“Then, after having learned how to make gelatin relief matrices of good quality, we tackled the problem of making adequate transfers from those matrices. We had to learn how to prepare the blank film so as to permit imbibition without diffusion. We had to devise a transfer machine capable of handling film in long lengths and in quantities, and in which blank and matrix could be brought into registered contact and held there for several minutes while the dyes transferred.
Simultaneously with work upon these various subtractive printing processes, we devised a camera that gavea two-color separation negative images free not only from fringing and parallax but also from the harmful effects of celluloid shrinkage. In this camera the two images were in symmetrical pairs, one being the mirror image of the other. These were arranged upon a single strip of negative stock with both members of the symmetrical pair positioned accurately with respect to symmetrically adjacent pairs of perforations. The perfect geometrical symmetry of this arrangement is shrinkageproof during the entire life of the negative. The very compact prism system of this camera permitted the use of relatively short focal length lenses. The aberrations of the glass path were taken into account in the computations for these lenses.
Two-color imbibition prints were brought out commercially in 1928, just about the time that sound swept the industry. We were then immediately faced with the necessity of combining color with sound. The only procedure obvious at that time was to make the sound-track identical with one or both of the picture components; but this would give a sound-track in dye, which would have varying absorption throughout the range of wavelengths to which photoelectric cells are sensitive. The response from such a track would then, of course, differ for one type of cell from that for another type and especially so in the case of a variable-density track. We avoided this problem by starting, not with a blank film, but with a strip of positive stock upon which the sound-track could be printed and developed in silver while leaving the picture area blank. Imbibition transfer of the picture components into this blank area could then take place. This method is capable of giving a sound-track absolutely identical to that used in the black-and-white art. Better yet, because of the complete separation of the sound-track technic from the picture technic, the necessity of any compromise between sound and picture quality is eliminated and ideal sound-track processing conditions are possible. Many millions of feet of two-color imbibition prints with a silver sound-track were produced by Technicolor in 1929 and subsequent years.”
(Ball, J. Arthur (1935): The Technicolor process of three-color cinematography. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 25,2, 1935, pp. 127-138, on pp. 128-129.)
“Evidently Technicolor needed the single-coated imbibition prints and volume to lower the price to meet his conditions. Meanwhile Mr. Nicholas Schenck, then President of Loew’s, Inc., was advising us to produce a picture ourselves, to prove both quality and costs.
And so in 1926-27 I once more found myself explaining to the directors of Technicolor that I always had believed and still believed very thoroughly in the ultimate success of the Technicolor project, always provided, however, that it was recognized by all the Directors to be a tremendously difficult undertaking technically and one which requires business sagacity and financial endurance. These directors, including the late Wm. Travers Jerome, the late Wm. Hamlin Childs, the late A. W. Erickson, the late Wm. H. Coolidge, the late Thomas W. Slocum, James C. Colgate, Eversley Childs, and Alfred Fritzsche, had many earlier reminders of the necessity of financial endurance. Prior to 1926 over two and one-half million dollars had been spent, but this time I was not calling for money for cameras and printers, for imbibition machines and research salaries; it was to go into production. When they asked me what I knew about production, I frankly told them nothing, but at least I could start from scratch without some of the fixed ideas and prejudices concerning color that some of the Hollywood producers seemed to have accumulated.
I wanted to make short subjects, not primarily to make money as a producer, but to prove to the industry that there was nothing mysterious about the operation of Technicolor cameras, that the transition from what the eye saw to what the emulsion recorded was susceptible of reasonable control through understanding, that black and white cameramen could easily be trained to light for Technicolor cameras, that talented art directors could readily begin to think in terms of color, that rush prints could be delivered promptly, and generally that the job could be done efficiently and economically, utilizing but not minutely imitating black-and-white experience. The first short we produced was a story of the creation of the American flag, an episode involving George Washington and Betsy Ross. George M. Cohan probably never produced anything more certain of applause than when George Washington unfurled the first American flag in glowing color. Another subject was the divorce episode of Napoleon and Josephine, photographed in November, 1927, which was booked all over the world as a companion short to Charlie Chaplin’s then tremendously successful production, The Circus. We made twelve of these two-reelers, an experience which established the fundamentals of our studio service both in the camera and color control departments, and altogether disclosed the answers to a multitude of practical questions which have served us no end since that time.
They were produced economically and yet we were continually praised about them by Metro who distributed them. In my opinion Technicolor would not have survived without the experience of this series of short subjects.
Our friends and customers both in Hollywood and New York praised and applauded these short subjects, but they were only shorts. Mr. Nicholas Schenck advised us to produce a feature production which Metro would distribute.
I had been much impressed with a production called The Covered Wagon, a touching love story with the epic quality of slowly and laboriously conquering a continent. Why not have a love story of the vikings with the epic quality of fighting mutiny and storms to conquer an ocean. Jack Cunningham, recently a writer and associate producer at Paramount, wrote The Covered Wagon, so we engaged him to write The Viking. We spent $325,000 on this production and got our full money’s worth of experience in all departments.
But also we got our money back. The late Irving Thalberg, who was always our friend and a believer in Technicolor, thought we had a lot of production for that amount of money, and bought it for Metro by reimbursing our cost to us.
There seemed to be two principal troubles with The Viking, both of which I suspected but without certainty. First, it came out among the very last silent pictures in 1929 and, second, whiskers. Leif Erickson, the viking hero, true to character, had a long, curling mustache, whereas American audiences prefer their lovers smooth-shaven. At times the whole screen seemed filled with viking whiskers. But the picture was a good color job and the first to be synchronized with music and sound effect.
But thus far we had only isolated feature productions. The building of color cameras on the scale they exist today, the building of laboratories of sufficient capacity that prints could be made cheaply enough to make color generally available could not be carried on in terms of an occasional picture. We brought out two-color imbibition prints with silver sound track in 1928. The advantages in respect of focus, cupping, scratching, size of reel, and cost of manufacture were immediate. The gelatin on the Technicolor imbibition film is harder than on ordinary black and white, and through the years there is substantial evidence that the life of Technicolor imbibition prints is greater than that of ordinary black and white.
By early 1929 all the important studios in Hollywood had become thoroughly sound conscious. This was a great help to us in introducing color. Prior to that, studio executives were loath to permit any change whatsoever in their established method of photography and production. But with the adoption of sound, many radical changes became necessary. Technicolor was always confronted with objections that photographing in color required more light, different costumes, a knowledge of color composition, additional time, and one or the other of these points, plus the added forceful argument that it cost more money, made it difficult for us to get started. In my opinion the turning point came when we ourselves produced the series of short subjects. By entering the field as a producer, by keeping very careful records of our time and money schedules, and by openly discussing with studio executives everything that we were doing as we went along, we dissipated most of the prevailing misinformation. Meanwhile our quality was improving; our costs were decreasing. Warner Bros, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer were regularly coming out with satisfactory short subjects in Technicolor, and two inserts were highly successful, namely, Broadway Melody and Desert Song. Paramount had produced a successful feature length picture in Technicolor, Redskin. The studios were beginning to be color conscious.
But it remained for Warner Bros, and its affiliated company, First National, to take the first step on a large scale. Mr. J. L. Warner, with foresight and courage, signed up with us for a series of more than twenty features. These included On with the Show, the first all-talking all Technicolor feature picture, and Gold Diggers of Broadway, which has grossed over $3,500,000 and which still ranks high among the all-time outstanding box-office attractions. The Technicolor mechanical service of providing and maintaining cameras in good working order and of delivering rush prints on time was well established. Two more subtle departments of service, namely, helping producers’ cameramen to learn how to light and operate to advantage in Technicolor, and consulting and advising in matters of color control, were being demanded. Cooperation under the head of color control was ranging all the way from deciding the details of the color composition of sets, choice of materials and costumes, to the broad planning and preparation of a picture by wiring a color score after the manner in which the musical score is written.
As evidence of the increased color-mindedness throughout the industry, Technicolor had contracts for the ten months beginning March, 1929, covering the photography and delivery of prints of the footage equivalent of approximately seventeen feature length productions. This required a doubling of the Hollywood capacity which was accomplished in August, 1929. For the year 1930 Technicolor had closed contracts for thirty-six feature-length productions which would call for some 12,000,000 linear feet of negative to be sensitized, photographed and developed during that year in the Hollywood plant, and a print capacity of approximately 60,000,000 feet. During this boom period of 1929 and 1930, more work was undertaken than could be handled satisfactorily. The producers pressed us to the degree that cameras operated day and night. Laboratory crews worked three eight-hour shifts. Hundreds of new men were hastily trained to do work which properly required years of training. Many pictures were made which I counseled against, and all in the face of the fact that to book a picture in our crowded schedules called for a deposit of $25,000. At one time we had $1,600,000 of such cash payments.
Among the features photographed and released during this period were:
Bride of the Regiment, Vivienne Segal (First National)
Bright Lights, Dorothy Mackail (First National)
Doctor X, Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray (Warner Bros.)
Fanny Foley Herself, Edna May Oliver (RKO)
Fifty Million Frenchmen, all-star cast (Warner Bros.)
Follow Thru, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Nancy Carroll (Paramount)
Gold Diggers of Broadway, all-star cast (Warner Bros.)
Golden Dawn (Warner Bros.)
Hold Everything, Winnie Lightner, Georges Carpentier, and Joe E. Brown (Warner Bros.)
King of Jazz, Paul Whiteman (Universal)
Kiss Me Again (First National)
Life of the Party (Warner Bros.)
Mamba (Tiffany Productions)
Manhattan Parade (Warner Bros.)
On with the Show, all-star cast (Warner Bros.)
Show of Shows (Warner Bros.)
Song of the West, John Boles and Vivienne Segal (Warner Bros.)
Song of the Flame, Bernice Clair and Alexander Gray (First National)
Sweet Kitty Bellairs, Claudia Dell and Perry Askam (Warner Bros.)
The Rogue Song, Lawrence Tibbett and Catherine Dale Owen (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Sally, Marilyn Miller (First National)
The Toast of the Legion, Bernice Clair, Walter Pidgeon, and Edward Everett Horton (First National)
The Vagabond King, Dennis King, Jeanette MacDonald (Paramount)
Under a Texas Moon, Frank Fay, Noah Beery, Myrna Loy, and Armida (Warner Bros.)
Viennese Nights, all-star cast (Warner Bros.)
Wax Museum, Lionel Atwill (Warner Bros.)
Woman Hungry, Sydney Blackmer and Lila Lee (First National)
Whoopee, Eddie Cantor (Samuel Goldwyn and Florenz Ziegfeld).
In Warner’s Wax Museum and Goldwyn’s Whoopee the Technicolor two-component process may have reached the ultimate that is possible with two components.
By reason of the fact in Technicolor of complete separation of the sound-track technic from the picture technic, the necessity (as in black-and-white procedure) of compromise between the sound and picture quality is avoided and relatively better sound-track should result. The first to take advantage of this was Ted Reed who was in charge of Mr. Goldwyn’s sound department during the production of Whoopee. When that picture was shown in Hollywood the sound quality elicited much favorable comment and discussion among producers and technicians.
My greatest anxiety at the time was that there might be thrust upon the public productions which would be very crude in color composition and unfaithful in color reproduction. Our own color control department was doing everything possible to consult with and advise directors, authors, art directors, wardrobe heads, paint departments, and others in the studio, and this department was being expanded as fast as practicable. But there was more involved than questions of composition and design. There were the limitations of the process.
As early as May 29, 1929, I reported to our directors: “The fact that we have signed this large volume of business on the basis of our present two-color process has not altered, in my opinion, the fact that the quality of this two-color output is not sufficiently good to meet with universal approval, and hence cannot be regarded as ultimate. I feel confident that the short-comings of our two-color process will be aided by the fact that they are combined with voice, and particularly by the fact that the work includes so many girl and music type productions like Sally with Marilyn Miller, and Paris with Irene Bordoni. Also this combination will offer a very considerable novelty angle for a time which is always important in the amusement world. Gradually, however, I believe the public will come to realize that these two-color pictures do not represent an ultimate natural color process. Consequently I feel urgently that our drive to put our process on a three-color basis as soon as possible should not in the least be abated because of our success in getting business on the two-color basis. This three-color work is moving ahead and involves a very considerable research department in Hollywood under the direction of Mr. J. A. Ball.”
This premature rush to color was doomed to failure if for no other reason because the Technicolor process was then a two-color process. In the last analysis we are creating and selling entertainment. The play is the thing. You cannot make a poor story good by sound, by color, or by any other device or embellishment. But you can make a good story better. Broadway has a terrible struggle each season to find good stories or plays for a dozen successes. Hollywood is trying to find over five hundred. They don’t exist. The industry needs all the help it can get, all the showmanship it can summon—it needed sound; it needs color.
But color must be good enough and cheap enough. The old two-component Technicolor was neither—hence it failed, but it was a necessary step to present-day Technicolor.
During the rush to color, Technicolor had not only its own shortcomings to contend with, but also a surfeit of poor stories that were to be saved by color, and a monotony of musicals more or less on the same formula. An injustice was no doubt done Technicolor by causing it thus to be identified so largely with musical and period productions. I counseled at the time that producers were no doubt losing an opportunity in not taking advantage of the fact that color can be used to intensify dramatic effect and bring out the best points of personalities, advantages which have been later used with striking effectiveness.
During the years 1929 and 1930 Technicolor appropriated over $3,000,000 for plants, equipment, and research work, which increased its plant capacity from one million to six million feet of two-component prints a month. At the same time that it had been building those plants and training personnel to operate them, it had been filling its orders. Such conditions were not conducive to the highest quality product, even if the orders had been normal. The fact that this rush was largely forced upon Technicolor by the producers wouldn’t help in the slightest degree with the exhibitor or the audience, even if they knew of it. And executives who were glad to try to work it out with us gradually over a period of time, were suddenly confronted with the necessity for drastic curtailment of their own budgets because of a sharp drop in motion picture theater attendance. At the peak of the rush Technicolor had twelve hundred men employed with a payroll of approximately $250,000 per month, whereas by the middle of 1931 these had dropped to two hundred thirty men and approximately $70,000. In the middle of 1931 picture production in Hollywood was at an extremely low ebb and the last week in July is said to have been the worst week for theater receipts in fifteen years.
During 1931 the base price of Technicolor prints was reduced from 8 3/4 to 7 cents per foot.”
(Kalmus, Herbert T. (1938): Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 31,6, 1938, pp. 564–585, on pp. 571–577.)
“The third fundamental change in the Technicolor process was the abandoning of the cemented-together two-color subtractive print system and the introduction of true imbibition color prints on single-coated positive film. For this process the first step was the preparation of a relief image print or matrix from each of the two negative records. These matrices were prepared in the same manner as the cemented-together prints. Their difference lies in the fact that they were two separate films and that each one was coated on extra thick (7 mil) base instead of the half-thickness used in the previous process. When finished each matrix contained a gelatin relief image of one color aspect of the scene.
After development and etching to form the relief image the matrices were put on a special transfer machine where they function like a half-tone plate in lithography. The matrix printed from the red filter record negative was dyed with a cyan-blue dye and then pressed into contact with a special transfer film. While in contact the dye transferred from the matrix to the transfer film producing a positive dye image. When the transfer was complete the transfer film passed into contact with the matrix printed from the green filter record negative. The red dye from this matrix was transferred on top of the cyan-blue image produced by the other matrix. The transferred print was then washed and dried and was ready for projection.31
31 GREGORY, C, L., Motion Picture Photography, New York: Falk Publishing Co., Inc., 1927, p. 343.”
(Ryan, Roderick T. (1977): A History of Motion Picture Color Technology. London: Focal Press, p. 79.)
“While The Black Pirate was being produced, Kalmus left the firm of Kalmus, Comstock and Wescott to devote his entire energy to the Technicolor operation. He took with him Dr. Leonard Troland and Joseph Arthur Ball.14 Future developments regarding color motion pictures would be the result of the efforts of these three men. Comstock, whose initial research and inventive genius were responsible for Process Number One, remained with the engineering firm. The reasons behind the split are unknown, but as a result Technicolor lost the services of “a physicist of national standing. Dr. Comstock was one of the first men in this country to accept and to spread Einstein’s theory of relativity. His name is also associated with the World War development of devices for detecting the presence of submarines.”15
The loss of Comstock did not appreciably impede the development of Technicolor Process Number Three.
Such prints, with both color components on the same side of the film, were superior in quality and sharpness to those made by any previous process. Moreover, this system conserved the original camera negatives which were used to make only a relatively few sets of the positive gelatin matrix records. (From each set of matrices many release prints could be produced.) Improbable as the physics may sound, this Technicolor imbibition process provided the first practical means of producing high-quality color prints in quantity and at a reasonable cost.
Also during this period, Technicolor increased film speeds between two and three times that of Process Number Two. This was accomplished by hypersensitizing the panchromatic camera negative by bathing it in ammonia or some other mildly alkaline solution prior to exposure.
The corresponding reduction in lighting requirements for indoor scenes was welcomed by all performers who had been “baked” during previous productions.
By 1928 the new two-color subtractive process was ready for its first major test. Over 2.5 million dollars had already been spent by Kalmus and his associates since Technicolor had first experimented on color techniques in 1915.16 Two methods had been tried and both had failed. Now Kalmus would have to meet with his investors again and attempt to secure additional capital if the Technicolor Corporation was to survive. Meeting in New York City, Kalmus proceeded to outline his plan. The company would have to produce its own feature film utilizing the newly developed process. Kalmus was certain that the successful release of a commercial picture was the only way to convince both Hollywood executives and motion picture exhibitors of the latest system’s ability to overcome the scratching and cupping problems previously encountered. Eversley Childs was in complete agreement, stating, “If you fellows put up half, I’ll take the rest.”17 The other investors agreed, and eventually $325,000 was spent on the first Technicolor feature utilizing Process Number Three.18 Entitled The Viking, the film was also the first color production to be synchronized with music and sound effects.
Released in 1928, the picture received generally favorable reviews for its color work. The New York Times stated that
occasionally there are scenes that are like beautiful paintings, but here and there the colors, while they do not fringe or mix, are not quite true. . . , This is, however, a picture where lips are red and when the hardy Vikings shed a little blood they let the red gore be seen on their blades.19
Irving Thalberg of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the film at cost and released it throughout the country.
Its popularity, however, was hampered by two principal problems according to Kalmus:
First, it came out among the very last silent pictures in 1929 and, second, whiskers. Leif Erickson, the viking hero, true to character, had a long, curling mustache, whereas American audiences prefer their lovers smooth-shaven. At times the whole screen seemed filled with viking whiskers.20
While not a resounding success at the box office, The Viking succeeded at accomplishing its primary objectives. Exhibitors did not experience cupping problems, nor was scratching of the prints a major problem. In fact, the emulsion on the Technicolor imbibition film is harder than ordinary black and white. Thus, the colored prints proved more durable and possessed a longer life than any of the film stocks currently in use.
By early 1929 all of the major Hollywood studios had become thoroughly sound conscious, and the necessary conversions in terms of facilities and techniques were well underway. As Kalmus later stated:
This was a great help to us in introducing color. Prior to that, studio executives were loath to permit any change whatsoever in their established method of photography and production. But with the adoption of sound, many radical changes became necessary. Technicolor was always confronted with objections that photographing in color required more light, different costumes, a knowledge of color composition, additional time . . . plus the added forceful argument that it cost more money, [which] made it difficult for us to get started.21
Paramount was the first to produce a full-length feature film utilizing Process Number Three. Entitled Redskin, the picture premiered in New York City in January of 1929. The New York Times reviewer was generally impressed.
So beautiful are many of the natural color sequences . . . that the spectators were impelled to applaud some of the lovely visions that greeted the eye. . . . There is no fringing of the colors, but if one might presume to call attention to something that is at least constant, let it be said that the skies are pale green and anything with a light blue tint seems to become more green than blue. Now a pale green sky, when viewed in the “shots” in this production, are by no means an eyesore.22
Redskin was quickly followed by several effective Technicolor inserts. In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Broadway Melody, Mordaunt Hall, reviewer for the New York Times, wrote that the “dream sequence in color is effectively and amusingly pictured.”23 During the month of May both Universal’s Broadway and Warner’s The Desert Song were released, with the latter film in particular being praised for “the prismatic effects during the Technicolor stretches [which] are beautiful.”24 Although the various studios had clearly come to regard color as a viable production value, it remained for Jack Warner to take the first big step. Fresh from his history-making experiment with talking pictures, Warner was most receptive to trying another new cinematic idea. Pleased with the color reproduction achieved in The Viking, he signed a contract with Technicolor calling for a regular series of more than twenty features to be photographed using Process Number Three. The first of these to be distributed was On with the Show. Regarded as the first all-talking, all-Technicolor feature picture, On with the Show premiered at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City on May 28, 1929. Writing for the New York Times, Mordaunt Hall praised the color work while finding fault with many of the other facets of the film.
Those enterprising pioneers of the talking films, the Warner Brothers, who less than three years ago startled the world with their Vitaphone productions . . . took another forward step by launching . . . the first dialogue motion picture in natural colors. This presentation, known as On with the Show, is to be felicitated on the beauty of its pastel shades, which were obtained by the Technicolor process, but little praise can be accorded its story or to the raucous voices.
Nobody in the course of this picture speaks with anything but harsh notes, and therefore one looks upon the prismatic effects as the heroine of the production. . . . It is better to please the eye with reds, greens and other colors than to listen attentively to the squabbling of a group of players who are impersonating fourth-rate theatrical troupers.25
Despite generally unfavorable reviews, On with the Show became a box-office hit. Most industry observers credited this success to the public’s interest and excitement over the new combination of sound and color. Gold Diggers of Broadway followed, and the fortunes of the Technicolor Corporation would be radically altered as a result.
Also released-by Warner Brothers, this feature was a vast improvement over their previous efforts at producing a, large-scale musical in color. For example, Mordaunt Hall was ecstatic:
The film, coupled with the lovely pastel shades, the tuneful melodies, a sensible narration, competent acting and elaborate stage settings, resulted in an extraordinarily pleasing entertainment. It caused one to meditate in the end on the remarkable progress of the screen, for not only are the voices reproduced with rare precision, but every opportunity is taken of the Technicolor process in producing the hues and glitter of a musical comedy.26
Buoyed by favorable reviews, this “handsomely staged and gloriously colored motion picture”27 became a phenomenal box-office success. Eventually grossing $3,500,000, the film remained among the “first half-dozen of all time outstanding box-office attractions”28 five years after its initial release. The impact of its success was widespread.
