Recreated Kinemacolor image from With Our King and Queen through India (1912), showing the Elephant Gate at Delhi, from Cinémathèque Française, reproduced on the Historical Film Colors timeline
Historical Film Colors is a timeline of motion picture colour systems and their antecedents. It has been put together by Professor Barbara Flueckiger
of the Institute of Cinema Studies, University of Zurich, as part of her research into the remastering of historical film into the digital age.
The timeline presents colour processes (240 of them), from Thomas Young’s paper on trichromatic vision published in 1802 through to Eastman Color High Speed Negative, type 5297 (1987). It is presented as a work-in-progress, with the promise of more detailed information to be added to each process, and an invitation to scholars to collaborate in building up the resource.
Each entry gives the year, name of the colour system, the person on company involved, illustrative images (taken from a variety of secondary sources), the principle expounded by the process (e.g. aditive three-colour), any relevant patent, and references to papers, articles and books. So you will find Kinemacolor, Technicolor, Prizmacolor, stencil colour, Cinecolor, Kodacolor and a great deal more, famous and not so famous. It’s more of a timeline than a database, so you can’t search for individual systems or combine search requests, but there is a drop-down menu letting to select systems by some of the categories on offer, and it is possible to present the entire timeline on one web page.
Entry for Kodachrome Two-color 1915 (Fox Nature Color)
It’s a vivid demonstration of the huge efforts made by inventors to come up with a workable motion picture colour system in the silent era, a race won – as we know – by Technicolor – but which is all the more interesting before they got it right, when assorted competing, imperfect systems struggled to convince the public and exhibitors that they had achieved the epitome of colour reproduction. None had, though the artifical colour systems of Pathé and Gaumont delighted with their painterly effects, and the ‘natural’ colour system Kinemacolor thrilled many with actualities of pomp and pageantry.
Flueckiger writes on her website that all of this work, producing the database, clearing rights in images, and collating all of the bibliographic references, has been very time-consuming and largely self-funded. So she is inviting not only contributions of ideas and texts, but financial support as well, through a crowdfunding campaign. She hopes to raise $10,000 in 90 days. Most of us not otherwise supported by universities ending doing this sort of thing for free, but maybe the more fool us if there’s money out there from principled individuals keen to support good research that can be shared with everyone. So good luck to her.
All of which makes me think it is high time the Bioscope returned to its Colourful Stories series of posts, each of which tackled a different colour process. Well, maybe I will. Eventually.