The Kinemacolor camera on display at Hove Museum and Art Gallery represents both the innovative successes of the film pioneers of Brighton and Hove, and the volatility of a fledgling industry rife with competition.
Kinemacolor was the first commercially successful process for projecting films in colour. Hove film pioneer George Albert Smith, with the help of commercial venturer Charles Urban and Brighton engineer Alfred Darling, dedicated the latter part of his career to developing a camera, film and projector capable of producing images with the appearance of natural colour. He succeeded about 30 years before the development of the earliest colour film.
The Kinemacolor camera exposed black and white film chemically treated to increase its light sensitivity through a rotating red and green filter, so each frame was exposed twice, once through red and once through green. When it was projected in the cinema, the film passed through the same rotating coloured filters on to the screen.
To the eye, the alternate rapidly flickering red and green images appeared as full colour (red is a primary colour, green is a mix of the other two primaries, yellow and blue).
No Kinemacolor film is known to have survived since it was shot on volatile nitrate film and had to pass through the projector at double normal speed to avoid obvious flickering, which quickly wore it out. but contemporary descriptions say it was highly realistic.
Smith and Urban patented their design in 1906. Two years later they presented Kinemacolor to the press, and film experts in Paris, London, and New York. Smith received a medal from the Royal Society of Arts for his achievement.
Soon Kinemacolor was a roaring success. Cameramen travelled the world making films which were distributed to specially licensed Kinemacolor venues throughout Europe and the United States. Many important events, including the Delhi Durbar in India, were shot in Kinemacolor because it could show them "in all the glowing hues of majesty".
However, as the popularity of colour film shows grew, so did the problems Smith and Urban encountered from rival companies keen to cash in on the new craze. They were constantly fighting bitter battles in the courts relating to their patent.
William Friese-Greene, the film pioneer, lost his claim to the patent after developing a similar system, but he eventually won on a legal technicality during his appeal in 1915. This loss ended George Albert Smith's career and Kinemacolor never recovered.
Carrie Wiltshire is curatorial assistant for the Hove Museum and Art Gallery. Open 10am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday, 2-5pm Sundays. Tel: 01273 290200