Urban-Smith Kinemacolor Demonstration

Source: S.D. Levings, ‘Urban-Smith Kinemacolor Demonstration’, The Nickelodeon, 1 January 1910, pp. 7-9

Text: There is a certain Englishman by the name of Charles Urban, well known to the moving picture industry as a manufacturer of high grade motion picture film; there is also a certain Englishman by the name of G. Albert Smith, F.R.A.S., not so well known to the trade, but who, nevertheless, has been Mr. Urban’s right hand scientific photographer. Now there is also an American, who, for courtesy’s sake, we must keep in the background, who has the privilege of expressing his opinions freely through the medium of a certain trade paper.

For some time past there have emanated from the foreign offices of Mr. Urban certain positive statements to the effect that he has successfully photographed moving objects in natural colors, and has reproduced them by projection, the result being a true record of the colors and objects. This was, to our American friend, beyond belief, and he did not hesitate to say, in the columns of his paper, that either Mr. Urban was talking through his Oxford millinery or that the wires in the trans-Atlantic cable which transmitted the intelligence had become badly crossed at the several times this report had reached America.

But it transpired that Mr. Urban and Mr. Smith, feeling in need of a rest from the arduous labors they had gone through in perfecting the color motion photography, decided to take a pleasure trip, and selected America as their objective point. They do not like to be absent from their beloved cameras and projecting machines for long at a time, so they just packed them up and brought them along. When they reached New York they “hired a hall,” the same being the concert hall of Madison Square Garden, and on the night of December 11 they set up their machine, invited several hundred manufacturers and their friends, including the skeptical American, and incidentally showed the “doubting Thomas” that the reports at which he has been scoffing were, in reality, the exact truth. The writer was one of the several hundred above mentioned and was present in the interests of THE NICKELODEON. He will endeavor in the following to tell you of what he saw …

… Kinemacolor is a young art and at present it is being withheld except to three of the world’s great cities. But the exhibition convinced many that a new era has dawned for the moving picture industry; that a new power has been placed in the hands of those whose business or interest it is to make records of the world’s happenings; and that the enjoyment of the vast majority of mankind who cannot attend these happenings but who delight in seeing them pictorially reproduced will be greatly increased by Kinemacolor.

The program which I witnessed was as follows:

1. “Our Floral Friends” (10 Studies).
2. “Natural Color Portraiture” (12 Studies), dealing with details of costumes and flesh tints.
3. “The Steamship George Washington,” leaving Southampton for New York.
4. “Scenes on the Riviera,” south coast of France, including views of Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo.
5. “Carnival and Battle of Flowers,” Nice.
6. “Waves and Spray,” waterfall and mountains (French Alps).
7. “The New Sultan of Turkey,” going to the Semelik, Constantinople.
8. “Life on the River Thames,” from the Tower of London to Henley.
9. “Our Farmyard Friends”—luncheon on straw, among the sheep, feeding a lamb, donkey and carrot, the parrot, mesmerized rooster, rabbits, cattle, horses, cat at toilet, kitten and parrot, etc.
10. “British Races and Military”—the King’s Derby, Royal Ascot, the Soldiers’ Pet, Band of the Cameron Highlanders, Sentry at Aldershot, March of Gordon Highlanders, etc.
11. “Their Majesties, the King and Queen of England,” driving through London.
12. “Scenes on Galata Bridge,” Constantinople.
13. “Motor Boat and Yacht Racing,” England.
14. “German Uhlans and Infantry,” Berlin.
15. “West Point Cadets.”
16. “Views of Potomac Falls (note Rainbow) and the Home of George Washington,” Mt. Vernon.
17. “The Harvest”—plowing, reaping, loading crops off to the barn, threshing, relaxation after labor.
18. “Review of the British Navy,” at Spithead, England.
19. “London Zoological Gardens,” showing pavilion and flower vase, camels, polar bears, buffalo, tigers, swans, hippopotami, zebra, brown bear, leopards, flamingoes, elephants, giraffes, macaws, etc.
20. “Old Glory,” showing 2,000 children forming the stars and stripes on the steps of Albany Capitol during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration.

The ten studies of the flowers, “Our Floral Friends,” were remarkable in the extreme, and to me were the supreme test of the evening, as nothing could demonstrate the quality of color better than the selection of one of Nature’s flowers, which no artist, however clever, has been able to reproduce to perfection. These studies included a wide scope of subjects, and the names of some of the flowers being foreign to me, I am unable to name all that I saw. Roses, carnations, nasturtiums, pansies, tiger lilly, etc., were included in the study. The colors were true to nature in both quality and density. These various bouquets were most artistically arranged in various colored glass and crockery jars, and in each case the colors of the receptacles were clearly brought out. One in particular caused me to marvel, and it was a Japanese bowl. The grotesque figures on the bowl, also the red and blue lines and background, were all truthfully represented.

Next in importance, to my mind, was the natural color portraiture. The flesh tints were marvelous in their naturalness and were far superior to any product of the brush. A striking feature of this photography was brought to light in several pictures dealing with the pastoral, in which horses were the engrossing subject. Apart from the beautiful browns that were represented, the gloss and sleekness of the horses’ coats, as they reflected the sunlight, gave an optical impression that could be produced in no other way.

Before the performance I had a long talk with Messrs. Urban and Smith, and plied them with questions as to several points which I did not expect to be brought out. One of these points was the delineation of the colors, that is, the division and the degree of fineness which could be caught by the camera. Mr. Smith said that this was precisely the same question that he asked himself when he first obtained results, and to prove that there was no limit, he had photographed a Scotch plaid shawl, held up by his little daughter, a charming miss of some 15 or 16 years. This film was reproduced on the screen that night, and I capitulated at once, if I ever held any ideas that I could catch Mr. Smith napping on this particular point. There was absolutely no infringing of color between the plaids of that shawl, and there was absolutely no difference in density between the center and the edges. The flesh tints of the daughter’s face, added to the combination afforded by the shawl, was indeed a picture to behold. Another very remarkable effect was noticed in the film showing the Sultan of Turkey. Carried by several of the Turks in this parade were banners edged with gold tassels and fringe, and the shimmer of the gold, coupled with the rich yellow color, was all that could be desired by an eye-witness.

The photographs of the birds and beasts in the London Zoological Gardens were especially interesting, and the birds of rare and highly colored plumage were the most interesting exhibit. Here again that sheen of nature was shown in its fullest effect and which I have never seen reproduced before in any way. I could go on for page after page and describe the wonderful colorings and subjects, but space does not permit. I want to make this point clear, however. To show that there was absolutely no color in the film itself and that natural light and the process was alone responsible for the colors, Mr. Smith requested the operator, during the projecting of one of the films, to remove the color screens, which he did, and the picture was then produced in black and white tones, which in effect was identical with the ordinary film as we know it.

There is no question in my mind but that the problem of natural color motion photography has been solved …

Comments: S.D. Levings was an American film journalist. Kinemacolor was a colour motion picture process invented in 1906 by the British filmmaker and film processor George Albert Smith (1864-1959) and marketed by the Anglo-American producer Charles Urban (1867-1942). Kinemacolor was a two-colour system, employing a rotating red and green filter on both camera and projector to achieve a satisfactory colour effect. It was the first successful natural motion picture process and enjoyed great success 1909-1914. Urban and Smith organised a screening for the American film trade at Madison Square Gardens on 11 December 1909 with the hope of selling the American rights to the system. The sceptical journalist to whom Levings refers was probably Thomas Bedding of Moving Picture World.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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