“The Fabulous Fifties
Most writers who discuss the Technicolor process stop after the introduction of Eastmancolor and the demise of the three strip cameras. Actually, the zenith of the imbibition technique was during the years 1952 through 1962, when the color negative was adapted for use with the process. Television competition had resulted in an increase in three strip Technicolor productions in 1948-52. The research department came up with a method to supplement the three strip camera, known as stripping negative. Three differently sensitized layers of black and white emulsion were separated by soluble interlayer with suitable filtering dyes. After exposure in a modified black and white camera, the top two layers were individually transferred to new supports. The resulting three black and white negatives would then be used for making matrices in the conventional manner. The gaining popularity of the Kodak and Ansco single strip color negatives made the Technicolor staff abandon this technique and work on adapting these negatives to their imbibition process.
Around the same time, a young chemist named Richard Goldberg joined the research staff and eventually became the vice-president of the department. Goldberg’s first contribution was the development of single component dyes. In the thirties and forties, the dyes used in the imbibition process contained multiple components and were difficult to manufacture. For example, the yellow dye had three components, and the cyan had five. According to Goldberg, there was even a time when oyster juice was used as one of the elements, and Technicolor technicians used to visit restaurants at the end of the day to collect it. Sometimes the dyes were not pure when received from the supplier and had to be treated with egg albumin and acetic acid and boiled, then vacuum filtered to remove the impurities.
The early multiple component dyes made quality control difficult for Technicolor reprints. For example, after one set of matrices wore out and was replaced for additional orders, it was difficult to duplicate the precise dye components used on the initial run. Pre-1950 dye transfer prints often had slightly different color renditions from each batch of dyes.
Goldberg was able to simplify the dyes so they came from one component each and were purified at the source. The American Cyanamid Company achieved this domestically and became the primary supplier of the era. The new single component dyes were somewhat different in look than the multiple component ones; the magenta was more brilliant, for instance. As a result, some of the three strip reprints of films like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, both reissued in 1954, had more vibrant colors than when originally released. The single component dyes improved quality control and enabled reprints from new matrices to match the original colors more precisely.
TECHNICOLOR PROCESS NUMBER FIVE: THREE STRIP DYE TRANSFER PRINT DERIVED FROM COLOR NEGATIVE
In the early fifties, the Technicolor company expanded their facility to enable them to develop color negatives and make contact positive prints in the Eastmancolor process. The research department also modified their optical printer to enable them to derive matrices directly from a color negative. This was accomplished by placing a filter over the negative that transmitted light of sympathetic frequencies onto the matrix stock. Kodak developed a new panchromatic matrix stock for this application. This technique was referred to as Technicolor Process Number Five. This process encompassed various formats, which will be described below.
The first innovation that made an impact in the rush to bring audiences back to the theater was the most spectacular and the strangest. Dubbed Cinerama, it was an entirely new method of filming and projecting motion pictures. Fred Waller had developed a prototype system known as Vistarama, which was used to make films for a gunnery training in World War II. Lowell Thomas and Merian C. Cooper (coproducer of King Kong) formed a partnership with theatrical showman Michael Todd to develop the process for feature productions, and Hazard Reeves introduced the six channel magnetic stereophonic sound.
The Cinerama specifications were very complicated, which may, in part, have been an attempt to make the technology difficult for third parties to steal. (The Cinemiracle system, a near identical process, was developed in 1958 anyway.) Three interlocked 35mm cameras photographed the panoramic image on Kodak color negative (fig. 11). A six-sprocket high frame was exposed (sans optical track area), which generated a wide 2.77 x 1 aspect ratio when projected. The 35mm magnetic fullcoat stock contained six discrete stereo tracks and was interlocked with the projectors and displayed on a curved screen. The “louvered” screen was made up of horizontal slats that resembled Venetian blinds, which prevented light from the right and left panels from reflecting on one another.
The projection speed was increased to 26 frames per second, while the interlocked magnetic stereo track remained at 24. For the last two three-panel features, the speed was reduced to 24 frames per second.
The theaters that played Cinerama films had to be equipped with three booths, each of which projected one panel onto the curved screen. The Cinemiracle system, introduced with Windjammer in 1958, modified the format to include the three projectors in one booth to reflect the image to the appropriate part of the screen via mirrors. Cinerama bought out Cinemiracle and adapted the latter for the remaining three panel features. The final modification involved “jitters” inside the projectors, which blurred the frame lines that made up the three panel panorama.
The gamble paid off; This Is Cinerama, released on September 30, 1952, became one of the top grossing films of the year and generated $5 million of revenue. The picture was treated as a road show event, with reserved seats and a two dollar admission.
The film began with a standard black and white 35mm prologue, with Lowell Thomas giving an intentionally dull history of motion picture exhibition. Just as audiences were ready to walk out and demand their money back, Thomas exclaimed, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Cinerama!” The black and white 1.33 x 1 intro faded out and the three panel color image placed the viewer on a roller coaster ride. The remaining Cinerama films of the fifties all started in this fashion, with the changing aspect ratios used to “wow” the audience. This Is Cinerama and the other five productions of the fifties were spectacular travelogues which took audiences on trips to Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the South Seas and other sights. It wasn’t until the process had run its course (and the company had run out of locations to photograph) that two narrative films were attempted in 1962, How the West Was Won and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. By then, single panel wide screen formats had caught on, and the three panel process was phased out.
The modified optical printer that enabled a set of matrices to be derived from a color negative was not operational by the time This Is Cinerama was ready for release. Therefore, the 1952 three panel prints were made in the Eastmancolor process.
After the research department perfected their optical printer to enable matrices to be made from any size negative, This Is Cinerama was rereleased in the dye transfer process in 1962, with even more impressive results. The last two three-panel story features were also printed via imbibition. (Of the seven three-panel features, only This Is Cinerama and How the West Was Won exist in Technicolor, thanks to a film collector who saved dye transfer copies and has a working three panel projector set up in his house. No three panel IB print has survived on The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. The remaining Cinerama titles of the fifties were all printed in Eastmancolor and have completely faded.)
This Is Cinerama (Cinerama, 1962 reissue)
How the West Was Won (MGM/Cinerama, 1962)
Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (MGM/Cinerama, 1962)
Shortly after the premiere of This Is Cinerama, the public was bombarded with advertisements for another innovation that required new methods of filming and exhibition and was known as 3-D. Like most new formats of the fifties, 3-D had been available earlier but did not catch on. In the silent era, there was some experimentation with 3-D, including footage of Abel Gance’s Napoleon in 1925, although it was not used in the final release print.
Pete Smith made two novelty short subjects entitled Audioscopiks (1936) and The Third Dimension Murder (1941), both released by MGM. They were essentially gimmick films that showed objects thrown at the audience with little or no connecting plot. Both used the Anaglyphic system of 3-D. Anaglyphic entailed shooting with two interlocked 35mm cameras that photographed the action at slightly different angles, which replicated how the two human eyes see things. For release printing, the two negatives were printed onto one strip of film at Technicolor, which imbibed the two tints.
Glasses were worn by the audience that contained the same tinted filters reversed, with the left eye receiving the red tint and the right eye the blue tint. The brain did the rest of the trick: the filters canceled each other out and the viewer perceived the image in three dimensional depth. Unfortunately, the red and blue glasses caused eyestrain.
A more sensible method, known as Polarized 3-D, was developed in Italy and Germany in the 1930s. The same method was used in principal photography, with two interlocked cameras photographing the action at slightly different perspectives. For projection, the two prints were shown through two different polarizing filters. The same filters were reversed in the audience’s glasses, and the three dimensional illusion was achieved with less eyestrain since these filters merely darkened the image rather than tinted it. A silver screen was required to project 3-D to reflect the light and brighten the image. The Polarized system enabled films to be shot in color, an impossibility in the Anaglyphic method. (Anaglyphic color 3-D was tried on broadcast television in the 1980s with poor results.)
Low budget producer Arch Obler dusted off this process and reintroduced it on November 24, 1952, with his 3-D feature Bwana Devil, photographed and printed on Ansco color stock. Interlocked with the 3-D prints was a four track magnetic stereo 35mm fullcoat on a sound dubber. The movie received terrible reviews, but the process was a hit with viewers who wanted “lion in their lap.” Actually, 3-D worked best when the effect was used subtly. Whenever something was thrown at the audience, the viewer went cross-eyed trying to merge the two images. When used to create a sense of distance between foreground and background, it was more effective. Technicolor adapted its three strip cameras with “selsyn” interlock motors to enable them to photograph the dual strip image for dye transfer 3-D prints. They also made dye transfer dual strip 3-D prints on features shot with color negatives and with Monopack positives.
Dye transfer 3-D (as well as standard 2-D features) derived from color negatives did not have halftone key images printed under the dyes because they did not require registration adjustments, as did matrices derived from three strip negatives. In addition, the sharpness was increased since the matrices were made from a single element.
Although color fringing was alleviated, grain increased, which bothered Kalmus. He put his research department to work on an emergency basis, and the grain problem was resolved by 1954-55. Thereafter, dye transfer prints derived from color negatives had a grain-free appearance that surpassed Eastmancolor positives.
RKO used the Monopack stock for their 3-D color films. Two of the best 3-D films of the fifties were both shot with color negatives – Kiss Me, Kate (Ansco Color negative) and Dial M for Murder (Kodak color negative). In both cases, other labs did the negative processing, and Technicolor’s involvement was limited to the production of the dye transfer release prints; they had no input during the production. Many of the features were interlocked with four channel magnetic stereophonic soundtracks, although all were printed with optical tracks.
The Technicolor 3-D prints of the fifties really did give the illusion of depth. The fact that dye transfer prints generated a three dimensional appearance anyway helped the process. The popularity of 3-D wore out quickly, since only a few of the features used what audiences considered “A” material. Most were “B” films that relied on arrows, rocks and other objects thrown at the audience – entertaining to first time viewers but tiresome in the long run. The most creative use of the process was in the previously mentioned Dial M for Murder, but by then it was too late. By the end of 1954, 3-D has fizzled out, and other processes like CinemaScope and VistaVision attracted more attention.
It’s a pity the process did not last long enough to introduce the Vectograph 3-D system, which was developed by Technicolor and Polaroid. A specially prepared blank stock was created that had emulsion on both sides and the appropriate polarizing tints. The right eye color image was transferred onto one side of the film and the left eye image on the opposite side. Both images were thus contained, with the polarized tints, on one strip of film, and the system required only one projector. The process could be resurrected some day by the Polaroid company and Beijing Film Lab.
House of Wax (WarnerColor) (WB, 1953)*
Fort Ti (Col, 1953)*
Sangaree (Par, 1953)
Arena (Ansco Color) (MGM, 1953)*
Second Chance (RKO, 1953)*
Inferno (Fox, 1953)*
Stranger Wore a Gun (Col, 1953)*
Devil’s Canyon (RKO, 1953)
Wings of the Hawk (U, 1953)*
Those Redheads from Seattle (Par, 1953)
Flight to Tangier (Par, 1953)
Kiss Me, Kate (MGM, 1953)*
Gun Fury (Col, 1953)*
The Nebraskan (Col, 1953)*
Miss Sadie Thompson (Col, 1953)*
Drums of Tahiti (Col, 1954)*
Money from Home (Par, 1954)
The French Line (RKO, 1954)
Jesse James vs. the Daltons (Col, 1954)*
Dangerous Mission (RKO, 1954)
Jivaro (Par, 1954)
Dial M for Murder (WarnerColor) (WB, 1954)
Gorilla at Large (Fox, 1954)*
Son of Sinbad (RKO, 1954)
Taza, Son of Cochise (U, 1954)*
* Interlocked with four track magnetic stereo fullcoats.
After the success of Cinerama, 20th Century-Fox purchased the rights of the Hypergonar process credited to Professor Henri Chretien, who developed it in 1927. The Hypergonar process involved an anamorphic lens attachment screwed onto a standard 35mm prime lens. The anamorphic attachment compressed (“squeezed”) the image vertically during principal photography. A similar lens attached to the projector “unsqueezed” the image horizontally into a wide 2.66×1 aspect ratio. Fox dubbed the process CinemaScope and came up with an attractive logo.
The first feature film released in the format was The Robe in October 1953. Although the release prints contained a 2 x 1 compression and unsqueezed 2.66 x 1 image area, a slight cropping of the frame resulted from the thin magnetic oxide stereo tracks applied to the base of the print inside and from the outside smaller, square sprockets, referred to as “Fox holes.” The magnetic strips generated the four tracks of stereo sound used in the process (fig. 12). No backup optical track was printed onto the release copy, and the projected image included the area usually reserved for the soundtrack.
The process was a big hit and other studios, including MGM and Warner Bros., sublicensed the lens attachments from Fox. To play back the magnetic tracks a Pentouse adapter was necessary. A Penthouse was a small magnetic dubber attached to the top of the projector between the top magazine and gate. The film was threaded through the dubber, and the unit had four outputs that had to be wired to four amplifiers and speakers. This involved extensive theater modification, and exhibitors complained. It was one thing to get another lens attachment and a bigger screen but costly to rewire the entire sound system. Fox stuck to its guns and released magnetic only CinemaScope prints on many titles through 1956. Eventually, exhibitor pressure forced Fox to modify the release prints to contain both magnetic and optical tracks.
In the mag/optical format, the reduced sized sprockets were retained but both magnetic and optical tracks were included on the CinemaScope release print. Theaters had the choice of playing the magnetic stereo tracks or a mono optical soundtrack. All CinemaScope films made after 1956 were distributed in this method, eliminating the magnetic only format. Since the optical track cropped the image slightly, the aspect ratio was permanently reduced to 2.35 x 1.
The first dye transfer prints of The Robe were a disaster. Whereas the new panchromatic matrix stock was acceptable for “flat,” nonanamorphic films (e.g., MGM’s Athena), stretching out the image increased grain and distortion. The latter was not entirely due to the matrix stock. The CinemaScope lens attachments cut down on the amount of light transmitted to the color negative and also tended to distort closeups, since the image was being photographed through so much glass.
Kalmus rushed out backup Eastmancolor positive prints to replace the dye transfer copies in circulation, even though the credits contained the “Color by Technicolor” logo. A “flat” 1.33 x 1 version was shot simultaneously with the scope version, and dye transfer prints were made from this negative and shipped to theaters not equipped to play the CinemaScope format. These prints did not have the grain problem because the image was not being stretched out.
Kalmus and Goldberg called an emergency meeting with Kodak to request an improved panchromatic matrix stock that would work with CinemaScope color negatives. According to Goldberg, Kodak showed interest in promoting their Eastmancolor process and suggested that Technicolor abandon the dye transfer format and switch to positive printing.
Kalmus and company felt they had a unique product with superior color, contrast and quality control to Eastmancolor and went to other stock manufacturers for the solution. A deal was struck with Du Pont to make upgraded dye transfer materials which were used on a number of 1953-56 features. Some of the VistaVision films used Du Pont materials, which were an improvement over the early Kodak panchromatic stock. Dye transfer prints made on Du Pont stock displayed less apparent grain and contained the identification on the sprockets.
With the upgraded Du Pont materials, Kalmus went to Kodak and asked them to match it or lose their business. Since Technicolor was still their largest client, Kodak took a more enlightened attitude and improved their dye transfer matrix and blank stock, which eventually surpassed the quality of the Du Pont stock. The remaining Du Pont inventory was used through 1956 and then discontinued.
A new generation of Kodak matrix and blank stock, which replaced the earlier panchromatic films, was introduced in 1954 and again in 1956. A separate color sensitive matrix was developed that improved the resolution. The yellow matrix stock was sensitive to blue and ultraviolet light; the cyan was sensitive to red, blue and ultra violet, and somewhat sensitive in the green; and the magenta stock was sensitive to green, blue ultraviolet and a little to the red. Appropriate filters placed over the Kodak or Ansco color negatives provided the desired separation in the optical printer. One could see the improvements from the 1953 scope IBs of The Robe. In the 1983 Radio City Music Hall screening of A Star Is Born (1954), an original dye transfer copy printed on Kodak stock was shown that had excellent sharpness and little apparent grain, even on the enormous screen.
CinemaScope’s popularity continued to grow throughout the fifties and was later improved with the introduction of anamorphic prime lenses by the Panavision company in 1957. Technicolor also made optical only dye transfer CinemaScope prints that had no mag tracks. This was accomplished by recentering the 2.66 x 1 negative in the optical printer and equally cropping approximately 0.050 inches on either side of the image while manufacturing matrices in the 2.35 x 1 format. The final scope dye transfer release copy had a slight edge cropping but retained the correct center of the frame and widescreen composition.
The competing Eastmancolor labs did not have this capability, since they were using the contact printing system, which did not allow for any adjustments. When a 2.66 x 1 negative was printed with an optical track, the left side of the image was randomly cropped, leaving the entire Eastmancolor release print off center. (This can be seen during the split screen sequences in the letterbox laserdisc of It’s Always Fair Weather.) The flexibility of the dye transfer process allowed the optical printer to crop the frame to any format required. For example, Technicolor was able to derive a masked 1.85 x 1 release print from a 2.66 x 1 negative for theaters not equipped with wide screens. A “flat” print of Wichita (1956) exists in a private film collection that has the 1.85 x 1 masking.
The Robe (Fox, 1953)*
How to Marry a Millionaire (Fox, 1953)
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (Fox, 1953)
Black Shield of Falworth (UA, 1953)*
Brigadoon (Ansco Color) (MGM, 1953)*
Sign of the Pagan (U, 1954)
The Silver Chalice (WarnerColor) (WB, 1954) A Star Is Born (WB, 1954)
Three Coins in the Fountain (DeLuxe) (Fox, 1954)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (BV, 1954)
Demetrius and the Gladiators (Fox,1954)
Garden of Evil (Fox, 1954)
Hell and High Water (Fox, 1954)
Prince Valiant (Fox, 1954)
River of No Return (Fox, 1954)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Ansco Color) (MGM, 1954)
Woman’s World (Fox, 1954)
Captain Lightfoot (U, 1955)
Chief Crazy Horse (U, 1955)
Count Three and Pray (Col, 1955)
East of Eden (WarnerColor) (WB, 1955)
Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (UA,1955)
The Indian Fighter (UA, 1955)
The Kentuckian (UA, 1955)
Lady and the Tramp (successive exposure) (BV, 1955)
The Last Frontier (Col, 1955)
The Long Grey Line (Col, 1955)
Man from Laramie (Col, 1955)
My Sister Eileen (Col, 1955)
Picnic (Col, 1955)
Three for the Show (Col, 1955)
To Hell and Back (U, 1955)
The Violent Men (Col, 1955)
White Feather (Fox, 1955)
Wichita (AA, 1955)
Oklahoma (Magna, 1955)
*Flat 1.33 x 1 version shot simultaneously and released in dye transfer process.
Alexander the Great (UA, 1956)*
The Ambassador’s Daughter (UA, 1956)
Bigger than Life (Fox, 1956)*
The Brave One (RKO, 1956)*
Cockleshell Heroes (Col, 1956)
The Conqueror (RKO, 1956)*
Eddy Duchin Story (Col, 1956)*
First Texan (AA, 1956)
Great Locomotive Chase (BV, 1956)
Hot Blood (Col, 1956)
Jubal (Col, 1956)
Pillars of the Sky (U, 1956)
Safari (Col, 1956)
The Sharkfighters (UA, 1956)
Storm over the Nile (Col, 1956)
Walk the Proud Land (U, 1956)
Westward Ho the Wagons (BV, 1956)
World Without End (AA, 1956)
You Can’t Run Away from It (Col, 1956)
Bridge on the River Kwai (Col, 1957)
Fire Down Below (Col, 1957)
Interlude (U, 1957)
Istanbul (U, 1957)
Joe Butterfly (U, 1957)
Kelly and Me (U, 1957)
Miller’s Beautiful Wife (Ind, 1957)
The Oklahoman (AA, 1957)
Secrets of Life (BV, 1957)
Tammy and the Bachelor (U, 1957)
Bonjour Tristesse (Col, 1958)
Gigi (British prints only) (Metrocolor) (MGM, 1958)
Gunman’s Walk (Col, 1958)
Tank Force (also known as No Time to Die) (Col, 1959)
This Earth Is Mine (U, 1959)
Guns of Navarone (Col, 1961)*
Damn the Defiant (Col, 1962)
The Singer Not the Song (WB, 1962)
Summer Holiday (AIP, 1963)
Gold for the Caesars (MGM, 1964)
The Son of Captain Blood (Par, 1964)
Great Sioux Massacre (Col, 1965)
*Released in both mag/optical and optical mono formats.
Paramount got into the widescreen craze and introduced VistaVision in 1954. Although VistaVision was not really a widescreen process, it was adaptable to this kind of presentation. It entailed shooting with a large format negative, which improved the resolution of both contact positive and dye transfer release prints. A standard 35mm negative was exposed horizontally during principal photography, using the equivalent image area of two frames. The uncropped aspect ratio was 1.50 x 1, with an eight sprocket width. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it was the same format used in 35mm still photography.
From this horizontal negative, 35mm reduction matrices were made in a specially designed optical printer that enabled an eight sprocket intermittent movement. The soundtrack often contained a Perspecta sound, a method of encoding a standard mono optical track with subaudio tones of 30 cycles for the left channel, 35 cycles for the center channel and 40 cycles for the right channel. When decoded, the mono signal was sent through three front speakers to generate directional pseudostereophonic sound. Exhibitors liked it because the Perspecta tracks could also be played as a standard mono signal, with the tones inaudible to the audience. A 35mm projector was turned onto its side and adapted to the eight sprocket intermittent movement (referred to as “lazy eight” projectors) for special large format Eastmancolor Roadshow prints. General release copies were dye transfer reduction prints in the standard 35mm format. White Christmas was the first VistaVision film given both horizontal Eastmancolor as well as dye transfer reduction 35mm presentations.
The tag line for VistaVision was “Motion Picture High Fidelity,” which indeed it was. Radio City Music Hall in New York City was one of the movie palaces set up to project in this format. Paramount suggested cropping the image to 1.85 x 1 for VistaVision features, although publicity surrounding the process claimed the cropping could vary between 1.66 x 1 to 2 x 1 (fig. 14). It is uncertain whether Technicolor ever manufactured 35mm horizontal eight sprocket dye transfer prints.
The major advantage to the process was a dramatic improvement in the conventional 35mm dye transfer prints. By reduction printing a large negative to a conventional 35mm size set of matrices, the grain structure was shrunk, which resulted in an ultrasharp IB print. The fine grain image could be cropped and enlarged for the CinemaScope screens without a loss of quality. When standard 35mm dye transfer prints were cropped and enlarged, apparent grain was increased, since so little of the available frame was being projected. VistaVision retained a fine grain image when given this kind presentation. It was the sharpest “flat” Technicolor process.
The general release VistaVision prints were so impressive, Paramount eventually phased out large format horizontal positive prints by 1957 and used the process exclusively for dye transfer reduction printing. Technicolor had a series of masks they used for the latter, although most were reduction printed with a 1.66 ratio and projected in a cropped 1.85 format. White frame-line markings were contained on the first shot of each reel.
Alfred Hitchock used this process with impressive results on many of his films of the fifties, including, The Trouble with Harry (1955), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959). Original 35mm dye transfer prints of these titles were true works of art and vastly superior to the Eastmancolor reissues of the eighties.
Three Ring Circus (Par, 1954)
White Christmas (Par, 1954)
Artists and Models (Par, 1955)
The Far Horizons (Par, 1955)
The Girl Rush (Par, 1955)
Hell’s Island (also known as South Seas Fury) (Par, 1955)
Lucy Gallant (Par, 1955)
Run for Cover (Par, 1955)
Seven Little Foys (Par, 1955)
Strategic Air Command (Par, 1955)
To Catch a Thief (Par, 1955)
The Trouble with Harry (Par, 1955)
We’re No Angels (Par, 1955)
You’re Never Too Young (Par, 1955)
Anything Goes (Par, 1956)
Away All Boats (U, 1956)
The Birds and the Bees (Par, 1956)
High Society (MGM, 1956)
Hollywood or Bust (Par, 1956)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Par, 1956)
The Mountain (Par, 1956)
Pardners (Par, 1956)
The Rainmaker (Par, 1956)
Richard III (Lopert, 1956)
The Searchers (WB, 1956)
The Ten Commandments (Par, 1956)
That Certain Feeling (Par, 1956)
The Vagabond King (Par, 1956)
War and Peace (Par, 1956)
Beau James (Par, 1957)
The Devil’s Hairpin (Par, 1957)
Doctor at Large (U, 1957)
Funny Face (Par, 1957)
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Par, 1957)
Loving You (Par, 1967)
Omar Khayyam (Par, 1957)
The Pride and the Passion (UA, 1957)
Pursuit of the Graf Spee (Rank, 1957)
The Spanish Gardener (Rank, 1957)
Triple Deception (Rank, 1957)
The Buccaneer (Par, 1958)
The Geisha Boy (Par, 1958)
Night Ambush (Rank, 1958)
Rock-a-Bye Baby (Par, 1958)
Spanish Affair (Par, 1958)
Vertigo (Par, 1958)
The Five Pennies (Par, 1959)
The Jayhawkers (Par, 1959)
Last Train from Gun Hill (Par, 1959)
L’il Abner (Par, 1959)
North by Northwest (MGM, 1959)
One-Eyed Jacks (Par, 1961)
My Six Loves (Par, 1963)
WlDESCREEN “FLAT” FILMS
Universal was one of the few studios that did not sponsor a new process in the fifties, although they sublicensed other studio’s systems. They did advocate a “cheap” method of generating a wide image, simply by making a projector plate that cropped a standard 1.33 x 1 print to 1.85 x 1. Other studios adopted their own cropped ratios. A 1.66 x 1 masking was used by MGM for their “flat” films (including reissues of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, which were designed for 1.33 x 1). The Walt Disney company used a 1.75 x 1 masking for their releases, although most were projected in 1.85.
One of the first features to use this projector cropping was Universale 3-D production It Came from Outer Space (1953), presented in a 1.85 x 1 ratio. Later releases, like Thunder Bay (1953), advertised as presented in Wide Vision, compensated for the cropping during principal photography so the heads and feet of the actors would not be chopped off, as they were when standard 1.33 x 1 films were shown this way (e.g., Gone with the Wind).
As previously mentioned, apparent grain was increased and sharpness decreased when films were cropped and enlarged in this manner, since only a portion of the available image was projected. Dye transfer prints held up better than Eastmancolor prints because the rich colors and superior contrast of the former drew attention away from the problems. VistaVision dye transfer reduction prints were best suited for this kind of presentation (fig. 15).
FIRST GENERATION OPTICALS
In 1956, the Technicolor research department developed a method of A and B rolling of the negatives of films processed there. Each reel of the negative was assembled onto two rolls so that when a fade or dissolve was required, the effect could be incorporated directly into the matrix and the use of the grainy color internegative stock could be avoided. After 1956, most dye transfer prints had sharp opticals, and Eastmancolor prints grainy opticals.
THE WET GATE OPTICAL PRINTER
Another major development from the research department was the Wet Gate Optical Printer, implemented in 1956. The printing gate contained a solution that had a refractive index similar to that of celluloid and that filled in scratches on the base of the preprint with the liquid so that light rays traveled at a consistent angle through the base. In simpler terms, the liquid gate “filled in” base scratches on the negative so they would not show up on the matrices or release print. The other color labs did not have this technology and often displayed scratches and cinch marks on their release copies.
The superior color combined with the first generation opticals and scratch free image did not go unnoticed by the competing color labs. Throughout the fifties, many labs sent negatives processed at their facility to Technicolor for dye transfer release printing. It was not uncommon to see credits that stated “Color by Ansco Color, print by Technicolor” (e.g., Kiss Me, Kate), a somewhat misleading statement, since the quality of the color was a result of the dye transfer process, not Ansco Color’s negative developing. Many WarnerColor features and some DeLuxe color titles were printed in the dye transfer process. In some cases, no mention was made in the credits of Technicolor’s release printing, a poor marketing strategy by Kalmus that led audiences to assume there was no quality difference between the labs. Perhaps the consent decree combined with the huge profits Technicolor was generating by doing other facilities’ release printing prevented him from pressing the issue.
What follows is a reference list of “flat” dye transfer releases from 1953 through 1974, including many films developed at other facilities. Some titles were printed in the dye transfer process only in London. There may be more features developed at other labs and printed at Technicolor not included in this list, since no printing records survive for defunct facilities like Warner Color or Ansco Color. Much of this list was compiled by film collectors who have preserved the bulk of the Technicolor release print output. Few prints exist at the distribution companies – some cannot find their negatives!
Athena (Eastmancolor) (MGM, 1954)
Rear Window (U, 1954)
Fabulous India (Ind, 1955)
House of Ricordi (Ind, 1955)
Ludwig II (Ind, 1955)
Madame Butterfly (Ind, 1955)
Maddalena (Ind, 1955)
Only the French Can (French Can Can) (Ind, 1955)
Tam Tam Mayumbre (Ind, 1955)
The Tiger and the Flame (Ind, 1955)
Ulysses (Par, 1955)
All for Mary (Ind, 1956)
All That Heaven Allows (U, 1956)
An Alligator Named Daisy (Ind, 1956)
Animal World (WB, 1956)
At Gunpoint (AA, 1956)
Backlash (U, 1956)
The Black Tent (R, 1956)
Bundle of Joy (RKO, 1956)
Congo Crossing (UI, 1956)
Court Jester (Par, 1956)
A Day of Fury (U, 1956)
Don Juan (Ind, 1956)
The Feminine Touch (Ind, 1956)
First Traveling Saleslady (RKO, 1956)
Great Locomotive Chase (BV, 1956)
He Laughed Last (Col, 1956)
House of Secrets (Ind, 1956)
It’s a Great Life (Ind, 1956)
It’s a Wonderful World (Ind, 1956)
Ladykillers (Ind, 1956)
Madame Butterfly (Ind, 1956)
Marie Antoinette (Ind, 1956)
Moby Dick (WB, 1956)
Odongo (Col, 1956)
Oh, Roslinda! (Ind, 1956)
Point Afrique (Col, 1956)
Raw Edge (U, 1956)
The Red Balloon (Ind, 1956)
Red Sundown (U, 1956)
Reprisal (Col, 1956)
Run for the Sun (U, 1956)
Second Greatest Sex (U, 1956)
Secrets of Life (BV, 1956)
7th Calvary (Col, 1956)
Showdown at Abilene (U, 1956)
Smiley (Fox, 1956)
Solid Gold Cadillac (sequence) (Col, 1956)
Star in the Dust (U, 1956)
Star of India (UA, 1956)
Tension at Table Rock (RKO, 1956)
Toy Tiger (U, 1956)
Zarak (Col, 1956)
Admirable Crichton (Col, 1957)
Adventures of Arsene Lupin (Ind, 1957)
All Mine to Give (U, 1957)
Les Aventures de Till L’Espiègle (Ind, 1957)
Battle Hymn (U, 1957)
Beyond Mombasa (Col, 1957)
The Blob (DeLuxe) (1957)
Casino de Paris (Ind, 1957)
Decision at Sundown (Col, 1957)
Folies-Bergere (Ind, 1957)
Four Girls in Town (U, 1957)
The Girl Most Likely (RKO, 1957)
Good Companions (Ind, 1957)
Guns of Fort Petticoat (Col, 1957)
Hard Man (Col, 1957)
Immortal Garrison (U, 1957)
Iron Petticoat (MGM, 1957)
It Happened in Rome (Ind, 1957)
Johnny Tremain (BV, 1957)
Old Yeller (BV, 1957)
Pajama Game (WarnerColor) (WB, 1957)
Pal Joey (Col, 1957)
Paris Does Strange Things (WB, 1957)
Parson and the Outlaw (Col, 1957)
Le Pays d’Ou Je Viens (Ind, 1957)
Perri (BV, 1957)
Prince and the Showgirl (WB, 1957)
Public Pigeon No. 1 (U, 1957)
Story of Mankind (WB, 1957)
The Tall “T” (Col, 1957)
Tarzan and the Lost Safari (MGM, 1957)
Three Violent People (Par, 1957)
Typhon a Nagazaki (Ind, 1957)
Woman of the River (Col, 1957)
Written on the Wind (U, 1957)
Bell, Book and Candle (Col, 1958)
Big Money (Ind, 1958)
Cowboy (Col, 1957)
Damn Yankees (WB, 1958)
Davy (Ind, 1958)
Enchanted Island (WB, 1958)
Flute and the Arrow (Ind, 1958)
From the Earth to the Moon (WB, 1958)
Gideon of Scotland Yard (Col, 1958)
Horror of Dracula (U, 1958)
Horse’s Mouth (L, 1958)
Houseboat (Par, 1958)
Indiscreet (WB, 1958)
Light in the Forest (BV, 1958)
Mark of the Hawk (U, 1958)
Les Miserables (Ind, 1958)
Missouri Traveler (BV, 1958)
Moonraker (Ind, 1958)
Mother India (Ind, 1958)
No Time to Die (Col, 1958)
Proud Rebel (BV, 1958)
La Ragazza del Palio (Ind, 1958)
Return to Warbow (Col, 1958)
Revenge of Frankenstein (Col, 1958)
Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (Col, 1958)
Stage Struck (BV, 1958)
Story of Vickie (BV, 1958)
Tonka (BV, 1958)
Le Triporteur (Ind, 1958)
Une le Parisienne (UA, 1958)
The Unholy Wife (U, 1958)
Wind Across the Everglade (WB, 1958)
Bridal Path (Ind, 1959)
F.B.I. Story (WB, 1959)
Handful of Grain (Ind, 1959)
Hanging Tree (WB, 1959)
Hound of the Baskervilles (UA, 1959)
Invitation to Monte Carlo (Ind, 1959)
Man Who Could Cheat Death (Par, 1959)
The Mummy (U, 1959)
Nun’s Story (WB, 1959)
1001 Arabian Nights (Col, 1959)
Rio Bravo (WB, 1959)
Serenade of a Great Love (Ind, 1959)
A Summer Place (WB, 1959)
Sword and the Dragon (Ind, 1959)
Third Man on the Mountain (WB, 1959)
Thunder in the Sun (Par, 1959)
The Trap (Par, 1959)
Watusi (MGM, 1959)
Wonderful Country (UA, 1959)
Young Land (Ind, 1959)
Bramble Bush (WB, 1960)
Brides of Dracula (U, 1960)
Cash McCall (WB, 1960)
Crowded Sky (WB, 1960)
Crowning Experience (Ind, 1960)
Dark at the Top of the Stairs (WB, 1960)
Doctor in Love (WB, 1960)
G.I. Blues (WB, 1960)
Guns of the Timberland (WB, 1960)
Heller in Pink Tights (Par, 1960)
Hound that Thought He Was a Racoon (BV, 1960)
Ice Palace (WB, 1960)
It Started in Naples (Par, 1960)
Jungle Cat (BV, 1960)
Kidnapped (BV, 1960)
Once More with Feeling (Col, 1960)
One, Two, Three, Four (Ind, 1960)
Pollyanna (BV, 1960)
Rat Race (Par, 1960)
Sergeant Rutledge (WB, 1960)
Sundowners (WB, 1960)
Sunrise at Campobello (WB, 1960)
Ten Who Dared (BV, 1960)
Tunes of Glory (L, 1960)
Toby Tyler (BV, 1960)
Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (Col, 1960)
World of Susie Wong (Par, 1960)
All in a Night’s Work (Par, 1961)
Babes in Toyland (BV, 1961)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Par, 1961)
Call Me Genius (Ind, 1961)
Fanny (WB, 1961)
Ghosts in Rome (Ind, 1961)
Gorgo (MGM, 1961)
Greyfriar’s Bobby (BV, 1961)
Honeymoon Machine (MGM, 1961)
Ladies’ Man (Par, 1961)
Nikki, Wild Dog of the North (BV, 1961)
Parent Trap (BV, 1961)
Parrish (WB, 1961)
Pleasure of His Company (Par, 1961)
Queen’s Guards (Fox, 1961)
Raising the Wind (Ind, 1961)
Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (WB, 1961)
Romanoff and Juliet (U, 1961)
Rommel’s Treasure (Ind, 1961)
Sins of Rachel Cade (WB, 1961)
Splendor in the Grass (WB, 1961)
Steel Claw (WB, 1961)
Susan Slade (WB, 1961)
Vanina Vanini (Ind, 1961)
Almost Angels (BV, 1962)
Big Red (BV, 1962)
Boccaccio 7 0 (Emb, 1962)
Bon Voyage (BV, 1962)
Chapman Report (WB, 1962)
Counterfeit Traitor (Par, 1962)
Dr. No (UA, 1962)
Escape from Zahrain (Par, 1962)
A Family Diary (MGM, 1962)
First Spaceship on Venus (Ind, 1962)
Forever My Love (Par, 1962)
Girls! Girls! Girls! (Par, 1962)
Hatari! (WB, 1962)
In Search of the Castaways (BV, 1962)
Jessica (UA, 1962)
Lad: A Dog (WB, 1962)
Lafayette (Ind, 1962)
Legend of Lobo (BV, 1962)
Madame Sans-Gene (Ind, 1962)
A Majority of One (WB, 1962)
Mondo Cane (Ind, 1962)
Moon Pilot (BV, 1962)
Phantom of the Opera (U, 1962)
Rome Adventure (WB, 1962)
Der Rosenkavalier (Ind, 1962)
Samar (WB, 1962)
The Birds (U, 1963)
Captain Sinbad (MGM, 1963)
Charade (U, 1963)
Diary of a Madman (UA, 1963)
Doctor in Distress (Ind, 1963)
Donovan’s Reef (Par, 1963)
Fast Lady (Ind, 1963)
From Russia with Love (UA, 1963)
From Saturday to Monday (Ind, 1963)
Fun in Acapulco (Par, 1963)
Ghost at Noon (Ind, 1963)
Gudrun (Ind, 1963)
Imperial Venus (Ind, 1963)
Incredible Journey (Ind, 1963)
Island of Love (WB, 1963)
MacBeth (Ind, 1963)
Man’s Paradise (Ind, 1963)
Mary, Mary (WB, 1963)
Miracle of the White Stallions (BV, 1963)
A New Kind of Love (Par, 1963)
The Nutty Professor (Par, 1963)
Palm Springs Weekend (WB, 1963)
Papa’s Delicate Condition (Par, 1963)
Rampage (WB, 1963)
Savage Sam (BV, 1963)
Seige of the Saxons (Col, 1963)
Summer Magic (BV, 1963)
Three Lives of Thomasina (BV, 1963)
Threepenny Opera (Ind, 1963)
Tommy the Toreador (7A, 1963)
Twice Told Tales (UA, 1963)
Who’s Minding the Store? (Par, 1963)
Women of the World (Emb, 1963)
Bargee (Ind, 1964)
Castle (Ind, 1964)
Chalk Garden (U, 1964)
Code 7, Victim 5 (Ind, 1964)
Crooks in Cloisters (Ind, 1964)
Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (Ind, 1964)
Dark Purpose (U, 1964)
Disorderly Orderly (Par, 1964)
Emil and the Detectives (BV, 1964)
An Evening with the Royal Ballet (Ind, 1964)
Father Goose (U, 1964)
Finest Hours (Col, 1964)
Four for Texas (WB, 1964)
Germany Greets Kennedy (Ind, 1964)
Goldfinger (UA, 1964)
Gorgon (Ind, 1964)
Incredible Mr. Limpet (WB, 1964)
Lydia (Ind, 1964)
Mail Order Bride (MGM, 1964)
Man From Rio (Ind, 1964)
Man’s Favorite Sport? (U, 1964)
Mamie (U, 1964)
Mary Poppins (part successive exposure) (BV, 1964)
Midadventures of Merlin Jones (BV, 1964)
Mondo Cane No. 2 (Ind, 1964)
Moon Spinners (BV, 1964)
Nasty Rabbit (Ind, 1964)
Paris When It Sizzles (Par,1964)
Patsy (Par, 1964)
The Prize (MGM, 1964)
Quick Gun (Col, 1964)
Red Desert (Ind, 1964)
Send Me No Flowers (U, 1964)
Sex and the Single Girl (WB, 1964)
The Soldier’s Tale (Ind, 1964)
Strange Bedfellows (U, 1964)
Taggert (U, 1964)
Those Calloways (BV, 1964)
Three Nights of Love (Ind, 1964)
A Tiger Walks (BV, 1964)
Voice of the Hurricane (Ind, 1964)
White Voice (Ind, 1964)
Wonderful Live (Ind, 1964)
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Emb, 1964)
An American Wife (Ind, 1965)
Art of Love (U, 1965)
Beach Ball (U, 1965)
Blood and Black Lace (AA, 1965)
Boeing Boeing (Par, 1965)
La Boheme (WB, 1965)
Brigand of Kandahar (Ind, 1965)
Casanova 7 0 (Ind, 1965)
The Collector (Col, 1965)
Crack in the World (Par, 1965)
Dingaka (Emb, 1965)
Dr. Who and the Daleks (Ind, 1965)
Ecco! (Ind, 1965)
Family Jewels (Par, 1965)
Git! (Ind, 1965)
I’ll Take Sweden (UA, 1965)
I’ve Gotta Horse (Ind, 1965)
Love and Kisses (U, 1965)
Love Goddess (sequence) (Ind, 1965)
Merry Wives of Windsor (Ind, 1965)
Monkey’s Uncle (BV, 1965)
Oil Prince (Ind, 1965)
One Million Dollars (UA, 1965)
A Pistol for Bingo (Ind, 1965)
Red Line 7000 (Par, 1965)
Seven Guns for the MacGregors (Col, 1965)
Shenandoah (U, 1965)
Slalom (Ind, 1965)
Taboos of the World (Ind, 1965)
Tenth Victim (Ind, 1965)
That Darn Cat (BV, 1965)
That Funny Feeling (U, 19.65)
Three Faces of a Woman (Ind, 1965)
Truth About Spring (U, 1965)
Ugly Dachshund (BV, 1965)
Up Jumped a Swagman (Ind, 1965)
A Very Special Favor (U, 1965)
What (Ind, 1965)
Wild Wild Winter (U, 1965)
After the Fox (British prints only) (UA, 1966)
An American Dream (WB, 1966)
And Now Miguel (U, 1966)
Any Wednesday (WB, 1966)
A Big Hand for the Little Lady (WB, 1966)
The Big T-N-T Show (AIP, 1966)
Chamber of Horrors (WB, 1966)
The Countess from Hong Kong (U, 1966)
Every Day Is a Holiday (Ind, 1966)
Fahrenheit 451 (U, 1966)
The Fighting Prince of Donegal (BV, 1966)
A Fine Madness (WB, 1966)
Follow Me, Boys! (BV, 1966)
For Love and Gold (Ind, 1966)
Frankie and Johnny (UA, 1966)
Goal! World Cup of 1966 (Ind, 1966)
Gunpoint (U, 1966)
The Hostage (Ind, 1966)
Johnny Tiger (U, 1966)
Juliet of the Spirits (Ind, 1966)
Kaleidoscope (WB, 1966)
Kill or Be Killed (Ind, 1966)
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (Col, 1966)
The Last of the Secret Agents? (Par, 1966)
Let’s Kill Uncle (U, 1966)
Lt. Robinson Caruso U.S.N. (BV, 1966)
Madame X (U, 1966)
A Man for All Seasons (Col, 1966)
A Matter of Honor (Ind, 1966)
Maya (MGM, 1966)
Moment to Moment (U, 1966)
Munster Go Home (U, 1966)
Murderer’s Row (Col, 1966)
Nashville Rebel (AIP, 1966)
Not with My Wife, You Don’t (WB, 1966)
One Million Years B.C. (British prints only) (Fox, 1966)
Othello (WB, 1966)
Out of Sight (U, 1966)
The Pad (U, 1966)
Paradise, Hawaiian Style (Par, 1966)
Promise Her Anything (Par, 1966)
Rings Around the World (Col, 1966)
Secret Agent Super Dragon (Ind, 1966)
Seven Golden Men Strike Again (Ind, 1966)
Stop the World, I Want to Get Off (WB, 1966)
The Sultans (Par, 1966)
Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Ind, 1966)
Thank You Very Much (Ind, 1966)
Thunderbirds Are Go (UA, 1966)
Tobruk (U, 1966)
Torn Curtain (U, 1966)
