This film is part of Free

Two Clowns

A showcase for GA Smith’s patented Kinemacolor process, based around a suitably colourful subject

Interest film 1906 2 mins Silent


Experiments with colour film date back to the dawn of cinema itself, but one of the more technically successful early examples was Kinemacolor, patented in 1909 by George Albert Smith (1864-1959) after years of tests. Visually, this film is similar to the comic 'facials' that Smith helped pioneer in the late Victorian era, but the decision to use clowns (one played by his wife Laura Bayley) gave him the opportunity to display and control the colours that registered best with the system: red and green.

A former stage mesmerist, Smith knew that he could fool the viewer into perceiving colours that weren’t there, so by shooting alternate frames through red and green filters and projecting them the same way, he achieved a remarkably effective simulation, at least to viewers who had yet to experience Technicolor and its successors. Smith’s biggest technical challenge was to create a film stock that would be sufficiently sensitive to the whole colour spectrum. Existing orthochromatic film was fine for black and white, but proved unsuitable for anything else, especially where reds were involved.