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Questions and Answers page 3.


Q & A

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Q #12: Dear Picture Show Man:

When was color first used in motion pictures?

A: Color motion pictures appeared almost from the very beginning. Thomas Edison experimented with a hand–tinting process, similar to that used for stereopticon slides, on some of his Kinetoscope films, and a tinted print of Annabelle Whitford's "Serpentine Dance" (1895) exists. When Edison's first projector, the vitascope, had its commercial debut on April 23, 1896, two of the six scenes projected on the screen were in color.

A scene from The Great Train Robbery.Some early films were partially hand–tinted to highlight a scene or object – the color of a dress, the flames of a fire. A print of "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) survives with hand–tinting throughout, though only of specific elements in each scene. As early as 1905 the French Pathé company had begun to replace hand–tinting of individual film frames with tinting machines through which entire segments or scenes could be passed to give them a "mood" coloring of a single shade – red for fires, blue for night, yellow for daytime exteriors. In America hand–tinting was eventually replaced by the Handschiegl process. This process was developed by Max Handschiegl, an engraver who had perfected a means of dye–transfer coloring of release prints, otherwise known as imbibition. Using his knowledge of printing inks and engraving technology, Handschiegl prepared as many as three printing matrices to achieve a desired color. Beginning in 1917, he worked on such films as "Joan the Woman" (1917), "Greed" (1925), "Phantom of the Opera" (1925), and "The Big Parade" (1925).

An advertisement for Kinemacolor.The first commercially successful natural color process (films photographed so that the colors are selected entirely by optical and mechanical means and reproduced again in a like manner) was two–color Kinemacolor, developed by George Albert Smith for the Charles Urban Trading Company in London, which was owned by an American entrepreneur. This process, which used a synchronized rotating wheel in front of the lense so that frames of a black and white film were exposed through alternating red and green filters, also required a special projector so that the finished film could be projected back through another synchronized rotating wheel of red and green filters. Smith made his first color film by the Kinemacolor process outside his house at Southwick, England, in July, 1906. It showed his two children playing on the lawn, the boy dressed in blue and waving a Union Jack, the girl in white with a pink sash. The first commercially produced film in natural color was Smith's Kinemacolor film "A Visit to the Seaside" (1908). The first full–length feature film in color was a five–reel melodrama "The World, the Flesh and the Devil", made in Great Britain in 1914 by the Union Jack Company using the Kinemacolor process.

Technicolor, devised principally by Herbert Kalmus (1882–1963), was the first widely successful color film process. The first feature–length all–Technicolor production, "The Gulf Between", was first shown in 1917. It is considered a 'lost' film and only a few frames are known to survive. The second feature–length all–Technicolor film produced in the United States, "The Toll of the Sea", appeared in 1922 and is available in its entirety from a number of sources. Technicolor's biggest success during the silent–era was Douglas Fairbanks' film "The Black Pirate"(1926). These films, however, used a two–color Technicolor process. Three–color Technicolor, which was the color process of choice until the early 1950s, was first tested in a Walt Disney cartoon "Flowers and Trees" (1932).

In 1928 the Eastman Kodak Company introduced the original Kodacolor motion picture film. This film recorded color images by using a process that coated a Lenticulated screen array with a black and white film emulsion. However, in order to show the image in color the film needed to be projected through a special projection system. The additional expense of the projection system reduced the marketability of this process and it never caught on for use in commercial motion picture productions.

Q #13: Dear Picture Show Man:

Was the first film with a million dollar budget a John Wayne film?

Annette Kellerman in A Daughter of the Gods.A: No, the first film with a million dollar budget was made quite a few years before John Wayne became a star. The first movie to cost a million dollars was "A Daughter of the Gods", released in 1916. The movie was written and directed by Herbert Brenon for the Fox Film Corporation, and shot in Jamaica. Brenon employed 20,000 extras during the 8 months of production, and used 2,500 barrels of plaster, 500 barrels of cement, 2 million feet of lumber, and 10 tons of paper to create vast, fantastic settings. He also ended up using 220,000 feet (over 40 miles) of film to shoot the picture, which ran for 180 minutes in its final cut. Once completed, an original orchestral score was written for the movie, a musical score which was said to have been the most memorable up to that time. The movie created a considerable amount of controversy when it was released because of a scene in which its star, Annette Kellerman (an Australian swimming champion), appeared nude. No print of this movie is known to exist. (For more information about this film and its star, refer to the 2006 biography by Emily Gibson & Barbara Firth, "The Original Million Dollar Mermaid: The Annette Kellerman Story".)