Two Kouney Lemels (Ind, 1966)
Up the MacGregors (Col, 1966)
A Virgin for the Prince (Ind, 1966)
Warning Shot (Par, 1966)
White, Red, Yellow, Pink (sequence) (Ind, 1966)
The Wrong Box (Col, 1966)
Young Cassidy (British prints only) (Ind, 1966)
Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (BV, 1967)
After You, Comrade (Ind, 1967)
Ambushers (Col, 1967)
Berserk (Col, 1967)
Birds, the Bees and the Italians (WB, 1967)
The Bobo (WB, 1967)
Bonditis (Ind, 1967)
Bonnie and Clyde (WB, 1967)
A Bullet for the General (Emb, 1967)
Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar (BV, 1967)
The Corrupt Ones (WB, 1967)
A Covenant with Death (Col, 1967)
The Deadly Affair (Col, 1967)
Divorce, Italian Style (Col, 1967)
Don’t Lose Your Head (Ind, 1967)
Easy Come, Easy Go (Par, 1967)
El Dorado (Par, 1967)
The Family Way (WB, 1967)
Follow that Camel (Par, 1967)
Frank’s Greatest Adventure (Ind, 1967)
The Gnome Mobile (BV, 1967)
Gunfire in Abilene (U, 1967)
Gunn (Par, 1967)
Half a Sixpence (Par, 1967)
The Happening (Col, 1967)
The Happiest Millionaire (BV, 1967)
Hell on Wheels (Ind, 1967)
The Hippie Revolt (Ind, 1967)
The Honey Pot (UA, 1967)
Hotel (WB, 1967)
I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘is Name (Ind, 1967)
It! (WB, 1967)
The Jokers (U, 1967)
King’s Pirate (U, 1967)
Knives of the Avenger (Ind, 1967)
The Last Safari (WB, 1967)
The Mikado (WB, 1967)
Misunderstood (Ind, 1967)
Monkeys, Go Home (BV, 1967)
Oedipus Rex (Ind, 1967)
Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad (Par, 1967)
The 1,000,000 Eyes of Su-Muru (AIP, 1967)
Privilege (U, 1967)
Red Dragon (Ind, 1967)
The Reluctant Astronaut (U, 1967)
The Ride to Hangman’s Tree (U, 1967)
A Rose for Everyone (Ind, 1967)
The Savage Eye (Ind, 1967)
The Spirit Is Willing (Par, 1967)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (U, 1967)
To Each His Own (Ind, 1967)
To Sir, with Love (Col, 1967)
Triple Cross (WB, 1967)
Up the Down Staircase (WB, 1967)
Valley of Mystery (U, 1967)
Wait Until Dark (WB, 1967)
War-Italian Style (AIP, 1967)
The Wild Rebels (Ind, 1967)
The Young Girls of Rochefort (WB, 1967)
Ace High (Par, 1968)
And There Came a Man (Ind, 1968)
Battle Beneath the Earth (MGM, 1968)
Benjamin (Ind, 1968)
Better a Widow (U, 1968)
The Big Gundown (Ind, 1968)
Birds in Peru (U, 1968)
The Birthday Party (Ind, 1968)
Blackbeard’s Ghost (BV, 1968)
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (Par, 1968)
Bofors Gun (U, 1968)
Bullitt (WB, 1968)
Bye Bye Braverman (WB, 1968)
Candy (CRC, 1968)
Charlie Bubbles (U, 1968)
The Cobra (Ind, 1968)
Coogan’s Bluff (U, 1968)
Corruption (Col, 1968)
The Counterfeit Killer (U, 1968)
Danger: Diabolik (Par, 1968)
Devil in Love (WB, 1968)
Devil’s Bride (Fox, 1968)
Doctor Faustus (Col, 1968)
Don’t Raise the River, Lower the Bridge (Col, 1968)
The Double Man (WB, 1968)
Duffy (Col, 1968)
Five Card Stud (Par, 1968)
Ghosts – Italian Style (Ind, 1968)
The Girl on a Motorcycle (also known as Naked Under Leather) (WB, 1968)
Great Catherine (WB, 1968)
Head (Col, 1968)
Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (WB, 1968)
Heidi (WB, 1968)
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (Ind, 1968)
Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (BV, 1968)
The Hostage (Ind, 1968)
House of 1000 Dolls (AIP, 1968)
How Sweet It Is! (NG, 1968)
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (WB, 1968)
Interlude (Col, 1968)
Isabel (Par, 1968)
Island of the Doomed (Ind, 1968)
Jigsaw (U, 1968)
Kona Coast (WB, 1968)
Listen, Let’s Make Love (7A, 1968)
A Maiden for the Prince (Ind, 1968)
The Murder Clinic (Ind, 1968)
Negatives (Ind, 1968)
Never a Dull Moment (BV, 1968)
No Way to Treat a Lady (Par, 1968)
Oedipus the King (U, 1968)
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (BV, 1968)
Petulia (WB, 1968)
A Place for Lovers (MGM, 1968)
Poor Cow (NG, 1968)
Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (UA, 1968)
Project X (Par, 1968)
Rachel, Rachel (WB, 1968)
Rosemary’s Baby (Par, 1968)
Rosie (U, 1968)
Romeo and Juliet (Par, 1968)
Run Like a Thief (Ind, 1968)
Sergeant Ryker (U, 1968)
Sebastian (Par, 1968)
Secret Ceremony (U, 1968)
The Sea Gull (WB, 1968)
The Shuttered Room (WB, 1968)
Sky Over Holland (WB, 1968)
The Strange Affair (Par, 1968)
Sweet November (WB, 1968)
The Swimmer (Col, 1968)
30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (Col, 1968)
Three Guns for Texas (U, 1968)
Torture Garden (Col, 1968)
Track of Thunder (UA, 1968)
La Traviata (Ind, 1968)
Uptight (Par, 1968)
The Vengeance of She (Fox, 1968)
Will Penny (Par, 1968)
The Adding Machines (U, 1969)
All Heat in Black Stockings (NG, 1969)
Angel in My Pocket (U, 1969)
Assassination Bureau (Par, 1969)
Before Winter (Col, 1969)
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Col, 1969)
The Brotherhood (Par, 1969)
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (UA, 1969)
Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (U, 1969)
A Challenge for Robin Hood (Fox, 1969)
A Change of Habit (U, 1969)
Daddy’s Gone-a-Hunting (Ind, 1969)
Death of a Gunfighter (U, 1969)
Easy Rider (WB, 1969)
80 Steps to Jonah (WB, 1969)
Eye of the Cat (U, 1969)
Fraulein Doktar (Par, 1969)
Goodbye, Columbus (Par, 1969)
Hell’s Angels 69 (Ind, 1969)
Hook, Line and Sinker (Col, 1969)
How to Commit Marriage (CRC, 1969)
The Love Bug (BV, 1969)
The Loves of Isadora (also released in longer version as Isadora) (U, 1969)
A Man Called Gannon (U, 1969)
Mayerling (MGM, 1969)
Medium Cool (Par, 1969)
Midas Run (CRC, 1969)
Midnight Cowboy (British prints only) (UA, 1969)
Mission Batangas (Ind, 1969)
Night of the Following Day (U, 1969)
On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl W h o . . . (WB, 1969)
Otley (Col, 1969)
Pendulum (Col, 1969)
Rain People (WB, 1969)
Ring of Bright Water (CRC, 1969)
Riot (Par, 1969)
Run Wild, Run Free (Col, 1969)
The Sergeant (WB, 1969)
Seven Golden Men (WB, 1969)
Shock Troops (UA, 1969)
The Sterile Cuckoo (Par, 1969)
Take the Money and Run (CRC, 1969)
True Grit (Par, 1969)
Trygon Factor (WB, 1969)
Twisted Nerve (NG, 1969)
2000 Years Later (WB, 1969)
Valley of Gwangi (WB, 1969)
Wrecking Crew (Col, 1969)
Young Americans (Col, 1969)
Act of the Heart (U, 1970)
Adam at 6 A.M. (NG, 1970
Africa, Blood and Guts (Ind, 1970)
All the Way Up (Ind, 1970)
And Soon the Darkness (WB, 1970)
The Babymaker (NG, 1970)
Ballad of Cable Hogue (WB, 1970)
Boatnicks (BV, 1970)
The Body (MGM, 1970)
Buttercup Chain (Col, 1970)
Cannibals (Ind, 1970)
Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (U, 1970)
El Condor (NG, 1970)
The Conformist (Par, 1970)
The Damned (WB, 1970)
Darker Than Amber (NG, 1970)
Detective Belli (Ind, 1970)
Diary of a Mad Housewife (U, 1970)
Eyewitness (MGM, 1970)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (WB, 1970)
Giant (WarnerColor, reissue) (WB, 1970)
Grasshopper (NG, 1970)
Hoffman (WB, 1970)
Homer (NG, 1970)
Horror of Frankenstein (MGM, 1970)
I Love My Wife (U, 1970)
Imago (Ind, 1970)
In Search of Gregory (U, 1970)
Just Another War (Ind, 1970)
Kemek (Ind, 1970)
King of the Grizzlies (BV, 1970)
Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (WB, 1970)
Let It Be (16mm blowup) (UA, 1970)
Man Who Haunted Himself (WB, 1970)
Mind of Mister Soames (Col, 1970)
Moon Zero Two (WB, 1970)
Most Beautiful Wife (Ind, 1970)
Night of Counting the Years (Ind, 1970)
Norwood (Par, 1970)
Out-of-Towners (Par, 1970)
Performance (WB, 1970)
The Phynx (WB, 1970)
Pufnstuf (U, 1970)
Rabbit, Run (WB, 1970)
Railway Children (U, 1970)
Rio Lobo (NG, 1970)
Rise and Fall of Michael Rimmer (WB, 1970)
Scars of Dracula (MGM, 1970)
Spider’s Strategy (Ind, 1970)
Spring and Port Wine (WB, 1970)
Start the Revolution without Me (WB, 1970)
Story of a Citizen Above All Suspicion (Ind, 1970)
Story of a Woman (U, 1970)
Strogoff (Ind, 1970)
Sunflower (Emb, 1970)
Take a Girl Like You (Col, 1970)
Taste the Blood of Dracula (WB, 1970)
Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (Par, 1970)
Tomorrow (R, 1970)
Trog (WB, 1970)
Twinky (R, 1970)
Undercover Rogue (Ind, 1970)
Upon This Rock (Ind, 1970)
The Vampire Lovers (MGM, 1970)
Which Way to the Front? (WB, 1970)
Barefoot Executive (BV, 1971)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (part successive exposure) (BV, 1971)
The Beguiled (U, 1971)
Bless the Beasts and the Children (Col, 1971)
The Body (MGM, 1971)
Bora, Bora (AIP, 1971)
Captain Apache (Ind, 1971)
The Clowns (Ind, 1971)
Conformist (Par, 1971)
Creatures the World Forgot (Col, 1971)
Decameron (UA, 1971)
$ (Col, 1971)
Dusty and Sweets McGee (WB, 1971)
Five Bloody Graves (Ind, 1971)
Fragment of Fear (Col, 1971)
Friends (Par, 1971)
Get to Know Your Rabbit (WB, 1971)
Glory Boy (also known as My Old Man’s Place) (CRC, 1971)
Go-Between (Col, 1971)
A Gunfight (Par, 1971)
Harold and Maude (Par, 1971)
Hired Hand (U, 1971)
How to Frame a Figg (U, 1971)
Invincible Six (Ind, 1971)
Last Movie (U, 1971)
Last Rebel (Col, 1971)
Long Ago, Tomorrow (Ind, 1971)
Lust for a Vampire (Ind, 1971)
Maddalena (Ind, 1971)
Malcolm X (WB, 1971)
Man Who Haunted Himself (Ind, 1971)
Million Dollar Duck (BV, 1971)
Minnie and Moskowitz (U, 1971)
Nana (NG, 1971)
Narco Men (Ind, 1971)
On Any Sunday (Ind, 1971)
One More Train to Rob (U, 1971)
Percy (MGM, 1971)
Peter Rabbit and Tales of Beatrix Potter (MGM, 1971)
Play Misty for Me (U, 1971)
Plaza Suite (Par, 1971)
Priest’s Wife (WB, 1971)
Punishment Park (Ind, 1971)
Puzzle of a Downfall Child (U, 1971)
Raid on Rommel (U, 1971)
The Reckoning (Col, 1971)
Red Sky at Morning (U, 1971)
Romance of a Horsethief (AA, 1971)
Sacco and Vanzetti (Ind, 1971)
A Safe Place (Col, 1971)
A Severed Head (Col, 1971)
Shoot Out (U, 1971)
The Ski Bum (Emb, 1971)
Story of a Woman (U, 1971)
Sudden Terror (NG, 1971)
Summer of ’42 (WB, 1971)
A Town Called Hell (Ind, 1971)
T. R. Baskin (Par, 1971)
200 Motels (shot on video) (UA, 1971)
Two-Lane Blacktop (U, 1971)
The Vampire Lovers (AIP, 1971)
Villain (MGM, 1971)
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (WB, 1971)
The Wild Country (BV, 1971)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Par, 1971)
The Animals (Ind, 1972)
Assassination of Trotsky (CRC, 1972)
Bad Company (Par, 1972)
Baron Blood (AIP, 1972)
Battle of Neretva (Ind, 1972)
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (AIP, 1972)
Bluebeard (CRC, 1972)
Born to Boogie (Ind, 1972)
Cabaret (AA, 1972)
Cancel My Reservation (WB, 1972)
The Candidate (WB, 1972)
Chato’s Land (UA, 1972)
Come Back, Charleston Blue (WB, 1972)
Crescendo (WB, 1972)
Cross and the Switchblade (Ind, 1972)
Dirty Outlaws (Ind, 1972)
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (AIP, 1972)
Dracula A.D. 1972 (WB, 1972)
Dulcima (Ind, 1972)
Emigrants (WB, 1972)
Fellims Roma (UA, 1972)
Fillmore (Fox, 1972)
The Godfather (Par, 1972)
The Great Northfield, Minnesota, Raid (U, 1972)
Hands of the Ripper (U, 1972)
Here Comes Every Body (Ind, 1972)
Last of the Red Hot Lovers (Par, 1972)
Last Tango in Paris (UA, 1972)
Legend of Boggy Creek (Ind, 1972)
Limbo (U, 1972)
The Little Ark (NG, 1972)
Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (also known as Schizoid) (AIP, 1972)
Lola (AIP, 1972)
Napoleon and Samantha (BV, 1972)
Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Ind, 1972)
The Nightcomers (Emb, 1972)
No Drums, No Bugles (CRC, 1972)
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (BV, 1972)
Outback (UA, 1972)
Play It Again, Sam (Par, 1972)
Pocket Money (NG, 1972)
Puppet on a Chain (CRC, 1972)
Red Sun (NG, 1972)
Silent Running (U, 1972)
Snoopy, Come Home (NG, 1972)
Snowball Express (BV, 1972)
Something Big (NG, 1972)
Sometimes a Great Notion (U, 1972)
Super Fly (WB, 1972)
Ten Days’ Wonder (Ind, 1972)
Trick Baby (U, 1972)
Up the Sandbox (NG, 1972)
The Valachi Papers (Col, 1972)
War Between Men and Women (NG, 1972)
Wednesday’s Child (Ind, 1972)
What’s Up, Doc? (WB, 1972)
You’ll Like My Mother (U, 1972)
Alfredo, Alfredo (Par, 1973)
Alpha Beta (Ind, 1973)
Ash Wednesday (Par, 1973)
Assassin of Rome (Col, 1973)
Battle of the Amazons (AIP, 1973)
Baxter (NG, 1973)
Blume in Love (WB, 1973)
Boy Who Cried Werewolf (U, 1973)
Breezy (U, 1973)
Brother Sun, Sister Moon (Par, 1973)
Charley and the Angel (BV, 1973)
Charley Varrick (U, 1973)
Contact (Ind, 1973)
Day of the Jackal (U, 1973)
Deadly Trackers (WB, 1973)
Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (MGM, 1973)
Diary of a Cloistered Nun (Ind, 1973)
The Don Is Dead (U, 1973)
Don’t Look Now (BL, 1973)
Enter the Dragon (WB, 1973)
Friends of Eddie Coyle (Par, 1973)
Giordano Bruno (Ind, 1973)
Girls Are for Loving (Ind, 1973)
The Iceman Cometh (AFT, 1973)
I Did It (WB, 1973)
Jimi Hendrix (WB, 1973)
Last of Sheila (WB, 1973)
Lialeh (Ind, 1973)
Loveland (Ind, 1973)
Lucky Luciano (Ind, 1973)
Man Called Noon (NG, 1973)
Massacre in Rome (Ind, 1973)
Maurie (NG, 1973)
Naked Ape (U, 1973)
Number One (Ind, 1973)
Nuns of Sant ‘Arcangelo (Ind, 1973)
O Lucky Man! (Col, 1973)
One Little Indian (BV, 1973)
Sacred Knives of Vengeance (WB, 1973)
Scalaway (Par, 1973)
Serpico (Par, 1973)
Ssssssss (U, 1973)
The Sting (U, 1973)
Stone Killer (Col, 1973)
Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (Col, 1973)
Teresa the Thief (Ind, 1973)
That Man Bolt (U, 1973)
That’ll Be the Day (Ind, 1973)
Two People (U, 1973)
Visions of Eight (C5,1973)
A Warm December (NG, 1973)
Whatever Happened to Miss September (Ind, 1973)
World’s Greatest Athlete (BV, 1973)
Abdication (WB, 1974)
Alicia (Ind, 1974)
Always a New Beginning (Ind, 1974)
Amarcord (WB, 1974)
Arabian Nights (UA, 1974)
Bears and I (BV, 1974)
Beast (WB, 1974)
Beast Must Die (CRC, 1974)
Beautiful People (WB, 1974)
Black Eye (WB, 1974)
Black Sampson (WB, 1974)
Castaway Cowboy (BV, 1974)
Conversation (Par, 1974)
Coonskin (Par, 1974)
Craze (WB, 1974)
Dakota (Ind, 1974)
Death Wish (Par, 1974)
Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (CRC, 1974)
La Faro da Padre (Ind, 1974)
Girl from Petrovka (U, 1974)
The Godfather II (Par, 1974)
Herbie Rides Again (BV, 1974)
How Long Can You Fall? (Inc,1974)
Island at the Top of the World (BV,1974)
It’s Alive (WB, 1974)
The Klansman (Par, 1974)
Li’l Scratch (Inc, 1974)
Little Prince (Par, 1974)
Longest Yard (Par, 1974)
Lords of Flatbush (16mm blowup) (Col, 1974)
Lost in the Stars (AFT, 1974)
Mahler (Ind, 1974)
Man on a Swing (Par, 1974)
Murder on the Orient Express (Par, 1974)
Mutation (Col, 1974)
My Way (Ind, 1974)
Newman’s Law (U, 1974)
Night Porter (UA, 1974)
Our Time (WB, 1974)
Paul and Michelle (Par, 1974)
Phase IV (Par, 1974)
Return of the Dragon (Ind, 1974)
Sonny and Jed (Ind, 1974)
Star Dust (Ind, 1974)
Superdad (BV, 1974)
Swallow and Amazona (Ind, 1974)
Terminal Man (WB, 1974)
That Midnight Man (U, 1974)
Three Tough Guys (Par, 1974)
Torso (Ind, 1974)
Truck Stop Women (Ind, 1974)
Uptown Saturday Night (WB, 1974)
Venial Sin (Ind, 1974)
Verdi (Ind, 1974)
A Very Natural Thing (Ind, 1974)
Wicker Man (British) (WB, 1974)
Willie Dynamite (U, 1974)
Zandy’s Bride (WB, 1974)
Space Avenger (Chinese dye transfer) (New Wave, 1989)
In 1956, Albert H. Reynolds and Dowlen Russell of Texas tried to re-create the Cinerama process using two rather than three cameras. Thrillarama involved two interlocked 35mm cameras exposing the full silent ratio aperture (four sprockets rather than Cinerama’s six sprocket frame). When two interlocked projectors played the two prints, a 2.66 x 1 widescreen image, similar to the CinemaScope ratio, was generated. Whereas the Cinerama panel divisions were on the edge of a viewer’s peripheral vision, the Thrillarama panel divisions were right down the center.
Only one feature was made in the process, Thrillarama Adventure, which played for one week in Houston, Texas, then closed. Both panels were printed in the dye transfer process, with the left panel in the mag only format with fox sprockets, and the right panel silent with conventional sprockets. One complete print exists in a private collection.
Thrillarama Adventure (Ind, 1956)
In 1956, Fox tried to upgrade their CinemaScope process by adapting it for use with a large format negative. Kodak manufactured a special 55mm color negative and print film which was processed at DeLuxe. They named the process CinemaScope 55. It used the same anamorphic compression as the 35mm format, retaining the 2.55 x 1 ratio, reduced size sprockets and four track magnetic only release print. Since a larger negative was used, sharpness and resolution were increased. Another development was the use of anamorphic prime lenses rather than attachments. A series of lenses was created with different focal lengths that had the squeeze built in which had foreshadowed the Panavision anamorphic system.
Fox noticed the quality of the VistaVision reduction prints coming out of Technicolor and had DeLuxe build them an optical printer to derive standard 35mm scope prints from the 55mm negative. The 35mm Eastmancolor scope reduction prints of the first feature, Carousel, were so sharp that it was never shown in the large format.
The second feature, The King and I, also made in 1956, reportedly played 55mm for some limited engagements. Although better than standard 35mm scope positives, reduction printing in Eastmancolor did not work as well as it did in the dye transfer process. For the 1961 reissue, Fox sent the reduction 35mm internegative to Technicolor and had 35mm dye transfer prints made in a cropped 2.35 x 1 ratio, with more impressive results. Both 55mm features were also printed in the 16mm dye transfer scope process as well. Circa 1956, Fox bought a controlling interest in the Todd AO 70mm process and phased out the CinemaScope 55 format. Future large scale Fox films were shot in 65mm.
King and I (Fox, 1961, reissue)
In the rush to widescreen, Howard Hughes and his RKO company wanted to compete, but the billionaire had no intention of paying a franchise fee to Fox for use of their CinemaScope lens attachment. He made a deal with the Tushinsky brothers, equipment manufacturers, to develop a new anamorphic system known as SuperScope. All SuperScope entailed was the adaption of a standard 1.33 x 1 color negative into a scope image by cropping the tops and bottoms of the frame and having Technicolor add an anamorphic compression during matrix manufacture. Since the frame was being cropped and enlarged, the resulting dye transfer release prints were grainy and lacked sharpness.
The SuperScope prints were made in a 2 x 1 ratio by printing black borders on the sides of the image (fig. 16). A projector plate would crop the image, but a standard anamorphic lens could be used. The Tushinskys also made a new kind of lens attachment that was really a box with two mirrors that gave a variable anamorphic compression, in the event future formats were introduced that did not use the standard 2 x 1 compression. The Tushinsky SuperScope projection attachments were difficult to adjust, and no matter how an operator turned the knob on top of the box to unsqueeze the image, it looked slightly distorted.
Since the same 2 x 1 ratio could be achieved by cropping a standard release print without adding anamorphic compression, and since the resulting print had less grain, SuperScope was a pretty worthless process and was quickly phased out after Hughes sold RKO to General Tire in 1957.
Several features that were originally released in 1.33 were reissued in the SuperScope format, including Son of Sinbad (shown in 3-D in 1954), Henry V (1945) and Fantasia (1940). The last was the most ridiculous; each animated sequence was given a different cropped aspect ratio, including an anamorphic squeeze in some that made the figures appear fat. The only interesting thing about this version was that it was the only dye transfer reissue that contained the Fantasound stereo tracks in the magnetic only format. Future stereo reissues of Fantasia were in the Eastmancolor process and lacked the vibrant colors and rich contrast of the Technicolor originals.
Vera Cruz (RKO, 1954)
Desert Sands (RKO, 1955)
Escape to Burma (RKO, 1955)
Pearl of the South Pacific (RKO, 1955)
Son of Sinbad (reissue) (RKO, 1955)
Tennessee’s Partner (RKO, 1955)
Texas Lady (RKO, 1955)
Underwater (RKO, 1955)
Fantasia (reissued in magnetic stereo format) (RKO, 1956)
Glory (RKO, 1956)
Great Day in the Morning (RKO, 1956)
Henry V (reissue) (UA, 1956)
Slightly Scarlet (RKO, 1956)
One of the partners in the Cinerama company was veteran theatrical showman Michael Todd. He had supervised the European sequences of This Is Cinerama. Todd had reservations about the join lines that made up the widescreen image and the problems of keeping so many separate elements in synch. He sold off his interests in Cinerama and decided to develop his own proprietary format that would simulate the panoramic image without the join lines and contain the stereo tracks on the release copies.
Todd formed a partnership with Dr. Brian O’Brian, head of the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. A set of extremely wide angle lenses was developed that attempted to replicate the field of vision of Cinerama. They ranged from a huge “bug eye” 128 degree lens down to 64,48 and 37 degree lenses. Todd had Kodak manufacture him a special 65mm negative stock for principal photography. For contact positive release prints, Kodak developed a 70mm stock. The extra 5mm was necessary for the six channels of magnetic strips applied to the base inside and outside the normal sized sprockets. The projected aspect ratio was 2.21 to 1. The speed of the film was also increased to 30 frames per second, which not only improved sound quality but also eliminated the “picket fence” distortion common in widescreen films when the camera panned past objects at the standard 24 frame rate (fig. 17).
The Todd AO 70mm release prints, with their improved sharpness and resolution, represented the best quality available in the Eastmancolor process at the time. Since the wide frame was spherical rather than anamorphic, Todd AO prints displayed none of the distortion associated with the CinemaScope attachments. The only problem with the process was adapting it to 35mm for general release: There were no 35mm projectors in the U.S. that ran at the faster 30 frames per second rate.
The first Todd AO production, Oklahoma! (1955), was shot twice. During principal photography, the actors had to perform their roles for the 65mm cameras and then play the same scenes over to be shot in 35mm CinemaScope. Technicolor made the 35mm dye transfer magnetic only release prints in the full frame 2.55 x 1 ratio, while the C.F.I, lab manufactured the 70mm positives. It was obvious that the CinemaScope version was inferior to the 70mm version. For his own production of Around the World in 80 Days, released in 1957, Todd wanted the capability of making top-notch 35mm dye transfer general release copies as well as large format prints. His approach was both unusual and typical of the showmanship common in this era. Two 65mm negatives were exposed during principal photography. One ran at 30 frames per second for making optically derived 70mm prints (Technicolor A and B rolled the negative for first generation fades and dissolves), and the second 65mm negative ran at 24 frames per second for dye transfer “scope” reduction prints.
Reduction “scope” dye transfer prints looked as spectacular as the VistaVision “flat” reductions. The grain structure was finer, which increased apparent sharpness. VistaVision, Todd AO and other large negative printdowns represented the best color image possible on 35mm film. The method of making the 35mm prints was similar to the VistaVision process. The 65mm negative would be reduced in an optical printer to 35mm by adding an anamorphic compression to the matrices. The three matrices were then transferred in a conventional manner.
Several different 35mm versions were made of Around the World in 80 Days. For four-track magnetic-only prints, the 24 frames per second 65mm color negative was reduction printed to full frame matrices (using the entire silent aperture ratio) with a lesser 1.75 x 1 anamorphic compression. When unsqueezed in a SuperScope variable anamorphic attachment, the 70mm aspect ration of 2.21 x 1 was retained. These unusual 35mm dye transfer prints also had a Perspecta encoding on the rear channel to direct the sound to three speakers in the back of the theater. This same version was released in England but transferred onto thinner 34mm blank stock (to get around the 35mm import fees) and derived from the 30 frames per second 65mm negative. Special motors had to be adapted to screen these 35mm Technicolor copies, referred to as Cinestage prints, at the faster 30 frames per second speed. No Cinestage copy seems to have survived.
For general release, the 24 frames per second 65mm negative was reduction printed to matrices with a conventional 2 x 1 squeeze and a projected aspect ratio of 2.35 x 1. This resulted in a slight cropping on the top and bottom of the 2.21 x l 65mm frame, but it was not noticeable to audiences. General release Technicolor prints of Around the World in 80 Days were made with a Perspecta optical soundtrack. The picture was a tremendous hit and won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1957, although Todd had to sell off his interests in both Cinerama and Todd AO to finance the film. Sadly, he died in a plane crash while on a promotional tour, and the world lost a great showman. (After his death, the distribution of the film passed through two companies who proceeded to cut the negatives and allow them to deteriorate. The new Eastmancolor prints display serious negative fading and are 40 minutes shorter than the original Roadshow. Fortunately, a number of uncut 35mm Technicolor prints exist in archives and private collections.)
After Todd died, the Todd AO company decreased the speed to the standard 24 frames per second to make reduction printing easier. Most of the remaining Todd AO productions were released in the dye transfer process in 35mm, resulting in superior sharpness, albeit with a slight cropping on the top and bottom of the frame.
One way to make huge profits in the fifties was to own and sublicense a new widescreen process. Fox was raking in money by licensing their CinemaScope lenses. Paramount licensed their VistaVision process to MGM for North by Northwest (1959). Kalmus put his research department to work on creating their own proprietary widescreen method, which they called Technirama. Technirama was a combination of VistaVision and CinemaScope. The research department devised a series of lenses that added a slight 1.5 x 1 anamorphic compression to a standard 35mm VistaVision horizontal negative. During matrix manufacture, the negative was given an additional compression as it was reduction printed to generate a standard 2.35 x 1 dye transfer release print (fig. 18).
With the introduction of Technirama, Technicolor was able to offer an ultrasharp scope image that rivaled the quality of Todd AO reduction IBs but had the advantage of using 35mm rather than 65mm film for principal photography. Prints were made in either optical mono or mag/optical formats.
Meanwhile, the popularity of 70mm Roadshow prints inspired the research department to modify the process further. They adapted a printer to optically derive a 70mm positive from the 35mm Technirama negative, thus launching Super Technirama 70. As previously mentioned, optical printing in Eastmancolor did not work as well as it did in the dye transfer process. The grain structure of the silver halides that generated the latent image of the matrix was finer and more precise than the dye couplers exposed during Eastmancolor reductions or enlargements. As a result, the 70mm optical prints derived from Technirama negatives were not as good as those contact printed from 65mm negatives, although audiences probably would not have noticed the difference. The bulk of the release copies of Super Technirama 70 features continued to be 35mm dye transfer prints.
The cameras used for Technirama features were modified three strip units. The Panavision company supplied the lenses for the process. Among the notable Super Technirama 70 features were Spartacus (1960), El Cid (1961) and The Music Man (1962).
Escapade in Japan (U, 1957)
Legend of the Lost (UA, 1957)
The Monte Carlo Story (UA, 1957)
Night Passage (U, 1957)
Sayonara (WB, 1957)*
Auntie Mame (WB, 1958)
The Big Country (UA, 1958)*
Paris Holiday (UA, 1958)
This Angry Age (Col, 1958)
The Seven Hills of Rome (MGM, 1958)*
The Vikings (UA, 1958)
For the First Time (MGM, 1959)*
John Paul Jones (WB, 1959)*
The Miracle (WB, 1959)*
The Naked Maja (UA, 1959)
Solomon and Sheba (UA, 1959)*
Sleeping Beauty (BV, 1959)
The Tempest (Par, 1959)*
The Grass Is Greener (U, 1960)
Spartacus (U, I960)*
The Trials of Oscar Wilde (Kingsley, 1960)
Blood and Roses (Par, 1961)
Carthage in Flames (Col, 1961)
El Cid (AA, 1961)
King of Kings (MGM, 1961)*
The Savage Innocents (Par, 1961)
World by Night (WB, 1961)
Barabbas (Col, 1962)
55 Days at Peking (AA, 1962)
Gypsy (WB, 1962)
The Hellions (Col, 1962)
Merrill’s Marauders (WB, 1962)
The Music Man (WB, 1962)*
My Geisha (Par, 1962)
World by Night No. 2 (WB, 1962)
The Leopard (British and Italian prints only) (Fox, 1963)
Circus World (Par, 1964)
The Golden Arrow (MGM, 1964)
The Long Ships (Col, 1964)
The Pink Panther (UA, 1964)
Zulu (Embassy, 1964)*
* Released in both mag/optical and optical mono formats.
The Panavision company entered the widescreen field in 1957 with its improved series of anamorphic lenses. The major difference between CinemaScope lenses and Panavision lenses (both used the identical 2 x 1 compression) was that the latter used “primes,” similar to the lenses created for the CinemaScope 55mm format, rather than an attachment. A series of standard prime lenses (25mm, 50mm, etc.) was developed that had the anamorphic compression as part of the optics. This resulted in a scope image that was sharper than that shot with CinemaScope attachments.
The first dye transfer release to be photographed with the upgraded Panavision primes was The Big Circus in 1959. Other studios began using these lenses throughout the sixties, while Fox stayed with their CinemaScope attachments. Eventually, Fox switched over to Panavision, and the obsolete attachments were abandoned except for use in some independent, low budget features.
In 1963, Technicolor adapted their optical printer to derive “blowup” 70mm Eastmancolor positives from the 35mm Panavision negatives. The Cardinal was the first feature presented this way. As with any optical enlargement, the 70mm prints made in this fashion were not as sharp as those made from 65mm negatives. Given careful handling of fully exposed 35mm Panavision negatives that used high key lighting, the blowups could look good. In all cases, the bulk of the release prints were made in the 35mm dye transfer process (see fig. 19).
The Big Circus (AA, 1959)
Ocean’s 11 (WB, 1960)
Pepe (Col, I960)*
Swiss Family Robinson (BV, 1960)
The Unforgiven (UA, 1960)
Blue Hawaii (Par, 1961)*
Come September (U, 1961)
Flower Drum Song (U, 1961)*
Love in a Goldfish Bowl (Par, 1961)
On the Double (Par, 1961)
Summer and Smoke (Par, 1961)
X-15 (UA, 1961)
Dangerous Charter (CI, 1962)
Geronimo (UA, 1962)
A Girl Named Tamiko (Par, 1962)
Hero’s Island (UA, 1962)
Sergeants 3 (UA, 1962)
Who’s Got the Action? (Par, 1962)
Come Blow Your Horn (Par, 1963)
Critic’s Choice (WB, 1963)
Irma La Douce (WB, 1963)
Love Is a Ball (UA, 1963)
McLintock! (UA, 1963)
PT 109 (WB, 1963)
The Running Man (Col, 1963)
Spencer’s Mountain (WB, 1963)
Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (Par, 1963)
A Distant Trumpet (WB, 1964)
Ensign Pulver (WB, 1964)
Masque of the Red Death (British prints only) (AIP, 1964)
Robin and the 7 Hoods (WB, 1964)
Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (Par, 1965)
Battle of the Villa Fiorita (WB, 1965)
Harlow (Par, 1965)
Inside Daisy Clover (WB, 1965)
Mister Moses (UA, 1965)
The Naked Prey (Par, 1965)
Never Too Late (WB, 1965)
None but the Brave (WB, 1965)
Sands of the Kalahari (Par, 1965)
Sons of Katie Elder (Par, 1965)
The Third Day (WB, 1965)
Thunderball (UA, 1965)*
The War Lord (U, 1965)
Arabesque (U, 1966)
Arrivederci Baby! (Par, 1966)
Assault on a Queen (Par, 1966)
Blindfold (U, 1966)
Born Free (Col, 1966)
The Chase (Col, 1966)
Harper (WB, 1966)
Mademoiselle (L, 1966)
A Man Could Get Killed (U, 1966)
The Rare Breed (U.1966)
Walk, Don’t Run (Col, 1966)
Billion Dollar Brain (UA, 1967)
Cool Hand Luke (WB, 1967)
The Cool Ones (WB, 1967)
First to Fight (WB, 1967)
The Graduate (Emb, 1967)
Hurry Sundown (Par, 1967)
Night of the Generals (Col, 1967)
President’s Analyst (Par, 1967)
Reflections in a Golden Eye (WB, 1967)
Taming of the Shrew (Col, 1967)
War Wagon (U, 1967)
You Only Live Twice (UA, 1967)
Barbarella (Par, 1968)
Blue (Par, 1968)
Boom! (U, 1968)
Cubasco (WB, 1968)
A Dandy in Aspic (Col, 1968)
Firecreek (WB, 1968)
The Green Berets (WB, 1968)
Hell in the Pacific (CRC, 1968)
Odd Couple (Par, 1968)
The Party (British prints only) (UA, 1968)
Skidoo (Par, 1968)
The Stalking Moon (NG, 1968)
Tarzan and the Jungle Boy (Par, 1968)
Villa Rides! (Par, 1968)
The April Fools (NG, 1969)
The Arrangement (WB, 1969)
Assignment to Kill (WB, 1969)
The Big Bounce (WB, 1969)
Camille 2000 (A, 1969)
Castle Keep (Col, 1969)
Charro! (NG, 1969)
A Fine Pair (NG, 1969)
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (WB, 1969)
The Great Bank Robbery (WB, 1969)
The Illustrated Man (WB, 1969)
The Learning Tree (WB, 1969)
The Lost Man (U, 1969)
The Madwoman of Chaillot (WB, 1969)
My Side of the Mountain (Par, 1969)
Oh! What a Lovely War (Par, 1969)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (UA, 1969)
Catch-22 (Par, 1970)
The Cheyenne Social Club (NG, 1970)
Chism (WB, 1970)
Colossus, the Forbin Project (U, 1970)
Cromwell (Col, 1970)
Darling Lili (Par, 1970)*
The Executioner (Col, 1970)
Fellini’s Satyricon (UA, 1970)
Flap (WB, 1970)
Julius Ceasar (AIP, 1970)
Little Big Man (NG, 1970)
The Looking Glass War (Col, 1970)
A Man Called Horse (NG, 1970)
The Molly Maguires (Par, 1970)
Monte Walsh (NG, 1970)
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Par, 1970)*
The Pizza Triangle (WB, 1970)
Scrooge (NG, 1970)*
Skullduggery (U, 1970)
There Was a Crooked Man (WB, 1970)
WUSA (Par, 1970)
You Can’t Win ’em All (Col, 1970)
The African Elephant (NG, 1971)
The Andromeda Strain (U, 1971)
Big Jake (NG, 1971)*
Carnal Knowledge (Avco, 1971)
Death in Venice (WB, 1971)
The Deserter (Par, 1971)
Diamonds Are Forever (UA, 1971)
Dirty Harry (WB, 1971)
Klute (WB, 1971)
Man in the Wilderness (WB, 1971)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (WB, 1971)
Nicholas and Alexandra (British prints only) (Col, 1971)
The Omega Man (WB, 1971)
Scandalous John (BV, 1971)
Skin Game (WB, 1971)
The Todd Killings (also known as A Dangerous Friend) (NG, 1971)
Zeppelin (WB, 1971)
Dealing (WB, 1972)
The Groundstar Conspiracy (U, 1972)
Jeremiah Johnson (WB, 1972)
Joe Kidd (U, 1972)
Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (NG, 1972)
Pete V Tillie (U, 1972)
Portnoy’s Complaint (WB, 1972)
Prime Cut (NG, 1972)
Public Eye (U, 1972)
Snow Job (WB, 1972)
All American Boy (WB, 1972)
Cahill, United States Marshall (WB, 1973)
Class of ’44 (WB, 1973)
Cleopatra Jones (WB, 1973)
Day of the Dolphin (Avco, 1973)
Fear Is the Key (Par, 1973)
High Plains Drifter (U, 1973)
Hit! (Par, 1973)
The Long Goodbye (UA, 1973)
The Mackintosh Man (WB, 1973)
Magnum Force (WB, 1973)
The Nelson Affair (U, 1973)
Night Watch (Avco, 1973)
Papillon (AA, 1973)
Scarecrow (WB, 1973)
A Touch of Class (Avco, 1973)
Airport 1975 (U, 1974)
The Black Windmill (U, 1974)
Blazing Saddles (WB, 1974)
Chinatown (Par, 1974)
The Dove (Par, 1974)
Freebie and the Bean (WB, 1974)
The Front Page (U, 1974)
Gold (AA, 1974)
Mame (WB, 1974)*
McQ (WB, 1974)
My Name Is Nobody (U, 1974)
The Parallax View (Par, 1974)
The Savage Is Loose (Ind, 1974)
The Sugarland Express (U, 1974)
Zandy’s Bride (WB, 1974)
Jaws (British prints only) (U, 1975)
Star Wars (British prints only) (Fox, 1977)
The Cardinal (Col, 1963)*
Becket (Par, 1964)
The Carpetbaggers (Par, 1964)
First Men in the Moon (Col, 1964)
Dr. Zhivago (British prints only) (MGM, 1965)
Genghis Khan (Col, 1965)
The Great Race (WB, 1965)
Marriage on the Rocks (WB, 1965)
The Professionals (Col, 1966)
Camelot (WB, 1967)*
Casino Royale (Col, 1967)
Finian’s Rainbow (WB, 1968)*
Funny Girl (Col, 1968)*
Hellfighters (U, 1968)
Oliver (Col, 1968)*
Sweet Charity (U, 1968)*
Paint Your Wagon (Par, 1969)*
Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (Par, 1969)
The Wild Bunch (WB, 1969)
The Adventurers (Par, 1970)*
Anne of the Thousand Days (U, 1970)
Two Mules for Sister Sara (U, 1970)
Winning (U, 1970)*
The Devils (WB, 1970)
Fiddler on the Roof (UA, 1971)*
Mary, Queen of Scots (U, 1971)
Waterloo (Par, 1971)
The Cowboys (WB, 1972)
Deliverance (WB, 1972)
* Released in both mag/optical and optical mono formats.
OTHER ANAMORPHIC SYSTEMS
A number of other anamorphic systems that used lens attachments or primes came and went over the years. Most were comparable to CinemaScope quality; all fell short of the Panavision optics. Listed below are the names of the formats and studios that released the film.
Jet Pilot (RKO, 1957)**
Run of the Arrow (RKO, 1957)**
The Naked and the Dead (RKO, 1958)
Hannibal (WB, 1960)
The Cossacks (U, 1960)
The Minotaur (UA, 1961)
The Tartars (MGM, 1962)
The White Warrior (WB, 1961)
Story of the Count of Monte Cristo (WB, 1962)
I Bombed Pearl Harbor (Ind, 1961)
Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors (AG, 1962)
Shalako (Col, 1968)
Sweet Body of Deborah (WB, 1969)
Woodstock (WB, 1970)*
Todd AO 35
Macbeth (Col, 1971)
The Getaway (NG, 1972)
Jesus Christ Superstar (U, 1973)*
Showdown (U, 1973)
*Released in magnetic stereo and optical mono formats. **Shot in 1.33 and optically cropped and squeezed into an anamorphic image.
MGM CAMERA 65 AND ULTRA PANAVISION 70
MGM developed their own 70mm system, known as MGM Camera 65. The Panavision company developed anamorphic lenses for 65mm camera units that contained a slight 1.25 x 1 compression. The 70mm Eastmancolor positives were printed and shown in the six track Todd AO format. For projection, an anamorphic lens with the same 1.25 x 1 compression would unsqueeze the image to a wide 2.76 x 1 ratio, rivaling the width of Cinerama but not the field of vision.
Only two features were made in this process. The first film, Raintree County (1957), had reduction matrices derived from the anamorphic 65mm negative in the standard 2.35 x 1 ratio and mag/optical format. The dye transfer reduction copies had comparable quality to Todd AO and Technirama prints, although the edges of the image were slightly cropped.
For Ben-Hur(1959), MGM wanted to retain the complete 70mm aspect ratio in 35mm. Technicolor made reduction matrices with a thin black border on the top and bottom of the frame and dye transfer release prints in the mag/optical format. When unsqueezed, the complete 2.76 x 1 ratio was maintained, albeit with a slight letterboxing. Special projection plates had to be made to crop the borders. It would appear that all 1959 dye transfer prints contained magnetic and optical tracks. Matrices were shipped to the London Technicolor facility, which made mono optical copies. The print quality of MGM Camera 65 reduction IBs of Ben-Hur was superb.
Although the process was discontinued after Ben-Hur, the Panavision company developed a near identical process named Ultra Panavision 70, which was used for a few features and some single panel Cinerama releases in the midsixties. A different 65mm camera was used for principal photography; otherwise, the aspect ratio was the same. The 35mm dye transfer reduction prints were made on all titles in the cropped 2.35×1 ratio, resulting in extraordinary sharpness, resolution and color (fig. 20).
MGM Camera 65
Raintree County (MGM, 1957)*
Ben-Hur (MGM, 1959)*
Ultra Panavision 70
Raintree County (MGM, 1957)*
Ben-Hur (MGM, 1959)*
The Big Fisherman (BV, 1959)
Mutiny on the Bounty (MGM, 1962)
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (short version) (UA, 1963)*
Fall of the Roman Empire (Par, 1963)
Battle of the Bulge (WB, 1965)
Greatest Story Ever Told (UA, 1965)
The Hallelujah Trail (UA, 1965)
Mediterranean Holiday (Con, 1965)*
Khartoum (UA, 1966)
* Released in both mag/optical and optical mono formats.
In 1955, Kalmus and associates launched Technicolor Italiana in Rome, and the new facility began making dye transfer prints for the European markets not handled by the London lab. Among the filmmakers that used the process creatively were Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Michelangeleo Antonioni and Dario Argenta. Fellini’s brilliant color schemes greatly enhanced his films. Technicolor Italiana continued to use the dye transfer process for several years after the U.S. facility had shut it down.
An attempt was made the same year to set up a Technicolor plant in Paris called Société Technicolor. According to the surviving U.S. technicians, the French would not cooperate with the American staff and never made a go of it.
END OF AN ERA
As the fifties came to a close, the aging Kalmus decided to retire. He had achieved his goal of creating a near perfect color image with the advent of large format photography and dye transfer reduction printing. The quality of the 35mm VistaVision, Todd AO reductions, Technirama and MGM Camera 65 reductions were vastly superior to any 35mm Eastmancolor positive. No other multihued process was able to match the ultrasharpe appearance, vibrant color or grain free image. For standard flat and scope releases, the competing laps like WarnerColor and DeLuxe continued to send their top features to Technicolor for dye transfer printing.
Technicolor expanded its facility to include large format positive printing. The 70mm Roadshow prints of South Pacific and Porgy and Bess were made there, along with the 35mm dye transfer reduction copies. Both formats featured first generation opticals via A and B roll negative process and scratch free images due to wet gate printing.
The first generation positives manufactured by Pathé color, Metrocolor and others were sharp and had acceptable color but also contained grainy opticals and displayed negative wear from excessive contact printing. It was not uncommon for Pathé color or DeLuxe positives to fade before the end of the theatrical date. For second run theaters and reissues, Eastmancolor features posed a real problem. The release prints were faded as well.
After the release of Spartacus, Kalamus went on a European vacation and retired from management. He assumed that the standards he set would be maintained by his staff. Unfortunately, some in business outside of the industry noticed the price of Technicolor stock soar. One of them was Patrick Frawley, who made his fortune marketing the Bic pen. During Kalamu’s absence, Frawley bought a controlling interest in the company. When Kalamus returned, he had lost his influence on the process he had nurtured and perfected for 32 years.
(Haines, Richard W. (1993): Technicolor Movies. The History of Dye Transfer Printing. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, pp. 65-119.)
“Process based on dye absorption or transfer
This rarely used process is employed in the arts field and for making particularly stable colour prints. Three sensitised gelatin matrices are prepared corresponding to the blue, green and red tricolour selection, which form images in relief. These matrices, inked with yellow, magenta and cyan dyes, printed on the same gelatin-coated paper base give a co our photograph. The process, called Dye Transfer, has been launched by Kodak.”
(Lavedrine, Bertrand (1998): History and Technology of Colour Photographic Processes. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 117-119, on p. 119.)
“From 1953 on, Technicolor would process only Eastman Color negative stock using its peerless imbibition process. Nearly the last to enter the field, Kodak by 1950 had come up with a multi-layered negative stock combining Agfa’s economy and flexibility with Technicolor’s consistency and brilliance. Kodak’s innovation was to eliminate the colourless dye couplers from the emulsion itself and introduce the dyes only in the laboratory. Its original negative stock therefore was essentially three layers of black and white film on a single base mutually self-filtering and recording information about the red, blue and green light entering the lens. In processing, this information was converted into dyes for printing. This could be done conventionally or with the richer, slower imbibition method.”
