The term “coffee table book” has come to be defined as a big flashy text filled with fancy photos or art and little information. And a massive book with a title like “The Dawn of Technicolor” would lead one to conclude that this oversized volume would collect a lot of pretty pictures but offer little text.
In fact, “The Dawn of Technicolor,” which covers the technology from 1915-1935, is one of the most thorough and informative books on the cinematic process that can be had. Limiting it to the coffee table, despite its size, would not be recommended. It belongs in any library or research center.
Authors James Layton and David Pierce carefully investigate and examine the process of Technicolor, from its primitive beginnings in the silent era to its growth into the early days of talking pictures. The challenges in filming and processing, the impact, and the evolution of the technology as film itself continued to grow, are all covered with complete and fascinating information.
As we break down the text, we first are introduced to the process as an invention, dating back to the early 1910s and the various attempts to make it possible. Along with photos, we are shown helpful graphics depicting the early process, including two-color, three-color, and four-color systems. An early movie like “The Gulf Between” (1920) is discussed from the perspective of its production, its presentation, audience and critical reaction, and the realism color added to a movie as early as the silent era.
The imbibition-blank (IB) Technicolor process began in the 1920s, where a greater spectrum of color became a greater possibility. Eventually there was a conversion to all-color production. “The Black Pirate” (1926) and “The Mysterious Island” (1929) are among the films that show the rapid growth of color cinema.
Color was initially a novelty, as was sound, but each became the norm. However, color continued to be used sparingly throughout the period discussed in the book. It was an expensive and difficult process, its enhancement not always worth the struggles to pull it off. Every aspect of Technicolor’s history, process, importance, and early growth is discussed in complete, informative, entertaining detail.
The book concludes with a massive index listing all of the films containing Technicolor scenes from 1915-1937. Complete statistical information on the film is provided, as well as its archival holdings (sadly, not all of the films still exist while others are not in complete form). Some sequences have been restored more recently, such as the color opening to Buster Keaton’s “Seven Chances” (1925).
“The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935” is written in connection to the 100th Anniversary of Technicolor at the George Eastman House, which has published this massive volume. The exhibition, In Glorious Technicolor will be on display at the George Eastman House until April 26, 2015. It celebrates Technicolor’s early years through the making of such classics as “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), “Gone With The Wind” (1939), and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952).