Monday, October 06, 2014

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Collegium Dialogue 2: The Dawn of Technicolor

L’alba del Technicolor / The Dawn of Technicolor
An extensively illustrated presentation by James Layton and David Pierce recounting the technical, economic, and marketing story of the first 15 years of Technicolor's history.
The Auditorium of Regione FVG (Via Roma 2) (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 6 Oct 2014

James Layton, David Pierce, Sarah Street, Joshua Yumibe (GCM catalogue and website): "Technicolor is a name long synonymous with color motion pictures. The company celebrates its centenary next year, and the occasion will be marked by a series of events coordinated by George Eastman House. Best known for its motion picture film and photography collections, Eastman House is also the caretaker of the Technicolor Corporate Archive and other important collections of film, technology, and documentation related to the development of color films. In Spring 2015, George Eastman House will publish a new book inspired by the wealth of documentation in these collections. James Layton and David Pierce’s The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935 explores the company’s activities throughout its two-color period, through the people, the technology, and the films. This program draws upon the discoveries made during the extensive research for the book."

"To expand upon and contextualize Technicolor’s early years, for the purposes of this program we have partnered with the British-based research project Colour in the 1920s: Cinema and Its Intermedial Contexts, coordinated by Professor Sarah Street (Bristol University) and Dr. Joshua Yumibe (University of St. Andrews). This allows us to cast a wider net, touching upon the overall prevalence of color in silent cinema, and detailing the diversity of color processes used both in the United States and Europe."

"Understanding the context of the 1920s is vital not only for the history of Technicolor but also for the chromatic transformations that cinema underwent during this period. Previously in the years of early cinema, color was a vital aspect of the moving image, particularly through the manually applied coloring processes of tinting, toning, stenciling, and hand-coloring. However, the First World War disrupted colorant production. Germany had dominated international aniline trade up to that time, but following the break-up of Germany’s chemical patents as part of war reparations the development and use of color surged internationally in the 1920s. In the art, advertising, architecture, and cinema of the Jazz Age, cultural fascination with color was lively and ranged across media and disciplines. Surrounding motion pictures, the variety of colors available for consumer goods, buildings, magazines, neon advertisements, and theatrical performances created an exciting, chromatically rich visual culture."

"To explore cinema’s progress in this colorful era, we are presenting alongside the Technicolor screenings two programs focused on other color technologies and techniques developed in the 1920s. In this material, the diversity and beauty of color cinema is profiled and analyzed through shorts, advertisements, animation, experimental works, and the feature The Glorious Adventure (1922). These screenings present recently preserved and rarely screened films in order to re-examine color’s prevalence and importance in 1920s filmmaking and to show how these innovations related to the greater chromatic culture surrounding the cinema."

"The processes featured in our programs represent both photographic (such as Kelley Color, Prizma Color, Multicolor, Kodachrome, and the systems of Audibert and Keller-Dorian) and applied color (including Handschiegl, stenciling, hand-coloring, tinting, and toning). Drawing on previous work on the physiology of color perception, the first program, “Colorful Sensations,” explores experiments with color and the exploitation of its spectacular nature and sensorial power. The second program, “Colorful Adventures,” builds on these themes while focusing on the use of color to produce sensational images of the exotic, encompassing both the faraway and the past as uncharted territories. In mapping these colorful views, the first two programs delineate the competitive and flourishing media environment faced by Technicolor as it refined and developed its processes, style, and studio connections throughout the decade."

"Today the name of Technicolor is most associated with classics made during the height of the Hollywood studio era – color masterpieces such as Gone With the Wind (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). These films were made using the company’s three-color process, first introduced in Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees in 1932. Achieving this cinematic milestone, however, required close to 20 years of hard work and sustained investment, and many false starts."

"The four modules dedicated to Technicolor offer a chronological narrative through the company’s early years. Four features are presented, each marking an important technical or business breakthrough for Technicolor. The features are accompanied by rarely-screened shorts, excerpts, and trailers that shed further light on the range of filmmakers working in Technicolor. The films display the diversity of approaches and uses of color in the 1920s, and reflect the output of a company in the process of changing its complicated technology from cemented prints to dye-transfer. A 90-minute illustrated lecture in the Auditorium della Regione will supplement the film programs and provide further context."

"From its incorporation in 1915, Technicolor’s enterprising President, Herbert T. Kalmus, led the company with a fierce desire to succeed. Despite numerous technical hurdles, he carried Technicolor through repeated business setbacks during its formative years and secured the much-needed financing to take its technology from prototype to commercial reality. During that period, the company was transformed from a small group of Boston engineers into a multimillion-dollar business."

"The key to the success of any color process was the ability to produce quality images at an affordable price and achieve mass production. Huge investment was required upfront to build the necessary camera and printing equipment for Technicolor’s proprietary processes, but the financial returns proved a long time coming. After the release of the self-produced The Toll of the Sea to much fanfare in 1922, Technicolor had to attract other clients. New relationships were built from the ground up, and studio executives had to be convinced of color’s value. Wary of its cost and production limitations, they first used color in short inserts in black & white feature films, such as M-G-M’s ambitious Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). But color was not always used creatively, and the studios had to be taught how to effectively incorporate color from the earliest production stages."

"Disappointingly, after more producers began to experiment with color, Technicolor’s big contracts in the mid-1920s with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Famous Players-Lasky, and Douglas Fairbanks failed to lead to a sustained increase in business. The company struggled throughout much of the decade, unable to obtain its first year of profit until 1929, when the combination of color and sound proved irresistible to audiences. Close to 200 inserts, features, and shorts were made using Technicolor’s twocolor process before sound arrived. During this time, Technicolor laid its foundations, improved its technology and expertise, and developed many of the standards and procedures that were to lead to its most celebrated and productive period beginning in the 1930s with its three-color process." James Layton, David Pierce, Sarah Street, Joshua Yumibe

AA: James Layton and David Pierce have prepared a wonderful illustrated lecture to accompany the publication of their eagerly awaited book The Dawn of Technicolor, forthcoming from The George Eastman House. The presentation was so packed with exciting information that it is hard to sum up. Film clips included The Black Pirate test with Mary Pickford (1926) and Lights of Old Broadway (1925). My only complaint is that this version of the lecture was too short. I understand there be a fuller version at London Film Festival.

No comments: