The American Movie Industry: The Business of Motion Pictures

By Gorham Anders Kindem | Go to book overview

8
The Demise of Kinemacolor

Gorham Kindem

Film historians generally agree that Kinemacolor was a significant development in the early history of color motion pictures, but they disagree about why its success was so short-lived. American and British film historians Terry Ramsaye, Rachael Low, Adrian Cornwell-Clyne, and D. B. Thomas each characterize Kinemacolor as the first successful photographic color-motion-picture process. But they offer slightly different explanations for the limited duration of its success. Ramsaye's portrayal of Kinemacolor focuses upon Charles Urban, the American impresario who promoted Kinemacolor throughout the world, and he suggests that the source of Urban's difficulties was the Motion Picture Patents Company, whose disinterest in Kinemacolor prevented him from deeply penetrating American markets.1 Low examines Kinemacolor's legal problems in Great Britain and argues that the loss of George Albert Smith's original 1906 patent in 1914 forced Urban to voluntarily initiate the liquidation of Kinemacolor's assets.2 Cornwell-Clyne concentrates upon the technical deficiencies of early additive color processes, including Kinemacolor, and argues that they were all destined to fail, because they were technologically inadequate and perceptually disconcerting.3 To the technological and legal problems that Kinemacolor encountered about 1915, D. B. Thomas adds economic and aesthetic problems of supply and demand, like the fact that over 70 percent of all British Kinemacolor footage available in 1914 was nonfiction, i.e., newsreel and travel films, and therefore deficient in popular dramatic films and that there were too few Kinemacolor films overall to offer a high-quality, varied, twice-weekly change of program to film exhibitors.4

The evidence I have gathered from exhibitor trade papers and other sources indicates that each of these explanations is at least partially valid. Kinemacolor's demise can be attributed to several sets of negative factors: technological, legal, economic, and aesthetic. The deaths of The

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