The only them was colour and the fact that all of the films had recently been restored by their respective archives – from Eye to BFI via Il Cineteca Bologna, Lobster Films, George Eastman House, and the Center for Visual Music.
They were loosely in chronological order with the first half a silent section illustrated beautifully by Cyrus Gabrysch nimble piano playing and the second a mix of the sound-tracked and dialogued. All were held together by a focus on colour whether stenciled, technicolored or stripped down to basics. We even had a lesson in dyes and pigments from Imperial Chemical Industries.
Le farfalle (1907)
The sequence opened with the monochrome-to-stencil-coloured madness of The Butterfly an Italian mini-epic featuring a battle of the butterflies. The story begins with some Geisha-style movements before the troop pulls back to reveal a colourised “butterfly” who then engages in a dance tot eh death with a black-winged month-man. It culminates in some Loie Fuller-style arm-waving in flowing robes all beautifully tinted… Man, they could have used this on back projection at the UFO Club in 1967…
The film features 3.38 minutes into this compilation of serpentine dancing.
Next to this the gently, hand-coloured Fountains of Versailles were a little tame in a short Pathé brothers document but then it was over to Blighty for an outrageous display of fireworks as filmed by George Albert Smith. I expected some colourfully-loud explosions but the fireworks were arranged in the shapes of fire engines, fighting cocks and, gawd-luv-em, the King and Queen. Hurrah!
You can see the fireworks here.
Mr Smith also filmed this fascinating footage of horses and carts crossing a deep stream someone in England in an as yet un-named port. Seeing these colourised-compatriots as they went about their daily inconvenience shows how we should never take the existence of motorised transport and bridges for granted. Smith made the film for the Natural Colour Kinematograph Co.
Dutch Types (1915)
A few years later we were seeing the folk of Veere and Arnemuiden in Zeeland as they walked along canals and went to school. As the schoolgirls smiled the colour dissolved the distance of 101 years.
See it here.
The silent section finished off with some light fiction as John Pevere (Lucio Flamma) spied some dancing girls on a south sea island whilst on a boring boat trip with his fiancée (Jean Mann) and her parents.
He becomes enamoured with a pretty local girl, Nita (Ann Christy) who is specified inter-title-y as the daughter of an English trader just to avoid any misunderstanding…
The film ends unresolved but we know from John’s final longing look that he’ll be back.
The film can be found on the excellent National Film Preservation Foundation set AmericanTreasures from the New Zealand Film Archive.
After long applause for Cyrus’ efforts accompanying all of the above we moved on to sound.
In Malcolm Le Grice’s experimental film a horse is shown repeatedly in a haze of filtered motion with an electronic track creating a pleasantly disorientating state as you scan for any variations in motion or music. Only at the end do you see horses being pulled out of a burning stables.
Ruins of Palmyra and Baalbek (1938)
Given recent events, this film was all the poignant, showing us King Solomon’s great city as it was still standing after the last invaders who tried to destroy it. Jack Cardiff – the King of Colour, provided cinematography that captured the site’s atmospheres with almost a magical-realist tint.
Palmyra is drenched in atmosphere and hopefully still is…
As with the other clips, this only hints at the loveliness on screen.
An inventive animation advertising toothpaste… they just don’t make them like this anymore.
This film was made for British Petroleum and features microscopic images taken from their labs and set to Malcolm Arnold's Divertimento for oboe, flute and clarinet. Somehow this captures the optimistic spirit of sixties scientific endeavour.
Jordan Belson’s film is abstract in vision and sound with the kind of music much beloved of Broadcast and the Ghost Box ensembles… "It is primarily an abstract cinematic work of art inspired by Yoga and Buddhism. Not a description or explanation of Samadhi." said its creator.
Jules Engel’s experimental short features pulsing colours and electronica bleeping in time to flash and flicker. There’s a trailer here.
In truth Landscape hit us with its flashing minimalism just when the hallucinogens were wearing off: we needed a narrative and with the final film we got one.
Directed by Jack Ellitt and featuring Jack Cardiff on camera again, the finale focused on the nature of colour and its practical application by ICI.
The film explained how we see colour and then detailed the process of creating pigments to dye fabrics. Our new world is full of colour from Tupperware to tableware and none of this is possible without the creative application of science.