Focused on the content and the context of colour in the early movies

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One of my interest has always been cinema and its visual language. This is the 

reason why, from previous researches on the basic forms and colours, my attention 

focused on the content and the context of colour in the early movies.

At the end of the 19th century colour films did not exist. Directors and film produ-

cers started using different techniques in order to achieve more realism, inspired 

by the colourful postcards and advertising posters that began to spread in the same 


At the end of the 19th century, colour was applied by hand with a brush onto the 

film, frame by frame. It was a very expensive and slow technique. Between 1907 

and 1913, film companies used to tinting or toning with emulsion and colouring 


The resulting images presented an homogenous colour and they were only an ab-

straction of the real colours of the scene, and the effect were not realistic, for two 

reasons. Firstly because one colour claimed to summarize all the colours of the 

scene. For example yellow represented daylight or candlelit interiors. 

Secondly, colour became only a symbolic reference to the real resemblance of the 

scenes. Although we can admit that yellow is iconic (Peirce 1931-‘35) for the sun 

and a sunny day, we can not state that the colour of the night is cyan or blue. Hen-

ce, it should be said that a code of the chromatic perception of the physical world 

was established.

It could be also argued that because of the technique, colour in the early cinema 

was also intrinsically indexical. Furthermore, it was used in order to support the 

story. It was useful in beating time of the plot and it was functional to the narra-

tion. It often was also a symbol for emotionality according to the context.

Although to the eyes of the contemporary audience the effect could be estranging, 

it is clear that for the audience of the early cinema it was not at all.

For this reason, I started to think about the estranging effect. One of my first ideas 

was the analysis the effect that a tinted image would have on a contemporary 

audience. Consequently, by using Photoshop, I coloured cult image from cult mo-

vies such as La Dolce Vita by Fellini. Nevertheless, I discovered that I was more 

interested in translating time in space.

My purpose was to adapt for a book or a poster the recently restored tinted version 

of the silent movie: Nosferatu. A Symphony of Horror, by FW Murnau (1922), 

that was itself an adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula. 

The first problem I had to face up was how to represent something that works as 

time-based medium in a space-based medium. I started studying works by Edward 

Muybridge and Anton Giulio Bragaglia, keeping in mind Futurism and Cubism 

experiences. My research continued looking at Francis Bacon and David Hockney.

I could find only few pieces of work of art and graphic design about cinema: 

“Deanimated” by Arnold Martin, who chose to visualize significant images of the 

scenes of a film by increasing their size on the page of a book according to their 

duration. I saw a work by Jonathan Puckney, “Killing time” and I examined a 

major project by an MA student, Vasilli Mitsiopoulos, who worked on cinema and 

adaptation with the aim to express the moving images in time.

I researched also in video-art. Douglas Gordon worked on Psycho, by Hitchcock, 

by extending up to 24 hours the duration of one scene. 

The adaptation I had in mind should have been focused on the colours, also be-

cause they are crucial because of their meaning, and functional to the narration. In 

Nosferatu. A Symphony of Colour

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Colour 


fact, in Nosferatu, colours not only define space and time of the story (diegesis), 

but they also represent good and evil: the contrast between them and the slight 

borderline that distinguishes them.

I experimented several approaches. I started by investigating potentialities that 

the sheet of paper offers in order to visualize the duration of the scenes or of the 

colours of the scenes: length, size, areas, depth, weight, number of page, etc.

The first ideas were about superimposition by using frames captured from the mo-

vie and covering them with coloured transparent sheets. In a second time, I thou-

ght to use frames and increase their colour’s saturation according to the duration 

of the images on the screen. Finally, I considered to layer images upon images. 

Nevertheless, I concluded that it was impossible to manage in this short time more 

than 5000 frames. In fact, I wanted to adapt the entire movie, as the only way to 

visualize the changes of colours.

Consequently, I started thinking about a short movie, but it was an abstract syn-

thesis of the movie. One of the latest attempt, was a sort of stripe, but I evaluated 

it as an obvious repetition of the physical film, although it gives the sense of the 

colourful flux. 

As a final result, I designed a book in which each page (the format respects the 

original aspect ratio of the frame 1.33:1) corresponds to a minute of the movie 

(which lasts around 93 minutes). I translated the time by covering areas filling 

60 gaps for each page according to the duration of each colour on the screen.. I 

defined the tints by setting an average from the samples I got from the frames and 

I treated them as a code.

I gained an abstract time-line of the images/frames that run on the screen together 

with the texts (intertitles, inserts, letters, etc.). I decided to separate texts from 

images by creating a double layer/level of communication, because texts are es-

sential to understanding the movie as demonstrated by their huge number and their 

persistence on the screen. 

The book is to me an interesting visual result and it corresponds to what I ex-


I found cinema an interesting field that I would like to explore further. It would 

be interesting study, for example, the angles of the shot or the type of shot on the 

basis of the distance between the scene and the camera.





A.G. Bragaglia




F. Bacon




D. Hockney

M. Galimberti




E. Muybridge

E. J. Marey


Nosferatu: A Symphony of Colour 


Nosferatu: A Symphony of Colour 



Nosferatu: A Symphony of Colour 



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