115 Years of Color and the First Color Films

Well not really, but this is a wonderfully preserved look at some of Kodak’s first experiments into the newly colorized medium. Kodak began working to improve on existing color photography that already existed at the time and from what I can see here truly succeeded. The hues and contrasts in this short experimental footage look absolutely fantastic compared to what came before it and was a major step-up in color film technology that paved the way for classic and epic films like The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

“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.” – Kodak Blog



So after seeing this glorious footage, I started doing a little more research on color and found some conflicting reports. Wikipedia claims that something called “Kinemacolor” was the first successful color motion picture process, used commercially from 1908 to 1914. They also say that A Visit to the Seaside was the first successful film produced in natural color (which I couldn’t find a video of). I think “successful” and “commercially” might be the important words in that sentence because I then tracked down this clip on YouTube which claims it is from 1906.

would you like to know more?


Now of course this is just some yahoo on YouTube, so they could claim the movie was from whatever year and that wouldn’t necessarily make it so – particularly when Wiki just told me the first color films really weren’t introduced until 1908. However… digging some more I found this early fashion show of sorts, taking place in Scotland in 1906. This film’s description (which is much more believable as I pulled it from the BFI YouTube page) also mentions the use of Kinemacolor and demonstrates the tartan cloths of various Scottish clans. It should also be noted that at the end of the cloth demonstration is another film titled Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs from a couple of years later in 1908.


So a little further research on Wiki finds this chart which actually lists 1895 as the first color film(!); though nothing from it remains as it was simply experimental footage using a pretty interesting process known as Joly Color Screen. Then there is some more experimental work done over the decade until Kinemacolor comes into existence in 1906 before publicly displaying their aforementioned 8-minute short, A Visit to the Seaside in 1908. Now that is something I’d like to see but I’m even more desperate to see some of that early experimental work!


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Jandy Hardesty

Nope, I'm definitely interested. I just haven't had time to watch all the clips yet. I thought at first a couple of the earliest ones you've got there were tinted rather than actual color photography, but it looks like the real thing. Some of the 1890s kinetoscope films were hand-painted, but the tartan film doesn't look quite like that, either. Pretty neat stuff.

I actually quite like the look of the two-color Technicolor – saw a few 1932-1934 horror/thriller films done in two-tone last year at Cinefamily, and the reliance on reds and greens really heightened the moodiness of them.