(Andrew, Dudley (1980): The Post-War Struggle for Colour. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 40-50, on p. 47.)
“All That Heaven Allows (US 1955, Douglas Sirk)
In All That Heaven Allows color’s participation in realist narrative space helps make evident the ideologies that inform Cary’s struggle with her repressive suburban environment and her family. Color also emphasizes the emotional register of the film. Yet analysis of the color system of All That Heaven Allows does not merely show that the film is an exemplary instance of color participating in the conventions of melodrama. As we shall see, color has three additional functions in the film: (1) as part of the realist aesthetics of the Hollywood film; (2) as a device for pulling the film away from or decentering it from conventional Hollywood film practice; and (3) as a means of blocking concentration on the story and thereby impeding the emotional trajectory of melodrama.
As Fassbinder has observed about All That Heaven Allows, “in Sirk, people are always placed in rooms already heavily marked by their social situation… . In Jane’s house there is only one way in which one could possibly move” (Fassbinder, 97). Living space, and its attendant possibilities for interaction among characters, is restricted in Cary’s living room, where the aesthetics of furniture arrangement creates a single pathway by which one can traverse the room and a designated formal conversation area in front of the fireplace. In Ron’s old mill and the apartment of his friends, the Andersons, space is open. It is not compartmentalized into separate family or social functions. The Andersons’ party shows how this alternative space is adjustable for the serendipity of makeshift dining arrangements and dancing to homemade music. Social interaction is flexible in this adaptable space; it is more intimate, less formal.
This opposition is made visible through the design of interior space and the degree to which characters can comfortably move within it. In addition, Cary’s home and Ron’s old mill have contrasting color tones, which – combined with the arrangement of furniture and objects – underscores the ideologies the film takes up. Cary’s home is dominated by cool blue-grey walls, light tones, and tasteful furniture. Ron’s space is richer with warm wood hues. It is rougher in texture and the furniture appears more casually placed in the room. This use of color in the narrative space has meaning in that it helps to make the contrasts in lifestyle visible. Yet at the same time this narrative space has “normalcy”; it is “unobtrusive” in its realism.
However, the color system and realist narrative space in All That Heaven Allows do not simply establish a binary opposition between suburban conformity and an alternative Walden-like existence. Color also functions in excess of narrative primacy in several ways. In many instances where color is “excessive” or has the potential to disturb concentration on the story, the color is doubly motivated: by realist narrative space and by the conventions of melodrama. Color in All That Heaven Allows is, then, within the conventions of normalcy at the same time that it “complicates” the narrative space.
The scene in which Cary’s daughter, Kay, confronts her mother with the social implications of Cary’s relationship with Ron is a well-known and obvious moment of excess. Color functions as a signifier of the psychic and sexual energy that cannot be contained or expressed by the narrative in the usual ways. In this scene the potential of color to function as spectacle is not solely motivated by the emotional register of melodrama. A diegetic source for the color striations exists within the realist narrative space of Kay’s bedroom. The scene begins when Kay enters her room, tossing her jacket down on a chair by a window that is apparently constructed of stained glass. Fabric has been positioned outside the window to give the effect of colored glass. Kay’s movement toward this window helps to mark it as the apparent natural source for the intense color that inflects the interchange between Kay and Cary. This “excess” is tempered, to a degree, by realist narrative space. Yet it is also “obtrusive” realism and a signifier of the emotional intensity that underscores the familial and social pressures on Cary.
While this scene is an isolated and conspicuous instance of color that is neither harmonious nor uncomplicated, the film uses red, yellow, and blue in similar ways. These colors are within the conventions of realist color filmmaking, and they also comment on the ideologies the film takes up. Yet they also have the potential to distract from the “more important” elements of character and story.
Red is sometimes obedient to color conventions in that it functions as a specific signifier of character and narrative development. When Cary decides to rejoin the social world on her date with Harvey, her children take notice of her red dress. As Laura Mulvey has observed, Cary’s red dress is misconstrued by her children as evidence that “the impotent and decrepit Harvey” is the object of Cary’s “newly awakened interest in life and love” (Mulvey, 78). In her prior social excursions outside the home Cary wore a black velvet dress more suitable to her status as a widow. The red dress is marked by the characters as evidence of a change in Cary’s identity as a sexual being.
The strength of the color red also functions to markedly separate Cary from other characters and from the settings of her home and the country club. She stands out as protagonist as her character progresses through the narrative. In addition, the gathering at the country club is the first time that Cary’s sexuality is explicitly shown to be a problem. She is assaulted by Howard who takes Cary’s reappearance in social life (and, presumably, her red dress) as evidence of her sexual availability.
Later in the film, at Christmas, when Kay and Ned give Cary a television set as a substitute for living her own life, Kay’s red dress functions in ways similar to Cary’s – to mark the change in her character and to underscore an emotional moment in the narrative. Kay has undergone a transition from an immature and cold intellectual to a woman who is loved. A red dress, already marked by the film as a signifier of woman’s sexuality, is incorporated into Kay’s new look as object of desire: no longer wearing glasses, her glamour make-up and misty expression enhanced by soft lighting. Kay apologizes to Cary for not understanding Cary’s need to be loved by Ron. Cary, having succumbed to the pressure of her children and turned away from a relationship with Ron, listens to Kay in some misery.
The red costumes each woman wears stand out against the more uniform color of the mise-en-scene. Yet these costumes also have specific meaning for the narrative and for the development of the characters of Cary and Kay. In addition, the red costumes comment on the ideologies that constrain woman’s identity. They are indicative of the role a woman’s sexual identity plays in her life and in the life of her family.
However, there are many scenes in the film where red is used as a “visual magnet,” creating focal points that distract from the primacy of narrative and character. When Cary walks through the Christmas tree lot after her breakup with Ron, men in red jackets interfere with viewer identification of Ron, who is also in a red jacket, standing on the truck. In a scene at the train station Cary’s discussion with an unidentified woman in a red-orange scarf provides the information that Cary is waiting for her children to arrive. But Cary’s back is to the camera, thus allowing the red-orange scarf to distract attention from the main character. In an early scene in Cary’s bedroom Kay picks up an ambiguous red object (a small purse, perhaps) and carries it to the dresser, thus moving the color red (held in an object without narrative significance) within the more uniform color of the bedroom.
The color system of the film does not always use red to separate objects or characters from the setting in order to emphasize the narrative or to comment on ideologies. While these red objects – purse, scarf, jackets – are all “natural” colors, they complicate the realist narrative space, interfere with the emotional trajectory of melodrama, and trouble the attention to the narrative that is important to the conventions of color film practice. Unlike the color red, the colors blue and yellow appear to participate in more uniform color systems. Throughout the film blue is a signifier for nighttime while yellow indicates warm interior lighting. While both colors are motivated by “natural” sources within the mise-en-scène and while neither color is as distractive as red, in combination blue and yellow are neither especially harmonious nor restful to the eye. The evening after Ron and Cary meet, Cary has placed the tree branches Ron has given her in a vase on her dresser. Ned and Kay enter Cary’s bedroom, thus intertwining the two forces that will vie for Cary in the rest of the film: Ron and Cary’s family. The deep blue from the night and the yellow from the hallway compete for viewer attention, making it unclear where the eye should go in the narrative space.
This use of color complicates the otherwise realist narrative space of the bedroom. Its relative lack of visual harmony suggests that Cary’s attraction to Ron will be a problem later in the film. But at this point the combination of blue and yellow does not yet function as a specific signifier of narrative meaning. Later in the film, however, the greater problem of Cary’s sexual identity is enveloped within blue and yellow. Howard’s assault on Cary at the country club takes place outdoors on a terrace. The yellow from the interior and the blue from the night are visually contentious. Also, Cary’s red dress –already marked as a signifier of her sexual awakening – and Howard’s “reading” of Cary’s availability supply this narrative space with the troubling meaning that was not made explicit in the earlier scene in Cary’s bedroom. Blue and yellow in combination complicate the realist narrative space and help to. underscore the fact that Cary’s sexual identity – whether explicitly linked with Ron or not – is an ideological problematic that this melodrama will take up.
In one scene blue comes very close to functioning as an emphasis in itself, intruding on the realist narrative space. After the Christmas scene in which Cary learns that her children have plans to live their own lives outside of the family home, Cary comes to regret her decision not to marry Ron. She wanders around her living room and possessions. It is night and Cary pauses in an intense blue light. While this blue is not a specific signifier of narrative meaning, it does serve to capture Cary in this space. Because the intensity of the light exceeds verisimilitude, it is somewhat disruptive to this narrative space. Yet is also underscores Cary’s loneliness and her realization that she tied herself to an ideology that will make her unhappy. In the last area of color I would like to consider – the role of the female lead in relation to the film’s color system – All That Heaven Allows splits the primacy of the female lead in color planning between Jane Wyman and Agnes Moorehead. In his analysis of the role the female star plays in the development of color aesthetics, Neale observes that “whether conceived and articulated in terms of the discourse of ‘natural beauty’ or the discourse of ‘glamour’,” color aesthetics ensured that the female lead would provide spectacle to be looked at at the same time that she carried out her function within the narrative (Neale, 151-55). In All That Heaven Allows, however, Moorehead functions more strongly as the source of color spectacle than Wyman does. Moorhead’s coloring, make-up, and costumes emphasize the ability of color to capture pastels and flesh tones while Wyman blends into the background.
Color accentuates Moorehead, shifting the color emphasis away from the film’s female protagonist and thereby deviating from the conventions of color film practice. However, using color to embed Cary within narrative space is also a subtle way of underscoring the primacy of the melodrama narrative. With the exception of the red dress, Wyman’s costumes function to place Cary within the monochromatic tones of the narrative space of her suburban home and also to show that she is easily adaptable to Ron’s less conformist setting.
It is Sara, Cary’s best friend, who is costumed more conventionally as the female lead. Sara is separated from the background by color while Cary wears the blue-grey tones of her suburban home. Cary’s integration into the home is emphasized through Sara, who appears with Cary in much of the space of the home: outdoors, the kitchen, the living room, Cary’s bedroom. Sara’s orange coat complements her hair, while Cary’s suit allows her to merge with the decor of her living room and dining room. Sara wears red “visual magnets” as she visits with Cary in the kitchen, while Cary blends into the setting. In Cary’s bedroom Sara’s orange dress allows her to stand apart from the setting, while Cary’s costume adopts the color of her bedroom.
It can be argued that Sara has a vivacious and scintillating personality that is underscored by her costumes and that Cary’s costumes are an indicator of her ability to be comfortable in the oppositional settings of the film. Cary’s black velvet dress and Ron’s three-piece suit are homogeneous with other costumes at Sara’s cocktail party when Cary tries to show that Ron can fit in with her friends. In the alternative space of the film Cary is one among the others who look on as Ron opens a wine bottle with his teeth at the Andersons’ dinner party. The visually flamboyant Sara would more likely be marked as “different” in this warm-toned environment.
While Cary’s adaptability may be one motivation for her costumes, their monochromatic tones also firmly place her within the confining space of her suburban home and thereby into the ideological pressures that inform her struggle. However, even as the color system of All That Heaven Allows splits the functions of protagonist and spectacle between Cary and Sara, at a key moment in the film this split subverts the emotional trajectory of the melodrama. After Cary informs Ron that she cannot marry him because of pressure from her family, Ron’s sad pose dissolves into a shot of Cary’s bedroom. A maid is vacuuming the hallway floor in the background while Sara, in an orange dress, talks with Cary about her decision. This shift in color refuses to sustain “sadness” across the cut. In this distractively busy mise-en-scène the deep space housekeeping activities and Sara’s costume compete for attention. Rather than maintaining a uniform emotional register in this transition, the contrast in color underscores the ideologies that separate Cary from the peace and solitude of Ron’s old mill.
The color system in All That Heaven Allows is very complex whether considered within the conventions of color film practice or within the conventions of melodrama. In some very orthodox ways the color system of the film helps make ideologies visible by giving material existence to the oppositional social formations that structure the film. Yet even while the realist narrative space provides “normal” sources for all of the colors, All That Heaven Allows also uses the ability of color to function as an emphasis in itself: as spectacle, as excess, and as potentially distractive of the primacy of narrative. The film’s divergence from conventional Hollywood realism can only be partially explained by the genre conventions and aesthetics of melodrama. Research into the industrial conditions of production of All That Heaven Allows and other 1950s color melodramas can further our understanding of the apparent contradictions between melodrama and studio-produced commercial entertainment.
Fassbinder, Rainer Werner. 1972. “Six Films by Douglas Sirk.” In Douglas Sirk, edited by Laura Mulvey and Jon Halliday and translated by Thomas Elsaesser, 95-107. Edinburgh Film Festival.
Mulvey, Laura. 1987. “Notes on Sirk and Melodrama.” In Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film, edited by Christine Gledhill, 75-79. London: British Film Institute.
Neale, Steve. 1985. Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Color. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.”
(Haralovich, Mary Beth (1990): All That Heaven Allows. Color, Narrative Space and Melodrama. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 145-153, on pp. 148-153.)
Marnie (US 1964, Alfred Hitchcock)
“COLOR AND MEANING IN MARNIE
In narrative films the meaning of color is primarily contextual, arising from the association of a color with a character, event, object, or situation that gives it meaning. To some extent, this mirrors the status of color as an epistemological phenomenon. It takes its identity, in part, from the object possessing that particular color. As an attribute of the object, it has no object status in itself (in this way, it resembles sound which is always the sound of something; a color is always the color of something). Thus the yellow purse in the first shot of Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) represents the first in a series of yellow objects in the film, ranging from Mrs. Edgar’s refrigerator, Mr. Rutland’s yellow vest, Mark’s golden yellow bathrobe (which he puts around Marnie just before raping her), and Marnie’s yellow dress (which she wears when she rides Forio). As an attribute of the purse (and these other objects), yellow takes its meaning as a color from them and from its relation to other colors in the film. The chain of associations links yellow with money; Marnie’s yellow purse in the first shot is full of stolen money. The color yellow is associated with the use of money to buy affection: as Bill Paul suggests, in the scene in Mrs. Edgar’s kitchen, when Marnie talks about how she gets “the money to set you up,” their exchange is shot in front of a pale yellow refrigerator which we assume Marnie has purchased for her mother (Paul 1970: 60). Yellow is used to signify the power that position and wealth gives to certain characters. Thus Mark’s father, an icon of patriarchal privilege, is introduced wearing a dark gold vest. At the same time, it also designates the ability of certain characters to “take possession” of others: Mark wears a yellow bathrobe when he rapes Marnie on their honeymoon and Marnie wears a pale yellow dress when she rides off on Forio (after Mark has retrieved the horse for her).
The color red, however, behaves differently. Though initially attached to objects such as red gladioli, red ink spilt on a white blouse, red polka dots on a jockey’s white jersey, and a scarlet red hunting jacket, red is repeatedly wrenched from these disparate and seemingly random objects and projected upon the face of the heroine herself in the form of red suffusions that fade in and out. When Marnie encounters red, the nature of the object that is red is less significant than the fact of its redness; she responds primarily to the color, not to the object. Of course, individual red objects may ultimately prove to have significance, but Marnie’s red-tinted reaction shots make the color primary and the object secondary, reversing the normal relation between attribute and object. Take, for example, the first bright red object – the red gladioli. The gladioli are subsequently revealed to be the gift of Jesse’s mother to Marnie’s mother for taking care of Jesse. From this perspective, they represent Marnie’s loss of her mother’s love to another child, who has taken her place. In this sense, they can also be said to point to the theme of jealous rivalry embodied by the sailor in the flashback who was also Marnie’s rival for her mother’s love. However, Marnie reacts to the flowers before she knows of their association with Jesse and she clearly reacts not to the flowers but to the color red, a reaction made clear by the red suffusion over her reaction shot. The attribute of red functions independently of the as-yet unknown meaning of the flowers. The gladioli turn out to be an exception that proves the rule – the rule that red objects resist the obvious chain of associations characterized by the color yellow. The red gladioli would seem to have no apparent connection to the red ink, the polka dots, or the hunting jacket.
In other words, unlike most color films, where color plays a secondary role as an adjectival property of an object (which is primary) and takes on the meaning of that object or chain of objects, the color red in Marnie enjoys an independent existence. Its relation to its object is often obscure. More precisely, the meaning of the color red functions as the film’s central enigma. Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie was marketed as a “suspenseful sex mystery.” At the core of its status as a mystery lies the color red. One of the film’s central enigmas involves the meaning of the color red. Marnie may be a “suspenseful sex mystery” but the terms in which that mystery is framed focus on the solution of a mystery about the color red. This chapter thus argues that the color red in Marnie is more than any single object; it has a meaning that transcends the objects with which it is associated.
The mystery at the heart of the film is not that of a typical detective whodunit. Andrew Sarris famously described the first shot of the film in terms of Hitchcock’s shot syntax. It was not “brunette with yellow handbag walk[ing] on platform” but “yellow handbag with brunette walking on platform,” pointing out that we are “cued to money before Marnie” (Sarris 1970: 143). The next two scenes make it clear that Marnie’s yellow handbag is full of stolen money. It is not the nominal, outer identity of the criminal that is in question but her inner identity. The mystery is not who stole the money but why. The red suffusions embody this enigma by connecting the color red to Marnie’s subjectivity. Because of Marnie’s extreme reactions to the color red, we come to link its meaning with the source of her psychological problems. If we can discover why she responds so to red or what red means to her, perhaps we can uncover the source of those problems and solve the mystery.
The film’s red suffusions function as expressionistic markers of subjectivity, as exteriorizations of Marnie’s inner psychological state. As such, they are objectifications of it and of her trauma. They are signs that point to an experience that has been repressed. The red suffusions mark the return of that repressed. Detached and/or displaced from its original object, red, in the form of the suffusions, acquires the status of an object – of redness in and of itself. Initially an attribute of an object, red becomes, over the course of the film, an object in itself. In this sense, the red suffusions function as a fetish, as a displacement and disavowal of Marnie’s original trauma. They not only stand in for Marnie’s psychological trauma but a red suffusion – the blood pouring over the sailor’s white tee shirt – is literally the last thing she sees the moment before her realization of what she has done.
But the meaning of the color red is blocked – both for Marnie who is unable to understand her traumatic responses to the color and for the audience who, though in no way traumatized as Marnie is, experience the red suffusions as incomprehensible barriers to any access to the character of Marnie herself. The meaning of the color red has been repressed by both Marnie and the film. It is only at the end, when the color red is reconnected with its object, that the blockage will be removed and the mystery of the color red resolved.
If color, like everything else in classical Hollywood cinema, is typically characterized by transparency, the color red in Marnie is non-transparent, opaque – at best, translucent. Of course, the color red, especially with the value and saturation that it has been given here by the Technicolor dye transfer process, enjoys a natural, eye-catching visibility. But the red suffusions necessarily differ from red colored objects in that they are inherently expressionistic, calling attention to themselves as intrusive markers of heightened subjectivity. They are symptomatic manifestations of the hysteria that erupts and momentarily paralyzes both the character Marnie and the normal operations of the film text itself. The red suffusions quite literally constitute a blockage that obscures meaning – they function like curtains that have been drawn at crucial points between the narrative as it unfolds and our access to it.
The red suffusions (with one notable exception) are presented primarily as subjective, traumatic affect in reaction shots. Though prompted by red objects or other traumatic stimuli, they exist independently of those off-screen sources. These red suffusions mark the transformation of a simple diegetic color – e.g., red gladioli – into an internal displaced diegetic color – the red suffusion over Marnie’s face – that reflects her subjective response to seeing that particular value and saturation of the color red.
The mystery of the suffusions is complicated by the fact that they are not always responses to the presence of the color red. There are a total of seven suffusions. Four of these are prompted by a red stimulus. The other three are not, complicating any attempt to reduce Marnie’s trauma to the color red alone. In these exceptions to the rule, Marnie responds to audio and audio-visual stimuli. There are red suffusions over shots of Marnie’s face during two nightmares after she hears the sound of three taps at a window. The suffusions also occur during a thunder and lightning storm. During the storm, the red suffusions shift from reaction shots of her face (the norm for six of the seven suffusions) to a red suffusion over her point-of-view shot of a white curtain. This is the notable exception referred to earlier: the red suffusion shifts from her reaction shot to her point-of-view (pov) shot.
Marnie’s nightmares rework crucial elements of her original, childhood trauma – the three taps, the sudden cold. The storm sequence does the same. It reproduces the lightning and thunder that terrified her as a child and that triggered the sailor’s attempt to comfort her. Mark’s movement across the room toward her resembles that of the sailor and the red suffusions over the white curtains recall the blood on the sailor’s shirt. These various audio and visual motifs allude to a primal scene of sorts, to a traumatic event whose repression has left behind a disparate assortment of fragmentary pieces that remain-illegible until the penultimate sequence of the film. They are clues to the mystery that Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Jay Presson Allen, have planted that will pay off in the final flashback. The common denominator that binds these motifs together into a single scenario is that of the red suffusions. Structurally, the pattern is remarkable in its order and overall symmetry. Hitchcock alternates between red and non-red stimuli (see italics). The two nightmares occupy the second and the penultimate positions in the pattern (see boldface). And the pov shot stands at its center (see boldface and italics).
1. Red Gladioli
2. First Nightmare (three taps)
3. Red Ink
4. Lightning Storm (red tinted pov shot)
5. Red Polka Dots on Jockey’s Jersey
6. Second Nightmare (three taps)
7. Red Hunting Coat
At the same time, the last three red stimuli constitute a clear progression that culminates in the final images of the flashback and that clarifies the interconnection of red and white introduced in the first instance of red gladioli against a white window curtain. At Rutland’s, Marnie spills a drop of red ink on her white blouse, panics, and runs to the ladies room to wash it out. The drop resembles a drop of blood; even her co-workers think that Marnie has been injured, reinforcing the association between red and blood, which Marnie has repressed and which she, knowing that it is only red ink, denies.
At the race-track, Marnie visits the paddock to see Telepathy, a horse she once saw train as a two-year-old. Telepathy’s jockey is, by coincidence, wearing a red polka dot jersey, which triggers another one of Marnie’s spells. The red polka dots on a white field exaggerate, as it were, the earlier drop of blood on her blouse, getting us closer and closer to the sailor’s bloodstained tee shirt.
At the hunt, the connection between red and blood is directly established. As the hounds tear at the captured fox and the other members of the hunt look on with amused smiles on their faces, Marnie reacts in horror. This time, she sees a scarlet riding jacket, which sets her off. In each instance, from one drop of red to several polka dots to the red drenched jacket, red has taken us closer and closer, through its tangle of associations, to the repressed killing of the sailor. Like the earlier game of free association, which works on a verbal level, this sequence of color associations involving red and shirts is anything but free – it is carefully calculated to get us and Marnie closer and closer to the truth.
The final flashback sequence, which reveals the source of Marnie’s trauma, achieves a certain explanatory power because of the highly expressive way in which it is shot. The action is seen through stylizing devices which mark it as traumatic. It is initially shot with a fish-eye lens which distorts space; the color of the sequence seems deliberately “aged” or otherwise disturbed, that is, unlike colors seen in the film proper; and the entire color scheme is set up so as to de-naturalize events (by washing out flesh tones in faces). The color used here is desaturated. It looks faded, evoking the past. This desaturated color makes the intensity of the climax all the more powerful when the frame fills with highly-saturated, bright red blood. Watching the sailor’s white tee shirt gradually turn red with blood, we can almost feel the jolt in the intensity of color as the pure white of the tee shirt slowly suffuses with red blood.
Hitchcock’s strategy over the course of the film is to detach, then re-attach the color red from red objects. By detaching red from red objects, Hitchcock explores the gap between color and object, extending it to create a color mystery. In detaching red from its objects, Hitchcock engages his audience in a game of detection in which the meaning of the color red is the goal.
Hitchcock’s brilliance in his manipulation of color and meaning rests upon the obvious banality of its resolution. Red proves to mean blood. One might ask how the solution of the color mystery in Marnie can hinge on the rather trite revelation that red stands for blood. We all know that; it is one of the most common cultural associations that the color has. Does the film merely pretend that there is a mystery on the level of color, when all along there is no mystery? Is the mystery manufactured? Do we feel as if we’ve been had by the narrator who has duped us into trying to figure out something that was right in front of our noses the whole time? The point, I think, is that though the meaning of the color red is obvious, it is repressed – both by Marnie and by Hitchcock, who encourages us to continue to look for its meaning, who prolongs that whole process as part of a narrative strategy that links us ultimately with Marnie. We might say that by the end of the film, we, like her, can admit that we unconsciously “knew” that red stood for blood all along. Like her, we recover a meaning that we had repressed (because it was so obvious).
The slow disclosure of the meaning of red engages the spectator in a psychoanalytic process, as if red were an element of the recurrent nightmare that Marnie has. It isn’t, however. There is no red in her nightmare. It is one major element of the original trauma that Marnie has repressed. She recalls the lightning storm, the three taps, being taken from a warm bed into the cold, and the men in the white suits. It is thus the crucial element that, when identified, will solve the mystery of her recurrent dream and lead hopefully to her cure.
In Citizen Kane (1941), Kane’s first (and last) word, “rosebud,” is a signifier detached from and waiting to be reattached to an object, person, or other entity for its meaning to become clear (and even when that occurs at the very end of the movie, its literal signified is made clear but its meaning to Kane is not). Like the word “rosebud” in Kane, red hovers over the diegesis of the film Marnie until it finally reconnects with its object. As in Kane, the banality of meaning associated with the reconnection of signifier and signified is belied by the complexity of that sign’s relation to a larger signifier. The fact that Rosebud is a sled explains nothing about what Rosebud meant to Kane. The fact that as the word “Rosebud” is displayed on screen, finally identifying the object for us, the letters that identify it are consumed by flames, as is the sled itself, is as much a part of its meaning as anything else. If “Rosebud” is a sled and the signifier “rosebud” finally attaches itself to an object, this signifier/signified clearly becomes, in turn, a signifier of yet another signified – of the unattainability of desire. It stands in for everything that Kane desired but which eluded him; it stands in for a profound inaccessibility that thwarts desire. Red in Marnie means blood but it also stands in for a complex bundle of fears and desires that obsess Marnie and that constitute the fabric of her dreamwork – unreciprocated love for her mother, oedipal jealousy, a profound sense of guilt, fear of male sexuality, fear of death, and emotional and psychological paralysis, not to mention a child’s more normal fear of lightning storms. In Marnie, the fact that “red” means blood satisfies only one strand of the larger mystery of red. The closure that results from the color red’s reassignment to its proper object belies the web of complex connotations it has acquired over the course of the film as a whole. It is not just blood. Nor is it the sum total of the trauma depicted in the flashback. It is everything that the film says and leaves unsaid about its central character, her relationships with others, and her experience in the world.
Allen, R. (2007) Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony, New York: Columbia.
Paul, W. (1970) “Perception and Meaning in Hitchcock’s Marnie,” in J. Belton (ed.) Alfred Hitchcock in America, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Peucker, B. (2011) “Aesthetic Space in Hitchcock,” in T. Leitch and L. Poague (eds) A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Sarris, A. (1970) “Marnie,” Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955/1969, New York: Simon and Schuster.”
(Belton, John: Color and Meaning in Marnie. In: Brown, Simon; Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (2013): Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 189-195.)
“Every night for months, Robert A. Harris drove to an underground archival vault in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he would store each newly found piece of lost footage from Lawrence Of Arabia. The vault had been specifically built to preserve magnetic computer records for some of the large corporations in the area, and it suited his needs for proper humidity, temperature, and safety.
Columbia Pictures hadn’t been as careful. Harris had seen the camera negative, and it was warped, dried, and the splices were starting to open. He knew, too, that it was fading, or changing, as camera negatives do. It was 26 years old. The negative was in Eastman color, and when Eastman color negatives deteriorate the blacks are lost. They go dark green or dark brown, depending on where the shift is in the dyes. The first print Harris saw off the negative was extraordinarily yellow. He was concerned about his chances of saving the film at all.
About two weeks before Harris was to go out to the West Coast for the actual restoration phase of the project, (Sir David) Lean visited him at his Mamaroneck office. “He was sitting at my flatbed looking at the film and saying, ‘Now, watch this! That is bloody good, you know. It works.’ ”
Lean had not seen Lawrence in 25 years, and was unaware, until that moment, just how extensively his film had been mutilated by studio indifference and time. He committed himself fully to the project, and looked forward to finally making the director’s cut which the pressures of time had originally prevented him from doing. But first it had to be restored to its 1962 length.
As someone watching the project unfold during the past three years, I found myself having fewer problems with the immensity of the restoration – which took longer than it took Lean to make the film originally – than with understanding how Lawrence ever could have come to this sorry state.
A film earns 90% of its revenue within the first two years of release (exceptions granted), and some degree of studio disregard beyond this point could, if not sanctioned, at least be understood, even with one of the finest and most honored films Columbia had ever released.
But the desecration did not occur after the first two years of release. It began well before the film opened, when Sam Spiegel, the producer, rushed it into release, forcing six or more months of postproduction to be crammed into four. Then, within 100 days of completion, he took part in the butchering of Lean’s less-than-fine cut.”
(Frumkes, Roy (1989): The Restoration of Lawrence Of Arabia. In: Films in Review, 40,5, 1989, pp. 285-291, on p. 285.)
“Harris’ plan had always been to restore the film at his own cost, with Columbia picking up some of the expenses. He would do it as a joint venture, splitting prints and advertising, and profits, 50/50. “At some point, a few days before we were to go West to make a print, someone at Columbia decided that they didn’t like the deal they had made. I guess they figured (and this is off the top of my head) why should they, for several hundred thousand dollars, give up 50% of the profits on the back end. So they had one of their people throw a killer deal point in at the last minute – basically that we would share in revenues for an extraordinarily limited period of time, even though we were putting up half the money. In late February/early March of 1987, after Lean had already visited the Mamaroneck offices and given his blessing to the project, the deal fell apart.”
Over the next few weeks Harris had everything annotated, packed, and shipped back to Columbia’s vaults in Long Island City. “They called back and offered to buy our services for a minimal amount, which was a joke considering the amount of labor that was going into it.”
Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, both avid advocates of film preservation, were not thrilled that the project was heading towards litigation. David Puttnam, then president of Columbia, approached Lean at Cannes and asked him how he was, which was the wrong way to start a conversation at that time, since Lean was not happy at all.
Scorsese later put in a call to Puttnam, who found out that some of the information that had gotten to him had been less than accurate. He agreed to move the project forward, but it wasn’t long before he started running into his own problems.
Harris speaks of it now without malice. “The project was absolutely dead in the water. They couldn’t do it on their own since they didn’t know anything about what the picture was supposed to be. All they had were several tons of materials: they would have had to go back to step one. My concern was that if we went through legal channels, it could be five years before anything happened, and then it would be a pyrrhic victory. The negative would be gone.”
Scorsese and Spielberg interceded with Dawn Steele – Columbia’s new President – in Harris’ behalf, but his attorneys in L.A. wanted to continue the litigation further and further into the legal morass. “They felt I could make millions this way, but I opted to have the film put together again. I went in and negotiated the deal with Columbia’s attorney by myself. It wasn’t a great deal. Columbia knew how much we wanted to get it done, which was part of their power. But in the end Dawn was fair. There was no studio interference whatsoever until the day she saw the film at the screening with everyone else from Columbia.”
(Frumkes, Roy (1989): The Restoration of Lawrence Of Arabia. In: Films in Review, 40,5, 1989, pp. 285-291, on p. 288.)
“Once Harris relocated to the West Coast, in March ’88, Ann Coates came in as supervising picture editor. The running joke about her was that she had a lifetime contract with Sam Spiegel: every time something was done with Lawrence Of Arabia she was on call. If a local TV station wanted to make a cut, they had to bring her in.
When I asked her if the hiatus between fine cuts was beneficial, Anne replied, “You never get enough thinking time on a film. David and I discussed this often. And Lawrence was the biggest scramble of any film I’ve ever done. We never even had the chance, in the editing, to see it through from beginning to end. I mean it was four months from the end of shooting to when we were showing it to the Queen.” Then she paused and added, “But twenty five years is a bit excessive.”
“This time around,” remembers Harris, “we had to move very carefully, frame by frame. We’d get one scene done in a day, sometimes only a part of a scene. Slowly but surely we got the material together. Once we had the missing picture printed up, we pulled out some of the alternate sound takes, had them dubbed and coded, and tried to fit them together. But some of the tracks just didn’t work, and for some scenes alternate dialogue didn’t survive. We were forced to go back to the actors to have them redub their dialogue.
“When we called Anthony Quinn’s office and made the request, one of his assistants said, ‘That’s not a problem, I’m sure he’ll do that for you What picture was this again?’ I said, ‘Lawrence Of Arabia.’ She seemed startled, ‘You mean the one from 1962…?’ I told her this was the case, and she replied, ‘You know we get requests in here sometimes six months, even a year later for changes for television or something. But you want him to come back after twenty-six years to do dialogue?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ There was a pause, then she came back on and said, ‘How’s 2:00 P.M. Friday?’
“Quinn was leaving for Europe in 48 hours, but was kind enough to give us an hour in a studio in New York to do his lines. We sent him the footage on video tape, and the dialogue, and twenty-six years later he was absolutely perfect. He did his dubbing for scale, as did everyone else.
“In the same scene we also needed Arthur Kennedy, but we couldn’t find him. We had somebody go through Quinn’s rolodex because we knew they had worked together on a number of pictures. No luck. We went through the Screen Actors Guild and all of the other unions, and finally someone said they thought he was in Savannah, Georgia. We looked up every Arthur Kennedy in Savannah, and left messages on their machines. Finally the real Arthur Kennedy returned our call. We flew down a 3A inch cassette of the footage to Savannah, and his dialogue was recorded in a TV station.”
In the forties Kennedy was known as an extremely technical actor capable of saying his dialogue perfectly again and again. And he was the one character in Lawrence whose dialogue could be lifted from one take to another with minimal fussing. Had most of the tracks not been junked, Harris wouldn’t have had to find him.
The other people needed were Peter O’Toole and Alec Guinness, and Charles Gray who was going to dub Jack Hawkins’ lines as Allenby. “Their dubbing was done in London with David Lean overseeing the session. We sent a car for Peter and Alec and Charles. I think David probably jogged. He’s 80 going on 55. My biggest problem was keeping up with him.”
O’Toole, recalling that his entire career had followed Lawrence, commented wryly, “Now I know how to read the lines.”
Once all this material was together, Lean came to Los Angeles. The film was now 223 minutes long, a little longer than it had ever been before. For two weeks they cut and re-mixed parts of the picture, trimming those shots and scenes that Lean had never gotten to, rearranging shots to clear up character motivations, and so forth.
An example: In one scene, Anthony Quayle comes out of the top hatch of an armored vehicle, holding a pistol. When he goes to cock it, it doesn’t work. Finally he cocks it again and it works. Lean felt that many old British films started scenes a minute and a half before they should have started and ended them a minute and a half after they were over, as if someone had simply left the camera running. It was something he used to talk to Hitchcock about, and it was something he didn’t want to occur in Lawrence. In the restored version, Quayle cocks the pistol, fires, and we cut to the flare in the sky.
“In doing trims like that, we lost about 6½ minutes. Not only is the pace tighter now, but you can actually understand the narrative better. We also shortened dissolves from eight feet down to anywhere from six feet to one foot,” Anne also explained that one foot dissolves are called ‘soft cuts,’ and result in smoother transitions.
“When we went to reel 2A to start making trims, David pointed out that the image was flipped. All of the TV versions and all of the video cassette versions are backwards because Technicolor made an error back in 1966 when they created a 35mm anamorphic interpositive from which everything else was based. The entrance into the desert – ten minutes of the film – reversed, with no writing on screen to enable anyone to catch the mistake.
“Before we could print, we had to hire a couple of people to splice every joint in the film that looked like it was coming apart. For shots that had ripped, we had to go back to alternate takes, or have cans shipped in from Long Island City and have the material retimed and recut.
“The tracks, no matter how good they were, were 1962 tracks. The original fourtrack would not run: the oxide kept flaking off and clotting the heads. So what we ended up using as our original was actually fourth generation track elements, from which we made a new, fifth generation dub encoded with Dolby A to suppress the noise. We also added real surround channels where there had only been token surround information before for effects such as the train.
“For the missing pieces, once we had the dialogue, we had to change the harmonics so that the actors’ voices sounded as they had in 1962. In addition we needed effects and foley. So one evening, one of the dialogue editors and I went into a foley room. He did Arthur Kennedy and I did Alec Guinness. The footsteps, the rustling of the robe, the closing of the watch (which was actually two wrenches striking together). We mixed straight for a couple of weeks, and we were stealing time from other rooms, working around Paul Mazursky’s Moon Over Parador, Walter Hill’s Red Heat, and Crocodile Dundee II.”
(Frumkes, Roy (1989): The Restoration of Lawrence Of Arabia. In: Films in Review, 40,5, 1989, pp. 285-291, on pp. 288-290.)
“Harris plans to personally supervise the letterboxed laser version of Lawrence. “At the moment, Crest in Los Angeles is working at converting one of their Rank flying spot scanners over to 65/70 mm., which will be used to create the one inch master. They’re working the optics with Nikon to get the larger field. I’d like it to be the first transfer off of 65mm material direct to the one inch master, from which the laser will be digitally struck. It’ll be a six sided boxed version with lots of extra stuff.
The ‘extra stuff’ is the stuff laser collectors’ dreams are made of. Possibilities for the sixth side of the laser include the screenplay, some continuity sheets, documentary footage shot on location at the time, and the Albert Finney tests, now at the British Film Institute in London.”
(Frumkes, Roy (1989): The Restoration of Lawrence Of Arabia. In: Films in Review, 40,5, 1989, pp. 285-291, on p. 291.)
“There are several color negative films manufactured by different companies throughout the United States and Europe. These negative films can be used in any ordinary black-and-white camera. They have three emulsion layers superimposed on a cellulose acetate base. These three emulsion layers are differently sensitive to different colors of light. This means that the photo-sensitive silver halide particles in the separate emulsions are exposed by different colors of light. Generally, color negative films have a filter layer between the top two emulsions. Where the color sensitivity is not complete, this filter aids in separating unwanted colors from a particular emulsion.
In the United States the most widely used color negatives are Eastman and Ansco.
Both Eastman Color Negative and Ansco Color Negative have only one strip of film surfaced with three layers of emulsion, each being sensitive to a different primary color. Either film can be used in a conventional 35mm camera.
Similar to color negative, 16mm color positive film has three layers of emulsion, each sensitive to a different primary color – red, green and blue, The commercial film is low in contrast and differs from color negative in that a positive color image is obtained by reversal development rather than a negative.
From it three 35mm separation negatives are made when dye transfer release prints are to be made for 35mm exhibition.
In Europe, there are three additional color negatives, Agfacolor, Gevacolor and Ferraniacolor. These negatives are similar to those used in the United States in that three layers of emulsion are superimposed on a single film base.
The Technicolor laboratories, in both United States and England, manufacture release prints from all of these color negative systems.
When photographing with 35mm Eastman or Ansco color negative, any standard 35mm camera may be used, including the “hand-held” or portable models. Specific “color” cameras are not required. After the negative is developed, positive prints may be made in a manner similar to that for black-and-white film, or by the dye transfer method from the color negative, or from separation negatives, as will be explained later.
Only Technicolor offers the producer the alternative of having film printed on color positive stock or by the dye transfer method. Dye transfer release prints offer a cost advantage when a large number of prints are required for worldwide release. And by dye transfer printing from matrices valuable negative is saved from constant re-use.
Color positive release prints are manufactured only from color negative. Color positive stock is similar to color negative in that it has three super-imposed emulsion layers. Color positive stock is contact-printed by light coming through the color negative. Color negative has different colors correlated to the sensitivities of color positive emulsion layers.
Color positive stock records one color image aspect in each of its three emulsion layers and, after printing, is developed.”
(Anonymous (1956): Current Techniques of 35mm Color Film Photography and Printing. In: American Cinematographer, 37,1, January 1956, pp. 26-27 and p. 58, on pp. 26-27 and on p. 58.)
“Technicolor has long recognized that an improvement in the definition or visibility of Technicolor dye transfer (imbibition) prints when projected in the theatre, especially on large screens, would be possible from a negative resulting from almost any system of photography that employed a larger than standard area of negative on which to record the picture information. There are a number of photographic procedure which might bring this about. One such system is Paramount’s VistaVision which employs a single strip of 35mm color motion picture negative which, contrary to custom, moves horizontally through the VistaVision camera. The scenes are recorded on an area equal to two full frames of normal motion picture negative.
Working from such a double frame negative the Technicolor laboratory is manufacturing 35mm Technicolor dye transfer release prints of normal size and position, which may be combined with either photographic or multiple sound tracks. Such release prints can, of course, be projected on any screen including large screens, and in any aspect ratio from 1.33 to 1 or to any larger ratio desired. Since these new improved Technicolor dye transfer release prints are of normal size and position in every respect, no special projection lens in the theatre is necessary.
Technicolor has been working on the new system for more than two years, resulting in the introduction of laboratory procedures which are uniquely dependent upon steps in current Technicolor techniques. The new method is already in operation in moderate volume at the Hollywood plant.
Technicolor has modified some of its three color cameras so that a single strip of 35mm color negative film may be used in the VistaVision manner. In these modified cameras the film runs past the camera aperture horizontally and an area corresponding to eight perforations (or two normal frame areas) is exposed. The negative image area is then optically printed in reduced size.”
(Anonymous (1956): Current Techniques of 35mm Color Film Photography and Printing. In: American Cinematographer, 37,1, January 1956, pp. 26-27 and p. 58, on p. 27.)
“Red, Blue, Godard
Godard’s first color film was Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is A Woman, 1961); two years later he dealt with color for the second time in Le Mépris (Contempt). In both works the colors are dominantly primaries (“In Le Mépris I was influenced by modern art: straight color, ‘pop’ art. I tried to use only the five principal colors.” – Godard in the New York Film Bulletin [No. 46; 1964], p. 13).
Red and blue are the colors appearing most frequently in both A Woman Is A Woman and Contempt; the recurrence of these hues in a variety of contexts suggests thematic implications. The films are also related in that their primary themes are love triads (a motif which later became geometrically equilateral in The Married Woman); in both, female nudity has the important function of finalizing a precarious relationship. Both are parodies, the former more obvious and comic while the latter is complex, oblique, and tragic.
In each film there is a difference in rhythm which corresponds to the difference of sense. A Woman Is A Woman is quick, choppy, compact and widely varied in locations while Contempt, although thematically complex, is much more slowly paced, has fewer locations and much longer development of individual sequences. Along with these changes in sequential methodology in the latter film, there is a change in the handling of the camera itself. For the most part, fragmented editing is replaced with full-length takes and camera movements are slow, smooth, and calculated. In Contempt, this not only facilitates the tragic sense but is of importance to the work’s visual construction. It is well known that working in color often creates new problems for the intelligent director – an excellent description of these problems was given by Antonioni when he was interviewed by Godard. (See the English edition of Cahiers du Cinema – No. 1, 1966, pp. 28-9.) Godard, through his experience with A Woman Is A Woman, seemed to learn that if color was to function thematically, he would have to extend the length of single shots and slow down his camera movements to allow the viewer adequate time for concentrating on the composition of colors.
Contempt follows the pattern developed in A Woman Is A Woman but where in the former color loosely parallels the narrative development, in the latter the letimotif is more fully conceived, more complex, more visually apparent and becomes, in itself, a formative theme. Another difference in the film is that the blue and red system of the first is inverted in Contempt. While Angela sings of love in the nightclub of A Woman Is A Woman, a revolving colored spotlight casts first blue, then red light on her face. Immediately after the credits in Contempt, Godard again used a filtered effect: Camille and Paul are lying in bed talking about their love for each other; the shot is a deep red monochrome which abruptly shifts to “normal” polychrome; even in polychrome the scene remains warm in tonality (dominant oranges and yellows) but, as the camera makes a slow overhead dolly, the tone becomes cooler; then the shot shifts to monochrome again – this time to deep blue. In both films these filtered shots establish color “keys”; in Contempt this prepares us for the over-all movement of mood from warmth (red) to ambivalence (white, pink) to coldness (of course, blue), or, literally, from love to contempt.
Paul, a French detective story writer, has been asked by the repulsive, extroverted American film producer Jerome Prokosch (Jerry) to come to Rome to rewrite the script for his production of The Odyssey. Jerry is not pleased with the way in which his director, (the real) Fritz Lang, is insisting on filming the book (i.e., the way it was written). Jerry wants to modernize the epic by inserting into it factors of causality (the very thing Godard consistently suppresses in his work). Even by accepting the assignment, Paul makes the first step in a series of steps which lead to his total self-demoralization. In these first scenes, Jerry wears a blue coat and a red tie; he drives a red sports car. Jerry is composed of both blue (dominant) and red so we may infer that the attraction he will feel toward Paul’s wife, Camille, will be lust rather than love. Paul wears much the same colors (dominant grey and bits of blue) throughout the film and this is evocative of his passiveness and apparent lack of emotion. Camille, the most complex character, first appears in navy blue and white and wears a blue band over her blond hair; she wears the same color in her last appearance, and, since she is in a constant process of changing mental states and garment colors throughout the film, this implies a cyclic development. Godard, in his treatment of Camille’s garment hues, seems to have broken from what he may have felt was a too-obvious color system. Camille, because she is in love with her husband at the beginning of the film, “should” be wearing red; however, the cyclic motif that occurs in regard to Camille’s development has a particular irony that befits the irony of the film in general, particularly the ironic paralleling of Contempt’s development with that of the Homeric Odyssey. Francesca, Jerry’s secretary and lover, while a minor character, supports the color key as a whole. Normally she is seen wearing a yellow sweater and grey skirt, but, during a scene in which she arouses Paul’s desire, she changes to a red sweater.
