Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Colour film in 1927

Even though this short film shows London in 1927, it just about manages a tenuous Scottish link by featuring a shot of  the Peter Pan Statue which was erected in Kensington Gardens, London on May 1, 1912, and connect us to the Scottish novelist and playwright, JM Barrie.

It would still have made it in here though, under the photography category, which is really why I chose it.

One of the things that immediately date early black and white films is the very fact that they are not colour, and that their black and white description can often be just a little too accurate, as they exhibit very little dynamic range and render little in the way of any great range of grey in between the two extremes. It’s all to easy to be taken in, and think that the people of the time led very bland lives with little or no colour – which would be a mistake, and not at all true. Focus could be problematic too, with anything including text being rendered unreadable.

The other problem I find with many films of the time is poor speed control. Even with clockwork drives available, many of the old films seem to suffer from unrealistic and variable speeds. While it may be quaint, it’s also irritating after a while.

Enter the pioneers, such as Claude Frisse-Green, who invented the Frisse-Green Colour Process, and brought a whole new dimension to art of film-making.

His process was one of a number which were being experimented with the early days of colour film making, and the reason such films are relatively rare is because they were expensive and difficult to use successfully, when compared to the relatively simple black and white process.

As with early colour photography, colour movies was something of a rich man’s toy in the eyes of many, and this meant that anyone using had to be able to afford it as the cameras, film stock, and chemicals were expensive, and they had to have the time to devote to making it all work. This is also why many of the early films were travelogues, as the wealthy film-maker and his family used the excuse of a holiday to head for interesting places to film, and make their production even more interesting.

If it’s not something you have ever paid attention to, then it is worth looking up Frisse-Green and the early history of colour-film making.

All I really want to do here is draw attention to this short film, and the quality of its smooth movement, and of course, the appearance of reasonably good colours, rather than some overly contrasty greys and jumpy action. Focussing and detail are also well rendered, with the vehicle number plates being clear and easy to read. It’s a pleasure to watch this film, and but for the obvious indicators (such as fashion and cars), imagine it was shot not all that long ago:

London in 1927 from Tim Sparke on Vimeo.

Incredible colour footage of 1920s London shot by an early British pioneer of film named Claude Frisse-Greene, who made a series of travelogues using the colour process his father William – a noted cinematographer – was experimenting with. It’s like a beautifully dusty old postcard you’d find in a junk store, but moving.

Music by Jonquil and Yann Tiersen.

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May 15, 2013 - Posted by | photography | ,

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