Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at 7pm
Chromatic Modernity: Color and Cinema of the 1920s

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

A lecture by Joshua Yumibe

The modern vein in both business and art is predominantly that of color. The dull and the gray have no place in our modern scheme of things. It is only natural, therefore, that motion pictures, the very furthest step forward in twentieth century entertainment, should be filmed in color. Motion pictures reflect the age more sensitively than most of the arts.

- Roy Mack (1930)

Color today is by and large a readymade, purchased prefabricated with the help of matchable color cards and digital indexes that allow one to choose the ideal hue, saturation, and combinations for the job at hand. This was not always the case, for at one time most pigments were profoundly expensive and required trained specialists to prepare. Our modern sense of color as a standardized commodity dates to the middle of the nineteenth century, when the colorant industry switched from natural dyes to cheaper anilines, allowing for color to expand rapidly across media. Cinema’s origins are rooted in this chromatic revolution, and the medium’s subsequent development through the 1920s furthered its colorful formation.

As the talk will detail, modern changes in color’s materiality also marked a transformation in the industrial field; chemical, pharmaceutical, and colorant conglomerates emerged to reshape and standardize the research of color and its manufacturing methods across a range of global enterprises in the early twentieth century, including cinema. Such changes are reflected throughout the arts of the age, from Marcel Duchamp’s astounding painting Tu’m (1918), to Herbert Bayer’s architectural designs for a cinema (1924–1925) while at the Bauhaus, to Pathé films like the stenciled fashion newsreel Le home moderne (1929). Tracking the industrial standardization of color and cinema illuminates a structural shift in knowledge production during this era, which was one of the key factors that enabled cinema to crystalize into a vernacular medium of its own during the chromatic modernity of the 1920s.

Joshua Yumibe is Associate Professor and Director of Film Studies at Michigan State University and co-author most recently of Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s, which will be available at the event.

Tickets - Pay-what-you-wish, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.