One of many paradoxes of early film history is that, while Louis Lumière considered moving pictures ‘an invention without any future’, he had no doubt that colour photographs were the future. His vindication came with the Autochrome process, patented in 1903, though only for still photography. But if he had managed to combine these, might he have taken more interest in the invention he remains most famous for?
In contrast, Lumière’s contemporary Robert Paul believed from the start that ‘animated photography’ needed to have the same appeal as the normal coloured lantern slides, and the new chromolitho pictorial postcards. Within two months of becoming an active producer and exhibitor, in February 1896 he was offering his films hand coloured as ‘a perfect presentiment of actual life in motion’. Perhaps this was due to his having started with Kinetoscopes, which already featured such coloured subjects as Annabel Whitford’s Serpentine and Butterfly dances.
The late Victorian world offered a riot of coloured materials and media, even if many records of it have only reached us in monochrome copies. None of Paul’s early subjects was thought to have survived in original coloured form – unlike some films of one of his early clients Georges Méliès. However during 2019, the BFI National Archive discovered it had The Dancer’s Dream, a delightful fantasy from 1905, with its original tinting.
But what if we could see some of Paul’s earlier productions as they would have appeared? Only one film survives out of 80 that were produced ‘by a staff of Artists and Photographers’ specially assembled in his new studio in Muswell Hill during 1898, Come Along, Do! Worse still, of this landmark work, which may be the world’s first two-shot film, only the first scene is intact. But we have frames from the second scene, which have now been animated to complete the story of a Victorian lady chiding her husband’s interest in a nude statue.
The version seen here, now posted on YouTube, has been tinted and animated by Edward Christie, to give some idea of how this might have been seen in October 1898, with accompaniment by Stephen Horne, drawing on the popular song with the same theme. Although Paul left the film business in 1910, he must have had a special feeling for this early colour period, writing to several newspapers in early 1914 to draw attention to when these films were first offered in colour.
For an overview of early film colour techniques, see Barbara Flueckiger’s Historical Timeline of film colour, and her special posting on David Bordwell’s Blog http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2021/02/21/historical-film-colors-a-guest-entry-from-barbara-flueckiger/ See also the lavishly illustrated Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema, from EYE Filmmuseum and AUP, 2015.