A 1922 test of Kodachrome color motion pictures predates feature-length color movies by several years. The results are eerily beautiful, a transcendent view through the eyes of someone exploring a medium that is still new technology, and the talented performers able to exploit its potential.
At once contemporary and alien, the pictures are also a reminder of how much of our own self-image is shaped by media – and, perhaps, how seeing that media through fresh eyes can make it express whatever we wish. Thomas Hoehn reveals the film for the Kodak company’s blog A Thousand Words, as seen via Boing Boing), with further commentary by a film geek identified as Mike C.:
In these newly preserved tests, made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, actress Mae Murray appears almost translucent, her flesh a pale white that is reminiscent of perfectly sculpted marble, enhanced with touches of color to her lips, eyes, and hair. She is joined by actress Hope Hampton modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), which contained the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film. Ziegfeld Follies actress Mary Eaton and an unidentified woman and child also appear.
George Eastman House is the repository for many of the early tests made by the Eastman Kodak Company of their various motion picture film stocks and color processes. The Two-Color Kodachrome Process was an attempt to bring natural lifelike colors to the screen through the photochemical method in a subtractive color system. First tests on the Two-Color Kodachrome Process were begun in late 1914. Shot with a dual-lens camera, the process recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues.
The Eastman House is an extraordinary place, not only a museum but an active laboratory in the battle to save the history of film.
But when it comes to saving color film photography, there’s more than archival history at stake. Our friends at the blog Retro Thing have chronicled the demise of the Kodachrome-branded line, as well as the remaining opportunities to shoot in film. As hipsters snap up (so to speak) iPhone apps that fake vintage photography, it seems visual arts is in desperate need of digital-savvy creators who can also make use of genuine vintage photography. Here are a few resources from that blog of the eight-millimeter variety, perhaps the best format for the casual photography wishing to resurrect bygone motion images. And while these stories tend to the amateur rather than the birth of color Hollywood seen above, I think they’re perfectly appropriate to mention here – after all, today media is personal more than ever before.
There are modern super 8 video podcasts.
Speaking of time machines, Retro Thing even looks at a vintage film on how to make better home movies:
But perhaps it’s most notable that James Grahame of Retro Thing has observed that modern Kodak digitals keep casual film shooting alive, comparing old with new in the form of the digital Zi8. And in a world hungry for original video footage and not just resampled clips, that may be the best message of them all.
Maybe, then, the challenge for the modern technologist is finding that novelty, that new way of seeing with the old medium, and making it as new in 2010 as it was in 1922.