March 30, 2011

Gas 'er Up Lindy!

Mobile Oil advertising slide.
Though this site is primarily devoted to Coming Attraction advertising, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share this advertising slide for Mobil Oil.


March 15, 2011

Twin Bill Excitement!

Tuesday and Wednesday only!  Thrill to this exciting pre-war double feature!  We're pulling out all the stops and advertising this double-bill with double-promotion!

See the slide - Then watch the trailer!

Tear Gas Squad (1940)

Are they serious?  You decide.  You'll certainly get no clues from the advertising.  Features Dennis Morgan as a  former cabaret singer who becomes police cadet to impress a girl from a police family.  Tear Gas Squad is virtually a musical - good luck figuring that out from the slide!

Slide for Tear Gas Squad (1940)

Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939)

Starring Walter Pidgeon in the title role Detective Nick Carter. You've heard him on the radio, now see him in real life as he battle spies and woos the alluring Rita Johnson. Featuring Donald Meek as the unforgettable “Bartholomew the Bee Man.”

Slide for Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939)

March 11, 2011

Personally Picked Vitagraph Programs - Just For You

Without exception, studio-sponsored professionally produced coming attractions slides were used to advertise individual titles, never combined programs.  Of course individual exhibitors often hand-made custom slides to promote upcoming programs (see DIY Coming Attractions), but program lineup slides never originated from the studios.

Or so I thought.

That was until I came across these three slides featuring Vitagraph program releases from late 1915 and early 1916.  These professionally produced slides from the Manhattan Slide and Film Company advertise "Personally Picked Programs" of paired titles from Vitagraph's weekly output.

As it happens, these three slides represent Vitagraph programs for three consecutive weeks.  Each program pairs a drama with a comedic short, and in each case it is the featured drama that dominates the advertising.  The hand colored still photograph depicts a scene from the drama, and names only the actors and producers from the featured title.

The first of the three "Personally Picked Programs" is from December 20, 1915 the date on which Vitagraph released the dramatic mystery On Her Wedding Night as well as the comedy short The Patent Food Conveyer.  
Coming attraction slide for On Her Wedding Night and The Patent Food Conveyer, both released December 20, 1915
One week later on December 27, 1915, Vitagraph's weekly program consisted of The Making over of Geoffrey Manning paired with the short comedy short A Pest Vamooser

It should be noted that Vitagraph released two other titles on this date as well, the comedy What Happened to Father and the short He Got Himself a Wife.  In fact none of the titles in these "Personally Picked Programs" represent the only Vitagraph releases for the week. 

Why were these particular titles were paired as a Picked Program?  The answer is unclear to me, though it must have been part of Vitagraph's overall marketing strategy since these programs appear to have a unique branding logo - the square pattern that is repeated six times on each slide.  Looking closely you can see that it is a large stylized "V" flanked on three sides with a letter "P" which I can only assume represents Vitagraph Personally Picked Programs.
Coming attraction slide for The Making Over of Geoffrey Manning and A Pest Vamooser, both released December 27, 1915
The weekly program released to the public on January 3, 1916 featured the drama Who Killed Joe Merrion? paired with the comedy short When Holligan and Dolligan Ran for Mayor.  (This slide may contain a typographic error, since most sources list the names in the title as Hooligan and Dooligan.)  The comedy short also features Flora Finch, a name more familiar than most to modern audiences (though you won't find her name on the slide itself).
Coming attraction slide for Who Killed Joe Merrion? and When Holligan and Dolligan Ran for Mayor, both released January 3, 1916
In addition to their uniqueness for advertising programs instead of individual titles, an equally striking aspect of these slides are how archaic the art design appears.  While 1915-16 can reasonably be considered the "early days" of motion picture advertising, it's hard to imagine that these slides didn't seem stuffy and old fashioned to audiences of the time.

