1922 Kodachrome Test Footage


This clip is a very early, full-color Kodachrome film made by Kodak in 1922 to test new film stock and color pro­cess­ing. It is a lovely lit­tle four-and-a-half min­utes of pretty actresses ges­tur­ing for the cam­era. The color and light­ing are exquisite—all warm reds with flat­ter­ing highlights—making it a purely enjoy­able thing to watch.

In 1922, for all its tech­ni­cal achieve­ments, Kodak hadn’t yet done away with the flicker that gave movies one of their ear­li­est and most endur­ing nick­names: the “flicks.” The flicker resulted from vari­a­tions in film speed pro­duced by the slow, hand-cranked cam­eras of the time and by vari­a­tions in the den­sity of the film itself.


Even more inter­est­ing to a mod­ern viewer are the women’s ges­tures. They act out flut­tery, inno­cent mod­esty; warm mater­nal love; and in the longest sequence, sexy, puckered-lip vamp­ing. Their open expres­sions of feel­ing and the par­tic­u­lar way they move their hands and tilt their heads, even more than the fash­ions of their clothes and makeup, imme­di­ately mark them as women of the inter­war period. Recently a Russ­ian film scholar, Oksana Bul­gakowa, has shown how var­i­ous feel­ings and mean­ings were coded in the ges­tures of early film actors. Some of these are so unfa­mil­iar now, they seem like a for­eign language.

Today, when we watch a TV show or a movie, we see a wide range of act­ing styles and behav­iors. A hun­dred years from now, which ones will be seen as defin­ing our age?

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