Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jazz Age Beauties: Color Motion Pictures from 1922

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Susan reporting:

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 Wind in 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.


Portia Da Costa said...

Oh, I love early photographs and particularly early film. I feel that frisson you describe, seeing the real people of those times, not just modern actors dressed up.

This fleeting clip, actually filmed not all that far from where I live, gives me shivers down my spine.

Roundhay Park Scene 1888

Hope the link works. :)

Deb said...

It's amazing how "modern" these women look--almost 90 years later.

Emma J said...

Oh wow these are completely amazing. The girl in the green velvet whose face is mostly hidden by her hat gives me chills.

Anonymous said...

This is truly amazing. Very surprised at the early date of this. As hobbyist in photography I knew of early color stills but not moving pictures of this era.

I really enjoy your blog.

Victoria Janssen said...

Their makeup is interesting. It isn't quite calibrated to look realistic - maybe it's the same kind they used for B&W? It's pre-Max Factor.

Jacques said...

Some of the clothes look like theatrical costumes, the quasi-medieval dress and the dark green outfit with the white collar. This makes sense for a screen test that didn't really matter. Probably the actresses brought their own costumes as a favor to the director, or the studio could have offered them from their own wardrobe. All ripe for deeper research by film scholars.

Karenmc said...

Wow. Where are you finding all of this great stuff - or how are you finding the time to find all this stuff (I follow the river of 2NHG tweets, too)?

Anonymous said...

I never tire of your posts. I've even used info in them for home educating my kids. This one, though, is ethereal. Indescribable. You've possibly made my week with this one, solitary post!

Witch of Stitches said...

Wonderful to see this. Thanks for posting it.

knitlit kate said...

hi susan! just stumbled on this blog and thought it might interest you with its intellectual approach to fashion. hope all is well!

Alex said...

thanks for sharing this lovely video—what beauties! I've always enjoyed the way classic movies bring the styles, lingo, ideas, and topics of the past to life.

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