EARLY BODIES

Kodachrome Film Test (USA, 1922)

I came across this restoration from the George Eastman House a few months ago. Kodak and its first color processes are as much a part of the spectacle as the female face/body, the colored garments, the (not-so-subtle) signs of domestic life/leisure.

The Kodak blog offers a short description, emphasizing the role that major studios and cinema had to play:

“In these newly preserved tests, made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, actress Mae Murray appears almost translucent, her flesh a pale white that is reminiscent of perfectly sculpted marble, enhanced with touches of color to her lips, eyes, and hair. She is joined by actress Hope Hampton modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), which contained the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film. Ziegfeld Follies actress Mary Eaton and an unidentified woman and child also appear.”

What interests me here are the ways in which the visual codes of 1920s commercial display recall those that shape early ethnographic cinema, esp. French colonial films from the 1910s.  I will try to dig up a few examples in the next couple of days, but one often finds short ethnographic films (perhaps cobbled together from longer expedition films) that organize the disorder of the unfamiliar through collections: female bodies, hair styles, expressions, etc.  Here, the attraction of new technologies and industries joins the power of the State.

The Kodak film echoes the grammar of early ethnographic cinema.  In so doing, it articulates a complex circuit or site of exchange between national industries, commodity culture, visual technology, and colonialism, one that exceeds the uptake of interest in “primitive” objects and styles.  Indeed, early ethnography shapes how we see the first female body in moving color.

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