Environments are equal in importance to garments. Jerry’s nearly defunct film studios have red and blue awnings and his projection studio is, like Jerry himself (and like his reconditioned Greek temple in Capri), red on the outside but blue in the interior. Inside the projection studio, where Jerry shows Paul rushes of Lang’s footage, there are red-orange cushions on blue seats, the ashtrays are red as is Lang’s pen and the projectionist’s shirt, and the studio secretary wears a pink skirt and a blue jacket. In the rushes we see white statues of Odysseus’ guardian deity Athena (whose eyes have been painted bright red), Odysseus’ enemy Neptune (whose eyes and and mouth have been painted blue), and Penelope (whose eyes are blue, mouth red, and who is in front of a brilliant yellow wall). Godard who cuts the gods into the main action of Contempt at major turning points in the drama uses this footage, which Jerry rejects. The first example of this occurs toward the beginning of the film, immediately after the scene in the projection studio. Jerry suggests that Camille drive with him to his mansion and that Paul take a cab; Paul consents to this idea, over Camille’s objection, and we see a momentary shot of Neptune. That Neptune is the deity of the sea is important as the Mediterranean later becomes the ultimate image of Camille and Paul’s disintegrated relationship. Paul arrives late at Jerry’s and Camille construes that Paul has intentionally done this to give Jerry time to seduce her. They are outside at a table in Jerry’s garden; the tablecloth is red and the wine glasses are blue. Camille is naturally disgusted with Paul but he doesn’t seem to apprehend her reason – it is this inapprehension of the obvious which creates the tension that carries Contempt’s theme to its conclusion. However, at this point there is still a degree of hope for Camille and Paul – as they leave Jerry’s, holding hands, a shot of Athena briefly appears.
When the couple return to their home, which is one of a massive group of apartments, they are compositionally overpowered by the dehumanized environment. The interior of their apartment is painted white and is incompletely furnished except for a few pieces of bright blue and red furniture. Camille’s reflection that she will hang red velvet drapes over the yet bare windows is indicative of her continuing love for Paul even while she is angry. The warm sunlight which floods the rooms intensifies the overall whiteness, and, against this neutral brilliance, colors and objects tend to become visually isolated, enhancing their imagistic importance. Again, as in A Woman Is A Woman, the equal distribution of warm and cool hues emphasizes the equal probability of the action going either toward red or toward blue. In this very extended sequence, the play of color in costume changes and in environmental location, the virtuosity of the use of camera movement and the wide screen, all combine to deepen the sense of increasing interpersonal isolation. There is a gradual shift in the tonality of the lighting from warm, at the beginning of the scene, to a cool blue cast, toward the end of the scene. In the living room there is a red couch and two red chairs on a white rug. In another part of the room there are two blue facing chairs, between them a lamp with a large white shade. In a vase there are red flowers. Paul is wearing a white towel and Camille a yellow bathrobe. They bicker; Paul wants to know why Camille is angry. Camille goes into her bedroom, which has blue drapes over the window and a yellow spread on the bed. Camille puts on a black wig she has just bought; Paul dislikes it. Camille becomes affectionate, puts on a red robe, lies on the red couch and becomes playfully seductive. Later they sit in the blue chairs and Camille tells Paul she no longer loves him. She is acting at this point but later, when she removes the wig, her words will cease being lies. They become affectionate momentarily but Camille discards the wig and the mood becomes strained again. She changes to a green dress and puts the wig back on. The green dress would seem to indicate hatred since green is the complementary of red; this is borne out by Camille’s behavior. Back in the blue chairs, Camille again tells Paul she does not love him; even though she is still wearing her wig, it is nevertheless obvious that her feelings are seriously waning. This fluctuating emotional state is powerfully evoked by the otherwise irrational turning on and off of the light which sits between them.
Camille and Paul are invited by Jerry to accompany him to Capri where Lang is doing the shooting for the film. Camille is dressed in pink (faded red) and grey (the first note of passiveness), Paul wears white and blue and Jerry has on a grey suit with a red and black tie. They are on the deck of Jerry’s boat, from which the cyclops episode of The Odyssey is being shot; Paul is sitting in a blue chair. Jerry asks Camille to return to his temple-turned-home with him but she leaves the decision up to Paul; he consents, failing her again. Camille and Jerry leave in a speedboat which disappears from sight in a symmetrical shot, the top of which is blue sky and the bottom, blue sea. It is as if the boat had been swallowed by the water; Neptune’s kingdom now becomes the image of Camille and Paul’s fate.
When Paul returns to the temple with Lang, he sees Camille kissing Jerry and seems to partially realize the seriousness of the situation. He tells Jerry he is quitting but even now he won’t state the actual reason and says that he simply does not care for scriptwriting. He then looks for Camille and finds her sun-bathing nude on the temple roof. She is lying on a yellow robe and next to her is a discarded red robe – discarded for good. She is now numb and when she says to Paul that she is barren of all feeling (she wears nothing) she is no longer acting. She puts on the yellow robe (perhaps a regaining of feeling, indicative of the beginning of a new cycle – one which excludes Paul) and they walk down, descend, to a ledge overlooking the sea. The composition of this series of shots is brilliant; as they get closer to the water, the relatively warm composition changes as progressively larger areas of the screen are filled with the blueness of the sea. Camille says, “I’ll never forgive you,” removes her robe and dives into the sea. While she swims, Paul falls asleep (Godard may have exaggerated Paul’s passiveness here!); we are watching Paul sleep while we hear Camille’s voice reading the letter she has written telling that she has left for Rome. The scene is abruptly changed to Jerry, wearing a red sweater, driving Camille to Rome in his car. Camille wears the same colors as she did at the beginning of the film, implying the completion of a metamorphic cycle. Like Odysseus, she and Paul have been on a voyage, a voyage ending with the submersion of their relationship. Camille, at least, has regained her original stability – somewhat in the way that Odysseus had regained his homeland (Odysseus, in Lang’s picture, wears blue when he returns to Ithaca). Jerry stops for gas and while waiting he picks a small red flower. He pulls out of the gas station in a characteristically reckless way and just before they collide into the side of a petroleum truck, we see the final words of Camille’s letter while hearing the crashing sound of the collision. Then there is a cut back to the wreck – a slow dolly toward Camille and Jerry’s dead bodies; cut again, to Paul, suitcase in hand, walking up the staircase of the temple at the film site where Lang is shooting the return of Odysseus. He passes Francesca (wearing blue) who is walking down the stairs; he pauses but she ignores him; Paul continues up to the roof.
Homer had ironically paralleled Odysseus’ homecoming against the homecoming of Agamemnon and Godard pushes this approach to the extreme when the camera moves away from Paul. Our point of view is shifted and we are now looking through Lang’s camera at Odysseus who, facing away from us, gazes across the sea toward Ithaca. Silence. The camera slowly passes Odysseus and finally fixes on the sea. Homer had ironically paralleled Odysseus’ homecoming against the homecoming of Agamemnon and Godard pushes this approach to the extreme when the camera moves away from Paul. Our point of view is shifted and we are now looking through Lang’s camera at Odysseus who, facing away from us, gazes across the sea toward Ithaca. Silence. The camera slowly passes Odysseus and finally fixes on the sea.
This study by no means exhausts the wealth of color imagery in Godard’s two works. Due to the relative inaccessibility of the films, there are necessarily many gaps in this analysis and interpretation. It is a certainty, however, that Godard has shown a new way of effectively using color, at least in commercial film-making. (Stan Brakhage’s Anticipation of the Night, made several years before A Woman Is A Woman, has as complex and systematic use of color as Godard’s films.) Within the realm of the commercial film, Godard has accomplished the unique task of casting colors effectively in major dramatic roles.”
(Sharits, Paul (1966): Red, Blue, Godard. In: Film Quarterly, 19,4, 1966, pp. 24-29, on pp. 24-26 and pp. 26-29.)
“Remember the Glorious Color of films gone by? It may soon be only a memory – for the prints are fading fast.
The house lights dim, a hush comes over the expectant audience, and a beam from the projection booth hits the screen. But the old film, so clear in a buff’s memory, looks to have deteriorated before his eyes – and memory is not at fault. What was once a color film is now a jarring mixture of faded dyes in a spectrum that runs from dull, muddy pink to deep, garish purple. The sunny, windswept fields of Oklahoma! have turned an eerie, strident pink. Marilyn Monroe looks jaundiced. The florid gold and pastel palace in The King and I is now a drab, dusky rose.
Filmgoers who regularly attend repertory theaters or museum retrospectives are finally getting visual proof that color films will not always appear as they did decades ago, years ago – sometimes even months ago. These color fading problems are not isolated nightmares confined to a few prints of certain films. Color fading threatens all color films, and there is a growing awareness that it has not only reached epidemic proportions but has surpassed all other problems of film preservation. Film companies are scrambling to save their precious libraries, motion picture archivists are watching their collections change hue, and audiences everywhere are subjected to a special visual agony that humane people wouldn’t wish on laboratory mice.
Color fading, if left unchecked, could very well do irreparable damage to film preservation and scholarship. It’s the disease that doesn’t discriminate: it can affect Gone With the Wind as easily as it can The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Already a litany of horror stories is intoned by film archivists throughout the world: the original negative to Kinugasa’s Gate of Hell is so badly faded that no viewable prints can be struck from it; one reel of the original negative of the 1956 Oscarwinning Around the World in 80 Days is missing an important color, and when the film was reissued a duplicate negative had to be made from a print in good condition; the original negative to The King and I is “shot.” Films that most people think are safely tucked away in some kind of Hollywood Heaven are, in reality, being damaged beyond repair.
Specialists today estimate that the average color print has a life of anywhere from six months to twenty years. Even more alarmingly, the original negatives of many films produced from the Fifties on are also in danger of fading. Needless to say, once the negative goes there is very little left. Already certain distributors have resorted to all kinds of visual “enhancement” in the case of negative fading, but the results are far from satisfactory.
It is not surprising that examples of color fading in film are rampant today. The entire history of full color in motion pictures spans slightly over forty-five years, and flaws in the system are becoming distressingly evident.
From the days of Edison, audiences have craved color in their films. Processes such as tinting and toning enjoyed immense popularity at the turn of the century. Hand-painted prints of The Great Train Robbery (1903) would surprise audiences with red-tinted gunshot blasts, and in C.B. De Mille’s Joan the Woman (1917) the execution sequence featured flames tinged with red. Handcoloring reached its peak in France, where Charles Pathé employed over 300 girls from the French countryside to hand-stencil films, much in the manner of penitent nuns making lace.
But neither tinting nor toning could produce a natural color spectrum on film, and research was concurrently carried on by the Technicolor Company and Eastman Kodak. In 1929 and 1930, Technicolor developed a two-color system which employed orange-red and blue-green dyes. The process, although limited in reproductive quality, was immensely popular, and audiences flocked to such two-color films as Warner Brothers’ On With the Show (1929) and the Florenz Ziegfeld-Samuel Goldwyn production Whoopee (1930).
Reacting to public favor, Technicolor rapidly sought to perfect its color process, and in 1932 developed a three-color system first used in Walt Disney’s animated short Flowers and Trees (1932). Disney thought so much of the three-color process that he used it for The Three Little Pigs (1933) and eventually for his first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
The three-color system was used with equally positive results on live-action films. The process, called “three strip,” involved the simultaneous exposure of three separate rolls of color-sensitive film (the three dyes involved were magenta, cyan, and yellow) in a large, bulky camera. Becky Sharp (1935) became the first film to utilize full Technicolor, followed by A Star Is Born (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Gone With the Wind (1939).
As Technicolor became firmly entrenched in the Hollywood of the Forties, it began to acquire a familiar look. Down Argentine Way (1940) featured a more vibrant Technicolor with bold primary colors, notably a saturated red. The words “In Technicolor” became synonymous with the best of Hollywood’s musicals and epics.
In the early Fifties, however, an event occurred in color technology that would revolutionize color film. Eastman Kodak announced the development of a “multi-layer” film which already contained the three dye-sensitive layers necessary for color. This not only did away with the need for the bulky three-strip cameras, but also changed Hollywood’s method of striking prints. Until then, Technicolor struck prints utilizing the “imbibition” process, in which the three different color dyes were each applied separately to the film base, much in the manner of color lithography. But with Eastman’s new “multi-layer” film, colors could be obtained quicker and easier. Although the Eastmancolor prints were inferior in quality to Technicolor’s imbibition prints, they were less costly to produce and generally more economical in small print runs.
Unfortunately, the introduction of Eastmancolor in the Fifties laid the foundation for the problems in color fading we are seeing today. Hollywood and the public both accepted Eastmancolor without really noticing a difference in color quality. Each studio developed its own special variant of the Eastmancolor process, and the crazy quilt of color names that burst forth in the mid-Fifties captured the satiric eye of Cole Porter in a number for the film Silk Stockings:
If Ava Gardner played Godiva riding on a mare,
The people wouldn’t pay a cent and they wouldn’t even care
Unless she had glorious Technicolor,
Or Cinecolor, or Warnercolor, or Metrocolor, or Eastmancolor,
Or Kodacolor, or any color . . .
And although both the public and Hollywood seemed intrigued with the possibilities of the new Eastman-based color processes, no one was thinking of its archival qualities. As color researchers Henry Wilhelm and Klaus B. Henricks write in their forthcoming Preservation of Contemporary Photographic Materials:
“In the early days of Eastmancolor – in the late 1950’s – release print dye fading was not generally of serious concern to the professional motion picture industry because prints of major features were generally physically deteriorated from scratching and abrasion during repeated projection and handling, and were usually discarded before dye fading became a serious problem …. The dark storage stability of Technicolor imbibition prints is far superior to release prints made on Eastman color print film, and this fact alone would justify the added cost of imbibition prints for many applications …. Faced with increasing competition from Eastmancolor, Technicolor considered advertising its imbibition process on the basis of its excellent stability. However, permanence has never been a primary requirement of the motion picture industry, and Technicolor decided not to make a major issue of the permanence question . . . .”
The honeymoon between Hollywood and the new Eastmancolor processes was predictably short-lived. In less than a decade, evidence of bad print and negative fading would cause some film companies to invest in expensive “separations” of their major films to insure their longevity. Other companies apprehensively surveyed their libraries and found the color in some films too faded to halt.
Today, when all that remain of the great Hollywood studios are corporate skeletons and film libraries, the importance of color fading to a distributor who has active interests in television sales and theatrical reissues is crucial. Usually the urgency of a studio’s color fading problem is in direct proportion to the care they initially took in developing, printing, and preserving their films.
Perhaps the two studios best prepared to confront the color fading problem are Walt Disney Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The Disney studio has kept expensive separations on all of its major releases, both animated and live-action. Disney also, as policy, keeps an original Technicolor imbibition print on each title as a check if a question of color balance or tone arises during a reissue. Ironically, as far as the animated films go, the Disney studio could actually consult the original animation “cels” if needed. Naturally, the Disney organization’s concern with preservation is well-founded, as Disney films have the potential to keep earning money on a reissue basis almost in perpetuity.
MGM has had a long history of film conservation, which is now paying off with remarkable results. Wes Meyers, who heads the MGM Film Library in Culver City, California, confirms that MGM originally made protection elements on all of their films. In a continuing program of conservation, the studio has converted over 800 features from nitrate to safety stock, and has also finished converting over 700 shorts. The Company is currently working on trailers, travelogues, and cartoons. MGM keeps its original camera negatives in its vaults in California. And to assure that no negatives are ever destroyed by a man-made or natural disaster, the company keeps duplicate elements in an abandoned section of a salt mine in Kansas.
Myers credits the success of That’s Entertainment, the popular compilation of highlights from MGM musicals, with giving the company’s conversion program a shot in the arm by proving the public’s unflagging interest in MGM’s archival material. In fact, MGM has, in recent years, done very well financially with theatrical reissues of its films, organized into retrospectives that feature a wide variety of titles from the MGM library.
But even a preservation program as comprehensive as MGM’s can fall victim to the ravages of color fading solely due to the passage of time. During an MGM retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a print of George Cukor’s stylish Les Girls (1957) was a ghastly vision in beige-on-beige. A recent tribute to Vincente Minnelli featured a print of Tea and Sympathy (1956) that looked as if it had been brewed right in the pot alongside Deborah Kerr’s solicitude. Both prints had a history of minimal use and careful storage (MGM even labeled Tea and Sympathy an “archive print”), yet they showed as much color damage as prints subjected to callous treatment.
A relative newcomer to the area of repertory cinema distribution is 20th Century-Fox. The studio has recently tested the financial waters of the re-release market by assembling a program of about forty features from its library and playing them successfully in San Francisco and New York City. Unfortunately, Fox has many problems with negative and print fading. Much of their trouble stems from the inferior processing DeLuxe Laboratories (now DeLuxe General), a wholly-owned corporate subsidiary, did on Fox releases of the Fifties and Sixties. Many archivists accuse DeLuxe of processing Fox films too quickly and sloppily, and insist that improper “washing” of the developing chemicals from the prints and original negatives, as well as mediocre quality control, have contributed to Fox’s current preservation problems. One executive connected with the Fox reissue program referred to DeLuxe as “the cheapest and worst lab in the business. They simply do bad work.”
Sid Samuels, an affable, knowledgeable man who is in charge of print control for Fox, admits that the company has had trouble making up prints on some of their older films. “It’s an ongoing battle,” Samuels said recently. “We’re fighting time and chemistry. Fox does not want to see any of its films disappear this way, but we’ve had to depend heavily on the trickeries of modern technology to recover some of our pictures.” Certain Fox films on the reissue program recently shown at Manhattan’s Regency Theatre, such as The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Centennial Summer (1946), appeared to be in relatively good condition. But several other titles show painfully obvious problems in negative fading and improper laboratory timing. Sections of The Virgin Queen (1955) and Carousel (1956) appeared yellowish, and the lighting of indoor and outdoor sequences in both films was off. Bus Stop (1956) had a yellow tone from beginning to end, as did sections of How To Marry a Millionaire (1953). Forever Amber (1947) showed distinctly bad tonal shifts and contrast imbalances throughout the film.
Many of these problems are directly related to the storage and treatment of the original negatives. Samuels confirmed that many Fox negatives from the Fifties are in poor condition, mainly because they were used directly for striking prints, rather than utilizing a duplicating negative – the customary process to avoid damage to the original. Samuels said that negatives from the same period can vary dramatically in quality: “One negative may look gorgeous. Another, from the same storage area and the same time period, throws out a print that is an abomination.” Obviously, negative wear and fading is a complicated process, and proper temperature and humidity in storage, as well as clean chemical handling of the original negative, are important keys to longevity.
Despite the considerable trouble Fox has had preparing prints on older titles for theatrical engagements, the studio was able to improve the quality of problematic negatives and prints when preparing material for television broadcast. That’s Hollywood, a current half-hour television series syndicated by 20th Century-Fox Television, makes liberal use of excerpts from Fox films of the Fifties, many of which are badly faded. Through the use of computer circuits, technicians at Fox television were able to control each of the primary colors on the clips separately and, in effect, remix the color electronically to compensate for any dye loss in the original material. Although this technique proved reasonably successful for television broadcast, it cannot correct problems in theatrical release prints.
While distributors are understandably concerned over the significant problem of color fading, their concern tends to overshadow the additional problem of color consistency that occurs when films photographed in one color process are printed in another.
When new prints are needed on films originally shot in three-strip Technicolor, it is common practice for distributors to make up an Eastman internegative and strike prints on Eastman film. In the Fifties and Sixties this was done mainly for economic reasons, but now that Technicolor has phased out imbibition printing Hollywood no longer has a choice. This change from Technicolor to Eastmancolor results in a dramatic shift in color tone and balance. Hues that were rich and “warm” in the original Technicolor will become brighter and colder, almost neon-like, in Eastmancolor. Serious shifts in yellow tones occur, and Eastmancolor is simply not capable of reproducing the distinctive, saturated primary colors that distinguished three-strip Technicolor. Eastman prints of The Red Shoes (1948) struck recently lack the deep blacks and reds of the Technicolor imbibition prints. New prints of Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) and On The Town (1949) lack the vibrant quality they originally had.
A celebrated example of the incompatibility of different color processes involved Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963). Visconti’s well-known penchant for detail and insistence on authenticity prompted him to lavish extraordinary attention on the costumes and sets for his epic. The Leopard was originally processed by Technicolor in Italy, but when Fox distributed the film in Great Britain and the United States they struck prints in DeLuxe color from a duplicate negative. This seriously affected the subtle, tapestry-like shadings Visconti had striven for, and sacrificed values in color fidelity and definition as well. The indignant director promptly fired off a letter to The Times of London, complaining that the film was “processed as if it were a bright piece of Hollywoodiana.”
Whether the problem involves color consistency or color fading, there is little a director can do about it after a film opens. Francois Truffaut admitted, somewhat fatalistically, that the best he could do to insure good color quality in Farenheit 451 would be to check personally the prints scheduled for major first-run engagements in Europe and the United States. After that, he confessed, the matter is beyond a director’s control.
Cinematographers are equally exasperated by the proliferation of faded prints that continue to circulate for years. Gordon Willis, who has worked with several directors known as meticulous color stylists (Francis Ford Coppola, Alan Pakula, Woody Allen), was understandably volatile when asked about the lax preservation of prints and negatives. “It has not been traditional for studio executives to preserve anything but their own jobs,” he remarked. “But then again, the basic overall structure of the motion picture business is not quality-oriented. Studios and labs usually think of film in terms of yardage.” When asked if he had personally seen faded prints of his work after its initial release, he quickly replied, “I generally don’t watch a movie after I’m through with it. Perhaps during the first six months of an engagement I’ll sometimes pop into a theater to check the print, the projection, and the audience reaction. But I certainly have no illusions about what a print will look like five years after its release.”
Retired cinematographer Arthur E. Arling, who began his motion picture career in 1927, served as operative cameraman on Gone With the Wind and won an Oscar in 1946 for his work on The Yearling, echoed Willis’s comments on the powerless position of a cinematographer regarding print quality during distribution. “Cinematographers usually lose control after the answer print,” Arling commented during a telephone interview. “Once the answer print goes to the lab, that’s it. I sometimes take a look at my films when they turn up on television, and I can tell they have deteriorated.” Arling also observed that the passing of the studio system may have something to do with the problems in color consistency and fading that are cropping up now. “When the major studios existed, we had more time to work on perfecting the color in films we photographed. Don’t get me wrong – we were still under pressure. But there was a continuity in laboratory procedures and systems, and we would also usually get the time to do things our way. That era, however, is gone for good, I’m afraid.”
As directors and cinematographers voice concern, even despair, over the color fading problem, the world’s film archivists struggle against time to save as many movies as they can. Listening to archivists provides a lesson in verbal intonation; their conversation is punctuated with pregnant pauses and laced with flashes of facetious wit (including a mordant reference to Vincente Minnelli’s “Rust” For Life). But the detrimental effects of color fading on various film collections are spoken of without levity.
Only a small percentage of The Museum of Modern Art’s 8,000-film collection is in color. But Eileen Bowser, a film curator at MOMA, cites color fading as the biggest problem in film preservation today – she fully expects the problem to get worse as the years go by. The Museum is currently putting its films into cold storage at just below freezing, in the hope that an economic method of dealing with color preservation will be developed in the next few years.
The Museum is also involved in making new prints of all the David O. Selznick color films, including Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Garden of Allah (1936), from Selznick’s original three-strip Technicolor negatives. The new prints will be prepared under the supervision of film technician Ralph Sargent and his staff at Film Technology Laboratory in California, specialists in the painstaking art of archival print manufacture. Sargent, who previously prepared two-color prints of Paramount’s 1929 film Redskin, is familiar with the difficulties involved in film restoration of this type. “The essence of this business is not only technical finesse, but also judgment,” he commented. “Many of these films require frame-by-frame checking.” This is taxing work that the larger laboratories are not equipped for, and so archivists rely more and more on the few specialists in this field.
Larry Carr, Administrator of Film Preservation for the American Film Institute in Washington, is convinced that most of the color problems coming to light today are due to “cutting corners by processing the film too quickly. The chemical process is very complicated, and rushing it can be a disaster. Actually, all handling, storage, and use of a film contributes to fading.”
One of the world’s largest film collections is in the Library of Congress, also in Washington. David L. Parker, Technical Officer for the Library, cites the years 1955 to 1958 as a “disastrous period in color fading,” noting that their prints of Carousel (1956) and The Long, Hot Summer (1958) have turned “monochrome fuchsia with some poisonous green overtones.” He sympathizes, however, with the problems studios have in getting good laboratory prints on their back titles. “They will often want 400 prints of 400 different films, instead of 400 prints of one film. The bulk of all their back titles could be considered non-commercial, except for the occasional reissue or booking into a repertory cinema. The labs and studios don’t really have the time to deal with the problem of striking quality prints on this basis. It goes against the entire grain of the film industry, which is to get the most money out of a picture at the time of initial release. The studios are also loath to throw good money after bad in the case of a film that was a financial disappointment the first time around.”
Archives that store Hollywood films are not the only ones threatened by color fading. Even the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, which owns the most elaborate archive in the United States for the storing of original film and slides from the manned space flights, will eventually have to face the problem of color fading. “It’s a fact of chemistry,” lamented Richard Thompson, Chief of NASA’s Photographic Technology Division. “The public is certainly not aware of the situation, but we anticipate color fading will be a big problem. The bulk of our most spectacular space footage is in color.” He seemed unfazed when told that many film aficionados would rather throw all the space footage out and replace it with rare prints of Orchestra Wives.
Color fading problems are, of course, not confined to archives in the United States. Harold Brown, Chief Preservation Officer for the British Film Institute, reported that early examples of hand-colored or stenciled films have survived much better than color films from the Fifties and Sixties. In the future, BFI will have to rely mainly on cold storage and expensive “separations” of their films to prolong their color life.
In June 1979, The New York Times reported that the Swedish Film Institute had asked the Swedish Government for $1.6 million to be used for film preservation. The Institute is alarmed, The Times reported, that “even modern films are not safe from the ravages of time. New films by Swedish directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Jan Troell, and Bo Widerberg start to fade, almost imperceptibly to the layman, as soon as they are made, and no one really knows how to halt the process, which accelerates with the passage of time.”
Without exception, each archive questioned said that Technicolor imbibition prints were in almost as good a condition as when they were first struck, with no measurable color fading. They were all distressed that Technicolor had discontinued a print process that had provided archives with a reprieve from color deterioration.
Technicolor had continued to offer its superior imbibition process in the United States until 1975, and Hollywood opted for it on such large-quantity print runs as My Fair Lady (1964), Dr. Zhivago (1965), and The Godfather (1972 and 1974). Faced with waning interest and increased costs, Technicolor finally closed its Hollywood inhibition plant in February, 1975. Their Rome operations were discontinued on June 1, 1978, and the last imbibition plant, in London, was shut down on June 14, 1978.
The imbibition process did not go out, however, without a fitting hail and farewell. Some years ago, Eric Spilker, a film writer, historian, and sometime entrepreneur, was interested in re-releasing The Gang’s All Here, the flamboyant Fox musical featuring some of Busby Berkeley’s most hallucinogenic musical numbers. Determined to present the film to the public as it had originally been seen, Spilker arranged to have Technicolor make imbibition prints of The Gang’s All Here and, in 1973, opened it in New York. Critics were enthusiastic about the film – and ecstatic about the color quality. Pauline Kael rejoiced over “the electric reds and greens of 20th Century-Fox’s Technicolor”; Rex Reed stated that “this one has been preserved in a print so beautiful and richly endowed with fadeproof Technicolor, it looks like it has been kept in a drawer with Darryl Zanuck’s old socks.” This was a unique instance where the superior imbibition prints of Technicolor garnered a large share of attention and praise – solely due to the instincts of a film historian convinced of the very real assets of the process.
An amusing and perhaps ironic conclusion to the Technicolor imbibition saga concerns the fact that in 1974, the People’s Republic of China contracted with Technicolor, Ltd. of England to have a complete imbibition plant built in China. Operation of the plant began in 1977. The Chinese are using the process to make large numbers of release prints of documentaries and training films. This makes China the last place where Technicolor imbibition printing can be done. Recently, the Chinese let it be known that they would be delighted to contract work from U.S. archives or studios in need of imbibition prints. And so, as the Technicolor sun rises in the mystic East, we ponder the ultimate implications of a laboratory populated by hard-working, happy Chinese technicians, engaged in striking new prints of There’s No Business Like Show Business.
Alas, color fading is not a problem that engages the concern of the general public. What little attention the problem does receive is due in part to the efforts of Henry Wilhelm, a specialist in the history of color in film. Wilhelm lays much of the blame for color fading at the doorstep of Eastman Kodak, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of film and film supplies. “Ultimately, the responsibility certainly rests with Kodak,” he recently said. “Their dye stability could be improved at a relatively small increase in cost. They have also been negligent in informing the public of just what the projected life of their dyes is. But color fading is a touchy subject with them.”
Indeed, for many years Eastman Kodak avoided dealing with the problem by issuing blanket statements on the quality of their products and affixing a famous disclaimer to every can of film they sold, warning that the film was not insured against any changes in dye color.
Recently, though, Eastman Kodak has adopted a more progressive, informative role on the subject of color fading, and the company’s research has also been responsible for two significant new methods of dealing with the problem. The first involves new film stocks with improved dye stability, which Kodak estimates will last up to twenty times longer than their other stocks. Company spokesman Michael More said that the new stocks are currently available in 16mm, but that Eastman Kodak will make them available in 35mm upon request.
The second development at Eastman Kodak is a method by which faded transparencies can actually be restored to their original color. This complex process is akin, at least in rudimentary theory, to the electronic restoration used by Fox to color-correct faded film clips. The three primary colors are separated and re-combined in their proper ratio, restoring the transparency to its correct color. It’s possible that, in the near future, a variation of this process will be developed to help restore film negatives that have been badly damaged by fading.
In other segments of the photography world, there has been great excitement over a new system of printing color transparencies called Cibachrome. Marketed by the Ciba-Geigy Company through its photographic subsidiary, Ilford, Inc., Cibachrome has impressed photographers with its ability to render startlingly sharp and vibrant colors. The visual excellence of Cibachrome is even more attractive because it is between three and ten times more stable than Technicolor imbibition printing. Officials at Ilford, Inc. admit that Cibachrome is basically a system for displaying transparencies and prints under constant light, but say that it could also be used by studios and archives as a duplicating stock for film prints. If it were to be used this way, it would probably be the most stable method of storage as yet discovered. Although the company has no immediate plans to work motion picture technology into Cibachrome’s development, it reports that researchers at the company’s scientific headquarters in Switzerland are interested in pursuing further motion-picture development of Cibachrome.
A permanent solution to the problem of color stability could involve the use of holograms, and important research, partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, is being conducted in this area. The holographic process, when refined, would utilize lasers to record and reconstruct correct film color.
Whatever method proves to be the key to color preservation in the future, it is a simple reality that the international film industry cannot be expected to be the curators of its own past. The money machine will not be responsible for the dream factory. Henry Wilhelm adds: “Why should Hollywood care about color fading? The business of Hollywood is to make films. Asking them to make and preserve them may be giving them too much responsibility. I think an outside group, backed by the government, should keep good prints and original negatives for the studios, and allow the studios retrieval rights to their films.”
The idea of a national repository is an attractive one, and could probably be funded for surprisingly little cost. Wilhelm suggests that a slight increase in copyright fees could cover the entire tab. But in an age when distributors are becoming sensitive over issues of film piracy, it’s rather doubtful that they would hand over negatives and prints to any national clearing house. Still, the studios have good relations with the archives: MGM gives its original three-strip negatives to Eastman House; Fox contributes prints to the U.C.L.A. Film Archive and The Museum of Modern Art; Paramount and Universal deposit hundreds of titles in the Library of Congress.
There is also the possibility for corporate action. Recently, the Philip Morris Company began an ambitious program to distribute 100 films throughout the United States as part of a promotional campaign for their Benson & Hedges 100s. One title, Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, was found to have an original negative in very bad condition. Philip Morris not only picked up the tab for all the restoration on the original negative, but paid for a duplicate negative to be deposited with the American Film Institute. It’s this type of forward-thinking corporate involvement that could lead to companies “adopting” films and restoring them, while getting favorable media attention for their efforts. IBM, currently sponsoring a television series entitled Movies To Remember, should realize that there won’t be any movies to remember unless steps are taken now to insure their survival in the future.
By whatever means the problem of color fading is ultimately solved, it is obvious that a problem of such magnitude will require the hard work – and hard cash – of distributors, archivists, laboratories, and researchers. Color fading is a problem that was created by more than one segment of the film industry, and it is a problem whose solution will be found in the combined efforts of all groups involved. One thing is clear: the task is formidable and the deadline is now.”
(O’Connell, Bill (1979): Fade Out. In: Film Comment, 15,5, pp. 11-18.)
“CHROMO-DRAMA. INNOVATION AND CONVENTION IN DOUGLAS SIRK’S COLOR DESIGNS
All that Heaven Allows (US 1955, Douglas Sirk, shot in Eastmancolor and processed in Technicolor)
Douglas Sirk’s cycle of 1950s melodramas earned him recognition as one of Hollywood’s preeminent colorists. […] More recently Russell Merritt singled out All that Heaven Allows (1955) for creating “an utterly transgressive color system” (Merritt 2008: 12). Sirk’s colors do ring of artifice, but at the same time they exact emotion.
To gain depth and specificity, I will focus on one of the most notable chromatic instruments in Sirk’s color orchestration, colored illumination. Cinematographer Russell Metty’s experiments with blue, gold, and multicolored light in All that Heaven Allows are the best-known examples of projected color in Sirk’s canon, though the practice persists in Written on the Wind (1956) and Imitation of Life. […] The apogee of the technique in All that Heaven Allows is the confrontation between Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) and her daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott), staged in multi-hued light motivated by a rainbow-colored window in the daughter’s suburban bedroom.
Projected color, or colored lighting, has a long history in Hollywood. In fact, we can profitably see it as a continuation of the additive color techniques of tinting and toning which were more or less dominant during the silent era (Salt 1992: 78, 124, 150-151). Color laid over the image could have an overt semantic and representational function, but could also swell into an expressive register.
Against this aesthetic background, we might view Sirk’s colored light in All that Heaven Allows in a similar vein to his color art direction; it is an expressive exaggeration or heightening of established techniques. On one hand, the looming swaths of blue, set off by warm orange lamplight that structure the space of Jane Wyman’s home, are direct descendents of Leon Shamroy’s Technicolor low-key in Leave her to Heaven. Russell Metty has saturated the blue a bit more, perhaps because shooting in tungsten-balanced Eastmancolor meant he would no longer rely on uncorrected arcs, but gelled incandescents. The intricate play of color temperature to separate playing areas and generate character juxtapositions is much the same [web illustrations 46-49].2 In fact, love scenes between Cary Scott and Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), staged in front of a picture window, cling closely to Technicolor precedent. Sirk and Metty use a subtle balance of temperatures and move figures between them in rhythm with the scene’s development [web illustrations 50-51]. All that Heaven Allows follows the pattern set by Gone with the Wind in which tortured lovers seem to constantly find themselves standing next to windows, a tactic that helps cinematographers find color equivalents to the greater latitude of black-and-white cinematography [web illustrations 52-53].
The embellishment of lighting-key with color informs the end of the film’s second act when Cary sinks into her wintery depression and pools of blue overtake her home [web illustrations 54-55]. The lowest-key portion of the film coincides with the highest point in Cary’s crisis. Sirk and Metty amplify the color-temperature schema, pushing the standard motivations for projected color toward the quasi-diegetic quality of [Robert Edmund] Jones’ mood lights.
The rainbow window scene in Kay’s bedroom offers an elegantly staged ten shots to mark Cary’s decision to break it off with Ron, and it sends the film off into its climax. Narrative and formal arcs have been building to this point. It is the morning after Cary’s son Ned (William Reynolds) has scolded and rejected her amid low-key blue moonlight [web illustration 56]. Metty and Sirk need to extend and exceed the tone of that scene, but the diegetic motivation for moonlight is no longer available. Their solution is a complex use of projected color motivated by the window in Kay’s room. Sirk and Metty scale the heights of chromo-drama, where color enters an operatic register and sweeps across the frame. We might read it as a distancing device, or as an example of what Thomas Elsaesser called “a sublimation of dramatic conflict into décor” (Elsaesser 1987:52). Neither position does justice to the care and skill with which the effect is carried out.
Sirk and Metty likely recognized that this color effect was a reach for the diegesis, and so the sequence includes three shots showcasing the rainbow window (1, 4, 6). The establishing shot is crucial; as Kay crosses to her bed we are given a clear demonstration of the source and direction of the lighting [web illustrations 57-58]. Midway through the scene, Kay crosses back to the window, allowing a more full-bodied performance style, and an insert of Wyman’s concerned close-up [web illustrations 59-61]. Editing and staging deftly carry the rhythm of the drama, but Metty and Sirk also sneak in a reminder of the light’s origin.
Metty has achieved a meticulous balance of temperatures in the scene. Wyman receives only warm to neutral light from the window, while Talbott dips into less flattering blues and greens [web illustrations 62-64]. This fits with Metty’s practice of obscuring and manipulating the lighting of characters around a somewhat better-lit lead actress, best seen in Cary’s argument with her son, and her love-scene with Hudson [web illustrations 65-68]. It is not just a matter of keeping the star beautiful, or even legible, but of giving us access to her facial expressions and channeling our empathic investment. The craft of this scene has been under-appreciated; it exhibits a precise choreography of figure and light such that Cary remains undistorted while Kay is immersed in bands of chroma. Cary’s close-ups, the linchpins of the sequence, are shaped around a heightened rendition of flesh tone. She seems to glow against the blue and red background [web illustration 69].
Sirk’s colored light is not bridled by literal meaning; this is not red of danger or green for jealousy. There is important semantic ambiguity here. Distanciation critics read this color as interfering with emotional trajectories, while a viewer seeking narrative containment might find the color to stand for the pressures of the outside world that isolate Cary. But we should also see this as an operatic accompaniment, and ambiguity may actually aid the expressive effect. Color shapes the image emotionally, if amorphously; the scene joins in a trend of direct sensuous engagement that dates back to silent additive color.
Sirk’s experiments in the 1950s melodramas take place at the crucial historical juncture of the transition from Technicolor to Eastmancolor, as color was becoming more generalized and less strictly controlled. All that Heaven Allows was shot using Eastmancolor but processed by Technicolor labs in dye transfer. As Russell Merritt has argued, this is a period where technological change encouraged experimentation, as it had done in the 1930s with the innovation of three-color Technicolor, or with the current rise of Digital Intermediate. […] Sirk’s color designs participate in a moment when color was once again thrown into the spotlight, made novel. The power of color in the bedroom scene originates in the larger tradition of operatic color, but this power is contextual, depending on its identity as a special quality, apart from the norm.
2 Full color illustrations for this essay are available online at: http://shiggins.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2012/03/ll/chromo-drama-innovation-and-convention-in-douglas-sirks-color-designs/
Elsaesser, T. (1987) “Tales of Sound and Fury” in Christine Gledhill (ed) Home is Where the Heart Is, London: BFI Publishing: 43-69.
Merritt, R. (2008) “Crying in Color: How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died,” Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive 2, n.2/3: 1-16.
Salt, B. (1992) Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis, Second Edition, London: Starword.”
(Higgins, Scott (2013): Chromo-Drama. Innovation and Convention in Douglas Sirk’s Color Designs. In: Brown, Simon; Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz: Color and the Moving Image. History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 170-178.)
“Color is slowly but surely conquering film. And the sophisms are collapsing one by one. “Color’s fine, but only for certain subjects,” they proclaimed ten, even five years ago. Today who would maintain that color is less at home in a modern setting than in an ancient one, in a civilized setting than in an exotic one, in a serious setting than in a comic one, in realism than in the fantastic? Go see Rear Window, The Barefoot Contessa, A Star Is Born, to name only recent films. The thriller draws as many effects from the hotel room’s red carpet as does the western from the vague green of the prairie; and the moralist will be better able to scrutinize faces, washed of their wan masks, even if he cannot detect every fleeting blush or pallor.
If certain films, among the best and the most ambitious, continue to be shot in black and white, it is not because color doesn’t suit them but because they are not suitable for color, that their very ambition forces them to limit their estimates. To claim that they would have gained nothing from color doesn’t make much sense, because we don’t know what effects the director would have achieved. We see, on the other hand, what other films would have lost had they been in black and white.
This is why I divide the best color films to date into two categories. On the one hand, those that we remember for their harmony, their general tonality, in which the director, the set designer, the costume designer, and the photographer wanted to create a work, if not of painters, at least of men sensitive to pictorial matters. Gate of Hell (Jigoku-mon), Romeo and Juliet, and Lola Montès had hardly any trouble being recognized for their merits. Color is an additional refinement, a luxury, which, for these luxurious subjects, is almost a necessity: It touches, it underlines, it substantiates the dramatic texture, yet it is never its only source. In the second category, on the other hand, color is occasionally, but then unquestionably, in charge. These films haunt us not so much because of their overall climate as because of the power of certain details, of certain colored objects: Harriet’s blue dress in The River or the green one belonging to the “lonely heart” in Rear Window. It is not enough for a blue or a green to bolster the film’s expression; they bring with them new ideas, their presence at a specific moment evokes an emotion sui generis.
I vote for this second concept, because it is, if I may say so, positive. We’ve accepted color. Good. Let’s do more, let’s welcome it. It is still too often the case that we recognize it only negatively. Let’s consider what it brings, not what it doesn’t destroy when mastered. Let’s simply count the film effects that color alone makes possible. I know that they can be counted on one’s fingers, but they exist.
Nine out of ten people who have seen To Catch a Thief will talk about the famous “cigarette in the egg” shot. Would Hitchcock have conceived this very effective gag in black and white?1 No, of course not, and yet if you think about it, what does color have to do with it? Its not the yellow as such, but the egg yolk itself that produces this effect on us, funny for some, powerful enough to nauseate others.
But, and this is the crux of the matter, without its color, this egg is only partially an egg. It exists fully only in color. It is only in color that cinematic expression attains absolute realism. We find this egg, almost as conspicuously placed, in a very recent still life that is greatly esteemed by our young painters. But in all honesty, is it the same egg? This first one existed only through color; Buffet’s egg lives only for it. Modern painting’s great idea is to have given color a life of its own, or at least to have made it the absolute ruler of the canvas, the supreme value. For van Gogh, Cézanne, or Matisse, the sky is blue before it is sky. The green of a fruit spills onto a table, or to a face, if harmony so demands. The painter has intentionally over- thrown the barriers separating the three natural kingdoms: animal, vegetable, and mineral. Only the greatest have been able to resuscitate them by an artifice that is no longer academic, to express the “substance” without the use of “relief,” like depth without the use of ordinary perspective.
What was a paradox in Manet’s time is merely commonplace today. The modern schools, and perhaps one hundred years of black-and-white photography, have taught us to distinguish “value” from “nuance.” We know, as Gauguin, I think, said, that oranges are brighter more “orange,” when the weather is gray. We have learned to see like painters. Is this way of seeing suitable for the screen? “You liked To Catch a Thief,” someone said to me! “All those picture postcard shots! And the costume ball,” my interlocutor, a man of good taste and an esteemed painter to boot, added. “What unbearable disorder! I could see that loud colors were in!” Such objections leave you dumbfounded! How can you not consider your adversary to be right, to admit that, in fact, you had hardly thought about it, in short, that you were too easily taken in?
Does cinema lead us beyond the norms of good and bad taste? Might it be in every way an art such as the art of Epinal, whose vulgarity must be accepted or rejected as a whole? I don’t believe that, either; If we do not notice certain discordances on the screen, it is not that our senses have been dulled but that we view them with a different eye than we would a painting. In the film in question, I did not notice the picture postcard images any more than I notice them when I walk from Cannes to Menton (the landscapes make me think more of Matisse, Dufy, or Bonnard). Don’t misunderstand me. The screen is not reality, but it is even less a painting; it must be approached from a different angle. The concert goer is disappointed by records, but the record lover is also disappointed by concerts. Whoever hears a recording on FM might think that his radio is poorly tuned. This true sound seems loud and impure to him. Little by little, he purifies it, forgets the noise, and retains only the harmony.
So it is with color in film. Our eye is used to toning down naturally violent shades. It must learn to purify the screen, just as it purifies reality. If, by an excess of taste or attention, we make this purification unnecessary, we may tarnish the object’s natural brilliancy which the camera recreates very well on its own; we would betray reality without even managing to create art.
Beware of filters, of chemical toning, and of all other tricks. There is a kind of intensity belonging to the raw image that we must respect. Photography’s ability to show objects spontaneously is something very precious, and we should play on it. One emulsion may be more sensitive to the yellow of a flower than to that of a rug, and vice versa. It may establish a difference between the two colors that the naked eye could not appreciate, but that the eye will find later. Film, just like museums, teaches us to see. There is no shame in taking lessons, even under such an unassuming master.
Let’s believe Jean Renoir when he tells us: “I’m convinced that our profession is that of a photographer. If we arrive at a set saying, ‘I want to be Rubens or Matisse,’ I’m sure that we will wind up making huge mistakes.”
So what if there is a bit of ingenuousness in this declaration! Renoir is free to love painting, even to owe the reliability of his taste to its familiarity. I would like to believe that the two conceptions, that of the painter and that of the filmmaker, are not irreconcilable.
To the mob of tasteful people, to which we can only be flattered to belong, color seems unsuitable for the screen. But not too long ago, it was all film that they almost unanimously condemned. They condemn it still, wanting, with undue pretension, to impose on it their tastes and their colors.
1 The black-and-white equivalent is the jar of cream in which the English tourist in Rebecca puts out her cigarette.”
(Rohmer, Eric (1989): Of Taste and Colors. In: Angela Dalle Vacche and Brian Price (eds.): Color. The Film Reader. New York, London: Routledge, pp. 121-125.)
