Milestones of color in movies (was Re: Why Black and White movies are great)

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups:,rec.arts.movies.current-films, rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Monday, March 30, 1998 1:24 PM

Robert Lipton wrote in message …
>I expect there are others who can and will give a more complete
>explanation of the evolution of color in the movies.

1906. Development of Kinemacolor, where both filming and projection were done through red and green filters. The film went through the red filter and green filter successively, one filter after the other. Smith's A VISIT TO THE SEASIDE (1908), an eight-minute short, was the first commercial film. The public first saw the process in 1909, in London.

1918. Release of maiden attempts of movies photographed in color. The unstable, inaccurate hues don't impress, and no major productions were shot in color at the time. Hand-stenciled color, and the tinting of whole scenes in one color, were time-honored practices by the late teens. Surviving examples of hand-stenciling look sharper than the early-1980s attempts of computer colorization.

1922. First Technicolor feature film shown to audiences: THE TOLL OF THE SEAS (1922), starring Anna Mae Wong, later to become one of moviedom's regular supporting players. The process is the Technicolor company's two-color system. This process captures shades of green and red, and prints the green color range on the backside of the red range on reverse sides of the same strip of film.

1925. The Technicolor company's 2-color process achieves more success after a slow start. Among photoplays shot in it are portions of the following: the original BEN HUR (1926), Gloria Swanson's STAGE STRUCK (1925), and the original PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). Swashbuckling superstar Douglas Fairbanks shoots all of THE BLACK PIRATE (1926) in this process, establishing it as the first significant feature-length film shot entirely in the only successful color process to be introduced during the silent era.

1932. The last feature films shot entirely in two-color Technicolor are MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and DOCTOR X, both co- starring Fay Wray. The last live-action film of any kind to have scenes in two-color Technicolor is released the next year: an action drama from then-impoverished Columbia Pictures, entitled BELOW THE SEA, starring Fay Wray.

Late 1932. Technicolor has had for a year trouble selling producers on its three-color process. RKO backs out on plans to use the process on scenes in KING KONG, starring Fay Wray. Technicolor finally contracts its three-color process to Walt Disney for use in cartoons after Disney exacts a promise that no other cartoon producers be permitted to use it for three years. The other cartoon producers suddenly see the value of color and start using the otherwise-abandoned two-color Technicolor process.

1934. The first live-action release entirely in three-color Technicolor is RKO's short LA CUCARACHA. Feature films had begun to shoot scenes in three-color Technicolor, examples of which include the finale of the Eddie Cantor musical comedy KID MILLIONS (1934). The first live-action use of three-strip Technicolor was in the finale of the MGM musical THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE (released February 1934).

1935. The first feature film in three-color Technicolor from beginning to end is RKO's BECKY SHARP starring Miriam Hopkins. Producers have a hard time getting major projects filmed in color because star actresses are afraid that their images will be endangered by being photographed in this "untried" process, which is likened to the garish color photographs in newspaper Sunday supplement sections. The lead actress who seemingly has the most courage to be filmed in color is Shirley Temple, whose film THE LITTLE COLONEL (1935) has a Technicolor finale.

1936. The first live-action feature film to be filmed out of doors in three-color Technicolor is Paramount's TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE, starring Fred MacMurray, Sylvia Sidney, Henry Fonda, and Spanky McFarland of Our Gang.

1940s. Other color processes are used on feature films made by minor studios such as Republic. Republic has its own color process called Trucolor which delivers attractive flesh tones, as well as faithful greens and browns which bring out the backgrounds in the Westerns that this studio makes. Other colors in Trucolor are not so true. Other lesser studios use the inferior Cinecolor.

1950s. Technicolor's market-share in color films is again eroded. Major studios begin to use Kodak's new Eastmancolor, and some develop their own processes (e.g., Warnercolor, Metrocolor).

1974. The last film to be printed in Hollywood (to date) in IB Technicolor, which some consider to be the "true" Technicolor, is THE GODFATHER PART II. In 1977, STAR WARS will become the last film (to date) to be printed in IB Technicolor anywhere (it is printed in England). Economies of scale are such that true Technicolor can be done at a comparable cost on large print runs, but in the early 1970s the studios are ordering fewer than 100 prints for their new releases. In the 1990s, when some films are opening on 2500 screens simultaneously, there is interest in resurrecting Technicolor's three-strip process.

David Hayes


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