The Black Pirate – Mary Pickford Technicolor No. 2 Test
00:00 Introduction by Anthony L'Abbate, Preservation Manager, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum
03:39 [The Black Pirate – Mary Pickford Technicolor No. 2 Test]
[The Black Pirate – Mary Pickford Technicolor No. 2 Test] (US 1926)
Director: [Douglas Fairbanks]
Cast: Mary Pickford; unidentified child
Production Company: Elton Corp.
Production date: 1926
Color: Desmet replication of Technicolor process No. 2—cemented, dye-transfer
Length (in feet): 282 ft.
Length (in reels): 1
Running time: 3 min. 29 sec.
Frame rate: 22 fps
Generous support for the video introduction provided by Art Bridges
Preserved by Wendy Glickman, graduate student of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation on the 2000 Haghefilm Fellowship
Ditigization funded by Cineco / Haghefilm
This film has been made accessible to the public in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: NEH CARES. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this video, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities
Mary Pickford had cameo performances in two of Douglas Fairbanks’s films during their marriage. She traded places with Billie Dove for the big kiss with Fairbanks at the end of The Black Pirate (Albert Parker, US 1926), and then appeared as the image of the Virgin Mary in The Gaucho (F. Richard Jones, US 1927). The George Eastman Museum has preserved the footage of the Technicolor tests made for both of these films. (See the test for The Gaucho here.) The test seen here was found in the museum’s nitrate film collection in a container identifying it as “Pickford and Fairbanks Technicolor Test.” The film shows only two or three frames of a sceneboard at three different times, but does not list the production title, only “Fairbanks.” However, Pickford’s wardrobe and accessories are consistent with those worn by Billie Dove in The Black Pirate. The multiple takes in this fragment are clearly the color tests Pickford made for her brief appearance in that film—hence the change in the identifying title. The child seen in the last take remains unidentified. Identifying who directed and photographed the screen tests is always a challenge. According to the sceneboard, this test was probably directed by Fairbanks himself. The name of the cinematographer (Gause) does not appear in any other filmographies and requires more research.
The color palette was chosen by Fairbanks after referencing the works of illustrators Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth, and especially the works of the Dutch Masters—muted brown tones that give an aged look to the film. Four months of color testing went in to the production of The Black Pirate to ensure that sets, costumes, hair and make-up colors, and skin tones all met the studio and location lighting requirements. At the time, the difference in the colors achieved between indoor and outdoor shooting necessitated two sets of costumes for each character.
The nitrate source for this restoration was the original 35mm negative made in the second major Technicolor system, introduced by the company in the 1922 production The Toll of the Sea. This was Technicolor’s first subtractive color process, in which a new camera design enabled the interior prism to split the light equally on a single negative recording symmetrical color separations: red light on one path, green light on the other. The matching red/green frames were vertically inverted, matching foot to foot. The frames bearing the latent red were then printed on a film reel, while those with latent green were reproduced on another reel. The process also required a new, thinner film stock—half the thickness of normal film—developed by the Eastman Kodak Company in collaboration with Technicolor. Registration of the two images required Technicolor to develop its own perforation pin belts so that the prints perfectly matched the negatives. The two positives were dyed red and green respectively, and then quickly and seamlessly, glued together, again in perfect registration. This system was far superior to any other two-color subtractive system known at the time, as the skin tones of Pickford accurately display. This process did not require a special projection apparatus, which aided with its initial success. However, the two strips of glued-together film developed inconsistency in the width of the film which caused problems of focus at the time of projection. By 1934, this process was replaced with the three-strip Technicolor dye imbibition process (known in the industry variously as dye-transfer, IB tech, or just plain IB) for the short film La Cucaracha and shortly thereafter, the feature film of Becky Sharp (1935) ushered in the age of Technicolor.