Sunday, August 29, 2010

Early Color Movie Kodachrome Film Tests (1922)

Here is some of the earliest genuine color film footage you will likely ever see. A major actress of the time (Mae Murray, famous for her beautiful "bee stung" lips, fully on display at 2:00 into the film) and other film and stage personalities are featured in this test from the Kodak Labratory.

Here's some background from the Dangerous Minds website:

"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."

Other information from the Kodak "1000 Words" site (below).


  1. Cinematography is an interesting study - this was a little over thirty years after the first black and white films of a naval warship undergoing trials (curiously; the USS Oregon) -- those were jerky, black and white images hardly worth seeing.

    Thirty-odd years later, we have these -- and they're really quite spectacular.

    Nine years after that, "The Wizard of Oz" was filmed.

    If you look at the quality of both cinema-quality film and news film from just ten years ago to now, there's a marked difference.

    Cool find; Doug!

  2. You're right, Will, and I'm glad you share my interest in this rare find.

    I find early motion picture cimenatography a fascinating study, in part because so much of it, like the USS Oregon footage you speak of, is in really poor due often to little or no film preservation. So much of the history of the late 19th--early 20th Century is still available to us in brief flashes of work like this---we are the first people who can actually look back at what the world was decades ago in a moving, life-like media.

    We've lost a lot too, a subject best not to dwell on too much. Thanks to computer technology and the forty or so years or serious film preservation, we at least have gems like this.

    Yes, the advances were very rapid and on they go. All the more reason to be glad the Eastman House took an early interest in saving a lot of early tests and movies we might not have otherwise.

  3. Love seeing the hair, make up and fashions but nevertheless "We've come a long way baby".

  4. What stunning quality from what was clearly the 'state of the art' for the time. The preservation of this sort of material is very important and I trust their work is not hit too badly by the current financial down turn.

  5. Excellent clip Doug, I think colour always makes films look more contemporary, it is perhaps a cinema age illusion that the past was apparently monochrome. I have noticed this even with documentary and amateur film of the 1950s and 60s, the black and white ones look ancient whereas amateur colour film say of the 1930s looks positively modern. Unless this is just me of course, it seems a strange phenomenon of the Age of Images that cinematic representations of the transience of existance have replaced the imminance of death, that was once the ontological underpinning of previous ages?

    Just a thought.....but great footage, it also reminded me of the song 'Pictures of Lily' by the Who.

    Cheers Doug

  6. Really super pictures, Doug. The flirty images remind me of the video I loaded. "I enjoy being a girl". The images in my video show a tougher kind of woman.

    Many of the images in your video look strangely modern. Watching the older films, one becomes aware of the changes in film colour. I can't remember them all. Some I liked, others I didn't.

    Thank you, for sharing a bit more of the age of cinema.

  7. Women have indeed Mary Ellen. It's a startling bit of imagery for me from an era that is so affixed in monochrome.

  8. Thanks Good Stuff. Hope you have a great trip.

  9. It is stunning, Jim. I'm not sure how Kodak is doing lately with the steep loss of the regular photo stock, but from the looks of their site they seem to have a lot of technology to restore precious stuff like this. The key in the past has been to get it out of unstable nitrate-based stock and unto safety film and other media.

  10. An interesting thought indeed, AA. Film has made us feel that our favorite film stars are still alive in some logic-suspending way. We know they are gone but they are still vivid, particularly on color film.

    It's jarring to see images like this when the mind has tucked the 1920's into a monochromatic place. And,yes, there is a modernity to color isn't there?

    To go about-face on all this beauty on display, if one suddenly sees images of a lizard like Hitler, for instance, it has the effect of reminding us this was indeed a living breathing person and not a mirage of evil dispatched in some parallel black-and-white world.

    I'll have to look up that Who song.... thanks AA.

  11. I'll have to look up that video on "tougher" women, Cassandra, set to what I assume is a more more-in-cheek presentation. Sounds fun.

    One of the sad things about the early Kodak film process was its tendency to lose its color and appear "washed out" as a few decades go by. Early American technicolor films were only able to pick up certain colors in the "two-strip" color system so many of them can look just a bit off. But this kind of color from moving pictures of the 1920's does send the mind for a flip-flop, usually a positive one!

    Luckily a lot of major films have been restored thanks to video and DVD sales opportunities. This film appears well-preserved and probably looks about as good as it did in 1922--which makes it all the more stunning to me.

  12. I thought it was fascinating, but not into film technology, I was more amused by the 'old fashioned' gestures & flirtations of the women!

  13. It seems over the top by today's standards--and maybe even then as well. But since it was a camera test I'll bet they were just having a bit of fun. ;-)