The Dawn of Technicolor

Submitted by James Layton,

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, whose revolutionary color processes transformed cinema from black & white into a brilliant rainbow of color. As caretakers of the Technicolor Corporate Archive, George Eastman House is planning a series of events and collaborations to celebrate Technicolor’s enduring legacy. Particular focus will be given to the company’s formative years, which have remained largely in the shadow of its later success.

Two-color Technicolor camera. George Eastman House. Gift of Technicolor.


These events will kick-off at this year’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (commonly known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival), which runs from October 4-11, 2014. This specialist film festival takes place in the city of Pordenone in northern Italy, and attracts hundreds of film historians, archivists, academics, and silent film enthusiasts from all over the world. This year, film historian David Pierce and I will be presenting the series The Dawn of Technicolor, which includes a host of silent features, shorts and excerpts made using the two-color Technicolor process.

Inside the Teatro Verdi at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival


In total, there will be six “programs” of films over the week-long festival; four dedicated exclusively to Technicolor productions, and two consisting of shorts made using other color processes, such as Prizma Color, Handschiegl spot coloring, and Multicolor. These two contextual programs have been curated in collaboration with the “Colour in the 1920s” research project overseen by Prof. Sarah Street of Bristol University and Dr. Joshua Yumibe of the University of St. Andrews. Highlights of the series will include rarely-seen shorts and tests preserved by Eastman House; the earliest surviving Technicolor feature, The Toll of the Sea (1922); Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), which includes nine Technicolor inserts; the British Film Institute's superior restoration of Douglas Fairbanks’s swashbuckler The Black Pirate (1926); and the recently “rediscovered” color print of The Mysterious Island (1929) from the Czech Národní filmový archiv.

The short film Manchu Love (Elmer Clifton, US 1929) has been preserved by George Eastman House and will screen in the Dawn of Technicolor series at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Frame enlargement from 35mm nitrate Technicolor dye-transfer print. George Eastman House. Gift of Alan D. Kattelle.


Following the Giornate, David Pierce and I will present the Ernest Lindgren Memorial Lecture at the BFI London Film Festival on October 15. This 90-minute archival talk will illustrate Technicolor’s origins during the silent era using photographs and documents from the Technicolor Corporate Archive and excerpts from rarely-seen Technicolor films of the 1920s. Both these events precede the launch of Eastman House’s new publication, The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935, written by myself and David Pierce. This fully-researched and beautifully-produced book will be released in the new year and will include more than 400 black & white and color illustrations throughout. Furthermore, in January 2015, Eastman House will host the exhibition In Glorious Technicolor and a major three-month film series in the Dryden Theatre. We will be sharing more news of all of these exciting activities over the coming months.

Actor Richard Dix and cameraman Edward Estabrook inspect a two-color Technicolor camera during the production of Redskin (Victor Schertzinger, US 1929). George Eastman House. Gift of Connie Estabrook.