And just as the Warner experiment with sound led the other producers into the noisy cinema, so On with the Show resulted in a color vogue. Producers swarmed down upon Dr. Kalmus, waving cash and demanding footage.29
In an attempt to capitalize on the phenomenal acceptance of Process Number Three, Technicolor launched a series of new services. Training was provided for producer’s, cameramen on “how to light and operate to advantage in Technicolor.”30 Furthermore, “consulting and advising in matters of color control”31 were offered. This assistance was provided under a color-control department headed by Natalie M. Kalmus. Although secretly divorced in 1921, Mrs. Kalmus remained a full-time employee of the Technicolor Corporation and continued to advise studios on the optimum use of color.32 By 1929 her input ranged “all the way from deciding the details of materials and costumes, to the broad planning and preparation of a picture by wiring a color score after the manner in which the musical score is written.”33 For another twenty years Mrs. Kalmus continued working in this important advisory capacity. In fact, “it was invariably her name . . . that appeared with the credit lines on the screen at the head of Technicolor pictures.”34 (The unusual relationship between Mrs. Kalmus and her husband is briefly chronicled in Appendix U.) Optimism abounded within the Technicolor Corporation by mid-1929. The welcomed increase in business allowed their laboratories to operate at full capacity, and the resulting efficiency enabled the company to lower its price on color prints to ten- cents a foot.35 Furthermore, the commercial triumph of On with the Show insured years of profitable operation if production capacity could keep pace with the increased demand.
In August of 1929 the capacity of the Hollywood plant was doubled, and “for the year 1930 Technicolor had closed contracts for thirty-six feature-length productions which would call for some 12,000,000 linear feet of negative to be sensitized, photographed and developed during that year . . . and a print capacity of approximately 60,000,000 [additional] feet.”36 The company’s outlook is best summarized by Jerome Beatty, Technicolor’s director of national publicity. In a letter written to Variety, Beatty predicted that “in two years, or less, black and white motion pictures will be as scarce as silent pictures are today. Practically everything will be in Technicolor.”37 An advertisement in the January 15, 1930, issue of Variety further reflects Technicolor’s enthusiasm.
More than 100 feature pictures–all or part Technicolor–will be playing in America’s motion picture theaters in 1930. A year ago the big box-office draw was SOUND.
TODAY IT IS TECHNICOLOR.38
Technicolor also pledged to spend between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in an attempt to reach the general public through the popular consumer magazines of the period.39 Designed to benefit producers on color pictures, the advertisements were run throughout 1930 without cost to the studios.
First to profit will be Paramount. The ad, scheduled to go into the February magazines, will print a black and white picture of Nancy Carroll and one in color opposite to show the difference. Top line will be, “I didn’t know she had red hair.”40
Meanwhile, a three-page advertisement in the January 11, 1930, issue of The Saturday Evening Post declared:
Technicolor is natural color– For more than thirty years the motion picture told its stories in silent grey shadows. Then came sound–a great step forward.
Now color–natural color–Technicolor! And at last the motion picture lives’.41
The advertisement proceeded to endorse several recent Technicolor features:
Sally–Marilyn Miller, lovelier than ever in Technicolor, brings all her rare charm to the screen.
No, No, Nanette–This famous musical comedy . . . in Technicolor, becomes one of the great spectacular Vitaphone offerings of the year.
General Crack–John Barrymore, one of the greatest living actors, speaks for the first time from the screen . . . in Technicolor, of course.42
In addition to The Saturday Evening Post, Technicolor’s “monster” advertising campaign included regular inserts “in the motion picture fan magazines–Photoplay, Picture Play, Motion Picture Magazine, Motion Picture Classic, Screenland, Screen Book, Screen Secrets and Film Fun–spreading the news of Technicolor pictures to a total of twenty-five million readers.”43
As the year 1930 approached, it appears as though Kalmus and his backers were joined in their optimism by all members of the industry. The 1930 Film Daily Year Book of Motion Pictures stated:
It is significant that Technicolor, foremost at present in the color field, has appropriated an extensive advertising budget covering national magazines as well as the trade and fan publications. For many months their studios have been taxed to capacity to supply the orders from various producers. . . . One thing is certain. Color is in the ascendency [sic!] as sound was last year, and 1930 will be marked with outstanding achievements in this field.44
Variety took a similar position, placing special emphasis on the ability of the color features to command higher ticket prices.
Of 15 pictures made in color, completed and waiting for release, 12 are scheduled as $2 specials . . . this meaning that . . . the industry will be putting color talkers to a real test.
With others being placed in production right along, 10 now being in work, the stride to be reached shortly will be maintained for the balance of the season and indefinitely from year to year, with season 1930-1931 in all likelihood one in which everything will be color.45
Finally, the American Society of Cinematographers noted that the year 1929
witnessed phenomenal changes and developments in the motion picture industry . . . perhaps no greater progress was made during this year than in the field of color cinematography . . . color leaped into prominence and became almost over-night one of the biggest factors in the production of motion pictures. The world became color conscious and . . . Technicolor . . . has led the color parade.46
Unfortunately, the anticipated demand was every bit as high as expected, and Technicolor was simply unable to meet the requirements placed upon the company by Hollywood producers. In an effort to discourage additional business, Kalmus instituted a mandatory cash deposit of $25,000 per picture as a prerequisite to booking a film on the already overcrowded laboratory schedule.47 The failure of this plan is indicated by the fact that at one time sixty-four separate film projects had all made the necessary cash payments.48 Initially the limited number of “swiss-clock” Technicolor cameras available for filming had been responsible for the firm’s inability to meet demand. As production of the special cameras used in Process Number Three increased to one unit per week, most delays were attributed to insufficient laboratory capacity.49 Part of this problem can be traced to the divergent number of sound systems still in use, each requiring their own special prints.
Paramount, M-G-M and Universal are making three prints of the color product–one on the film, a second on the disk and a third silent. Radio and Tiffany, using RCA Photophone system, are sticking strictly to two, while Warners, using Vitaphone, is doing the same.50
In fact, all of the larger studios had contracted with Technicolor except two–Pathé continued to use exclusively its own process, Pathé-Color, until later, and Fox chose to sign instead with Eastman Kodak for its newly developed Kodachrome process.51 In an attempt to increase production, hundreds of new technicians were hastily hired and laboratory crews began to work three eight-hour shifts daily. Furthermore, a substantial increase in overall production capability was announced by Kalmus with an expected completion date of March 1, 1931.
By enlarging the capacity of the Boston lab 12 times, and the provision of a second Hollywood plant to turn out 47,000 feet a day, Tech figures its capacity around March 1 will be at least 100,000,000 feet annually. This compares with 12,000,000 capacity at the end of 19 29, and over a period of 15 months represents an increase of 700$ in printing production.52
Impressive as the expansion plan appears, it remained inadequate to meet the output of the growing number of cameras placed in service. (The total reached sixty by August 1, 1930.53) The net result of this insufficient laboratory capability was first reported by Variety in its February 5, 1930, issue:
. . . playdates on a number of pictures have been held up recently because of the inability to get sufficient prints, producers having to wait on bookings until Technicolor labs could turn out enough prints from original negatives.54
The severity of this problem is further exemplified by a Variety story appearing in the April 16, 1930, issue.
Under the headline of “Color Fever Cools Off–Release Delays Irk Producers,” the article related the following experience:
The most glaring example of’ delay in color product is a film which is just now about to be released. The picture was completely cut, edited, and ready for release last August as far as the studio was concerned. The seven-month delay has been spent waiting for sufficient prints to come back for general distribution. And the business is moving too fast for any “lot” to mark time for 28 weeks while a finished feature is being processed.
Point is that some other studio with a similar story beat the color film to screens by doing it in black and white–and that’s a burn-up for the studio boys addicted to color.
. . . Film execs state they appreciate the national ad campaigns by Tech, but point out the delays are causing them to lose the advantages of the publicity.
. . . Studio heads figure possible delays due to color is one worry they shouldn’t have to shoulder.55
In an attempt to appease angered producers, Technicolor lowered its price on release prints from ten cents per foot to .0885 for film with an optical sound track.56 Variety noted that “with every major studio tied up on contracts for the next two years at the old price, Technicolor will turn back to the producers, through the medium of credits, more than $1,500,000.”57
The price reduction, however, was not adequate compensation for the intolerable delay problems being experienced by the Hollywood producers. Several resorted to building their own color laboratories.
With one studio putting in machinery for its own color laboratory, and with several other major studios figuring on following suit, indications are that the major companies intend to control their own color output without resorting to outside labs.58
(A brief review of these studio efforts and the alternative systems proposed during 1930 can be found in Appendix V).
According to Kalmus, Technicolor appropriated over $3 million for plants, equipment and research work during the years 1929 and 1930.59
At the same time it had been building those plants and training personnel to operate them, it had been filling its orders. Such conditions were not conducive to the highest quality product . . . [and] the fact that this rush was largely forced upon Technicolor by the producers wouldn’t help in the slightest degree with the exhibitor or the audience, even if they knew of it.60
Thus, quality control was difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. The hurried, make-shift expansion efforts taking place are best revealed by an article in Fortune magazine.
At one time the extremely delicate process of printing film was being carried on in a building of which one wall had been torn away to make room for enlarging the structure. A job that requires virtually laboratory conditions was being performed amid the debris of falling bricks and the roar of the riveter’s gun.61
While not all of Technicolor’s work was adversely affected, it appears as though too many subpar prints reached the nation’s screens. (See Appendix W for a cross-section of reviewer comments for this expansion period.) Therefore, intolerable delays and poor workmanship on numerous films combined to give Technicolor two important strikes against the continued use of Process Number Three (see Appendix X).
Strike three came in the form of a continuing nationwide depression. Kalmus found that motion picture executives “were suddenly confronted with the necessity for drastic curtailment of their own budgets because of a sharp drop in motion picture theater attendance.”62 The 1951 Film Daily Yearbook of Motion Pictures summarized the situation as follows:
During 1931, the number of features produced in color took a decided drop. Only three features, two by Radio Pictures and one by Warner Bros, were made with color [vs. 58 features–24 being all-color– during the one-year period of May 1929-May 1930].63
. . . Increased cost of production without sufficient increase in gross sales was said to be the greatest drawback. Indications point to the belief that only in prosperous times and under flourishing conditions will there be a recurrence of the 1929 boom in color films.64
Technicolor was hit hard. During the peak of the color boom the company employed 1,200 men with a payroll of approximately $250,000 per month. By mid-1931, employment was down to 230 men, with the approximate monthly payroll reaching only $70,000.65 To make matters worse, previously signed contracts were cancelled by the studios necessitating the refunding of previously received cash deposits. The enlarged Technicolor facilities almost became idle, as company sales in 1932 fell to a mere $500,000–one-tenth of the volume achieved in 1929.66
14 “What? Color in the Movies’ Again?” Fortune 10 (October 1934 ): 94.
l6 Kalmus, p. 571.
17 Frank J. Taylor, “Mr. Technicolor,” The Saturday Evening Post 222 (October 22, 1949): 132.
18 Kalmus, p. 573.
19 New York Times, November 29, 1928, p. 32
20 Kalmus, p. 573.
22 New York Times, January 28, 1929, p. 20.
23 New York Times, February 9, 1929, p. 15.
24 New York Times, May 2, 1929, p. 20
25 New York Times, May 29, 1929, p. 28.
26 New York Times, August 31, 1929, p . 13.
28 “What? Color in the Movies Again?” p. 95
30 Kalmus, p. 574.
32 Taylor, “Mr. Technicolor,” p. 26.
33 Kalmus, p. 574.
34 Taylor, “Mr. Technicolor,” p. 27.
35 Variety, April 9, 1930, p. 18.
36 Kalmus, p. 574.
37 Variety, December 18, 1929, p. 9.
38 Variety, January 15, 1930, p. 15.
39 Variety, November 13, 1929, p. 7.
41 “Technicolor Is Natural Color,” (Adv.) in The Saturday Evening Post 202 (January 11, 1930): 60-62.
43 The 1930 Film Daily Year Book of Motion Pictures (New York: John W. Alicoate, 1930), p. 16.
44 Ibid., p. M.
45 Variety, October 30, 1929, p. 7.
46 Hal Hall and William Stull, “Motion Pictures in Natural Colors,” in Cinematographic Annual–1950, The American Society of Cinematographers (Hollywood: The Hartwell Publishing Corp., 1930), p. 273.
47 Kalmus, p. 575.
49 Variety, December 4, 1929, p. 6.
51 Variety, January 1, 1930, p. 11.
52 Variety, February 5, 1930, p. 11.
55 Variety, April 16, 1930, p. 9.
S6 Variety, April 9, 1930, p. 18.
58 Variety, March 26, 1930, p. 9.
59 Kalmus, p. 577.
6l “What? Color in the Movies Again?” p. 95.
62 Kalmus, p. 577.
63 Variety, May 28, 1930, p. 4.
64 The 1951 Film Daily Year Book of Motion Pictures (New York: John W. Alicoate, 1931), p. 883.
65 Kalmus, p. 577.
66 “What? Color in the Movies Again?” p. 96.”
(Nowotny, Robert A. (1983): The Way of all Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929. New York: Garland Pub, on pp. 225–243.)
“TECHNICOLOR PROCESS NUMBER THREE: TWO STRIP DYE TRANSFER
A crucial step in the Technicolor process was taken in 1928 with the introduction of dye transfer printing, referred to by the company as Technicolor Process Number Three. The two strip negatives were exposed in the same fashion as in the cement positive method, with the red record appearing normally and the green record flipped upside down beneath it on the black and white negative.
The major change was in the method used to make the release prints. Rather than manufacturing a thin dyed matrix and cementing it together for direct screening, the company coated a normal thickness 35mm matrix with the appropriate dye and transferred it onto a special blank stock. The matrix and blank would come into direct contact in a machine that used pressurized rollers to emboss the dyes into blank. The process was also referred to as imbibition printing (fig. 6). With modifications (the addition of the third color in 1934), this process of imbibing dyes from a matrix onto blank stock became the standard of Technicolor release print manufacture through 1974.
Another breakthrough was the addition of a soundtrack to accompany the two strip Technicolor images. […]
Following the release of The Jazz Singer, the competing studios scrambled to create their own synchronized sound systems. The most notable ones were Western Electric’s Movietone and RCA’s Photophone methods. Both processes contained photographed optical soundtracks that were printed onto the left side of the frame, resulting in an unacceptably elongated image when the film was projected.
Labs later modified the release copies by surrounding the image with a 1.33 x 1 black border to compensate for the track area. A sound reader was bolted to the bottom of the silent projectors. A low intensity optical bulb behind a tiny lens focused the light beam and “read” the optical soundtracks, converting the photographed sound waves into electrical impulses that were amplified through the same horn-type speakers used for Vitaphone.
The difference between the Movietone optical track (used by Fox, MGM and Paramount) and the Photophone optical track (used by RKO, Tiffany and Pathé) was as follows: The Movietone system used a variable density track, which had to be processed precisely. If the soundtrack was printed too lightly or darkly, it sounded muffled and distorted. The Photophone system used a variable area track, which did not have as wide a range as the density track, since the size was limited by the portion of the frame allotted for the soundtrack. However, the processing was not as critical as it was with the density track. If the area track was a little off in terms of labwork, the sound would still be acceptable. Both kinds of optical tracks were used by the industry until the late 1950s, when the variable density track was phased out.
The first dye transfer feature to use a Movietone optical track was The Viking in 1928. The mix was limited to sound effects and music. In 1929, 14 features with Technicolor sequences used the Movietone track, six features were released with the Photophone track and only four used the Vitaphone method. The latter would have been printed full frame without an optical track. Since the new matrix and blank stock were so vital to understanding the dye transfer process, each element will be examined in greater detail.
As previously mentioned, the matrix used in the dye transfer process was a special black and white print stock that contained both silver halides and gelatin. In the printer, light was exposed through the emulsion (the side of the film that contains an image) of the camera negative onto the base (the side of the film that is clear and has no image) of the matrix stock. The matrix was then processed like a conventional black and white print with the following modifications: The developing solution contained agents to develop the silver halides into a latent image as well as a chemical called pyrogallol. Pyrogallol hardened the gelatin in the same areas of the silver latent image. A warm water jet removed the residue gelatin not used in replicating the silver densities. The end result was a black and white positive print of one color that had a gelatin relief image. A matrix could be summarized as a “rubber stamp” impression of one color on film similar to the printing plates used in lithography.
To adjust the contrast in each matrix after exposure in the printer, the undeveloped matrix would be “flashed” (exposed to light again in a special machine) prior to development. After a series of tests was done, a “flash card” for the matrix (which indicated the proper voltage on the flasher lamp) was saved so additional matrices could be manufactured at the desired exposure over and over again, depending on the customer order. After flashing the matrix, it went into the developer as described above.
Depending on the voltage of the flash, the contrast (lightness or darkness of the final release print) could be altered to the desired effect. For example, if a dark night scene was required, the matrix would be underexposed. At first, the manufacture of matrices was pure guesswork. Eventually, during the three strip years, it became a science, and the technicians were able to generate a usable set in only two or three tries. In the twenties, it took many more attempts before an acceptable set of matrices was manufactured for dye transfer release printing.
Another function of the matrix flashing was to alleviate apparent grain. Generally speaking, the darker the contrast, the less apparent grain is to the audience and the greater the appearance of sharpness. Dye transfer prints were usually made with above average contrast, which gave them less apparent grain than other color processes. The rich contrast often made the dyes stand out in relief and generated a three dimensional illusion.
The blank stock the dyes were transferred onto was a black and white positive film that contained mordant, a chemical with an affinity for dye. It literally locked the dyes into the emulsion of the film as they were transferred. Without mordant, the dyes would have smeared all over the release print or rubbed off. Over the years, different methods were used, including adding mordant to the film after soundtrack development. For most releases, mordant was contained in the emulsion of the blank.
In the two strip dye transfer technique, there were two methods of imbibing the dyes. For Vitaphone films (which contained no optical soundtrack), the blank was washed clean of all silver and transferred onto the clear emulsion. For Movietone and Photophone features, the blank first had to go through a printer, where the silver optical soundtrack was exposed and developed prior to the transfer of the dyes. In some cases, a latent halftone key image of the black-and- white green record was exposed prior to development, another method of altering the shadow detail and contrast. Since most three strip productions contained a latent black and white key image, this process will be covered in greater detail in the next chapter.
To summarize the dye transfer process: Blank film would first have a silver soundtrack exposed, then a black and white halftone key image (in some cases) and 1.33 x 1 framelines exposed prior to development. After processing, the blank (which now contained a 1.33 x 1 mask and soundtrack) would travel on rollers to the imbibition machines. The blank film would come into contact with the matrix, which had previously been coated with dye. The dye transfer machine contained a pin belt, which held the matrix and blank in place as they came into contact. The pin belt had two sets of registration pins, one normal size and the other reduced size to compensate for shrinkage. The result was a two strip dye transfer release print with a silver black-and-white optical soundtrack. (The silver soundtrack, or “gray track,” was one easy method of identifying both two and three strip Technicolor prints.)
TWO STRIP TECHNICOLOR IN THE THIRTIES
From 1930 through 1934, the two strip process continued to be used primarily for selected scenes and only occasionally for entire features. Films like Hell’s Angels, Mammy and Paramount on Parade all had two-color sequences. Among the notable full length all color films were Universals King of Jazz and MGM’s The Rogue Song, which costarred Laurel and Hardy in their only Technicolor production (only one sequence from this film has survived).
The number of productions that used the process declined by 1933 with the production of only two notable all color features, Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum. It was clear that interest was waning in the limited range of colors which was considered by most critics to be a gimmick rather than an artistic choice. The other problem facing Technicolor was mediocre quality control in the company’s limited space. Many two strip dye transfer prints had apparent grain caused by improperly exposed matrices and reels with an inconsistent color balance. It was clear Kalmus had to add the third color and expand his operation or go out of business.”
(Haines, Richard W. (1993): Technicolor Movies. The History of Dye Transfer Printing. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland, on pp. 8–13)
“Because of high print cost and the projection problems experienced with Wanderer of the Wasteland and The Black Pirate, Technicolor decided in ’26 its best immediate market was the two-reel short, and created two subsidiaries to make some. Written and directed by Arthur Maude, the first block was “inspired” by paintings – Blue Boy, The Vision, Mona Lisa, etc. (all in ’26). These were followed by historical subjects: Buffalo Bill’s Last Fight (’27), Cleopatra (’28), The Virgin Queen (’28), etc. The average negative cost was $20,000. These shorts helped Technicolor to make the all-important transition from cemented-prints to the imbibition dye-transfer method.
The shorts also prompted Nicholas Schenck to advise Technicolor to try a feature-length film, which, he promised, MGM would distribute. So Kalmus hired Jack Cunningham, who had adapted The Covered Wagon (’23), The Black Pirate and some of the “Great Events” shorts, to re-shape some material about the discovery of America by Leif Ericsson.
The result was The Viking (’28), which cost $325,000, starred Pauline Starke, Donald Crisp and Le Roy Mason, was directed by Roy William Neill, and was the first Technicolor film that had synchronized music and sound effects. Irving Thalberg, a believer in Technicolor, bought it for MGM at cost. Although the color, for its time, was good, the picture itself was an amateurish attempt to tell four stories simultaneously.
In ’28 Jack L. Warner, elated by his success with sound, decided to take up color, and Warners contracted with Technicolor for more than twenty features. Color inserts only were used in The Desert Song (’29), but Warners then made the first all-color talking feature – On with the Show (’29). It was a backstage musical featuring Betty Compson, Louise Fazenda and Arthur Lake. Alan Crosland directed.
On with the Show started the “big” color vogue. It was followed by Gold Diggers of Broadway (’29), an even greater hit, which eventually grossed $3,500,000, a remarkable take at that time. Then in ’29 and ’30 Warner Bros.-First National released the following 100% Technicolor pictures: Bride of the Regiment, Bright Lights, The Show of Shows, Fifty Million Frenchmen, Golden Dawn, Hold Everything, Kiss Me Again, The Life of the Party, Song of the West, Song of the Flame, Sweet Kitty Bellairs, Sally, Under a Texas Moon, Viennese Nights, and Woman Hungry. Paramount released Follow Thru, and The Vagabond King. MGM: The Rogue Song. Universal: The King of Jazz. RKO waited until ’31 to do Fanny Foley Herself and The Runaround.
In addition, color inserts were also made for The Dance of Life (’29), Mammy (’30), Hell’s Angels (’30), and many other black-&-white pictures.
During this boom Technicolor took on more work than it could handle satisfactorily, and producers closed in on Kalmus demanding service. Hundreds of new technicians were hastily hired and Technicolor cameras and laboratory facilities were operated day and night. Defects began to appear in the prints; the bad taste of some producers was emphasized by color; many art directors, cinematographers and make-up men were unfamiliar with color and didn’t have time to learn.
The inevitable result was public disenchantment. And the producers, hit by the Depression, cancelled contracts and demanded the return of money they had advanced. Technicolor had employed 1200 people before the bubble burst. By the middle of ’31 it had 230 and its business had dwindled to a few shorts and like occasional features Dr. X (’32) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (’33).
The last named film, incidentally, is, with Goldwyn’s Whoopee, the best example of Technicolor’s two-color dye-transfer process. The quality of its color rendition and image sharpness, and its total absence of grain, are still remarkable. The worst example of the process was Tiffany’s Mamba (’29).
The first “big” rush to color was also doomed to failure and premature for a fundamental reason. Technicolor was still a two-color process, and the absence of the third primary color, blue, excluded the possibility of a true representation of color. Said Tony Gaudio, who photographed some of Warner’s 1929-30 output: “Certain colors had to be avoided, since the process couldn’t reproduce them; others had to be achieved by showing the camera an entirely different tone. Make-up was extremely unnatural. But the biggest problem was lighting – an unbelievable amount of light was demanded.”
