When most people imagine the past, many think of it as colorless. And why not? Most photographs and film from those times is in black and white, especially films. But what if it didn’t have to be?
Color has been a part of motion picture history from its very beginning, when Thomas Edison projected a two-colored film as early as 1896. Most early color films involved hand-painted cells, tinting, or the stenciling method popularized by Pathechrome technology, however. It wasn’t until 1910 when true color started coming to film with Kinemacolor. Limited to hues of red and green—adding blue would destroy the film as it ran through the camera—they brought the first flickers of color to moviegoers, even if they were often out of sync.
Technicolor, however, which began in 1915, fared much better than their competitors, and their first widely released color film, The Toll of the Sea (which you can see in full here), was a smash hit with audiences. Add to that a stabilized dyeing process invented in 1928, and by the late 1920s color film was a real possibility, even if 80 to 90 percent of films throughout the 1920s were still tinted or toned with a single color.
The following clips, however, feature a full range of glowing color given the limits of technology at the time. So, ready to see the past in a more colorful light? Then check out the following list of video clips below! 🙂
A Kodak Kodachrome Film Test From 1922
This gorgeous Kodak film test comes from the George Eastman archives and features actresses Mae Murray, Hope Hampton, and Mary Eaton—plus a wonderful array of vivid colors and period hairstyles. Hope Hampton in particular is interesting; she’s shown modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), a Lon Chaney film which included bits of color footage.
The deep, rich colors were thanks to a new experimental photo-chemical process that involved a dual-lens camera. According to Vintage Everyday, the camera “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.”
Actress Mary Pickford Does a Color Screen Test
Someone on YouTube thinks this clip was a color test for Douglas Fairbank’s The Black Pirate, and they might be right! Especially since it was the first film “designed entirely for color cinematography.”
Visit the Streets of London in 1926
Restored by the British Film Institute’s National Archive, this video clip gives you a small tour of inner city London, complete with cute inter-title commentary! 🙂
If you’re interested, an entire playlist of these videos can be seen here on YouTube. They seem to cover much of England and Scotland, all circa the mid-1920s.
A Short Color Test of Actress Claire Windsor
Here’s a very short clip of actress Claire Windsor in a lovely feathered hat.
While it seems she was never a big star herself, she was in a lot of movies and rubbed elbows with a lot of big names. You can hear an interview with her regarding her acting career here on YouTube, or check out this blog dedicated to her memory and film career.
Watch Flappers Sashay Down the Catwalk
Poking around YouTube, I found quite a lot of these “fashion films” from the late 1920s and early 1930s. While the models never do anything too exciting, it’s interesting to see the color combinations that were popular at the the time. Some clothing was much brighter, garish, or interesting than it seems in black and white.
Each fashion clip features a short introductory inter-title card that describes the ensemble, then a model showing it off, often in fun locales. Check out the following mini-list:
This clip comes from 1928. Check out the crazy color combos on that hat and scarf ensemble at 0:50!
The pastels and beading designs really pop in this next clip, and you get a sense of the more flowing dresses that were also popular:
This clip lacks much color (aside from the sepia tints), but it has lots of great coats that make up for it, plus parks:
As you might have noticed, most of these films come from glamourdaze’s profile on YouTube. Their website features a ton of cool stuff on vintage fashion, including hairstyles and period clothing. You should check it out!
I hope you enjoyed this brief peek into a more colorful past. If you’ve got any cool film links from the 1920s, please post them in the Comments section below! I’d love to see them 🙂