(Roughly) Daily

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most”*…

 

A hand-colored explosion from INVENTOR CRAZYBRAINS AND HIS WONDERFUL AIRSHIP (1906)

At the turn of the 20th century, a color revolution was sweeping across Europe and North America. The invention decades earlier of aniline dyes, synthesized from coal tar, had made pigments cheap and colorfast, fueling an explosion of brilliantly hued goods. Tinted stage lights and hand-dyed “magic lantern” projector slides illuminated vaudeville performances, variety shows, and traveling fairs. Vibrant clothes and dye-printed advertising posters emblazoned city streets. Vivid wallpapers, photographs, and trade postcards decorated the walls of homes while color-printed illustrations adorned women’s journals, children’s books, and dime-novel covers. Suddenly, the world looked like a fantastic, varicolored dream.

Out of this chromatic fantasia emerged the first colored motion pictures. Decades before the Technicolor wonders of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939), filmmakers experimented with a variety of techniques for dyeing 35mm black-and-white prints. Colorists, primarily women, learned to paint these silent films with delicate brushstrokes, meticulously carved stencils, and chemical baths that washed entire scenes in icy blues, resplendent greens, or fiery reds.

These innovations mark a technical highpoint in filmmaking. This was the moment when the gray shadows of the silent screen burst to life with the wondrous and shocking vivacity of color…

More on the silent screen’s explosion into color– with glorious examples like the one above– at “The Phantasmagoria of the First Hand-Painted Films.”

* John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

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As we peer through rose-colored glasses, we might recall that it was on this date in 2000 that John Travolta’s passion project, the feature film Battlefield Earth, was released. Based on (the first half of) Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s novel of the same name, it was an epic failure, both at the box office and with critics, and was nominated for nine Golden Raspberry Awards (a record, until 2012).

It has, of course, become a cult film…

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Written by LW

May 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

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