Bonnie and Clyde (USA 1967, Arthur Penn)
“In his 1985 book on Cinema and Technology, Steve Neale made three essential points about the use of colour in films. First, that colour had a dialectical function. Initially, Hollywood regarded colour as something associated with spectacle – in the 1930s and ’40s it was normally reserved for fantasies, musicals and epics. But the emergence of colour television, with its documentaries and coverage of news, began to establish a new linkage between colour and realism. Two different and competing discourses consequendy came to exist in relation to colour in films: nature/realism on the one hand and spectacle/art on the other. Second, Neale argued that the female body – itself seen within a patriarchal society as an expression of both nature and artifice – crosses the gap created by colour’s ambiguity. It offers both realism and spectacle, simultaneously positioning the female as subject (she contains, is, the holder of the erotic) and object (she is the one to be looked at). As the subject, she has agency; as the object, she is passive. Third, following Julia Kristeva, Neale saw colour as possessing the power and capacity to subvert. It was, he wrote, “capable of shattering the rules and laws to which it may be subject in any particular pictorial or cultural system.”8
In the remainder of this chapter, the relevance of Neale’s theories of colour will be examined in relation to the opening scenes of one landmark film of the 1960s: Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, first released in 1967. The first usages of “colour” at the beginning of the film are the thirty-two sepia photographs that alternate with the credits. There is no actual single colour known as sepia – the term itself refers to a range of yellow and brown mixtures. Over the last century or so, we have come to associate sepia images with the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, especially, photographs of the “Old West” or flashbacks in films. Images of this kind convey a sense of how the past “really” was. Ironically, however, antique sepia photographs themselves are simply the result of faded chemicals used in the processes of developing and printing. To reproduce sepia photographs, as used in Bonnie and Clyde, requires the use of a process very similar to the tinting of motion pictures mentioned at the start of this chapter. Evoking nostalgia and “pastness,” therefore, is very much the result of an artificial photographic technique. Equally artificial is the progression in the groups of photographs used. The first fourteen are period photographs of farm families of the Depression era, very close to the style of such photographers of the time as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. The next sixteen are actual photographs of Bonnie, Clyde and their gang. These become steadily more and more violent in character. Then, finally, shots of the real Bonnie and Clyde segue into two half-frame shots of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway playing Bonnie and Clyde. The whole series, constantly broken up by credits and the click of a camera shutter, seamlessly connects the main characters of the film to the people on whom they were based and to the era of the Thirties Depression.
After the credit sequence is over, there is no traditional establishing shot. Instead, we see an extreme close-up of a woman’s lips while she applies lipstick, and then licks them to add moisture. After this Citizen Kane/”Rosebud”-style shot, albeit this time in colour, the camera pulls back a little to show Faye Dunaway looking at her face in the mirror. If the credit sequence has placed us in the past, this shot – emphasising the modernity of Dunaway’s make-up and hair-style – subverts the assumption that this is to be a film about history. Dunaway then smiles, looks at herself more closely in the mirror, and almost kisses her own image. While this “New Wave”-type mirror sequence is being shown, one aspect of it demonstrates Director of Photography Burnett Guffey’s desire to create (as he later claimed) “the atmosphere of realism that was wanted.” The closer Dunaway’s face comes to the mirror, the more it is thrown into shadow. As Guffey later claimed, “no concessions were made for her lighting-wise. If a light source was established as coming from the side, I let it hit her from the side, with the other half of her face going dark.” To Guffey, this type of shot had a “raw…’documentary’” quality that “looks real all the way through.”9
The problem is that if the first colour shots of Dunaway fit Neale’s discourse of realism/nature, the next few shots express much more the art/spectacle discourse that opposes it. As she stands up and moves away from the mirror, it is suggested (but not actually proved) that she is naked. 1967 was a curious moment in time: one regime of Hollywood self-regulation (the Production Code) had clearly lapsed, but the ratings system that would take its place would not be introduced until 1968. Mainstream American film-makers in 1967 challenged the Hays Code by signifying female nudity, but without actually taking too many risks. As cinematographer Robert Surtees explained of The Graduate, released in the same year as Bonnie and Clyde:
director [Mike] Nichols had me photograph Ann Bancroft in a close-up, a simple head and shoulder shot. She stepped out of the camera and an artist’s model took her place. Nichols then had me make very close inserts of the model’s bare skin (her back, the fleshy part of her thigh). When in the editing these inserts were intermingled as “subliminal flashes,” with the big close-up of Bancroft, and with cuts back-&-forth to [Dustin] Hoffman’s wide-eyed reactions, the audience believed it had seen a nude woman.10
A variant of this technique – particularly focusing on Dunaway’s bare back and shoulders – was used to suggest that she was naked in her bedroom at the beginning of Bonnie and Clyde.
Colour – in the bedroom shots – was used to tantalize the spectator, to turn Dunaway’s body into an object of desire, to emphasise Neale’s point that women could offer both realism and spectacle. By repeated restrictive shots of her back and shoulders – not to mention the shot of her running downstairs – it helped convince many movie-goers that they were seeing much more than was really the case. One man who was especially disturbed by this was Father Sullivan of the Catholic Legion of Decency. Even though the Legion itself, by 1967, had lost nearly all its influence, the film’s producers still felt it advisable to show it to Sullivan before it was put on general release. But Sullivan became possibly a little too excited by what he saw – or thought he saw – in the film. He swore that Faye Dunaway was wearing no panties when she ran down the stain. And, as Warren Beatty remembered it, “He kept running the film back and forth, saying, ‘Oh, no, that’s her breast!’ And we’d say, ‘No, Father, it’s just her dress, it’s silk.’ And he’d say, ‘No, no, I see her breast! Wait, I think I see a nipple!’ We’d say, ‘No, no, that’s just a button.’”11
The fact that Father Sullivan focused on discrete body parts was completely in the tradition of the Production Code of 1930, which prescribed those parts that could not be shown. What he obviously failed to understand (or possibly understood all too well?) was the much greater eroticism that colour brought to the screen. That eroticism is on display at several moments in the opening sequences of the film: the moment when Bonnie, wearing full 1960s eye makeup, seems about to kiss her own image in the mirror; the shot of her laying down on her bed, lashing out with her hand in frustration at the frame; the image of her sucking the head of the Coke bottle; and, perhaps most disturbing of all, the moment when she touches and strokes in fascination the shiny metal of Clyde’s gun. What the use of colour in all of these cases does is to emphasise the sexual politics of the new relationship between Bonnie and Clyde. It is Bonnie’s frustration and boredom that make her, at least in the opening sequences, the dominant partner. The very first words she uses to address Clyde are both superior and patronizing: “Hey, boy.” She simply orders him to wait while she dresses and races downstairs. Once in the street, she teases him with a kind of assumed “Southern belle”-type behavior (as the dialogue quickly establishes, Bonnie is in reality at this point a waitress). She is, as Nancy Cott points out, “intrigued, not intimidated, by Clyde’s admission that he has recendy spent time in prison for armed robbery.”12 And, most crucially of all, she taunts him over his gun – “You wouldn’t have the gumption to use it” – provoking him to commit the first robbery that will cement their partnership.
In this opening sequence, colour reinforces the film’s ideological message, which itself is linked to the changing society and culture of the 1960s. Bonnie and Clyde appeared four years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 required that women be paid the same as men for doing the same work – the same year in which Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. It was released three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964; included “sex” in its blanket ban on discrimination. One year before it appeared, the National Organization of Women was formed. The movement for Women’s Liberation was already challenging patriarchal dominance and the established practices of a male-dominated society.13 In the way Bonnie and Clyde represented Bonnie herself, it demonstrated the truth of Neale s dictum that colour could be used as a means of bringing together realism and spectacle. But in also showing Bonnie as very much a ‘sixties’ woman – in terms of makeup and hair-style – and in simultaneously conferring power and agency upon her, it simultaneously helped emphasise the truth of Neale’s final point: that colour could be used as a means of subverting existing social and cultural practices.
8 Steve Neale, Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Colour, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985, pp. 109,151-58, quotation from 158.
9 Herb A. Lightman, “Raw Cinematic Realism in the Photography of Bonnie and Clyde,” American Cinematographer, vol. 84, no. 4 (April 1967), p. 255.
10 Robert L. Surtees, “The Graduate‘s Photography,” Films in Review (1968), p. 91.
11 Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bull, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998, p. 35.
12 Nancy Cott, “Bonnie and Clyde,” in Mark C. Carnes, ed., Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, London: Cassell, 1996, p.
13 On the feminist background to the film, see Cott, “Bonnie and Clyde,” p. 222.”
(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 pp. 188–191.)
The Red Desert (FRA/ITA 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)
“One of the most obvious ways in which colour draws attention to itself, is by being used unpredictably, where it is not expected. Clearly this non-realistic use overlaps significantly with fantasy and/or psychological realism in film. Nevertheless, colour which is determinedly foregrounded frustrates any attempt at ‘decoding’, because it obliges us to recognise its identity as colour, as an entirely independent and unlimited signifier. In this way, colour can create a new sense of ambiguity and open-endedness. One well-known example of colour used in such a manner is The Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964), in which the countryside around Ravenna is represented in striking, non-naturalistic colours, partly to reflect the growing industrialization and consequent destruction of the environment, partly to articulate the dislocated, alienated perspective of its protagonist, but primarily to draw attention to itself, to make a visual statement that demands increasingly deeper and more complex responses. By presenting the viewer with conspicuously artificial colours, achieved through the use of filters as well as by actually applying paint directly onto the trees, grass, and sand where he was filming, Antonioni is able to obtain the precise shades and textures he desires, and is in no way constrained by the need to reflect an external reality. In this way, he invokes a creative process in which reality itself is changed by the act of filming so that it becomes an artefact, a denaturalized form of nature. Thus, Antonioni knowingly foregrounds the complexities of colour perception, and the result is a film whose very subject is colour (Mast, 295).
For Antonioni, this approach to colour is fundamentally ‘liberating’, not only because it releases him from the constraints of realism, but also because, of its significant impact upon the nature of filmic discourse. Far from merely supporting the image, as in classical narrative, colour functions here as a dominant signifier in its own right, a signifier which is both ambiguous and open ended, as we have seen, continually changing its ‘meanings’ according to its spatial and temporal context, and to the creative response of each spectator. Antonioni’s use of colour, therefore, effectively illustrates the way that filmic colour can aspire to the condition of music.
Once the semiological independence of colour is established, it is important to recognize ways in which it may be used to modify filmic space and time. In this context, it is important to refer to Deleuze’s writings on cinema, specifically his exploration, in Cinéma 1 – L’Image movement (1983) – of the role of colour in the creation of what, quoting Pascal Augé, he terms ‘un espace quelconque’ (Deleuze, 154). As the space of the possible, the ‘espace de conjonction virtuelle, saisi comme pur lieu du possible’ (Deleuze, 155), Deleuze’s ‘espace quelconque’ is characterized by its ability to escape the spatial and temporal determinations of the screen, and by the unlimited creative potential that results. In answer to the question of how such a space can be created in film, Deleuze proposes three possibilities, of which the use of pure colour is the third. However, it is worth noting that the other two (the sustained struggle between light and shadow – as in Expressionism or lyrical abstraction – and the abstract play of light on white), could equally be approached as forms of colour (Deleuze, 165). It is clear that Deleuze is above all interested in the independent identity of colour as surface – in other words – its fundamental abstraction, for it is this quality, l’espace-couleur du colorisme’, that affords it the ability to absorb all the objects on screen, to become ‘the affect itself, thus irrevocably liberating it from its traditional secondary role of mimesis or symbolism (Deleuze, 166). The significance of this reading for a rethinking of filmic colour is evident.
In his taxonomy of colour, Deleuze subdivides colour images into three basic categories: ‘couleur-surface’, ‘couleur-atmosphérique’, and ‘couleur-mouvement’, arguing that of these, only the third (colour as movement), is specific to cinema, the other two being, on the whole, characteristics of static painting. In his opinion, therefore, it is film’s unique quality of movement that so increases the absorbent function of colour, its striking potential to reduce to abstraction the visual images it encounters. We have already examined the way that, in The Red Desert, colour creates an empty filmic space and, by absorbing and undermining the identity of visual images, sets up an abstract, open-ended, and challenging form of narrative (1983: 168). However, looking at colour in these terms is fascinating for a whole range of other reasons as well.
Deleuze, G., Cinema 1 – L’Image mouvement, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1983.
Mast, G., A Short History of the Movies, London: Oxford University Press, 1985.”
(Everett, Wendy (2009): Colour in Cinema. A Musical Phenomenon? In: Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard (ed.): Cinéma et couleur. Paris: M. Houdiard, pp. 347–357, on pp. 351–352.)
“Technicolor adjusted as best it could. Its lab processed a great deal of Eastman negative and often made release prints by its color-separation method. It eventually adapted its imbibition method to widescreen needs; Technicolor designed printers that could make films in any format. Moreover, until the 1960s, Technicolor was the only Hollywood laboratory with the capacity to process and print 65mm and 70mm gauges. The firm also introduced electronic print timing and a (short-lived) anamorphic process of its own, Technirama. None the less, Technicolor’s use in motion pictures declined. In 1947, 90 per cent of 35mm color was Technicolor; ten years later, the firm met only half the industry’s color needs. After 1953, Technicolor operated as primarily a laboratory and a research firm (working for television, NASA, and the military).25
Technicolor’s future was settled when Eastman entered the 35mm color market. A specialized firm concentrating on short-term and small-scale problems could not compete effectively with the basic-research program of Eastman Kodak.
25 Jackson J. Rose, American Cinematographer Handbook and Reference Guide, ninth ed. (Hollywood: American Cinematographer, 1956), p. 59; ‘Closeups,’ AC, 35, no. 3 (March 1954): 122; Herbert T. Kalmus, ‘President’s message,’ Technicolor News and Views, 15, no. 2 (November 1953): 2; Lloyd Thompson, ‘Progress Committee Report for 1959,’ JSMPTE, 69, no. 5 (May 1960): 302; ‘Technicolor improves color printing process,’ IPro, 30, no. 5 (May 1956): 14; Lowell A. Bodger, ‘Ultra-wide screen systems,’ AC, 43, no. 7 (July 1962): 441; Basten, Glorious Technicolor, pp. 156-9, 197; Bob Allen, ‘Wide screen production picking up,’ IP, 33, no. 11 (November 1961): 222.”
(Bordwell, David; Staiger, Janet; Thompson, Kristin (1985): The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. London: Routledge, on p. 357.)
“Dave Davis was born in South Wales in 1921. After serving in the artillery in World War II he joined the Technicolor Labs in Denham in 1946 working in the administration side of the labs, taking care of customers’ requirements. He worked for Technicolor for thirty years, ultimately becoming production controller and then production supervisor. In this capacity Davis developed a system for organising the enormous volume of print jobs which the labs handled every day.
EXTRACTS PERTAINING TO COLOUR FROM BECTU INTERVIEW NO. 230
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 27 NOVEMBER 1991
INTERVIEWERS: ALAN LAWSON AND SYD WILSON
DAVE DAVIS: We built a nucleus of what was production planning to try to get some order into, well it wasn’t chaos but there was certainly some disorder, and by about 1950, I suppose, we had really got it to a state where the laboratory did what we want rather than they did what they want because it was easier for them to print 100 prints of something rather than one, so it was a great battle to get them all trained and oriented, and all the instructions came from a production system log kept on paper.
We developed a record system of everything we wanted to make a Technicolor film, which was a bit different from a black-and-white lab. Things in Technicolor were all different, and you had to have certain things before you could start, and we gradually established a very, very good system of records. So when someone wanted to make a print we knew where everything was and where it could be obtained from.
I had a schedule on my desk, which covered a year’s work. At the height of cinema, at its peak in the 1960s, it covered a year from January to January, and on one side of the schedule it had all the distributors. I had I remember British Lion, Columbia, Disney, Eagle Eye, MGM, RKO, Twentieth Century-Fox, Warners and all the others. We knew, for example, that a picture would be on release in May of that year. So, we would pencil in the amount of footage that would be needed to make that number of prints, and in those days the initial order for this country was fifty prints, and they covered generally the north London release and all the Odeons and ABCs. They started off with fifty prints and those went then south of the river for the next week and then they dispersed all over the country. There was always an initial order for fifty prints for export which went everywhere where they spoke English except North America, because we made prints for the world except America, which were made in Technicolor Hollywood. We also knew that that picture would be dubbed in French, German, Italian and Spanish – they were the four – and we would be told that dubbing would be off the tracks. These dub tracks would be available on such a date, so we would then put those things into our schedule.
A good picture could also be dubbed into Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, whatever, so all this information was sent to us and was put onto this large schedule, and we could say to anyone, ‘We’re full up therefore you can have your copies then’, or ‘You can have your copies now, but we’ll have to move something out’, and there was this constant juggling.
The yearly schedule was broken down to a monthly, weekly and daily, almost to a machine schedule, so that the man on that printer was given that work to do. In the old days they used to go and get work, and they used to sort it out; they’d take this, but they didn’t do that. They had to do what you gave them and it took a long time to break down this feeling of being told what to do, but eventually we won. In the end we were doing things almost on demand. If a guy rang up and said, ‘Look, there’s the Bijou in Bolton and the projector’s messed it up and reel four is scratched from head to toe. Can you help me?’ And I would say, ‘Certainly’, and I would be able, in hours, to produce a reel four to get back to that cinema, but it took ten or twelve years of battering, before it got to that state.
What do you need to make a Technicolor film? Well, you need a matrix first of all, and this is where it differs from everything else, because you don’t need a negative, you need a matrix, which has got three colour records: that’s yellow, cyan and magenta, and you need a soundtrack and you need a matt loop. Now the matt loop was a little loop of film which prints the black spaces between the frames. You would give a guy the soundtrack and the matt loop, and he would take some positive film. He would then print the number of reels required and each reel had a document called a route sheet, which had all the information on it which he required technically. This route sheet followed the can of film through the process. Because the blank film went in one end of the machine and the matrices went in the other machine, they had to be separated. Each subject was given a production number. When I left we were up in about 22,000, I think. We had records of all those. To make a print for another country involved making another version of the film, which may have been censored according to the anticipated reception of certain aspects of it, and which would have a different soundtrack. Thus the production of a print for screening in another country involved additional and, or, substitutive procedures: an additional reel of film called a ‘main, additional and inserts’ would be produced, whereby titles and printed text in the film would be redrawn and rephotographed in a different language to cover all the changes that needed to be made. A positive assembling operator would make a print of the film with all the required and relevant changes.
Over 1,500 features and between 2,000 and 3,000 cartoons were available on demand at any one time. People used to ring me to find out what I had of their material because our system was so good. The record system was amended continually so that it was possible to track each print; to locate who had had what print, at what date, what cuts had been made to comply to the requirements of the censor, what pictures couldn’t be sold and where. All this stuff, from 1938 right up until the day I left, was available and, although many people tried to get rid of it, nobody ever did. It was always there and …
ALAN LAWSON: Why would they want to get rid of it?
DD: Well, because people didn’t understand you see. They had peculiar people come. The sort of whiz kids who had done business courses and looked at all this paperwork and said ‘Christ, we don’t need all this’ and I would say, ‘Yes, you do, because tomorrow someone is going to sell a print to Italian television and we would have to know where it all is’, and they’d say, ‘Why do you do all that?’ ‘Because without doing this, you can’t make the print for them.’ ‘Ahh,’ they’d say, ‘we’d better keep it.’ There’s a huge amount of knowledge which people who go to the cinema don’t even begin to suspect that goes to make a Technicolor print.
There was a competition between Eastmancolor and Technicolor dye transfer, because the facilities we were getting in the 1960s came sort of half and half. We got half of matrices and half of colour reversals, and the balance of the production schedule moved from being completely dye transfer to probably half Eastmancolor. Although we did all the scheduling, well with Eastmancolor, it wasn’t as complicated because you didn’t have backgrounds and things like that, and you couldn’t use overlays on printers, so all the things that made good films – the Rolls Royces of the industry – you could do. You had to photograph completely new bits of title into the film if you wanted to change it, and gradually with more people on the continent and over the world speaking English, more and more prints were shown in its [sic] English version.
In this era (1970s–), films were sent out to Ideal Film Laboratories to have subtitles added. If a customer didn’t want to go to the expense of an overlay, by photographing them, they would send them to Ideal Film Laboratories and they used to use an acid and etch in the titles. From our point of view it wasn’t very good because it wasn’t terribly efficient in the way that a lot of the titles never used to come out, so when you were running through the reel of film, and you suddenly miss a few titles, we were forever making little bits of film to cut into reels so that they can title it. The worse thing in the Technicolor process was to make thirty feet of film because the effort to make thirty feet of film in the middle of a reel was an absolutely complete timewaster because of the problems of getting it in synch with the picture and the track
SYD WILSON: What you used to have to do was to print a short piece of matrix to cover the sections required and then make it up with blank leaders to make a complete full reel length and then run that full reel length on the dye-transfer machine.
AL: Wasn’t one of the problems though, it always is with the etching of subtitles, that they were being etched onto the wrong type of background anyway?
SW: Sometimes the etch didn’t really sink in deep enough to take away all the emulsion and you had these fuzzy-looking things
DD: On Tales of Hoffmann we listed the variations in the versions of that film which covered thirty-one pages of thirty-column analysis paper, and to anyone who was into Technicolor from thirty pages of analysis paper with thirty columns, you can make thirty or more different varieties of Tales of Hoffmann. Sometimes all of it was dubbed; sometimes bits of it were dubbed, sometimes it was subtitled, sometimes they sang in French, sometimes in English. You name it, you had it. Some bits were deleted, some acts were deleted, but one day it got so complicated that we sat down and we put all the information on this one sheet of thirty-column analysis to know that every part of the world had a different variety of Tales of Hoffmann. It was one of our prize possessions.
SW: With the Technicolor process, if you didn’t like what you saw on the film, you were able to take the image right off in what we called ‘reclaim-it’ and then do the dye transfer again and put it back on so, where Dave said people used to come in and say, ‘You’ve got the wrong title on here’, they’d send the track back and then Dave had to schedule it through the reclaim to get it done.
DD: In the early days it came off the machine, it was taken to a projector and it was rewound and projected next to a reference print, which you had to match within certain tolerance. And in addition to that, the viewers could pick up defects like bits of dirt. I have seen people with a roll, 1,800 feet of film, with a little paint brush and a little jar of carbon take every bit of dust, dirt, sludge off that matrix because you couldn’t show it to people because it had got little black marks all over it, because the matrix was really alive. It had material in there. Although they were dried before they were put away, because they’d do a print of Four Feathers and you’d use your matrix, and you’d rewind it, and you might not use it again for a year if you’d no requirement. It would stay in its can. Now, if that film wasn’t dry when it went away, and it was damp with the heat and the compression of the thing, that used to create what are enzymes, which is what your biological washing powder uses to get rid of the dirt.
SW: What happened was that minute spots of water formed on the matrix when it was rolled up. Within the water there was algae and the algae used to gradually eat into the emulsion, so if you got round spots which we used to call mottled, there was actually nothing you could do about it because it had actually eaten the emulsion away.
DD: Right, so you had to make a new matrix, you see, and if you look at television today, I mean, I have this as one of my hobbies, but I know that I can see mottle on an old Technicolor print. If you see something like snow, only little bits coming suddenly and you get your little things and you say, ‘Look at that, that’s mottle’ and you know how old the print is as well.
SW: Quite often it’s coloured, of course, because it’ll eat into one of the particular matrices.
DD: They had the computer people down for a long, long time and they came up with things which they had done in engineering factories which you could never apply to Technicolor because it was always different. Well, I mean, you could make a screw, and make the computer for it, and that programme would do any screw thing, but they couldn’t bring anything to Technicolor because everything was different; the language was different, the technicalities was [sic] different, and there was so much of it. There were so many things in use in one day throughout the plant. There would be 2-3,000 separate bits of film in various stages of being worked at during the day and I spent a lot of time with the computer people telling them what was involved but they could never come up with a programme that worked and it was abandoned for some years. Then suddenly, in about 1983 or 1984, I was probably in Sainsbury’s or somewhere, and I saw all these different beans, and cans of butter and pineapple chunks, all going through, and all being put on a computer and registering, and I thought, well, if that can be done there, then we can put all the thousands of bits of film we’ve got in Technicolor onto a computer using the original production number. So we had a string of figures which would tell you the subject, the name, the title of the film, the version of the track, the version of the picture, how long it was, whether it had any censor cuts and you could then produce it. Say, if you take Dr No (1962), which had five large reels and a little reel in a print and you are making 300 copies, so you’ve got 1,500 big reels and whatever in little ones. Now in Technicolor, each one of those cans has to have an instruction on it to what the man is to do. The first man to get it was the printer, who printed the soundtrack on it, and when he did his little bit, he filled it in and passed it on. Well, originally all those were done by hand; there was a girl there, or two girls, and all they did all day was to write out the route by hand, laboriously, and that route sheet was about 6 by 4, and it was perforated, had three sections and in the old days they were interlevered carbon by hand. Through this system, they were able to track which orders had been printed, which had been shipped, which they were unable to complete because they had sections missing.
The path of the film through a dye-transfer machine, from where we’d put it on at one end and took it off at the other end, and it was regulated by pulleys that went up and down. You had a minimum footage when the pulley was right up the top of about 1,650 ft, and the maximum of when they were down the bottom of about 1,920 ft. Now, most reels of film, double reels of film, fall within that category, and all these things were coming off singly [one reel at a time], and then one day we thought, ‘What would happen if we joined it and made a loop out of it?” If you joined the head to the tail together, and make it just go round and round fifty times, if you wanted fifty, and that worked.
However, if you got a reel of film which was 1,584 ft long, you couldn’t use that so we said, ‘Well, why don’t we put a trailer on it, or something, and make it up to the length?’ ‘Oh well, you can’t do that, this is different and the technique’s different and you’ll have problems with the synch’ and we said, ‘OK, well, let’s try it. Let’s take a ten-print order, and waste a bit of film and see if it works.’ So, we took a reel of film which was 1,540 ft long, and a trailer which was 220 ft long, joined both matrices together, joined both backs together, made them into the loop and that went round, and we found out we could do ten reels and ten trailers at the same time.
Every West End copy was selected. When I say ‘was selected’, all the colours went one way. You can say that, if that apple is half a point green that way, and another apple is half a point green that way, then they don’t look the same, so what we call premier, and standby copies and trade copies, were always selected, but you couldn’t make a premier and standby copy from two prints because that would be impossible, because of the tolerance in the dyes between one and the other. But if you had a ten-print order, you could then from ten-prints select two perfectly good copies. Now those copies didn’t have any splices in them, so you didn’t see any splices going through this and we used to do the centre titles and then the centre cuts and things, but my career was all to do with making cinema prints. I became a cinema veteran in 1978 after forty years, and I’ve been to every veterans’ dinner since.”
(Brown, Simon; Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (eds.) (2013): Interview. Dave Davis. In: British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 125–130.)
“Frank Littlejohn was born in Gillingham, Kent in October 1914. He won a scholarship to Southampton University, graduating with a degree in Physics in 1935. He saw an advertisement in the local paper saying that Technicolor Ltd was looking for young science graduates and joined the company in December 1936 in the negative control department. After serving in World War II he moved into positive control, rising to assistant plant superintendent in 1949 and plant superintendent in 1953. He became managing director in 1968, and was asked to resign in 1971 during a period of instability in the company, after which he went to work for Rank Film Labs.
EXTRACTS PERTAINING TO COLOUR FROM BECTU INTERVIEW NO. 91
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 13 JUNE 1989
INTERVIEWERS: ALAN LAWSON, ALF COOPER AND BERNARD HAPPÉ
FRANK LITTLEJOHN: I joined Technicolor in December 1936, on a very memorable day because I think three young graduates started on the same day. That was myself, Bernard Happé, who was very unique in so far as he eventually became one of the few technicians who became internationally known, and George Newton. His vocation really was teaching but he did two spells with us at Technicolor. He was a great mathematician and he had a very good knowledge of optics, so his contribution to Technicolor was absolutely fantastic. I’m afraid I’m the only one who made no contribution really.
BERNARD HAPPÉ: Nonsense.
FL: I worked in negative control and they were very early days indeed. The builders were still in occupation and it was some time before they got out so I spent my first weeks, months maybe, doing cleaning jobs; cleaning out tanks, cleaning up floors, cleaning walls. I became one of the best cleaners in the business.
The great thing about Technicolor was it was the company that brought science and technology to the film industry, it really was. The film industry really owes Technicolor an awful lot. Not only did it bring science and technology to the industry, but it brought some sort of order out of chaos too, eventually. The paperwork, well, Technicolor was very, very involved in setting the standards for the whole of the industry. It was a great company and, if it got off to a slow start, that was only to be expected. The original licence for Technicolor gave them rights to produce the prints for the United Kingdom and the British Empire plus ships that sail with the British flag. But there wasn’t much going by the way of business almost to the time war broke out. […]
FL: It wasn’t long after the war before it had become very popular. Everybody wanted Technicolor. Technicolor Hollywood just couldn’t cope. By that time, there was a tremendous backlog of colour films in America. Europe, which had seen no American or British films for all those years, was a ready market for the Americans, so many good friends of mine came over from America working for the big majors. You’d find that studios had made dubbed versions of their films and so there were many versions of existing films to be made and Technicolor Hollywood just couldn’t cope. Although it was never official, we were given the okay to make prints for Europe. So our licence, although never officially, extended, became a licence which enabled us to print virtually for anywhere. And of course, from that point on we talked of nothing but getting larger and we had some very interesting times.
BH: It was a period of continuous expansion because during the war, we had been restricted to the four original cameras and one original transfer machine [and] the four original matrix printers, which were becoming more and more overloaded, and although the speed of the transfer machine had been increased over those years, it was pretty clear that one transfer machine could never possibly cope. So from about 1946 onwards we had to think about more machines and the building that went with them.
AC: Frank, what did you come back as when you came out of the services?
FL: I came back as nothing. I was put into positive control [working] on matrix printers trying to change the way we modulated the light, which was very unsatisfactory. It had been done up until that time by resistances which changed the colour of the light so we were looking for different methods. I became plant superintendent and I began to disassociate myself from technical matters and became more and more interested in the commercial side of the business. I became assistant plant superintendent in 1949 and I became plant superintendent in 1953. Then it was the story of more and more work, more and more transfer machines until, I suppose it would be coming up now, to making all those cameras in England.
BH: As part of the expansion scheme on one side, we had to have more transfer machines and the buildings which went with them because a transfer machine requires space about 150 ft long and 25 ft wide, so you had to put those down in the corner and eventually we took three more transfer machines; a total of four. But in parallel with that was the demand for more colour photography and in 1948, it was agreed with enormous reluctance from America that Technicolor cameras should in fact be manufactured in this country. It was unprecedented and it was thought to be quite improper, and in fact in 1948 we had the first of the three-strip London-built or English-built Technicolor cameras. That multiplied the resources enormously. I think about a dozen were made, of which two were highspeed ones, and some of them eventually ended up in other places like the French operation, which was taking shape at that time. Of course, no sooner had we achieved this camera expansion in the early 1950s, than colour negative was looming on the horizon. And colour negative was making its impact from about 1953 onwards and by 1955 nobody wanted a Technicolor camera. So that made an enormous difference to the camera department, because for a generation they had had the monopoly of supplying the studios, running the cameras, maintaining the cameras, nightly servicing and all the rest of it, and all that suddenly disappeared.
AL: When you talk about the building of cameras in England, were they built at Technicolor?
FL: Oh, no.
AC: I know Ron Hill used to work with all those lens mounts on the camera.
BH: Newalls had the main contract but all the precision work, the movement and so on were in our own shop, but the big castings and complicated machine tools that had to be set up specifically for the purpose were subcontracted to Newalls.
AC: Had we built our Eastman Lab at that time?
BH: No, we hadn’t. We had a horrid period when we were caught technically seriously short by the fact that three-strip used black-and-white negatives and therefore could print on a particular matrix stock. When you come to colour negative, you couldn’t print matrices directly from it, so we had a horrid period when from each colour negative, production we had to make extractions, which in fact were effectively black-and-white separation negatives and print those on the same stock. It lasted the best part of a year. And Kodak were working on the three-colour sensitive matrix stocks about that time but that took quite a bit of time before that became acceptable. I suppose it wasn’t until about 1956.
FL: And once we got that facility and were making beautiful colour prints quite cheaply compared with the competition, the vogue then came for devoted cameramen to mess around with the colour. We had all sorts of strange things happening. I remember Moby Dick, where they wanted a sort of black-and-white tinted effect and we got to printing with a black-and-white grey for a while to get the effect John Huston wanted on that. We did a film with Ossie Morris called Moulin Rouge [in] which he shot everything through a fog filter and we were swamped with phone calls from all over the country from projectionists who couldn’t get their prints in focus.2 There was a film called Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), a Marlon Brando film, which started off as a colour film and finished up as a black-and-white film with a horrible green tinge to it.
BH: And of course just at that same time, which added to the excitement of everything, was a change of format. Because when Frank and I started, as everyone else had for umpteen years before that, there was only one 35mm size; nice straightforward Academy and you made your cameras and matrix printers and your transfer prints all to that particular characteristic. But when the availability of colour negative came along, then the floodgates were opened. CinemaScope was the one that started it all off. But the run that followed, we had literally, and it was literally, because I counted them on one occasion, forty-seven varieties of actual printing.
FL: These were interesting times actually because we were working on what I consider as the greatest film that’s ever been made and it was certainly the film that gave us all the greatest amount of trouble and that was Lawrence of Arabia (1962). It was one of the few that was made on 65mm with an optical squeeze and that was trouble from the very beginning and of course, it was on location a very, very long way away and so we had to wait for the negatives to come in.
I suppose we ought to mention that we used to get up to forty to fifty optical effects in each film and one of the greatest bottlenecks in the Technicolor department was in making the dupe negatives, which had to be cut in amongst the original negatives for all these jolly opticals. This was not only a very tiresome process and of course, the only rush prints we made were dye-transfer rush prints. So we had to make a master of the scene concerned, a negative of the scene concerned, a matrix of the scene concerned, and we had to get transfer of the scene concerned and then discover it wasn’t right and do the stuff all over again. Even really when we were doing Eastmancolor as a negative instead of three-strip, it remained a bottleneck and then it was, I suppose, that Syd Wilson came up with auto-opticals.
BH: Yes, that grew out of the A and B printing, which we did for a while on VistaVision. The opticals were done with A and B printing and I think it was Syd Wilson’s idea that you could in fact get rid of this A and B printing that was time-consuming and used up a lot of matrix printing time. You could in fact get such an effect if you built up a negative in such a way that your two scenes were there in the one roll and you automatically wound back between them. Now this was possible because matrix printing was always optical. You had to print your matrices optically to get the image in the right place and the right way round, and to make the necessary corrections according to size and shape. So we were brought up with optical printing, which meant that your negative and positive movements could be run independently. And I’m sure it was Syd who initiated the idea that, if you could keep running the negative, but in a period of comparatively short spacing, wind back automatically on the positive and reexpose again, you could get your optical. And that was the auto-optical and I think it was a brilliant idea.
AC: Was that the thing he won the Oscar for?
FL: Yes, he won the Oscar for, but of course, Hollywood shared the Oscar, although it was an English idea. We actually printed films like Lawrence of Arabia optically too. We had a 65mm to 70mm optical printer and all those prints of Lawrence of Arabia were optically printed, which people in Hollywood said was impossible, and all of them had auto-opticals for sure.
2 See the interview with Ossie Morris in this volume.”
(Brown, Simon; Street, Sarah; Watkins, Liz (eds.) (2013): Interview. Frank Littlejohn. In: British Colour Cinema. Practices and Theories. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 139–146, on pp. 141–146.)
“Au fil des années cinquante (je suis conscient de l’arbitraire de tels découpages, mais il s’agit de tracer les grandes lignes d’une évolution), la couleur semble se banaliser, à la fois parce qu’elle se répand, mais aussi parce que reflue l’esthétique de la saturation bariolée. La couleur est susceptible dès lors d’apparaître plus naturelle, plus réaliste, moins artificielle ou artistique. Y contribue le tournage en extérieurs non seulement de westerns comme Le Passage du canyon ou Au delà du Missouri avec le lyrisme épique de leurs paysages sublimes (vastes ciels, Rocheuses en neigées), mais aussi de comédies musicales comme Un Jour à New York (Donen et Kelly, 1949): on renoue ici, en quelque sorte, avec l’esthétique plus neutre de La Joyeuse suicidée. Y contribue encore l’apparition de l’écran large, qui libère le Technicolor de sa tendance à l’enluminure, aère l’image, force, davantage que le format standard, à poser la question du lien entre couleur et mouvement à l’intérieur du cadre.
Au contraire de ce qu’affirme Anne Hollander dans ses Moving Pictures, le cinéma des années cinquante se révèle souvent plus proche de la tradition italienne (notamment fresquiste) et d’un pictorialisme ample, que de la tradition flamande, avec son réalisme magique et méticuleux, sa combinaison du microscope et du télescope. C’est l’époque où, comme le proclame Hollywood s’autoparodiant dans La Belle de Moscou (Mamoulian, 1957, Metrocolor), les films doivent être tournés non seulement en “glorious Technicolor”, mais aussi en “CinemaScope à couper le souffle” et en “son stéréophonique”. La couleur n’est plus l’ornement principal. Elle se déploie dans un espace littéralement et métaphoriquement élargi qui invite, pour rester lisible, à la simplification chromatique et/ou cinétique. Le générique de Simon le pêcheur (Borzage, 1959) étale ses tons lie de vin à la manière d’une peinture murale romaine. Esquissé par la séquence de Waterloo dans Becky Sharp, avec le passage du bleu au rouge, illustré par le crescendo rouge du numéro d’Ann Miller dans Parade de printemps, l’emploi cinétique de la couleur est repris par exemple dans une scène de La Croisée des destins de Cukor (1955, Eastmancolor) où l’on voit, en plongée, “l’Inde éclore comme une fleur” lors de son accession à l’indépendance, une foule joyeuse d’enfants vêtus de blanc s’ouvrant en éventail et chassant diagonalement de l’écran les uniformes kaki des soldats pathans; de même, en dehors de Hollywood, dans le péplum de Cottafavi Messaline (1960), les tons apaisés, le bleu du christianisme, chassent les tons rutilants du paganisme romain. (Il est vrai que ce procédé ne fait en somme que reproduire en couleurs celui du blanchiment de l’écran par Griffith, à la fin de la Naissance d’une nation; d’ailleurs, les chevaliers de Richard Cœur de Lion, dans Robin des Bois et Ivanhoé, rappellent, au rouge près, les cavaliers du Klan chez Griffith.)
Jusque dans la fantaisie orientale, à l’esthétique toujours proche de la comédie musicale, la stylisation chromatique se fait plus douce, moins criarde, elle tempère le rouge par le rose, intègre costumes et accessoires noirs ou blancs, en même temps que l’espace filmique échappe au confinement du studio: on opposera à cet égard Les Aventures de Hadji (Don Weis, 1954; conseiller pour la couleur: George Hoyningen-Huene, qui collabora avec Cukor sur Une Étoile est née, La Croisée des destins, Les Girls) au Kismet réalisé dix ans plus tôt par Dieterle.
Dans le même temps où la couleur perd, par banalisation et fidélité croissante à la nature, quelque chose de sa distinction, certains cinéastes s’emploient à la réduire délibérément et comme arbitrairement. Une manière de nostalgie du bichrome ou des débuts du trichrome s’exprime là, qui bien sûr n’est pas un retour pur et simple aux schémas chromatiques primitifs, puisque cette nostalgie maîtrise les progrès techniques et les apports successifs de la couleur, mais avec la volonté, pour ainsi dire, de les tenir en bride. Il faut évoquer à cet égard Moby Dick de John Huston et Track of the Cat de William Wellman, qui fonctionnent de manière fort comparable.”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 114.) (in French)
Boom (GB 1986, Joseph Losey)
“Préparant Boom (1968), Losey insiste sur la nécessité de la couleur, mais c’est pour en jouer de manière complexe: contraste maximum entre le noir-et-blanc du décor naturel et les artefacts qu’y a plantés l’homme: “Il faut simplement que ce soit une île méditerranéenne dont la sévérité des formations volcaniques, avec leurs couleurs gris anthracite et blanc, leurs falaises et leur végétation étrange et éparse, puisse servir de décor aux villas couleur de crème glacée”; élimination des couleurs vives dans la garde-robe des personnages: “Dans toutes les scènes avec Goforth et Chris sur le continent, le noir et le blanc sont fortement contrastés. Goforth porte du blanc pendant tout le film, sauf pour son costume de kabuki, et une tenue noire. Chris porte du marron foncé et du noir pendant tout le film, avec deux nuances de marron différentes. Cela sera trop subtil pour qu’on le remarque, cela sera juste un effet. Les autres costumes seront généralement de teintes neutres et les tenues de soirée de Coward seront brun foncé”; accent mis sur le regard des personnages, selon un procédé qui reprend celui de Moby Dick: “J’espère que les couleurs les plus éclatantes et surprenantes du film seront les yeux de Burton et plus particulièrement ceux de Taylor que je veux utiliser en gros plan autant que possible, et aussi, évidemment, les couleurs variables de la mer.”11
11 Joseph Losey, lettres à Tennessee Williams et à Reginald Beck (monteur de Boom), in L’Œil du maître, textes réunis et présentés par Michel Ciment, Institut Lumière – Actes Sud, 1994, pp. 177, 164, 165.”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 115.) (in French)
Funny Face (USA 1957, Stanley Donen)
“La gamme des couleurs ostentatoires est explorée de manière quasi exhaustive dans Drôle de frimousse (1957), où Stanley Donen joue, avec une maîtrise et une élégance confondantes, de tous les artifices d’un chromatisme qui s’affiche comme triplement arbitraire, en liaison avec la comédie musicale, avec la haute couture (Givenchy) et avec la photographie de mode (Richard Avedon). Chaque fois, la couleur investit cinétiquement l’espace. Le slogan d’une styliste – “Think Pink” – se matérialise par le déploiement d’un long voile rose. Cette couleur un peu mièvre est bientôt contredite par le jaune vif des taxis “Yellow Cab”, puis du chapeau (jaune vif, orange vif, vert Pernod) avec lequel joue et danse Audrey Hepburn, emplissant de teintes claires et vives l’espace sombre de la librairie. Enfin, le rouge demeure la signature obligée du Technicolor, d’abord avec la muleta improvisée de Fred Astaire (une doublure d’imperméable rouge et bleue, composant une sorte de fuchsia pas très vif mais que font ressortir le mouvement et le contraste nocturne), et surtout avec la robe écarlate vêtue de laquelle Audrey Hepburn descend l’escalier de la Victoire de Samothrace, ses voiles battant comme les ailes d’un grand papillon à la Loie Fuller.”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 117.) (in French)
Heller in Pink Tights (USA 1960, George Cukor)
“Jusque dans un film entièrement en couleurs, une séquence explicitement bariolée constitue par là même un exemple de spectacle non narratif, s’apparentant à un intermède musical ou dansé: je pense a la scène de La Diablesse en collant rose (Cukor, 1960) où les Indiens, ayant pillé les chariots des comédiens ambulants, improvisent un carnaval, s’affublent de casques dorés (les mêmes exactement que portent les Philistins dans Samson et Dalila), saturent l’image de voiles multicolores, orangés, jaunes, mauves, bleus… Une fois encore, la couleur apparaît comme ornement, costume de scène tiré du magasin des accessoires, sans véritable lien avec la réalité quotidienne (on rapprochera la scène de Becky Sharp, où l’héroïne tire d’un coffre les vêtements et accessoires de théâtre qui ont appartenu à sa mère).”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 111.) (in French)
The Buccaneer (USA 1958, Anthony Quinn)
“Le procédé consistant à piquer, sur un fond éteint, ocre et vert, des taches isolées de couleur vive (rose, jaune, bleu, rouge), se retrouve jusque dans Les Boucaniers (DeMille, 1958). Il produit l’impression d’une esthétique pour ainsi dire plus graphique que véritablement cinématographique ou picturale. L’impression est aussi celle d’une gravure d’époque, d’une lithographie en couleurs de Currier et Ives. Curieusement, cet “archaïsme” demillien rencontre le procédé que John Huston utilise plus systématiquement et ostensiblement dans Moby Dick (1956).”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on pp. 112–113.) (in French)
Reflections in a Golden Eye (USA 1967, John Huston)
“Dans Reflets dans un œil d’or (1967), la règle générale consiste derechef à éliminer ou du moins à réduire les couleurs vives. Celles-ci sont le plus souvent clairement connotées comme des couleurs artificielles dont la fonction (association psychologique à tel personnage ou dramatique à tel moment de l’action) est d’autant plus expressive qu’elles sont employées rarement. Ainsi la couleur vive est-elle en priorité associée au personnage d’Elizabeth Taylor, qui porte du bleu, du mauve soutenu, un vert émeraude “scintillant”, et surtout du rouge vif (notamment dans la séquence du match de boxe, où elle constitue la seule tache de couleur parmi tous les spectateurs vêtus de beige, de brun, de tons éteints; lorsqu’elle se dénude pour provoquer son mari, un tapis rouge vif apparait comme un “flash” psychologique et dramatique). L’autre personnage féminin, interprété par Julie Harris, porte des couleurs claires et vives, mais moins agressives: bleu pâle, vert d’eau, un rose fuchsia moins vif que celui d’Elizabeth Taylor. Les militaires sont tous en beige, seuls ressortent leurs insignes, rouge et blanc cerclés de bleu clair, et les décorations multicolores de Pendleton (Marlon Brando).”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on pp. 115–116.) (in French)
Moby Dick (USA 1956, John Huston)
“Le procédé consistant à piquer, sur un fond éteint, ocre et vert, des taches isolées de couleur vive (rose, jaune, bleu, rouge), se retrouve jusque dans Les Boucaniers (DeMille, 1958). Il produit l’impression d’une esthétique pour ainsi dire plus graphique que véritablement cinématographique ou picturale. L’impression est aussi celle d’une gravure d’époque, d’une lithographie en couleurs de Currier et Ives. Curieusement, cet “archaïsme” demillien rencontre le procédé que John Huston utilise plus systématiquement et ostensiblement dans Moby Dick (1956).”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on pp. 112–113.) (in French)
Moby Dick (USA 1956, John Huston)
“Même jeu, à peu près, dans Moby Dick (1956), premier film à utiliser le procédé Technicolor désaturé, mais le principe est, d’emblée, celui du camaïeu ou de la sépia plutôt que du blanc et noir. Huston, selon le mot de Robert Benayoun, “poursuit ses expériences sur la couleur en obtenant un équivalent visuel de l’eau-forte”10, il revient, en quelque sorte, à une conception plus graphique que picturale de la couleur, visant à donner le sentiment moins de la réalité que d’une gravure d’époque. Les marrons et les gris bleutés dominent dans les intérieurs comme dans les extérieurs (ciel, mer). Ils se mêlent au noir des vêtements (les veuves dans la chapelle de New Bedford), au blanc des chemises des marins. De cet ensemble assez contrasté, au moins en ce qui concerne la tonalité, ne ressortent, très ponctuellement, que quelques taches de couleur vive, le plus souvent rouges: l’échelle de corde par laquelle Orson Welles monte à sa chaire en forme de hune, le drapeau du “Pequod”, son nom et sa figure de proue indienne (dans ces deux derniers cas, le jaune figure aux côtés du rouge), le sang de la première baleine, qui rougit/envahit brusquement mais brièvement 1 écran; le vert phosphorescent des feux Saint-Elme; occasionnellement, la langue jaune d’une flamme…
Le plus souvent, ces notations de couleur vive, qu’il s’agisse des éléments du “Pequod” ou des taches de sang, perdent bientôt leur éclat pour se ternir, se fondre dans le camaïeu de l’ensemble. A l’intérieur même du camaïeu, une évolution se dessine, de l’harmonie plus sombre (bistre/gris) de l’ouverture, où brillent par contraste les yeux extraordinairement bleus et lumineux de Richard Basehart, à la suite maritime, nécessairement plus claire, à dominante bleue/verte.
