Theme Month! November 2013: Color in Silent Film

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How do you get a color movie? Shoot in color, silly! In the silent era, however, there were a lot more options for getting color on the screen. For the month of November, I am going to celebrate the colorful world of silent film.

Here were the most common methods used:

Tinting & Toning: The entire frame is given a particular hue. Simply put, tinting affects the “whites” while toning affects the “blacks” and both techniques could be combined.

Hand Coloring: Color is applied by hand to portions of individual frames.

(via the-frame.com)

Stencil Color: A stencil is cut for each color that is to be applied. This allows for greater precision and faster duplication. Pathecolor was a stencil process.

Color Film (Technicolor): Yes, it did predate the talkie revolution. However, it only recorded blends of red and green. I am not a huge fan of the eyeball-searing Technicolor of the 30’s-50’s so this early process appeals to me. The limited palette gives the images a gorgeous watercolor feel. While some movies were filmed entirely this way, it was more common for movies to employ color sequences lasting a few minutes.

I will be reviewing movies that make use of each and every one of these color methods!

Review #1: Hand-colored

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

One of the earliest movie blockbusters, this classic also boasts of hand-colored sequences.

Review #2: Technicolor

Redskin (1929)

One of the last major silent films ever made, this race drama uses stunning color to tell its tale.

Review #3: Sepia Tone

The Wicked Darling (1919)

The first collaboration between Lon Chaney and Tod Browning features some sepia!

Review #4: Tinted

Upstream (1927)

This long-lost John Ford silent boasts some lovely tints.

Review #5: Stencil Colored

Cyrano de Bergerac (1925)

The famous tale given silent movie treatment, complete with gorgeous stencil color!

2 Replies to “Theme Month! November 2013: Color in Silent Film”

  1. Oooooh. I have my month’s supply of popcorn and a few gallons of water here and yep, am camped out in front of my monitor with bated breath. Well, popcorn bated breath…

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