Colour in Context Symposium Abstracts



Professor Lynda Nead, Birkbeck, University of London.

Keynote Lecture and discussion: Greyscale and Colour: The Hues of Nation and Empire c.1945-60 This lecture examines the symbolic languages of greyscale and colour as the filter for a history of post-war Britain c.1945-60. Memories of the late-1940s and 1950s are monochrome; people recall these years through veils of mist and shades of grey, conjuring images of black and white photography or newsreel. Greyness can only be the colour of the past through its relationships with colour, which take on a very specific significance in the context of post-war Britain. There was a distinctive quality to British colour as well as a particularly British way of dealing with it. For many professional photographers and cinematographers there was a look to British colour that differentiated it from European and American. It was as though the weather, the rain, had infiltrated the film stock and dyes and had diluted the intensity of the hues; British colour was infused with a nationalist ideology that defined it in terms of the weather: misty, restrained and subtle.

Lynda Nead is Pevsner Chair of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research focusses primarily on British visual culture and she has published on a number of different aspects of this area including: Representations of Victorian femininity; The visual culture of the metropolis; Painting, photography and film c.1900; Post-war British art and culture. She has also published on the history and significance of the female nude, examining debates and images from antiquity to recent feminist interventions. I have also published on contemporary artists such as Chila Kumari Burman and Mark Quinn. Her many books include The Haunted Gallery: Painting, Photography and Film c. 1900 (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth Century London(London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) and, most recently The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Postwar Britain (London and New Haven: Yale University Press / Paul Mellon Studies in British Art, 2017). This book brings together a wide range of visual media and cultural debates that were generated in this period to represent the atmosphere of the nation in the new post-war environment. It includes fine art and photography, film, television and advertising. The book traces the expressive visual languages of black and white media and the diverse attempts within Britain in the post-war period to take on colour.

Colour in Context Symposium: Abstracts and delegate biographies:

SESSION A: Historical and Cultural Contexts.

Hollie Price, Kings College London. ‘Pastoral Palettes and Pageantry: Colour, Modernity and the Home in This Happy Breed’

A British Technicolor film, This Happy Breed (1945) looks back to the interwar years by charting the lives of the lower-middle class Gibbons family in their Clapham house against a background of national events. The opening sequence establishes the Gibbons’ home as part of a shared setting of nationwide homecoming following the First World War, in which ‘hundreds and hundreds of houses are becoming homes once more’. Throughout the film, a muted colour palette evokes the Gibbons’ home as part of a rural landscape, reinforced by occasionally vibrant tones that convey connections between home, national history and pageantry. This paper contextualises the use of colour in This Happy Breed as engaging with a mode of address – negotiating national identity, pastoral landscapes and pageantry – developed in the interwar years as part of a popular picturing of the modern home. Using archival evidence, I will explore how advice on colour in interior decoration and visual representations of the domestic interior printed in colour in monthly home magazines and furniture catalogues negotiated both tradition and innovation during the 1930s. In doing so, the paper analyses colour in This Happy Breed in terms of interwar developments in print culture and visions of a conservative, domestic modernity.

Hollie Price is a Teaching Associate in Film Studies at Queen Mary, University of London and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the AHRC-funded Ministry of Information Project based at the School of Advanced Study, University of London until January 2018. Hollie completed her PhD on domestic life in 1940s British films at Queen Mary in 2015 and her recent publications include ‘“A Living Set”: At Home with Vivien Leigh’, Vivien Leigh: Actress and Icon (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017).

Jan Faull, PhD candidate, Royal Holloway, University of London. ‘Travellers Tales in Colour’

The Royal Geographical Society-IBG contains many a fascinating record in its archive collections. The film collection, housed at the BFI, has now been digitised as part of the HLF ‘Unlocking Britain’s Film Heritage ‘ Project and represents a unique record of scientific exploration and geographical documentary. A mix of amateur and professional film, many taken by the Society’s Fellows or those involved in projects supported by the Society, the collection contains a number of unique images – vanishing cultures and geographical locations. A good proportion were taken on colour film – and include original material on  Kodachrome and Kodacolor (lenticular) film stock. Filmmakers include mountaineers, diplomats and plant hunters. This paper will provide examples and contextualise the material using supporting documentation held at the Society, including journal articles and unpublished letters from the field.

