As much as we Nerdy History Girls do love painted portraits, the connection that can be made to the sitter in an early photographed image can be undeniably more intense. The faces that stare out from daguerreotypes and ambrotypes seem like a more direct link to the past, a nifty trick to jump from one century to the next. These are genuine people of the past, not simply modern folk in costume, and while the distinction is impossible to explain, it's equally hard to deny. (Read here and here about other posts on this subject, and we're also certain fans of our Breakfast Links haven't forgotten this haunting 1844 image of the Duke of Wellington.)
Moving pictures in the late 19th and early 20th century make the past even more palpable, even if still-evolving technology resulted in starkly sunlit contrasts and jerky movements. More natural color movies don't come until much later, splashing into theaters with big productions like Gone with the Windin 1939.
At least that's what we assumed –– until we stumbled across this rare short snippet, recently restored and preserved in the collection of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film. It's a test of Kodachrome color film, shot in 1922, more than a decade before Hollywood first began to experiment with color. The test was made at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, NJ, and features two popular silent film actresses, Mae Murray and Hope Hampton, plus an actress from the Ziegfeld Follies, Mary Eaton, and another unidentified woman with a child.
Beyond these women smiling beguilingly at the camera and fiddling with their elaborate hats (the film is silent), not much happens. It's the evocative power of these images themselves that's most striking. These are young women born in the 19th c., women considered beauties in their time. Their bobbed hair, uncorseted dresses, and painted bee-stung lips fix them forever in the first generation of truly modern American women, women who drove cars, held office jobs, voted – and became movie stars. They're F. Scott Fitzgerald heroines of the Jazz Age come to life, and in these fleeting few minutes, they stop time forever.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.