Nicolas Seydoux (Gaumont)
GAUMONT CHRONOCHROME 1912
When arch-rival Pathé Frères brought stencil-colouring to mechanized perfection and extensive use, and the Kinemacolor films of the Natural Color Kinematograph Company of Charles Urban made their impact, Gaumont started to work seriously on a colour system. The result, called Chronochrome (also Trichromie, Gaumontcolor or simply cinématographie en couleur) was patented in February 1911 and first presented in Paris on November 15th 1912. A sophisticated three-colour additive system incorporating the blue that Kinemacolor lacked, it created seemingly natural colours deserving of the label: they are simply marvellous. There is no fringing; both camera and projector were equipped with three lenses to record simultanously three film images exposed through the three colour filters. In projection, the three images were reunited on the screen as a single colour image in an elegant panoramic format. (The reduced frame height helped in achieving the necessary triple projection speed of 48f/s, but even so wear and tear on the prints due to the excessively fast sprocket transport seems to have been a major problem.) To achieve good results, the lenses had to be constantly readjusted during shooting and projection, and the system never achieved commercial viability, its gorgeous colours notwithstanding. It remained experimental throughout its lifetime.
Accessible documents are few, and we do not know how many films were produced by this system and how many of them are still existing. Kodak bought the U.S. rights in July 1913; and the only material we are lucky enough to have at present are English version prints in the collection of George Eastman House sent by Léon Gaumont to George Eastman, probably in 1912-1913. Verreries de Venise (Venetian Glassware), Fleurs (Flowers) and Fruits are so-called vues tournantes, clearly produced to demonstrate the amazing quality of colour rendition. Deauville-Trouville la plage et le front de mer, Enghìen-des Bains, Venise la reine de l’Adriatique and La Grèce pittoresque are panoramas, that is travelogues, a genre crying out for colour as does the presentation of chic hats in the latest fashion of Paris.
This restoration used the only surviving original black and white nitrate positives. The 6K scan was carried out by George Eastman House, Rochester, where the prints were preserved. Once the scan was completed, the individual frames were separated according to their original color filter. Blue, green and red filters were then associated, digitally, with their corresponding densities. Once the colour filters had been applied the individual frames were superimposed and aligned manually to provide a greater degree of accuracy. The restoration was carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in 2019.
The presentation of the Gaumont Chronochrome 1912 programme is part of the project A Season Of Classic Films, prolonging the celebrations of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage, and is sponsored by Creative Europe.
Jean Renoir was a true avant-gardist, able to create new types of film again and again. A supremely apt case in point is Toni, inspired by Renoir’s friendship and shared wisdom with Cartier-Bresson and a conviction that he was in a way making “a documentary on actors”. Renoir was ten years ahead of his time, and watching Toni is a revelation: neo-realism begins here.
Based on a fait divers remembered by the police commissioner of Martigues, it is a tragedy about migrant workers, who optimistically envisage new arrangements by which a multinational community can live together, creating “a new life under different stars”. Toni displays a fundamental insight into the dialectics of the national and the international: true internationalism can only stem from a profound understanding and acknowledgement of characteristic national traits. This is the idea that Renoir would soon develop further in La Grande Illusion.
One of the most ‘musical’ of Renoir’s films, Toni’s love theme reveals a familiar pattern of relationships and develops a narrative arc about friendship, love, jealousy and death caused by a misunderstanding in a philosophical direction. That is the very fabric later reworked in La Règle du jeu.
In his article “Toni” et le classicisme (in “Cahiers du Cinéma 60”, 1956) Renoir claimed that the big contemporary successes of the French cinema were based on imitations of the boulevard theatre with their exaggerated gestures. “It was merely normal that I was to defy any such artifice by telling a true story in an authentic milieu. […] I would be happy if you could fathom even just a little bit of my love for this Mediterranean community concentrated in Martigues. These workers from different origins and languages who have come to France in search of a better life are the most authentic heirs of the Greco-Roman civilization which has made us what we are.
[…] Everything had been set to work so that our efforts would be as close as possible to the documentary. Our ambition was that the audience would be able to imagine that an invisible camera had filmed the phases of a conflict without the human beings unconsciously drawn into this action being aware of it themselves. I was probably not the first to attempt a similar adventure, nor the last. Later, Italian neorealism would push the method to perfection”.
Peter von Bagh, Elokuvan historia [History of the Cinema] (1975/2004), translated by Antti Alanen
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Jean Renoir, Carl Einstein. F.: Claude Renoir. M.: Marguerite Renoir, Suzanne de Troeye. Scgf.: Léon Bourrely. Mus.: Paul Bozzi. Ass. regia: Luchino Visconti. Int.: Charles Blavette (Antonio ‘Toni’ Canova), Jenny Hélia (Marie), Célia Montalvan (Josépha), Edouard Delmont (Fernand), Max Dalban (Albert), Andrex (Gaby), Michel Kovachevitch (Sébastian), Paul Bozzi (chitarrista). Prod.: Marcel Pagnol per Films d’aujourd’hui. DCP 4K. D.: 84’. Bn.
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