(Behlmer, Rudy (1964): Technicolor. In: Films in Review, 15,6, pp. 333–351, on pp. 342–343.)
“While Technicolor II marked a significant achievement, it was not free of problems due to the nature of the cemented positive. Irregularities associated with cupping (bending and curving of the film which interfered with proper focusing) and emulsion scratching marred the process and motivated Technicolor to introduce a third core technology, the imbibition process (covered in a notebook of the same name). Imbibition (IB), or dye transfer, aimed to unite two colour records on a single layer of emulsion in order to overcome the problems of the cemented positives. In this system, the matrices did not form the projection positive itself; instead, the gelatine relief images would be soaked in a dye solution and used (as in a printing process) to transfer the dye onto another piece of film. This ‘blank’ film served merely as a recipient of the dyes and provided a single colour projection print with one emulsion, establishing the process known as Technicolor III.
With the three basic technologies (beam splitter, matrix stock, and dye transfer) thus introduced, one by one, in the course of Technicolor I–III, the company was in a position to improve the beam splitter and adapt the process towards a three-colour system, Technicolor IV. Meanwhile, sound was about to revolutionize film technology and needed to be considered within the system. The years leading up to this development and its eventual realization are covered in a notebook entitled ‘Three-color, Sound Track / Misc.’.
Due to their especially concise and organized content, the three notebooks ‘Subtractive’, ‘Imbibition Process’ and ‘Three-color, Sound Track / Misc.’, essentially corresponding to the Technicolor systems II, III, and IV, were selected for detailed study in order to demonstrate how they document the history of the processes.”
(Ruedel, Ulrich (2009): The Technicolor Notebooks at the George Eastman House. In: Film History, Volume 21, Number 1, 2009, pp. 47-60, on pp. 49-50)
Two-colour additive process/two-colour subtractive process/three-colour subtractive process
Founded in the USA as the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation in 1915 by Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock and W. Burton Westcott, in the 1930s Technicolor swept aside all the competition to become the most commercially successful colour film company and process. Most often the name is associated with three-strip Technicolor – used for such key 1930s colour films as Becky Sharp (1935), Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939) – which is officially known as Technicolor Process No. 4. The name gives testament to the fact that the rapid success of Technicolor was in fact the result of years of painstaking trial and error in the area of research, coupled with an aggressive campaign of commercial exploitation.
The first Technicolor process, unveiled in 1917, was an additive system which used a beam splitter in the camera to record two frames simultaneously through red and green filters. The two images were registered successively on the negative and processed into a positive. In projection the successive images were projected through the corresponding filters and through a prism which could be adjusted to bring the successive frames into precise register.
Technicolor’s two-colour subtractive process was actually two processes, the second one being a refinement of the first, which was developed in 1922. Technicolor’s first subtractive process – known as Technicolor Process No. 2 – used a beam splitter to create two separate colour record negatives, as the additive system had done, but with significant variations. The camera exposed the red and green images simultaneously through filters, but a new prism was included that exposed the green record upside down.
From the two negatives two dyed positive relief images were made using special stock known as the matrix (see Dye transfer/Dye imbibition). The two relief images were cemented back to back and then dyed red-orange on the green side and green on the red side, making a subtractive print that was the normal thickness and could be used on any conventional projector. The system was successful but had problems, notably that in time one of the two cemented images would frequently break away from the other, causing the print to go out of focus.
In 1928 the processing was improved by virtue of a dye-transfer process, which became known as Technicolor Process No. 3. The two relief images were produced as they had been in Process No. 2 and two matrices were created but instead of being cemented together they remained separate. Still in relief, and dyed with the correct colours, the matrices were then pressed using pressured rollers against a blank film coated with gelatine to which the dyed images were transferred by embossing the relief images onto the blank film with the dye, the dyes being locked by the use of a mordant. By this method multiple layers could be registered on a single film strip.
Even as Process No. 3 was being rolled out commercially, Kalmus continued his research to figure out a way to use three colours, thus making possible the rendering of the full colour spectrum. The dye-transfer process had effectively solved one of the problems of three-colour cinematography, which was that even by using double-sided film there was still the challenge of how to register the third colour on the print. Imbibition allowed two or more colour images to be transferred via the matrices onto the print, provided that the images were in precise register. Kalmus therefore focused on producing a working three-colour camera. Initial experiments with a successive-frame system were abandoned in favour of a camera which used a beam splitter to split the light from the source through filters, the green record passing straight through a green filter onto a film strip, while the red and blue records were captured on a bipack film through a magenta filter. The camera therefore produced three negatives, one red, one blue, one green. As with the two-colour process, gelatine relief matrices were made which were then dyed complementary subtractive colours and pressed one after the other against a blank film which absorbed the dye.
The success of Technicolor has as much to do with the way in which Kalmus ran the business as the quality of the process itself. As stated, Technicolor Process No. 2 suffered from a number of problems – not only the cement joining the two thin emulsions coming apart, but also cupping, where the heat from repeated projections would cause one emulsion to shrink slightly and throw the images out of register. While not sharing the same problems in projection, three-strip Technicolor was expensive and involved the use of a large, cumbersome camera, making location shooting difficult. Similar issues had led to the demise of other processes, but despite the fact that for years the company lost money, Kalmus managed to keep finding investors to back his work and film directors willing to experiment. From the first feature using the original two-colour additive system – The Gulf Between (1917) – Technicolor in all its incarnations appeared in some of the biggest Hollywood films of the day, albeit often only in short sequences. Thus, after being used for the first time to make The Toll of the Sea (1922), the cemented positive process was used for significant scenes in films including The Ten Commandments (1923), The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Ben Hur (1926). Also in 1926 the commercial exploitation of Technicolor received a boost when Douglas Fairbanks decided to make The Black Pirate entirely in Technicolor, but the success of the film only proved how unworkable the cemented positive system was as Technicolor struggled to cope with the large number of prints required and the increased number of problems which consequentially arose. Technicolor was making losses and enjoying only very moderate success, yet Kalmus continued to develop his ideas even after the conversion to sound was followed by the Great Depression, which saw a shift in aesthetics in Hollywood towards black and white and away from colour.
Three-strip Technicolor led to the company becoming the industry leader. In 1932 Kalmus approached Walt Disney, who used three-strip Technicolor for a number of his Silly Symphony shorts. Shortly afterwards, in 1934, the first live-action Technicolor short was released, La Cucaracha, followed by the first feature film, Becky Sharp (1935). It was the global success of this film which propelled three-strip Technicolor forward, and it was the impact of Becky Sharp in the UK, as well as the quality of the image, which first attracted Alexander Korda to the process and encouraged him to abandon his plans to use Hillman colour, thus bringing the Technicolor brand to the UK. The first British film made using the process was Wings of the Morning (1937), and Technicolor would ultimately be used for some of the most respected British films of the 1940s, including Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).
Basten, Fred E., Glorious Technicolor: The Movies Magic Rainbow (New Jersey: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1980).
Coe, Brian, The History of Movie Photography (London: Ash & Grant, 1981), pp. 132-5.
Cornwell-Clyne, Adrian, Colour Cinematography (London: Chapman & Hall, 3rd edn, 1951), pp. 451-507.
Haines, Richard W., Technicolor Movies; The History of Dye Transfer Printing (London: McFarland and Co., 1993).
Higgins, Scott, Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow; Colour Design in the 1930s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007).
Huntley, John, British Technicolor Films (London: Skelton Robinson, 1949).”
(Brown, Simon (2012): Technical Appendix. In: Sarah Street: Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 259-287, on pp. 284-286.)
“Painting the Shadows
The romantic story of a brilliant scientist, his Titian-haired wife, and the rise of Technicolored pictures
By George Gordon
NEARLY ten years ago, after appalling labors in his laboratory, a learned gentleman named Dr. Herbert T. Kalmus stood his beautiful red-haired wife in a brightly lighted room and turned a new kind of movie camera on her.
Laboriously and with great care, the resulting film was developed.
And on the screen the beautiful Titian hair of Mrs. Natalie M. Kalmus showed beautifully Titian!
And thus, with a mop of pretty red hair, began the romantic story of the Technicolor process of photographing motion pictures in natural color – a tale as thrilling as any that could be conjured up by the imagination of an inspired fictioneer.
The coming of talking pictures gave Technicolor its big push. Today it works miracles!
Did you know that by proper costuming and lighting the Technicolor camera can take off or put on twenty pounds in the case of any player it chooses? Well, it can, and you can page Clara Bow or Molly O’Day! What price grapefruit now?
For instance: It is a well known scientific fact, proven by the Einstein and other theories, that Russians like their chorus ladies plump. So when Director Alan Crosland, making Song of the Flame, was faced with a whole chorus of slim American girls supposed to be Russian ladies, he was horrified, and near a stroke. But the witchery of Technicolor, by the proper use of color schemes, put no less than twenty pounds on each of these slender maidens, and in the picture they look as plump and buxom as any Muscovite could wish.
THE use of color has put rouge back in the dressing rooms of the studios. Black and white pictures called for flat and uninteresting makeup, but the rouge pot is called into play again. Facial makeup photographs, in Technicolor, just as the eye sees it – so a player can almost walk from the street to the color picture stage and pass inspection by the head man of the makeup department.
This leads to droll happenings around the stages.
In one all-Technicolor subject a row of bronze statues lined the background of a scene. When the rushes hit the screen the figures were nothing but a row of smudges. They just didn’t take.
But the color heroes were not daunted. They grabbed their trusty boxes and rushed to the rescue. A dab of rouge on the bronze cheeks, a dab of makeup here and there, and the next time the statues stood out nobly, in full view.
Had you any idea that a pair of light blue eyes almost automatically barred their possessor form the black and white screen? They did, and many a blonde and blue-eyed Ziegfeld doll baby fell before the old time camera because of the pale orbs so fetching off screen.
Pale blue eyes are the Technicolor camera’s particular dish, and if there’s one thing it likes more than another it’s a dazzling blonde. We refer you to Marilyn Miller in Sally.
Dennis King, star of stage operetta, pouted at the thought of Technicolor when he went to Paramount to make The Vagabond King. They coaxed him into making a test. When he saw the first rushes – which showed his blond coloring and blue eyes to perfection – he went overboard for the color idea with a splash, and is now happiest before the new camera.
THE Technicolor camera plays weird tricks. Frank Fay has fiery red hair. It has a tendency to fly in the breeze, so somebody suggested he use a little brilliantine to make it lie down. He did and when the Technicolor rushes were run his hair was a brilliant green.
Ten years ago Dr. Kalmus made his first Technicolor camera. It took over a year and cost $140,000. Today the learned doctor is president of a S35,000,000 corporation that makes the cameras, rents them out, furnishes technical experts and develops the colored film – the slowest and trickiest process in the whole parade from raw stock to the picture on the screen.
But the doctor and his work are only half the glamorous story. His devoted and handsome wife, the aforesaid Natalie M., is one of the most romantic figures of the day.
And it is a far cry from the day she was her husband’s first model to the early months of 1930. Now she is expert supreme on all technical questions of light and color in the astonishingly complex and varied art of photographing in color.
Natalie M. Kalmus works almost with ferocity. Sixteen hours a day is nothing to this amazing woman.
She has developed the art of using color to express varieties of dramatic feeling to the highest point in its history. She and the directors of various films labor together to dress their players in the most dramatic colors, in accordance with the mood of the scene played.
She knows the clash of color to match the conflict of minds and bodies. Watch the duel scene between Dennis King and Warner Oland in The Vagabond King. Both wear red –but dramatically different reds. And the costumes fight like the swordsmen, doubling the drama and stepping the scene into high.
THE growth of the Technicolor process, as demand for it increases, is one of the most dramatic in filmland’s history.
A year ago, there were just exactly eight Technicolor cameras in the world, and they were all in Hollywood.
Last summer First National had Sally and Paris in work at the same time. They had four color cameras. Warners had four. There were three more out on contract at various studios. That’s all there were on earth.
And through the blistering weeks First National’s four cameras worked day and night. Sally was shot in the daytime. At eight in the evening Paris went to work, and its labors lasted until six in the morning.
That strain is easier, now. At the moment of writing there are thirty-five of these magic boxes in existence, all in Hollywood. They are making them more rapidly all the time as their laboratories multiply.
In the earlier days developing the color films was the slowest of processes. Now the printing capacity is twelve times greater than it was fourteen months ago. Technicolor speeds ahead.
And it has to! Demands on it grow week by week. There are still many tremendous problems to be faced and whipped.
There is the one of those colors which do not yet register well.
They admit that up to now a true yellow is unobtainable. In On With the Show Warners photographed a yellow taxi, but it came out orange on the film. Only when red is added does yellow pick up, and then the result is more orange than yellow.
Purple does not photograph, and there is no such thing as a true blue. As a matter of fact, blue inclines to green.
But the eye can be tricked! A sky appears blue in contrast to green foliage, so all is pretty well.
Why, there’s even a Technicolor goose in Hollywood now!
When First National was making No, No, Nanette, they wanted a golden goose for a color scene, and a prop boy lathered a goose properly with gold paint, and the shot was made.
AFTER the ordeal the kindly director decided that it would be merciful to relieve the goose of all its earthly woes, as the paint could not be washed off. At this moment the goose laid an egg, and not a golden one either.
The director – soft-hearted chap – decided that such a willing fowl should live and spread its glory. So to this day, in a pen on the First National lot, struts the golden goose – the first goose to be turned into a proud swan by the magic of the Technicolor process!”
(Gordon, George (1930): Painting the Shadows. In: Photoplay, Vol. 37, No. 5, p. 67 and p. 84.)
“All Hollywood Has Now Gone Color-Conscious
And so will you when you read this fascinating article and analyze yourself by noting your own reactions to various colors.
By Lois Shirley
STARS no longer choose their gowns simply because the shade is becoming. They select colors to which they radiate happily.
Furthermore, the studios are now more and more careful about dressing both the women and the men in colors which encourage mental satisfaction. The designers and executives will order a blue gown which does not photograph so well as a brown one, if the blue is the choice of the star.
They know, for instance, that Joan Crawford will give a better interpretation of a part, everything else being equal, if she is gowned in blue. And even though orchid might be more advantageous from a shadow and light (photographic) standpoint, they would not consider asking Joan to act a single scene in orchid. She hates it.
This is true even of Technicolor pictures, where naturally colors are startlingly important from a photographic angle.
When Fay Wray was selecting her wardrobe for Doctor X, an all-Technicolor production, Natalie Kalmus, the color scientist for the Technicolor Company, suggested a robe of turquoise blue which was scientifically the best color. Fay looked ravishing – both to the naked eye and to the more delicate one of the color camera.
But Fay didn’t like it. She felt uncomfortable. She did not vibrate to it. She chose, instead, a dark blue robe. She couldn’t explain her reactions. She said, “I just feel better in it.”
Natalie Kalmus knew the robe would go green for the picture. She didn’t tell Fay. Although turquoise blue would be better for the shot, green would not actually damage the color scheme. But if Fay didn’t feel right, her acting might not be right. Mrs. Kalmus knew no actress could do her best work with wrong radiations emanating from the color she was wearing.
This may sound silly to you. I can assure you that there is no star in Hollywood who considers it so, today.
Have you gone to your office or into your kitchen on a bright, sunshiny day when all should have been well with the world and wondered why you felt disgruntled, unhappy, restless? You could find no reason for feeling wrong when your common sense told you you should feel right?
The next time, look down at the suit or the dress you are wearing. The color may make you appear stunning but it may also be the sole cause of your rebellion.
Sylvia Sidney, for example, with her dark, Russian beauty can select no color more appropriate for her than red. Yet, she does not wear it. She knows it means mental restlessness!
The women of the screen turn to Natalie Kalmus to help them diagnose their color vibrations.
Mrs. Kalmus told me what she has told them all: “Color is a smile or a frown. You know how you feel on a dark, dank day. Grays; purples (the purple haze); somber colors about you. That is the frown.
“And on bright days? The clear blue of the sky; the fresh green of the foliage; the flashing yellow of the sun. That is the smile.
“And men and women help themselves to frown or to smile by the radiations they encourage or discourage in the colors they select not only for their wearing apparel but for their houses – their surroundings!”
The Significance of Color
Blacks and dark browns. Definitely depressive.
Gray. The lifting of sadness. A mixture of black and white. People who wear it are often in-between people.
Red. The strongest vibration of all. A stimulant. It is sex; it is life. Many emotional people cannot wear it because it throws them into chaos. Slow, unemotional, unimaginative people seek it to arouse emotional energy.
Scarlet. The come-hither color. An exaggeration of red.
Blue. It represents peace, harmony and home and definitely refines and cools. Excellent for those working at high tension.
Green. Fresh green means life; springtime. It is both a sedative and a stimulant, depending upon the person. And it is definitely the money-getting color; the indication of the ultra-ambitious; the intellect.
Heavy, dull green is indicative of laziness and envy.
Dull greens are splendid for the nervous, dynamic character but act almost as a sleeping potion to the slow-minded.
Pink. Youthful joyousness. Almost all young people should have pink rooms for soft radiations while character is forming.
Purple. Royalty; dignity; glory. Always used in religious rites and to pay homage to royalty, church dignitaries, etc. However, it is ponderous and adds weight.
Orange. The color of physical strength. It tends to submerge all about it.
Yellow. The highest of all. The sun. Gaiety; joy; glory; power; great love. Always stimulating. Lemon yellow, however, is soothing.
Orchid. Indicative of spiritual affections and when carried to great lengths forms a barrier against love.”
(Shirley, Lois (1932): All Hollywood Has Now Gone Color-Conscious. In: Photoplay, Vol. 42, No. 3, pp. 48-49 and p. 118, on page 48.)
The Mysterious Island was M-G-M’s immediate response to the success of The Big Parade (1925) and Ben-Hur (1925). Planned as an ambitious road-show presentation from the start, the adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic 1874 novel about castaways on a South Sea island was appropriated a massive initial budget of $600,000, and was to have included the latest in special effects photography. M-G-M planned for the entire production to be in Technicolor to raise it to the next level. Visionary French filmmaker Maurice Tourneur was hired in 1926 to direct the Hollywood studio scenes and the island location photography in Hawaii, and J.E. Williamson, who had already filmed a version of Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1916, was to be in charge of underwater photography in the Bahamas. The film was to star Lionel Barrymore as Nemo, Sally O’Neil as his daughter Nita, and Conrad Nagel as Captain Harding.
Production began in July 1926, but was soon beset by problems. Director Tourneur stormed off the set after only a week. He disagreed with producer Hunt Stromberg’s restrictive demands, and went back to Europe for good. Benjamin Christensen, the Danish director of Häxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages, 1922), was his replacement, and picked up where Tourneur left off. But he proved dissatisfied, and set about redrafting the script, causing delays and requiring some roles to be recast. Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, Williamson was to film underwater shots using his patented Photosphere technique – a glass-fronted submersible chamber large enough for a camera and operator. With trained swimming doubles he was to film sunken shipwrecks, underwater skirmishes, and fights with octopi, but the island was hit by three hurricanes in the Fall of 1926, which ravaged $150,000 worth of specialist equipment and underwater sets, and further delayed progress.
After six months of filming under Christensen, only the film’s Russian prologue had been completed. Already vastly over-budget and months behind schedule, the production was shelved in early 1927, in the hope it could be salvaged later. Producer Erich Pommer and director Cecil B. DeMille were both briefly attached to revive the project, before Lucien Hubbard was assigned in 1928. Hubbard was hot from the success of producing the Academy Award-winning Wings (1927) and a series of big-budget Zane Grey Western adaptations at Paramount, including Wanderer of the Wasteland (1924) and The Vanishing American (1925).
Salvaging what had already been shot was not an easy task, as cast members previously under contract to M-G-M had since left, and in their absence large unfilmed plot holes remained. With strict budget limitations, Hubbard had to rework the existing footage into a new story incorporating the remaining cast, which could be shot entirely within the confines of the studio’s Culver City lot, alleviating the risk of further natural disasters and costly location work. Hubbard’s new story dispensed with Verne’s book altogether, and instead expanded upon the Russian prologue, adding new characters and increasing the undersea sequences and spectacle. Lionel Barrymore became Count Dakkar, his wife played by Jacqueline Gadsden in the 1926 version became his daughter Sonia, and a new romantic lead, Nikolai, played by Lloyd Hughes, was introduced.
Nearly all of J.E. Williamson’s underwater footage was abandoned, and the sea floor was elaborately reconstructed in the studio. Hubbard added the discovery of an undersea race of aquatic creatures to the story. “The big mass scenes were done on an open stage and we rounded up all the dwarves in the country, all the midgets we could get,” remarked Hubbard. “We had a special suit made for them and swung them through the air and shot it through the cheapest window glass we could find, and that gave the impression of water.” Traveling mattes, miniatures, and close-ups of marine life were all required to increase the scope and spectacle of the underwater environment. The final production, released in September 1929, was a mix of Technicolor and tinting, with some shots in the Kelley Color spotcoloring process, as well as a hodgepodge of footage shot both silent and with sound. The color was played up in the film’s advertising, which often avoided the fact that only 80 minutes of the 96-minute running time was in color, in favor of misleadingly tagging it as “100% natural color.” Reviewers were largely impressed by the dramatic use of color, remarking how it often enhanced the science-fiction nature of the story. “Instead of the landscapes and flowers and rich costumes usually emphasized in such pictures,” remarked the Washington Post, “one sees machinery and the marvels of an inventor’s workshop dramatized in color. The flashing of red, green and white signal lights and illuminated dials; the shifting play of colored liquids in complicated glass-tubed devices; the red glare of forge fires in the great workshop where submarines are secretly made; the swiftly changing highlights on polished pistons and flywheels, all combine to transform what might have been a background into a throbbing, pulsing participant in the scene.”
The final cumulative $1.13 million budget meant that The Mysterious Island struggled to return its cost, and failed. Despite impressive worldwide rentals of $726,000, the film ultimately set M-G-M back $878,000. The excess was written off as another costly mistake. In the end, the film arrived too late to make an impact; despite the added value of color, silents were already old news.
The original color version of The Mysterious Island has generally been considered “lost.” After its initial run, the film was not seen again until the late 1960s, when M-G-M completed its preservation. The film was copied from the studio’s color vault print, but in black & white. This is the version that has since been in circulation, and has been run several times on television in the United States. The color print being screened at this year’s Giornate was preserved in the 1970s by the Národní Filmový Archiv in Prague from an incomplete nitrate print with Czech intertitles. This version represents the foreign silent release, although it is essentially the same as the sound version, being drawn from the same takes. Unfortunately the 35mm Czech print is missing the final reel, which happily for this screening has been digitally sourced from a 16mm black & white copy with English intertitles from the Cineteca del Friuli.”
(James Layton in the catalogue of the 33rd Giornate del Cinema Muto festival in Pordenone, 2014, pp. 107–108.)
“Doctor X disappeared into memory until it was revived for television in the late ‘fifties. By then, only the foreign negative was intact. Once three-color printing became the order of the day the two-color negatives were obsolete as commercial and technological entities. Early TV could only use black and white, so there was no motivation in later years to hang onto bulky two-color negatives that couldn’t be printed, couldn’t be telecast, couldn’t do anything but occupy expensive storage space. A conformed two-color negative with its pairs of 35mm frames consisted of 2000’ rolls of film, twice the size of a conventional B&W negative. And of course they were nitrate based, adding real danger to the storage of a commercially worthless film. By and large, the negatives were junked.
