Past Events

Cinema and Empire: Technologies and Practices

Research Seminar – Kirsty Sinclair Dootson, Erica Carter

  • 8 February 2023
  • 5:00 – 7:00 pm
  • Part of the series 'In Conversation: New Directions in Art History', which will explore the changing modes and methodologies of approaching visual and material worlds. Running from January to March 2023.
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

Kirsty Sinclair Dootson, Lecturer in Film and Media, UCL

Decolonising in Technicolor: Post-war Colour Cinema in Britain and India

This talk considers the relationship between colour and coloniality in post-war cinema by examining films not only as images but also as material objects. It argues that the legacies of British colonialism were not just represented on the surface of colour film but inhered in colour film’s raw materials and technical processes. The talk will focus on how the dyeing technique used at London’s Technicolor film laboratory helped Britain imagine its sustained global hegemony during an era of decolonisation. The British Technicolor lab was an international hub for processing colour film from the 1930s to the 1960s, dyeing film shot all over the world. This gave Britain unparalleled control over the aesthetics and economics of global colour cinema which had acute resonances in India where Britain’s colonial regime had historically operated through the violent management of dyes and textiles. Technicolor’s system for dyeing celluloid film (a substance derived in part from cotton) operated as a potent echo of the system for dyeing fabrics and therefore became a highly politicised technology in Anglo-Indian relations. Although a newly independent India began regularly making colour films in the 1950s, Britain’s continued control of the dyeing process that imbued these films with their colours heightened the importance of cinema as a contentious site for expressing Indian and British post-colonial identities. This talk explores these themes through the case study of Jhansi Ki Rani (Sohrab Modi, India, 1953), the first Technicolor film made by an Indian director, which was printed and dyed at the London Technicolor laboratory.

Erica Carter, King’s College London

White cinema/colonial pink

This paper derives from my current project on white cinemagoing in the British colonial territories after World War II. The route I take though cinema history is an intimate one, drawing on my own family history as the starting point for a histoire croisée of cinemagoing practice amongst white British colonials in tropical environments. In the paper, I use an imagined journey (my mother’s) through post-war downtown Nassau, capital of the Bahamas, to explore the pertinence of categories more familiar from digital screen studies – navigation, immersion and performance – to histories of cinemagoing in segregated white expatriate milieux. My focus is on the practice of cinemagoing as a mode of “atmospheric spectactorship” (Chenshu Zhou); I centre this talk especially on colour in the urban environment, specifically, on the prominence in downtown Nassau of the colour known as “colonial pink”, and on its association with colour in contemporary visual practice including amateur photography and filmmaking, as well as moviegoing experiences in the city’s whites-only shorefront cinema, The Savoy.

Listing image caption: Souvenir programme for Jhansi Ki Rani (India, 1953). Image courtesy of William K. Everson Collection, New York University

About the speakers

  • Kirsty Sinclair Dootson is Lecturer in Film and Media at UCL. She was previously the Henry Sidgwick Junior Research Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge University and Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of St Andrews. Her work has been published in British Art Studies, Screen and Film History.

  • Erica Carter is Professor of German and Film at King’s College London (KCL). She has researched and lectured widely for many years across cultural studies, film studies and German studies. Her co-edited volumes include Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location (1993); Cultural Remix. Theories of Politics and the Popular (1995); and the BFI German Cinema Book (2002, 2nd ed. 2021). Her writings on Weimar and Nazi film aesthetics include Béla Balázs: Early Film Theory (2010) and Dietrich’s Ghosts: The Sublime and the Beautiful in Third Reich Film (2004). In recent years, her research has turned to colonial cinema and archive practice, with essays in Screen, Feminist German Studies and L’Atalante. Revista de estudios cinematográficos. Her presentation builds on an essay on whiteness and colonial cinema in her co-authored volume Mapping the Sensible: Distribution, Inscription, Cinematic Thinking (2022).