Cela montre, comme dans Track of the Cat, combien un tel parti chromatique est difficile à respecter. Le blouson rouge de Mitchum contraste, plus nettement que la flamme jaune, avec le paysage noir et blanc; il en va de même de l’œil bleu de Moby Dick, qui tranche moins nettement avec l’environnement maritime que les yeux de Basehart avec les intérieurs sombres du début. On en vient même à se demander si l’impression de monochrome n’est pas au moins en partie étayée sur des pilotis linguistiques, c’est-à-dire que certaines couleurs (le rouge, le jaune, le bleu…) sont faciles à nommer tandis que les nuances infinies du beige, du crème, de l’ocre, du bistre, des tons de chair, carnations et musculatures… n’évoquant pas une nomenclature précise, bien définie, sont ipso facto assimilées à un système plus ou moins monochrome, En ce sens, l’absence de couleur, dans Moby Dick comme dans Track of the Cat, serait plus ou moins l’absence de couleurs faciles à nommer.
10 Entrée “Huston”, Dictionnaire du cinéma américain, Larousse, 1988.”
(Bourget, Jean-Loup (1995): Esthétiques du Technicolor. In: Jacques Aumont (ed.): La couleur au cinéma. Mailand: Mazzotta, pp. 110–119, on p. 115.) (in French)
“TECHNICOLOR AND THE NEW SCREEN TECHNIQUES
Dr. Herbert T. Kalmus
At this time the world-wide motion picture industry is endeavoring to bring about a third point in its evolution. Sound was the first evolutionary point, color was the second and the third and present point is an attempt to achieve new effects by new photographic, laboratory and screen techniques. Some of these techniques are directed toward more complete illusions of depth by means of stereoscopy. Other techniques attempt to obtain greater audience participation by wide angle screens having various degrees of curvature. Some involve different arrangements of the spatial relationship of images and others include utilization of stereophonic sound, i.e., multiple sound originating at different points within the theatre.
These evolutionary points are not opposed. As sound and color mutually enhanced one another in the art of motion picture story telling, they will continue to benefit that art in the new screen techniques.
There seems to be little question that the new motion picture techniques, involving three-dimension and wide angle screens, are bringing the day of an all-color screen appreciably nearer. Even before the coming of the new techniques, the ever-increasing use of color was regarded as a natural progression. Now color becomes more important than ever.
The emphasis on 3-D and wide screen is in the interest of increased entertainment value. Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation takes the position that the new screen techniques can provide maximum entertainment value only by using color.
Historically speaking, stereoscopic or three-dimensional techniques are not new to Technicolor. Prints for pictures requiring red and green glasses were made by Technicolor in 1926, in its then current two color process. In 1936 Technicolor made prints for “Audioscopiks,” requiring the use of red and blue-green glasses. In 1940 Technicolor made three-dimensional, three-color motion picture prints which required viewing through polarizing glasses. These prints were shown by the Chrysler Corporation at the World’s Fair in New York. In addition, Technicolor followed the important work of Henri Chretien in the early 1930s, as well as the exploratory work done by Twentieth Century-Fox and others at that time. At present Technicolor is servicing the motion picture industry with color facilities for all techniques.
To date, neither Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation nor its affiliates have advocated any particular technique for creating an illusion of depth. Technicolor believes it is possible that some combination of the present systems may prove to be the ultimately accepted method for creating the new illusions.
The Technicolor three strip motion picture cameras have long been, and continue to be, an important factor in motion picture photography. Starting with negatives exposed in these cameras it is customary to make imbibition or dye transfer release prints from matrices printed from the negatives. This Technicolor camera continues to be available to the motion picture producer for use in stereoscopic, wide angle or flat screen photography.
More recently, there has been introduced into the color motion picture art the single strip color negative. The single strip color negative stock is exposed in an ordinary single strip motion picture camera which may be adapted for stereoscopic, wide angle or flat screen photography. The single strip color negative records three image aspects in color, in three emulsion layers, on a single strip film base. It has generally been thought that this type of negative was suited only for making color positive prints by the direct printing method.
An important contribution which Technicolor offers to the motion picture industry, at this time, is the ability to obtain Technicolor dye transfer prints from these single strip negatives, that is, greater flexibility. Technicolor has successfully developed new laboratory facilities and techniques which permit the motion picture producer to do his initial photography on color negative stock and then determine whether his release prints shall be manufactured by the direct printing method on positive stock or by the dye transfer method. Starting with color negative, it is now possible for Technicolor to manufacture release prints of either the direct positive type or the dye-transfer type. Both types have their advantages. But the particular advantage to the producer is that the dual choice gives him greater flexibility in his initial photography and subsequent decisions regarding print orders.”
(Kalmus, Herbert T. (1953): Technicolor and New Screen Techniques. In: Martin Quigley (ed.): New Screen Techniques. New York: Quigley, pp. 78–81.)
Il deserto rosso / The Red Desert (ITA 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)
“Attempts at a radically new and more complex use of color beyond that obtained from painting styles or glamorized or subdued naturalism (all of which can work in time as well as space) distinguish two films that address themselves to interpreting the psychological state of mind of two women through a style that employs color subjectively. Juliet of the Spirits (1965) turns the color camera inward to paint the fantasy world of a repressed wife whose psychic probing is incited by the unfaithfulness of her husband. Michelangelo Antonioni in Red Desert (1964) turns the color camera outward to depict the drab environment of a neurotic wife whose mental turmoil is brought about by an accident and the neglect of her self-centered husband.
As different as these two directors’ ways of approaching their subject is the range of color each uses to express his individual vision. Fellini employs bright hues and tints, highly decorative and visually stimulating, to paint a psychic wonderland that captures the sensations, fantasies, and exaggerations of the inhibited woman. His chromatic design is flamboyant and dazzling, emotionalizing the subjective explorations of the heroine’s moods and feelings with a kind of-baroque splendor and an intrinsically sensual appeal. Freudian fantasies, orgiastic visions, childhood fears, and epicene grotesques are transfigured in rich, glowing, color combinations and rococo settings that transcend the merely psychoanalytical and dazzle the senses with their extravagant effects and compositions. From the infinitely diversified blue-gray nocturnes in which the wife’s grandfather is seduced by a lady bareback rider, to the high-fashion art-nouveau tree house where every hue and tint is designed for impromptu lovemaking, the physical presence of color dynamizes this “fairy tale for adults,” as Fellini calls his picture, by serving as the artful device of erotic stimuli.
In contrast, Antonioni shows a relative barrenness of color. He calls upon a more rigorous, grayed-down palette to compose a somber wasteland that reflects the emptiness and morbidity of his character’s neurosis. His color style is directed at portraying not so much an individual’s personality but a particular relationship with the world.
Antonioni describes his subjective use of color as an attempt to take away “the usual reality and replace it with a reality of the moment,” so that his color harmonies and dissonances could better capture the turmoil of a woman in crisis. By coloring the physical landscape as an extension of his heroine’s mental disturbance, he relates a dislocated mind to a bleak vision of a modern industrial scene. Hues and shades of actual reality are altered; streets and machines painted; houses, trees, and grass sprayed with an aberrant grayness of alienation, in tones that shroud the real world and reveal it as a wasteland that is symbolic of the wife’s anxieties.
A giant chemical plant with red and green condensers and the geometry of multicolored pipes and smokestacks ejecting billows of white steam and yellow smoke is made to look like some ominous technological monster. Streets and surroundings through which the woman wanders are weather-toned a ravaged, mineral gray that suggests a nightmarish fragment of a surreal world. An oppressive grayness also clouds the strange freighters and tankers that drift through a desolate canal flanked with barren pines trapped in a vise of petrified time and space. The foliage in a hotel lobby is modulated into a murky grayness to underline the barrenness of a mind drained of dreams and emotions.
Perhaps the stark, symbolic resonance of Antonioni’s color asserts its presence most effectively in the sex-play and near-orgy scene held in an abandoned, slate-blue shack in a shag-polluted marsh. Here a group of husbands and wives, engineers and lonely women, tease and excite one another on a huge nondescript couch enclosed by shaggy-red walls that bluntly accent the emotional poverty and sterility of these victims of a computerized society, groping for human warmth and affection.
Throughout the film, Antonioni’s color subtly builds a metaphorical bridge between mental and physical wastelands with an evocative power that reveals a probing and profound approach to the role of color in film.”
(Jacobs, Lewis (1970): The Mobility of Color. In: Lewis Jacobs (ed.): The Movies as Medium. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 189–196, on pp. 194–196.)
Moby Dick (USA 1956, John Huston)
“Attempts to make film laboratories the site of more creative chromatic adjustments did occur, but their success was limited. The results of one such attempt can be seen in John Huston’s 1956 adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Having mimicked Impressionist painting in Moulin Rouge (1952), Huston and his director of photography Oswald Morris moved toward desaturation in Moby Dick (Plate 5.3). Morris shot the film on Eastman Color negatives, but then used the Technicolor dye-transfer process to print them. In addition to adding three color dyes, he put the film stock through a black-and-white pass, resulting in release prints that mixed black-and-white and color (Calhoun 2003). The effect of Morris’s technical ingenuity was subtle, perhaps even too subtle; the lack of critical response to his experiment suggests that many viewers may not even have noticed the desaturation. I have found only one contemporaneous review that references the film’s color, saying, “Colour in films can be a nullity, a nuisance, or a commonplace. In ‘Moby Dick‘ it is an important feature of the publication, and one leaves the theatre with the impression that a new adventure in cinema history has begun” (Lejeune 1956).2
2 Perhaps even this isolated praise of the Moby Dick‘s desaturation owes more to the film’s press release, which proudly advertised the details of Huston’s chromatic experiment, than to the film itself.
Calhoun, John. 2003. “Wrap Shot.” American Cinematographer 84 (11): 120.
Lejeune, C. A. 1956. “At The Films: Tar and Blubber.” The Observer, November 1, p. 9.”
(Misek, Richard (2010): Chromatic Cinema. A History of Screen Color. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, on p. 157.)
Ulisse/Ulysses (ITA 1954, Mario Camerini)
“Per Ulisse, assieme ai divi americani Kirk Douglas e Anthony Quinn, fu ingaggiato Harold Rosson, uno dei più esperti direttori della fotografia in Technicolor, che aveva in curriculum, tra l’altro, Il mago di Oz (1939), Duello al sole (Duel in the Sun, Vidor, 1947) e Cantando sotto la pioggia (1952). Il lavoro di Rosson tendeva in effetti a conformarsi ai canoni luministici del cinema di Hollywood, ricorrendo a formule visive codificate nelle ventennale storia del Technicolor. Da una coeva nota di lavorazione, si apprende che anche lo scenografo lavorò su priorità che non sarebbero dispiaciute a un consulente per il colore28:
L’architetto Mogherini, nella scelta dei colori per le scene, ha preferito rifuggire dai colori assoluti e puri. […] Poggiando sulle tinte di media intensità, Mogherini ha dato la possibilità ai costumi di staccarsi dall’ambiente, visto che la scenografia deve essere soprattutto una intonata cornice ai personaggi ed all’azione. […] Colori predominanti [per le sequenze di Itaca]: terra di Siena bruciata, marrone, terracotta con accenti di bianco e nero. Per Circe si entra nel campo della pura fantasia; i colori si potrebbero definire subacquei: verdastri con accenti brillanti di madreperla29.
Nell’episodio di Circe, anche lo spettatore può prendere momentaneo congedo da uno schema cromatico prevalentemente costruito su tinte non troppo sgargianti, grazie all’emergere di una tematizzazione del verde come colore magico. Esso fa da motivo conduttore dell’intero episodio, associandosi ai poteri soprannaturali di Circe e a tutto ciò che costituisce il suo habitat: le acque incantate della vasca tanto accogliente per Ulisse, i costumi delle ancelle, la luce colorata che sembra irradiarsi direttamente dalla maga30.
28 Nonostante il consulente per il colore (Joan Bridge) continuasse a essere menzionato per contratto nei titoli di testa, in questo e negli altri film italiani in Technicolor, pare che le sue interferenze sulla lavorazione siano state pressoché nulle. Bisogna considerare che, quando arrivò in Italia, il vecchio sistema Technicolor era in fase di smantellamento, e con esso l’intero apparato dei consulenti.
29 “Lux film” 1953.
30 Cfr. Maiani 2006, pp. 171–173.
Bernardi, Sandro a cura di (2006), Svolte tecnologiche nel cinema italiano. Sonoro e colore. Una felice relazione fra tecnica ed estetica, Carocci, Roma.
“Lux film” (1953), Difficile ed affascinante il lavoro dell’architetto
e del costumista dello “Ulisse“, in “Lux film“, I, n. 41, 1953, p. 3.
Maiani, Costantino (2006), Uno studio in rosso. Il colore nel melodramma e nel peplum del cinema italiano degli anni cinquanta, in Bernardi, a cura di, 2006, pp. 161–179.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 208–209.) (in Italian)
“In diversi film successivi, l’uso del rosso avrebbe marcato piuttosto i cedimenti alla follia di personaggi cui veniva attribuita la visione di questo colore, sotto forma di lampi improvvisi. Già Powell e Pressburger avevano ideato una simile soggettiva cromatica in Narciso nero, nel momento in cui un violento shock emotivo faceva perdere i sensi a suor Ruth. L’effetto, ottenuto in sede di stampa della pellicola, fu ripreso da Nicholas Ray in Dietro lo specchio (Bigger than Life, 1956) per esprimere l’alterazione di personalità del protagonista, mentre Hitchcock se ne servì reiteratamente in Marnie (1964) per evocare il ritorno del trauma infantile rimosso nella mente della protagonista55.
Se vedere rosso divenne sintomo inequivocabile di dissociazione della personalità, vedere colori distorti poteva in certi casi indicare la presenza di uno stato patologico: in La donna che visse due volte (Vertigo, Hitchcock, 1958) quando Scottie viene ossessionato dai suoi incubi notturni, una successione ritmica di visioni monocrome, disegni animati, pattern geometrici e sovrimpressioni apre il film a una parentesi di puro gioco avanguardistico. Con la complicità della musica di Bernard Herrmann, il regista rivisitava a suo modo gli effetti sinestetici sognati da molti artisti all’inizio del secolo.
Questi ultimi film, tuttavia, si collocano già oltre i confini del periodo in cui la Technicolor poté esercitare in condizioni di monopolio a Hollywood e in Gran Bretagna, costringendo i produttori a noleggiare una speciale macchina da presa e ad avvalersi della consulenza di tecnici specializzati56. Nel 1955, la necessità di operare lavorazioni compatibili con la nuova pellicola a supporto unico Eastmancolor (1951) spinse la società ad aggiornare il vecchio sistema, trasformandolo in un metodo di stampa di copie ad alta qualità, applicabile a qualsiasi negativo (Technicolor 5). Nel corso degli anni cinquanta, il colore si sarebbe disseminato in tutte le altre cinematografie europee, ma fino a quel momento, tranne poche eccezioni, critici, cineasti e spettatori si erano dovuti accontentare dei film a colori d’importazione.
55 Cfr. Bellour 1995 e Brost 2007.
56 Fino alla fine degli anni quaranta, Technicolor ed Eastman Kodak agirono in condizioni di non concorrenzialità. La Eastman vendeva pellicola in bianco e nero alla maggior parte delle case di produzione hollywoodiane e forniva alla Technicolor tutti i supporti necessari per il sistema in tricromia. La situazione si sarebbe sbloccata soltanto dopo le sentenze del Dipartimento di giustizia per pratiche anticoncorrenziali che colpirono la Eastman (1948) e la Technicolor (1950). Nel 1951, in ritardo rispetto alle industrie concorrenti, la prima introdusse l’Eastmancolor, che avrebbe dominato la scena nei decenni successivi.
Aumont, Jacques a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris.
Bellour, Raymond (1995), La couleur Marnie. Alfred Hitchcock: “Marnie“, in Aumont, a cura di, 1995a, pp. 147–148.
Brost, Laure (2007), On Seeing Red: The Figurative Movement of Film Colour, in Everett, a cura di, 2007a, pp. 127–139.
Everett, Wendy, a cura di (2007a), Questions of Colour in Cinema. From Paintbrush to Pixel, Lang, Oxford-Bern.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 160–161.) (in Italian)
Il deserto rosso (ITA/FRA 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)
“A differenza di altri autori, il regista ferrarese si convertì al colore in modo univoco e irreversibile con Il deserto rosso (1964): in seguito, non solo non avrebbe più girato in bianco e nero, ma avrebbe assegnato alla nuova forma un ruolo sempre determinante, seppure in maniera diversa da un film all’altro, almeno fino al pionieristico esperimento con la tv in alta definizione tentato con Il mistero di Oberwald (1981)34.
In primo luogo, si lascia cogliere frequentemente una certa transitività tra il gruppo dei colori superficie e quello dei colori filmari: più che al valore scientifico della distinzione, Antonioni appare interessato ad elaborarne visivamente il potenziale poetico, lavorando sugli spazi di confine tra gli uni e gli altri. Nella sequenza dei titoli di testa, le diciannove inquadrature sul paesaggio tecnologico della fabbrica instaurano una tensione tra i due modi grazie all’uso del teleobiettivo e dello sfocato: lo sguardo della macchina da presa trasforma un campo percettivo di colori superficie (i tubi colorati della fabbrica), in una visione in transito verso dei colori filmari (una serie di macchie indistinte).
Qualcosa di simile investe, nel corso dell’intero film, l’incerta definizione del rapporto tra figura e sfondo, campi percettivi tendenzialmente prossimi, rispettivamente, ai colori superficie e ai colori filmari43. L’inversione tra figura e sfondo e la confusione dei diversi piani di profondità, spesso ricercata nella costruzione delle inquadrature, costituisce un ulteriore contributo a rendere ambiguo lo statuto cromatico delle immagini. Il film utilizza diverse tecniche per ottenere questo effetto: nella prima inquadratura della sequenza del negozio, ad esempio, lo spettatore si trova di fronte per qualche istante a una campitura cromatica indistinta priva di coordinate spaziali, che solo un successivo movimento di macchina rivela essere il muro scrostato di una casa. L’iniziale configurazione approssimabile a quella dei colori filmari, destabilizza la posizione dello spettatore: che cosa sto vedendo? A che cosa appartengono questi colori? Riesco davvero a vederli come dei colori superficie?
Se in tutti questi esempi la sfasatura è prodotta dall’interazione tra filmico e profilmico, in altri casi sono gli elementi stessi della messa in scena a rendere ambiguo lo statuto cromatico delle percezioni. Come è noto, Antonioni lavorò molto su questo aspetto, facendo pitturare tutto quanto doveva presentarsi davanti alla macchina da presa: talvolta questa rimodulazione delle tinte tende a rimarcare la forza e la presenza dei colori superficie negli ambienti policromi abitati dall’uomo, come la fabbrica o la casa. Negli esterni, invece, le modifiche cromatiche mettono in questione l’esistenza stessa dei colori superficie all’interno della natura, soprattutto nei paesaggi decolorati tendenti verso la dimensione informe dei colori filmari. Lo stesso statuto cromatico del mondo appare in corso di mutazione: con le sue esalazioni, la fabbrica sembra aver incenerito, ossidato e scolorito l’ambiente circostante. Una sorta di nuovo ritmo vitale che, sovrapponendosi ai ritmi organici, ridefinisce i canoni e gli equilibri della percezione.
A questa mutevolezza contribuisce nel film anche la presenza significativa dei colori volume. I paesaggi opachi e quasi monocromi che spesso si mostrano al di là di vetri e finestre restituiscono appieno la dimensione della trasparenza. In altri momenti, i colori volume insorgono nelle immagini con effetti di grande impatto visivo. Nella sequenza di dialogo tra il marito e Corrado all’esterno della fabbrica, una violenta fuoriuscita di vapori bianchi occupa rapidamente lo spazio dei colori superficie che prima avevano definito le coordinate percettive del luogo. Negli esterni della baracca per la pesca, è la foschia a dissolvere lo spazio del paesaggio, modificandone profondamente l’apparenza. Per contrasto, l’acqua dei canali circostanti sembra aver perso definitivamente ogni trasparenza, mutandosi in un colore superficie denso: “le acque sono nere o gialle e anzi – scriveva lo stesso Antonioni – non sono più acqua”44.
Questi esempi mostrano come nel film la percezione del colore si offra allo spettatore come esperienza fondata sull’instabilità e la mutevolezza: si tratta – scrive ancora Di Carlo – di un “colore in divenire”45. A concorrervi è anche un’ulteriore strategia messa in atto dal film: la sistematica frustrazione delle attese cromatiche. Non è soltanto la continua permeabilità tra i diversi modi di apparizione a mettere in movimento i colori, ma anche lo scarto tra quelli che vediamo sullo schermo e quelli che ci aspetteremmo di vedere.
In simili casi, il film attiva nello spettatore una particolare reazione cromatica cui lo stesso Katz si era riferito con il concetto di colori di memoria. Essi designano i colori con cui siamo abituati a vedere gli oggetti, in condizioni abituali di luce, e vengono richiamati alla memoria di fronte a un oggetto mostrato sotto un’illuminazione insolita, che ne modifica l’apparenza cromatica46. Nel film, i colori cui lo spettatore è posto di fronte sono spesso lontani da quelli attribuiti alle percezioni abituali, dunque richiamano l’attivazione dei colori di memoria. Relazioni nuove e sorprendenti si producono allora tra gli oggetti e i rispettivi colori: il caso forse più evidente è quello del carretto di frutta grigia al termine della sequenza del negozio47. La già citata pratica di rimodulare le tinte di ambienti, scenografie e oggetti supporta allora l’esigenza di mettere lo spettatore di fronte a una nuova esperienza cromatica, sollecitandolo a interrogare lo statuto profondo delle proprie percezioni. Se non rimandano alla mia percezione abituale, che natura hanno i colori che sto vedendo?
Un indizio a contrario dell’interesse di Antonioni per questo aspetto è offerto dalla sequenza mai girata del bosco bianco. Il rischio che lo scarto tra i colori del bosco ricolorato e i corrispondenti colori di memoria potesse non attivarsi potrebbe essere stata una delle cause che spinsero Antonioni a rinunciare alla sequenza: “primo dubbio: il bosco bianco darà il tipo di suggestione che mi aspetto? Secondo dubbio: non sembrerà neve?”48. Se lo spettatore avesse ricondotto la visione insolita di una pineta bianca a un più familiare paesaggio innevato, lo scarto percettivo avrebbe perso gran parte del suo valore.
L’effetto si produce con violenza ancora più inaspettata quando i colori cambiano consistenza e statuto all’interno di una stessa ambientazione. Nella celebre sequenza della camera d’albergo, i colori superficie vivacemente presenti sugli oggetti si tramutano improvvisamente, nel momento in cui – si legge nella sceneggiatura pubblicata – “è come se [Giuliana] volesse impedire ai propri occhi di vedere”49. Viene qui evidenziato un paradosso percettivo, poiché l’apparato visivo è per così dire condannato a vedere, anche quando gli occhi vengano chiusi o quando fuoriescano, ad esempio con l’allucinazione, dagli abituali schemi percettivi. I colori che si continuano a percepire in questi casi – secondo le teorie di Katz – hanno la tendenza ad apparire come colori filmari50.
Le macchie viola che, in due momenti, sembrano privare la stanza di una consistenza materiale, il rosa che alla fine della sequenza invade tutto lo spazio e i suoi oggetti, sembrano tradurre visivamente questa indicazione. I colori che vediamo sullo schermo sono allora i colori che Giuliana sta vedendo e al contempo vorrebbe non vedere? Una risposta univoca resta impossibile da dare. Nel primo caso, le inquadrature che veicolano i due momenti di visione delle macchie viola si configurano come delle semisoggettive: Giuliana vi è mostrata in primo piano di spalle, ma il collegamento con quanto precede e segue porta a pensare che, ragionevolmente, quei colori siano ascrivibili al suo campo percettivo. Le due inquadrature della stanza rosa, invece, non hanno alcun portato di soggettività: Giuliana viene mostrata distesa sul letto, con la testa affondata sul cuscino; quando si volta le sue palpebre si muovono leggermente ma restano chiuse. Se la presenza del rosa sembra rinviare alla dimensione interiore di un’apparizione filmare, all’idea di occhi chiusi che continuano a percepire colore, il punto di vista esterno e la forma che gli oggetti conservano rimandano d’altra parte a un campo di colori superficie. Le due possibilità coesistono all’interno della medesima immagine.
È sulla soglia incerta tra colori superficie e colori filmari, tra colori fenomenici e colori di memoria che si innesta, all’interno del film, il discorso sul carattere soggettivo del colore, che viene impostato su basi completamente nuove rispetto al cinema del passato. […]
Per Antonioni – è noto – i processi di modernizzazione avevano reso insano, malato, il modo di esperire i sentimenti54. Poiché questi stessi processi stavano modificando in profondità anche le forme di circolazione e gli usi sociali del colore, diveniva urgente, in questa prospettiva, interrogarsi sugli effetti psicologici e comportamentali prodotti da questi fenomeni sugli individui. Era la stessa psicologia a inverare un simile campo d’indagine: in un volume di Katz tradotto in Italia nel 1950 si poteva leggere, ad esempio, che “i colori hanno, più che le forme […] rapporto col sentimento”55. La possibilità di confrontarsi direttamente, utilizzando il medium cromatico, con il moderno mondo dei colori industriali e riprodotti consentiva ad Antonioni di elaborare visivamente i caratteri di questo possibile rapporto.
In questa ottica, la relazione che il film istituisce tra il colore e la sfera soggettiva può essere pensata alla stregua di una sorta di prova sperimentale: “Antonioni – scriveva ancora Di Carlo – ha “agito” nella definizione del carattere della protagonista come se essa si trovasse costantemente di fronte ad un test cromatico […]; metodo che gli ha facilitato l’indagine sulla sua personalità secondo le più avanzate tecniche seguite nella prassi psicologica e psichiatrica”56. Almeno due sequenze tematizzano esplicitamente contenuti tradizionali dei test sugli effetti del colore e dei loro possibili campi di applicazione pratica. La prima è quella del negozio di Giuliana: le diverse vernici stese su una parete a mo’ di prova dovrebbero servire a scegliere il colore più adatto a non disturbare gli oggetti da vendere, ma per la donna non sembra darsi una scelta giusta, razionale. La seconda sequenza è quella ambientata nello stanzino rosso, in cui fra futili conversazioni su uova gallate e grasso di coccodrillo si riversano ironicamente e sfacciatamente i saperi più ovvi delle pratiche di cromoterapia: il colore considerato più stimolante per i sensi, il rosso, sembra chiamato a misurare i diversi livelli di eccitabilità cromatica dei personaggi, che cedono uno dopo l’altro, Giuliana compresa, all’esposizione prolungata a questo colore.
Nel film, dunque, l’esperienza del colore si propone come un fenomeno plurale, intermittente, mobile, fluttuante, non sistematizzabile, dagli esiti incerti e non prevedibili. La permeabilità tra i diversi modi di apparire sembra voler liberare la percezione cromatica da ogni possibile forma di preordinamento cognitivo o affettivo. Attraverso le sue strategie formali, il film invita lo spettatore a uno sguardo divagante, curioso, distratto. Come aveva osservato Katz, “negli stati di “distrazione”, quando temporaneamente cessano di agire sulla coscienza i bisogni normalmente vigili, possono svolgersi certe azioni automatizzate, e – terminato lo stato di distrazione – ci troviamo sorpresi in una situazione nella quale siamo andati a finire senza averlo voluto”57. Questa particolare esperienza percettiva trova diritto di cittadinanza nel film e viene spesso ricondotta al richiamo esercitato dal colore. L’esempio più noto è quello del dialogo sulla Patagonia tra Corrado e gli operai, durante il quale la macchina da presa, assecondando lo sguardo distratto dell’ingegnere, si lascia attrarre da una linea blu dipinta sul muro58.
I colori di Il deserto rosso sono dei colori mutanti, in transito verso una nuova dimensione percettiva ed estetica. Lo stesso Antonioni dichiarò che il film non intendeva operare una denuncia politica o sociologica del mondo industrializzato e inquinato, quanto piuttosto rivelarne una nuova possibile forma di poesia e di bellezza59. Nel rimettere in causa lo statuto cinematografico del colore, nell’interrogarsi sui suoi possibili modi di apparizione, il film rimodulava pratiche del passato e le consegnava idealmente al cinema del futuro.
34 Sul colore in Antonioni si vedano almeno Campari 1985; Dalle Vacche 1996, pp. 43–80; Font 1999; Tinazzi 2001; Egner 2003; pp. 73–82; Di Carlo 2010.
43 Cfr. Katz 1935, p. 15; Id. 1950, p. 51; Id. 1960, pp. 136–143.
44 Antonioni 1964, p. 19.
45 Di Carlo 1964a, p. 32.
46 Cfr. Katz 1935, pp. 160–167. La teoria dei colori di memoria fu inizialmente formulata da Hering nel 1908, poi fu ripresa da Katz (cfr. Di Napoli 2006, pp. 206–210).
47 Ci si potrebbe chiedere se questo fenomeno non riguardi anche la percezione degli oggetti nei film in bianco e nero. In questo caso, però, il corrispondente colore di memoria non sarebbe tanto il colore originale dell’oggetto, quanto piuttosto il tono di grigio che precedenti film in bianco e nero mi portano a considerare abituale.
48 Antonioni 1964, p. 18.
49 Cfr. Di Carlo, a cura di, 1964b, p. 141.
50 Cfr. Katz 1935, p. 35.
54 Cfr. Antonioni 1994c. Su questo tema, cfr. anche Vitella 2010, pp. 159–173.
55 Katz 1950, p. 192.
56 Di Carlo 1964a, p. 33. Oltre a Katz, Di Carlo fa riferimento ai test dello psicologo svizzero Max Lüscher sulle preferenze cromatiche degli individui e sull’associazione tra queste ultime e le categorie della personalità.
57 Katz 1960, p. 136.
58 Per un’analisi della sequenza, cfr. Philippon 1995.
59 Cfr. Godard 1994, p. 255.
Achilli, Alberto; Boschi, Alberto; Casadio, Gianfranco, a cura di (1999), Le sonorità del visibile. Immagini, suoni e musica nel cinema di Michelangelo Antonioni, Longo, Ravenna.
Antonioni, Michelangelo (1964), Il bosco bianco, in Di Carlo, a cura di, 1964b, pp. 15–19. [Ora in Antonioni 1994b, pp. 80–84].
Antonioni, Michelangelo (1994b), Fare un film è per me vivere. Scritti sul cinema, a cura di Carlo Di Carlo e Giorgio Tinazzi, Marsilio, Venezia.
Antonioni, Michelangelo (1994c), La malattia dei sentimenti , in Id. 1994b, pp. 20–46.
Aumont, Jacques a cura di (1995a), La couleur en cinéma, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque française, Milano-Paris.
Campari, Roberto (1985), Da “Deserto rosso: il colore, in Tinazzi, a cura di, 1985, pp. 161–166.
Dalle Vacche, Angela (1996), Cinema and Painting. How Art Is Used in Film, Athlone, London.
Di Carlo, Carlo (1964a), Il colore dei sentimenti, in Id., a cura di, 1964b, pp. 25–35.
Di Carlo, Carlo a cura di (1964b), “Il deserto rosso” di Michelangelo Antonioni,
Di Carlo, Carlo (2010), Las Montañas Encàntadas y la fascinación del color. Michelangelo Antonioni entre la pintura y el cine, in Di Carlo et al. 2010, pp. 9–17.
Di Carlo, Carlo et al. (2010), Michelangelo Antonioni y las montañas encantadas. La intuición del hielo, Maia, Madrid.
Di Napoli, Giuseppe (2006), Il colore dipinto. Teorie, percezione e Tecniche, Einaudi, Torino.
Egner, Silke (2003), Bilder der Farbe, Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften, Weimar.
Font, Doménec (1999), Macchie, corpi, fantasmi. Il colore nel cinema di Antonioni, in Achilli/Boschi/Casadio, a cura di, 1999, pp. 77–83.
Godard, Jean-Luc (1994), La notte, l’eclisse, l’aurora , in Antonioni 1994b, pp. 255–263.
Katz, David (1935), The World of Colour, Kegan Paul, London. [Der Aufbau der Farbwelt, Barth. Leipzig 1930; trad. ingl. di R.B. MacLeod e C.W. Fox].
Katz, David (1950), La psicologia della forma, Einaudi, Torino. [Gestaltpsychologie, Schwabe, Basel 1944; trad. it. di Enzo Ariani.
Katz, David (1960), Il mondo delle percezioni come oggetto della psicologia, in Id./Katz, Rosa, a cura di, I960, pp. 126–68.
Katz, David; Katz, Rosa, a cura di (1960), Trattato di psicologia, Boringhieri, Torino. [Handbuch der Psychologie, II ediz., Schwabe, Basel-Stuttgart 1960; trad. it. di B. Callieri].
Philippon. Alain (1995), Étude en bleu. Michelangelo Antonioni: “Le désert rouge“, in Aumont, a cura di, 1995a, pp. 149–150.
Tinazzi, Giorgio, a cura di (1985), Michelangelo Antonioni. Identificazione di un autore. Forma e racconto nel cinema di Antonioni, Pratiche, Parma.
Tinazzi, Giorgio (2001), Antonioni e il colore, in “Bianco e nero”, LXII, n. 6, novembre-dicembre 2001, pp. 105–109.
Vitella, Federico (2010), Michelangelo Antonioni. “L’avventura“, Lindau, Torino.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on pp. 231–242.) (in Italian)
Moby Dick (USA 1956, John Huston)
“In Lola Montes, Ophüls works out a similar scheme of clinically jarring color combinations in the phantasmagorical circus sequences to capture Lola’s response to her commercial objectification.
But this strain of expressive color was only one of several directions in which 50s color went. By the end of the decade, using colors to set the tone of a scene had become a commonplace. Huston and Oswald Morris famously muted the colors in Moby Dick by superimposing a black and white negative over a desaturated color master to create a somber scheme devoid of reds and yellows.41 The effect – highlighting steel greys and mud browns – was meant to externalize Ahab’s monomania by extending the bleak tone to the severity of nineteenth century whaling life. [Fig 59]
41 Derek Hill, “Moby Dick Sets New Style in Color Photography: On Oswald Morris’ Cinematography,” AC, 37/9 (Sept, 1956), 534 ff.”
(Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on p. 10.)
All That Heaven Allows (USA 1955, Douglas Sirk)
“I want to end on perhaps the most interesting colorist of all: Douglas Sirk who, along with his cinematographer, Russell Metty, created an utterly transgressive color system. The melodramatic style that has made him the favorite of directors ranging from Fassbinder and John Waters to Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar is grounded in his quirky relationship to his material. In a famous sequence from All That Heaven Allows (Universal, 1955) widow Jane Wyman is in her bedroom getting ready for a dinner date with a middle-age admirer when her two college age kids drop in to visit. [Fig 64]
The dialogue and blocking suggest a satiric scene saturated in irony. Wyman’s daughter Kay [Gloria Talbot] plops herself down on her mother’s queen size bed, solemnly lecturing her mother on Freud and the sexual anxieties that accompany aging, only to be startled when mom appears, prepared for a date, bare-shouldered in red. Kay recovers, mindful that modern society no longer buries widows with their dead husbands as they did in ancient Egypt. Mother, older and wiser, murmurs her doubts about the modern world’s acceptance of liberated widows.
But how to connect Russell Metty’s stylized blocks of color and all that odd back lighting to the conversation? The blue swatches feel entirely cut off from the referenced world, operating entirely within the framework of what Karla Oeler has called genre pastiche.44 The scene starts with a close-up of a mirror, the most traditional trope for artistic mimesis. But as Oeler has argued in a much different context, genre pastiche does not believe in direct mimesis, and here the mirror introduces a scene defined by layer upon layer of self-reflexivity. [Fig 65]
The colors operate to create a self-contained Camp universe where, to use Sontag’s language, everything is now bracketed off in quotation marks. The room becomes “the room;” the self-important daughter “the daughter.” Most remarkably, light itself – especially the blue filtered light that streams from the window when Jane Wyman opens the shutters – is “light” only in an approximate sense – an approximation of sunlight and an approximation of reading light.
It would be one thing if this were black and white film and the back lighting that casts the two women into shadows and silhouettes created simply a sinister, noirish atmosphere, appropriate to the talk about tombs and suffocating social pressure. But the color adds a perversely playful aspect to the display. The unnatural blue, red, and gold filters turning this 50s home and garden suburban bedroom into something bizarre, vibrant, and strange.
44 Karla Oeler, A Grammar of Murder University of Chicago Press, forthcoming. Cf. Sirk to Stern in Bright Lights, op. cit.: “Throughout my pictures I employ a lighting which is not naturalistic. Often the window will be here and the light from there. With color, too, I did this, to attain a lighting that is almost Surrealistic. As Brecht has said, never forget that this is not reality…. The distanciation must be there… You have to shoot it through a dialectic.””
(Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on pp. 12–13.)
The Searchers (USA 1956, John Ford)
“TOWARDS A SEMIOTIC OF COLOR IN POPULAR NARRATIVE FILMS: COLOR SIGNIFICATION IN JOHN FORD’S THE SEARCHERS
Color signification is the process of sign-interpretant-object, where the perception of color by the interpreter is relevant to the functioning of the sign. This conception is a modification of Charles S. Peirce’s description of semiotics, his theory of signs and their mode of operation.1
Peirce conceived of color as a perceptible quality. Thus, a black stove is perceived as black, but blackness is a quality. For Peirce the quality of blackness was not a fiction, not solely a product of the imagination. Blackness was indeterminate with regard to its subject of predication. It was general. It could exist in many objects, and it was thus a real general, not purely an invention of the human mind.2
Implicitly, Peirce indicated that color was always related to specific objects. It was rarely a sign by itself in the sense of actualizing or potentializing the process of sign-interpretant-object. According to Peirce, the sign must stand to something for something, to an interpretant for an object, either potentially or actually. As a real general, color could serve as a sign only in conjunction with an object, a black stove, for example, and different colors, different objects, and different contexts produced different signs-interpretants-objects.
To see the applicability of this conception of color to the cinema, we can turn to the work of Christian Metz. In his chapter “The Problem of Distinctive Units” in Language and Cinema (1974) Metz declares:
When one analyzes films of this sort, certain distinctive units will thus be colored, and color (contrary to appearances) occupies no textual surface: it is a colored object which occupies it, and not the fact that it is blue rather than red (in which, and in which alone, the color consists). However, the color is localizable, according to the placement of the colored object. Color, when it is distinctive, thus offers another example of an exponential-unit.3
Metz defines his conception of exponents by first setting up the dichotomy “segmental” (photogram, shot, filmed object, entire sequence) versus “suprasegmental” (color, camera movement, figure of montage), where the latter are exponents which selectively affect the former, while not partaking of the textual surface, not occupying any place by themselves. The relationship of color to its object, like the relationship of “spatio-temporal logic of cross-cutting montage” to the material segment of the film in which it is used, is that of an exponent to its frame of reference (or syntagmatic reference).
Metz’s classification system helps us to locate color’s place in film texts, textual systems, and filmic, cinematic and non-cinematic codes. As a suprasegmental unit, color may be related to each of these categories in different contexts. Color, he suggests, may be related to “cinematic (or simply filmic) codes relative to the symbolism of colors in the culture, or of different textual systems used throughout the same film.” Metz also recognizes that “the distribution of colored masses according to the space of the image and the time of the production (I would also add the historical and actual filmic time of the narrative [Genette] to the ‘time of production’) follows a precise and highly elaborate structure.” Thus, to some extent Metz extends the semiotic of “color-object” which is implicit in Peirce to the narrative cinema (color as a suprasegmental unit of the narrative), and he serves as a theoretical bridge between the isolation of “color-related” Peirceian signs from the specific film text of this study, John Ford’s The Searchers, and the reintegration of those signs within the narrative of The Searchers as a structured abstraction.*
A. Color-related Signs in The Searchers
A connection between Peirce’s triadic model of signs (“the second trichotomy of signs”), namely icon-index-symbol, and a semiotics of the cinema was first accomplished by Peter Wollen in Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1969). Peirce himself recognized certain indexical aspects of the photograph, resulting from the fact, that it had been produced under such circumstances that it was “physically forced to correspond point by point to nature.” Peirce and Wollen distinguished between three types of signs:
1) Icon, “a sign which represents its object mainly by its similarity to it; the relationship between signifier and signified is not arbitrary but one of resemblance or likeness.”
2) Index, “a sign by virtue of an existential bond between itself and its object,” footprints, etc.
3) Symbol, a sign which “demands neither resemblance to its object nor any existential bond with it. It is conventional and has the force of law.” It corresponds to “Saussure’s arbitrary sign.”4
It is important to mention that Peirce did not see these signs as mutually exclusive. They frequently (at times invariably) overlap and are co-present in specific signs.
The process of selecting specific color-object signs from The Searchers and relating each sign to its dominant aspect (iconic, indexical, symbolic) is highly problematic. It should first be noted that there are few, if any, purely iconic signs in this film text. The conception of “law” or “rule” in the interpreter that divides the symbol from the icon within Peirce’s categorization is indistinguishably intermixed with the latter sign’s qualities of “likeness” and “resemblance” in terms of the visual presentation of Western iconography. While Peter Wollen correctly points out that iconography is not the same as Peirce’s conception of the iconic sign, it is difficult to isolate any visual images from narrative films that are not coded (“rules” and “laws”), and hence purely iconic. (This same argument in the context of a general theory of semiotics is posited by Umberto Eco in A Theory of Semiotics, 1976, who uses it to criticize iconic signs as a general concept and specifically Peirce’s typology or triadic model.) The iconic signs which are presented in the following list are clearly “coded” entities to a greater or lesser extent, depending upon the specific example. They are tied to Western filmic and cinematic codes of iconography. In this context it should be remembered that Peirce at times conceived of his triadic signs as invariably overlapping, and the recognition of the degree to which signs are co-present should not precipitate excessive skepticism, as to the viability of his system. It should also be noted that the descending order of the examples within each category of Peirce’s signs is not purely arbitrary, since this order represents to some extent the degree to which the perception of color is crucial to the sign. If we appropriate Eisenstein’s example, Alexander Nevsky,5 as Metz does, where the opposing forces are denoted by black versus white within a black and white image, then the gradations of black and white are themselves colors and an appropriate subject of a semiotic of color. If gradations of black and white may participate in color-object signs, then the minute monochromatic color distinctions at the bottom of each category of signs in The Searchers (the footprints of horses, Look’s arrow of rocks) are also relevant to this study.
It is important to recognize that the assignment of a specific sign in the previous list from The Searchers to its dominant (icon, index, symbol) is often quite arbitrary. In terms of Peirce’s theory of signs such a list or typology of specific signs may not be as valuable as a precise description of the overlapping of signs or the co-presence of the triadic model in a single or several examples.
In The Searchers the red, white, and blue American flag is symbolic of the United States, to some extent an arbitrary signifier, but the number of stars in the flag is iconic-iconographically relevant, while the flag itself is an index of the presence of Americans, specifically the cavalry at the fort. The cavalry flag is perhaps more iconic than symbolic (in this light the cavalry flag in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is red and white, not red and blue), but it is also indexical of the presence of the cavalry, having been physically held by a cavalryman.
Scar’s red and yellow warpaint, the red and yellow stripes on his forehead and body, an aspect of Western iconography in general, is also symbolic of “Indians, Comanches, involved in war.” The absence of warpaint signifies the absence of war or peaceful village life, when Ethan and Martin eventually visit Scar within his village. The alternation between presence and absence falls within Umberto Eco’s “second system without articulation” in A Theory of Semiotics:
2) systems with zero sign-vehicle (the admiral’s flag on a ship; its presence indicates “admiral on board” and its absence “admiral off board” directional signals of an automobile, whose absence means “I am proceeding straight ahead”);
The presence of stripes, red stripes, on the foreheads of the White/Comanche girls visited by Ethan and Martin at the fort during their search for Debbie. In this instance the colored stripes have an indexical aspect, as an index of the presence of Comanche, non-White, culture behind the White faces. The red stripes signify “no longer purely White” by their connection within a textual system of the film with the warpaint of Scar.
