Meanwhile many of the amazing images in Technicolor III from the collections at the Library of Congress and George Eastman House are available online on Timeline of Historical Film Colors.

Among them are two of the very early dye-transfer short films produced by Herbert T. Kalmus, founder and head of the Technicolor company: Cleopatra, an Art Deco interpretation of the historical tale, and The Heart of General Robert E. Lee. Kalmus sought to promote the process with these short films and his strategy was very successful. Clara Bow, the first and most famous It-girl of the time, stars in Red Hair to ostentatiously feature her auburn hair, while Lilian Gish is the leading lady in Annie Laurie. The dance film A Josephine McLean Dance Classic from the holdings of the George Eastman House was staged and performed by the famous dancer on an abstract stage setting for the camera.


Cleopatra (USA 1928, Roy William Neill), produced by Herbert T. Kalmus. Credit: George Eastman House, Moving Image Department. Photograph of the nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.

Despite the fact that Technicolor no. III was restricted to two colors, the images from the films contradict two widespread notions, namely that these films were tasteless productions in garish colors, and that the limited color palettes were an “eyesore”.

At the Library of Congress, Geo. Willeman presented one of the most amazing discoveries, a travelogue of the Glacier National Park from the late 1920s, Twelve Minutes in Glacier National Park also known as Great Northern Railway. In addition to showing the landscape of the park, it presents Native Americans in their traditional costumes. As Jennifer Lynn Peterson points out in her book Education in the School of Dreams. Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film (2013: 256 f.), they are members of the Blackfeet tribe. She puts their appearance in a critical perspective:

The intertitles of that film are even more explicit in guiding the viewer’s impressions of the images shown. Before a shot of an Indian man wearing a full headdress, posing in profile and then trailing to face front, an intertide reads: “Among the picturesque chiefs of this vanishing race is Chief Bull Plume.” After a second shot of an Indian man, “Chief Turtle” (but of course, all Indian men are chiefs), an intertitle reads: “Probably the most famous living chief is Chief Two Guns White Calf, known the world over as the Indian whose likeness appears on the buffalo nickel.” […] The next shot features another of the figures from the earlier film, the man with the striking round face. Here he is named: “Chief Owen Heavybreast.” As one might imagine, these men appeared not only in films but also on postcards, in photographs, and in articles about the park. Certainly, from one perspective, all of these performances and representations served to present Blackfeet Indian traditions, in some limited sense, to outsiders as part of the discourse of twentieth-century tourism.

And she concludes:

Thus, as it turns out, the men featured in Glacier National Park are literally “professional savages,” for they were actually park employees.

As much as this criticism might be justified, the film is still a very exciting document of its time.


Twelve Minutes in Glacier National Park AKA Great Northern Railway (1928?). Credit: Library of Congress. Photograph of the nitrate print by Barbara Flueckiger.

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