Cinematic Firsts: The First Colour Film - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Cinematic Firsts: The First Colour Film

Get your crayons out...

In the 1890s The Edison Manufacturing Company were performing all kinds of groundbreaking experiments with moving pictures, some of which we've already covered here. Today's Cinematic First is no exception. Filmed at Edison's Black Maria Studios and featuring a young dancer from Chicago, Annabelle Serpentine Dance is the first known hand-tinted movie.

Annabelle Moore (née Annabella Whitford) made her debut at age 15 dancing at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. She later moved to New York City, where she performed on Broadway and caught the attention of Edison Studios.

Annabelle Serpentine Dance was directed by William K.L. Dickson and William Heise. Heise was also producer and camera operator. The first of four known versions was filmed on August 10th 1894...

The dance is performed in succession in a lockoff shot. For the first half, 16 year old Annabelle is in a flowing skirt, held out by her hands with arms extended. She smiles, wearing butterfly wings on her back and the wings of Mercury in her hair. Her dance emphasizes the movement of her visible, bare legs. She kicks high, bows, and moves to her right and left, and, as you can see above, hand-tinting is added to the latter half of the film to give the impression of colourful frames. The film cuts to a second dance with Annabelle in a voluminous, long skirt, and holding sticks in each hand attached to the skirt's outer edges. The flowing patterns of the skirt from her arm movements give the second scene a different feeling from the first.

Three subsequent versions of Annabelle's Serpentine Dance were recorded; in February 1895, April–August 1895, and May 8th 1897. The hand-tinting is much more elaborate on the second version, as you can see below...

There is clearly much more hand-tinting added in this version, painstakingly frame by frame, as Annabelle's white veils appear to change colors as she dances.

These prints, like Annabelle herself, were very popular at the time and widely distributed. Part of the reason a second film was produced is because the negative of the orginal had been played so much it was wearing out.

The sale of films such as this featuring young Annabelle was further boosted in December 1896 when it was revealed that she had been approached to appear naked at a private dinner party at Sherry's Restaurant. Annabelle was later credited as introducing eroticism in film, and became the original Gibson Girl in the 1907 Ziegfeld Follies

Although she enjoyed great success and popularity in her youth, Annabelle died penniless in Chicago in 1961.

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