Friday 14 September 2012

World's first colour film unveiled

World's first colour film unveiled 

In recent years early examples of colour film have, I think it's fair to say, become more established in the public consciousness thanks to their discovery, preservation and most importantly their showing on national television and in theatres.  I'm thinking of examples like Claude Friese-Greene's work in the 1920s (which was featured in the Dan Cruickshank series The Lost World of Friese-Greene on the B.B.C. back in 2006 having been expertly restored and preserved by that magnificient institution, the BFI) and the perennial film favourite that is the 1939 Wizard of Oz.

Colour cinematography was aspired to almost immediately after the moving picture camera was first invented but the technology needed to achieve it simply did not exist.  Many turn-of-the-century "colour" films consisted of each individual frame being hand-painted in order to provide the necessary effect.  The technique used by pioneering British cinematographer Edward Turner is generally agreed to be the first true colour film - and it was shot in 1902, fourteen years before the invention of Technicolor!  Alas Turner's method was a dead-end, he died suddenly a year later aged only 29 and his place in film history was forgotten.  Colourisation continued to progress, albeit slowly, and went on to provide some incredibly impressive and more advanced films (below, for example) but Turner was undoubtedly there first.

World's first colour film footage viewed for first time

Now thanks to the tireless efforts of the National Media Museum Turner's colour footage can be seen again for the first time in over 100 years just as he intended it to look.  Having been aware of the films' existence in their archives for some time and after working "behind the scenes", as it were(!), with the oddly-formatted reels the museum's curators were finally able to restore the stock and transfer it to the screen minus the imperfections that curtailed its development.  The result, as you can see in the first clip, is beautiful.

The team at the NMM are to be congratulated for persevering with the preservation of this historically important first step in colour cinematography, which will hopefully restore Edward Turner to his rightful place in the annals of moving picture history.  Colourisation of moving pictures made at a time when most film stock was black-and-white always imbues the subject with a remarkable sense of immediacy but to see colour footage from over a century ago is truly extraordinary and I am so very pleased to see it saved for future generations (not to mention proving to be a talking point in today's media).


  1. I adore old coloured film. It makes our history seem a bit more, alive to me. I am guessing this is because of growing up with nothing *but* colour.

  2. These are great - can I just do a public service announcement?

    Attention all Brits! Only 2 days left on Iplayer to catch episode 3 of 'The Thirties in Colour':

    I've seen episodes 1 and 2 and they're pretty good!

    Porcelina xx


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