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Charles Urban was a giant in early cinema and a most fascinating character, an ambitious and forward thinking American tycoon who enjoyed his biggest success on the other side of the Atlantic. Then he returned to his home country during the last year of The Great War, but competition with Hollywood was too great and his fortunes collapsed in a few years. Sadly, so many of his films have been lost over time even though material that he financed got recycled in films made by other companies. Fortunately his stock has been on the rise in recent years, with one researcher working more devotedly than others since the 1990s in bringing the attention he deserves. Luke McKernan published a biography on him in 2013: Charles Urban, Pioneering the Non-Fiction Film in Britain and America, 1897 – 1925. According to his website at http://www.charlesurban.com/, we are told the following: “No complete list of all the films that he produced exists, and it would be an almost impossible task to construct one, as he re-edited and re-used his film material so frequently.” Not that I won't try with a small... small “starter” sampling. No, these lists won't be complete. Further more, I am focusing exclusively on the post-1903 period instead of his years with the Warwick Trading Company (which operated with and without him between 1898 and 1915), although I might tackle them on a future date. You folks know that I can't resist the temptation. Born April 14, 1867 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Charles Urban got started in the movie business when marketing Thomas Edison's Kinetoscopes in Detroit, Michigan in 1895. He moved to the United Kingdom while working with Maguire & Baucus, agents of Edison, before becoming a part of the Warwick Trading Company three years later where he held a top position until February 1903. When he left to start up his own company, he ignited a lawsuit with Warwick by taking some top personnel with him, including Alfred Darling, Thomas Grant, George Albert Smith, John “Jack” Avery as a key co-executive and camera operator and Alice Rosenthal, sister of one of Urban's top cameramen Joseph, as a top salesperson. It didn't take long for the Charles Urban Trading Company to ape his former company as a leader of scenic “factuals” shot as far from the British Isles as one could get. These Urban-Bioscope Expeditions traipsed through Borneo, the Swiss Alps, the major destinations of Europe and “darkest” Africa. In addition to all of the pretty scenery, there was no shying away from the human thirst for violence and warfare, even having cameramen Joe Rosenthal and George Rogers tackle the Russo-Japanese War from both sides. The official 1903 and '06 film catalogs are quite a feast for the eyes, offering more for British movie goers than even National Geographic offered American magazine subscribers in its early years: https://archive.org/details/weputworldbefore00unse http://www.cinematheque.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/Expo/Gustave_Doret/Catalogue_Urban_1906.pdf Nickelodeon attendees were also introduced to worlds that weren't so much far away but hard to see with their limited eye sight. F. Martin Duncan made several series featuring amoeba, hydras, bacteria, close-ups of insects, circulation of blood and anything else of interest that required special microscopic lens. By 1908, F. Percy Smith was added to the fold, along with a new sub-company Kineto, with his landmark frame-by-frame time lapse photography of flowers blooming and close-ups of spiders and insects in action. Smith later would work with British Instructional (which I profiled on a separate thread here) and was among the first to document Mother Nature in color as well... Ah, yes, color... or shall I spell it colour? Urban certainly deserves credit as one of the great financial backers in this arena. While still with the Warwick Trading Company, he supported Edward Raymond Turner. He patented a system with Frederick Marshall Lee that involved three filters (red, yellow and blue) attached to a camera that exposed different images on consecutive frames of one black and white film roll. A few film clips survive today that were taken before Turner's untimely death in 1903, resurrected from obscurity by the National Media Museum in 2012: Because this first system was rather cumbersome, Urban had George Albert Smith (famous for such landmark novelties as The Haunted Castle and Grandma's Reading Glass) simplify the process to just two filters, making the results less “colorful” but more practical. (Leon Gaumont, however, would return to Turner's three filter concept with his excellent, but still troublesome, Chronochrome system a full decade later.) The black & white film was exposed with a disc of rotating filters, then shown with a specialized projector with matching filters to present it for the screen. In July 1906, his first experiments were made of Smith's children in Southwick, Brighton. By early 1909, a new name was established for this process, Kinemacolor, along with a new Urban-controlled company, Natural Color Kinematograph. Because each second frame was exposed differently than the frame proceeding it, fast movement of people jumping and horses galloping sometimes created a double-image effect. Over time, the cameramen got around some of this by having much action coming towards the camera and decreasing the amount of side viewed action. The film also had to be projected faster than most other films at 