What’s Your Favorite Kind of Silent Movie Color?

We all know that color was in the movies long before sound and that hand-colored dance films were part of Edison’s early screenings. So tell me this: What’s your favorite kind of cinematic color that was used during the silent era?

What tickles your fancy? Hand-color? Stencil? Tinting and toning? Kinemacolor? Kodachrome? Technicolor? Name your poison!

(And, of course, black and white is a perfectly legitimate answer.)

For me, French stencil color all day every day! Say Pathécolor and I am sold. An Excursion to the Moon has a particularly fine example with its lunar ballerinas.

Please tell me your choice and be sure to recommend titles if any come to mind. I think everyone will enjoy expanding their viewing and seeing the history of cinematic color.

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17 Replies to “What’s Your Favorite Kind of Silent Movie Color?”

  1. I love tinting and toning, but mostly I love pink tinting and toning the best. Red too. I wish it was used more often in movies.

  2. It’s strange that you brought this up today. I was reading about the Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz earlier.

    As for silent color, I’ve always liked tinting. I like how certain colors suggest certain things, like a sea scene or romance. It also allows for greater color variety. Most of the other early processes relied heavily on red and green, and it shows. I’ve also seen some early color films that remind me way too much of colorized movies, which make me want to tear my eyes out.

    I’ve always admired the patience hand-coloring must’ve needed, but I have to admit it’s a little distracting when the colors don’t stay in one spot.

    1. Yes, there’s an elegance in the simplicity of tinting and toning. Charming!

      Since you bring it up, I think you’ve hit on why those early color processes appeal to me: I see yellow as “hotter” than the average person and too much yellow onscreen gives me a splitting headache.

  3. I love the tinting especially the blues probably because my favourite colour is blue. I love the early technicolor print you showcased here and I always love the hand tinted from Melies

  4. Have to put in a word for Two Strip Technicolor! Many individual sequences shot with this process (Phantom of the Opera, Seven Chances) before easing into use for entire films (The Black Pirate).

  5. I like the Kodachrome colors. The red is not as cloying as Technicolor in many cases, but there‘s no blue to judge, blue being the great advantage of hand tinting.
    As for whole movies, I would have to say King of Kings. The color sequences are stunming. The Black Pirate is a bit underwhelming to me, which of course can‘t diminish its accomplishment of applying the cumbersome two-strip process to a whole feature film.

  6. One thing that I enjoy about tinting and toning, especially in combination, is that after a minute or two you stop noticing it and it just feels like you’re watching a color movie, which is a neat effect.

  7. I love the hand-stencilling and early two-strip Technicolor. Technicolor went through a period of garishness before settling down to a natural look, but tinting and toning always works for me and surprises those who expect silent films to be black and white.

  8. I like the Handschiegl process. Where I’ve seen it used, it’s usually a small bit of color that really stands out. Flicker Alley’s recent Lost World blu ray has a great spot of it where a dinosaur has a flaming torch in his mouth. Looks like he’s smoking a giant stogie. I just like how it really catches my attention.
    More importantly than all of that, it’s just really fun to say “Handschiegl.”

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