Glorious Technicolor (1998)

Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - United States  |  
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Synopsis by Hal Erickson

The history of color photography in motion pictures is lovingly detailed with vibrant film clips and first-person interviews in this 60-minute cable TV special. Beginning with such experimental processes as hand-tinting each frame of film (a specialty first of Edison, then perfected by the French Pathe company) and the "Kinemacolor" technique (a cumbersome procedure requiring special high-speed projectors and two separate strips of film), the special then moves on to the swaddling days of Technicolor, with rare vignettes from such silent films as The Toll of the Sea (1922), The Black Pirate (1926), and Ben-Hur. The two-color Technicolor process gives way in 1933 to an improved three-strip format, yielding such splendiferous results as Becky Sharp (1935), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and Gone With the Wind. But because of the dictatorial policies of Technicolor consultant Natalie Kalmus (who gained control of the company in a divorce proceeding), moviemakers were forced to adhere to firmly controlled policies of how the colors could be arranged and toned, with no wiggle room for individual creativity. Fortunately, Kalmus did not wield as much power over British filmmakers like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger who freed the Technicolor process from the shackles of conformity and corporate thinking in the 1940s, yielding such visual feasts as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. The special concludes with the final years of the three-strip format in the early '50s, with interviews from such Technicolorful stars as Esther Williams and Arlene Dahl. Drawing heavily from Turner's vast MGM film library, Glorious Technicolor originally aired over the Turner Classic Movies service.