Kodak 1922 Kodachrome Film Test

Video link. These beautifully composed and lit motion portraits are kind of a mashup between our recent 1906 color photo feature and Flickr long portraits. (Thanks, Gwen Smith!)


  1. Nice find. Some anti-jitter and flicker reduction algorithms would make those even more amazing.

  2. Notice in these films/photos from less than a century ago, people were OK with not being a perfect hourglass figure with angular facial features. What is portrayed here seems to be a healthier perception of what a person should look like. Someone correct me if my observation is off.

  3. Hate the music though.

    But this isn’t Kodachrome. Kodachrome was a color film emulsion which was developed in the early 30’s. This is an additive color method, where you have three red, green, and blue are separated and recorded as black-and-white, and then projected back onto the same spots. Note the colored fringes from where they’re not perfectly aligned.

    Kodacolor was an additive method, although 1922 sounds a bit early for it, as it was introduced in 1928.

  4. These are lovely. I have to disagree with #1, though– I like the artifacts and noise and even the wear. I’m not against digital restoration in all (or maybe even most) cases, but I think sometimes a little crackle is very pleasant.

  5. Damn people were ugly then.

    Someone should do a study as to why people were so doughy then and other things like “1970’s boob”

  6. Actually I think the 3rd girl in is quite lovely. Hard to imagine she is probably just dust now.

  7. If those girls lived today everyone of them would be on a diet.

    What we call pretty is so cultural, or maybe commercial. The garment industry thought very thin girls did not distract from the clothes they sold, so ads were full of emaciated girls, till the culture came to accept that as pretty.

  8. Oh, BoingBoing, you make me so sad.

    I try to play YouTube videos here, and 75% of the time I cannot, because something — maybe scripts in ads, or in your stuff — prevents me. I even go through the YouTube link, and though I’ve navigated from the BoingBoing, I click upon the vid buttons and they do nothing. I am forced to quit and restart my browser to rid myself of this curse.

    Using Firefox 3.6.8., OS X 10.6.3.

  9. #2 – Alex, you’re partly correct – it’s an early two-color Kodachrome process that’s different from the recently-departed stuff we think of as Kodachrome.

    The big difference is that this stuff isn’t reversal film, it was shot on B&W negative film, using two cameras like you described, but then combined, but not by projection, by printing the colors onto film:

    “The Two-Color Kodachrome Process was an attempt to bring natural lifelike colors to the screen through the photochemical method in a subtractive color system. First tests on the Two-Color Kodachrome Process were begun in late 1914. Shot with a dual-lens camera, the process recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues.””

    So, yes, but no, though more like something in between. ;-)

  10. I have to agree that I think this would be more impressive with the pulsing flicker removed. Which seems possible, just brighten up every other frame (?)

    Also, did women back then look “doughy” or was that the aesthetic standards they used for hiring their models? (“no, gimme the one with the giant cheeks!”)

  11. You know what I find striking about these? The mannerisms, body language, gestures of expression. It’s almost like watching people whose faces are (or can be) modern, but who are speaking a sort of sign language we no longer speak.

    1. Those affectations and mannerisms are really grating on me. Yes, it’s fantastic to see the 1920s “come to life”, but I’m imagining a nightmare party surrounded by these actresses, pinkies aloft, speaking in that silly Northeastern “blue blood” pseudo-English accent, recently-learned of course.

  12. Could be I have little patience, but I don’t like waiting 18 seconds to see the goods. Why is it that keys and slides have to be up for so long all the time. At least is wasn’t a blue screen with big white font

    Just crotchety old me.

  13. I’d like to know what they’re saying. Are there any lipreaders out in bOINGbOING land who can tell us what they say???

  14. I wish I could read lips well enough to understand what they are saying. Particularly the last actress/model, with the short curly hair — she talks a lot (starting around 2:33) and I wish I could figure out what she’s saying. Is she responding to the director asking her for certain looks or emotions?

    The sentence that begins at 2:33 seems to end in something that looks like “more,” “where,” or “want.” Then she looks to the side and behind.

    The sentence that begins around 2:50 looks something like “rah chain [or shane], everyone — hate! — [something I can’t get at all]” and then she sighs deeply, nods, and starts doing a pouty sexy face. The sigh and nod imply to me that she’s reciting a line, playing out part of a scene; the pouty face looks like a change in emotion and scene to me.

    Does anyone who actually reads lips have an idea?

  15. Whole lot of Ladies in that Radiator!
    Clearly this was loooong before the discovery of troutmouth.

  16. I think Little Red Riding Hood’s been into the sauce. All that glorious eye-rolling. Very alluring.

  17. From Kodak’s 1000words site:

    “In these newly preserved tests, made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, actress Mae Murray appears almost translucent, her flesh a pale white that is reminiscent of perfectly sculpted marble, enhanced with touches of color to her lips, eyes, and hair. She is joined by actress Hope Hampton modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), which contained the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film. Ziegfeld Follies actress Mary Eaton and an unidentified woman and child also appear.

