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Oldest Color Process Film Discovered


ThelmaTodd
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(In the thread title, emphasis on the world "process". Hand colored film goes back to the 1890's, but this discovery was an early attempt at three strip color.)

 

At the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK, they found a can of film from circa 1902. When the curator took a look at it's contents, he realised they had a major discovery!

 

Back then, a man named *Edmund Raymond Turner* was attempting a color process that involved the 3 primary colors: red, green and blue. (All the other colors come from combining those three.) Turner shot three separate frames for each primary color, hoping to combine then in the projector using filters.

 

Unfortunately, no projector apparatus available then allowed him to do this. It does not appear to be that he ever got to see his work projected with combined colors. Turner patented this process in 1899, and died a year after making this 1902 footage.

 

The people at Bradford had to resort to modern computer technology to combine the three strips into a final result, clips of which you can see in the link below. In it, Turner was shooting a 1902 vintage home movie featuring his kids and other things around his house.

 

What is amazing is how good the end result is! Although not totally natural looking in it's colors, it's still better than the "2 strip" color process that Technicolor pioneered in the early 1920's.

 

The next technical milestone occurred in 1906, with the development of of a two-strip *"Kinecolor"* process, which was successful. One of the early works in that process was a documentary called *"With Our King and Queen Through India" (1912)*

 

In 1921, the 2 strip Technicolor process was invented. Basically, it shot two separate strips of film in 2 of the primary colors and they were glued together into single film stock. An early Technicolor film was *The Toll Of The Sea (1922)*, with Anna Mae Wong. (This has been shown on TCM)

 

The two strip process could handle any combination of two of the three primary colors: red-green, red-blue, blue-green. (The entire film could consist of alternating strips of these combinations for visual variety) The result was a bit surreal and even very charming, often adding to the dreamy atmosphere. Most of the time what they got were pastel shades.

 

Color process film was three times more expensive than using black and white. Many films from the late 1920's featured some Technicolor parts (usually the finale). These were mostly musicals.

 

Because the color film was so expensive, once a feature had it's run, the color stock was often recycled and substituted with a black and white print. When there was a fire at the Technicolor storage facility in the 1940's, much of our 1920's color film legacy sadly went up in smoke, leaving us with only all black and white prints for a number of those early films. That was a most unfortunate fire!

 

Two strip continued to be the standard until a three strip process was discovered in the early 1930's. The first Technicolor cartoon was the Walt Disney "Silly Symphony" *Flowers and Trees (1932)*. The first live action 3 strip film released was a short *"La Cucaracha" (1934)* (Also shown before on TCM). The first full length feature was *Becky Sharp (1935)*

 

I am a big, big fan of those 2 strip color films from the 1920's and early 30's! I keep hoping that some will be rediscovered somewhere, not an unrealistic hope given that a lot of "lost" films are actually languishing in vaults, held by owners who don't care or don't know what to do with them.

 

*The world's oldest colour film discovered in Bradford (circa 1902)*

 

 

 

 

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