January 24, 2010

Getting Cinemate #9: Film Stock

The photographic film on which a motion picture is shot is called Film Stock. There have been two major trademarks for colour film stock and processes and all of us remember reading these among the opening credits: Technicolor and Eastmancolor.

Technicolor was the most widely used color motion picture process in Hollywood from 1922 to 1952. It provided with top saturated* levels of color and was used commonly for larger-than-life films like musicals, costume dramas, and animated films, e.g. The Wizard of Oz, 1939. But it required bulky equipment, more technicians, and a high budget. And it used a dye-transfer process that was time-consuming. So, it was replaced by Eastmancolor films when Eastman Kodak introduced it in the early 50s. It was cheaper and easier to develop.

But over the period it was discovered that Eastmancolor prints have tendency to fade and many of the films of the 50s and 60s have lost their visual splendour. Hence we hear of ‘restoration’ of old classics, which involves various options, one of which is using the Technicolor dye-transfer. Technicolor prints have more stable colours and are considered of archival quality. Also Technicolour negatives are more suited for transferring to video formats for home viewing. Even today, some films use Technicolor, esp. those set in the 1940s, e.g. Pearl Harbor, 2001.

P.S. Saturation measures the amount of a colour in its shades. For example, the colour red has increasing levels of saturation from reddish black to blackish red to very dark red to very deep red to brilliant red- the most saturated shade.


  1. Talking of color, which were the first films in Hollywood and Bollywood to be shot in color, and in which years? And is world's first color film also from Hollywood too?

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  3. good question.
    actually people started experimenting with colour as early as the birth of cinema. But the results were extremely poor. The name of the first colour film is debatable. Many experiments did not even get widespread release. In India, the first full-fledged colour film was V.Shantaram's 'Sairandhri' in the late 30s. He shot it in B&W and then took the print to Germany to manually paint each frame using micro-brushes. The film was a flop and colour didn't exactly pick up until late 1950s. Shantaram made 'Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje' in 1955 and it was a beautiful use of Technicolor. That film is amazing. But B&W films continued to be made till mid-60s. Film makers like Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt etc. never made a film in colour. And those like Hrishikesh Mukherjee actually started thei careers with B&W.

    In Hollywood, the enormous success of films like the animation 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' in 1937, and 'Gone With the Wind' and 'The Wizard of Oz' in 1939 opened the floodgates for color films. Musicals got popular around the same time and colour and music complimented each other, so much so that by the end of the 40s people were tired of colored musicals. Genres like Film Noir stayed away from color for a longer time.
    European cinema believed more in B&W. You will find great European films of the 1960s that were done in B&W. Purists were of the belief that introduction of colour would spoil the aethetic purity of cinema!
    Then there were some radical uses, e.g. In Akira Kurosawa's B&W film 'High and Low', in one shot the smoke rising from a chimney is pink in colour. Otherwise everything else in that shot and the film is B&W!!!

    There is so much to talk about. I believe all that I mentioned here is correct. If you find some mistake please correct me.

  4. hmm.. nice n insightful cinefood. actually this question arore coz i had watched a b/w 'woh kaun thi' of '64, and 'mera saaya' of '66, back2back movies by raj khosla, and was taken aback a bit by only 2 years gap between watching sadhna in b/w and color. wondered when did color creep into the folds of hindi cinema. mera saaya or waqt are may be the earliest full color films i have seen. and, my sister told me purab aur paschim is in part in b/w and rest in color!

  5. Mughal-e-Azam famously had just one song in colour.

    Another interesting thing is, after making 'Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje' in colour in 1955, V Shantaram made 'Do Aankhen Barah Haath' in B&W two years later. And then made 'Navrang' again in colour.

    Navrang beigns in B&W. V Shantaram himself appears and talks to the audience about his experience after 'Do Aankhen Barah Haath' and then he signals the beginning of this new film, which then begins in colour!

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  7. Had watched 'Do Aankhen...' earlier (I actually never knew, the song 'Ai Maalik Tere Bande Hum...' belonged to it until I saw the movie) but never knew the director had made a film in color before that! Also, had the VCDs of 'Jhanak Jhanak...', 'Navrang' in my collection lying lonely for last one year (I had bought them for 'later' viewing, but typically, that 'later' never came). After these discussions and such history woven around, you have egged me onto watching them with a further more interest than I would usually have...

    On final note, just give me your thoughts on what final barrier remained that the full adoption of color in mainstream cinema came in around so late, may be '65-'67 (my guess) when we have V Shantaram like men experimenting with it since long? Was it just the cost factor or the lack of technical expertise in the industry, or its easy availability, or whatever?

  8. the biggest problem was, as I said in original post, associated with Technicolor. You actually required 'colour consultants' for that. And the budget etc. was a factor. The technicians here were trained in using B&W.

    But, I also feel that a big reason was the aesthetic choice. Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, among other major filmmakers used B&W so meaningfully that it was always preferred over colour. It is said that Waheeda Rahman lost her pure innocence as B&W era ended. (this is debatable, but there is indeed some truth in that). By mid-60s, these filmmakers were gone.

    After mid-60s, the focus shifted from social films to location based musical romantic films, this was the period when shooting in Kashmir etc. became popular. This ended sync-sound and B&W. From Raj Kapoor to Vijay Anand to Hrishikesh Mukherjee - all shifted to colour. By this time, Eastmancolor was available and things became easier.

    Alhough, I never thought like this. Your question made me think. Thanks.

  9. Hey, got this trivia from

    First Color Film Made in India was Kisan Kanya in the year 1937, although the trend of colour films began very late. The film was produced by Imperial Film Co and was directed by Moti B. Gidwani. The music of the film was composed by Ram Gopal Pandey. The film had 10 songs, which were released by Gramophone Records. The storyline of the film featured an exploitative landlord and a good peasant Ramu who is accused of murdering the landlord. The film was colored using the Cinecolour process imported by Imperial Film Co. Kisan Kanya had a run time of 137 minutes and its main starcast included Padmadevi, Jillo, Ghulam Mohammed, Nissar, Syed Ahmed, and Gani.