The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) has opened an exhibition on the earliest color techniques in film, spanning four decades of film history, from the mid-1890s to the mid-1930s. The show is curated by Ron Magliozzi and highlights nine films from both the United States and France that are in MoMA's collection and that demonstrate the various techniques and experiments that filmmakers used to add color to their movies before the advent of Technicolor in the mid-1930s. Some of the highlights include:

-- The stencil-colored L'Antre Infernal (The Infernal Cave) from 1905, a fantasy film by Gaston Velle that depicts a magician's encounter with demons and fairies in a mysterious cave. The film uses a technique called Pathécolor, which involved cutting out shapes from each frame and filling them with colored gelatin.

-- The Voice of the Nightingale from 1923, a charming animation by Władysław Starewicz that tells the story of a nightingale who is captured by a king and taught to sing by a mechanical bird. The film uses another stencil-coloring method called Pathéchrome, which allowed for more nuanced shades and gradients.

-- Experimental Technicolor tests from 1933 to 1935, which show how Hollywood studios experimented with the new three-color process that would revolutionize color filmmaking. One of the tests features actress Katharine Hepburn as Joan of Arc, wearing a stunning red cloak and armor.

These films are not only fascinating examples of early color on film, but also reveal the artistic choices and cultural contexts that shaped them. As Magliozzi writes in the exhibition's extended labels, "Far from a foregone conclusion, color in film was an accent, an opportunity for artistry and experimentation." The exhibition invites us to appreciate the beauty and diversity of these early color films, and to reflect on how they influenced our perception of cinema and reality.

Before Technicolor: Early Color on Film is on view at MoMA until Spring 2024. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the film series Eye Candy: The Coming of Color.

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