This image shows the earliest color moving pictures ever made, which have been rediscovered after more than 100 years in the National Media Museum archives. AP photo
The earliest movies known to be shot in color have been revived by film archivists, who on Sept. 12 gave an audience at London’s Science Museum a glimpse at cinema’s first attempts to show us the world as we see it.
The obscure film segments were long considered failed prototypes, blurry flickers of color seen by no more than a handful of people before being consigned to an archive. But the National Media Museum in the northern England city of Bradford said digitization had effectively rescued the footage, unlocking remarkably modern-looking images created more than a century ago. Five to 40 seconds
The scenes, screened at the Science Museum, ranged from roughly 5 to 40 seconds and showed a parrot, a London street scene, and three smiling children sitting around a table covered with a burgundy cloth batting at a goldfish bowl with large sunflowers.
“No one really has seen it until more or less today,” said Michael Harvey, the Media Museum’s curator of cinematography. “Look at the age of it. Here you’ve actually got color film from the early Edwardian period.”
He said he hoped the movies would change people’s perceptions of “what was possible back then.” The film is slightly jerky but of decent quality. With the exception of the kids’ frilly turn-of-the-century clothes and some mild discoloration, the sun-drenched clip of children playing might have been something shot by a baby boomer in his or her back yard with a 1970s Minolta camera.
Experts have dated the movie segments back to 1901 or 1902, when cinema was still in its infancy and inventors on both sides of the Atlantic were racing to produce ever-more realistic films. American
inventor Thomas Edison led the way with peep-show-like Kinetoscope; the Lumiere brothers had wowed French
audiences with moving images projected onto screens in 1895. The next challenge was to shoot a film in color.
Film historian Mark Cousins said that he was excited not by the technology or what he described as the “firstism issue,” but by what he said might be called “the drive to beauty in the early inventors of cinema.”