This 1922 Kodachrome Test Footage is Strangely Bewitching

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 8 2013 1:00 PM

This 1922 Kodachrome Test Footage is Strangely Bewitching

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

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 (as you can read in the post about this film clip on Kodak’s blog, A Thousand Words).

Advertisement

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?

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.