I liked to work with. My favourite directors were Micky and Stanley Donen, who was very, very similar. He grasped suggestions that I had and Joe Losey was good to work with.
SS: Did you have much contact with what went on in the lab?
CC: Yes, not initially but in the final printing.
SS: It can seem like a somewhat mysterious process of what actually went on in the lab, and maybe Technicolor sought to impose colour control at that stage? We’re fascinated by the whole process but with the lab stage being so important, we wondered how much intervention you were able to have?
CC: Well you had it at the end in the final printing but not during the actual shooting because the rushes were processed at night, you got them the next day and it was a fait accompli with Technicolor in the early stages. They were very conscious of anything they thought was a technical defect because the process hadn’t made the grade. There was one wonderful thing on Black Narcissus when it all fails and the nuns come back and there’s a shot of Sister Clodagh [Deborah Kerr] in her office in Bombay or something like that.
CC: Yes, Calcutta. There’s a big window and it’s pouring with rain. Jack did this close-up of her and lit her through a bit of glass but he had water running down it and so it had the effect of rain. Well this shot didn’t come back from Technicolor with the rushes; we got the rushes but minus this shot and everyone said, ‘What’s happening?’ They said, ‘It’s a problem with the printer. It’s not a very good print and we’re re-printing’. This went on for about four days and we never got it back. Eventually Frank Bush, who was the whipping boy of the mechanic department, came over and he told Micky and Jack that they’d had a problem in the lab and they hadn’t got it tied down and it looked as though we’d have to retake this shot. He said, ‘You know we’ve got this effect on it’ and Jack said ‘It’s supposed to be there!’. So they were trying to get rid of it desperately; that’s a true story.17
LW: That’s interesting the way an effect can be perceived differently. I was wondering if you could tell us more about The Tales of Hoffmann! Were you using blue gels which you would deliberately fade before using them?
CC: There were no really big incandescent lights in that period. Technicolor made a blue glass filter which was fitted into the lamp which we used rather than gels. Technicolor then made stock which was colour balanced to incandescent light so you didn’t need filters and it made the process faster. You didn’t need so much light and that changed everything enormously. You then had to put filters on the arcs because they were too blue. So basically you’d use arcs outside and as they made the bigger incandescent lights ten kilowatts you’d use those inside and they’d make lighting a bit easier. But it was a great process and good in the camera.
LW: We wanted to ask you about Footsteps in the Fog. Joan Bridge was colour consultant on that film as well and there’s a preponderance of browns and greys in the colour. Is that part of the design or something which occurs in filming?
CC: That was done in printing. You didn’t have to use filters if you wanted to have an overall warm tone on something that’s candlelit. I wanted it to be dark and murky and it worked quite well in the fog scenes.
SS: Could I ask you about The Battle of the River Plate?
CC: The picture was going to be in Cinemascope and I was actually working on another film while everything was being got ready. At the last minute John Davis fell out with Cinemascope and then we were landed with this awful VistaVision camera.18
SS: I think it looks wonderful.
SS: I was struck very much by that wonderful mobility and in the scenes in Uruguay, almost travelogue types of scenery.
CC: Well it looks all right on DVD and when it’s projected the same way it was shot. It’s not too bad when you see a reduction print but colour, well in black and white it doesn’t work well I don’t think. Then Technicolor converted their cameras to do the same thing and called it Technirama and they put an anamorphic lens on the front of it so it became enormous. We shot The Grass Is Greener (1960) that way.
SS: Are you often consulted when this remastering takes place? […] presumably it’s possible that there are […] instances when a remastered film can look different, even untrue to the original idea?
CC: Yes, but I never have been consulted, although I must say most of them have been pretty good. I mean, they have just made a DVD in America of The Small Back Room (1949), which was my second picture as a Director of Photography and my first film with Michael Powell. They interviewed me, which was included in the DVD and it looks absolutely great; so does Gone to Earth.
SS: Yes, it does. It’s a very fascinating film. Your work often seems to involve quite a lot of location work. The landscapes are very striking.