That Doctor X survived at all was because the black and white negative had been made. Mystery of the Wax Museum was shot only in Technicolor, and so vanished entirely. The studio hadn’t even retained a shelf print.
Approximately 50 two-color Technicolor features were made. Archivists estimate that material survives on perhaps ten of them. Inserts and short subjects are even more difficult to trace, though some notable ones – the inserts for The Phantom of the Opera, The Wedding March, Ben Hur, and the early Three Stooges short Nertzy Rhymes – are still with us.
The recovery of Doctor X was fortuitous. With the negative gone, the possibility of a single, decades-old release print turning up was unlikely, but that is precisely what happened. In early 1970, the personal collection of Jack L. Warner yielded an unexpected cache of early films no longer held by the studio. Most of the excitement centered around an original Technicolor print of Mystery of the Wax Museum, long sought by historians and the picture’s distributor. Its existence tended to obscure other noteworthy items such as the 1929 The Desert Song and an original color print of Doctor X.
The print wound up at the AFI in Washington, D.C., where it was shown at the AFI theater and was allotted $15,000 for preservation. Inquiries as to its status were answered over the years that tests were still being conducted to find a viable way of transferring the strange color. Ultimately nothing was done and the print was returned to Warner Bros. Later the BBC, who had already demonstrated faith for early color by backing a restoration of Universal’s The King of Jazz, expressed a desire to tackle Doctor X; but when they got there, the cupboard was bare. Doctor X was, for the second time, declared a “lost” motion picture.
In August 1983, a former studio librarian’s collection of films was seized by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. Ron Haver of the Los Angeles County Museum was asked to inventory the films and discovered both Doctor X and Wax Museum among the 2,000 cans of celluloid. Examination of the prints confirmed them as the Jack Warner copies.
Both prints were given over to the Film, Television and Radio Archives at UCLA, joining the balance of the Warner Bros, studio print collection already there on deposit. UCLA carefully maintains nitrate holdings at the old Technicolor premises in Hollywood and, under the direction of preservation supervisor Bob Gitt, the archives have been doing much more than stockpiling old film. Gitt and his associates have initiated a conversion program that has already yielded an impressive heritage including the 1948 Macbeth in an approximation of Orson Welles’ original intent, and sparkling editions of The Toll of the Sea (1922, the first two-color subtractive feature) and Becky Sharp (1935, the first three-color feature).
Gitt chose YCM Labs in Burbank, California, to do the job, having been pleased with results on both Becky Sharp and The Toll of the Sea. Operated by partners Richard Dayton, Don Hagans and Pete Comandini, YCM prides itself on specialization in processing old color materials to modern standards. Their knowledge of and experience with arcane film elements makes YCM eminently suited to these projects. They even possess one of the few extant two-color Technicolor cameras, which was pressed into service during their restoration of The Toll of the Sea to recreate a brief but crucial shot that had deteriorated in the ancient camera negative.
To appreciate the difficulty in retrieving a two-color Technicolor picture we need to examine how the process worked and the industry conditions that encouraged its growth and demise. From its origins in 1915, Technicolor’s camera employed a prism behind the lens that split white light into two beams. A modified camera, in active use from 1921 through 1932., would allow one beam to pass through an aperture containing a red filter and record on black and white stock a negative image of the subject’s blue-green components, the second beam, entering a different aperture, passed through a green filter to yield a negative of the red components. These two exposures were made simultaneously on pairs of standard 35mm frames one atop the other, with one image inverted in relation to the other due to the prism configuration. Standard black and white film would travel through the camera at twice normal speed (in the sound era this meant three feet a second!). Exposure and lighting levels had to be compensated since each negative frame received only half the amount of light entering the lens.
After an early, untenable period of additive projection using color filters, Technicolor resolved by 1919 to put the color into the release print proper. Using a thinner than normal print film, positive prints were made on an optical printer by skip-frame printing every other negative frame to prepare a single strand, black and white positive image of, say, the red record. The negative would then be turned over and run through the printer again, creating a print of the green record. The two strands, after being developed, etched and bleached to a transparent relief, would be cemented together in register. This “cemented positive,” coated on either side with the appropriate color dye, became the projection release print, thicker than normal with an emulsion on both sides. Through the ‘twenties Technicolor maintained a steady business providing brief color interludes in otherwise monochrome films, but few features were made once producers determined that the expense of Technicolor wasn’t offset by the novel but unnatural hues. The extra-thick, dual emulsified prints scratched, cupped and jumped focus all too frequently, racking up more bills for overhaul. Technicolor was well aware of its shortcomings and averted an early demise by introducing imbibition printing techniques in 1928, just in time for the early musical films to co-opt sound and color as box office ballyhoo.
The camera negative would still be taken in the same manner but rather than the arduous skip-print-and-paste procedure, gelatin printing matrices would be generated, dyes applied to the reliefs, and each dyed matrix brought into registered contact with a blank 35mm celluloid film to which the color dyes transferred. Both images were now contained on one side of a standard film.
The sudden embracement of color in 1929 caught Technicolor unprepared to fill the volume of orders that now cascaded in. A printing plant was brusquely organized in Boston. Technicians were hastily trained and assigned on a twenty-four hour shift schedule in April 1930 to cope with demand. Quality control became lax and critics who reviewed Technicolor productions began to warn their readers of color grain so coarse that the bilious green skies in a western epic appeared to be “raining sand.” Added to this was a naive and garish attitude at the studios toward an already problematical color scale. Technicolor could not yet produce true yellows, blues or purples. Its reds were bold but tarnished, with flesh tones and the interim neutral scale pleasing when make-up and art direction were carefully attended to. Color was most frequently used and therefore associated in the public eye with operettas and musicals. Decor and wardrobe made the fatal mistake of favoring the loudest and most vulgar hues in a misguided attempt to show off more rather than better color. Dancing cowgirls in mint green shorts and candy pink blouses two-stepped with crooning bandoleros in evergreen velour denims and jerseys the color of coagulated blood under those gritty skies. Herbert Kalmus, the head of Technicolor, complained loudly to deaf- eared producers that their gross misuse of color was killing the public appetite. By the Fall of 1930, amid an industry depression that tottered all of the major studios on the brink of insolvency, the word “Technicolor” became anathema in movie advertising as the public responded as Kalmus had predicted. In November 1930, Technicolor facilities were operating at 50% of capacity as massive layoffs added ex-color technicians to the breadlines. While most of Technicolor’s energies were channeled into perfecting three-color, this slackening of volume permitted them to be a good deal more attentive to the final two-color jobs. Both Doctor X and Wax Museum use color so carefully that they come close to rivalling three-color.
Fortunately, the Doctor X print was in relatively good shape. “It was a pretty straightforward job,” says Comandini, YCM’s vice president of Engineering, who saw the project through the lab. “It had none of the complications of a Becky Sharp. Working from a positive print there were no variable elements and nothing to re- register. Certainly the print was shrunken, but there was no deterioration.” Indeed, Technicolor materials have proven surprisingly long-lived, as Comandini explains: “This is all ancient history now, but most labs were not really washing black and white film as they should have, and residual hypo has accelerated the deterioration of nitrate films. One of the things Technicolor did throughout their history was deliver the cleanest processed film that anybody was putting out anywhere. I have not run into any incidence of deterioration on Technicolor negative; rarely do you find any prints that have deteriorated where the deterioration didn’t start from some leader that had been spliced on.
“So many two-color negatives have been destroyed or discarded that when you do find one, it’s a miracle; but they are intact. The Library of Congress has Follow Thru, a 1930 Paramount picture, and that negative is in great shape. By contrast, Sunset Boulevard was one of the last nitrate features, in 1950, and the whole last reel of that is history.”
There are a number of ways for the modern laboratory to deal with archaic color elements. The 1930 Goldwyn picture Whoopee was restored from its camera negatives by making a CRI, and while the results are attractive and entertaining there is a noticeable falsity and desaturation of its colors. The same is true for portions of The King of Jazz recreated from camera negative. “CRI is a very difficult approach to the situation,” says Comandini, “and you can get yourself into color trouble. One of the problems with two-color Technicolor and the dye transfer prints from it is that the green component is somewhat strange, shifted more toward cyan than primary green. It contains a reasonable amount of neutral density and there is no filter combination you can use to effectively neutralize the green and pull a clean red record. The ND factor of the green always cross-contaminates the red.” This ND factor is distinctly a problem when one must work from a positive print, as in the case of Doctor X. “Our approach was, rather than pull Doctor X apart to separations and ‘recreate’ it, as it were, let’s consider the print as an interpositive and attempt to make an internegative from it.”
Initially, Bob Gift went through the print and remade all of the splices before electing to perform scratch removal on the nitrate base. He also prepped the soundtrack for transfer to a new optical negative. “Some of the noise had to be ‘blooped’, literally painted out,” says Gift, “but most was electronically de-popped. I set the equalization during transfer, but in no way changed the character of the sound. Warner Bros.’ tracks of the early ‘thirties, being Western Electric variable density, tend to be a little on the harsh, bright side, but we wanted to get the new track sounding exactly like the old, minus the pops and clicks.”
Comandini spent a month performing camera tests to determine the best method and stock for transferring picture. “We ended up using Eastman Kodak High Speed 5294 negative stock because the specific sensitivities of that emulsion gave us the best reproduction of the reds and greens. We chose 52.94 by trial and error with different stocks. We throw away a lot of film!
“The first test was nothing more than a wedge, but when we got our first running test and got in the ballpark for balance, everybody gave us rave reviews. UCLA was very excited by the results.”
“Richard, Pete and YCM did a terrific job,” enthuses Gitt, “though after I saw the initial tests my one concern was that we get a little more yellow in the picture. Two-color Technicolor has an overall warmth; its whites have a pearly antique quality, the reds a ruddy brick bias, the greens are a little more yellow.”
Once the test results were okayed the entire feature was carefully re-photographed on a step printer to avoid the vertical blur and diffusion of horizontal lines that occur when shrunken materials are forced through a continuous printer. To run the entire job took only a few days.
Bob Gift was pleasantly surprised by the color palette of Doctor X. “Unlike the Warners musical Viennese Nights, of which UCLA has a color nitrate print, Doctor X‘s color is deliberately muted. Since it was a horror/mystery film rather than a musical, different colors were called into play than the pretty postcard colors of Viennese Nights. There are sections where there are bright tones for a frightening effect, but otherwise it stresses flesh tones, browns, black and white, with just an occasional pale rose here and there. At the climax where the villain is revealed there are sudden brighter shades of red, but even then its a rose red and not the vivid hues the process was capable of. They were attempting to use color in a natural, not an ostentatious, way.”
“We actually ran the new Doctor X print side by side with the nitrate, and it is virtually indistinguishable. There is no appreciable build-up in grain,” says Gitt, “and the only real difference would be a lessening of tone in very dark scenes. The Technicolor shadows have very deep black tones; the Eastmancolor is just slightly grayer.”
“We did not do Doctor X the most expensive way it could be done,” says Gitt. “We wanted to get the best color we could without spending a fortune. Doctor X cost about $11,500 to carry us through a new negative and the first answer print. The month of testing paid off, as the first answer print was perfect. If we’d had to retime, another answer print would have cost an additional $3,000.”
While the new negative is safely housed in a climate controlled vault, Doctor X is no exclusive museum piece. As if to confirm the commercial sense of restoring the film, Dick May of MGM/UA Film Services has already reported the first sale of the color Doctor X in Europe. The initial Eastman low-fade print has already embarked on its new life, and since October 1985, audiences in London, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo and Los Angeles have made its acquaintance after a half-century hiatus. With the Technicolor reel of Hell’s Angels already completed at YCM and a new low-fade print of Mystery of the Wax Museum nearing completion at another lab, it will continue to be joined by other examples of early color cinematography.”
(McQueen, Scott (1986): Doctor X. A Technicolor Landmark. In: American Cinematographer 67, June 1986, pp. 34–42.)
“The use of cemented positives [Technicolor II], meanwhile, had proved particularly intractable, and in 1928, Technicolor announced the development of its second two-colour subtractive process [Technicolor III]. This process involved the use of a printing technique known as imbibition, eliminating the need for two separate, cemented positive prints. With the imbibition process, what is known as a matrix is produced, from which the final print is made. The matrix is a positive bearing a relief image. One matrix is made for each of the two colours in the process and appropriately dyed. Both matrices are then used to transfer the dye images in registration to the final print film. Although requiring very accurate registration, the process transfers the problem of registration as a whole from the sphere of exhibition to the sphere of production, while obviating the need for cementing two separate prints together. Prints could be mass produced from the matrices, and required no special projection conditions whatsoever.
The introduction of Technicolor’s second subtractive process coincided with the introduction of optical sound. Two particular factors related to the coming of sound were instrumental in producing a real, though shortlived, boom in the use of the new process. Unlike the tinting and toning processes then in use, the imbibition process did not affect the sound track. And unlike not only the first Technicolor subtractive process, but also Kodak’s Sonochrome, a non-photographic tinted positive film developed in 1929 for use with sound, the new Technicolor process enabled the production of relatively durable prints, comparable to black-and-white ones. The second factor involved in the boom was the cycle of musicals produced in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Given the aesthetic association that existed at that time (and indeed, with some variation, up until the 1960s) between colour, fantasy and spectacle, it is no accident that the new system was used either to shoot particular sequences in the musicals, such as production numbers, or else to shoot the whole film. Films like Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), On With The Show (1929), Song of the West (1930) and The Melody Man (1930) were shot wholly in the new Technicolor process, while sequences were shot for Broadway Melody (1929), The Desert Song (1929), Rio Rita (1929), Putting on the Ritz (1930), No, No Nanette (1930) and many others.
The boom lasted only for a couple of years, however. With the comparatively enormous and sudden demand put on Technicolor’s process and facilities for filming and for the production of release prints, quality began to decline. The Depression, meanwhile, was causing dwindling attendance and box-office figures. Producers were more and more reluctant to pay for the use of the process once it became clear that colour of itself could not maintain or attract bigger audiences and profits.
Technicolor, however, were still working on modifications and improvements to their colour systems, and in 1932, when the boom in musicals and in colour was firmly at an end, they announced the development of the three-colour subtractive process that was to form the basis of their virtual monopoly in the colour field up until the appearance of Eastmancolor in the early 1950s.”
(Neale, Steve (1985): The Beginnings of Technicolor. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 13–23, on pp. 14–15.)
“Although the figures often look as if they had stepped out of an opera comique, there is something compelling about The Viking, an all-Technicolor production launched last evening in the cozy Embassy Theatre. The story is based on Ottilie A. Liljencrantz’s novel “The Trail of Lief the Lucky,” which concerns the hardy Norsemen who are supposed to have crossed the Atlantic one thousand-odd years ago and landed on this country’s soil.
The prismatic effects in this production may not always be the desired quality, especially when it concerns fire and water, but they are none the less agreeable. There is the glint of metal and the flashing of semi-precious stones on the wristbands of the horned or wing helmeted, flaxen-haired warriors of bygone ages. Occasionally there are scenes that are like beautiful paintings, but here and there the colors, while they do not fringe or mix, are not quite true.
The make-up of the players is often more than a trifle overdone, especially when the villain reveals on close inspection his mouse-colored eyelids. Most of the men appear to have had excellent razors and to have been most punctilious even on this auspicious voyage in indulging their fancy for a morning shave.
It will also be remarked by most people who witness this production that for a girl of the North in the year 926 Helga has been most careful regarding her wardrobe. Pauline Starke, who with a long, fair wig impersonates Helga, sees to it that the maid had quite a few changes aboard Lief’s little craft. She is perceived in various colors, which come out extremely well, but sometimes her costumes are just a wee bit too reminiscent of the far-famed bathing beauty of 1928. Latterly she appears in a snow-white plain wedding gown, which comes as quite a surprise, for one never for a moment imagines that she is thus prepared for the wedding ceremony, especially considering she is virtually a stowaway aboard the vessel after it slips away from the murderous Eric’s stronghold in Greenland. Miss Starke, however, succeeds in looking very attractive and in doing a great deal to call attention to her figure.
There is a none too convincing scene of England’s cliffs, but who knows but that they were not so white in those days? Greenland’s icy mountains have not been omitted, but they look far from real, despite the natural color. This is, however, a picture where lips are red and when the hardy Vikings shed a little blood they let the red gore be seen on their blades.”
(Hall, Mordaunt (1928): A Picture in Colors. In: New York Times, November 29, 1928.)
“TECHNICOLOR – MULTICOLOR – SENNETT-COLOR. NATURAL COLOR PROCESSES IN MACK SENNETT COMEDIES 1926-1931
In the 1910s and 1920s, slapstick comedy shorts were released by the thousand. Nearly all of these productions were filmed in black-and-white, which tallied perfectly with the cruel slapstick world of stereotyped characters and violent and destructive actions. The fact that Mack Sennett was also a pioneer in natural color processes is far less commonly known.1 In line with so many legends and apocryphal stories about the self-proclaimed King of Comedy, color does not fit in easily with the slapstick studio’s image of a crude and mocking use of the technology of picture production. This article studies surviving film prints, shooting scripts, and press material to examine Sennett’s exploration of natural color through his use of Technicolor and Multicolor, culminating, in 1930, in the launch of his own two-color process, aptly called Sennett-Color. In addition, a filmography listing all the released Sennett shorts containing color film, including the identification of the color process, is added as an appendix.
A TECHNICOLOR TEST
The first sign of Sennett’s interest in natural color is a note in the production file of Hubby’s Quiet Little Game (1926) (MSC 1926).2 A “Company Forecast Sheet” dated April 24 mentions director Del Lord planning to shoot some scenes on resensitized Technicolor film. This was evidently a test of the process, since no Technicolor footage is featured in Sennett shorts from this period. As Lord was Sennett’s top director, known for his effects-laden cinematography, it is not surprising that it was he who eagerly tried out this technical novelty. The date of the test indicates quite an early interest in natural color, right after the release of the critically successful, but technically problematic feature film The Black Pirate (1926), filmed and printed in Technicolor’s two-color process #2.
Significantly, a discussion was going on within Technicolor’s board of directors around this time between founding father Dr. Herbert T. Kalmus and Head of Research Dr. Leonard Troland. In letters written between February and April 1927, it appears that Technicolor was planning to court short subject producers to prove the quality and cost efficiency of the improved printing process #3 to the bigger producers in the movie industry. Troland, however, disagreed with Kalmus’ suggestion to produce short historical dramas in a series of Great Events, stating, “People want a laugh or a kick, and not tears or historical instruction” (Troland 1927a: 2). In a paper delivered before the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, he gave an overview of the types of scenes that, according to him, were enhanced by the use of natural color. He mentioned “seascapes and landscapes,” “flesh tints in their normal hues and saturations,” “feminine beauty,” and “the latest fashions,” on the grounds that color added to sex-appeal (Troland 1927b: 686-690). Troland therefore suggested making “a series of two-reel comedies of a very ordinary type so far as action goes, but Ziegfeldized to the absolute limit that the censorship will stand” (Troland 1927a: 2).3 He concluded: “I should strongly recommend that we experiment with at least one subject which is distinctly of the type which we as a high-brow group would shun and would blush to sign our names to” (Troland 1927a: 3).
Troland did not identify any actual Ziegfeldized comedy short that was technicolored, but in Mack Sennett’s production files Technicolor was credited for color sequences in eight two-reel Bathing Girl comedies released between December 1927 and March 1929 (see Appendix). Thus, this series of comical subjects ran perfectly parallel with Kalmus’ twelve historical shorts in the Great Events series produced by Technicolor Inc. and released by M-G-M between October 1927 and May 1929. Both series tried out the subjects and film forms best suited for color application. Whereas the Great Events focused on full-color shorts for historical dramatizations of high-brow subjects, the color inserts in Sennett Bathing Girl comedies aimed at the surprise appearance of a novel technology into slapstick comedy. Both test cases shaped the position of (Techni)color in the heretofore monochrome movie world, and provided Sennett with a template he would expand on for his comedy-novelties in Sennett-Color.
TECHNICOLOR SEQUENCES: SENNETT BATHING GIRL COMEDIES (1926-1929)
The first official day of Technicolor filming at the Sennett Studio was scheduled for July 16, 1927, more than a year after the first Technicolor test. Technicolor sequences were to be inserted into the lavishly produced Bathing Girl comedy The Girl From Everywhere (1927). This time, Technicolor’s chief cinematographer Ray Rennahan and second cameraman Roy Musgrave were behind the camera. Ray Rennahan also shot the color footage for Love at First Flight (1928); Run, Girl, Run (1928); The Swim Princess (1928); The Campus Carmen (1928); The Campus Vamp (1928); and Matchmaking Mamas (1929) – all filmed between August 1927 and January 1928, resulting in color sequences varying in length between 120 and 295 feet. Only The Girl From Nowhere (1928), featuring a tiny 17 feet of Technicolor footage, did not credit Ray Rennahan or any other Technicolor cameraman.
When announcing the new series of Bathing Girl comedies on July 2, 1927, Sennett’s publicity department distributed the following press release:
SENNETT USING NEW TECHNICOLOR IN COMEDIES: Bathing costumes of a highly abbreviated nature are again in vogue around the Mack Sennett Studio. The reason for the seashore atmosphere is that Mack Sennett has revived the bathing beauty comedies that made him a world famous producer. There are sequences in the new series of girl films done in technicolor [sic], this being the first time technicolor [sic] film has been used in short comedy films.
The new faces and new figures will be seen in the lavish though scanty costumes designed by Madame Violette, internationally known modiste. […]
The combination of technicolor [sic] film and unique lighting effects will give the films an artistic touch never before known in two-reel comedies. (MSC 1927)
The announcement of bathing beauties in costumes designed by a modiste, enhanced with the artistic touch of color and lighting effects, points at concepts that Sennett was trying out for color application. First of all, the press text mentioned the revival of the Bathing Girl comedies, indicating an awareness that color might add new box-office attraction to the old chorus of feminine beauty. Oddly enough, Sennett relaunched a signature motif that he was only slightly earlier considering getting rid of (D’haeyere 2010: 219-222). Correspondence between the New York office and the Los Angeles-based publicity department demonstrates that Sennett was looking for ways to dispose of the Bathing Girl pictures. A letter stated that Sennett is “not very keen about bathing girl publicity any longer – says he is tired of being called a beauty expert – wants more dignified publicity” (MSC 1927). It was probably Sennett’s instant recognition of color’s potential to “dignify” his slapstick comedy pictures that accounted for this swift change of mind. In October 1927, the simultaneous launch of the series of Sennett Bathing Girl shorts and the monthly publication of the illustrated newspaper the Mack Sennett-Pathé Studio Review fully foregrounded the bathing girls as their main attraction and exploited them in their promotional campaigns. Color played an important part in the updating of the bathing girls and indicates how they were repositioned to convey contemporary appeal.
The Technicolor sequences in the shorts articulate two concepts for color treatment, both focusing on feminine beauty and on sexy ways to display flesh tints in seascapes and landscapes, precisely as Troland suggested.