Jan Faull is currently a PhD Candidate conducting research into the form and function of expeditionary film in the first half of the twentieth century, specifically the production, distribution and presentation of films made on various Everest expeditions between 1922 and 1953. This is a CDA with Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal Geographical Society – IBG. Jan was formerly Archive Production Curator at the BFI. Her role involved developing, negotiating and delivering archive co-productions with broadcasters, producing DVDs and supervising the digitisation of archival collections. She was lead curator on the restoration of The Epic of Everest (1924) and co-programmed a season of mountaineering films, Extreme Summits, for BFI Southbank in 2013. Most recently she advised the RGS-IBG on the digitisation of its film collection.


Kirsty Sinclair Dootson, Yale University. ‘Imperial Technicolor: Printing, Dyeing and the Moving Colours of Empire’

This paper considers the links between colour, cinema and empire in twentieth century Britain by placing British Technicolor films within a longer history of imperial printing and dying technologies. The production and consumption of colour, particularly the printing and dyeing of textiles, was intimately coupled with the economy of the British Empire since the eighteenth century. From cotton dyeing in Manchester to indigo plantations in Bengal, colour was crucial to displays of British imperial power. Yet in the twentieth century, Britain’s primacy in global chromatic regulation was weakened by the emergence of cheaply mass-produced synthetic dyes and the dissolution of colonial rule in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

This paper argues that in this moment of imperial crisis, British Technicolor films, produced by industrial printing and dying mechanisms and exported all over the world, revisited the history of Britain’s textile industry as a metaphor for the corporation’s own imperial ambitions. Taking the industrial short Queen Cotton (1941) as a primary case study, this paper demonstrates how the material process of printing and dyeing Technicolor films using the dye-transfer process (from 1937 to 1978) made these films potent sites for continuing to negotiate Britain’s role in controlling and regulating colour on the global stage in the twentieth century.

 Kirsty Sinclair Dootson is a doctoral candidate in Yale’s combined History of Art, Film and Media Studies Program. Her debut article on Technicolor cosmetics was highly commended for Screen’s Annette Kuhn Essay Award and runner up for the Best Doctoral Student Article Prize awarded by BAFTSS.


Zhaoyu Zhu, King’s College London. ‘Dianying ranyin fa: Dye-transfer process in China’s Cultural Revolution’

The Cultural Revolution was the most chaotic period in the modern China. The film industry was hugely stagnating its creative production and the quantity of films produced was dramatically reduced compared with the period before this chaotic era. However, ironically, the dye-transfer process, translated as Dianying ranyin fa, was introduced in China at that moment and became an important means of colour film printing. Looking back to the global condition of the use of dye-transfer technology in the seventies, we can find that the prestigious Technicolor film labs were steadily abandoned in the West in the facts that the American one was closed in 1975 and the British one halted its business in 1978. Thus, a question is revealed here. Why China adopted a colour film technology which the film industries in the West determined to discontinue? In this paper, I am going to answer this question with some newly discovered materials. Furthermore, I will offer a historical examination of how the dye-transfer process caught the attention of Chinese film industry before its massive adoption.

Zhaoyu Zhu: I am pursuing a M.Phil/Ph.D degree at King’s College London. The current working title of my doctoral dissertation is “the Critical History of Film Technology in Revolutionary China, 1949-1979.” My research interests include the historiography of film/media technology, screen industries in East Asia, and Chinese cinema. I have widely written about the Chinese cinema and Chinese screen industries on Senses of Cinema and the other Chinese media.


SESSION B: Revolutions and Shifting Borderlines.

Professor Jeffrey Geiger, University of Essex. ‘Travels in Colour: At the Margins and in the Mainstream’

Addressing media transition through the lens of colour, this paper stresses that media don’t imperceptibly develop, interrelate, and act on users, but tend to emerge in uneven ways that change how we think about any given medium and how we comprehend the world more generally. Useful are Aleida and Jan Assmann’s observations that “everything that can be known, thought and said about the world is only knowable, thinkable, and sayable dependently upon the media that communicate this knowing… It is not the language in which we think, but the media in which we communicate that model our world.” Expanding on this, I’m going to explore elements of colour perception and its relations to travel and cinematic realism across the ‘mainstream’ and ‘margins’, considering uses of colour ranging from widely distributed Technicolor series such as FitzPatrick’s Traveltalks (MGM and Paramount) to personal and smaller scale productions made on Kodachrome. Kodak’s claims to the “beauty,” “realism,” and “trueness” of its multilayer emulsion system, producing colours “just as they are in nature,” along with the product’s popular impact on its release in 1935, resulted in a body of work circulating outside of and in many ways countering (while also influencing) mainstream industry practices. Drawing on histories of colour technologies as well as on contemporary accounts, this paper considers the variable and often competing ways that colour travel films engaged with perceptions of cinematic realism; beyond this, it investigates the ways in which so-called “new” media gradually come to replace the “old.”

