How Technicolour Changed Movies

This explainer looks at how technicolour changed movies: it wasn’t just a great new technology, but also a powerful corporate influence. A 1998 LATimes article explores the rise of technicolour:

With the phenomenal success of the Al Jolson musical “The Jazz Singer” in 1927, Hollywood quickly made the transition from silents to talkies. However, injecting color into movies was a much harder sell. In fact, it took the founder of Technicolor more than two decades to convince movie makers about the viability of color.

The new Turner Classic Movies documentary “Glorious Technicolor,” premiering Monday, examines the tangled history of color movies, as well as the life and career of Herbert T. Kalmus, the “father” of Technicolor.

Narrated by Angela Lansbury, who appeared in such Technicolor classics as “National Velvet,” the documentary features interviews with Technicolor stars Esther Williams and Arlene Dahl, as well as the never-before-seen Technicolor screen tests of Ingrid Bergman for “Intermezzo” and Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard for “Gone With the Wind.”

The documentary also kicks off the cable network’s weeklong, 21-movie Technicolor festival featuring such breathtakingly beautiful color films as 1937’s “A Star Is Born,” 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and 1951’s “An American in Paris.”

“It took Kalmus 23 years to get the process right,” says “Glorious Technicolor” producer Peter Jones. “Finally, ‘Gone With the Wind’ really turned it around for Technicolor. He was really working off the kindness of investors for many years.”

Kalmus’ first Technicolor system required two projectors running simultaneously that created severe synchronization problems. The only film produced with this early technique was 1917’s “The Gulf Between,” of which just one frame of footage still exists.

In 1922, Kalmus developed a two-color photographic process that used a single projector that produced two dyed strips of film cemented together. The film industry failed to get behind Kalmus, so he received development money from, of all places, the Bon Ami cleanser manufacturers. A few films were made with this process including 1922’s “The Toll of the Sea” and Douglas Fairbanks’ 1926 classic “The Black Pirate.”

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