The color sequences in The Girl From Everywhere; Run, Girl, Run; The Campus Carmen; and The Girl From Nowhere all are announced by a shot of a velvet curtain, bordered by a gilded picture frame at the edges of the film frame. The following shot is a Technicolor composition of girls and props representing a tableau vivant with historical, mythical, or pictorial references, re-enacted by Sennett girls. For instance, The Girl From Everywhere ends with a lost Technicolor shot of a girl posing with bow and arrow as Diana the Huntress, while at her feet, in majestic pose, is the lion that shortly before, in black-and-white, caused havoc in the studio. In Run, Girl, Run, the Technicolor sequence precedes a race between two all-girl college teams filmed in black-and-white. Two heralds on either side of the frame formed by Grecian pillars pull the cords to open a curtain. Among the unveiled Technicolor scenes, representing “the evolution of athletics,” is a gladiator scene modeled after the famous painting Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1872) with a female gladiator in tied drapes.
Using the practice of legitimizing nudity by citing classical art, established in film by Pathé at the turn of the century (Brown 2002), color was definitely treated as a token of a pictorial tradition in which poses, compositions, light effects, and color harmonies referred to grand historical painting and artistic tableaux vivants (or at least to their Ziegfeldized versions). Consequently, the choice and application of color was confided to an artist. From July 1927 onward Sennett hired the talented art photographer Edwin Bower Hesser for his advice on artistic color effects. He was credited as “art effects supervisor” in four Bathing Girl shorts. Hesser’s fame as an art photographer was based on plein air studies of movie actresses and Ziegfeld girls in which he used natural backlight to outline their bodies through the veils in which they were draped. Sennett selected Hesser especially for his pictorial style that fully exploited the associations between art and nudity, hoping that Hesser would add a touch of class and culture which were never before considered necessary in slapstick comedy. In addition, Hesser was also hired to take still photographs of the girls, a selection of which featured on the back cover of the first and the second issue of the Mack Sennett-Pathé Studio Review. By means of artistic backlight, a larger amount of undress and more sophisticated poses, these photographs were far more glamorous and erotically charged than the otherwise playful poses and smiling faces on the other Sennett stills of the same period. However, Hesser disappeared from Sennett’s movie credits in mid-1928 and the Mack Sennett-Pathé Studio Review ceased publication after its December 1927 issue (Walker 2010: 179).4 In addition, for the last four Bathing Girl comedy shorts, the concept of the Technicolor sequences changed from a photographical idiom, exploiting the stillness of a pose in a tableau setting, to a more modern and mobile approach.
This new approach can be found in the Technicolor sequences in The Swim Princess, Love At First Flight, The Campus Vamp, and Matchmaking Mamas, which depict the bathing girls in athletic movements such as diving from a spring board, playing baseball on a beach, or rehearsing a ballet for a charity dance. In these shorts, we find active flappers in collegiate settings engaged in contemporary activities performed with youthful energy by healthy bodies wrapped in brightly colored costumes. Again, the color inserts show feminine beauty, and the natural hues and saturations of flesh tints in seascapes and landscapes, this time completing Troland’s suggestions with the sporting of beach attire of the latest fashions. Whereas the appearance of a butterfly dance in Love At First Flight still allows for a Ziegfeldized color insert with sophisticated nudity through elaborate costuming, the trend towards highly athletic color sequences in the later shorts called for more up-to-date, but equally undressed, outfits.
The credit for costume design was given to “Madame Violette, internationally known modiste.” “Madame Violette” was the rather parodic name of Violet Schofield, wife of Sennett cinematographer George Unholz. While she was widely advertised as designing the costumes for all the Bathing Girl stories with color sequences, she had been working in the Sennett studio as a dressmaker since at least 1921. Titles such as “madame” and “modiste” linked her to French ancestors, referring to Paris as the world’s capital for fashion in the 1920s. The term “Madame Violette” also invoked Madeleine Vionnet, the French fashion designer whose famous bias-cut dresses lay at the heart of the sleek look of 1920s fashion. In so doing, Sennett positioned the movie costumes as exemplary fashion items and proposed color as an up-to-date commercial asset.
Madame Violette designed brightly colored bathing suits and matching accessories in loud colors and patterns for the bathing girls and a few male co-actors. The nearly monochrome settings of a sandy beach, a garden lawn, or a swimming pool were used as backgrounds against which color patches of suits, caps, socks, shoes, cardigans, parasols, and pennants stood out in a multitude of shades, hues, and graphic designs. Remarkably, sometimes the two colors which made up the color process – red and green – were isolated into color patches: pom-poms and pennants in The Swim Princess, and paper lanterns and costumes in Matchmaking Mamas were either Technicolor-viridian-green or Technicolor-scarlet-red. This foregrounding of the technical and material aspect of the color process remained a staple of Sennett’s treatment of color subjects. In later shorts filmed in Sennett-Color, the color spectrum was also separated into its composing elements. For instance, in Movie-Town (1931) the all-girl water polo teams are wearing either Sennett-Color-cyan or Sennett-Color-orange-red suits and caps. In so doing, Sennett unveiled color cinematography as a mechanical reproduction rather than as a natural rendition of reality.
Again, the athletic actions in the color sequences were restrained by showstopping film techniques. This time, not a frozen pose but slow-motion analysis through Ultra Speed cinematography stylized the sporting interventions of the bathing girls. The demonstrations of dives in The Swim Princess and The Campus Carmen were even enhanced by slow-motion underwater color photography to transform the girls into dreamlike visions of unearthly creatures (and, again, to show off the technical prowess of the production).
It is remarkable that, in differentiating the pace, tone, and cinematographic style between the slapstick actions in black-and-white and the spectacular display of girls and fabrics in the color inserts, the Sennett shorts actually were early examples of color coding, which would become an established practice in the late 1930s. In films such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), Hollywood Cavalcade (1939), and The Moon and the Sixpence (1942), color and black-and-white sequences acted as opposites. As Richard Misek argues, these chromatically separated sequences communicated narrative information, while chromatic switches from black-and-white to color indicated shifts from the cinematic reality to a world of dreams, desire, fantasy, insanity, art, and history (Misek 2010: 31-35). The musical revues of Technicolor’s first boom year 1929 did not yet ration their limited color footage dependent on color motivations or codes, but inserted color stock according to the available budget, with a preference for musical numbers (Misek 2010: 28-29). Already in 1927, Sennett clearly assigned to color cinematography the power to suspend the comic drama of slapstick actions for the entertainment value of show-stopping color display, adding a dreamy quality to girls and costumes in motion.
It is also interesting to note that, while Dr. Troland referred to color in comedy as a low-brow test-case, natural color for Sennett was a technical novelty boosting production values and adding high-class appeal. Natural color was applied to revive the bathing girls, injecting them with a touch of fine art and updating them as role models of fashion and desire, in an attempt to target slapstick comedy more precisely at the increasingly female audiences of the late 1920s (Stamp 2000: 6-7). Moreover, foregrounding the technicality of picture production by inserting color in a monochrome movie and by isolating the two colors of the process is a trick appealing to an educated audience that appreciated this kind of self-referential humor. This strategy of uplifting and updating comedy through color application would find even more personal and practical ways in the full-color shorts which followed.
APPENDIX: FILM LIST
TECHNICOLOR: Bathing Girl comedies: silent Sennett shorts with sequences in two-color Technicolor #3 (IB), distributed through Pathé Film Exchanges:
• The Girl From Everywhere (Eddie Cline, Dec. 1927)
• Love At First Flight (Eddie Cline, Jan. 1928)
• Run, Girl, Run (Alf Goulding, Jan. 1928)
• The Swim Princess (Alf Goulding, Febr. 1928)
• The Girl From Nowhere (Harry Edwards, May 1928)
• The Campus Carmen (Alf Goulding, Sept. 1928)
• The Campus Vamp (Harry Edwards, Nov. 1928)
• Matchmaking Mamas (Harry Edwards, March 1929)
1 I would like to acknowledge the professional assistance and kindness of the experts at the following archives for their invaluable help in making a lot of rare, precious, and fragile material available: Barbara Hall and Jenny Romero at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles; George Willeman at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center of the Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA; Nancy Kauffman, Anthony L’Abbate and James Layton at George Eastman House, Rochester, NY; May Haduong and Melissa Lovesque at Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles; Marc Quigley at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Los Angeles; and sennett experts Brent Walker and Rob King.
2 All the consulted production papers are in the Mack Sennett papers in Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, and will be referred to as: MSC plus the date of the paper or file when available.
3 The term “Ziegfeldized” refers to theatrical producer Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (1867-1932) who staged Ziegfeld Follies revues on Broadway from 1907 to 1931. He was famous for “glorifying” the American girl by selecting beauties to appear in elaborate – though scanty – costumes in choreographed production numbers.
4 This might be connected with some legal trouble: Hesser was arrested and charged with suspicions of narcotics peddling, battery, and impersonating a police officer, in connection with the alleged suicide of a film actress (see Weekly Variety, 18 April 1928: 9). The discontinuation of the Mack Sennett-Pathé Studio Review was most probably caused by difficulties surrounding the negotiations for a contract renewal between Pathé and Sennett at the end of 1927. The negotiations eventually broke off with Sennett changing his distribution channels to Educational Pictures at the end of 1928.
Papers in the Mack Sennett Collection in Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, will be referred to as: MSC followed by the date of the individual file or paper (see also endnote 2).
Anon. (1930) “Mack Sennett’s Color for Industrial Films”, Variety, 35, 4 October: 1.
Anon. (1931) “Technicolor Wins Big Patent Victory”, Motion Picture Herald, 10 October: 37.
Brown, S. (2002) “The Spectacle of Reality and British National Cinema”. Online. Available at http://www.bftv.ac.Uk/projects/dufaycolor.htm#_ftnref66 (accessed 17 February 2011).
Crespinel, W. T. (1929) “Color Photography, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, American Cinematographer, March: 4-7.
Crespinel, W. A. (2000) “Pioneer Days in Colour Motion Pictures with William T. Crespinel”, Film History, 12, 1: 57-71.
D’haeyere, H. (2010) “Splashes of Fun and Beauty: Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties” in King, R. and Paulus, T. (eds.), Slapstick Comedy, AFI Film Reader, London and New York: Routledge: 207-225.
Educational Film Exchanges, Inc. (1929) “Mack Sennett presents Jazz Mamas“, Exhibitors Herald – World, 31 August, inserted page.
Educational Film Exchanges. Inc. (1930a) “11th Annual Announcement 1930-31: One Big Comedy Program”, Exhibitors Herald – World, 2 August: 6 of 8 page promotional insert.
Educational Film Exchanges, Inc. (1930b) “Mack Sennett Talking Comedies: As Modern As Television”, Exhibitors Herald – World, 16 August: back cover.
Guerin, P. J., Mack Sennett Color Film Co. Ltd. (1930) Printing Machine for Cinematograph Films, US Patent 1,880,087 (filed May 9, 1930, patented September 27, 1932).
Klein, Major Adrian B. (1936) Colour Cinematography, London: Chapman & Hall: 165-166.
Mack Sennett Comedies (1929) “Jazz Mamas” (Press sheet) in New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, New York: 3.
Misek, R. (2010) Chromatic Cinema: A History of Screen Color, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Multicolor Films Inc. (1929) “Multicolor: The Final Answer To The Color Problem, Says Alvin Wyckoff”, advertisement in International Photographer, December: 14.
Nowotny, R. A. (1983) The Way of All Flesh Tones, New York; London: Garland Publishing, Inc.: 271.
Ramsaye, T. (1931) “The Short Picture – Cocktail of the Program”, Motion Picture Herald, 14 March: 59.
Ryan, R. T. (1977) A History of Motion Picture Color Technology, London: Focal Press: 98.
Schallert, E. (1930) “Cast Good In New York Narrative; ‘Young Man Of Manhattan’ Tells of Newspaper Folk; Sennett Color Film Shows”, The Los Angeles Times, 17 May: A7.
Stamp, S. (2000) Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Troland, L. (1927a) “My Dear Herbert” (letter to Dr. Kalmus), Technicolor Collection, Correspondence Files September 1925 to December 1927, Motion Picture Department, George Eastman House, Rochester, 3 March.
Troland, L. (1927b) “Some Psychological Aspects of Natural Color Motion Pictures”, Journal of the Society of Motion Pictures Engineers, XI, 32: 686-690.
Walker, B. (2010) Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel, Jefferson, NC; London: McFarland & Co.”
(D’haeyere, Hilde (2013): Technicolor – Multicolor – Sennett-Color. Natural Color Processes in Mack Sennett Comedies 1926-1931. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 23–36, on pp. 26–29.)
King of Jazz (USA 1930, John Murray Anderson)
“King of Jazz, the big-budget film directed by John Murray Anderson and featuring the music of Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, illustrates how a familiar film-color motif was re-worked for two-color Technicolor. The motif involves movement toward what can be called red-dominant moments, when red (or a cognate hue like reddish orange, pink, or magenta) ends up taking up more surface area of the frame than any rival hue. Such moments typically occur in the final third or quarter of a shot, scene, or the film as a whole – as they do in King of Jazz. The practice in question suggests a variation on what philosopher Mark Johnson identifies as an “image schema” whereby musical motion is figured as analogous to the experience of the movement of one’s own body through physical space (Johnson 2007: 243–262). The following analysis conceptualizes the movement-to-red in King of Jazz as an image schema in which music, vocals, the physical gestures of the performer, cutting, camerawork, and color, at key moments, combine to suggest increased proximity of viewer to performer. As viewer and performer come closer together, the image reddens and figuratively becomes warmer. This particular schema is evident throughout the history of motion picture color, from the applied color shorts of the late 1890s up through the digital features of the present.1 To construe the movement-to-red in King of Jazz as an image schema thus opens the way for comparing and contrasting color technique in this unusual revue musical with that in a great many other films – regardless of how they may differ from King of Jazz in other respects.
color and music
A full-length all-Technicolor revue comprised of various musical and comedic performances, a mega-budget Hollywood film with no narrative arc, King of Jazz is an unusual motion picture in important respects. But its music-defined style is continuous with the aesthetics of mainstream film-color practice, where color often performs an aesthetic function linked to musical accompaniment. In this regard King of Jazz anticipates the Technicolor films of the late 1930s, in which intense, eye-catching hues frequently coincide with musical flourishes (see Higgins 2007: 40, 101–104, 127–133, 142). In a great many color films, from the 1930s up through the present, chromatic changes, like music cues, underline dramatic twists, signal the arrival of characters, mark transitions from scene to scene or act to act, and draw parallels or contrasts between one narrative event and another from a different part of the film. For Natalie Kalmus, Technicolor’s chief “consultant” to the film industry, the “color chart” that her team produced for each Technicolor film was comparable to “a musical score [that] amplifies the picture in the same manner” (Kalmus 1935: 145). For Kalmus and countless other film-color experts in the 1930s and since, deciding on when in a film specific colors appear is like deciding when music is to be introduced.
The color/music analogy was by no means unique to the culture of synch-sound cinema but stemmed from “a tradition dating back to antiquity,” Joshua Yumibe points out (Yumibe 2009: 164). This rich history of speculation on synaesthetic affinities between color and music was crucial to Hollywood’s adoption of Technicolor Number 3, which coincided with the film industry’s conversion to sound and the emergence circa 1930 of the musical as the major commercial film genre of the time. The musicals of the early 1930s provided the main vehicle for introducing the new Technicolor process into Hollywood cinema, which created for the movie-going public an association between the new sound-era genre and color cinematography (Anon. 1929a: X6; Anon. 1930a: 38). “[I]t seems likely that [the ‘musical comedy’] will increasingly become associated in the public mind with color, so that a film musical without color will not count as a film musical,” Fortune magazine reported (Anon. 1930b: 124). The Jolson vehicle Mammy (1930) and RKO’s Dixiana (1931) are among conversion-era musicals currently available on DVD that use Number 3 in one or more song sequences. King of Jazz was among the films of the time to employ Number 3 throughout, from beginning to end.
What made Number 3 a major technical breakthrough in movie-color history was its dye-transfer process, which involved applying two layers of color onto the same side of the filmstrip (Haines 1993: 8–13). The color layers when printed appeared as magenta and cyan, the subtractive primaries. The dye-transfer system provided excellent registration of the separate color layers while eliminating the warping and other defects of the positive prints from earlier, laminate systems – including preceding versions of Technicolor. Since Technicolor films were shown with ordinary projectors, they were distributed far more widely than films made with any other photographic color system. Used in some eighty films of the late 1920s/early 1930s (Haines 1993: 15–16), Number 3 helped spur Hollywood’s shift away from the applied color methods of the preceding thirty-five years of cinema history – tinting, toning, hand coloring, and stenciling – and toward the photographic systems that became standard in cinema worldwide beginning in the 1960s and continuing up through the advent of digital color in the early twenty-first century.
image schemas in film
The color/music analogy was highly relevant to King of Jazz given the latter’s extensive use of popular songs. Song sequences in cinema exhibit techniques of editing, cinematography, acting, and mise-en-scène whose music-defined character is evident the instant the song begins, when the image changes, with editing, motion in the frame, and camera movement reconfiguring to fit the song’s pulse and meter (see Buhler et al. 2010: 181–187). John Murray Anderson, the director of King of Jazz, captured the essence of this approach by observing that in his film, “the jump from one ‘shot’ to another is accomplished always on the downbeat of the accompanying music, or at a break in the phrasing” (quoted in Scheuer 1930: 19; see also Anderson’s comments in Anon. 1930c: 122). A single close viewing of King of Jazz is enough to support Anderson’s claim that its song sequences are cut to the musical pulse. Tap your finger to the beat and note where the cuts occur. Of the twenty-four cuts encompassed by the “A Bench in the Park” song number, fourteen, by my count, occur on the downbeat, i.e., the first quarter note in a measure, which theorists of music cognition identify as the strongest of metrical accents (Huron 2006: 184–185). A similar pattern concerns camera movement, such as the crane shot in “A Bench in the Park” that reveals the series of lovemaking couples, and whose tracking motions likewise start and stop on the downbeat.
Enabling the music/image alignment in King of Jazz was bandleader Whiteman’s insistence on recording the music separately from the image in a proper music-studio setting prior to shooting the film. Besides ensuring a high-quality recording, the independent music track enabled the construction of a music-based image, with music serving as the dominant formal parameter, the pivot for the film’s overall form and style (Schallert 1930a: B13). Indicative here are the similarities of Anderson’s staging of “A Bench in the Park” and other song numbers in King of Jazz to the work of musician Ferde Grofé, famous in the 1920s for having arranged many of the hits performed by the Whiteman band. Grofé’s method of arranging involved dividing up the band into sectional choirs of strings, reeds, brass, and so on, and then rotating the music through the sections, each positioned to contrast with adjacent sections in timbre and voicing (see Berrett 2004: 35, 41). Exemplary is the film’s third sequence (see sequences list), whose introduction of the band via a series of vignette-like solo performances led critics to claim that Anderson had created in King of Jazz a visual equivalent for the sound of the Whiteman orchestra (Bell 1930:11).
The 28 Sequences of King of Jazz:2
1. Opening credits (1 minute and 29 seconds)
2. The Walter Lantz cartoon “How Paul Became Known as the King of Jazz,” introduced by emcee Charles Irwin (3 min. and 17 sec.)
3. Whiteman, introduced by Irwin, goes on to introduce the band via a series of solo performances (4 min. and 59 sec.)
4. The Russell Markert Girls dance (1 min. and 51 sec.)
5. The “My Bridal Veil” number (7 min. and 22 sec.)
6. “Ladies of the Press” comedy sketch with Laura LaPlante (43 sec.)
7. The Rhythm Boys sing “Mississippi Mud” and “When the Bluebirds and Blackbirds Get Together” (2 min. and 37 sec.)
8. “Monterey” song number starring John Boles and Jeanette Loff (5 min. and 50 sec.)
9. “In conference” skit with Laura LaPlante (43 sec.)
10. Jack Wright crazy comedy act, introduced by C. Irwin (3 min. and 22 sec.)
11. “A Bench in the Park” musical number (6 min. and 9 sec.)
12. “Springtime” comedy sketch with Slim Summerville (18 sec.)
13. “All Noisy on the Eastern Front,” introduced by Irwin (1 min. and 38 sec.)
14. Wilbur Hall performs “The Stars and Stripes Forever” (2 min. and 55 sec.)
15. “Rhapsody in Blue” number, introduced by Whiteman (9 min. and 19 sec.)
16. “Oh Forevermore” skit featuring William Kent (3 min. and 34 sec.)
17. “My Ragmuffin Romeo” number (3 min. and 29 sec.)
18. The two-people-inside-a-horse-costume gag (1 min. and 23 sec.)
19. The comedian-in-baby-costume gag (25 sec.)
20. “Happy Feet” number with rubber-leg specialty dance (4 min. and 23 sec.)
21. Paul Whiteman (impersonated by double) dances! Introduced by Irwin (1 min. and 37 sec.)
22. Suitor-meets-dad comedy sketch (1 min. and 25 sec.)
23. “I’d Like to Do Things for You” (4 min. and 25 sec.)
24. “Has Anyone Seen My Nellie” song slide parody (2 min. and 45 sec.)
25. “Song of the Dawn” number (3 min. and 28 sec.)
26. “Melting Pot” number (8 min. and 49 sec.)
27. Paul stirs the pot, thus introducing the closing medley (3 min. and 4 sec.)
28. Finis (34 sec.)
A revue musical comprised of twenty-six self-contained song and comedy sequences (excluding the opening and closing titles) connected together via formal patterning rather than narrative causality, King of Jazz differed from the majority of the Hollywood films employing Technicolor, its structure more characteristic of a musical revue or vaudeville program than an ordinary feature film. The choice of the revue format entailed big risks in the fall of 1929, when Universal Pictures, wary of the waning popularity of revue musicals, decided to change course and script King of Jazz around a backstage story about a famous bandleader; Whiteman, however, vetoed the idea, protesting that his status as a celebrity musician made him incapable of playing a fictional character – even one modeled on his own public persona (Babcock 1929: 13, 24). The absence of narrative causality in King of Jazz – or put positively, the formal autonomy of its individual sequences, the show-stopping singularity of each act – allowed Universal in 1933 to release a re-cut version of the film that juggled the order of the sequences to shift the emphasis away from Whiteman, whose popularity had faded over the preceding three years, and toward Bing Crosby, now a major star.3 Like a stage revue, King of Jazz is modular in construction, its constituent acts capable of addition, deletion, and other reorderings. Nonetheless, King of Jazz “holds together,” director John Murray Anderson insisted, given the role in structuring the film played by “certain contrasts and continuities” in form: “The actual plan is bound to be an indefinable thing; but it is there nonetheless. One senses its presence in the audience. It is the design, the pattern of the production” (quoted in Schallert 1930b: B11). In sum, formal continuity via what Anderson called the film’s design compensated for the absence of narrative structure.
color in king of jazz
How does Technicolor Number 3 factor into the film’s design? Like other aspects of style, color in King of Jazz varies from one act or number to the next per the revue format, in which individual acts are ordered to maximize the contrast between them. Thus, the ethereal “Bridal Veil” dance number is followed by Laura LaPlante’s comedy sketch, which is in turn succeeded by the Rhythm Boys, a singing trio; and so on, each act displaying a genre-appropriate color scheme. Some sequences showcase what can be called naturalistic color, with the filmmakers exploring Technicolor’s capacity for simulating real-world color experience, especially flesh tones, which had been difficult to achieve with earlier color technologies. An example is the sketch “All Noisy on the Eastern Front,” with its bombed-out chiaroscuro setting (see Hall 1929: 30). The naturalistic aesthetic, however, is not typical of the film as a whole, which, by and large, favors the abstraction achieved through a reduction of the color design to Number 3’s constituent hues of magenta and cyan along with the liberal use of colored-light special effects. The formal “contrasts and continuities” that serve to “hold together” this film thus include an experimental use of color.
