In 1938, Technicolor founder Herbert Kalmus spoke about the history of color in film: Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland
(via Sound and Color). It was intriguing, although unsurprising, to read of the many technical hurdles to introducing color in film; however, I had never realized that were objections by some to the aesthetic value of color.
When Douglas Fairbanks sought to film The Black Pirate in color, he spoke about the resistance in the industry to this new technology: “This ingredient has been tried and rejoined countless times. It has always met overwhelming objections. Not only has the process of color motion picture photography never been properly developed, but there has been a grave doubt whether, even properly developed, it could be applied without detracting more than it added to the motion picture technic. The argument has been that it would tire and distract the eye, take attention from acting and facial expression, blur and confuse the action. In short it has been felt that it would militate against the simplicity and directness which motion pictures derive from the unobtrusive black and white. These conventional doubts have been entertained, I think, because, no one has taken the trouble to dissipate them. A similar objection was raised, no doubt, when the innovation of scenery was introduced on the English stage-that it would distract attention from the actors. Personally I could not imagine piracy without color….” Later when Technicolor had significantly advanced the process of shooting and developing color films, they sought to try it with cartoons and “were told cartoons were good enough in black and white.”
Eventually, of course, they found success with color. Yet despite box office success, studios were still wary of the increase in cost. Kalmus would tell producers: “‘You have all seen Disney’s Funny Bunnies; you remember the huge rainbow circling across the screen to the ground and you remember the Funny Bunnies drawing the color of the rainbow into their paint pails and splashing the Easter eggs. You all admit that it was marvelous entertainment. Now I will ask you how much more did it cost Mr. Disney to produce that entertainment in color than it would have in black and white?’ The answer is; of course, that it could not be done at any cost in black and white.”
The technology was new, but so was the whole concept of color in movies. Technicolor provided not only the mechanical service of providing cameras and printing, but also trained cameramen in lighting and consulted in “color control”, which included deciding color composition of sets, choosing materials and costumes, and even the detailed advanced planning by “writing a color score after the manner in which the musical score is written.”
Kalmus makes a good point that applies to any new technology — it needs to go beyond novelty and really support the whatever endeavor it is applied to. “In the last analysis we are creating and selling entertainment. The play is the thing. You cannot make a poor story good by sound, by color, or by any other device or embellishment. But you can make a good story better.”