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Early Technicolor


visualfeast
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If you watched the two early (1937) William Wellman films Nothing Sacred and A Star Is Born, you were treated to the look of early technicolor. That slightly faded soft focus color that ended with the blockbuster Gone With The Wind. The early stuff has the look of a tinted photograph, stored in someone's attic, and come upon by acident. Because of the expense and machinery needed at the time, to produce these color gems, there weren't too may produced. How fortunate we are that they are still available, and beautifully viewable.

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I've often wondered if a filmmaker working today (in 2007) could get their film to really look like

authentic 30's-40's Technicolor of the "Meet Me In St. Louis" -"National Velvet" -"Becky Sharp"-

"The Band Wagon" variety?

 

I know that Technicolor as a brand name still exists, but if Marty Scorsese decided to do a musical next week "in glorious Technicolor," could they get it to look like that highly distinctive three or four strip Technicolor?

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I think that would be a little like trying to sound like the Beatles, with todays instruments and electronics we can come close but it'll never be exactly the same sound as they had with those Rickenbacker Guitars and tube amps and other equipments of the day, Thats part of what gives them their distinctive sound, I reckon the same could be said for movies, We can recreate very closely what the original Technicolor looked like, without the orginal equipment I doubt it'll be the same, But it'd probably close enough to get the feel anyways...

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Both William Wellman films have fallen into public domain and the Technicolor prints are not the best, especially NOTHING SACRED. The way these two films look today do not represent the lush Technicolor prints from that period. SACRED's color is pretty washed out. Both films badly need restoration. BTW I don't think GWTW has "that slighly faded color" look. This classic is one of the finest representations of color along with WIZARD OF OZ that Hollywood ever produced.

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Well a big reason why the early Technicolor look would be hard to reproduce today is that there probably aren't any working 3-strip Technicolor cameras, like they used back in the early days. There may be some in museums, but probably not in working condition.

 

Besides, these days filmmakers would be much more likely to simulate the look of the 3-strip Technicolor film process via digital effects, as it would probably be easier to film and process. Not sure, but I think Scorsese tried to do that a little bit with parts of The Aviator.

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If you want glorious early three-strip Technicolor, watch The Garden of Allah. I was blown away by the color the first time I saw it.

 

The two-reeler Service With a Smile might be even more amazing, if only because it was produced a year before Becky Sharp. I was astonished how good the purple looks in it, for example.

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There's no advantage to the look of film made from three-strip camera negatives versus those made with the monopack color negative that became standard in 1954 when the three-strip cameras were retired. It's the dye-transfer printing process Technicolor used that distinguished their product from later, chemical processes. If anything, the registration problems inherent in the three-negative black-and-white separation masters were a hindrance to making good-looking prints.

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"Both William Wellman films have fallen into public domain and the Technicolor prints are not the best, especially NOTHING SACRED. The way these two films look today do not represent the lush Technicolor prints from that period. SACRED's color is pretty washed out. Both films badly need restoration."

 

"Nothing Sacred" was restored by UCLA archivists a few years back; I don't know if the print TCM uses derived from it. I don't believe the restored version has yet been issued on DVD.

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"Nothing Sacred" was restored by UCLA archivists a few years back; I don't know if the print TCM uses derived from it. I don't believe the restored version has yet been issued on DVD.

 

It would be great if the UCLA-restored versions of Nothing Sacred and Becky Sharp would be released on DVD!

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Don't forget the two horror films made by Warner Brothers in the early thirties: DR. X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. They've both been restored to their original beauty and look great on DVD. The muted hues of greens, blues and reds really enhance the ambiance of eeriness and fear. Look especially at the first scene in WAX MUSEUM and see how beautiful the colors were in the wax museum and all those costumed figures and then the fire destroys them all.

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FF,

 

Regarding A Star is Born and Becky Sharpe and UCLA Archives. It could be restrictions on the provisions that were signed when the films were deposited with the Archive that keeps the restored versions from being released on DVD .

 

I will try to find out more and let you know what I find out.

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princessananka,

Those movies are great examples of 2-strip Technicolor, IIRC, and I think the Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera also has one sequence in 2-strip Technicolor. It's almost a shame that the phrase "early Technicolor" is usually equated with 3-strip Technicolor, which was used in much more popular movies, while usually forgetting about 2-strip Technicolor.

 

lzcutter - that's mighty nice of you! :D

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Don't forget the two horror films made by Warner Brothers in the early thirties: DR. X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. They've both been restored to their original beauty and look great on DVD. The muted hues of greens, blues and reds really enhance the ambiance of eeriness and fear. Look especially at the first scene in WAX MUSEUM and see how beautiful the colors were in the wax museum and all those costumed figures and then the fire destroys them all.

 

There are no blues in Two-strip Technicolor (which is why it's called "Two-strip": everything is a shade of red or green. The two strip-cameras contained only two black-and-white records, red and green, from which the dye-transfer matrices were made). An improperly adjusted television or video transfer can make some of the greens appear blue, but it's an illusion. An original dye-transfer print of a two-strip film, or a correctly-timed chemical print from a good negative source is conspicuously absent blues, which is what the development of Three-strip Technicolor addressed. If you watch a Two-strip showing on television, you must make sure that your set's "hue" or "tint" is set so there are no blues; it's the only way you'll get an accurate representation of what the film is supposed to look like.

 

It's also a misconception that the Three-strip photography, with its three black-and-white negatives was directly analogous to the number of layers used in the patented Technicolor dye-transfer printing process. There was a fourth layer used in the printing -- black -- that was essential in giving the images in Techniclor prints their unmatched sense of texture and contrast. It's something that modern chemical prints simply cannot match.

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