Making the color challenge critical for King of Jazz was the need for an extravagant set piece devoted to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” – a famous concert piece associated with Whiteman since its gala premiere in New York in 1924. The “Rhapsody in Blue” sequence, put simply, had to look blue. That is, it had to feature a unitary blue, unmixed with red or yellow – the hue recognized as the prototypical blue in diverse cultures. But Number 3, with its cyan/magenta base, was unable to produce a straight blue of this sort (Anon. 1934: 94). Anderson recalled in his memoires that he and set designer Herman Rosse, aiming to overcome Number 3’s limitations, made tests of “various fabrics and pigments, and by using an all gray-and-silver background, finally arrived at a shade of green which gave the illusion of peacock blue” (in Anderson 1954: 124). The result was not enough, however, to keep critics from labeling the color in question as green rather than blue or from referring to King of Jazz as a “rhapsody in turquoise” (Scheuer 1930: B11; Sime 1930).
Song sequences in King of Jazz are staged and lit to foreground the bi-chromatic basis of the color technology, with the result that the already limited palette of Technicolor Number 3 – a two- rather than three-color system – is further reduced down to magenta and cyan, with minimal mixing of the two.4 The two-color scheme carried over to film-related illustrated sheet music editions, whose red and blue design emulated the clean, modernist, poster-art graphics of the film’s mise-en-scène (see G. 1930: 4). Adding to the binary aesthetic was Anderson’s use of colored lights during filming.5 In King of Jazz beams of filtered light strike actors and sets in ways that juxtapose separate and distinct renditions of magenta and cyan. The film’s third sequence, for example, where the band is introduced, includes numerous shots in which Number 3’s two fundamental hues are placed side by side so that magenta covers one half of the frame and cyan the other – as in the striking medium close-up of the clarinet player, his face bathed half in “red” and half in “blue.” “Futuristic” is how one critic described the overall effect (Anon. 1930a: B13). At the same time, the two-color motif, sustained across an entire feature film, spurred the complaint that “[b]y the end of King of Jazz one is tired of particular kinds of red and blue” (Herring 1930: 60).
In combining Technicolor with special effects stage lighting, Anderson and his team invoked what had been a hallmark of their Broadway shows and movie-palace prologues. With, certain of the film’s musical numbers and black-out sketches, critics noted, adapted from Anderson’s stage revues. The epic “Bridal Veil” sequence, for instance, had already been introduced in Anderson’s revue “What’s in a Name?” and then reworked as a movie-house prologue for “the entire circuit of Publix Theatres” (in Lusk 1930: B9). Ensuring continuity between the previous stage work and King of Jazz was the involvement in the film of Anderson’s key stage associates, set designer Rosse and cartoonist and graphic artist Wynn Holcomb (Anon 1929b: 8,20; Anon 1929c: 18). The modernist aesthetic linked to these artists was in keeping with Universal’s boast that King of Jazz had inaugurated a new era in entertainment. At the same time, King of Jazz, in a pattern familiar to media history, invoked the old-media contexts capable of highlighting its novelty. Exemplary is the film’s grotesque song-slide parody (sequence 24), whose farcical rendition of the singing quartet, with their awkward demeanor and tuneless vibrato, both mocks the movie-house song-slide shows of twenty years before while acknowledging these shows as King of Jazz‘s predecessor in the entertainment field. With its futuristic vision mobilized for a re-staging of color cinema’s own past, King of Jazz implies a kind of self-awareness regarding its own place in entertainment history.
the movement to red
Signaling the centrality of the movement-toward-red motif to King of Jazz is its introduction over the opening credits, whose listing of titles and names compels the viewer to scan the frame as if reading a page – from right to left and top to bottom. With the frame’s upper half entirely blue while the lower half displays blue mixed with red highlights, the viewer/reader takes in the text by encountering first blue and then a red-blue mix. The movement-to-red pattern plays out over the remainder of the credits as the blue, cloud-like swirl acquires additional red accents. The “Melting Pot” musical number, the last major sequence in the film, exhibits the same schema. Toward the end, the massive pot “heats up” as Paul Whiteman, facing us in medium long shot and wearing a cook’s hat, stirs with a stick. Ultimately he leans over the stew in close-up, red light floods his face from below. Soon after comes the coda, where the pattern is reversed. Beginning with a blue and red swirl pattern (much like that of the opening credits), the sequence evolves so that the degree of redness gradually diminishes prior to the final “Finis,” thus enacting a progression toward blue rather than red. The exception proves the rule, however, since the sequence occurs at the end of the film, where it works as a closure cue, sealing off not only the “Melting Pot” sequence but everything that has happened since the opening credits.
The movement toward red defines six additional sequences comprising roughly one-third of the film’s total running time, by my reckoning. The epic “My Bridal Veil” sequence ends with the seemingly endless reddish-pink wedding train gradually filling the space of the shot, even as the camera cranes back, away from the set. The “Song of the Dawn” sequence concludes with singer Boles and his chorus of backing vocalists striding toward the camera in red shirts, their arms extended to span the frame. In light of red’s familiar status as a “warm color” – reiterated by Kalmus and virtually every other color theorist then and since – the boost in redness suggests a spike in temperature. This warming effect is prominent in sequences in which the elevation in redness coincides with a decrease in camera distance. The Rhythm Boys sequence, for instance, opens with a cyan silhouette of the three singers and ends with a two-dimensional composition much like the opening shot but now in magenta. The concluding image is also framed more tightly, as if to bring the viewer closer to the performers. The schema recurs in sequence 10, the comedy sketch featuring crazy comic Jack White. The sketch begins in a naturalistic mode with White entertaining the band members in what is presented as an impromptu performance. Then, around three-fourths of the way into the sequence, comedian Jack shouts out the non sequitur “and then the war broke out!” and the set instantly floods with red light, which lasts up through the sketch’s end and the closest framing yet, a medium shot of White and a band member huddling on the imaginary battlefield and peering out toward the camera.
The “getting warmer” variant of the movement-to-red image schema structures numerous individual shots, as Anderson had promised: “You’ll see colors changing – colors of costumes, of sets; colors on players’ faces” (quoted in Lang 1930: 75). These changes typically involve an increase in redness. For instance, the shot in sequence 3 featuring the violin section begins with the six violinists in darkness and ends with the reddish pink lights turning on. Further examples occur in the notorious Walter Lantz cartoon about Paul Whiteman’s role in the invention of jazz (sequence 2) as in the shot of the dancing dogs that ends with the dogs turning to face the camera and sticking out their red tongues, or the shots of the lion whose red mouth gapes open each time it lunges toward the camera to occupy momentarily the foreground of the shot. The image of the lion anticipates the cartoon’s final image: the animated Whiteman character, wearing a reddish shirt, leans out from the frame in close-up, dazed from a blow to the head, his eyes rolling and red tongue hanging out. More red at the end than at the beginning, these shots suggest a recursive pattern whereby the principle behind the film’s color design overall becomes manifest on the microscale of the single shot.
King of Jazz is an unusual film in important respects. But its movement toward red-dominant images is evident throughout the history of motion picture color. Many of the films discussed at the Bristol conference count as examples: from The Mills of Joy and Sorrow (1912) through O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). The concept of the image-schema, which Johnson stresses includes hearing and other sensory modes besides vision (Johnson 2007: A2–A5, 136–145), provides a way of illuminating the logic behind the close interaction of music and visual action in so many films. The question posed in this chapter has concerned how color might factor into the analysis, using as a case study King of Jazz, whose music, visual representation, vocals, and color – at key moments – come into formal alignment so that change in one parameter matches up to analogous change in the others, all working to simulate the viewer’s own embodied movement into (or out of) the film’s space.
1. My sense of the prevalence in cinema of the movement-to-red motif or image schema derives mainly from my experience as a film viewer. The phenomenon has been noted by other critics, however. See, for instance Coates (2008: 2–23) and Brost (2007: 128).
2. The scene order presented here is that of the MCA Home Video VHS release of 1992. This video edition, Bob Britchard of the American Film Institute reports, derived from a print made for general release in Great Britain, and that the scene order for this print does not match that of the prints screened for the film’s premiere showings in New York and London. For more on various versions of the film, including eight foreign-language versions, see Britchard’s entry on King of Jazz in the 2011 edition of the American Film Institute’s Catalogue of Feature Films.
3. The extent of the scene re-arrangement can be seen when MCA’s video edition of the film is compared to the script for the 1933 re-release, available in the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles.
4. King of Jazz is known today mainly by MCA’s 1992 video release, which is rumored to have been “color corrected,” with the cyan of two-color Technicolor changed into a peacock blue. Hoping to find a more authentic version, I obtained from eBay a DVD-r allegedly made from a 35 mm print. The blue on the DVD is closer to cyan than what appears in the Universal video, which has led me to rely upon the DVD for my analysis. Needless to say, a definitive analysis will require examination of a 35 mm print – preferably an original nitrate release print.
5. Anderson claimed that he insisted on colored lights against Technicolor’s reliance on “regulation white arcs” (in Anon. 1930c: 122). See also the remark that Anderson’s use of colored light allowed him to get “the effect of three tones where everyone else has been content with one” (in Bell 1930: 11).
Anderson, H. (1954) Out without My Rubbers: The Memoires of John Murray Anderson, New York: Library Publishers.
Anon. (1929a) “100 Features in Color,” New York Times (29 Sept.), X6.
Anon. (1929b) “Universal Signs John Murray Anderson to Produce King of Jazz,” Universal Weekly 30, no. 7 (21 September), 8, 20.
Anon. (1929c) “Wynn Holcomb, Cartoonist and Stage Designer Signed for Universale King of Jazz Revue,” Universal Weekly 30, no. 13 (2 November), 18.
Anon. (1930a) “Two Color Sequences Stand Out,” Los Angeles Times (27 April), B.
Anon. (1930b) “Color and Sound on Film,” Fortune vol. 11, no. 4 (October), 124.
Anon. (1930c) “A Director’s Ambitions,” New York Times (11 May), 122.
Anon. (1934) “What? Color in the Movies Again?” Fortune vol. 10, no. 4 (October), 94.
Babcock, M. (1929) “King of Jazz Lacks Throne,” Los Angeles Times (18 August), 13, 24.
Bell, N. (1930) “Behind the Screens,” The Washington Post (3 May), 11.
Berrett, J. (2004) Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman, Two Kings of Jazz, New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press.
Brost, L. (2007) “On Seeing Red: The Figurative Movement of Film Colour,” in W. Everett (ed.), Questions of Colour in Cinema: From Paintbrush to Pixel, Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2007, 127–139.
Buhler, J., Neumeyer, D. and Deemer, R. (2010) Hearing the Movies: Music and Sound in Film History, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Coates, P. (2008) “On the Dialectic of Filmic Colors (in general) and Red (in particular): Three Colors: Red, Red Desert, Cries and Whispers, and The Double Life of Véronique,” Film Criticism vol. 32, no. 3, 2–23.
G., R. (1930) “The King of Jazz,” Wall Street Journal (5 May), 4.
Haines, W. (1993) Technicolor Movies: the History of Dye-Transfer Printing, Jefferson, NC: MacFarland.
Hall, M. (1929) “Dialogue and Color,” New York Times (29 May), 30.
Herring, R. (1930) “The Whiteman Front,” Close Up vol. 6, no. 1 (July), 60.
Higgins, S. (2007) Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Huron, D. (2006) Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation, Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press.
Johnson, M. (2007) The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, Chicago and London: University of Chicago.
Kalmus, N. (1935) “Color Consciousness,” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers vol. 25, no. 2, 145.
Lang, H. (1930) “He Didn’t Know How,” Photoplay vol. 38, no. 1 (1 June), 75.
Lusk, N. (1930) “Depression Felt in East,” Los Angeles Times (11 May), B9.
Schallert, E. (1930a) “‘Ghosting’ Songs Now Favored,” Los Angeles Times (19 January), B13.
Schallert, E. (1930b) “Revues Stir Controversy,” Los Angeles Times (9 March), B11.
Scheurer, P. (1930) “Jazz Spectacle Sets Pace in Novelties, ” Los Angeles Times (13 April), 19.
Sime (1930) “King of Jazz,” Variety (7 May).
Yumibe, J. (2009) “‘Harmonious Sensations of Sound by Means of Colors’: Vernacular Colour Abstractions in Silent Cinema,” Film History vol. 21, no. 2, 164–176.”
(O’Brien, Charles (2013): Color as Image Schema. Technicolor Number 3 in King of Jazz. In: Simon Brown, Sarah Street and Liz Watkins (eds.): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 37–46.)
“A very promising method of making subtractive pictures is the imbibition process. In this, dyed images are prepared upon master films, and the dyes are transferred in succession in register on to a single film coated with gelatin. Provided that the mechanical difficulties can be overcome and sharp pictures obtained, results should be excellent, and the process has the advantage of giving a film which has exactly the same properties in regard to curl, etc., as the ordinary black and white film, so that it can be inserted with black and white film and does not involve any changes in projection. Theoretically, the imbibition process could be used for three-color as well as two-color pictures, although the difficulties increase rapidly as the number of transfers become greater.
Combinations of imbibition with other methods of making dyed images are very common in motion picture color processes.”
(Mees, C.E. Kenneth (1929): The Processes of Color Photography. III. Color Cinematography. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 6, pp. 44–51, on pp. 48–49.)
“Sound prints by the Technicolor process have been released commercially with a silver image sound track having a contrast or gamma of unity, having been printed from a negative having a similar contrast or gamma of unity. This procedure was that originally recommended for handling variable density sound track, but a compromise was necessary generally in connection with black-and-white picture technic, which is unnecessary in color prints by this process. The advantages of the original method are said to be greater ease of control, and somewhat greater latitude in volume control. The feature picture Whoopee is the first to make use of this improved procedure.”
(Society of Motion Picture Engineers (1930): Report. Progress in the Motion Picture Industry. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 15, December 1930, pp. 791–793, on p. 792.)
“During the switch to sound, Hollywood studios used Technicolor as an added attraction for many of their musicals, while a number of primarily black-and-white films contained some colour sequences. However, as we have seen, it was soon decided colour footage did not justify the extra expense and by 1932, when its initial novelty had worn off, few Technicolor films were made.”
(Everett, Wendy (2007): Mapping Colour. An Introduction to the Theories and Practices of Colour. In: Wendy Everett (ed.): Questions of Colour in Cinema. From Paintbrush to Pixel. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 7–38, on pp. 20–21.)
“The Technicolor Company, formed in Boston in 1915, experimented during the 1920s first with a two-colour additive process and then with a subtractive one. Yet a sudden rush to colour in the late 1920s, when it was tied together with sound in musicals such as Gold Diggers of Broadway in 1929, petered out in the early 30s as audiences became dissatisfied with the result of the two tone-process (in which human flesh on screen varied from unrealistic hues of pink to even more unrealistic hues of orange) and the 30 per cent higher costs of using Technicolor made it too expensive to contemplate at a time of economic depression.”
(Stokes, Melvyn (2009): Colour in American Cinema. From The Great Train Robbery to Bonnie and Clyde. In: Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard (ed.): Cinéma et couleur. Paris: M. Houdiard, pp. 184–192, on p. 186.)
“Technicolor’s first boom came during the years 1929-31. The firm had devised a new two-strip subtractive process and its celebrated imbibition printing method.2* Warner Bros, having innovated talking pictures, used the improved Technicolor for On With the Show! (1929), and other studios followed suit. But within three years, the decline in release-print quality and the cost of the process made firms halt Technicolor filming.
To win Hollywood’s support, Technicolor employed a time-tested business tactic, that of supplying research prototypes. Every new Technicolor process was demonstrated in a sample film financed by the company itself or by a sympathetic backer. Kalmus and his colleagues produced The Gulf Between (1917) to display the additive process, Toll of the Sea (1922) to exhibit the initial two-color procedure, and The Flag (1927) and The Viking (1928) to publicize the revised two-color process.
2* In the two-color subtractive method, a beamsplitter prism exposed two frames at once, one through a red filter and one through a green filter. A print was made from each set of images and the two prints were cemented together, yielding a relief image on each side of the film. One side was then dyed red, the other blue-green. Imbibition processing improved the method by dyeing each negative’s relief-image print (its ‘matrix’) and immediately stamping it onto another film; the process resembled half-tone lithography.”
(Bordwell, David; Staiger, Janet; Thompson, Kristin (1985): The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. London: Routledge, on p. 353.)
“During the 1920s, Technicolor sequences were inserted into The Merry Widow (1925), Beau Geste (1926), Ben-Hur (1926), The Ten Commandments (1923), and others; in The Big Parade (1925) and The Wedding March (1928), the process was used for scenes of pageantry. The Black Pirate (1926), one of the first two-strip Technicolor features, made extensive use of color for spectacle. The 1929-31 Technicolor boom was identified with the rise of the musical. (Desert Song, Glorifying the American Girl, Golddiggers of Broadway, Rio Rita, Show of Shows, King of Jazz, and Whoopee are the best-known.) Contemporary accounts emphasize that two-color (red-green) Technicolor was best suited for ‘musical revues’ because they appeal by virtue of costume and artificial settings: ‘Color pictures [scripts] which depend for their effect upon outdoor sets will be of comparatively little value to studios using a color process which cannot obtain good blues in sea and sky.’12
12 Walter B. Pitkin and William M. Marston, The Art of Sound Pictures (New York: Appleton, 1930), p. 261.”
(Bordwell, David; Staiger, Janet; Thompson, Kristin (1985): The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. London: Routledge, on p. 355.)
“Trotz der beachtlichen Verbreitung, die Prizmacolor gefunden hatte, verschwand das Verfahren 1924 von der Bildfläche, nachdem ihm im Technicolor Prozess Nr. 2 ein – dank der subtraktiven Aufnahmemethode – überlegener Rivale erwachsen war.
In den Forschungslaboratorien der Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, die 1915 von dem Absolventen des Massachusetts Institute of Technology Herbert Thomas Kalmus und zwei Geschäftspartnern in Boston gegründet worden war, hatte man sich etwa um 1920 der subtraktiven Farberzeugung zugewandt. Ebenso wie der Prizmacolor Prozess Nr. 1 war auch das erste Farbverfahren der Technicolor noch ein additives Folgeverfahren in der Tradition Kinemacolors gewesen, das mit Strahlenteilung, Rot- und Grünfilter und gebräuchlichem Schwarz-Weiß-Film arbeitete59 und rasch in Vergessenheit geriet. Die subtraktiven Technicolor Prozesse Nr. 2 und 3 dagegen etablierten die Farbe als feste Größe im Hollywood-Kino der ausgehenden Stumm- und frühen Tonfilmepoche und bereiteten auf diese Weise den Boden für den späteren Ruhm der Marke Technicolor, die in der zweiten Hälfte der 30er Jahre synonym für den Durchbruch des farbigen Films werden sollte.
Beim Technicolor Prozess Nr. 2 erfolgte die Aufnahme zweier spiegelverkehrter Farbauszüge, die, als sogenannte Matrizen auf Positivfilm kopiert; passgenau aufeinander geklebt wurden und auf diese Weise einen einzigen zweifarbigen Filmstreifen ergaben, der trotz seines überdurchschnittlichen Durchmessers mit jedem gebräuchlichen Projektor vorgeführt werden konnte. Als erster Spielfilm nach dem Verfahren wurde Ende 1922 die Madame Butterfly-Adaption The Toll of the Sea (Chester M. Franklin) in New York uraufgeführt, die die technischen und ästhetischen Vorzüge des Verfahrens immerhin so überzeugend bewiesen zu haben scheint, dass sich Technicolor in den kommenden Jahren gegen seine Konkurrenten durchsetzen konnte. Zu diesem Aufstieg trug die Tatsache bei, dass Hollywood-Größen wie Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn und Douglas Fairbanks Gebrauch von dem Verfahren machten und so in kurzer Zeit eine ganze Reihe bedeutender Filmwerke entstanden, mit denen sich der Markenname Technicolor verknüpfte. 1923 machte der Gigantomane DeMille den Anfang, indem er Einzelszenen seines Bibel-Epos The Ten Commandments in Technicolor drehte. 1925 folgten unter anderem die berühmte Maskenball-Szene in The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian) und Passagen des Monumentalfilms Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Fred Niblo). Im darauf folgenden Jahr entstand als abendfüllender Technicolor-Film der Fairbanks-Kassenschlager The Black Pirate (Albert Barker). 1927 bediente sich wiederum DeMille des Verfahrens für Szenen seiner Christus-Verfilmung The King of Kings.
Wesentliche technische Verbesserungen brachte 1928 der Technicolor Prozess Nr. 3, bei dem zur Herstellung der Kopien ein spezieller Blankfilm und dessen Bearbeitung mittels eines Druckverfahrens (Dye Transfer Process) eingeführt wurden: An die Stelle der präzise aneinander geklebten Positivfilmstreifen trat der Blankfilm, auf den die Farbinformation der Matrizen aufkopiert wurde. Zukunftsweisende Bedeutung kam der Tatsache zu, dass sich auf dem neuen Kopierfilm auch eine Lichttonspur aufbringen ließ. Bereits die ersten Filme, die nach dieser dritten und letzten Evolutionsstufe des zweifarbigen Technicolor-Verfahrens hergestellt wurden, gehörten zur Gattung der sogenannten Sounds, die den Übergang des stummen Films zum Tonfilm-Kino markierten, beispielsweise das Wagner-inspirierte Spektakel The Viking (1928, Roy William Neill) und die Jules-Vernes-Adaption The Mysterious Island (1929, Luden Hubbard). 1930 setzte eine Welle modischer Color Talkies ein, die vorzugsweise Revue-Shows und Broadway-Glamour von der Bühne auf die Leinwand übertrugen: Allein in diesem Jahr stellten Universal und Tiffany Productions je einen, First National und Paramount Pictures je zwei, und Warner Brothers nicht weniger als sieben abendfüllende Spielfilme nach dem Technicolor-Verfahren her. Darüber hinaus entstanden zweifarbige Einzelszenen für rund 25 ansonsten schwarz-weiße amerikanische Spielfilme sowie eine größere Anzahl von Kurz- und Zeichentrickfilmen. Die Versuche der Technicolor Corporation, sich auf dem europäischen Markt zu etablieren, blieben dagegen erfolglos, wenngleich etwa die französische Großproduktion Michael Strogoff (1926, Viktor Tourjansky) mit Einzelszenen nach dem Technicolor-Verfahren veredelt wurde. Mit einer gewissen Verzögerung traten auch europäische Varianten des Zweifarbenfilms auf, stießen aber auf ein geringes Interesse der Produzenten.