1/32 a second. Some of these issues were fixed later in the U.S. by the competing Prizmacolor and Technicolor companies, which followed the “bi-pack” route of exposing two rolls of film at once, thanks to a special glassware involving two filters, then having the rolls combined as one with special dyes on each side so they can be used in standard 24 frames per second projectors without filters. Urban himself also kept tinkering in later years, even after Kinemacolor ran its course, with his top engineer Henry Joy on another system called “Kinekrom” that almost, but not quite, solved the problems. Like Cinerama in the fifties and IMAX decades later, early Kinemacolor often involved special theaters and special ticket prices, with its biggest showcase being the glamorous Scala Theatre on Charlotte Street, London. Like the later widescreen spectaculars, these films held the same appeal of presenting far away places in a format unlike any other travelogue at the time; top cameraman John Mackenzie even published a book in 1910 called Rambles In Many Lands. Aside from England and France, major countries presented for the first time in color without tints or stenciling included Belgium, Holland, Germany, the United States, Canada, Italy, Algeria, the Balkans, Egypt, India, Spain, Canary Islands, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Japan. Essentially the Urban team was achieving the same goal in motion pictures that Albert Kahn's team did with Lumière Autochrome still photography in Les Archives de la Planète, a collection that survives more complete today. A few separate Kinemacolor companies were established outside of England such as Kinemacolor de France, Luca Comerio operating in Italy and Kinemacolor of America (profiled later on this thread), but the Japanese probably enjoyed the most success with it: Toyo Shokai, renamed Tennenshaku Katsudoshashin Kabushiki Kaisha, maintained a steady output of kabuki play adaptations and scenics through 1917. King Edward VII was the first royal to be filmed both alive and in funeral procession by the Kinemacolor cameras. Then Smith and Urban's team went all out documenting the coronation of George V, followed by his visit to India in 1911-12 titled With Our King And Queen Through India (a.k.a. The Dunbar At Delhi). This and the Kinemacolor of America's Making Of The Panama Canal are sometimes listed as the world's first feature length films in color, but were viewed at the time as presentations of individual short subjects. Not to be outdone, France's President Poincaré became a subject more than once and Kinemacolor of America made sure two presidents in office, Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, were also documented in color. Both the U.S. and U.K. companies covered ex-president Teddy Roosevelt. While educational films garnished Urban much of his critical prestige, it was obvious that the business of movies had to bring in the cash with plenty of fictionalized comedy, drama and adventure. These were done both in black & white and Kinemacolor, probably half of the latter productions being shot in Nice, France which boasted better sunshine than the British Isles. In addition, Urban also set up Société Générale des Cinématographes Éclipse in Paris to increase his entertainment output. Eventually this company broke off as its own independent operation, becoming the fourth largest film company in France before long. Among the more interesting films done in England were directed by Walter R. Booth as part of a then popular “trick” fantasy genre, similar to what George Méliès had been doing earlier. His 1912 part live-action / part stop-motion collaboration with F. Martin Thornton and Edgar Rogers, In Gollywog Land, boasts what may be the earliest animation in color, unless one counts Winsor McCay's hand-tinted Little Nemo of the previous year. (I do include cartoons in this thread for a change.) Another leading director, filming in both countries, was Rotterdam-born Theo Bouwmeester (sometimes listed as Frenkel, his original name, or Bouwmeester-Frenkel, the name I use here). He played Napoleon in Kinemacolor's first fictional production, Checkmated (1910), and later supervised the first western in the process, Fate, set in Texas but filmed in Sussex. The first official color feature (or the first not to be a documentary at least) was F. Martin Thorton's The World, The Flesh And The Devil, a rather torrid melodrama that the critics weren't kind to when it opened at the Holborn Empire on April 9, 1914. There was just one more follow-up feature that summer, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Urban's ambitious move into all-color features was halted due to some court battles involving the competing Biocolour headed by William Friese-Greene, who accused Urban for being monopolistic over color processes. Although Biocolour ultimately was a failure financially (and Gaumont's more competitive system stayed mostly in France), Urban still had to liquidize the Natural Color Kinematograph and re-organize as a new company, Colorfilms Ltd., dropping the key word “natural” on account of all of the bad press Kinemacolor received for its hardly natural two-spectrum system. Adding to the decline in Kinemacolor was a souring relationship between Urban and George Smith, who hardly spoke to each other until the 1930s. The war soon took up a huge chunk of Urban's activities, along with providing much needed subject matter for movie screens. He was appointed to chairman of the British Topical Committee for