    George Eastman House is the repository for many of the early tests made by the Eastman Kodak Company of their various motion picture film stocks and color processes. The Two-Color Kodachrome Process was an attempt to bring natural lifelike colors to the screen through the photochemical method in a subtractive color system. First tests on the Two-Color Kodachrome Process were begun in late 1914. Shot with a dual-lens camera, the process recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues.”

  18. Whoever thought that the batting of one’s eyelashes should be considered a form of coquettish flirtation is surely burning in hell as we speak.

    1. I kinda liked the eye batting, certainly I like it better than how today’s actors and news readers are taught to never blink. That makes their eyes seem like the eyes of the dead, fixed and frozen.

      I did wonder about how often these women, and indeed, most women in silent movies, kept their hands up and near their faces. I wondered if it was a subconsciously protective gesture in a society where it was still legal to beat your wife or daughters. A woman who kept her hands near her face would find it easier to block a blow aimed at it.

      1. wow, you live in a warped universe, this film is obviously a commercial to show studio execs the progress that color film is making. the distortion you make into beating women is more of a reflection on your own existence than that of the film industry and society itself in the twenties.

  19. YouTube comments ID the actress after 1:51 as silent film star Mae Murray, which might narrow down what line she’s reciting at 2:50. Her Wikipedia article lists her films, and this link gives some more info about some of them: http://www.doctormacro.com/Movie%20Star%20Pages/Murray,%20Mae-Annex.htm

    But Wikipedia lists most of the films as lost. So it doesn’t look like it will be possible to match the line with one spoken (maybe title-carded) in one of her silent films.

    I checked the films she’d made in and before 1922. It looks like the last word in the line that begins at 2:50 could be “Jerry,” a character from “Jazzmania” (1922). Murray’s character ends up marrying Jerry at the end of the film, which would explain the romantic surrender at the end of that line. That’s about all I’ve got.

  20. I’m with MrWednesday on this one – the girls are truly beautiful. On the other hand, TomDArch has a point too; I found some of the hand gestures especially a bit weird – it’s interesting how mannerisms seem to have changed a bit. Overall though I like the big cheeks thing. :)

    Also interesting is the black background; I’m wondering whether this is really a black background, or just a side-effect of the very strong lights needed by early film. A similar effect is common nowadays on macro photography, where the very narrow apertures used limit the incoming light so only objects very close to the flash are illuminated, and the background is invariably jet black.

  21. Just as actresses of our time represent idealized women (e.g. Jennifer Anniston, Scarlet Johansen, etc) rather than typical American muffin-top women, the actresses of the 1920s almost certainly represent a similar ideal. In an era with a scarcity of processed foods and saturated fats, it probably took as much effort to maintain a chubby midsection in those days as it does to maintain a skinny one today.

  22. The mannerisms come straight out of the Silent era. When one’s acting skills couldn’t rely on one’s voice, the tendency was to exaggerate the physicality. Also, back then, the only other source of actors was the stage, where the business was usually exaggerated for the benefit of the cheap seats.

    These are great. Look like regular camera tests rather than actual dailies of filmed scenes.

    And another thing that was a holdover from the silent/B&W era: the exaggerated makeup. Seeing these color shots must have made some studio exec think, “You know, I guess it’s about time to retrain some makeup artists, if this whole color fad is ever going to take off.”

  23. Really beautiful stuff. It’s disappointing that some can’t relax, drop the need/crutch of technological perfection, and simply enjoy these as the historical items that they are.

  24. I suspect it had more to do with their acting schools…having your hands near your face was used to accentuate expression–especially handy in a silent movie.

    I love gal #3! She was the most “natural” actor of all. Wish they’d shown more of her…

  25. Yeah, the gestures and such are very typical of silent film acting. There’s a video clip going around of a “silent version” of the Vader-Luke confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back that gets it wrong, I think, in showing title cards for all or nearly all of the dialogue. I don’t think most silents would have broken up the action with title cards so much; what they did instead was communicate with a lot of facial expressions and gestures, and yes, a lot of it was stylized. On the other hand, David Prowse used a lot of gestures (since he didn’t show his face) and I don’t think anyone’s accused Mark Hamill of being too subtle with his acting.

    I highly doubt the women of the 1920s had to have their defenses up at all times on the off chance that a man would happen to strike them in the face.

  26. I hope to build a museum to film so that we can take our grandchildren and show them what quality was like. All they will ever know is the flat digital images that are taking over. I want my grandchildren and their children to see beautiful film presentations in IB Technicolor, Cinerama, Kodachrome, and beautiful B&W images so sharp they are breathtaking. It’s so sad that America chases after cheap and faster. RIP quality.