Ethan’s yellow/gold medal with the blue stone inlays is at first symbolic, an “arbitrary” signifier of courage or valor in war, but it is potentially also a signifier of Ethan’s previous exploits, a possible index of Ethan’s continuation of the Civil War in Mexico, his non-acceptance of defeat, his obsession with revenge. In John Ford’s words, Ethan is “the man who came back from the Civil War, probably went over into Mexico, became a bandit, probably fought for Juarez or Maximilian – probably Maximilian, because of the medal,” (John Ford, Peter Bogdanovich (1968), pp. 92–3). After Ethan gives the medal to Debbie, it acquires another indexical signification. Scar blatantly displays the medal, when he is visited by Ethan and Martin. It is an index of Scar’s possession of Ethan’s “things” and an index of Scar’s awareness of why Ethan and Martin are there, as the Mexican middleman later confirms in dialogue. In terms of Metz’s system the medal participates in a filmic code, Western iconography, but it takes on additional signification within the specific textual systems of The Searchers. The example of the gold coins, perhaps the least relevant in terms of the color perception of the interpreter, is similar to the medal. It connotatively relates to Western iconography in general, the filmic code, but it also relates to the textual systems of the narrative. They signify his past (narrative as present tense) exploits, his attempt to pay his way at the Edwards, his attempt to buy part of Debbie from Futterman, the apron index of Debbie, his attempt to buy Debbie from Scar. Confronted by Sam Clayton, the gold coins in Ethan’s hands are an index of his involvement in the death of Futterman. Gold is itself symbolic as an “arbitrary” money system, a means of exchange. It is also partially symbolic in the context of Western iconography of the conflict between capitalist self-interest and humanitarianism within the context of the obsessive themes of racism, revenge, and private property.
B. Color Signs and Narrative Structures in The Searchers
It has already been noted that these examples of the co-presence and overlapping of Peirceian signs in The Searchers are embedded in the time and space of a narrative. Color-object signs are related to other color-object signs in time and space. Signs, like Scar’s warpaint and the red stripes on the White/Comanche girls at the fort, are connected in this manner. The repetition and alternation of colors in time and space indicate that color-objects at one temporal-spatial point in the narrative affect the signifying process of other color-objects prior or subsequent to them, if only retrospectively depending upon the interpreter’s memory. Within the narrative, color suprasegmental units may be affected by strong codes, like verbal language, to reinforce the perception or secure the memory. We are told by Ethan, for example, that the White/Comanche girls have red stripes. In addition, the apparent “madness” of the girls (potentially caused by Comanche culture) is at least partially signified through their gestures and sounds. This interplay of filmic codes is relevant to the functioning of color-object signs in the narrative.
1) Color denotation and narrative time and space
Color denotation in narrative time refers to the repetition and alternation of specific colors in reference to specific spaces, places or characters. Profilmically, the colors might be ascribed to sets, costumes, lighting, filters, etc., but in terms of the film narrative as a viewed experience, a “diegesis,” color denotation is concerned with color repetition and alternation throughout the narrative.
Seasonal changes of historical time in the narrative, white snows of winter in Colorado and yellow sands of summer in Texas and New Mexico (Arizona’s Monument Valley, profilmically), relate to narrative time and place. The “epic” duration of the revenge plot is evoked, in part, by the perception of seasonal color changes. Snow is perceived prior to Ethan and Martin’s first return to the Jorgenson’s, two years after Debbie’s abduction by Scar, and again during the recitation of Martin’s letter, the second letter to Laurie in one year after their second departure. By the time Ethan and Martin return to the Jorgenson’s the second time, five years have transpired since Martin’s last letter to Laurie. As a framing device, Laurie’s recitation of Martin’s letter sets up a syntagmatic alternation in time and place, between the reading of the letter (present tense) and the events contained in the letter (past tense). Laurie reads the letter on-screen, then off-screen over silent visuals of Ethan and Martin (past tense), then Martin reads the letter as though he is writing it, before the events themselves are presented without narration (present tense), and finally Laurie concludes her reading of the letter (present tense), retrospectively transforming the contiguous scenes of Ethan and Martin into the past tense. Thus, the “flashback” which is framed by the letter reading extends the duration of time, “epic” duration, by vacillating between different narrative voices and hence different tenses of narrative. Two suprasegmental units, spatio-temporal figures of montage and color-objects, are involved in the perception of “epic” duration. The stability of the framing device after a rather long duration of actual film time for the past events, is partially reinforced by the constancy of color objects at the Jorgenson’s, the characters’ clothing, the decor and the lighting. The lighting or reflectance of the color-objects eventually changes to the warm yellow glow of sunset (Laurie on the porch), denoting a passage in the time of day during the process of the letter reading, and is similar in this respect to the passage of time of day in Hitchcock’s Rope, where daylight passes from sunset to evening in the course of an historical time that is equal to its film time by virtue of long continuous takes.
Thus, changes in time of day are often denoted by changes in the reflectance of color-objects within the scenes (profilmically through colored lighting and filtration which become filmic and cinematic codes). The red sunset lighting falling upon the Edwards home prior to the Indian attack is an iconic/symbolic sign, a conventional code for sunset, an index of the coming darkness. The red light of sunset in Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon has a clearly symbolic aspect, a symbol of the “sunset” of Captain Brittles’ career. He contemplates retirement under the red light of sunset, visits his wife’s grave under the same light, and then literally rides into the sunset after his retirement. A cluster of theatrical codes of lighting and Western conventions surrounds these scenes. In The Searchers Martin attempts to enter Scar’s camp to rescue Debbie by wrapping himself in a dark blue blanket that blends with the dark blue sky (a color, technicolor, convention of day for night, profilmically, which Hitchcock claims to have reacted against in To Catch a Thief by giving the night exteriors a greenish black cast against which le Chat is disguised in black).
The alternation and repetition of specific articles of clothing (color-objects) is involved in the perception of continuity or discontinuity of narrative time. Ethan’s clothing changes at various points throughout the film; from his confederate uniform, which is stroked by Martha and eventually covers Lucy’s body, to his red shirt and blue pants, to his winter coat, to his blue shirt and blue pants, to his red and white check shirt (which is remarkably similar in color and design to the scrap of Debbie’s apron, the index of Debbie found by Futterman, and it is not insignificant that Ethan is wearing a potential index of Debbie when he confronts Scar in Debbie’s presence), and finally to Ethan’s blue shirt and blue pants for the conclusion. In at least two instances the changes in the color of Ethan’s clothing denotes a discontinuity, a gap in historical time. First, the change to the red and white check shirt occurs with the time change to the Mexican cantina, a considerable change in time and place from the previous scene. Second, after Ethan loses his red and white check shirt in combat with Scar, the contiguous scene changes to Ethan in a blue shirt immediately prior to his and Martin’s return to the Jorgenson’s (Laurie’s wedding). However, in neither example is the perception of color-object alternation the sole clue to a temporal gap, since in the first instance the word “cantina” and the presence of Mexicans within the cantina accompany the other changes and in the second example there is also a change in time of day from day to night and many verbal clues in dialogue which reinforce the transition. Nonetheless, the perception of color-objects within the visual track contributes to the recognition of temporal change, created by cinematic codes, like dissolves and fades, and reinforced by verbal language. In addition, a colored article of clothing, like Ethan’s red and white check shirt, is potentially related to a previously presented article of clothing in terms of the narrative, namely Debbie’s apron, which has the same color and pattern. The repetition and alternation of color-object signs are significant aspects of the film narrative.
2) Color connotation
Two aspects of color connotation are tentatively operative in The Searchers: a) color harmony versus color discord and b) cool colors versus warm colors.
The perception of color harmony/color discord is probably a cultural, if not an individual, phenomenon. By color harmony I am not refering to the symmetrical patterns of color on Johannes Itten’s color wheel (The Art of Color, 1961, which is cited by Umberto Eco in A Theory of Semiotics as a source book for color coding). Symmetrical patterns of color on a color wheel are hardly examples of universal color harmonies either, although their proponents (Itten, Ostwald, Munsell) may even cite evidence from perceptual psychology to defend this position. By color harmony I am simply referring to the sharing of specific colors by different color-objects and by color contrast I am referring to the relationship between a heavily saturated hue of a color-object and a desaturated, monochromatic background or object of a different hue.
There appears to be a contrast, for example, between the “dominant” red and white check shirt that Ethan wears in the Mexican cantina and the “recessive” brown shirt of Martin that recedes into the dirty yellow/brown background of the cantina. The potential dominance of Ethan’s colors, besides being potentially related to Debbie’s apron, may also signify the dominance of Ethan over Martin and over his environment, which is building to the confrontation between Ethan and Scar (itself largely a matter of proxemics). In a like manner the bold “primary colors” of Scar’s warpaint, the red and yellow stripes, may signify the attempt to express his dominance over other men and his environment, in addition to simply signifying war.
In terms of color harmony, the repetition of the color yellow in the yellow plaid shirt of Laurie, which matches and harmonizes with the same yellow colored pants of Martin, which were given to him by Laurie in lieu of her brother’s death, links the two characters immediately prior to Martin’s second departure from the Jorgenson’s. The perception of color harmony in this example may be connected to the thematic of Laurie’s intended domestication of Martin. However, the attempt to present examples of color harmony/color discord is inevitably concerned with thematics, if not completely thematically determined.
Cool colors versus warm colors is another highly speculative matter in color perception. The association of warm reds and yellows with the home and cool blues or bleak whites with the environment is not consistently reinforced by the themes of warmth-security and coolness-hostility. The warm reds and yellows of the rug and the firelight at the Edwards is followed by the warm red light of sunset, the index of darkness, and the yellow flames which engulf the house after the attack. The inconsistency of warm colors-home is similar to the inconsistency of frames within the film frame, which are usually associated with home-woman-security. David Lusted points out in “The Searchers and the Study of the Image” (Screen Education, Winter 1975-76, p. 23) that the frame within the frame also blacks out the carnage of the Edwards women and children, and thus fails to consistently maintain the association of framing-home-security. However, Lusted does not point out that it is often the breaks in patterns that are the most upsetting, the most shocking, the most indicative of the absence of security, the tenuousness of life and White domesticity at this point in Texas history as it is cinematically presented in The Searchers. It nonetheless seems apparent that color-object signs contribute to thematics through two aspects of color connotation which are tentatively operative, color harmony versus color discord and cool versus warm colors.
3) Color and color naming
The interplay of verbal language (color naming) and color perception in The Searchers is a complex cultural/psychological/linguistic phenomenon. For the most part color naming in the dialogue directs and reinforces our visual perceptions. For example, we are told by Brad that he has seen Lucy’s blue dress in the Indian camp, an index of Lucy, after we have seen Lucy in her blue dress several scenes earlier at the Edwards. Color naming clarifies and reinforces our prior color perception, and in the case of inadequate memory totally dominates it, but we do not share Brad’s perception of Lucy’s blue dress in the Indian camp. The separation of our perceptions (and perhaps our identification) from Brad is also a matter of his inability to surmise on the same evidence the audience possesses that Lucy is dead, that Ethan discovered her body and covered it with his confederate coat. The substitution of a color name for a shared color-object perception relates paradigmatically to the possibility of a shared point of view shot of Lucy and the absence of this visual code of identification. The perceptual separation of the audience from Brad culminates in his futile, sacrificial death with his inability to control rationally his reaction to the implied rape and killing. Ethan, on the other hand, exhibits his perceptual and experiential superiority, his rational suppression of the rape, his edict that Brad should not mention it again, and he provides an alternative point of view to Brad’s, one which will insure the survival of the White race for the fulfillment of the goal, revenge (Ethan) or rescue (Martin), a survival itself predicated upon accurate perception and rational deduction. If the audience had shared Brad’s point of view cinematically (through cinematic codes of identification) and shared his misperception and miscognition, the substitution of a color name for a color perception would have been negated and distanciation eliminated. Verbal language frequently interacts with the perception of color in The Searchers. A character through dialogue informs us that Ethan’s grey clothing is a Confederate uniform, that Debbie’s red and white patterned apron is calico cloth, that the girls at the fort with red stripes on their foreheads are no longer White, that Lucy has a blue dress and Look a red blanket.
Several color-objects are not reinforced with verbal anchorage, however. The American flag, the cavalry flag, Scar’s warpaint, and Laurie’s white wedding dress are conventionally coded without being verbally designated as such. In one specific instance a very weak color code is related to a previous film by John Ford (director), Winton C. Hoch (cinematographer), and James Basevi (art director), namely, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). When Debbie confronts Lucy with the fact that she knows that Lucy has a boyfriend, Lucy is wearing a yellow ribbon in her hair (Debbie has two red ribbons on “pony tails”). This cavalry convention, the yellow ribbon, is clarified through the repetition of its significance throughout the earlier film, but in The Searchers (1956) there is no clarification of its meaning in dialogue. Redundancy in color coding through verbal reinforcement and color-object repetition seems to be a textual system in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers, which assures the recognition of noncultural codes or codes which are exclusively textual. A perfect example is the constant repetition of the meaning/presence of the yellow ribbon in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon that a woman wears for the man she loves, which culminates in the purely visual recognition of yellow ribbons in the hair of all of the women at the fort for Brittles’ return. We are absolutely clear about the significance of the yellow ribbons without further verbal reinforcement.
4) Color signs from the literary source, Alan Le May’s The Searchers
There are many differences in color-object signs within the narratives of the novel and the film, The Searchers. It should first be noted that the point of view of the novel is clearly that of Martin Pawley, even though it is a third person omniscient narration. Martin’s thoughts and actions dominate those of Amos (Ethan in the film). The film’s shift in emphasis to Ethan, the star John Wayne, is accompanied by specific changes in color-object signs. In the book the locket Amos and Martin find in the massacred Indian village, which is an index of Debbie, had been given to her by Martin. Debbie had complained to Martin that it made her neck green. In the film Lucy has a gold locket, which was given to her by Ethan, which, according to Debbie, Lucy complains about because it makes her neck green. In response to this Ethan then gives Debbie her own medal, the eventual index of Debbie possessed by Scar. It has blue inlaid stones and a green ribbon. This shift in color-objects to Ethan as giver, rather than Martin, is a potential reflection of the impact of the “star system” upon character prominence (physical, screen time, costuming, etc.).
There are several color-object signs as indexes that figure prominently in the novel that are almost completely abandoned in the film. Ultimately, Debbie is identified in the novel on the basis of her green eyes. Secondly, Martin and Amos immediately recognize the beautiful red scalp in Scar’s tepee as an index (pars partis) of Martin’s mother. Thirdly, Debbie is at first unwilling to leave Scar in the novel because she does not believe that he has done any wrong, and leaves him only after having seen a belt buckle that Amos tells Debbie he had previously given to Martin’s mother, a proof of Scar’s connection with the “crime.” Amos had told Debbie that inscribed on the back of the buckle was his name and that of Martin’s mother. Debbie finds words inscribed on the back of the buckle and capitulates to Amos, although the omniscient narrator tells us that what was actually inscribed on the buckle were the words, “Made in England.”
In the film Debbie is not identified on the basis of her green eyes, Ethan doesn’t inform Martin of the fact that one of the scalps in Scar’s collection was Martin’s mother’s, until they return to the Jorgenson’s, and finally Debbie does not leave Scar on the basis of a belt buckle. Debbie leaves camp when Martin attempts to rescue her, Ethan catches up to her and decides not to kill her. In the novel Amos is killed during the final battle with Scar, and Martin eventually rescues Debbie (she had left camp and wandered after discovering the truth of the buckle). Certainly the recognition of Debbie in the film is predicated at least in part on the recognition of Natalie Wood the actress. In this case the “star system” potentially eliminates the need for certain color-object indexes, while in the case of John Wayne, certain color-object indexes were shifted from Martin to Ethan. While the color-object perception of Martin’s mother’s scalp is diminished in the film, the blue stone inlaid medal of Ethan-Debbie-Scar is simultaneously accentuated, as Scar proudly displays it to Ethan and Martin. There is some evidence to support the contention that in The Searchers the deviations in color-object signs from novel to film are motivated in part by the “star system” and textual systems in Western films.
Although color as a suprasegmental unit of the film text is certainly a rather specialized area of semiotics, there appears to be a definite value to the isolation of color-object signs and their reintegration into the time and space of the narrative as a structured abstraction. Peirce’s system, his triadic model of icon-index-symbol, provides a logical method for isolating specific signs from The Searchers. His categories are not rigidly defined, and the assignment of a sign to its dominant is somewhat arbitrary in the sense that these categories constantly overlap and are co-present. Metz’s terminology helps us to define the ways in which color-object signs function in terms of the narrative. As a suprasegmental unit color is related to the perception of temporal and spatial continuities and discontinuities. The perception of color harmony, color discord, warm colors and cool colors is a problematic area in the analysis of specific film texts, which does not appear to approach the consistency of a textual system in The Searchers, even when it is tied to the filmed object (color-object). Color connotation is related to certain recurring themes, if not itself thematically determined. Color naming usually reinforces color perception, but it may also substitute for it. The interrelation of color perception and color naming is a complex cultural/psychological/linguistic phenomenon. Finally, color-object signs that are linguistically specified in the literary source are often and perhaps necessarily altered in the filmic adaptation. The nature of these alterations may be related to cinematic textual systems or cinematic codes, like Western films and the “star system.” Further movement towards a semiotic of color in popular film may be facilitated by studies of specific color-object filmic and cinematic codes and textual systems themselves, as opposed to speculation about these codes and textual systems on the basis of a single film text, like The Searchers.
* Metz’s conceptions of color and “iconicity” seem sufficiently similar to Peirce’s to warrant a connection between filmic signs and filmic narratives, a combination of Peirce’s and Metz’s theories, which serves as a methodology for the textual analysis of color in The Searchers.
1 Charles S. Peirce, “Logic as Semiotic: The Theory of Signs,” Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. Justus Buchler (New York: Dover Publications, 1955), pp. 98–119.
2 Charles S. Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, 8.14 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931-35).
3 Christian Metz, Language and Cinema (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1974), p. 202.
4 Peter Wollen, Signs and Meanings in the Cinema (London: Secker & Warburg, 1972), pp. 122–23.
5 Sergei Eisenstein, “Color and Meaning,” in The Film Sense, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1942), pp. 113–153. Also in Metz, Language and Cinema, p. 178.”
(Kindem, Gorham Anders (1977): Toward a Semiotic of Color in Popular Narrative Films. Color Signification in John Ford’s The Searchers. In: Film Reader, 2, pp. 78–84.)
“The perfection of Eastman Color, and the advent of CinemaScope (’53), radically altered Technicolor’s entire modus operandi. It began to do color negative processing and color positive printing, and to “diversify”. It also promoted such wide-screen developments as Technirama and Technivision-70.
It is now processing black-&-white and color for theatrical films and television; provides photographic and laboratory services for NASA and the Lunar Landing Program at Cape Kennedy; offers 8mm projectors and film processing to amateurs; owns the Hartley Co., one of the large manufacturers of ball-point-pen cartridges; and has become a processor of industrial and educational films.
The term “Color by Technicolor” now almost always means only that Technicolor has handled all stages of laboratory work. “Print by Technicolor” means Technicolor was responsible only for the final release prints and not for any of the preceding laboratory steps.”
(Behlmer, Rudy (1964): Technicolor. In: Films in Review, 15,6, pp. 333–351, on p. 351.)
“En effet, sur le plan technique, les années 50 posent de multiples défis aux ingénieurs de Technicolor. Juste avant l’avènement du CinémaScope, Technicolor accueille au sein de son département de R&D un jeune chimiste, Richard Goldberg, qui va finalement accéder au poste de vice-président du département. La première contribution de Goldberg est la simplification des colorants pour la méthode d’imbibition de Technicolor, afin que ces derniers proviennent chacun d’un seul composant10. De cette façon, Technicolor fait un pas très important vers la standardisation et le contrôle de qualité. La deuxième contribution de Goldberg est le Technicolor Process Number Five. Aux débuts des années 50, Technicolor élargit ses installations afin de permettre le développement des négatifs couleur et le tirage par contact des copies positives en Eastmancolor. La compagnie modifie sa développeuse optique afin de faciliter l’extraction des matrices directement à partir d’un négatif couleur pour les films en différents formats11.
10 Auparavant, l’utilisation de composants multiples rendait le contrôle de qualité très difficile pendant le tirage des nouvelles copies. Par exemple, une fois les matrices originelles épuisées et remplacées par de nouvelles, il était difficile de garantir la duplication exacte des composants de colorants utilisés lors de la sortie initiale du film. Les copies Technicolor par imbibition d’avant 1950 avaient souvent des couleurs quelques peu différentes des copies ultérieures du même film. Cependant, les nouveaux composants uniques avaient un aspect différent des composants multiples. Par exemple, les copies Technicolor pour la ressortie dans les années 50 de films tels que Autant en emporte le Vent et Le Magicien d’Oz avaient des couleurs plus vibrantes que lors de leur sortie initiale (Haines, color 66).
11 Pour une description technique de la méthode d’impression de Technicolor, voir Salt, Barry, p. 242. L’impression par imbibition s’effectue à travers trois matrices positives en relief tenues en contact avec une émulsion vierge sur trois machines successives d’enregistrement, une pour chaque couleur positive. Les trois matrices positives sont maintenant fabriquées en succession à partir d’un seul négatif Eastmancolor tiré à travers trois filtres convenablement colorés.”
(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 p. 201.) (in French)
“La participation de Technicolor à l’introduction du CinémaScope s’avère encore plus problématique. La caméra ne peut accommoder l’Hypergonar et les tireuses sont incompatibles avec les perforations spécifiques de la Fox. La compagnie ne remédiera à ce dernier problème qu’au milieu de l’année 1953. Ainsi, les trois premiers films en CinémaScope seront tournés en Eastmancolor, puis traités et développés par Technicolor12. Les toutes premières copies par imbibition de La Tunique sont un désastre. Alors que la nouvelle pellicule panchromatique développée par Eastman pour accompagner la méthode de Technicolor de tirage des matrices à partir d’un négatif couleur unique est jugée acceptable pour les films “plats”, l’étirement de l’image durant la projection sur écran large produit une augmentation du grain et une distorsion13. Pour éviter que cette situation ne se reproduise, Technicolor commande à Eastman une pellicule pour ses matrices adaptée aux négatifs CinémaScope. S’intéressant plus à la promotion de l’Eastmancolor14, ce dernier demande à Technicolor d’abandonner complètement la méthode de l’imbibition. Un accord est alors signé avec un fabricant concurrent, Du Pont, qui fournit à Technicolor une pellicule dépassant la qualité de celles proposées par Eastman15. Pour ne pas perdre un de ses plus importants clients, Eastman relève le défi avec une nouvelle génération de matrices et de pellicules introduites successivement en 1954 et en 1956. Ainsi, à, partir de 1956, l’utilisation de la pellicule Du Pont est abandonnée par Technicolor.
Malgré les difficultés de Technicolor pour s’adapter à l’avènement de l’écran large dans l’industrie cinématographique américaine, la société maintient tout de même un niveau de rentabilité stable. En 1954, et malgré la réduction par deux du coût de la location, les caméras Technicolor sont utilisées pour la dernière fois sur le film Fox fire distribué par Universal. L’abandon définitif de ces dernières suit l’introduction par Eastman Kodak d’une nouvelle série de copies négatives et positives intermédiaires, ainsi que d’un nouveau négatif Eastmancolor amélioré. Si le Technicolor classique est condamné à partir de 1956 au niveau de la production, tous les films américains en couleur étant désormais tournés en Eastmancolor (Salt, 242), les méthodes de traitement des copies d’exploitation de la compagnie lui assureront sa survie dans les années 60. Désormais, le logo “Color by Technicolor“, apparu au générique des films des années 50, signifie que Technicolor est responsable de l’ensemble des phases de traitement de la couleur, le logo “Print by Technicolor” se référant seulement aux copies d’exploitation dont la compagnie avait la charge16. Toutefois, en raison d’une stratégie marketing pauvre de la part de Kalmus, Technicolor n’est souvent pas créditée pour le tirage des copies, contribuant ainsi à créer l’impression parmi les spectateurs qu’il n’y avait pas de différence substantielle entre les différents laboratoires de couleur. Il faut noter ici que, durant les années 50, de nombreux laboratoires envoient encore leurs négatifs à Technicolor pour le tirage des copies d’exploitation par imbibition (Haines, 88).
Il a fallu à peine trois ans à Eastman Kodak pour renverser un règne de vingt ans du Technicolor tripack sur le marché de couleur à Hollywood. Comme le souligne Gorham Kindem, le monopole sur trente ans de Technicolor sur le marché du cinéma en couleur a été financé par la société à perte. Eastman n’a jamais pris les mêmes risques que la société de Kalmus afin de protéger ses inventions et d’assurer sa domination. Grâce aux recherches menées après son consent decree et son contrôle sur des brevets qui n’étaient pas couverts par les décrets, Eastman a réussi à éliminer le monopole de Technicolor tout en créant un nouveau, cette fois sur la pellicule couleur et les produits chimiques relatifs à toute la chaîne de traitement du cinéma en couleur.
Il est probable que la couleur soit diffusée plus rapidement et plus massivement au sein du cinéma américain (dès les années 40), si Technicolor s’était souciée plus des besoins des studios mineurs et des producteurs indépendants. Plus de films auraient, certainement, pu être réalisés durant les années 40 (Kindem, 34). Les studios ont, toutefois, pu profiter du jeu concurrentiel entre Technicolor et Eastman Kodak, notamment par rapport au coût de la pellicule positive. En 1954, Technicolor prétendait que sa méthode de tirage par imbibition pouvait faire économiser aux distributeurs 15 millions de dollars par an17. Finalement, le démantèlement du monopole Technicolor sur le cinéma en couleur aura permis aux studios d’étendre davantage leur contrôle sur le processus de production et, par conséquent, de réaliser les économies d’échelle souhaitables pour l’intégration de la couleur, souvent au prix de certaines concessions au niveau de la qualité. Ces évolutions dans le rapport de forces entre Technicolor et Eastman ne sont pas sans intérêt pour l’analyse de l’esthétique même des films en couleur de cette période.
12 En raison des capacités limitées de son propre laboratoire, DeLuxe, le studio est initialement dépendant de Technicolor pour le développement d’un certain nombre de copies pour le marché américain ainsi que pour l’intégralité des copies pour les marchés étrangers.
13 Cependant, la pellicule de Eastman n’en est pas entièrement responsable. L’Hypergonar réduit la lumière transmise sur le négatif couleur. Kalmus devra finalement utiliser des copies de secours positives en Eastmancolor afin de remplacer les copies par imbibition en circulation, même si le générique du film créditait finalement Technicolor.
14 L’Eastmancolor présente aussi ses propres inconvénients. Par exemple, alors que les copies positives couleur sont techniquement plus nettes que les copies par imbibition, issues des trois négatifs, elles n’égalent pas l’intensité, la profondeur, l’éclat, la saturation des couleurs primaires et le contraste des copies Technicolor et ont tendance à s’effacer rapidement. Le grain devient alors plus apparent dans les scènes utilisant un faible éclairage. Par ailleurs, il est impossible de maintenir une qualité constante lors des gros tirages. La stabilité des copies Technicolor est due, en effet, à la stabilité des colorants à base d’acide et au recours à l’impression photomécanique. Néanmoins, du point de vue du distributeur, l’Eastmancolor est un bon compromis qualité-efficacité, simplifiant le processus d’enregistrement et d’impression des couleurs et permettant ainsi aux studios d’opérer leurs propres laboratoires de traitement de la couleur. Ainsi, il contribue, pour la première fois, à une utilisation plus généralisée de la couleur. L’enregistrement photographique des couleurs peut se faire à l’aide d’une caméra noir et blanc conventionnelle et les copies Eastmancolor peuvent être tirées sur des tireuses noir et blanc standards.
15 Cette pellicule est utilisée pour un grand nombre de productions entre 1953 et 1956, dont certains films en VistaVision.
16 Un grand nombre de films en WarnerColor et certains titres en DeLuxe Color ont été tirés sur des copies Technicolor selon la méthode de l’imbibition, même si un négatif Eastmancolor a été utilisé en tournage.
17 Variety, 17/3/1954, p. 4.
Haines, Richard W., Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing, Jefferson (North Carolina) & London: McFarland & Company, 1993.
Kindem, Gorham, “Hollywood’s Conversion to Color: The Technological, Economic and Aesthetic Factors” in Schatz, Thomas, dir. Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 3, London: Routledge, 2003.
Salt, Barry, Film Style and Technology, History and Analysis, London: Starward, 1992.”
(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. 202–203.) (in French)
Moby Dick (USA 1956, John Huston)
“Moby Dick (USA – 1956; directed by John Huston, photographed by Oswald Morris) – In this film, an individual colour style was again well sustained by Huston. Also, it represented an interesting experiment in controlling the general dramatic quality and the mood of the entire film by means of certain modifications of the positive printing in the laboratory. The three-colour matrixes were combined in the processing with a strong imprint of the black and white film. The result gave the film an appearance of coloured etchings and a subdued colour tonality that fitted the story. In the first part of the picture, which takes place in the northern seas, a greater dominance was given to black and white, thus producing a stark, gray cast. In the second part, when the action switched to the South Seas, the colours were allowed more latitude and warmth. The transition was impressive, both dramatically and pictorially.
me in such quick and numerous succession, that they caught the film makers out of breath. When one thinks of the slow development of the other arts, the evolution of the cinema seems prodigiously rapid. All art needs time and experiment in order to mature and flower. It does not take a prophet to predict that there will be an increasingly greater number of color-films made in the future. This poses a provoactive challenge to the film artists. We hope they face it with daring and imagination.”
(Mamoulian, Rouben (1960): Color and Light in Films. The Esthetics of Colour. In: Film Culture, 21, pp. 68–79, on pp. 78–79.)
Invitation To A Dance (USA 1956, Gene Kelly)
“Invitation To A Dance (USA – 1956; directed by Gene Kelly; photographed by F. A. Young and Joseph Ruttenberg) – This was a radical departure for a commercial film. The entire picture consisted of choreography, and while using music and sound, it did not use any dialogue. The lack of words added potency to the colours. The chromatic pattern was expressive and stimulating. In one of the dances, red was used in a particularly dramatic and beautiful way.”
(Mamoulian, Rouben (1960): Color and Light in Films. The Esthetics of Colour. In: Film Culture, 21, pp. 68–79, on p. 79.)
“When we think of Technicolor we use the term to describe a famous kind of color film requiring a unique camera that used not one but three strips of film negative. Technicolor, however, was not just a kind of camera. It was also a dye transfer printing process. And because the word Technicolor has been applied to both the camera and the printing process, we have had no end of confusion as to what constitutes a Technicolor movie. Long after it stopped providing three-strip cameras, Technicolor continued to offer its services as a lab to process and print a wide variety of color films made from negatives manufactured by its competitors and successors – notably Eastman, Ansco, Agfa, Ferraniacolor, Gaevert, and eventually Sovcolor and Fuji – film stocks that all used ordinary cameras. While Eastman and its competitors provided camera negatives, Technicolor after 1954 limited itself to the highly lucrative business of processing and making dye transfer prints. In that same year, Technicolor abandoned its distinctive photographic system based on its unique three-strip camera.4 But film companies, eager to capitalize on the prestige of the Technicolor name, did their best to blur the distinction between films shot with Technicolor cameras and those simply processed by Technicolor. They continued to advertise Technicolor prints as though they were Technicolor films.
Hitchcock’s Rear Window is a useful case in point. The credits read, “Color by Technicolor.” But in fact Rear Window was shot entirely on the new Eastman 5247 negative with ordinary 35mm cameras.5 And why did Hitchcock chose to shoot Rear Window in Eastman Color when he could just as easily have shot in “real” Technicolor, the way he had Rope and Under Capricorn five years earlier? The answer lies in the way that Eastman Color had improved on the more famous system in ways essential to Hitchcock’s requirements.
As a feat of engineering, the Technicolor system was brilliant, but it had an important technical limitation, inherent in its design, that it could never overcome.
As the name implies, the system made use of three strips of film running simultaneously through a camera. [Fig 02; Fig 03] On the right a filmstrip takes a green record of an image – in fact, simply a black and white strip of film with a green filter in front of it. Meanwhile, to the left of the lens, are the other two strips of film, one behind the other. Thanks to a beam-splitting mirror, the light bounces onto the front filmstrip with a blue overcoat to create a blue record. And like the green image, this will be razor sharp. But then the light must work harder. It must pass through to the second strip of film behind the blue one to register on a red coated strip.
And there is the problem. The light is now dimmer, having passed through the first strip. So, to compensate, the rear filmstrip will be given a somewhat faster speed than the other two strips of film, and as a consequence will create a somewhat grainier image. Moreover, the rear image is one thickness [a millimeter or so] further away from the lens than are the front image and the green image on the side. So, while the green and blue negative records are crisp and sharp, the red negative record will be slightly out of focus. When the negative records are processed, the green and blue will print as razor sharp positive magenta and yellow dyes. The soft red, however, prints positive as a soft cyan. True, all the colors are pure [the great strength of Technicolor’s dye system] but the cyan blues and greens lack crispness. The spongy cyan is what helps define the Technicolor look and, as Scott MacQueen has pointed out, gives Technicolor its warmth. In particular the soft colors give flesh tones their distinctive waxy, creamy look which professional cinematographers can easily enhance.6 [Fig 04]
But that softness is murder on a film like Rear Window which needs all the help it can get in maintaining great depths of field, as the camera has to shoot from Jimmy Stewart’s apartment to a bank of apartments across a courtyard at a distance ranging from 40 to 80 feet away. The plot calls for the camera to catch small details of pantomime from actors [notably Raymond Burr] who are seldom closer than 70 feet from the camera. No Technicolor camera could register that kind of depth.7 [Fig 05]
Soft focus, in fact, would prove fatal in the early 1950s. It put Technicolor on a collision course with another technical phenomenon of the decade – widescreen. There were, in fact, an assortment of widescreen processes – eight of them altogether. But they all shared the need for pinpoint sharpness. The anamorphic CinemaScope and double frame VistaVision lenses in particular had resolution and distortion problems of their own that left no tolerance for the soft focus limitation of the three-strip camera in the film negative.8 This becomes a lifesaver for historians, by the way. It can be taken as an article of faith: if the film has been shot in any wide screen format, it cannot have been shot in Technicolor, no matter what the screen credits imply. [Fig 06]
The popularity of widescreen made the demise of Technicolor inevitable. Other – more prosaic – forces made its fall one that few within the industry mourned. The system had always been awkward and expensive, by the end of the ’40s adding an additional $100,000 to an average picture.9 Further, the cameras were notoriously bulky, a particular hardship for location shooting. Martin Hart estimates that a fully equipped Technicolor camera, like the one that Huston took down the Congo with Bogart and Hepburn in African Queen or that Renoir used on the Ganges, weighed over 100 pounds.10 Moreover, the insensitivity of the Technicolor film stock famously required lots of hot light, special makeup, and specially toned clothing and sets.11
But beyond that, Technicolor had developed a reputation for being difficult. Because the Technicolor apparatus was leased – never sold – filmmakers were obliged to use Technicolor’s camera, its labs, its custom-made negative and print stock, and – most important for our purposes – the Technicolor support staff [called variously the Color Control Department and the Color Advisory Service]. That staff included the Technicolor color consultant who passed on every foot of film sent through the camera and whose job it was to make Technicolor look good – sometimes, it was argued, at the expense of the picture. Until 1948, Technicolor’s chief consultant was Natalie Kalmus, the ex-wife of Technicolor’s founder Herbert Kalmus, who quickly became Technicolor’s chief aesthetic enforcer.
Natalie Kalmus had retired from Technicolor and was out of the film business by the start of the 50s, but the principles she is credited with having created, and the staff she had trained, remained firmly in place during those last years of three-strip. And their enforcement is an important reason that Technicolor films sport such a well-defined, easily identifiable look.12
For Herbert Kalmus, the engineer, the most important rule was the need for accuracy in reproduction. But for Natalie Kalmus, the trained art student, Technicolor was to be built on time-honored principles of color harmony, balance, and contrast. Color cinematographers and designers, Kalmus argued, were obliged to study which hues belong with one another. They were to avoid foregrounding colors adjacent to each other on her color wheel because, she argued, the combinations are characterless, too near each other to make a significant impression. “When one color is placed in front of or beside another,” she wrote, “there must be enough difference in their hues to separate one from the other photographically.” She recommends “the judicious use of neutrals” as a “foil for vivid color” in order to “lend power and interest to the touches of color in a scene.”13 In the tradition of the German Romantics and, more recently, of New York graphic designers like Josef Muller-Brockmann and Gyorgy Kepes, color was to be structured as a set of polarities. This became Technicolor’s own version of Hollywood’s 180° rule: a scheme of triads based on three equidistant colors on the wheel, where hues should be either next to one another or roughly 30º apart.14
Technicolor also developed firm rules about the use of analogous and complementary colors, rules governing relationships between warm and cool colors, between saturated primaries and de-saturated neutrals, and rules governing monochromatic and neutral color schemes. Strong colors must be treated as accents, never overwhelming the composition. [Fig 07]
These demo pictures published in a 1950 photography manual provide a classic illustration of Technicolor thinking.15 What’s wrong with the color combination at the bottom is that the yellow background drowns the subject in the foreground. In the top image, the neutral grey not only serves as a foil to the red dress and flesh tones, it gives depth to the composition. Furthermore, red on yellow is considered a discordant combination because both colors are considered “strong:” yellow being the brightest and most luminous of colors; red being the most aggressive. This is the language of the typographer and graphic designer, where the two-dimensional qualities of the image as a graphic design are arranged in such a way as to enhance the illusion of three-dimensional space.
Even Technicolor’s goal of accurately reproduced color was subject to aesthetic evaluation. Herbert Kalmus’ acid test was accuracy in the copying of flesh tones, the most difficult combination of hues to capture.16 But as Technicolor was quick to learn, there is no single flesh tone, and the eye could readily adjust to inaccurate reproduction, depending on the color context. “Proper” flesh tones were, like other color elements, subject to Technicolor’s evolving color code, and by the mid-1940s the flesh tones Technicolor preferred were warm and darkish, which could better play off heavily saturated color surroundings without being swallowed up by them. One result, wisecracked Otis Ferguson, was a cast that often looked like a boatload of tennis players from the Canal Zone.17 Another, less obvious by-product was the emerging popularity of on-screen red-colored hair. As a glamour accent, red hair was a natural counterbalance to the creamy, achromatic ideal of Technicolor skin. It was the one hair color that had been made invisible in black-and-white, and, even better, it accentuated the vividness of Technicolor’s reds. By the mid-1940s, flaming redheads, preferably suntanned, were much in demand. This was the era of Rita Hayworth, Rhonda Fleming, Danny Kaye, Maureen O’Hara, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Virginia Mayo, and [when the occasion called for her to tint] Deborah Kerr [Fig 08]. In Life With Father, the unspoken drollery is that the entire Clarence Day family is red-haired, including the four sons and their parents, Irene Dunne, and William Powell.
The preoccupation with flesh tones, which several color theorists have argued amounted to an ideology, leads to fascinators. James Peterson and others have even argued that the deeply saturated look of Technicolor was a consequence of overcompensating for keying on white flesh.18
But more than creating an aesthetic environment for human flesh, Technicolor’s codes were used to organize space.
Balance is as important as the principle of playing isolated “pure” colors against transitional background neutrals. Multiple mirrors, for instance, seldom if ever work to create baroque, noir-style regressions, as they do in Citizen Kane or Lady from Shanghai where repeated images track back diagonally to infinity. Instead, as in How to Marry a Millionaire (Fox, 1953), they provide a means for reinforcing planimetric grids by generating a series of strong vertical stripes along a flat plane. [Fig 13]
Another popular tactic was to create balance and rhymes by inverting color combinations in costumes designed for couples. In Knights of the Round Table (MGM, 1953), for instance, Arthur and Lancelot divide the frame, Lancelot’s tunic reversing the colors of Arthur’s. [Fig 14]
Alfred Junge, the costume designer, creates a similar inversion when Arthur and his Queen Guinevere appear. Particularly in historical epics and musicals, the design inversions were meant to reinforce links between sweethearts, partners, and teammates. [Fig 15]
The variation of the color strip is the color accent, what George Hoyingen-Huene, the designer for A Star is Born, called “pinpricks” of strong primary and secondary colors.19 [Fig 16] The pinprick gives the composition an especially contrived appearance regardless of the genre. [Fig 17; Fig 18] Brightly painted lips become a natural focal point. [Fig 19] In Lili (MGM, 1953) shot glasses on a café table provide the stabs of color, but practically any small colored object could serve. [Fig 20] In Scaramouche, even blood gets turned into a decorator highlight. [Fig 21]
Just as obsessive as the saturated accent was Technicolor’s idea that background colors should harmonize with the principal colors in the foreground. Scaramouche provides a particularly vivid example, where Charles Rosher manages to find color rhymes and harmonies in practically every scene. [Fig 26; Fig 27; Fig 28]
A typical example: when Stewart Granger finds Janet Leigh in her rose garden, the camera frames Granger, costumed in a plum-colored coat, with red roses. In the reverse-angle shot, Leigh, outfitted in a white wig and white muslin gown, is framed beside the white roses. Then the two-shot, for a full view of the matching ensemble.
Nighttime scenes had their own Technicolor codes derived from the mid-30s. In the days when Technicolor required the greatest quantities of light, real shadows were avoided as much as possible because they registered as gaping black holes, patches of black that devoured the gray scale. The solution was to light a scene as evenly as possible and then work with color filters to create the appropriate nocturnal mood – soft blues – or sunset reds for romance. Lurid oranges with patches of turquoise and blue were used to represent eerie and uncanny night scenes. [Fig 29; Fig 30; Fig 31]
By the early 50s, Technicolor ASAs had improved sufficiently that real shadows were routinely used. But by now the convention had been thoroughly codified. Throughout the decade, Hollywood still depended heavily upon those color filter codes long after they were no longer technically required. [Fig 32]
These, then, were some of the grand clichés of classic Technicolor and they continued to exercise a powerful hold over Hollywood even after the era of 3-strip color ended. It was a highly disciplined color system, made possible by skilled craft departments equipped to coordinate their activities in order to ensure a readily identifiable look. The system crossed generic boundaries, a structural part of Technicolor’s transcendent look. The structural formulas were applied equally to war pictures, musicals, noir films about criminal insanity, comedies, social allegories, westerns, horror films, nostalgic Americana, and adventure pictures set in far-off lands.
Scott Higgins has forcefully counter-argued for the versatility of the Technicolor aesthetic as it grew from the Thirties. In his close examination of five seminal Technicolor films, he stresses the rapid multiplication of stylistic precedents established in such films as Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Written on the Wind to illustrate the flexibility of Kalmus’ color theory.21 For Higgins, Kalmus’ strictures operate as a set of broad guide lines rather than strict rules. But the atmosphere of exploration that Higgins finds in the 1930s is difficult to locate by the early 1950s. The aesthetic strategies sharply narrow as Technicolor’s production career comes to an end. The rapid growth of stylistic precedents that accumulate in 3-strip’s formative years result not in greater range in design, but, as we have seen, in an increasingly entrenched set of color rules. Innovative Technicolor films continue to be made. But, particularly after the war, such innovation is perceived as a self-conscious reaction against an ingrained system, not part of the system itself. The famous iconoclastic works such as Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and The Quiet Man, Huston’s Moulin Rouge, and Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession were either produced abroad where filmmakers were given more latitude in experimenting with Technicolor, or at home in open defiance of Technicolor policy.
4 Technicolor’s biggest year was 1952, when no fewer than 85 Hollywood features used the 3-strip camera. It meant that in the following year audiences were flooded with Technicolor releases including The Band Wagon, Shane, 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Caine Mutiny, and Magnificent Obsession. The studios released almost one hundred Technicolor features in 1953 [95 by my count, including three shot overseas] and distributed another 23 foreign films shot in Technicolor.
But the tide quickly ebbed. In their rush to wide-screen in 1953, the biggest studios switched away from the 3-strip process, leaving the cameras to Columbia, Universal, and RKO for budget product. In early 1954 Paramount made Technicolor’s final Grade-A picture, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, but by then prestige Technicolor productions had become an anomaly. Paramount itself had already begun using VistaVision for its other color releases, a widescreen process that depended upon Eastman Color.
Three-strip was phased out on a schedule of low-cost westerns, sci-fi, and musicals. The last American Technicolor features were Seminole Uprising, Man Without a Star, Shotgun, and, finally, Universal’s Fox Fire, filmed July–Sept 1954 with Jane Russell and Jeff Chandler.
My statistics derive from an amended list of Technicolor films compiled in Haines, Technicolor Movies, pp. 37–47 which in turn derives from Fred Basten’s filmography in Glorious Technicolor (Cranbury, NJ: A.S. Barnes, 1980), 169–187. The difficulty with these lists is that they do not distinguish between films shot in 3-strip and those simply processed by Technicolor. Nor do they distinguish Hollywood product from foreign-made movies, nor Hollywood productions made abroad [which relied on Technicolor technicians in London and Rome] from those made at home. In my statistics, I have siphoned off the non-three strip productions and foreign films.
I have drawn production dates from the American Film Institute Catalog, 1951–1960, Chadwyck-Healey/American Film Institute, 2003–2008.
5 In this case, the Technicolor credit is doubly misleading. Although Rear Window was processed by Technicolor, Eastman Color film was used not only as the negative, but also for the prints. The Technicolor lab, still learning how to cope with the new Eastman monopack negative, discovered that Eastman’s own print film produced sharper results than Technicolor’s dye transfer process. So, while the lab took a crash course to improve its own system, it quietly used Eastman print film for features such as Rear Window, A Star is Born, and How to Marry a Millionaire. Robert Gitt, interview with author, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA 20 Feb 2005.
Paramount’s advertizing also created the illusion that Rear Window was shot wide-screen. But cinematographer Robert Burks confirms that the film was shot standard aperture with standard lenses. Arthur Gavin, “Rear Window,” American Cinematographer (February, 1954), 76–78, 97. Following the practice Paramount started with Shane, the aperture plate was masked to simulate wide-screen in some [mostly first-run] theatres.
6 Scott MacQueen, “Film Technology: Special Report,” The Perfect Vision 3/10 (Spring, 1991), 27–28.
7 For the technical challenges of shooting Rear Window, Robert Burks, quoted in Gavin, “Rear Window,” AC (February, 1954), 78.
8 Warner Brothers’ experience shooting A Star is Born in 1954 provides the classic example of the incompatibility between three-strip Technicolor with CinemaScope. After several weeks of shooting, Cukor was obliged to abandon the Technicolor cameras and start over with Eastman Color film. Ron Haver, A Star is Born (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1988), 134–136.
9 Gorham Kindem, “Hollywood’s Conversion to Color: the Technological, Economic, and Aesthetic Factors,” Journal of the University Film Association, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring, 1979), 35.