Jeffrey Geiger is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Essex, where he founded the Centre for Film and Screen Media. Books include Facing the Pacific: Polynesia and the U.S. Imperial Imagination (2007), American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation (2011), the co-edited Film Analysis: A Norton Reader (2005, expanded edition 2013), and co-edited Cinematicity in Media History (2013). His work has appeared in many book collections and journals such as New Formations, Third Text, African American Review, Film International, Cinema Journal, and PMLA.


Professor Kathryn Millard, Professor of Screen and Creative Arts, Macquarie University. ‘The Colour Wars: The Expansion of Colour Film in the Post-War Era’.

This presentation focuses on the expansion of colour film production in the immediate post-war era – in the context of a broader colour revolution. From the so-called ‘colour wars’ between Technicolor and Eastman Kodak, to the tailoring of psychology and the production of images designed to promote an expanded use of colour in industry, the office and on the domestic front. As the feature film industry marched towards its target of ‘100% colour production’, colour television for mass consumption was waiting in the wings. In industrial research laboratories, modern-day alchemists tested new shades and tones. Experts in psychology devised scientific-looking instruments to measure individual responses to specified hues and saturations. In local hardware stores, men in white coats demonstrated the new scientific paint chip systems to their (mostly) female clientele. The Colour Wars considers a number of sponsored documentaries produced to promote the use of new colour technologies in this historical context. Delving into the audio-visual archive, filmmaker and academic Kathryn Millard explores the democratisation of colour film in the 1950s and the blurring of art, advertising and science.

Kathryn Millard is a writer, dramaturg and filmmaker. Psychology, design and the afterlife of images are recurring themes in her body of work which spans award-winning feature dramas and documentariesMajor credits as writer and director include the features Shock Room, Random 8, The Boot Cake, Travelling Light, Parklands and Light Years. Kathryn’s films have screened at dozens of major festivals and symposia on topics including film, social psychology and history. Her book of essays Screenwriting in a Digital Era was published by Palgrave in 2014. Colour Files, her series of short documentaries (in production), explores key moments in the social history of colour. Kathryn is Professor of Screen and Creative Arts at Macquarie University, Sydney.


Work in Progress: Key Questions for The Eastmancolor Revolution project team. The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-85 project team: Prof Sarah Street (University of Bristol), Dr Keith Johnston (UEA), Dr Carolyn Rickards (University of Bristol), Dr Paul Frith (UEA). The three-year project (2016-19) is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema project investigates the impact of Eastmancolor, a film stock introduced by Kodak in the 1950s, on British cinema. As a relatively cheap, ‘monopack’ stock that could be used in any camera, Eastmancolor revolutionised the ways in which colour films were made. Over the next thirty years colour filmmaking came to dominate sound cinema for the first time. The project’s focus is on how British cinema, its filmmakers and other professionals adapted to one of the most important technical innovations in film history. In a series of short presentations, the project team report on key issues that have emerged as being of particular importance in the research conducted so far. Sarah Street will discuss how ‘The Canon’ presents critical issues for researchers into colour cinema: How does looking at British cinema from the perspective of colour challenge received opinion on key films, filmmakers and technicians? Also, how does the story of colour in British cinema during the years 1955-85 contribute to our wider understanding of colour? Paul Frith will give a demonstration of the project database which covers all British feature films produced in colour within the period of our study. Comprised of information collated from trade and industry publications pertaining to more than 2000 titles, the database represents a unique record of key personnel, colour processes and laboratories for each British film shot in colour during this period. Carolyn Rickards will focus on how the collected data can be used to interpret shifts in use of the Eastmancolor process throughout our research period.  This will include a discussion on film genres, studios and personnel who represent the major interests for our study. This contribution provides a general update on and oversight of some of the key research areas, themes and moments of interest across the thirty year period as covered so far by the project team.