The Vitagraph design almost begs to be interpreted as a Victorian metaphor:  Individuals boxed within rigid right angles, painted interior settings, and actors melodramatically gesturing within the confines of their overly ornate frame.  Even if the films were not relics, these slides must surely have given the impression they were. 

By way of comparison, consider the slide Lubin's feature The Great Divide which was released December 20, 1915, the same date as On Her Wedding Night (the first of the Vitagraph slides pictured above).  Obviously not all 1915-16 film advertising was as boring as the Vitagraph slides would lead you to believe. 
Coming attraction slide for The Great Divide released December 20, 1915

March 2, 2011

Cyrano de Bergerac in Living (Stencil) Color

Slide advertising stencil colored Cyrano de Bergerac (1925)
One of the most interesting things to me about silent era cinema are the various technologies that were employed to bring color to the screen.  Though today's audiences associate silent cinema with black and white imagery, early film goers typically enjoyed films colored by a variety of different means.  The most common techniques were tinting and toning, two different processes whereby color was applied to black and white film stock by immersing individual segments in a chemical or dye bath.  Sometimes this coloring would be used to indicate realistic effects, such as tinting the film blue to indicate night or coloring the frames red to indicate fire.  Just as often tinting and toning was used to enhance visual interest or to enrich the image.  For example it was not uncommon to color an entire film only a single color, such as yellow or orange.
Tinted frame from Nosferatu (1922)

More ambitious than tinting and toning, other processes were developed to color individual pictorial elements within each film frame.  Even the very earliest experiments in film included color, which in these cases was painstakingly hand-appied by brush to each film frame.  This time consuming and labor intensive process yielded often striking and often gorgeous results, but was only practical for shorter films.

By 1907 the length of films had increased, as well as had the number of cinemas, which exponentially increased the volume of film needing to be colored.  In order to satisfy this growing demand, it became increasingly necessary to develop a larger scale solution.  In addition to meeting production demands, it was also desirable to improve the quality of the color effect itself, since hand-applied colors were often applied imprecisely.
Hand colored frame from The Great Train Robbery (1903)

To improve the quality color application as well as to automate production, Charles Pathé developed a process which utilized a system of mechanically coloring the film emulsion by applying dye thorough a stencil (or stencils) cut from 35mm film stock. This improved process known as ‘au pochoir’ in French and ‘stencil’ in English, allowed the use of half a dozen different dyes.
Women workers preparing Pathécolor films (c. 1912)

Pathé patented his Pathécolor system in 1906, as “a system for the mechanical colouring of the emulsion.”  The stencils, one for each color, were cut from 35mm film stock, with each frame of the stencil coinciding to a frame in the film to be colored.  The stencil was hand-cut by an operator using pantograph device.  While looking at an enlarged copy of the frame image, the operator would trace the objects to receive the designated colors.  Then using the pantograph’s mechanical linkages, the device would reduce and replicate this tracing motion to manipulate a mechanism which would cut out the associated shape from what would become the stencil.

Pathécolor machine printing room (c. 1912)
This operation would be repeated for every frame and every color that would be printed.  After the stencil(s) were created, the film was printed by laying the stencil film strip on top of the black and white print and running it through a machine which would apply the color dye through the stencil.  This process would be repeated with the corresponding stencil for every color applied.

During the early teens, stencil color gradually faded from use.  Though stencil-coloured films were still being produced in the 1920s use of the technique became infrequent after 1915, during which time tinting and toning took hold as the predominant color technique.

But not entirely!

Beginning in 1922, director Augusto Genina led   French-Italian co-production of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergarac.  The film was colored using a combination of Pathécolor system stencil coloring and two-strip technicolor and is credited with being the first full color feature film.  Released in 1925, the two-hour film took three years to produce though it is difficult to ascertain how much of the time was devoted to film production and how much was devoted to creating the color prints.

What is clear is that color was a major selling point in the American slide promoting the film.  Perhaps color was also emphasized as because the film featured French and Italian actors unfamiliar to American audiences.

What ever the case, it's hard to argue with the result...