During the Film Literacy Advisory Group meeting in Prague, we were invited and guided with great care and a personal touch at the Czech National Film Archive which proved to be a very intriguing experience.
At the Archive, the main issue we were exposed to among others was the restoration of original films of the 1920′s which were tinted (colored) at the time. While working with black and white film, as the only option (!), the creative people of the period felt it would be more engaging and impressive if they could add some color to the images. So, one solution was to “over-colour” whole scenes in certain basic colors: we mainly find cyan, yellow, pink (!) and green with varying strength and density.
While watching extracts of a recently restored Italian film about the Biblical stories, an amazing super production of the 20′s, I tried to put myself into the shoes of a spectator of the time. The strong images of Moses, the destruction, fights and efforts of the masses around him, obtained a magical overall feeling of a colored “light”. Although it may seem funny at times today, tinting was definitely one of their special effects. When the hero moves from one space to another we often found ourselves in a different color environment. The magic of storytelling through moving images on a big screen, was definitely enhanced taking into account the drawing and painting orientated, slow pace, locally driven life of the viewers.
Was there a symbolic code for choosing which color to put where? Was there a conscious use in relation to exteriors or interior shots? We hear from the specialists that probably not. The people responsible for the process functioned in an intuitive way, absorbing the feeling of the film and the particular scene before deciding which color to apply to each part.
History of film proves that film crews every other decade had the chance to try out some new achievement to make their art more impressive: double exposures, sound, later came the cranes and smoothly rolling cameras, matte paintings, light and smaller cameras which can go out in the streets, visual effects with motion control cameras and stereo sound, not to mention Dolby surround and 3D. This latter, being an important filmic treat of our younger generation, only recently became an expected feature. However, it is not more than 8-10 years ago that it was considered a spectacular novelty for the mainstream audiences. How long still do we have to bear with 3D? Is it going to lead to something new? What will the next step be? ( I do remember Peter Greenaway’s lectures on the death of cinema and the filmic experience of the future, but I see people still watching films!).
With all that in mind I sympathize much more with the editors and chemists who patiently tried all possible colors and hues and tones.