In den USA ließ der Erfolg von Technicolor um 1930 Zweifarbenverfahren wie Pilze aus dem Boden schießen (Photocolor, Naturalcolor, Brewstercolor, Sennettcolor). Als ernstzunehmender Rivale trat das ab 1928 durch den Millionär Howard Hughes geförderte Multicolor auf, das Beachtung durch seine Verwendung in The Great Gabbo (1929, James Cruze) und Hell’s Angels (1930, Howard Hughes) fand, aber für nur zwei abendfüllende Spielfilme60 eingesetzt wurde, bevor die Wirtschaftskrise dem florierenden Farbfilmgeschäft den Boden entzog: Die Zahl der uraufgeführten Farbfilmspielfilme in Hollywood fiel von sieben Titeln im Jahr 1931 auf drei Titel 1932 und einen 1933.
59 Der einzige komplett nach diesem Verfahren gedrehte Spielfilm war The Gulf Between (1917, Wray Bartlett Physioc), von dem heute nur noch einige Einzelbilder existieren.
60 1931 entstand The Hawk (Jacques Jaccard), der jedoch erst 1936 unter dem Titel The Phantom Of Santa Fe in den amerikanischen Kinos erschien, 1932 Tex Takes a Holiday (Alan James).”
(Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on pp. 42–43.) (in German)
“Before Technicolor’s dedicated color consultancy division was formed in 1929, it was the responsibility of the company’s cameramen to advise production staff about on-set colors as best they could. The limitations of the two-color process meant certain colors were impossible to achieve in the final prints.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 114.)
“From an early stage, the KC&W team set a motion picture dye-transfer process as its goal. Imbibition printing shared many characteristics with the widespread practice of lithography, whereby an etched metal surface or stone plate was used to print a dye image or text onto paper. This dyed plate could be used repeatedly to efficiently print multiple pages at increased volume. For color printing, separate color records could be applied, which approximated a full or partial range of colors when combined. The principle was adapted to photography in the 1880s by Frenchman Charles Cros, whose Hydrotypie process was able to transfer three photographic color records in register onto a receiving paper print. Further refinements came in 1905 with the commercial release of Léon Didiers Pinatype process, and in 1913 when American photographic scientist Frederic Ives announced a new method of improving sharpness during transfer by chemically treating the receiving blank.12 In Hollywood, former photoengraver Max Handschiegl was the first to apply imbibition printing to motion picture use.
More than thirty years of development preceded the work of the KC&W engineers, but entirely new concepts, products, and equipment needed to be perfected before the technique could be utilized for natural-color motion picture use. The Technicolor dye-transfer process had to impart separate color records onto a blank strip of gelatin-coated 35mm film. The red and green dyes needed in the two-color process had to be added separately by pressing a dyed matrix or relief film into contact with the blank for a short period of time (similar to the dyed plate against the receiving paper in lithography). On each pass the dye had to diffuse into the blank, forming a colored image on one emulsion. Exact registration of the two dye imprints was crucial, as was the control of dye diffusion from the matrix into the blank.
The basic principle was simple, but it had to be adapted for use on an industrial scale. Drastically departing from traditional photographic duplication, dye-transfer printing was essentially a mechanical process offering many benefits. “The new process is revolutionary in character; and replaces certain costly photographic steps by much simpler ones” declared a 1925 Technicolor stockholders’ report heralding its arrival. It “should reduce the manufacturing costs by at least twenty five per cent, [which will permit] greatly increased capacity at relatively moderate capital expenditure.”13
Development work on the I.B. process began in tandem with the earliest experiments on cemented prints in the late 1910s, and continued for almost eight years. In May 1918, E. J. Wall first proposed a theoretical single-imbibition process to the KC&W engineers, transferring a red dye image onto a blue dye-toned print, effectively creating a two-color image on one emulsion coating.14 Further examinations of the possibilities continued along these lines, and by 1919 Comstock was convinced that an imbibition process would become the most viable and practical option, and the goal to aim for. However, returning to Comstock’s step-development plan, it was decided to overcome the challenges of realizing the cemented process first, before moving on to the next stage. Technicolor’s patient investors needed to be satisfied by the company’s progress (and to begin seeing signs of commercial returns) before they would be willing to finance Technicolor’s third new printing process in the span of ten years.
Research into the I.B. process was resumed in May 1921 after the construction of the Pilot Plant was complete. Dye-transfer tests on short film strips revealed many obstacles that had to be overcome, especially in the design of the complex printing machines. To transfer dyes from the matrix relief film onto blank film, the two film strips had to come into precise contact and remain unseparated for as long as it took for the dye to transfer from one to the other. During transfer, excess dye diffusion in the blank proved a problem (causing softness in the image), so hundreds of dyes had to be tested to find one with the most appropriate diffusion and density characteristics. Blank and matrix stocks needed to be developed in-house on a small scale before other suppliers such as Kodak or Ansco could be approached to produce the same product in larger quantities. Perhaps the most serious issue was how the matrix and blank films should be combined, and how exact registration could be maintained. Expansion and shrinkage of both films varied, as both strips received different chemical, environmental, and liquid treatments before being pressed into contact.
By 1924, Arthur Ball and George Cave had left research work to supervise production in Hollywood as Technicolor employees. In Boston, Comstock was closely assisted by Eastman Weaver, Elliott Whitney, Leonard Troland, and Bertha Sugden. Recent Columbia University graduate John F. Kienninger joined the experienced group in the summer of 1923. With no further development work needed on the double-coated process, the Boston engineers dedicated their efforts to perfecting imbibition-blank printing. Each was in charge of solving specific tasks, which, when resolved, would be combined to produce a successful product for commercial use.
Designs for imbibition machines had been completed in 1919 by Ernest Gallison, but they were neither constructed nor tested. In the proposed designs, the machine itself maintained the blank and matrix films in exact register, held tight over a giant drum with sprockets or between a series of pressured rollers. It was determined that pins or sprocket teeth needed to be used to stretch the two films into alignment, ensuring accurate register during the course of contact. As the matrices for each color record would need to be used multiple times for the production of large print runs, they had to be dimensionally stable and robust enough to withstand continuous use. Some tests were made and patented in 1923 for gluing the film matrix to a metal backing to limit dimensional changes during wetting and drying. For a short period the engineers even toyed with the idea of making a gelatin-coated matrix relief directly onto a band of metal instead of film. Both proposals were subsequently abandoned due to adhesion difficulties.
It was Daniel Comstock who solved the problem. “Various schemes were considered to hold the films together,” he remembered years later. “In the end we came to my suggestion of a steel belt with pins onto which the blank and wet matrix [films] were both rolled.” This pinbelt “eliminated the register problem in imbibition printing.”15
The pinbelt design was a breakthrough in the development of the I.B. process. The metal belt, dyed matrix film, and blank film came into contact simultaneously, and remained in continuous motion together for several minutes until separated.16 The blank was then run through an additional pass, this time in contact with the dyed matrix film for the second color record. The pinbelt was joined in a loop, and formed part of a large printing line. Rows of pins along each edge of the metal belt held the blank and matrix taut and in register. While moving continuously the matrix film was unrolled, submerged in a dye tank, partially rinsed to remove excess dye, and pressed into contact with the blank. It was then washed of all remaining dye, dried, and prepared for the same procedure again. The crucial point where all three came into contact was dubbed the “roll tank”.
Eastman Weaver was in charge of matrix research. Each matrix film – which could be used to produce at least forty prints before needing replacement – was optically printed from the two-color camera negative using the projection printer designed for the cemented printing process. After being developed and fixed, as in the usual black & white process, the silver image was then bleached with vanadium oxide and potassium ferricyanide, removing the image and proportionally hardening the gelatin in its place. The resulting gelatin relief absorbed and transferred different proportions of dye in relation to the different densities of the image. In order to create the relief, the matrix film was exposed through the base, contrary to conventional black & white printing practices.
The chemist Bertha Sugden conducted much of the testing on blank films and dyes. It was found that there were many variables in achieving a sharp image on the blank: the receptiveness of the gelatin, the length of time in contact with the matrix, its subsequent drying, and the qualities of the dye itself. During her tests Sugden found that clogging of some dyes on the matrix was problematic. The gelatin of the matrix reacted to the dye and resulted in incomplete dye-transfer to the blank. Dubbed “croceination” by the research engineers, after the Croceine Scarlet dye which proved to be the worst offender, the problem resulted in bad transfers after just fifteen passes. Sugden eventually resolved the issue with the inclusion of albumen (egg white) in the dye solution. It was found that even commercial egg-white flakes produced by the local baker and confectioner supplier H. A. Johnson Co. gave “exceptionally good results” in this regard, allowing up to fifty transfer passes without problems.17 Sugden was one of two women in prominent research positions at Technicolor during this time; the other, Phyllis Wall, in charge of Solutions and Reclamation, was the daughter of E. J. Wall.
12 For more on this, see E. J. Wall, The History of Three-Color Photography (Boston: American Photographic Publishing Company, 1925), 390–98; and Joseph S. Friedman, The History of Color Photography (Boston: American Photographic Publishing Company, 1945), 462–86.
13 “Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation Report to Stockholders,” June 15, 1925.
14 E. J. Wall, “A Possible Subtractive Process,” May 23, 1918, #18 Imbibition Process, Technicolor Notebooks Collection.
15 Daniel F. Comstock, An Outline of the History of the Beginning of the Technicolor Development in Boston (Cambridge, MA: Comstock& Wescott, Inc., 1961), 10.
16 Years later, Bernard Happé, the former technical manager of the British Technicolor laboratory, claimed that the blank and the matrix had to remain in contact for two minutes for an adequate transfer to occur. Because of this the printing production line required a 240-foot long continuously moving looped pinbelt. Bernard Happé, interview by Alf Cooper, Alan Lawson, and Frank Littlejohn, June 13, 1989, BECTU interview no. 92. Reproduced in Simon Brown, Sarah Street, and Liz Watkins, British Colour Cinema: Practices and Theories (London: British Film Institute/Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 119 and 138.
17 Bertha Sugden, “Memorandum Re Croceination in I.B.”, July 6, 1924, #38, Technicolor Notebooks Collection.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 142–145.)
“By September 1928, Ansco was supplying Technicolor with 200,000 feet of blank per week.43
Despite problems with inferior and inconsistent blank supply, Technicolor’s business relationship with Kodak was important to maintain. It did not wish to upset its main supplier by sourcing its required component products from other manufacturers. Although their sourcing of blank switched to Ansco, panchromatic negative and matrix stock continued to be purchased from Kodak at favorable rates. The link between the two companies had been forged in the 1910s, and continued to strengthen throughout the 1920s into the 1940s. The US government would eventually investigate the companies’ professional collusion in the 1947 antitrust case United States of America v. Technicolor, Inc., Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, and Eastman Kodak Company.
Technicolor was fully aware that dye-transfer was a viable and potentially lucrative manufacturing technique for black & white release prints. This potentiality was not lost on Kodak, either. In an off-the-books arrangement Technicolor agreed with the film manufacturer not to pursue further development. Despite promising good results, a black & white I.B. printing process could have been detrimental to one of Kodak’s main sources of income if it came into widespread use. “There was a supposed agreement with Eastman Kodak not to print black and white,” remembered Edward Estabrook. “The matrix system allowed you to make black and white prints for a fraction of the normal cost. The cost advantage was based on the use of blank film instead of film with emulsion which eliminated the silver.”44
The I.B. process was finally ready. It had taken eight years to develop from theory to practice, with many great minds and patient investors working through the problems. Technicolor went through tumultuous changes during this period. The departure of Daniel Comstock could have been devastating, but the equally brilliant mind of his protege, Leonard Troland, turned the new process around in its final stages, making it a commercial reality. Kalmus worked well with Troland and trusted in his ability. Maintaining close correspondence between Hollywood and Boston, Kalmus ensured that his engineers received the support and backing they needed to go forward.
43 Exhibitors Daily Review, September 21, 1928, 2.
44 Edward Estabrook, interview by Bill Gleason, 1970s, transcript, Karl Thiede Collection.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 155.)
“As the American film industry rapidly grew, the studios learned how to maximize profits efficiently and consistently. If all-color production was on the horizon, Technicolor had to be able to accommodate all existing production practices and learn to work closely with producers to give them what they wanted. Having nearly perfected the new I.B. process, Technicolor could no longer afford to dictate technique to a handful of clients. Their process had to be adaptable to all comers under all conditions, including filming under extreme conditions and on location, combining the process with special effects photography and manipulating colors to achieve desired effects.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 160.)
“Eager to secure a follow-up contract with Fairbanks, Herbert Kalmus and his Hollywood sales team went to great lengths to give the filmmaker what he was looking for. Technicolor’s I.B. process had improved the cost and durability of printing, and Fairbanks was kept fully abreast of these benefits. He met regularly with Kalmus and Ball, who presented private demonstrations of the latest developments. In fact, one of these developments had specifically been introduced to appease Fairbanks: Ball’s new “blackened dyes” allowed more control in printing, and therefore offered a wider choice of color keys. Ball had been testing new dye combinations in the Hollywood laboratory, including adding a higher component of black to the red and green solutions.
Ball’s new blackened-dye formula gave more flexibility and control in subdued colors than previously possible. Color no longer had to be controlled so carefully on the set, as it could now be finely manipulated in printing.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on pp. 169–170.)
“A single successful all-color feature at this juncture could have helped reverse Technicolor’s desperate prospects and set the company back on its feet. The I.B. process was one step in the right direction, but other concerns also had to be overcome. The goal of proving that Technicolor could be combined with process photography and location filming was met, but the fact still remained that a production’s costs were higher and filming was more time-consuming in color, and release prints were three times more expensive. If color didn’t lead to increased profits, was it worth the extra expense?”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 177.)
“The year 1927 was crucial for Technicolor. Development of the I.B. process was complete, and had been handed over from the Research Department for commercial production. The problems with cemented prints had tainted the company’s reputation, and as a result contracts with the Hollywood studios proved hard to secure. To stay operational, the company needed a constant flow of income, and the standard of release prints had to be improved. The goal of converting Hollywood to all-color production had encountered major setbacks, and now seemed a long way off. Technicolor desperately needed to diversify and expand its clientele to keep afloat.
The industry backlash against the company hit hardest in the last half of 1926 and into early 1927.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 179.)
“Troland had handed over two I.B. machines to Boston plant manager Frank Oates in January 1927 for commercial use, but their implementation and operation were far from smooth. Troland and Kienninger had difficulties maintaining consistent results and matching the quality of cemented prints. Arthur Ball sent studio-approved answer prints from Hollywood, and the Boston laboratory aimed to produce hundreds of release prints of the same quality. With the new I.B. process unexpected difficulties arose.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 181.)
“Despite the experience of the cameramen and laboratory engineers, the refinement of the dye-transfer process continued to rely on trial and error. Each new order required testing multiple matrix exposures, blank chemical treatments, and dye manipulations. In order to develop a commercially viable product, processes had to be standardized and simplified.
Technicolor’s gloomy business outlook forced the company to refocus its efforts. Troland knew the I.B. product had to be improved.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 192.)
“With minimal business to occupy the two I.B. machines in December 1927, Troland turned his efforts toward three-color printing – the final technical hurdle to overcome in Comstock’s original step-development plan. On a small scale, and without additional research funding, Mr. Angelo of the Engineering Department was asked to adapt a two-color camera for three-color work, by adding a spinning sector wheel in front of the lens. Similar to the Kinemacolor process, colored filters in this wheel blocked certain wavelengths of the spectrum on alternate exposures. This was a simple modification – just a few days’ work – which introduced temporal fringing in the image, but was good enough for printing purposes.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 193.)
“By 1928 the coming of sound was transforming the industry. The Technicolor process proved perfectly compatible with sound-on-disc technology, and in August, the addition of a score to Erich von Stroheim’s silent production of The Wedding March (including its color insert of the Corpus Christi celebration) marked the first time Technicolor footage was accompanied by a recorded soundtrack.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 205.)
The Boston laboratory was experiencing dreadful, seemingly insurmountable production problems. The Technicolor printing process involved so many stages, with so many variables, that a minor fluctuation in any one element could cause a major change in the laboratories’ output. The calibration was so precise that whenever a chemical or film stock supplier adjusted a formula, it would trigger a major investigation to uncover where the variance originated. I.B. printing from matrices was a fourteen-step process, while the older but more reliable double-coated process had nineteen steps.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 231.)
“Paramount was actually more enthusiastic about its own color system, and in February announced that its three-color process would be ready in a year. Best of all, it cost 4 cents a foot, significantly less than Technicolor.73 Paramount had licensed the French Keller-Dorian process, a lenticular system that used a special film stock and required a lens filter in photography and projection to align the colors. The color rendition was adequate, but the filter limited the light reaching the screen. Technicolor staff had seen the system in operation, and they weren’t impressed by Paramount’s tests, even after two years of experimentation. For this transitional 1931-32 season, Paramount would be making one feature in Technicolor, and some number of shorts in its own process.
73 “Para’s 3-Color Process Ready in Year: New Color System Costs Slightly More Than Black and White,” Film Daily, February 24, 1931, 1 and 8.”
(Layton, James; Pierce, David (2015): The Dawn of Technicolor. Rochester: George Eastman House, on p. 258.)
“DIE KULTURELLEN MÖGLICHKEITEN DES FARBENFILMS
Die vor einigen Jahren in Deutschland eingeführten amerikanischen Farbenfilme haben nicht vermocht, ein größeres Publikum zu begeistern. Abgesehen davon, daß uns Deutschen die Mentalität solcher amerikanischer Filme, die nicht besonders auf unseren Geschmack zugeschnitten waren, nicht liegt, war bei diesen Farbfilmen der Grund der mehr oder wenigen starken Ablehnung durch das deutsche Publikum die Farbe selbst.
Ein bekannter Berliner Filmfachmann prägte einmal das Wort:
Der größte Feind des Farbenfilms ist die Farbe.
Dieses Wort sagt besser als jede langatmige Abhandlung, woran es bei den amerikanischen Filmen gefehlt hat. Anstatt die Farbe mit weiser Beschränkung und nur dort anzuwenden, wo sie wirklich motiviert war, haben die amerikanischen Regisseure nach dem bekannten Grundsatz “Viel hilft viel” wahre Farbenorgien in ihren Farbfilmen gefeiert.
Man hatte beim Betrachten dieser Filme den Eindruck, als hätten eigens für diesen Zweck angestellte Leute weiter nichts zu tun gehabt, als jeden einzelnen Gegenstand der Dekoration daraufhin zu untersuchen, ob er für einen Farbenfilm auch farbig und bunt genug sei. Bunte Möbel, bunte Lampions, bunte Luftballons, bunte Papierschlangen, bunte Kleidung und andere bunte Requisiten reichten nicht aus, es wurde sogar die Natur, die scheinbar zu farblos war, ins Atelier verpflanzt. Man war mit der Absicht ins Atelier gegangen, einen Farbenfilm zu drehen, und das Endergebnis war dann ein bunter Film.
Es interessiert uns hier nicht die Frage, ob es überhaupt zweckmäßig war, zu einer Zeit, wo der Farbenfilm seine endgültige Form noch nicht gefunden hatte, sich an derartige Probleme, die an die Regie ganz neue Anforderungen stellten, heranzuwagen.
Aus den amerikanischen Farbenfilmen haben wir jedenfalls gelernt, wie man es nicht machen soll. Was uns im gegenwärtigen Augenblick interessiert, ist der farbige Kulturfilm. Beim Kultur- und Lehrfilm liegen die Verhältnisse, soweit es sich um die Farbregie bei der Aufnahme handelt, glücklicherweise erheblich günstiger als bei farbigen Spielfilmen. Es dürfte wohl keinem Lehrfilmhersteller einfallen, einem Schmetterling vor der Aufnahme mit Pinsel und Oelfarbe zu Leibe zu gehen, um ihn noch bunter zu machen, als er von Natur aus ist, ganz abgesehen davon, daß eine solche Nachbehandlung des Aufnahmeobjektes dem eigentlichen Zweck des Lehrfilmes widersprechen würde.”
(Anonymous (1933): Die kulturellen Möglichkeiten des Farbenfilms. In: Film-Kurier. Beilage Kinotechnische Rundschau, 90, 15.4.1933.) (in German)
“Historians agree that Technicolor photography posed a number of problems for the Hollywood style. In one early essay, Edward Buscombe argued that color was a threat to the (thoroughly conventional) realism of black-and-white films.2 More recently, Scott Higgins has argued that the desire to put Technicolor on display could have conflicted with the need to use color in ways that were consistent with the classical norm of unobtrusive storytelling. Higgins’s account is particularly useful because he explains the conflict in institutional terms, comparing the institutional agenda of the Technicolor Corporation with the ideals of classicism, as they had been articulated by institutions like the Society of Motion Picture Engineers and the American Society of Cinematographers.3
In chapter 5 I proposed that we think of the groups in Hollywood as a set of overlapping circles. The American Society of Cinematographers and the Society of Motion Picture Engineers shared several goals and ideals, but the overlap between them was never perfect, as each institution would prioritize those ideals in a manner consistent with its own institutional agenda. In this chapter I will argue that we can think of Hollywood’s adoption of Technicolor in the same way. On the one hand, use of Technicolor assumed many of the ASC’s cinematographic ideals, encouraging cinematographers to think of color as an extension of their existing practices. On the other hand, the Technicolor Corporation subtly modified those ideals to emphasize color’s distinctive properties, thereby creating a new prioritization of functions. As in black-and-white cinematography, the result was a range of stylistic options, with some cinematographers attempting to create a new classical balance, and others opting for a more mannered approach by exploring color’s potential to create unusual pictorial effects.
We can draw an analogy between the evolution of the discourse of Technicolor and that of the ASC. For instance Technicolor initially adopted an eclectic approach, willing to use any rhetorical strategy to advance the use of its namesake product. Later, as Technicolor moved closer to the center of Hollywood norms, its discourse became more classical, although the overlap would never become perfect.
As an example of the eclectic stage, we might consider a 1927 paper, presented to the SMPE by L. T. Troland. Here Troland offers a varied set of arguments in favor of Technicolor’s two-strip process. First, Technicolor will help filmmakers tell certain kinds of stories: namely, stories are about gorgeous people in beautiful spaces. Second, he expands this argument by saying that Technicolor can enhance all lands of stories, since all stories can benefit from an increased illusion of presence. He writes, “Now I believe that it is a psychological truth that the arousal of interest and emotion depends always upon some degree of conviction. A mere idea is not sufficient; it must be ‘believed in.’ … Once we are embarked on this line of thought it is impossible to avoid accepting natural color.”4 These arguments suggest that Troland was already tailoring his rhetoric to suit the needs of a classical aesthetic. However, a few paragraphs later, Troland makes a completely different land of argument. Discussing a hypothetical example involving the shift from black-and-white to color, he writes:
Even under these circumstances it can be presumed safely that the distraction of attention results from the pleasantness or entertainment value of color per se, and hence we might argue that temporarily the dramatic action might be suspended without any net loss of interest…. If a picture is shown of a woman in a gorgeous costume or with beautiful jewels, the audience should be given some time to appreciate the display before the story proceeds.5
Contradicting his own earlier arguments, Troland argues that narrative should be suspended from time to time, to allow audiences to appreciate some moments of Technicolor spectacle.