 Dr Paul Frith is a Research Associate working on the project at the University of East Anglia. In 2014, he completed his thesis on horror and realism in Britain during the 1940s, with publications on this subject appearing in The Journal of British Cinema and Television and Horror Studies. His research specialism is in British cinema with an emphasis upon censorship and the horror film. He has recently been researching the use of colour by amateur filmmakers and the rise of colour in British horror cinema.

Dr Carolyn Rickards is a Research Associate working on the project based at the University of Bristol. She received her PhD from the University of East Anglia in 2015. Her thesis investigated critical discourses attached to fantasy genre and ‘Britishness’ within the context of contemporary cinema. She is currently researching the impact of colour on film genres throughout the period covered by the project and tracking changes in reception towards the films produced during this time. Further areas of research interest include the influence of colour on fashion, design and other related media texts.

Sarah Street is Professor of Film at the University of Bristol, UK. She has published widely including British National Cinema (1997; 2nd ed. 2009), Transatlantic Crossings: British Feature Films in the USA (2002), Costume and Cinema (2001), Black Narcissus (2005) and (co-authored with Tim Bergfelder and Sue Harris) Film Architecture and the Transnational Imagination: Set Design in 1930s European Cinema (2007). Her latest publications are on colour: Colour Films in Britain: The Negotiation of Innovation, 1900-55 (2012), winner of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies’ Award for Best Monograph. She has also co-edited (with Simon Brown and Liz Watkins), Color and the Moving Image: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive (2012) and British Colour Cinema: Practices and Theories (2013). She is currently Principal Investigator on The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-85 AHRC-funded project.

SESSION C: Colour, Hybrids and Affects.

Steven Roberts, University of Bristol. ‘“Registering all emotion”: crafting moments of revelation in multi-format colour films since 1994’

This paper examines recent usage of supra-35mm film technologies in American fiction films which combine differently sized formats within a single narrative. Colour is an important stylistic consideration in these films, though there are variances in treatment which range from outright chromatic symbolism to material conceptions of colour as light-surface. In general, however, large format discourse encourages the delicate crafting of visual detail, partly due to the unforgivingly high resolutions of larger stocks, which accentuate perceived ‘flaws’ in colour cinematography, production design and practical effects.

When used with care, the ability to render detail makes large formats particularly useful for dramatic flashbacks and other emotional-visual disclosures. For example, Vittorio Storaro speaks of ‘registering all the emotions and energy of everyone, including the actors, director and cinematographer’ in moments of Little Buddha (1994) which depart from 35mm. Although the costs involved limit such practices, the paper argues that multi-format films present methodological if not commercial opportunities. Namely, the viewer can detect aesthetic qualities which might otherwise go unnoticed, with the visibility or timing of format transitions itself posing issues for debate.

Steven Roberts is a PhD candidate in Film at the University of Bristol, where he has also served as Assistant Teacher on the Film History to 1960 unit. His AHRC-funded doctoral research concerns large format film production, style and commerce in the post-war era, using the VistaVision format as a case study.


Tom Livingstone, School of ATS, University of Kent. ‘Crayons on the Archive: New Colourization Practices in Non-Fiction Film’

In this paper I will examine the curious phenomenological appeal of digital colourization as it has started to re-occur in non-fiction filmmaking (cf. filmography). Despite increasingly sophisticated processes, the digital colourization of archive material retains a number of aesthetic markers that inhibit the credulous perception of colourized footage as ‘natural.’ I will explore how the interpolated nature of digital colour in colourized footage prevents the complete integration of the colour information with the monochromatic isomorphic information. I will frame colourization as the hybridisation of one medium by another and show how this hybridity disrupts the transparency of the final image, generating the distinct (if not universally loved) aesthetic of colourization.

This disruption runs counter to colourization’s purported aims: integrating old film into new forms of visual spectacle. Nevertheless in revealing the limits of colour as a means of homogenising visual media my hybrid perspective aims to productively explore the odd horizon between digital colour space and the black and white archive. Given colourization’s new role in remediating the archive, and the possibility that colourization techniques will soon exceed our ability to recognise them, a critique of colourization’s current aesthetic is necessary before it disappears into ubiquity and seamlessness.


