1930s color film of Yellowstone being preserved

2014-07-31T11:12:00Z 2014-08-05T07:23:18Z 1930s color film of Yellowstone being preservedGazette Staff The Billings Gazette

What could be the first-ever color footage of Yellowstone National Park and is quite likely the first color home movies of the park are being preserved.

The National Film Preservation Foundation recently awarded the National Archives a grant to copy rare early Kodacolor motion picture footage of Yellowstone National Park.

“...this reel could be among the earliest color films of Yellowstone National Park,” Criss Kovac, supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab, wrote in a blog post.

“Kodacolor wasn’t widely available and was generally used by affluent people with an interest in photography since it required specialized cameras and relatively expensive film stock,” Kovac wrote.

In fall 2012, the National Park Service in Harpers Ferry, W. Va., sent hundreds of boxes of records — including film reels — to the National Archives. When the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab received the film for processing, staff discovered Yellowstone footage from 1930 that appeared to be black and white, but the words on the edge of the reel said, “KODACOLOR.”

Kodacolor is black and white to the eye, but is color when projected through the proper filter. Kodacolor requires specialized technology to access the color hidden in the film. The Film Preservation Lab can photochemically preserve and/or digitally transfer Kodacolor in black and white, but cannot preserve it in the long-obsolete Kodacolor. Lab staff hoped to save the color information captured in the film using the best method possible — printing it back onto film — but it was not technically possible at the National Archives.

Thanks to the National Film Preservation Foundation grant, a film copy will be generated directly from the decoded color file, and will be preserved and secured on film for posterity.

So who shot the film? Kovac wrote that a “note on the original leader suggests that the film may have been shot by Jack E. Haynes, the park’s official photographer. With some expert sleuthing done by NARA archivist Laurel Macondray in consultation with Anne Foster at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, we were able to determine that the “Senator Rule” named on the cake (shown in one of the film clips) is Iowa state Sen. Arthur L. Rule. Sen. Rule was passionate about Yellowstone and visited the park no less than 10 times. He also gave lectures about the park during the winter. We believe this footage was shot during Sen. Rule’s 1930 visit to Yellowstone.”

Kodacolor was an early reversal color home movie format produced by Kodak that only existed from 1928 until 1935, when it was replaced by the more successful Kodachrome. Kodacolor appears to the human eye as black and white images, but the base side of the film is embossed with hundreds of tiny lenses (called lenticules) that look like minuscule ridges on the surface of the film base.

The lenticules captured the color information from the scene while it was filmed through a color filter with red, green and blue-violet stripes. In order to see the color, the film had to be projected back through a similar color filter.

The National Archives is an independent Federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of America, its government and the American people. The National Archives, as the nation’s record keeper, holds one of the world’s largest moving image repositories, with more than 360,000 reels of motion picture film titles.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by Congress to help save America’s film heritage. Films preserved through our programs range from one-reelers by Thomas Edison to avant-garde animation.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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