2 Edward Buscombe, “Sound and Color,” in Movies and Methods, vol. 2, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 83–92. Steve Neale develops and complicate Buscombe’s ideas in Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Color (London: Macmillan, 1985).
3 Scott Higgins, Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007).
4 L. T. Troland, “Some Psychological Aspects of Natural Color Motion Pictures,” TSMPE 11.32 (Sept. 1927): 684.
5 Troland, “Psychological Aspects,” 685–686.”
(Keating, Patrick (2010): Hollywood Lighting from the Silent Era to Film Noir. Columbia University Press: New York, on pp. 201–203.)
“The fact that color in a motion picture is selected piecemeal, by many people and over a period of many days, explains why a color coordinator is desirable to maintain order – the order of good color composition. A color coordinator has two main functions: he insures that the subject matter to be photographed will appear to have the right colors under final viewing conditions; and he takes up artistic slack in carrying out the color master plan for a motion picture.
Color coordinators were first introduced to the motion-picture industry by the Technicolor Corporation. At that time, Technicolor was the only commercially successful color process in the professional motion-picture field, and what few pictures were made in color were in Technicolor. Consequently, the industry’s color problems became Technicolor’s problems, and not the least of these was the problem of color control, which could not be restricted to the laboratory, but had to be extended to the studios and incorporated into the planning and production of a picture. So Technicolor set up a “color consulting” department. Its members worked closely with the producing companies and with the Technicolor laboratory. They worked to secure quality color pictures on the screen, and to avoid costly errors, particularly in the preparation stages of a motion picture.”
(Holm, Wilton R. (1957): The Elements of Color in Professional Motion Pictures. Prepared by a Special Committee of the Society. New York: The Society of Motion Picture Engineers, on p. 44.)
“However, the Technicolor process in its present form overcomes all of these objections with the possible exception of a reasonable increase in cost. Technicolor cameras are now able to work under exactly the same lighting conditions with exactly the same lens apertures as do black and white cameras, and Technicolor I. B. film has the same mechanical characteristics as black and white film. It is single-coated, runs through any standard projector, and shows greater resistance to mechanical breakdown than does standard black and white positive. Since it contains no silver it is much less liable than black and white to catch fire in the projector when any accident happens. We are therefore confronted primarily only with the questions of the desirability of color in general and of the perfection with which Technicolor film reproduces natural color values.
When we compare modern motion picture photography in black and white with the technique of early pictures, we see that a great deal of progress has been made in the perfection of the purely pictorial side of the work. We have better definition and more freedom from lens distortions than in the early days. Much greater care is taken in the composition of the pictures from an artistic standpoint. The reproduction of tone values, as Mr. Jones calls it, is more faithful; although in the majority of cases there is a radical departure from naturalness in the case of colored objects, which could be remedied by the general use of panchromatic film.”
(Troland, Leonard T. (1927): Some Psychological Aspects of Natural Color Motion Pictures. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 11, 26.9.1927, pp. 680–698, on p. 689.)
DR. HICKMAN: The claim underlying Dr. Troland’s excellent arguments is that full, natural colors are preferable to monochrome, and his query is why have they not been adopted in spite of their slight extra cost. I suggest that the reason lies in what one accepts as “full, natural color.” Two-color processes, beautiful as they are, do not give full, natural color; it is a question how far the departure affects average persons – whether they would rather see the picture in black and white or pay extra and see the color.
It is well recognized that though a trained eye is required to appreciate true tone rendering, the most inexpert can detect false color. In this respect all color processes are at a disadvantage. However, by representing true colors in terms of some conventionally accepted scale, very beautiful and acceptable results can be obtained. Some few years ago the underground railway in London published a series of scenic advertisements in complementary colors, with green skies, red trees, and purple fields. The color combinations were chosen by artists and the results were pleasing. Now with your two-color process you cannot leave your choice to an artist; you must choose your two primaries so that in appropriate mixture they pass through the flesh tint range. This leaves your other colors dominated by two hues – brick red and blue green. Any psychologist will tell you that these are not favorite colors, favored neither for modern dress nor to be found in nature.
I do not wish Dr. Troland to interpret these remarks as inimical to his process; I greatly admire its beauty. I merely suggest that the limitations imposed by a two-color combination will make such films delightful to see occasionally but tiresome for a steady diet, and that, that is the reason why they have not been patronized to a larger extent.
DR. TROLAND: It is certainly a question of great interest what the relative utilities of the two-color, three-color and black and white results actually are. The only way to get an answer is by collecting the introspective statements of different individuals regarding their preferences. On this basis we find that by far the greater number of people prefer the two-color result to black and white, although there are some exceptions. My own impression has been constantly that the two-color process at its best gives results which are astonishingly close to perfection, if one bases his judgment on memory rather than on simultaneous comparison.
Of course, two-color reproduction can not be theoretically perfect, but examples of it have frequently impressed even professional artists as being so, a reaction which has been somewhat surprising to us. A great deal depends in the two-color process upon the exact selection of primary colors, and if the best choice is made, it is usually difficult for an inexperienced eye to detect any departure from naturalness of colors. In some two-color pictures which have appeared in the past, the selection of primary colors was ill-advised, causing even the flesh tints, which are the most important colors, to be rendered very poorly. If the flesh tints are properly reproduced, other colors can take care of themselves. I am not advocating the two-color process as the ultimate standard of perfection and look forward to the use of three colors when they become economically feasible, as I believe they may.
DR. MEES: This question as to how far a two-color process is satisfactory is one on which one can argue all night. Personally, I am on the side of Dr. Troland.
There is one field of motion picture photography for which I think the two-color methods unsuitable, and that is landscapes.
One thing Dr. Troland said, which is a source of criticism of pictures in colors, is that subjects which have been a failure in black and white have been a success in color. That is one trouble; too many color pictures have been made with the belief that the color would save a picture which didn’t have any story.”
(Troland, Leonard T. (1927): Some Psychological Aspects of Natural Color Motion Pictures. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 11, 26.9.1927, pp. 680–698, on pp. 694–695.)
“DR. TROLAND: There is no absolutely prerequisite intensity, but we favor one of about 10 millilamberts, which is about equivalent to a 10 foot-candle illumination on the average screen. The measurement is made with the shutter running and is the apparent brightness of the screen under these conditions. Regarding the relative non-inflammability of Technicolor positive, this is due to the fact that the film contains no metallic silver to absorb the heat rays and raise its temperature to the ignition point. The coloring materials which are used are almost wholly transparent to infra-red radiation, and they have about the same absorption as gelatin or film base. Of course, the nitrocellulose base is just as inflammable as ever, but the heat passes through instead of being taken up by the film. We have found it possible with a Mazda lamp source to stop the film in the gate indefinitely without its being ignited. However, this is not recommended with a high intensity or other arc lamp.”
(Troland, Leonard T. (1927): Some Psychological Aspects of Natural Color Motion Pictures. In: Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 11, 26.9.1927, pp. 680–698, on p. 698.)
“The earliest Technicolor process, again, in which thin films carrying wash-off relief images were cemented in register back to back was a triumph of technical skill; while the imbibition process of the Technicolor Company represented the first really practicable process for the production of motion pictures in large quantities at a cost at which they could be sold. In this process, the wash-off reliefs or matrices are used to form dye images, which are transferred by imbibition to a gelatin layer, and after this operation was carried out successfully with two colors, the Technicolor Company was able to produce three-color images, which today represent the furthest commercial development in the production of color motion pictures.”
(Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1937): The Development of the Art and Science of Photography in the Twentieth Century. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28,1, pp. 3–20, on p. 13.)
The King of Jazz (USA 1930, John Murray Anderson)
“Il re del jazz (The King of Jazz, Anderson, 1930), uno dei musical revue girati in Technicolor, rivela efficacemente il funzionamento di questo dispositivo spettacolare. Ai numeri musicali prelevati dalla omonima rivista teatrale, il film integra una serie di effetti specificamente cinematografici, chiamati a moltiplicare all’ennesima potenza i richiami visivi: dissolvenze, sovrimpressioni, arresti di ripresa, mascherini, scomposizioni prismatiche. Sulla superficie dello schermo tutto diventa possibile, le leggi ordinarie della gravità e della logica possono essere allegramente sospese, il grande e il piccolo possono contenersi reciprocamente: una sovrimpressione può far fluttuare nel vuoto un gruppo di ballerini sullo sfondo di una girandola rotante; un mascherino può avvolgerli in una rutilante moltiplicazione di immagini caleidoscopiche. Il film è disseminato di inviti a godere dell’interazione sensibile tra musica e colore. Nel prologo, la comparsa di un presentatore su un palcoscenico rende esplicito come la modalità prevalente di comunicazione sia assai più nell’ordine dello spettacolare che in quello del diegetico.
L’appello del presentatore è seguito da un breve filmato di animazione, che sfrutta in maniera efficace le possibilità comiche del sonoro e del colore, attraverso numerosi effetti di sincronizzazione tra note musicali e movimenti ritmici. Le sequenze successive sono costruite sull’assemblaggio eterogeneo e discontinuo di scenette comiche e numeri musicali, che costituiscono altrettante occasioni di ascolto offerte agli spettatori, rese ancora più seducenti dalla esibizione di effetti di luce e di colore. Nella sua strutturazione in quadri, il film ripercorre il campionario dell’effettistica luminosa e cromatica che fino a pochi anni prima aveva costituito uno degli ambiti funzionali precipui della colorazione applicata: dalle luci colorate alle ombre proiettate, dalle silhouette agli effetti atmosferici.
Il film contribuiva così a dimostrare come l’intera tradizione passata della colorazione potesse essere agevolmente annessa al nuovo regime del colore analogico, con gli innumerevoli vantaggi che avrebbero potuto derivarne. Questo ritorno in forza delle attrazioni rivelava anche il grande potenziale di energia che il colore era in grado di liberare sullo schermo.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 130–131.) (in Italian)
“Un modo ancora più intenzionalmente sovversivo informò negli anni venti gli usi del colore di Stroheim, che tra i registi della sua generazione fu il più interessato a sperimentare tutte le soluzioni disponibili. Al Technicolor in bicromia ricorse per l’incoronazione finale di La vedova allegra (The Merry Widow, 1925) e per la sequenza della processione di Sinfonia nuziale (The Wedding March, 1928), che la presenza del colore (ottenuto con il successivo Technicolor 3) contribuiva a trasformare in una galleria di maschere26.
Fu soprattutto il passaggio al sonoro, tuttavia, a fare del Technicolor in bicromia una delle attrazioni supplementari della breve ma intensa stagione dei talkie.
26 In Femmine folli (Foolish Wives, 1922), Stroheim fece colorare a mano un’intera sequenza; in Greed (1925) alternò bianco e nero, tintura e sistema Handschiegl (per colorare alcuni inserti simbolici, segnatamente in giallo oro, come nelle féerie delle origini); in La vedova allegra aggiunse a queste tre forme il Technicolor in bicromia. Di queste sperimentazioni resta oggi soltanto il girato in Technicolor di Sinfonia nuziale (cfr. Koszarski 2000). Di Mariti ciechi (Blind Husbands, 1919) è stata recentemente restaurata, a cura dell’ Österreichisches Filmmuseum, l’edizione tedesca, interamente virata. Quanto ai colori di Greed, un tentativo di ricostruzione attraverso la tecnica digitale della colorizzazione è stato promosso nel 1999 dalla Turner Classic Movies (cfr. Id. 1999, pp. 16–22).
Belton. John, a cura di (2000), Colour Film, in “Film History“, XII, n. 4, 2000.
Koszarski, Richard (1999), Come ricostruire “Greed“? Con che durata e con che colore?, in “Griffithiana“, XXII, n. 65, 1999, pp. 4–26.
Koszarski, Richard (2000), “Foolish Wives“: the Colour Restoration that Never Happened, in Belton, a cura di, 2000, pp. 341–343.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 127–128.) (in Italian)
“Negli stessi anni, la Technicolor introdusse la terza versione del suo sistema, sempre in bicromia. Rispetto alle due precedenti, essa metteva finalmente nelle mani dei proiezionisti una copia tecnologicamente affine a quelle in bianco e nero29. Pertanto, essa risultava pienamente compatibile tanto con la stampa ottica del suono quanto con i normali sistemi di proiezione.
Tutte le major si rivolsero alla Technicolor per inserire sequenze a colori all’interno di film parlati. La Warner, che stipulò con la società di Kalmus un contratto biennale, introdusse una serie di all Technicolor talking features costruiti sulla clonazione cinematografica della musical revue di Broadway: Su il sipario! (On With the Show, Crosland, 1929), Cercatrici d’oro (Gold Diggers of Broadway, Del Ruth, 1929), Rivista delle nazioni (The Show of Shows, Adolfi, 1929)30.
Il boom dei talkie in bicromia nel biennio 1929-1930 fu caratterizzato da una continua euforia della visione. Assieme ad altri sistemi impiantati su più piccola scala negli stessi anni, il Technicolor concorse per qualche tempo a offrire sontuose portate al banchetto del film sonoro31. Le strategie che informano le sequenze a colori dei talkie, o almeno quanto ne sopravvive, rivelano la necessità di esibire ciò che fino a quel momento non si era potuto fare sullo schermo, se non nelle forme ritenute inadeguate e imperfette della colorazione applicata. A questo riguardo, i film offrivano anche una nuova declinazione delle istanze estetiche e avanguardistiche maturate in precedenza attorno all’orizzonte della sinestesia: la nuova alleanza tra colore e musica consentiva di annettere la produzione di effetti sinestetici al dominio della riproducibilità.
29 Il Technicolor 3 fu introdotto proprio allo scopo di normalizzare le copie da proiezione. Il sistema rimase sostanzialmente analogo al precedente fino all’ottenimento delle due matrici positive in rilievo. A questo punto, la procedura dell’incollamento, rivelatasi poco efficace, fu sostituita da un nuovo processo di colorazione ispirato ai principi della tipografia. Ciascuna delle due matrici veniva imbibita della tinta corrispondente e utilizzata per il trasferimento del colore per contatto, su un nuovo supporto privo di emulsione. Dopo aver ricevuto il colore da entrambe le matrici, la copia ottenuta poteva essere utilizzata in un normale proiettore, senza le difficoltà evidenziate dalle matrici incollate della precedente versione (cfr. Basten 1980, pp. 37–46 e Haines 1993, pp. 8–16).
30 Oltre cinquanta film furono girati interamente o parzialmente in Technicolor nel biennio 1929-30: per far fronte all’incremento delle richieste, la società impiantò un nuovo stabilimento in grado di raddoppiare la capacità produttiva (cfr. Crafton 1999, pp. 196–198 e 319; per la filmografia, cfr. Basten 1980, p. 170 e Haines 1993, pp. 15–16).
31 La Fox ad esempio optò per il Kodachrome, sistema sottrattivo in bicromia della Eastman Kodak messo a punto nel 1916, che fu per l’occasione ribattezzato Fox Nature Color.
Basten, Fred E. (1980), Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow, Barnes, Cranbury (N.J.).
Crafton, Donald (1999), The Talkies. American Cinema’s Transition to Sound. 1926-1931, University of California Press, Berkeley.
Haines, Richard W. (1993), Technicolor Movies. The History of Dye Transfer Printing, McFarland & Company, Jefferson (N.C.).”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 128–130.) (in Italian)
“In the early 1930s it was far from clear that Technicolor would come to dominate the market. […] Although other two-colour Technicolor films such as Whoopee (1930) were admired in Britain, the process was considered expensive and needing excessive light levels.11 As Higgins explains, ‘subtractive systems were limited to reproducing a narrow slice of the spectrum. Based on two colors, usually cyan and magenta, these processes translated the mise en scène into compositions of bluish green and pinkish orange. Flesh tones and saturated primary hues were problematic.’12 When Simon Rowson reported to the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association conference in 1930 he considered Technicolor’s lack of precise definition to be problematic, as it was before the introduction of the imbibition printing process in 1928. He nevertheless gave a reassuring forecast for colour in the long term, predicting that as soon as technical issues had been resolved black-and-white films would ‘disappear from our screens as rapidly and as completely as the “talkie” superseded the “silent” film’.13 By contrast, ‘high-brow’ critics writing for journals such as Close-Up preferred to promote cinema as differentiating itself as an art form primarily by lacking colour and sound.14 Such thinking was consistent with the modernist views of writers including Rudolf Arnheim whose early film theory text, Film as Art, dismissed colour and sound as ‘wax museum ideals’ that debased film’s destiny to make a distinctive contribution to art through black-and-white silent film.15
11 Elliott Hammett, ‘Competing Colour Systems’, The Commercial Film vol. 1 no. 2, 1935, pp. 8, 19.
12 Scott Higgins, Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), p. 4.
13 Cinematograph vol. 4 no. 82, 28 June 1930, p. 40.
14 See Simon Brown, ‘Colouring the Nation: Spectacle, Reality and British Natural Colour in the Silent and Early Sound Period’, Film History vol. 21 no. 2, 2009, pp. 140–1.
15 Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), pp. 1, 154.”
(Street, Sarah (2012): Colour Films in Britain. The Negotiation of Innovation 1900-55. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, on p. 38.)
“Three-colour Technicolor was the company’s fourth colour process. The previous three systems had been based on two-colour components, and they had met with varying degrees of success. When Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock and W. Burton Wescott formed Technicolor in 1915, the company offered a two-colour process that required a special projector with dual apertures, each fitted with a colour filter.1 The process was additive in the sense that colours were not mixed until they were superimposed on the theatre screen during projection. The second process was subtractive. Red-orange and blue-green positives were cemented back to back to create a single print that combined colours before they reached the screen, subtracting, or filtering, components from a single white light source.2 The cement-positive process was introduced in 1922 and it found limited application until 1928 when Technicolor brought two-colour dye transfer printing to market. In this last version of two-colour, Technicolor solved the problems caused by the cemented prints buckling and drifting out of focus by printing both coloured images onto a single piece of release stock.3 Two-colour dye transfer, the process most commonly referred to as two-colour, served Technicolor well during the early sound era of 1929-1931 and then quickly declined. Twenty-eight Technicolor features were produced between 1929 and 1931, but only four were produced in 1932 and 1933, the last being Warner Bros.’ Mystery of the Wax Museum.4
Colour rendition of the two-colour processes was necessarily a compromise between the available blue-green and red-orange. Saturated and distinct reds, blues, greens and yellows were not possible. According to James Arthur Ball, who engineered the three-colour camera, Technicolor had always considered the two-colour systems to be preliminary and transitional processes:
In the earliest days of Technicolor development we recognized that the ultimate goal… must be a process that would add a full scale of colour reproduction to existing black-and-white product without subtracting from any of its desirable qualities, without imposing complications upon theater projection conditions, and with a minimum of added burden in the cost of photography and in the cost of prints.5
1 For accessible, yet detailed discussions of the earlier two-colour processes, see: Herbert Kalmus, Mr. Technicolor, (Abescon, NJ: Magiclmage Filmbooks, 1993): 21–90; Richard W. Haines, Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1993): 1–17; Fred E. Basten, Glorious Technicolor (San Diego, CA: A. S. Barnes, 1980): 19–46; Roderick T. Ryan, A History of Motion Picture Color Technology (New York: The Focal Press, 1977): 77–82. In addition to these sources, I am drawing on Joe Schmit’s paper “History of the Technicolor Imbibition Process for Color Motion Pictures”, presented to the Hollywood section of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (25 May 1991).
2 Haines, 4–7.
3 Schmit, 2; Haines, 8–13.
4 Herbert Kalmus, 82. Reasons for the decline will be considered shortly.
5 Ball, Joseph Arthur (1935): “The Technicolor Process of Three-Color Cinematography”. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (August 1935), pp. 127. Ball presented this paper at a meeting of the Technicians Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 21 May 1935. It also appears in the Academy Technician’s Branch Technical Bulletin (31 May 1935), pp. 1–10.”
(Higgins, Scott (2000): Demonstrating Three-Colour Technicolor. Early Three-Colour Aesthetics and Design. In: Film History, 12,4, pp. 358–383, on pp. 358–359.)
“Grâce à une politique de Recherche et de Développement (R&D) dirigée vers l’innovation continue, Technicolor commercialise en 1926 son premier système soustractif bichrome (two strip Technicolor). Ce système utilise la décharge hydrotypique des colorants (méthode d’imbibition ou dye transfer). Son introduction a lieu simultanément à l’introduction du parlant dans le cinéma américain (à partir de 1928) et marque la première phase critique pour la diffusion de la couleur dans l’industrie cinématographique américaine entre 1929 et 1931.
Pour l’introduction de son premier système soustractif au début des années 20, Technicolor avait sollicité la collaboration de Famous Players-Lasky et des producteurs indépendants tels que Sam Goldwyn et Douglas Fairbanks. Pour son nouveau système bichrome, elle tentera de séduire un certain nombre de studios afin de constituer un catalogue de films prestigieux. Ainsi, Warner Bros et MGM engagent une production de courts métrages en couleur et tournent quelques séquences couleur pour certaines de leurs productions. Entre 1926 et 1928, Technicolor produit aussi une série de courts-métrages souvent réalisés par Roy-William Neill. Le premier long-métrage sonore en Technicolor bipack employant la méthode de l’imbibition est le film de R.W. Neil, Les Vikings, coproduit par MGM et Technicolor en 1928. Mais, c’est On With the Show, premier film parlant et en couleur sorti en mai 1929 qui, par son succès commercial, lance la première vague importante de productions en couleur à Hollywood. Encouragée par le succès du film, Warner enchaîne avec la production d’un deuxième film sonore entièrement en Technicolor, Gold Diggers of Broadway. Un certain nombre de productions sonores du studio et (notamment les films musicaux) vont intégrer la couleur pour son charme technologique fonctionnant comme valeur ajoutée à l’innovation sonore. Cet engagement de la major auprès de Technicolor va conduire à une demande accrue de la part des autres studios pour le procédé bipack. L’ouverture soudaine du marché provoque, néanmoins, une telle surcharge de travail pour Technicolor, sollicitée pour mettre à disposition l’équipement de tournage nécessaire et produire les copies d’exploitation, que la qualité sera rapidement compromise. Ainsi, si l’activité de Warner a presque failli conduire à une conversion précipitée d’Hollywood à la couleur, cette première phase critique prend fin lorsque les effets de la Grande Dépression commencent à se faire ressentir à Hollywood. L’effet combiné de la dégradation sensible de la qualité et de la chute de la fréquentation conduit à remettre en question la valeur commerciale de la couleur dont le coût d’introduction est principalement subi par le secteur de la production. Cette première phase de lancement plus généralisé est significative pour l’avenir de la société, permettant à Technicolor de démontrer à la fois la flexibilité de son système (compatibilité immédiate avec l’enregistrement sonore sur piste optique, par rapport aux procédés additifs) et son impact sur le box-office et d’établir un premier cadre d’usage (l’association de la couleur avec les films musicaux).”
(Kitsopanidou, Kira (2009): “Glorious Technicolor”. La stratégie d’innovation de la couleur de Technicolor dans l’industrie cinématographique Américaine. In: Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard (ed.): Cinéma et couleur. Paris: M. Houdiard, pp. 193–206, on pp. 194–195.) (in French)