War Films in 1915, but ran into some controversy the following year when he negotiated with William Randolph Hearst for a U.S. distribution deal; Hearst being sympathetic to Germany while his country was still neutral did not go well with the British press at the time. Two key features Britain Prepared (How Britain Prepared) (December 1915) and The Battle Of The Somme (August 1916) nonetheless did well on both sides of the Atlantic. The former featured some rare Kinemacolor sequences of battle, another Urban first. The second strictly black and white film still holds up as an outstanding documentation with stellar camerawork by J.B. McDowell and Geoffrey Malins that has been recycled in many movies, TV shows and YouTube since. His gradual move of operations to the United States began with his take over of David Horseley's Centaur Film Corporation in Bayonne, New Jersey in March 1917, followed eight months later by the formation of Kineto Company of America at 71 West 23rd Street in New York City to produce a newsreel series called the “Official War Review”. By the autumn of 1918, he had pretty much phased out his British operations and stayed put in America, settling by 1920 with a Stanford White designed building in Irvington, New York and consolidating his companies under Urban Motion Picture Industries, Inc. Unfortunately many of his big ambitions for the American market didn't pan out well, perhaps because he was too ahead of his time. Among his most interesting novelties involving co-engineer Harry Joy (co-developed with Theodore Brown) was the Spirograph, a disc-formatted projector aimed at bringing movies into homes and schools for personal use, a fore-runner to the “home entertainment” explosion of later decades, first with 16mm and 8mm and then VHS and laserdisc by the '80s. Yet it all seemed way too early for 1920. Had his Kinekrom system been successful, many of his Kinemacolor films would have enjoyed a longer shelf life as reissues in later years, but there were still technical issues involved. On the plus side, he boasted a spectacular library of material that, along with some newly filmed footage done in America, got used extensively in several series: “Urban Movie Chats”, “Wonders of the World”, “Kineto Reviews”, “Urban Popular Classics” and “Great American Authors”, the last edited by future Traveltalks guru James FitzPatrick. All of these shorts were part of an ambitious program called “The Encyclopedia of Knowledge”, a “thousand-reel” attempt to provide a motion picture counterpart to every library's reference book section. (He also had some involvement in George McLeod Baynes' earliest “Kinograms”, a newsreel that outlasted all of Urban's own series.) Two somewhat successful features were added in 1921: The Four Seasons, supervised by leading New York zoological celebrity Raymond Ditmars and previewed February 18th, and Permanent Peace, released in November to coincide with the Washington Naval Peace Conference. One later Urban production was a real curio that is likely impossible to view today, if not lost. Evolution: From The Birth Of The Planets To The Age Of Man was supervised by Ditmars with plenty of his own personal animal footage along with some stop-motion dinosaurs by Willis O'Brien (likely lifted from his earlier short The Ghost Of Slumber Mountain). It was first shown at All Angels Episcopal Church in Manhattan, December 1922, despite Ditmars' blatant preference for Darwin over Genesis. Of course, the national publicity over the Scopes' “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee prompted a re-edit and reissue involving Edward J. Foyles of the American Museum of Natural History and the animation team of Max and David Fleischer, whose co-owned Red Seal also handled distribution. By the time this second version was released in July 1925, Urban was forced to close shop. According to July 1924 reports in Film Daily, his “$10, 500, 000 corporation” had been petitioned for bankruptcy. There was a second, but short-lived, rebooting of the company later by investor C.M. Bortman. Max Fleischer's team once again got recruited to edit material for a new and short-lived “Urban Searchlights” series (one of which is posted on this thread). By 1929, Urban was mostly retired and back in England. He lost his second wife, Ada, in 1937; she herself had contributed both financially and as a key supervisor for the company since they married in 1910. Charles passed away on August 29, 1942 while still writing his memoirs. Meanwhile, a large chunk of the Urban library fell through the cracks of court-battled ownership and much valuable source material was either recycled for its chemical components or lost/discarded by accident. This is sad when one considers Urban's motto for many years as “Putting the world before you”, which he pretty much did long before we had cable TV and the internet. What we have today to remember him by are crumbs of a once spectacular film empire. **** Urban backed many critter reels. The BFI site labels this one The Porcupine- A Prickly Subject, but it could be Animal Drolleries (Kineto 1915, minus the parrot), one of the Animal World Series (1916) or just a hodgepodge of several titles. What is nice about these compilation reels is that they preserve so much valuable footage lost in their original state. The bunny and girl shot may go back a good dozen years or so. The otter, badger and jerboa all appeared in their own longer starring roles in previous years, the otter's 1912 performance is also uploaded on this thread.