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Almanac: Natural color comes to movies

And now a page from our “Sunday Morning” Almanac: February 26th, 1909, 108 years ago today … a colorful day in movie history.

For it was on that day at the Palace Theater in London that natural color movies were shown to a public audience for the very first time.

“Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs” was one of the short films on the program that day, shot in a process called Kinemacolor.

To watch “Tartans of Scottish Clans” and “Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs,” from the British Film Institute, click on the video player below: 

Tartans of the Scottish Clans (1906) by BFI on YouTube

Invented by George Albert Smith, Kinemacolor used a rotating filter of red and green gels in its cameras and projectors to create its color images.

Cumbersome and expensive, Kinemacolor’s two-color system couldn’t reproduce blue or true white, and its images suffered from green-and-red “fringing” around the edges.

Kinemacolor was eventually overtaken by Technicolor, which had developed a three-color system that produced a more true-to-life picture.

Though not the first films shot in Technicolor, 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind” put Technicolor on the map for good.

Three-strip Technicolor was used to striking effect in photographing “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind.” MGM

And so, on this Oscar Sunday, we pause a moment to salute those polychromatic pioneers of times gone by.

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