Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Technicolor Time Machine

Having already waxed enthusiastically about the recovery of lost audio recordings from the 1880s, I could hardly let this pass: the restoration of what may may have been the first experimental color movie from 1902. So early!

This video explains the process invented by Edward Raymond Turner and patented by him in 1899. It's enormously clever and totally unlike later commercial color film processes, which left modern researchers with the same problem they faced with the old sound recordings: no way to play it back. The machines don't exist anymore (and good luck finding a Betamax videotape player in 2112). Also like the old sound recordings, digital techniques and technologies solved the problem.

There are so many things I love about this, I hardly know where to begin.

Because of Turner's color process, the red, blue and green break up at the edges of moving objects, giving the films a blurry, dreamy quality I really appreciate. Turner's inventiveness is astounding, his wheel of alternating color filters very smart. It again reminds me of the recovered sound story, with the same turn-of-the-century explosion of ideas explored by individual inventors in little shops around the world.

Watching these films is a bit like discovering a time machine, isn't it?

In fact, although I'm very happy to have been born precisely when I was, if you held a phaser to my back and forced me into a time machine I think I'd choose to land in 1890 or so. Movies, phonographs, light bulbs, telephones, automobiles, airplanes. Electricity in the home! What a couple of decades that must have been. Mr. Turner's color movies exemplified the era's spirit of fertile, creative, limitless invention. Turner died young (29) and his work, though developed further by others, was superseded and forgotten. As a representative of the 21st Century, I'm pleased to do Turner the honor of remembering it, and marvelling at it, again.

Dramatic recreation of me being forced into
a time machine and sent back to the 1890s.


Jim O'Kane said...

"Someone could have thrown it in a bin."


Rather timely, as the folks I'm trying to convince to save another forgotten bit of cinema still don't seem to be inclined to overcome inertia. Nice knowing that someone, somewhere is protecting and restoring history.

Didn't it strike you as odd, though, that they're using an optical *film* printer to record the images? That's so... last century.

Brian Fies said...

Yes, I agree that seemed like an unnecessary intermediary step, but what do I know? They seemed to know what they were doing...

Also, re: your peevish Facebook comment about the date of the airplane's invention, let me clarify my time-travel scenario: I arrive in 1890 and spend the rest of my life there, profitably investing in ideas I have good reason to believe will pay off. I hear there's these bicycle mechanics in Ohio with a nifty idea...