The film club: The Carnival of Colours
With a major exhibition on the history of colour photography in Russia due to open at The Photographers’ Gallery in London on 1 August, this month’s film club looks at similar developments in cinema in the early days of the Soviet Union. While cinema from this era is characterised by its pioneering spirit and forward-thinking auteurs, it is not so well known for its colour motion pictures. And with good reason. Colour cinema only began to emerge in the early 1910s and 20s in studios across Hollywood and Europe and Soviet studios took a while to catch up.
However, hints of colour can be found in films such as Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, such as the ship’s flag, which was hand-painted in red directly onto the celluloid. While other such examples exist, one director, Nikolai Ekk (1902-1976) stands out for his use of colour in Soviet cinema. Ekk had already created the first popular film using sound, A Start in Life (1931), which won him the best director award at the Venice Film Festival in 1932.
By 1935, Ekk made his first colour film using documentary footage — The Carnival of Colours, an extract of which is shown above. The film makes use of well-known imagery from parades on Red Square to fruit harvesting in Georgia to emphasise the merits of the new technology. Ekk used a two-colour film process, which involved merging a vermillion red and turquoise green negative, to stunning, albeit somewhat artificial, effect. He continued to experiment with colour film, making his first feature a year later. In 1962 he created the first colour film for Soviet television before making the first stereoscopic film, an early version of 3D, in the USSR in 1968.