Emulsion Matters: Orwo and Nová Vlna (1963-1968)

This new section is dedicated to the photochemical film stock and its visual qualities. In these times it has become more and more difficult to see films shot on 35mm stock screened in 35mm prints. Yet a film is an aesthetic event and its visual impact depends to a significant degree on its material basis. And the emulsion plays a crucial part. To be honest, in this first installment of Emulsion Matters the film programme came into being before the section was properly created (taking nothing away from the legitimacy of both). Last autumn I asked the archivists of the Národní filmový archiv in Prague to show me, along with the films from 1913 a selection of Czech films from 1963, as a relief from the overexposure to films from a hundred years ago. Why always a hundred years ago and never fifty years ago? And maybe the films needed not even to be precisely from fifty years ago, but could be of interest regarding the use of color (like Daisies from 1966 which I knew) or be in CinemaScope. Vladimir Ope˘la chose a score of titles, and I met with amazing films: Limonádový Joe, a musical-western satire, with tinting and toning; Údolí vcˇel, a profound masterpiece of highest actuality; Ikárie Xb 1 in elegant black and white, a film Kubrick has obviously seen before making 2001: A Space Odyssey. The label on the cans of all these and other films carried title, year and length and below the brand of the positive film stock: Orwo. Orwo stands for Original Wolfen, the name of an industrial enterprise north of Leipzig where once 15,000 people worked. Today a mere 22 employees continue to produce a range of 35mm black and white film stock.

(Mariann Lewinsky)

As a rather small country, Czechoslovakia had to rely on foreign manufacturers for most of the technology utilized in the production of film. After 1945, the country tried to be self sufficient by producing movie projectors, but for most other technology, including film stock, it remained dependent on imports. The most popular negative color stock well into the 1960s was Agfacolor, produced in East Germany. By the mid 50s, the Czech film industry began experimenting with stock deriving from other European manufacturers as well as some Kodak products, looking for new and better color results. Despite the quality that Czech technicians often complained about, the lower cost and ready availability made the Eastern European Agfacolor (called Orwocolor by the mid-60s) the dominant stock for release prints. The demand for higher quality negative film, especially for widescreen productions, created a basis for experimentation – and peculiar combinations of Eastmancolor negative and Orwocolor positive, black and white Kodak negative and Orwo positive, were developed in Czech film labs. It seems though, that at least for some directors, Orwo and Orwocolor remained the negative of choice, mainly for those who had grown accustomed to shooting with it since the 1940s. The issue of the film stock in post-war Czechoslovakia has not been fully researched until now. With this collection of films we hope to stir an interest in this topic. The seven films produced between 1963 and 1968 presented here show various combinations of Orwo and Kodak, as well as different uses of the stock in combination with other image technology, such as anamorphic widescreen or simulated tinting and toning. 

(Anna Batistová)


Programme curated by Mariann Lewinsky