Friday, July 07, 2006

Nothing Beats Technicolor

Over the past long weekend, Turner Classic Movies presented the two great film masterpieces of 1939: Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Both were filmed in an antiquated film color process known as Technicolor, which even today still amazes me with its warmth, richness and almost otherworldly beauty. What is it about Technicolor that makes you feel like you’re dreaming what you’re seeing? You know the costumes, sets and skin tones in real life didn’t actually look that way, but who cares? Compared to the high-tech, digital color of today, Technicolor is like an old oil painting executed by a Renaissance master placed next to a hastily-brushed acrylic knocked off by a Pratt Institute dropout.

It may interest people to know that first color movie probably was done as long ago as 1901 — and I don’t mean “tinted” either, a trick that was used a lot in the silent film era. The problem was you had to break up the colors three ways — red, green and blue — and then align the images on three strips so they’d all work together to look natural. Nothing was very successful or practical until Technicolor came out in the early thirties with its “dye imbibition” system. The studios were initially put off by the expense and extra work involved in this latest evolution of the Technicolor process until the immensely popular Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the top-grossing film of 1938, made Technicolor seem like a great idea.

I think a wonderful marketing idea today would be to film an entire motion picture in old fashioned Technicolor and play it up big. However, you can understand why cinematographers and studios wouldn’t want to shoot in Technicolor. Beside the expense, Technicolor requires extremely bright lights on the set and extraordinary care in color balancing. But what a look! Can you imagine Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler looking any differently? How about those ruby slippers Dorothy wore? Would the Wicked Witch of the West be the same green? And think how Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie would look in glorious Technicolor. Folks, if I had my way, we’d all live in a Technicolor world.


Blogger Flood said...

Was Technicolor the standard for all the studios or just one? I seem to recall seeing something like "_________-o-vision" as well.

I think of epics, when I think of Techniolor, like Samson and Delilah or Ten Commandments. The campy stuff that makes me chuckle and keeps me rapt at the same time. (When I was a kid I woulda given up both my arms to look like Hedy Lamarr)

8:02 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

There was another film process called Cinecolor which was kind of a Technicolor wannabe. Also, Eastman had their own process that was different and easier to use than Technicolor, but not the same quality. I believe studios for a time couldn't own Technicolor cameras — they had to be rented. And I think VistaVision and others with names like that were really Technicolor underneath.

8:13 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

My world is already in Technicolor. Sure, it's all in my head, but boy is it beautiful!

8:28 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

I didn't realize that Technicolor was responsible for the beautiful look of Oz. You nailed it. I can see the green on the witches face still, and the poppy fields.

10:45 AM  
Blogger LL said...

Ah... but Mr. S, would you change Casablanca from it's original B&W?

Cinescope and Technicolor are things that we can only dream of today, niether translates to DVD very well... yet.

7:03 PM  
Blogger magnetbabe said...

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies (like #2 or #3). I still get goosebumps when after the twister Dorothy goes to the front door and opens it to reveal a glorious technicolor world with the huge hollyhocks and the yellow brick road. I think The Wizard of Oz played the other worldly quality of Technicolor to its advantage.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I didn't appreciate Wizard of Oz until the past few years, but I do remember being utterly fascinated by the color change after she landed in Oz.

GWTW? I must confess that I have zero interest in it, but to answer LL's question, no Casablanca should NOT be redone in color.

We had foreign movie night a couple of months back and I remember being extremely disappointed that the movie Stalingrad was in color.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Flash said...

I remember that feeling of Dorthy opening the door to the Technicolor world. It was fantastic.

your right about the overall look compaired to todays modern televisions, and it would be cool to film in that medium in todays times, but here's the problems. With HD, plasma and all the others coming out, clarity is key, so there has to be different variations of color, and I'm talking millions. The problem with technicolor is that it's "too flat" meaning if you watched it through todays modern technology, the colors would actually blur and stretch out, making the picture look a lot worst.

I can't think of any specific examples, but I know everyone has seen one or two. Your watching a commercial, maybe something with a lot of white and red, basic colors, but the red is seeping farther then it should. Usually this comes with a low buzzing sound also. That's because it was made with a flat color.

I agree, as cool as it would be, It just wouldn't look as good as it did so many years ago.

7:37 PM  
Blogger John said...

Toy Story was filmed in Technicolor. These days they seem to be more in the buisness of restoring old movies. And making coats.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Wordnerd said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one that appreciates a Technicolor world. I also LOVE the colors of the 60's -- the pale pinks, aquas, and other pastels combined with chrome. Color schemes can take me back to certain eras without a word. Great post!

9:58 AM  
Blogger Ben O. said...

We saw Superman Returns in IMax 3d and it was really cool - I say make more 3d movies.

Nice insight into Technicolor - Ben O.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Two of my favorite films! I love technicolor as well. When I was a child, Dorothy landing in Oz was a visual feast. "Heart-shaped box" by Nirvana is a technicolor video. It's gorgeous. I agree with you 100% on a technicolor world. Oh how lovely my garden would be. =)

5:01 AM  
Blogger tiff said...

Saturation of hue would be GREAT. I keep tyring to get our new fancy-pants plasma screen teevee to project in something approaching anything but muddy colors, and it simply doesn't respond. Wah.

Intersting post, and very interesting comments!

4:32 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

The last time I saw The Wizard of Oz, my sister had bought a 50th Anniversay tape for the kids and they had cut out Dorthy and Co singing 'Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead.' I was so disappointed I haven't watched it since even on TV or the newer DVD version.
But the color was amazing!

11:59 AM  

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