John Wayne in The Big Trail.In 1922 "Foolish Wives" cost $1,100,000, and the movie "When Knighthood Was in Flower" cost $1,500,000. "The Ten Commandments" (1923) had a budget of $1,800,000, and "The Thief of Baghdad" (1924) was the first film to have a budget of $2,000,000.

John Wayne, however, did appear in a multi–million dollar western early in his career. In fact, the first film in which he had a starring role, "The Big Trail" (1930), cost over $2,000,000. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the movie was released in both a standard 35mm version, and a 70mm "Grandeur" wide–screen version.


Q #14: Dear Picture Show Man:

Who was the first actor to die in a film with their eyes open?

A: We have decided that this is the most curious question we have ever received. We can only speculate as to what was the subject of the conversation that initially prompted this question, but suspect our answer will probably go back further in motion picture history than you would suppose.

The Country Doctor (1909).The first film that we found in which a character dies with their eyes open is D.W. Griffith's 1909 movie "The Country Doctor". The movie stars Frank Powell as Dr. Harcourt, Florence Lawrence as Mrs. Harcourt, Gladys Egan as their daughter Edith, and Mary Pickford in a small role. The title character, a prosperous husband and father, is caught in a social tragedy when his daughter falls ill and he's pulled from her side by the illness of another girl from a markedly poorer home. Toward the end of the film, Dr. Harcourt's daughter Edith turns toward the camera and dies with her eyes open. It is a very haunting scene, and the first that we can find where the traditional acting convention of dying by closing your eyes is ignored. The first "Feature Film" (a film lasting at least an hour) in which a character dies with their eyes open is probably D.W. Griffith's 1919 film "Broken Blossoms". After giving one of early cinema's most moving performances, Lillian Gish (playing Lucy Burrows) dies with her eyes open after being beaten by her father.

Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms.At this early stage in motion picture history, acting for the camera was still a developing art. Many people who appeared in front of the camera were not trained actors, and the few who were had been trained for the stage where broad gestures were often used and accepted. Gifted directors like D.W. Griffith realized that the camera was capable of catching very subtle changes in expression, and when filming dramatic stories they made increasingly greater efforts trying to tone down the expressions and gestures of their actors. Although, even today, it is easier to accept these exaggerated gestures and expressions in a comedy, we might note that comedians like Charlie Chaplin often worked to tone down the reactions of even their costars, especially during a tender scene.

There are quite a few other movies from Hollywood's Golden Age in which an actor either dies or is found dead with their eyes open. At the end of "The Public Enemy" (1931) a door is opened and James Cagney's trussed up, dead body is shown on the other side with his eyes still open. Myrna Loy died with her eyes open at the end of "The Rains Came" (1939), as did Laurence Olivier (playing Lord Horatio Nelson) at the end of "That Hamilton Woman" (1941). There are many other examples of such a scene.

If anyone knows of an actor who "dies" with their eyes open in a film before D.W. Griffith's "A Country Doctor", please let us know. Such a curious question deserves an accurate answer.

Q#15: Dear Picture Show Man:

When did movie theaters start selling popcorn, and why did they choose popcorn?

Antique popcorn box.A: Popcorn has been a popular snack for centuries. However, after Charles Cretors introduced the first automatic popcorn machine in 1885 (which had evolved from a peanut roaster), popcorn began to be sold everywhere. It was cheap, tasty, and easy to peddle despite the fact that those early popcorn wagons needed horses to pull the steam–driven popcorn machines weighing over a couple of hundred pounds.

                          Watch a Vintage Theater Advertisement for Popcorn

Popcorn vendors often parked their wagons right outside of the early movie theaters to provide a snack for movie–goers as they bought their tickets. It also wasn't unknown for kids to load up with boxes of popcorn so that they could resell them to patrons inside the theater to make some extra money.

Early popcorn wagon.In the mid–1920s, Charles T. Manley perfected the first electric popcorn popper. With the availablity of this smaller, more compact machine, movie theater owners realized they could finally reap the popcorn profits for themselves. It was at this time that popcorn began to be sold within the theaters, and it quickly became the movie snack of choice. It was, and is, inexpensive to make, delightful to smell, tasty, reasonably healthy and, until fairly recently, cheap to buy. Popcorn joined other snacks at the movie theater concessions that had been chosen because they were easy to store and wouldn't spoil quickly, but fresh, warm popcorn almost immediately established itself as the perfect movie snack.

Movie concession 1929.

For more information you might want to read "Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America" (1999) by Andrew F. Smith.


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