Dr Bregt Lameris. ‘Psychedelic Film in the 1960s. Coloured Light Projections’

I currently investigate how color film technology and aesthetic patterns correlate and how this feeds into affect. This includes an investigation of the ways subjectivity, affect, and aesthetics can be approached from an historical point of view. As such I aim to build a methodological and theoretical framework that places computer-based formalist film analyses in an historical perspective. Color is a very enlightening case study for this purpose, because it allows an emphasis both on the problem of materiality (different color systems result in different materialities), and that of affect and emotion (color as a sensuous, perceptive entity, as qualia).

This presentation focuses on the representation of coloured light projections in films from the 1960s. Based on the results of our analyses, I will lay out a variety of examples of coloured light projections that show up in our corpus. Based on these examples, I will show that coloured light projections are frequently used to represent hallucinations. Zooming in on this phenomenon I will elaborate on the film THE TRIP (Corman, 1967) that shows the subjective experience of an LSD-trip. For this it uses coloured light projections in an interesting way. These coloured light projections originated in the nightlife and popular art scene of the 1960s. Robert (Bob) Beck, one of the technicians working on THE TRIP and author of the book Color Games Light Show Manual (1966) connects both worlds historically. Other source materials give an insight into the technological difficulties that occurred when filming these coloured light shows, due to the limited technological capacities of the available colour film stocks of the time.

Summarizing, with the example of THE TRIP I will show how film analyses, cultural history, and the history of technology can be combined effectively.

Bregt Lameris is a Postdoctoral Researcher ERC Advanced Grant project FilmColors at the University of Zürich. She holds a PhD in Media and Culture Studies (Utrecht University, Netherlands), and an MA in Cinema and Theatre Studies (Radboud University and Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III). Research interests are the history of film archiving, film historiography, film colors (technology and aesthetics), medical images, and the representation of madness. She has taught a large variety of courses in film and media studies at the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University and the University of Zurich.


Dr Liz Watkins, University of Leeds. ‘“Simultaneously close yet separate”: Film Form and Affect the work of Andrea Arnold’

Theories of cinematic excess, which signal details that are too much or superfluous to narrative action and threaten the decomposition of the filmic system, have examined the complexities of colour design in melodrama as analogous of feminine desire (Heath, Willemen, Neale). Such analyses attend to the historical and cultural context of film production, in which colour manifests the ‘inner violence and energy of the characters’ linking film style and technique to theme (Elsaesser). The depiction of fraught familial relationships, identity, and expression persists in Andrea Arnold’s recent depiction of young women in prosaic scenarios that are intercut with fraught sexual encounters. Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006), commissioned by Advance Party Project, follows select criteria of the Dogme ‘95 Manifesto: the film ‘must be in colour’, yet ‘avoid the elevation of cosmetics’ making minimal use of props and refusing the use of optical work, filters or supplementary lighting. An analysis of film form in Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009) discerns the influence of projects with Lars von Trier and Sigma Films, yet contends that Arnold also employs the cinematic devices of film melodrama to refigure the work of social and poetic realism (Christie 2011; Roddick 2009). Recalling recent studies of film form, which demand a critical reading of its relation to politics and affect (Brinkema, Koutsourakis), this presentation analyses the ways in which Arnold’s films establish a female protagonist as point of identification through the disquieting of film form to examine gendered discourse of class, identity and fantasy. Arnold’s films combine claustrophobic domesticity with the peripheral spaces occupied by each female protagonist – doorways and corridors, stairwells, estuary marshlands – adjunct spaces from which devices, such as mirrors, windows, camcorders and CCTV, mediate the protagonist’s point-of-view. Mirrors reveal ‘a space that is simultaneously close yet separate’, which like a screen (CCTV, camcorders), shows another place or location (Metz [1990] 2015) with independent significance underscoring the main action. The recurrence of these devices throughout the film tracks a ‘rhythm of experience often establishes itself against its value (moral, intellectual)’ (Elsaesser 1987) to refigure the dynamics of melodrama through the interrelations of colour realism and the cosmetic.

Dr Liz Watkins’ research interests include film theories of sexuality and gesture; theories and philosophies of colour and perception; historiography and the fantastic in narratives of early 1900s scientific expedition films and their public exhibition; the archival life of film. Her publications include articles in Screen, Paragraph, and the Journal for Cultural Research. She has co-edited books on Gesture and Film: Signalling New Critical Perspectives (Routledge 2017) and Colour and the Moving Image (Routledge, 2013). Her monograph Film Theories and Philosophies of Colour (Routledge) examines colour as a cinematographic complex in which liminality and perception are vital to theories of sexuality, desire and the image.

updated 23rd February 2018