'Harmonious sensations of sound by means of colors': Vernacular colour abstractions in silent cinema


This essay deals with popular experiments with synaesthesia in silent cinema. In 1896, for example, C. Francis Jenkins, an inventor of one of the earliest film projectors, discussed the cinema's potential to enchant an audience with abstract, chromatic effects. Over the next two years, he developed this idea further by projecting alternating tinted strips of film in a professed attempt to evoke through colour the sensations of sound. Similarly, at the end of the 1920s, Loyd Jones, a Kodak technician, developed the Sonochrome line of pre-tinted filmstocks, which proposed a synaesthetic correspondance among the colours of the tints, sounds, and the emotions of an audience. During this same period Jones also invented a kaleidoscopic lens attachment for film projectors meant to create abstract 'mobile colour effects'. These various experiments will be situated in relation to early, modernist abstraction exemplified by the works of artists such as Kandinsky, Scriabin, and Survage.