10 Martin Hart, e-mail to author, 20 Sept 2005: “My best estimate of the weight of the unblimped Technicolor camera would be about 120 pounds with a full load of film. I don’t think the blimped camera weighed anywhere near 600 pounds but it surely tipped the scales at 300 pounds or more. Lead was a common component of camera blimps… Huston and Jack Cardiff shot most of The African Queen with an unblimped camera and the dialog was looped in London.”
11 The great advances in lighting equipment, in dye transfer processing, and in Technicolor film speeds and exposure latitudes that made possible new techniques in photographing color in the late 1930s are described in Higgins, 80–89 and 176–180; and summarized in Edward Branigan, “Color and Cinema: Problems in the Writing of History,” Film Reader, vol. 4 (1979), 27–28. But by the mid-40s, the Technicolor system still had an effective speed of around 12 ASA compared to Eastman Kodak’s Plus X and Super XX negatives 80 ASA and 160 ASA. With a system that required so much light, it was impossible to close the lens aperture enough to extend the depth of field. Even by the early 50s, Technicolor ASA did not rise above 24. Adrian Cornwell-Clyne, Colour Cinematography, 132, cited in Higgins, 177; Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology (London: Starword, 1983), 257. Interview with Richard Dayton, YCM Laboratories, Los Angeles, 28 March 2005.
12 For Natalie Kalmus’ background and her importance to Technicolor theory and early practice, Higgins, 39–47.
13 Natalie Kalmus, “Color Consciousness,” The Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers [hereafter SMPE Journal] (August 1935) 146, 142; revised as “Colour,” in Behind the Screen, ed. Stephen Watts (London: Arthur Barker, 1938), 122, 118. For Herbert Kalmus and the cardinal importance attached to accurate reproduction, H.T. Kalmus, “Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland,” SMPE Journal (December, 1938), 576, 579.
14 Edward Branigan, “The Articulation of Color in a Filmic System,” Wide Angle 1/3 (1976), 25.
15 Kodak Color Data Book E-74 [Color as Seen and Photographed] (Rochester, NY, 1950), p. 56.
16 H.T. Kalmus, op. cit., 576, 579. Cf. article by Technicolor’s chief lab technician in the 1930s, Winton Hoch, “Technicolor Cinematography,” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (August, 1942), 97–98; and an article by Technicolor’s vice president and technical advisor, J.A. Ball, “The Technicolor Process of Three-Color Cinematography,” SMPE Journal (August, 1935), 134.
17 Ferguson, “New Wine and Old Bottles,” The New Republic (26 June 1935); reprinted in The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1971), 81.
18 James Peterson, “Fireworks: The Spread of Spectacle in the Fifties Film,” unpubl. seminar paper CA958 (American Films of the 1950s), University of Wisconsin – Madison, 17 May 1982.
19 Haver, A Star is Born, 155.
21 Higgins, 46–47 and 208–213. See also Higgins’ “Color at the Center: Minnelli’s Technicolor Style in Meet Me in St. Louis ,” Style (Fall, 1998), 653–56, where he makes a similar argument, presenting a picture of diverse color styles “co-existing within the borders of an overarching set of aesthetic principles.””
(Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on pp. 1–6.)
“At the start of the 50s, however, powerful new alternatives to the Technicolor aesthetic emerge that revitalize the debate, as studios and directors take direct control of the color processes.
By the end of 1954, after the last stragglers had finally returned their Technicolor cameras, Ansco was out of the movie business, and through the rest of the decade Eastman provided the color negative to all the major studios and virtually all the independents.
Pursuant to the settlement of its 1948 anti-trust suit with the Justice Department, Eastman originally did no processing of its own film, and permitted the studios and labs to re-label the process as they saw fit. So, The Lion and the Horse was released “in WarnerColor,” just as Fox subsequently released color films in “Deluxe,” Columbia in Columbia Color, and M-G-M, after it gave up on Ansco, in “MetroColor.”24 But all this meant was that studios and independent labs were developing Eastman film themselves rather than sending it out to Eastman or Technicolor for processing.
When the prints from Eastman negative were made by Technicolor [as with Warners’ A Star is Born and virtually all the Paramounts shot in VistaVision], only Technicolor’s name appeared as the color source – in the opening credits, in film trailers, and sometimes on theatre marquees. Audiences rarely saw Eastman’s name except on low budget productions when Eastman’s lab finally agreed to print films that the smaller studios could not afford to develop themselves.
24 Likewise, budget color films could be processed as TruColor, CineColor, or Pathé Color, depending upon the lab that was used. For an example of a technical journal treating Eastman Color as a studio creation, Edwin DuPar, “WarnerColor – Newest of Color Process,” AC (September, 1952), 384–385, 402–404.”
(Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on p. 6.)
“For the studios, the most conspicuous advantages were practical: color movies suddenly became significantly cheaper to produce and easier to make. The most conspicuous advantage of Eastman Color was that it eliminated the need for the bulky Technicolor camera. As a single strip of film, it could fit into any 35mm camera and did not even require Eastman processing. Eastman also had a considerably higher rating than Technicolor – by 1955, somewhere around 50, more than half-again the speed of the most up-to-date Technicolor film [and by the end of the decade a whopping 125 and 160 ratings for its two high speed stocks].25 Deep focus in color had at last become possible. […]
The implications of this shift, all but unnoticed amidst the hoopla about wide screen, were enormous. Precisely because it had been so expensive, color had previously been reserved for special categories of films: musicals, historical romances, and swashbucklers – genres that accounted for less than 10% of Hollywood’s output.26 The other staples – family melodrama, westerns, comedies, crime films, sci-fi, and war films – had almost always stayed in black and white. The rule of thumb: reality was meant for black-and-white; color indicated fantasy. Unless the locale was exotic – say Hong Kong, Korea, Ireland, or Niagara Falls – any film set in the contemporary world was also shot in black and white. It was in fact one function of Technicolor to make even impoverished settings, like Florida’s scrub country in The Yearling, appear romantic and unreal. James Agee’s review of Leave Her to Heaven, the first of only two noir films ever shot in Technicolor, is revealing. Agee thought the color a mistake, making the narrative look superficial. He wrote, “The story’s central idea might be plausible enough in a dramatically lighted black and white picture, or in a radio show. But in the rich glare of Technicolor, all its rental-library characteristics are doubly jarring.”27 Color itself is the issue for Agee; it never occurs to him that Technicolor coding might be the problem. Color itself is wrong for social realism and acute personal drama.
But in the 50s, not only did color come to the modern world. Domestic melodrama – the quintessential black-and-white genre of the 40s – became the new cutting edge for color experimentation. Although the sudden surge in color westerns at the start of the decade meant that, numerically, Eastman Color westerns far outnumbered so-called women pictures in color, by the time the studios hit their stride in developing their own color aesthetic, the new lords of color were the melodramatists: Sirk, Minnelli, John Huston, Otto Preminger, George Cukor, and Fritz Lang – directors who quickly created signature styles, while dramatically broadening the range of color applications to narrative.28 At the same time younger Turks [Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray in particular] collaborated with their cinematographers to create color experiments of their own. Minnelli is an especially interesting case because he had been the leading director of Technicolor musicals in the 40s, and then with Ansco and Eastman Color created a brand new color style for his 50s melodramas – notably Lust for Life, Tea and Sympathy, and above all in his masterpiece Some Came Running.29
The Technicolor codes did not suddenly evaporate. Particularly in the early transitional years, expensive CinemaScope and VistaVision spectacles faithfully followed the Technicolor formulas, making their color designs all but indistinguishable from the Kalmus model [the widescreen illustrations I have used from The Robe, Knights of the Round Table, and How To Marry a Millionaire, all shot on Eastman Color or Ansco, are classic examples of Technicolor practice being used verbatim during the new regime].30 But, by the mid-1950s, conspicuous shifts appear.
25 Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology (London: Starword, 1983), 310. Leigh Allen, “New Technicolor Lighting System Tested by Top-Flight Cinematographers,” International Projectionist (January, 1951), 20–21. Interview with Scott MacQueen, 28 March 2005.
26 My statistics derive from an amended list of Technicolor films compiled in Haines, Technicolor Movies, pp. 37–47 which in turn derives from Fred Basten’s filmography in Glorious Technicolor (Cranbury, NJ: A.S. Barnes, 1980), 169–187 and in The American Film Institute Catalog, 1951–1960, Chadwyck-Healey/American Film Institute, 2003–2008. See footnote 3: For Eastman’s problems with color instability and the corporate cover-up, Henry Wilhelm and Carol Brower, The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures (Preservation Publishing Co., Grinnell, Iowa, 1993), 305–328.
27 James Agee, Time Magazine 7 January 1946, reprinted in Agee on Film (New York: McDowell Obolensky, 1958), 360.
28 Eastman Color western and melodrama counts derive from The American Film Institute Catalog, ibid. The rise of the color western in the early 1950s was particularly dramatic. By my count, a total of twenty westerns filmed in color were released from 1940 to 1949, none during America’s war years. At the end of the decade, the number shot up from three in 1949 to 11 in 1950, then to 23 in 1951, 21 in 1952, 21 in 1953, and 20 in 1954. In short, as many color westerns were shot each year in the early 1950s as were shot in the entire preceding decade.
29 For Minnelli and Technicolor, Scott Higgins, “Color at the Center: Minnelli’s Technicolor Style in Meet Me in St. Louis ,” Style (Fall, 1998). For Minnelli and his color 1950s melodrama, Minnelli with Hector Acre, I Remember It Well (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974), 288–290.
30 Minnelli, in fact, resisted Eastman color for Lust for Life because in its first years the Eastman color style so closely resembled Technicolor’s that Minnelli assumed Eastman could not reproduce subdued tones. Its palette, he claimed, came “straight from the candy box, a brilliant mixture of blues, reds, and yellows” [I Remember, 288–89]. So he used Ansco Color along with the single color consultant with no Technicolor background, Ansco’s Charles Hagedon.”
(Merritt, Russell (2008): Crying in Color. How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died. In: Journal of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, 3,2/3, pp. 1–16, on p. 7.)
“L’industria che più risente del nuovo ciclo tecnologico postbellico è la Technicolor, che vede minacciata la propria leadership. La società americana è costretta a ripensare le strategie commerciali per non perdere quote di mercato. Nel 1951, una sentenza dell’antitrust impone all’azienda una parziale divulgazione dei brevetti, ma l’atto giudiziario cade nel momento in cui il monopolio si sta già dissolvendo per effetto dei nuovi sistemi monopack. Nonostante tutto, nel 1953 la Technicolor registra ancora gli utili più alti del dopoguerra. È solo verso la metà del decennio che la società risente pesantemente della diffusione sempre più ampia dell’Eastmancolor. Le nuove scelte aziendali consigliano di studiare un modo per rendere compatibile il Technicolor con i nuovi supporti. Come è già stato ricordato, infatti, la società non è mai stata coinvolta direttamente nella produzione di pellicola e la sua esigenza principale è quella di non perdere quote di mercato nel settore redditizio della stampa delle copie per le sale. I nuovi andamenti del mercato impongono dunque un accantonamento del sistema precedente (Technicolor no. 4). La vecchia e ingombrante macchina three strip dentro cui scorrevano simultaneamente tre negativi in bianco e nero viene dismessa dopo il 1955. Del precedente sistema Technicolor viene ora mantenuto soltanto il sistema di stampa ad alta qualità dye transfer, che può essere effettuato a partire da uno qualsiasi dei negativi monopack commercializzati negli anni Cinquanta (tavola a colori 7)4. Il nuovo Technicolor (no. 5) trasferisce il potere contrattuale dell’azienda verso le case di produzione, che sono ora libere di scegliere il personale tecnico alle loro dipendenze e le attrezzature che preferiscono. D’altra parte, la Technicolor continua a controllare in toto la fase della stampa dye transfer, al fine di non screditare un marchio che si era conquistato negli anni una reputazione di alta qualità tra i tecnici5. Si cerca di conservare l’esclusiva sulle operazioni di laboratorio, per garantire alle produzioni che vi ricorrono uno standard qualitativo superiore alla media. Trova così un aggiornamento anche quella sorta di gentlemen’s agreement che aveva sempre legato la società alla Kodak, principale fornitore di supporti della Technicolor. Dopo l’introduzione dell’Eastmancolor, si profila un rapporto concorrenziale tra le due aziende. In questo senso, l’adeguamento tecnologico del Technicolor no. 5 sembra andare nella direzione di ristabilire, obtorto collo, una nuova ripartizione dei settori di mercato.
4 II negativo monopack è utilizzato per ricavare tre pellicole di selezione cromatica in bianco e nero, alla base del processo di stampa dye transfer, che rimane immutato. I primi esperimenti con pellicole monopack, limitati ad alcune sequenze in esterni, risalgono ai primi anni Quaranta. Cfr. R.W. Haines, Technicolor Movies. The History of Dye Transfer Printing, Jefferson, McFarland & Company, pp. 27–29; A. Cornwell-Clyne, Colour Cinematography, London, Chapman & Hall, 1936 , pp. 476–477.
5 II processo di stampa dye transfer sarà abbandonato dalla Technicolor nel 1974, per ragioni economiche: a partire da questa data non esiste più alcuna rilevante differenza di lavorazione tra i diversi sistemi, tutti assimilabili all’Eastmancolor. Negli stabilimenti della Technicolor italiana, i macchinari per la stampa dye transfer continuano a funzionare fino alla fine degli anni Settanta. Negli anni Novanta, il sistema dye transfer è stato adottato in una versione aggiornata per alcuni film nuovi e per alcuni restauri; le ragioni di questo revival sono da ricercare probabilmente nel decadimento della qualità delle stampe realizzate con macchine ad alta velocità. Cfr. R.W. Haines, “Technicolor Revival”, in Film History, 2000, 4, pp. 410–416. Oggi la stampa dye transfer non risulta praticata in alcuno stabilimento.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2016): Un’archeologia del colore nel cinema italiano. Dal Technicolor ad Antonioni. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, on pp. 115–117.) (in Italian)
Il deserto rosso (ITA/FRA 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)
“Il deserto rosso (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964, Eastmancolor stampato Technicolor, tavole a colori 29-43) è un film liminale, poiché può essere considerato al contempo l’ultimo della transizione italiana al colore e il primo di una nuova fase che si apre negli anni Sessanta. Nel 1964, quando il film esce sugli schermi, il processo di naturalizzazione del colore, iniziato verso la metà del decennio precedente, può dirsi completato: i tecnici hanno messo a punto un ventaglio ormai assai ampio di soluzioni stilistiche, anche in virtù di consistenti miglioramenti dei supporti e dei macchinari. E solo in questo periodo che il cinema d’autore, in Italia e in Europa, inizia a convertirsi in blocco al colore, affrancandosi definitivamente dal postulato teorico e critico della superiorità estetica del bianco e nero.
Rispetto a questo problema Il deserto rosso occupa un posto di rilievo. Come ogni opera di grande impatto stilistico e culturale, il film di Antonioni ha la capacità di far apparire sotto una nuova luce l’orizzonte delle esperienze del colore che attraversano la società del tempo. Come Antonioni stesso dichiara “il colore ha, nella vita moderna, un significato e una funzione che non aveva in passato…”57. In effetti, molti settori della produzione di massa hanno fatto propri alcuni studi sull’impatto psicologico del colore e sulle preferenze cromatiche degli individui al fine di ripensare la funzionalità del colore negli spazi pubblici e privati58. Si mira in questo modo a sistematizzare le reazioni agli stimoli cromatici entro un insieme prevedibile e ordinato di comportamenti e sensazioni, come efficienza, attenzione, rilassatezza, benessere, desiderio59. I personaggi del film si trovano spesso a vivere in ambienti i cui colori sembrano essere stati programmati in funzione di determinati effetti mentali, psicologici e corporei prestabiliti da specialisti del colore sulla base di teorie e test sperimentali.
Benché Antonioni non sia interessato a proporre un documentario sugli usi sociali del colore, è altrettanto evidente che il film esprime fin dalle sequenze iniziali una forte attenzione nei confronti del nuovo orizzonte di esperienze sociali e psicologiche del colore che si sta facendo strada nella cultura del tempo.
La sequenza dei titoli di testa disattende ogni aspettativa di riconoscibilità e di attribuzione di senso. Attraverso una scelta stilistica del tutto anticlassica, le diciannove inquadrature sul paesaggio tecnologico della fabbrica sono lasciate fuori fuoco. Le forme che ne derivano appaiono così prive di consistenza materiale e la loro identificazione è fortemente disturbata. Fin dall’inizio dunque il colore si mostra come un elemento indefinito, fluttuante e instabile, proponendo allo spettatore un’esperienza che ricorda quella dei colori fisiologici di Goethe60. Lo spettatore è portato a considerare il colore come un’esperienza del corpo, senza che però essa possa legarsi al corpo di un personaggio in particolare61.
La sequenza successiva introduce il personaggio nevrotico di Giuliana e del figlio nell’ambiente circostante alla fabbrica, dove i colori artificiali e le combustioni industriali sembrano aver definitivamente cancellato i colori del paesaggio. Il grigiore che fa da sfondo ai personaggi lascia emergere il verde del cappotto della donna, una reminiscenza del colore simbolico della natura per eccellenza che si esprime però attraverso un capo di vestiario di produzione industriale. Se il gioco delle soggettive vere e false che punteggia la sequenza suggerisce l’assunzione di Giuliana al ruolo di guida e protagonista, la sua presenza non si traduce automaticamente in una esteriorizzazione diretta dei suoi stati d’animo attraverso il colore62. Al contrario, si direbbe piuttosto che spesso sono i colori degli ambienti attraversati da Giuliana a determinarne le reazioni. Come già suggeriscono i titoli di testa, le esperienze del colore che il film rappresenta eccedono sistematicamente il personaggio di Giuliana: alla domanda su chi sia il soggetto delle percezioni e delle sensazioni lo spettatore non è in grado di dare risposte univoche63.
Entrando dentro la fabbrica, nella terza sequenza, lo spettatore viene posto a contatto con il primo di una serie di ambienti in cui i colori appaiono progettati e programmati in funzione di compiti, mansioni o comportamenti predeterminati. Gli interni della fabbrica aprono la serie degli ambienti di lavoro, cui seguono, nelle sequenze immediatamente successive, l’ambiente domestico della casa di Giuliana e l’ambiente di vendita del negozio in allestimento.
Nella fabbrica, la sala comandi, con i suoi grigi metallici, è il luogo dell’ingegnerizzazione dei processi, in cui la concentrazione deve regnare sovrana e ogni possibile distrazione legata al colore deve essere evitata. Una decorazione colorata appare solo al di fuori della sala, in un luogo di passaggio nel quale l’occhio viene lasciato libero di distrarsi per qualche istante. Nei successivi locali attraversati dal marito di Giuliana e da Corrado, i macchinari e le tubature hanno colori (bianco, blu, verde, arancio, giallo, rosso) che si conformano al modello industriale dei safety colors. Tale modello, messo a punto dall’azienda americana Dupont nel 1944, stabiliva, sulla base di ricerche sperimentali, che il cervello umano avesse una sensibilità accresciuta verso sei colori (bianco, blu, rosso, verde, arancio e giallo) e che proprio per la loro capacità di attirare l’attenzione essi dovessero essere usati negli ambienti di lavoro per garantire la sicurezza64. Se i due ingegneri attraversano effettivamente questi ambienti con un senso di assoluta tranquillità e familiarità, Giuliana – che in mezzo a questi macchinari riappare inaspettatamente – li esperisce in maniera disfunzionale. I suoi sensi e il suo corpo sono aggrediti da questo mondo tecnologico allo stesso tempo attraente e terrificante.
La quarta sequenza fa entrare lo spettatore nell’ambiente domestico di Giuliana, che appare progettato in base a moderni principi di design. La prima inquadratura è divisa verticalmente da un fascio di luce che lascia in penombra lo spazio occupato da Giuliana, come se la luce del razionalismo modernista non riuscisse a incidere sul mondo sensibile della donna, che continua ad abitare disfunzionalmente anche questo ambiente, che, al contrario del precedente, dovrebbe esserle familiare.
Nella successiva sequenza, ambientata nel negozio in fase di allestimento, Giuliana palesa esplicitamente il desiderio di conformarsi a un principio di progettazione del colore finalizzato a una strategia di marketing. La donna infatti esprime a Corrado la necessità di scegliere “colori che non dovrebbero disturbare […] le cose che si vendono, gli oggetti”. Le diverse tinte stese su una parete a mo’di prova dovrebbero servire a scegliere il colore più adatto all’ambiente di vendita. A questo riguardo, diversi studi erano stati compiuti da psicologi del consumo e specialisti del colore a partire dal volume seminale Selling with color di Faber Birren, pubblicato nel 194565. Giuliana tenta qui di applicare principi analoghi, come se il suo percorso di riabilitazione psicologica passasse attraverso la ricezione e la messa in pratica di una logica di funzionalizzazione del colore. Tuttavia, pur riconoscendo la regola imposta dall’uso sociale (i colori non devono disturbare gli oggetti), Giuliana finisce per non conformarvisi, scegliendo di non decidere.
La sequenza può anche essere letta in chiave riflessiva. Questo spazio bianco che deve essere dipinto diviene una metafora del set stesso e Giuliana una rappresentante del regista. I colori che non devono disturbare gli oggetti da vendere sono gli stessi che, secondo i principi dello stile classico, non dovrebbero distogliere lo spettatore dalla linea della narrazione. Se da un lato Giuliana non sa decidersi sul colore più adatto alla finalità commerciale, dall’altro Antonioni esprime il desiderio di pensare al colore come a un campo di possibilità che non può né deve essere predeterminato meccanicamente in base a precise funzioni emotive o narrative. Entrambi si collocano in un orizzonte estraneo alla preoccupazione di razionalizzare l’impatto del colore sul consumatore/spettatore.
La sequenza assume dunque un carattere rivelatore, poiché tematizza esplicitamente l’inconciliabilità tra due regimi del colore che sembrano fronteggiarsi nel corso di tutto il film. Da un lato il colore come dispositivo sociale, visibile nei moderni spazi progettati del film (la fabbrica, la casa, il negozio) che appaiono conformi ai più aggiornati criteri di funzionalità; dall’altro il colore come esperienza soggettiva, in quanto elemento variabile, mobile, fluttuante, che oppone resistenza a ogni tentativo di sistematizzazione sociale. Gli spazi che fanno capo al primo regime sono abitati patologicamente da Giuliana e dagli altri personaggi che, nel corso del film, hanno occasione di esprimere, dentro o fuori da questi spazi, una forte sensibilità soggettiva verso il colore.
L’esperienza soggettiva del colore si propone come un fenomeno intermittente, non sistematizzabile, dagli esiti incerti e non prevedibili. Attraverso il suo stile, il film invita lo spettatore a uno sguardo divagante, curioso, distratto. Colori che sembrano aver perso la loro funzionalità originaria, come una cornice blu dipinta sulla parete di un magazzino, rivelano un’imprevista capacità percettiva che sembra volersi sottrarre a ogni possibile preordinamento cognitivo o affettivo. Durante il dialogo tra Corrado e gli operai, la macchina da presa asseconda lo sguardo distratto dell’ingegnere, che si lascia attrarre da questa forma blu smettendo di ascoltare i suoi interlocutori66.
Il film esprime lo scontro tra i due regimi del colore attraverso una serie di figure stilistiche che intendono ostacolare i tradizionali parametri di leggibilità del colore, dallo sfocato iniziale all’accentuazione di oggetti narrativamente inerti, fino alla fusione dei piani di profondità in un’unica superficie. E quest’ultimo il caso della sequenza nella casa dell’operaio, messa in scena su un riferimento diretto a Matisse67. Il pittoricismo che caratterizza le inquadrature chiama in causa un tema cui Antonioni aveva dedicato alcuni articoli negli anni Quaranta68. Se in quegli articoli il critico avallava una visione sistematica delle arti, e la possibilità di una transizione diretta dalla pittura al cinema, Il deserto rosso, al contrario, pare aver profondamente assimilato le proposte artistiche che nel corso del Novecento hanno messo in crisi le categorie estetiche e le partizioni tradizionali69.
È in questi termini che anche il problema dello stile pittorico viene ripensato. Antonioni si discosta dalla tradizione della citazione, ossia da quel cinema che per nobilitare il colore usava riferimenti alla pittura, per filmare una realtà dipinta, come se il colore tutto sommato non potesse essere pensato se non in connessione con l’atto stesso di dipingere. In questo senso, Il deserto rosso segna lo sviluppo di una consapevolezza estetica tipicamente moderna del colore, capace allo stesso tempo di prefigurare gli esiti contemporanei del colore digitale. Come Antonioni aveva già scritto nel 1947, citando Matisse, “per uno stesso oggetto non esistono colori fissi. Un papavero può esser grigio, una foglia nera. E i verdi non sono sempre erba, i blu non sono sempre cielo”70.
Il deserto rosso impone dunque una nuova articolazione stilistica del colore. Lo schermo diviene luogo di incontro e di tensione produttiva tra i colori che si stanno diffondendo nella società di massa, negli spazi e negli oggetti contemporanei e le esperienze soggettive con cui il film mette in prospettiva questi stessi colori. Colori che non vivono più nel regno separato dell’estetica, ma colori ambivalenti, produttori di detrito tossico e veleno e, al contempo, in grado di veicolare una nuova idea di bellezza71: le combustioni del paesaggio, i safety colors della fabbrica, i colori progettati degli interni domestici, le strisce colorate del negozio, i colori morandiani dei muri e del carretto di frutta, il rosso della baracca, il verde delle damigiane, il blu del capannone…
Il deserto rosso promuove un processo di allargamento del visibile molto profondo e apre gli occhi dello spettatore su modalità percettive, oggetti e paesaggi che non possono essere pensati in nessun altro modo che a colori. A partire dagli anni Sessanta, il nuovo compito del colore cinematografico diventa quella di sfogliare gli strati del visibile per mostrare un colore sempre più inestricabilmente legato ai destini e alle contraddizioni di una cultura di massa che si avvia rapidamente verso una nuova epoca.
57 M. Antonioni, “Il mio deserto” (1964), in Id., Fare un film è per me vivere. Scritti sul cinema, Venezia, Marsilio, 1994, p. 78.
58 Cfr. ad esempio M. Déribére, La couleur dans les activités humaines, Paris, Dunod, 1955. In Italia, sono da segnalare le quattro edizioni del congresso nazionale del colore realizzate a Padova tra il 1957 e il 1960. I temi discussi attestano la crescente importanza del colore negli spazi e nelle pratiche della vita sociale: il colore nell’ambiente umano (1957), colore e sicurezza (1958), il colore nella scuola (1959) e il colore nella pubblicità, nella stampa, nella confezione, nell’ambiente di vendita (1960). Cfr. Atti del 1° Congresso nazionale del colore, Padova, Tip. Messaggero di S. Antonio, s.d.; Atti ufficiali del 1° e 2° Congresso nazionale del colore, Padova, Tip. Messaggero di S. Antonio, 1959; Atti del 3° Congresso nazionale del colore, Padova, Tip. Messaggero di S. Antonio, 1960; Atti del 4° Congresso nazionale del colore, Padova, Tip. Messaggero di S. Antonio, 1961.
59 Per uno sguardo d’insieme sul problema dell’attenzione, nel quadro della nascita della mass culture nel XIX secolo, cfr. J. CRARY, Suspensions of Perception. Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1999.
60 Cfr. J.W. von Goethe, La teoria dei colori. Lineamenti di una Teoria dei colori, Milano, il Saggiatore, 1979, pp. 21–46.
61 Sulla dimensione corporea dei colori fisiologici, cfr. J. Crary, Techniques of the observer. On vision and modernity in the Nineteenth century, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1990 [trad. it. Le tecniche dell’osservatore. Visione e modernità nel XIX secolo, Torino, Einaudi, 2013, pp. 71–101].
62 Sul personaggio di Giuliana, cfr. C. Di Carlo, “Il colore dei sentimenti”, in II), (a cura di), “Il deserto rosso” di Michelangelo Antonioni, Bologna, Cappelli, 1964, pp. 27–35. Sul rapporto del film con la cultura psichiatrica coeva, cfr. R. Eugeni, “La modernità a disagio. Michelangelo Antonioni e la cultura psichiatrica italiana tra gli anni Cinquanta e gli anni Sessanta del Novecento”, in A. Boschi, F. Di Chiara (a cura di), Michelangelo Antonioni. Prospettive, culture, politiche, spazi, Milano, Il Castoro, 2015, pp. 49–68.
63 Cfr. S. Bernardi, Il paesaggio nel cinema italiano, Marsilio, Venezia, 2002, pp. 180–188.
64 Cfr. R.L. Blaszczyk, The color revolution, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2012, pp. 226–228.
65 Cfr. F. Birren, Selling with color, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1945.
66 La sequenza è analizzata da A. Philippon, “Etude en bleu. Michelanchelo Antonioni: Le Désert rouge”, in J. Aumont (a cura di), La couleur en cinéma, Milano-Paris, Mazzotta-Cinémathèque Française, 1995, pp. 149–150.
67 In due inquadrature della sequenza, il tavolo in primo piano ha lo stesso colore della parete: la figurazione dell’inquadratura e le decorazioni sulla parete rimandano al dipinto La desserte: harmonie rouge di Matisse (1908-1909), cfr. C. Simond, “La desserte rouge. Michelangelo Antonioni: Le Désert rouge“, ivi, pp. 23–24. Tra l’altro, Antonioni aveva visitato l’atelier di Matisse nell’estate del 1944, cfr. M. Antonioni, “Incontro con Matisse” (1944), in Id., Sul cinema, Venezia, Marsilio, 2004, pp. 209–211.
68 Cfr. M. Antonioni, “Del colore” (1940), ivi, pp. 185–187; Id., “Suggerimenti di Hegel” (1942), ivi, pp. 187–193; Io., “Il colore e l’America” (1947), in Bianco e Nero, 2001, 6, pp. 120–123; Id., “Il colore non viene dall’America” (1947), in Id., Sul cinema, Venezia, Marsilio, 2004, pp. 193–195.
69 Sui riferimenti artistici del film, cfr. A. Dalle Vacche, “Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert. Painting as ventriloquism and color as movement (architecture and painting)”, in A. Dalle Vacche, S. Price (a cura di), Color: the film reader, New York-London, Routledge, 2006, pp. 183–191. Cfr. anche R. Campari, “Da Deserto rosso: il colore”, in G. Tinazzi (a cura di), Michelangelo Antonioni. Identificazione di un autore. Forma e racconto nel cinema di Antonioni, Parma, Pratiche, 1985, pp. 161–166.
70 M. Antonioni, “Il colore non viene dall’America”, in Id., Sul cinema, Venezia, Marsilio, 2004 p. 194.
71 Cfr. J.-L. Godard, “La notte, l’eclisse, l’aurora” (1964), in M. Antonioni, Fare un film è per me vivere. Scritti sul cinema, Venezia, Marsilio, 1994, pp. 255–263.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2016): Un’archeologia del colore nel cinema italiano. Dal Technicolor ad Antonioni. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, on pp. 200–206.) (in Italian)
Il deserto rosso (ITA/FRA 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni)
“Se le sperimentazioni tecnologiche servono infatti da spinta propulsiva alle innovazioni stilistiche, possiamo dire allo stesso modo che le necessità stilistiche possono arrivare a forzare i limiti a loro modo elastici della tecnologia riproduttiva per inventare nuove soluzioni. Penso proprio al caso emblematico de Il deserto rosso. Il colore in Antonioni è messo in scena attraverso una colorazione della realtà in funzione degli effetti che potevano essere ottenuti sulla pellicola. Così facendo Antonioni cerca di sganciare il colore dal suo referente, attuando un processo che il digitale, con la postproduzione e la color correction, eleverà a sistema. Se ricolorare la realtà era per Antonioni una maniera artigianale di forzare i limiti della tecnologia a sua disposizione, nel digitale il processo di color correction diviene invece un sistema standardizzato, al quale ormai siamo totalmente assuefatti. Forse anche a causa di ciò quando oggi rivediamo Il deserto rosso con il filtro dell’abitudine all’immagine digitale dobbiamo fare uno sforzo per cogliere lo scarto che aveva davvero rappresentato quel film per lo spettatore degli anni Sessanta. A volte potremmo scambiare questo scarto per una vocazione all’astrazione o per uno sguardo pittorico, ma in realtà quello che Antonioni propone è semplicemente di ricolorare la realtà in modo che lo scarto percettivo, lo sganciamento da un referente abituale, trasformi il colore in un dato che possa essere percepito dallo spettatore in tutta la sua portata sensoriale ed emozionale. Gli anni de II deserto rosso sono anche quelli dello sviluppo delle scienze cognitive da una parte e della proliferazione della psicologia dei consumi dall’altra. Non stupisce dunque né l’acquisizione del colore della società di massa né l’insistenza sulle potenzialità attrattive e suggestive del colore. Dunque, è con Il deserto rosso che termino questa storia archeologica, ma soltanto perché è con questo film che ritengo si apra una storia culturale del colore nell’epoca contemporanea che meriterà di essere scritta.”
(Pierotti, Federico (2016): Un’archeologia del colore nel cinema italiano. Dal Technicolor ad Antonioni. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, on pp. 207–208.) (in Italian)
The Nun’s Story (USA 1959, Fred Zinnemann)
“A similar problem was faced several years later with The Nun’s Story ( 1959). The screenplay detailed a young woman’s experiences in becoming, and being, a nursing nun in the Belgian Congo. To delineate the theme of the story, director Fred Zinnemann felt it was absolutely essential to present a harsh visual contrast between the stark cloistered life of the convent and that of the more colorful outside world. Mr. Zinnemann, at first, considered shooting the entire production in black-and-white. That idea was abandoned on the basis that a monochrome treatment would present the secular world as too drab and, therefore, destroy the aimed-for contrast.
The problem, that of achieving a black-and-white look with color film, was left to Director of Photography Franz Planer. He emphasized:
Color is a double-edged sword. In many ways it is much more difficult to be creative with color than with black-and-white. In black-and-white you have black and you have white, plus a range of intermediate gray tones which make it relatively easy to create certain moods and sustain them. For example, if you need a sunrise in black-and- white, you can shoot a sunset and get away with it. But a sunrise is entirely different in color from a sunset.
In color you may have an exterior sequence that runs six pages in the script and will cut down to about a minute on the screen. Yet it may require three or four days to shoot the sequence. Shooting throughout the day you run into vast changes in color and lighting. On the screen, that sequence must appear to be the same moment with the same light.
In The Nuns Story, Franz Planer had to contend not only with the problems of shooting a film in full color but those akin to shooting in black-and-white as well. His big challenge, however, was in subduing, even destroying, color for the important sequences in and around the convent. To accomplish this he arranged for all interior sets to be sprayed with a toning-down gray paint. The word interior included everything that would be caught by the eye of the camera – from the rich red velvet hangings of the chapel to a red-bound Bible with gilt-edged pages. No item was left untouched. Outside the convent walls, scenes were shot only on gray, overcast days.
This attention to detail also extended to the make-up worn by the cast members. White greasepaint was used to subdue eyebrows and lips, taking special care to avoid a mask-like look. Even the delicate structuring of Audrey Hepburn s face was lightened to perpetuate the desired mood.
As Franz Planer had indicated, it is often difficult to achieve a consistency in color and lighting during the shooting of a sequence, particularly if the sequence has to be shot over a period of time. The position of the sun creates problems; it casts different shadows at noon than it does at three in the afternoon. A slightly hazy sky presents conditions unlike those of a clear day. And so on.
Much of the stabilizing of color can be handled in the filming but often it is left for the laboratory in processing. For example, according to a Technicolor spokesman,
We processed a picture that was shot in Texas and the sky was very blue. Then the studio added some “Texas” scenes that were shot in California. The skies wouldn’t match so we had to “desaturate” the film to take out some of the blue in the original footage.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 132–135.)
“Over the years, Technicolor technicians have been exposed to a number of situations that were not routine. But as their spokesman put it, “Our ability to do something that somebody else doesn’t know quite how to do has been a godsend to us many times.”
A clear example of Technicolor’s technological know-how was evident in John Huston’s daring experimentation for Moby Dick (1956), a film in which the subtle color effect was achieved by desaturation. The process, developed in the laboratory of Technicolor Italiana in Rome, was unique in that it rendered all colors in a sepia-like monochrome, except for shades of red which were translated into varying tones of scarlet. Red, therefore, became the only color to reach the screen in its true form or, at least, semi-realistically.
In 1967, eleven years after the release of Moby Dick, Mr. Huston was again anxious to try a new technique for his Reflections In A Golden Eye. By now, even though less than half of his films had been shot in color, he had come to be known as a color innovator. His Moulin Rouge, in 1952, was an excellent example of the esthetic use of color, achieved by the use of filters on the camera lenses to simulate the tonal effects of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings. Said his Director of Photography, Oswald Morris, “Houston and I did so many odd things with filters on Moulin Rouge that the laboratory people disclaimed all responsibility.
As a rule, Mr. Huston filmed in black-and-white when the plotline was basically concerned with human emotions. Reflections In A Golden Eye was such a story. But because of the unusual nature of the theme, he felt it demanded more. In this case, color was used sparingly. Said Mr. Huston:
Color in nature is very different from color on the screen. When you sit in a darkened theater your attention is so concentrated on the screen that the images seem more fully saturated with color than they are in reality. Thus color effects are unnaturally heightened. This kind of color has been fine for extravaganzas and spectacular films. But when we are dealing with material of psychological content it becomes invariably distracting as it gets between the viewer and the mind he is trying to search into. Until now, the film-maker had a single choice, the use of black and white or of color. This is as though all painters were limited to either pure pigment or black india ink washes. This day and night difference is no longer the only choice. . . .
When Reflections In A Golden Eye was released, critics and ticket buyers were divided in their feelings toward color desaturation. Successful or not, it marked another advance in technology. Dr. Frank P. Brackett, Director of Research at Technicolor, stated at the time:
It opens a whole avenue of new color combinations which can be obtained in varying degrees of saturation from extremely vivid color to black and white. John Huston chose to work in an overtone of sepia with the pinks and reds accentuated. Someone else might prefer a shift to accentuate another color of the spectrum with a totally different overtone. For example, in anight sequence, a producer might want an overall cold tone – or he might prefer a shift to the green, with perhaps a warm tone accented. Moreover, alterations of the color mood can be made from sequence to sequence or even from scene to scene. There is an almost unlimited range of effects available.
That range, however, would be controlled to some degree by a factor that has influenced color guidelines from the very beginning, that of maintaining a certain fidelity to the complexions of the cast members.
In 1941, Technicolor introduced its new multi-layer single film process, Monopack, originally developed by Dr. Leonard Troland in the 1920s. The aerial shots in Dive Bomber (1941) and Captains of the Clouds (1942) took advantage of the more compact camera. It was used again for the spectacular fire sequence in The Forest Rangers (1942) as well as for all the exterior scenes in Lassie Come Home (1943). By 1944, Monopack was improved to the point that it was used entirely for both exteriors and interiors on Thunderhead, Son of Flicka.
Dr. Kalmus believed that Monopack would one day replace the bulky three-color Technicolor camera. He also believed that, had it not been for World War II, Monopack would have accomplished that feat before the end of the decade. But with the Navy and the Air Force converting much of the Technicolor laboratory into a top top-secret plant during the early 1940s, its development was interrupted. Because of Dr. Kalmus’s faith in the future of Monopack, coupled with his feeling that the present system would eventually, if not soon, be obsolete, he decided not to add any more expensive three-color cameras to the company’s existing stock of thirty-six. Following the war, box office attendance zoomed. Producers were anxious to get their productions before audiences as quickly as possible. But the Technicolor process was much in demand and a number of films had to be rescheduled according to the availability of cameras. The smaller studios found it impossible to obtain cameras, because the majors had them reserved months in advance.
Too, the processing of prints was considerably slowed by the industry labor strikes of 1945 and 1946. With a skeleton crew and a demand for “rush” jobs – which the company tended to ignore, preferring instead to maintain the quality of its product – Technicolor found itself with a growing reputation for being uncooperative and “difficult.” The company soon became the target of a number of nuisance suits.
In 1947, the United States Department of Justice filed an anti-trust suit against Technicolor (and Eastman Kodak, supplier of Technicolor’s film) charging restraint of trade and monopolization of professional color cinematography. The court wanted to know, among other things, why the Technicolor company didn’t have enough color cameras available for everybody that wanted one.
The suit against Technicolor dragged on for three years. During that time. Dr. Kalmus contended that his organization did not have a monopoly on color, pointing out that while Technicolor was being used in over fifty feature productions in 1948, rival processes (such as Cinecolor and Trucolor) were being used almost in equal number. Nevertheless, the court proceedings ended with a consent decree ordering Technicolor to set aside a certain number of cameras – on a first-come, first-served basis – for film-makers other than the major studios. The decision was to have little bearing on Technicolor s future operations. Another event, much more encompassing in effect, had taken place a year earlier.
From the beginning, it had been Technicolor’s goal, indeed that of all color enthusiasts, to perfect a method of commercial color cinematography using a single rather than a multiple record. In 1949, news of such a breakthrough hit the industry with the introduction of Eastman Kodak single-strip color negative and printing film stock. With the news, came the realization that Technicolor had finally lost its edge in the color field. Soon smaller (and more accessible) black-and-white cameras, loaded with the new color negative film, began appearing on Hollywood sound stages. Before too long, the public was seeing, in addition to Technicolor, new commercial trade names – WarnerColor, Ansco Color, DeLuxe, Eastman and more – in ads and on movie credits acknowledging the studio and/or the processing plant that handled the developing and printing of the film.
In 1955, Dr. Kalmus wrote, “The fourth Technicolor process which took care of a very substantial part of the motion picture requirements from 1934 to 1953 was tailored to make prints in the laboratory from Technicolor special three-strip negative and to be projected on screens not larger than thirty or thirty-five feet in width. Both of these conditions have changed and again Technicolor research and development departments have had to do something to meet the new demands” (With the introduction of the single-strip negative, Technicolor had rather successfully adapted its three-strip processing techniques to the new product. While the resultant prints were satisfactory in tonal quality and color rendering, they lacked in definition. This became increasingly apparent when the images had to be projected upon the wider and larger screens.)
When the first signs of change swept through the industry, Technicolor began to modify its procedures, devise new ones, and install new equipment to serve the large screen requirements. According to Dr. Kalmus:
This work progressed on an emergency basis through a period of about two years until in May, 1955, I saw on a fifty-foot screen in Hollywood a demonstration of an improved new Technicolor process. The 35mm print used for this demonstration embodied all the changes in its imbibition (dye-transfer) process that Technicolor has been striving for since the advent of Eastman and Ansco color type negative and the advent of large screens in the theaters. The result was the most wonderful picture in color made by any process that I have ever seen on the screen from all technical points of view, including sharpness or definition and especially color rendition.
The Technicolor camera may have become obsolete but the company’s heralded method of processing prints had been reborn.
Early wide-screen releases featuring Color by Technicolor were Twentieth Century-Fox’s The Robe, the first CinemaScope picture; Paramount’s White Christmas, the first VistaVision feature; and Cinerama’s This Is Cinerama, for which Technicolor manufactured the prints. Three-dimensional Technicolor productions included Columbia’s Miss Sadie Thompson and Fort Ti, and Fox’s Inferno. Technicolor also introduced such wide-screen developments as Technirama and Technirama-70.
Color by Technicolor, a term that was commonly used in movie ads of the 1950s, meant that Technicolor handled all stages of the laboratory work. Print by Technicolor’ indicated that Technicolor was responsible only for the final release prints, not for any of the steps that preceeded in the laboratory. Today, a distinction between the two is not often made and the word Technicolor generally appears alone.
On January 1, 1960, at the age of seventy-eight. Dr. Herbert T. Kalmus retired. During his forty-five years with Technicolor, he had guided the company he founded through four severe depressions, each one resulting in the invention and development of a new and separate process. Following the original plan of progressive step development, his scientists and technicians proved, working in an early atmosphere of “it can’t be done,” that commercial color cinematography not only was possible but practical. Technicolor had become Hollywood’s most famous name in color. Dr. Kalmus, though virtually unknown by the general public, found himself being honored world-wide as “the man who threw color on the silver screen.”
As a new era began, Technicolor moved in many directions. Diversification became the rule and the company expanded its operations to include not only motion pictures (commercial and non-theatrical) but television, photographic services and film processing for government and industry, audio-visual systems for schools and industry, and consumer photoprocessing.”
(Basten, Fred E. (1980): Glorious Technicolor. The Movies’ Magic Rainbow. South Brunswick: Barnes, on pp. 135–156.)
Giulietta degli spirti/Juliet of the Spirits (ITA/FRA 1965, Federico Fellini)
“Attempts at a radically new and more complex use of color beyond that obtained from painting styles or glamorized or subdued naturalism (all of which can work in time as well as space) distinguish two films that address themselves to interpreting the psychological state of mind of two women through a style that employs color subjectively. Juliet of the Spirits (1965) turns the color camera inward to paint the fantasy world of a repressed wife whose psychic probing is incited by the unfaithfulness of her husband. Michelangelo Antonioni in Red Desert (1964) turns the color camera outward to depict the drab environment of a neurotic wife whose mental turmoil is brought about by an accident and the neglect of her self-centered husband.
As different as these two directors’ ways of approaching their subject is the range of color each uses to express his individual vision. Fellini employs bright hues and tints, highly decorative and visually stimulating, to paint a psychic wonderland that captures the sensations, fantasies, and exaggerations of the inhibited woman. His chromatic design is flamboyant and dazzling, emotionalizing the subjective explorations of the heroine’s moods and feelings with a kind of-baroque splendor and an intrinsically sensual appeal. Freudian fantasies, orgiastic visions, childhood fears, and epicene grotesques are transfigured in rich, glowing, color combinations and rococo settings that transcend the merely psychoanalytical and dazzle the senses with their extravagant effects and compositions. From the infinitely diversified blue-gray nocturnes in which the wife’s grandfather is seduced by a lady bareback rider, to the high-fashion art-nouveau tree house where every hue and tint is designed for impromptu lovemaking, the physical presence of color dynamizes this “fairy tale for adults,” as Fellini calls his picture, by serving as the artful device of erotic stimuli.”
(Jacobs, Lewis (1970): The Mobility of Color. In: Lewis Jacobs (ed.): The Movies as Medium. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 189–196, on pp. 194–195.)