  27. What I wouldn’t give to see a version that’s been post-processed for image stabilization and exposure leveling across frames. (Well, I wouldn’t give anything, but it’d be nifty to see.)

  28. I love the woman with the child – so natural seeming. It feels like I’m getting a very realistic glimpse into day-to-day 1922 life.

  29. I’m pretty sure the fifth maiden is Mary Eaton.

    Best known for her appearance in the first Marx Brothers film “The Cocoanuts”, she also starred in “Glorifying the American Girl”, the only movie Ziegfeld ever produced.

  30. Wow these comments are full of some grade A ignorance. You people make me lose my faith in the 1920s.

    For starters these women aren’t ”chubby” by 1910s or 2010 standards. Hope Hampton seriously? And for the commenter who said it was an idealized version as everyone was poor and malnourished that was not true either. There were poor and malnourished…many of whom became silent film stars. Average Jane could be Louise Brooks or Marie Dressler; ready made clothes were new to the 20s and thus there was less a focus on it. The ”thin” trend started in the 1910s with Irene Castle, same with the short hair look. She or Brooks could easily be an actress now though people would say they had eating disorders.

    Have any of you ever seen a silent film? Jesus the assumptions! The hands and eye fluttering are part of posing; not of acting for a silent film. Mae Murray wasn’t the greatest actress ever be I’ve seen a few of her films (Delicious Little Devil and Merry Widow are easily available) and she doesn’t flutter or move like that. I’d say the mother and child are the closest to ‘acting’ but I still feel nothing in this gorgeous clip is acting.

    Silent film acting started a touch rigid taken from the stage…1900 to say 1918…it kept loosening up. By 1921 it was quite modern. If you watch a film from 1921 to 1929 the odds are the acting will be on par with anything in a modern talkie film. Get your youtubes and netflixs and rent Pandora’s Box, The Unknown, The Gold Rush (25, not 40s one), The Big Parade (just aired 2 nights ago on TCM, Little Annie Rooney, The Iron Mask…SOMETHING!

    I write about silent film over at forgetthetalkies.com . I also run a silent film publishing company 1921 PVG Publishing. Spend a minute familiarizing yourself with the era and art form before assuming. I’m shaking my head right now.

  31. Hmm thought about it a little more. Add Miriam Cooper, Natacha Rambova, Lillian Gish and Gloria Swanson to the ranks of the uber modern thin. I’ve always been convinced Miriam Cooper could have been a modern actress. Get her book for like $8 on amazon (Dark Lady of the Silents) its good stuff.

    For the pudgy girls they were mostly vamps, and Mae Murray was a bit of a blonde vamp pre Jean Harlow. Nita Naldi and Theda Bara would be ‘heavy’ now (cruel cruel people recall Naldi as ‘250lbs’…she wasn’t) but dang if they weren’t sexy!

    Anita Page is what I consider the average body type of the silents. We remember Clara Bow as pudgy even though she could be extremely thin when forced (It is a good example, 1927.) It was her baby cheeks. The 1910s and 20s were not subtle about fat. If a reviewer thought a female star was too fat they’d say so. Bluntly at that.

    Clara Bow and Mabel Normand both had that. Vilma Banky was considered too fat when she came to the US 1926). Google and I bet you’ll disagree.

    I think we lack faces these days. These women could lose or gain 20lbs and still look good. Nowadays when you see models, actresses, and retro wannabes (mostly 1950s focused) they all have decent to hot bodies…but ‘butherfaces’. I’ve seen women recreate a 50s look perfectly and have a slim little body to boot; but their face would never do back in the actual 50s if they wanted to be in film or modeling.

  32. Final thought: if you want to see a whole silent film, in color, like this but with real acting and a bonafide thin modern model, try “Toll of the Sea” which was made that same year (1922).

    It stars Anna May Wong (who is a full sad story in and of herself) and while its a bit stilted the acting is solid and the color breathtaking. It looks like something from the 1960s without sound. I believe its on both youtube and DVD.

  33. This is definitely not “kodachrome”.

    In the ‘teens and 20s there were several color processes, none successfully either due to expense or cumbersome equipment.

    What we are seeing is likely an early 2-color variant of Technicolor. It used black and white film. It also was shot with a special camera that had ONE lens.

    You can Google “Two Color Technicolor” and get the basics of how the process worked.

    Eventually a full three-color process was developed, giving us the glorious Technicolor Hollywood was famous for. And due to similarities with Kodachrome, Technicolor had to pay a royalty to Eastman Kodak — or was it the other way around? — Anyhow, thanks for posting these pictures

  34. In 1964, Murray (“Once a star, always a star!”) took it upon herself to travel by Greyhound bus from coast to coast on a self appointed publicity tour, hoping for a film comeback. She was found penniless and wandering around St. Louis thinking that she was in New York City. For Most of her later life he lived in poverty. She was thought to be one of the nuttiest of the silent film stars.

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