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Tartans of Scottish Clans (1906)


Main image of Tartans of Scottish Clans (1906)
35mm, Kinemacolor, 192 feet
DirectorG.A. Smith
Production CompanyNatural Colour Kinematograph Company

A guide to eight traditional Scottish tartans.

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From 1906, G.A. Smith devoted the rest of his film career to experimenting with colour. Although colour films had already been available for many years, they were usually created via a stencil system that involved them literally being coloured in by hand, whereas Smith's was the first colour system that attempted to capture natural colours without any post-production intervention.

The Kinemacolor system was based on 35mm black and white film, with both camera and projector running at double the normal speed. Each was fitted with a rotating wheel, exposing each frame to either a red or green filter. Although this produced an unwelcome side-effect of red-green fringing on fast-moving subjects, the system was otherwise surprisingly effective.

The entrepreneur Charles Urban, who financed Smith's experiments, described the experience of watching the first test:

It took about thirty seconds to make the exposure on a specially prepared negative film after which we went into Smith's small darkroom to develop the results in absolute darkness. Within two hours we had dried the negative, made a positive print of the 50 feet length, developed and dried it - and then for the grand test. Even today, after seventeen years, I can still feel the thrill of that moment, when I saw the result of the two-colour process - I yelled like a drunken cowboy - "We've got it - We've got it".

Kinemacolor was patented in November 1906, and unveiled to the public in 1908, when Urban marketed it as "the eighth wonder of the world".

Tartans of Scottish Clans was one of Smith's first Kinemacolor experiments, a very simple idea (essentially, a sequence of Scottish tartan cloths, each appropriately labelled) which nonetheless demanded colour in order to convey the necessary information.

Michael Brooke

*This film can also be viewed via the BFI's YouTube channel.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (1:35)
Highland Reel (1899)
Pageant of New Romney, Hythe and Sandwich (1910)
Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs (1908)
Smith, G.A. (1864-1959)
Urban, Charles (1867-1942)
A Year in Film: 1906