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Journeys through Colour: experimentation, realism and artifice in non-fiction travel film

Tuesday 27 February at 6pm

Introduced and chaired by Dr Natasha Eaton (University College London)
With Jeffrey Geiger, Jan Faull and Liz Watkins

A study of colour in film – its multifarious technologies and practices – offers a way to question a teleological film history of innovations, in which each technology is read retrospectively as a response to the technical limit of its predecessors. The move toward ‘colour realism’ – its aesthetics, rhetoric and meaning – is entwined with practices familiar to earlier decades and which remain integral to the formation of images and narratives in non-fiction film. This event focuses on travel films of the 1920s and 1930s to unpick a complex of materials and techniques utilised to mediate a views of the world to geographically diverse audiences. Colour signals a discourse of fiction and non-fiction, realism and expression, nature and artifice in travel and expedition films. The speakers discusses topics from the rhetoric of Kodachrome’s ‘living color’ in amateur travel films of the Pacific to the observation and interpretation of ‘natural colour’ in early 1900s expedition films to Everest and the Antarctic. How landscapes and travel represented in film?

Cinematic Gestures: Flows and Disruptions on the Yankee Voyage, 1936-38.
Professor Jeffrey Geiger, University of Essex

When Kodak began its ambitious Kodachrome marketing campaign in 1935, the emphasis was on the stock’s vibrancy and unparalleled realism. “When your picture moves, it lives,” claimed one advertisement, while another declared that Kodachrome could make one’s movie experiences, once limited to monochrome, finally “come to life.” This paper looks at rare colour film taken on Pacific travels, most of it produced by a committed amateur filmmaker, Edward (Ted) Zacher, who chose the new process to document an eighteen-month training voyage on the famous clipper Yankee. The cruise was organized by the entrepreneurs and sailing instructors Irving and Electa (‘Exy’) Johnson; together they led a hand-picked crew of about a dozen novice and more experienced sailors. Investigating just a small part of an extensive and largely neglected archive of Pacific travel films, this paper focuses on the documentary and expressive potential that Kodachrome colour offered amateurs while considering what this archive might contribute towards re-evaluating and further engaging with Pacific travel experiences between the wars, and with the vast variety of written and visual texts produced in their wake. This amateur colour filming, often quite experimental in nature, had a potential to unmoor moving images from more fixed, purposeful contexts and uses, revealing at the same time the travel encounter itself as dynamic, difficult to pin down: a fluid space of multiple and competing significations.

What Colours Are at the Top of the World ?
Jan Faull, Royal Holloway, University of London

This headline accompanied press reports of the forthcoming Expedition to climb Mount Everest in 1924 – significantly the cinematographer accompanying the climb, Captain John Noel, would be filming in ‘natural’ colour. The film would be made under the auspices of the Joint Committee of The Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club – an ambitious project to plant the British flag on the summit of the world’s tallest peak, the ‘Third Pole’.

Alongside the physical challenges of high altitude filming, Noel would use all available processes to include colour sequences in his film. This paper examines these processes and the results achieved. It will review audience reaction to the film – The Epic of Everest – and review the methods of distribution managed by Noel.

A comparison will be made with the form of the expeditionary film in the 1920s and 1930s – specifically continued British attempts to climb Everest – and the official film of the 1953 successful ascent The Conquest of Everest,produced in Technicolor and distributed internationally. The paper will conclude with an examination of the continued success of Noel’s 1924 film, digitally restored in 2013 by the BFI.

Photographic experiments: colour and spectacle in early 1900s non-fiction Polar expedition films
Dr Liz Watkins, University of Leeds

Photographic and cinematographic images of the Antarctic were integral to mediating the work of early 1900s expeditions to geographically distant audiences; institutions, including the Royal Geographical Society, invested in the lantern slide lecture as a means to education through public exhibition. A study of the use of composite images made using superimposition and hand painting, the addition of colour, iris effects and time lapse sequences in expedition films by Ponting, Hurley among others, offers an insight to the complex narratives formed from fragments and still images for public exhibition. The ‘ability to show something’ is in Tom Gunning’s sense a characteristic of the cinema of attractions that connects technologies and subject matter in a visual display, which is formulated to elicit a sensual response from the spectator. This paper argues that the visualisation of artificial light in flash light photography and the use of applied colour – traces a tenuous line through shifting formations of materials and practices to signal change – the temporalities of the landscape and modernity –the impermanence of subjectivity and perception facets of meaning which became integral to expedition narratives.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked. To book tickets please go to https://journeysthroughcolour.eventbrite.co.uk

Location : Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street
United Kingdom