"From the earliest days of moving pictures, inventors and filmmakers sought to combine colour with recorded movement. The early Melies films were hand-painted frame by frame. Most silent films (Griffith's, Lubitsch's, and Gance's most notably) were bathed in colour tints, adding a cast of pale blue for night scenes, sepia for interior or daylit scenes, a red tint for certain effect, a green for others. Such colourings were obviously tonal, like the accompanying music, rather than an intrinsic part of the film's photographic conception.
"As early as 1908, Charles Urban patented a colour photographic process, which he called Kinemacolor. But business opposition from the then powerful Film Trust kept Kinemacolor off American screens.
"In 1917, the Technicolor Corporation was founded in the US. Supported by all the major studios, Technicolor enjoyed monopolistic control over all colour experimentation and shooting in this country. Douglas Fairbanks' *The Black Pirate* (1926) and the musicals *Rio Rita* (1929) and *Whoopee!* (1930) used the Technicolor process, which added a garish grandeur to the costumes and scenery.
"In the 1920's Technicolor was, like Urban's Kinemacolor, a two-colour process: two strips of film exposed by two separate lenses, one strip recording the blue-green colours of the spectrum, the other sensitive to the red-orange colours, then bonded together in the final processing. But by 1933 Technicolor had perfected a more accurate three-colour process: three strips of black and white film, one exposed through a filter to cyan, the second to magenta, the third to yellow, originally requiring a bulky three-prism camera for the three rolls of film.
"Before WWII, colour was both a monopoly and a sacred mystery. Colour negatives were processed and printed behind closed doors (...) Natalie Kalmus, the ex-wife of Herbert Kalmus who invented the process, became Technicolor's artistic director and constructed an officical aesthetic code for the use of colour (she preferred mutedly harmonious colour effects to discordantly jarring ones), a code as binding on a film's colour values as was the Hays Code on its moral values. Until 1949, every film that used Technicolor was required to hire Mrs. Kalmus as 'Technicolor Consultant.'
(((The recent film history series "Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood" (BBC TV, 1996) shows some remarkable clips of the French Pathe Studios tinting process. It differed from earlier (vaguer) hand tinting by using an assembly line of women using stencils and pantographs. The best of these films are as precise as the hand tinted postcards of the day. It's also mentioned that once the novelty of motion wore off, early film audiences were dissatisfied with monochromatic cinema because they had become accustomed to the rich colours of the magic lantern shows. "Cinema Europe" is a great tv series for film buffs, but also has a few interesting examples of dead media. including a German phonographic "synchronized" sound film excerpt...Ian Campbell)))
Ian Campbell = http://www.islandnet.com/~ianc
(((ADDENDUM: Before taking any of this for gospel truth, please check out http://www.simplecom.net/widefilm/oldcolor/gaumont.html for further enlightenment on different colour processes)))