CC: Gone to Earth was shot again entirely with Micky. I loved making it and it did look quite nice with all the shots in the countryside and beautiful landscape. [David] Selznick was the co-producer and he’d just married Jennifer [Jones] and at the end he had the right to alter the production for the American market if he so wished. He wanted to do all sorts of things, have an extra scene. Micky wouldn’t do it so Rouben Mamoulian directed. They wanted me to photograph it and I said to Micky, ‘What am I going to do?’ and he said, ‘Well, you should go, you know, keep our end up a bit’. So I went and it was the funniest thing because Selznick was extraordinary. He used to be up all night writing scripts, changing the scripts and it went on and on and on and it was three weeks before we did anything. Eventually we shot it and we had an all-American camera crew who were very anti having this young limey coming over, which I think didn’t make any sense really. They got lots of work out of it but anyway there I was and Mamoulian had a pact with Selznick that he’d only do it if Selznick didn’t come on the floor when he was directing Jennifer. Selznick used to come on the floor and I’d hear this sort of ‘psst, psst’, and he’d be hiding behind a flat and he’d call me over. He said, ‘Suggest to Rouben that …’ [CC would reply]: ‘I can’t do that’. It was ridiculous and the American crew filled me with grim stories of Selznick, that no cameraman had ever completed a picture with Selznick and that he interfered on everything which he did and I was going to have a hard time. We had one new scene with Jennifer going to her room. I suggested candlelight with a candle and David talked to me about it and said he wanted it low key and that was fine. In the middle of lighting it he came on the floor and looked around and said, ‘You’ve got too much light! I want it dark.’ So I said, ‘I know you do, David, that’s why I’m doing it but we need more light than one candle’. [Selznick replied]: ‘Turn some of the lights off!’ It was ridiculous. So I said,
Look, David, let me do it. If you don’t like it tomorrow I’ll go home and I’m very happy to go home, I would like to go home. I’m fed up with being here – I would really be delighted to go back.
So he turned on his heel, walked off the floor and all the crew had backed away. They slowly came back and we shot it. And the next day at rushes it looked fine and at the end Selznick got up, turned around and he said ‘Chris, you’re quite right, I apologize.’ Arthur Fellows, who was his assistant, said, ‘He’s never done that before in his life’. He liked you to argue with him, and they all were terrified of him.
SS: So would he override people at Technicolor?
CC: Oh he’d have a go. He’d have a go at overriding everybody. But if you made your point as I think I did and it didn’t really bother me if I was going to get the sack. I wasn’t employed by him anyway; I was employed by Micky and Emeric and I was quite happy. He liked people to be like that. Micky was like that and could be absolute poison.
SS: Yes, his autobiography gives a little sense of that.
CC: I mean there’s a side to him which isn’t in the autobiography of extreme loyalty and kindness. I know many instances of that and I liked him a lot. I thought he was a great director and they were great movies. Now they’re all coming back including Peeping Tom (1960), which I didn’t like.
SS: We’d like to ask you what it was like to be in your profession as a cinematographer for so many years. You worked primarily as a freelance is that right?
CC: Except for one ghastly period when I was under contract to Rank and only because John Bryan who was an art director became one of the Rank producers. I made The Spanish Gardener (1956) with John.
SS: Did you feel you would just literally have to be doing whatever was thrown at you rather than have any choice?
CC: Well, apart from John, they were a pretty dead outfit. They had all second-rate pictures, dreadful things because I had to make a couple while I was under this contract. I actually got the sack in the end. They wouldn’t release me and there was some terrible hiatus where they had a huge programme and suddenly they hadn’t got anything. They had redundancies and everything else. The unions asked for a meeting with John Davis and I got co-opted onto the ACT.19
LW: Something we’ve read and would like to know more about is when the Technicolor lab was set up in the UK and American technicians came over to run training and to establish a working practice. Did that cause any problems you can recall? Was it possible eventually for British cinematographers to go and work in America?
CC: It wasn’t possible, really. When I went to do the extra scenes for Gone to Earth they had to employ an American cameraman who never came; he didn’t have to come and – he was paid more than I was. The unions were very strong – they wouldn’t let you train at all. Technicolor had all their own people for a long time. The three-strip cameras belonged to Technicolor. You couldn’t hire any other camera from any other process and the cameras went back to the lab every night and they were serviced. They had a big camera department and a service department and then the normal crew on a picture. On a Technicolor picture not only did they supply the camera but the equivalent of the first assistant who was known as a ‘Technicolor technician’ because on location he did very much more than a normal camera assistant inasmuch as he did the servicing of the camera.
SS: Can you tell us about Genevieve, a successful colour British film you worked on?
CC: The story behind Genevieve was quite annoying really. I was on holiday and I had a phone call from George Gunn who was in charge of the Technicolor camera department. He said,
Well, I’ve got somebody who is going to make a picture called Genevieve about the London to Brighton run and I think it’s a very good script and I’m trying to persuade him to make it in colour and he says no way, he can’t afford it, there just isn’t the money in the budget.
I half persuaded him that it was going to be a tough assignment whoever shoots it because you’ve got to shoot in any conditions really; literally any conditions. He said, ‘Would it interest you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, but I’ll have to check with Henry [Cornelius]’. Henry said, ‘It’ll be nearly all on location because we can’t afford the studio rental.’ We were starting very late in the year – it was September or October when we shot it. Nothing matches anything else but strangely enough colour looks better in that dull light and if you can get the minimal exposure and you can sort of enhance it slightly with a bit of arc light to get a shine or something like that so when it comes to it, it doesn’t look bad really. Funnily enough I got some of the best reviews for photography I’ve had on Genevieve, so the rest of them must be awful!
SS: Do you think there were any particularly British conditions that made British Technicolor films made in the UK look a little different from those made elsewhere, experimentation aside?
