Die Nibelungen (1924)

London in colour: talking about Colour in Film

Not that silent film history is complicated, but put it this way: it’s not black and white. Joshing aside, one of the most exciting themes to emerge in recent cinema scholarship is the exploration of film colour – from the earliest hand-painted frames to today’s teal-and-orange “realism”. And it’s arguably more exciting to learn about the colour pioneers and their various attempts to make films appear lifelike – or better than that – than later developments.

Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902)
Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902)

So I thought you’d like to hear about a two-day event in March that puts tinting in the frame – Colour in Film, which takes place in London, at the BFI Southbank and Friends House on Euston Road. The keynote speakers are Sarah Street, who will give a paper on British Cinema in Colour: Creativity, Culture and the Negotiation of Innovation and Barbara Flueckiger, tackling the subject of Bridging the Gap between Analogue Film History and Digital Technology. Other contributions will come from Ulrich Rüdel, Kieron Webb, and more names that will be familiar to you.

The Glorious Adventure (1922)
The Glorious Adventure (1922)

I am not going to lie to you – some of this material gets pretty technical, pretty quickly, but if that’s your bag, fill it up. And don’t forget that there are screenings on the first day too.

Background colour

For those of you who are newer to this area of study, I can heartily recommend Flueckiger’s comprehensive website titled Timeline of Historical Film Colors. And for a briefer introduction, Mark Cousins has written a very entertaining column in this month’s issue of Sight & Sound, which comes with a colouring-in competition as a bonus. You’ll see that I have approached this frame from The Wizard of Oz as if I were a Pathé “hen”, hand-tinting on a production line. But not as neatly …


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