CC: Yes, I do I think there is a different quality of light. I mean the soft sunlight that you get here a lot of the year where there’s a lot of moisture in the atmosphere is quite different from anywhere else. It’s different certainly from California which makes the colours hard, and Africa is hard and brash and even the South of France. I also think that we had some exceptionally good art directors and some good cameramen. You can almost thank Korda for that really because he brought Georges Périnal who was a wonderful cameraman from France and Harry Stradling from America. We learned from them quite rapidly and we had Freddie Young, who was marvellous and a great champion of our cause and a great cameraman. We built up a pretty good school of cameramen I think. There was Geoff Unsworth of course; Geoff was a fabulous technician at Technicolor and Douglas Slocombe was wonderful. Arthur Ibbetson was jolly good. Ossie Morris of course was excellent. And so I think that there maybe was a British school of cinematography which was slightly different. We went for softer light conditions and out of necessity we very often had to shoot without direct sunlight and we realised that it could look very good.
SS: Did you tend to discuss amongst yourselves? I’m imagining a group of fellow professionals who knew each other when they were working on a particular film who’d discuss the latest developments?
CC: Yes, yes.
SS: So you saw their latest film when it came out and there was a sort of community of cinematographers?
CC: Yes, very much so.
LW: Were there any particular colour effects at this time that you couldn’t get with Technicolor that you could with Eastmancolor or vice versa?
CC: Yes, colour reproduction was very far from being perfect for any process, Technicolor, Eastmancolor, Agfacolor or anything else. The areas of absolutely correct exposure are crucial. That’s why you have the theory about Technicolor not liking experimental colour because in dark areas, which are necessarily underexposed areas or bright areas which are overexposed, the colour rendition goes to pot a bit and that’s true of all colour processes. I don’t think there’s any way round that unless you accept having absolutely flat light, which is what Technicolor wanted, but it’s not suited chromatically for a lot of subjects. I mean I’m told that when Jimmy Wong Howe did The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) all the sequences that were in the cave and in Technicolor were terribly low key. He had a terrible row with Natalie Kalmus; they wanted that all flat lit and he wouldn’t do it. Of course it was a wonderful sequence. The colour was probably quite wrong but it didn’t matter because dramatically it was terrific. So I think the answer is you know you can’t reproduce every colour perfectly but the compromise is fine, depending on how it’s used and that’s true of all processes.
1 L. Castleton Knight was the overall ‘producer’ of the Gaumont British News from 1934 to 1958.
2 Kevin Gough-Yates’s BECTU interview with Challis (11 October 1988), tape no. 59, includes reference to Challis showing Castleton Knight some 16mm footage he’d shot for a school project.
3 In his BECTU interview Challis also praises the grounding he gained from Technicolor, commenting that: ‘They didn’t let anyone out to be the equivalent of a first assistant until they’d done a lot of work in the laboratory and knew a bit about it.’
4 Natalie Kalmus (1892-1965) was head of Technicolor’s Color Advisory Service, in the 1930s and 1940s. She is credited as advisor on all Technicolor productions until 1949.
5 James Wong Howe (1899-1976) was a celebrated Chinese-born Hollywood cinematographer. He worked at Denham on three black-and-white films in 1937.
6 It was common for cinematographers to claim that Natalie Kalmus knew little about colour on the basis of their dislike for her wardrobe.
7 Joan Bridge (1909-2009) worked with Natalie Kalmus when she was in the UK. She is credited on many British films as colour consultant. She had studied Dufaycolor, and had useful contacts for Technicolor when operations began in the UK.
8 Challis only worked on the Indian location shoot.
9 The blimp needed for filming with sound made Technicolor cameras extra cumbersome, so greater mobility could be obtained if sound was added in post-production.
10 Borradaile was responsible for location shooting in India; the rest of the film was shot by Georges Périnal.
11 Henry Imus (1908-81) was an uncredited camera operator on Wings of the Morning.
12 This detail also features in Challis’s BECTU interview. For greater clarity the following sentences are an amalgam of the detail provided in both interviews.
13 In the BECTU interview Challis recalls that during shooting the drums were kept in pits dug in the ground that were packed with blocks of ice.
14 The World Windows short travelogue films were shot in Technicolor during 1937-40 by Jack Cardiff in a number of locations, including India, Italy and Israel.
15 Kay Harrison (1895-1962) was managing director of Technicolor Ltd.
16 The ‘Fitzpatrick Travel Talks‘ were an American series of Technicolor films made by James Fitzpatrick and distributed by MGM.
17 There is no such shot in Black Narcissus. This ‘missing’ scene is discussed in Sarah Street, Black Narcissus (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005), pp. 59–60.
18 Challis also discusses widescreen techniques in the BECTU interview, confirming problems with VistaVision.
19 John Davis (1906-93) was managing director of Rank, and the ACT was the trade union, the Association of Cine-Technicians.”
(Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (2013): Interview. Christopher Challis. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 10–30.)