Inverting Negativity – Walter Huston in “A House Divided”
August 31, 2011
In earlier articles (DIY Coming Attractions, Going Negative, Headin' South with Douglas Fairbanks) I explored the manufacture of exhibitor-created coming attraction slides. Unlike commercially produced slides from studios or professional manufacturers, these amateur slides are unique one-of-a-kind artifacts with a unique homegrown appeal that I have come to enjoy. Like any other form of folk art, exhibitor-created slides vary wildly in style, technique, and artistic quality. Some examples are elegantly designed while others are crudely slapped together, some are photographically reproduced while others are screened or hand drawn, and the employment of color runs the gamut.
Today's example comes by the way of A House Divided, a 1931 early talkie directed by William Wyler and starring Walter Huston, Douglass Montgomery, and Helen Chandler. I came across this particular slide in the guise of a photographic glass negative. It is unknown to me whether the slide produced from the negative still exists, but it seems unlikely given that perhaps only one positive was ever struck.
My initial interest in the negative was due to the Walter Houston's striking profile, but it wasn't until I scanned the slide and reversed the image that the technique for manufacturing the slide became clear. The graphic layout is a pasteboard collage of text and image appropriated from another source - probably the exhibitor guide for the film. The pasteboard was then tacked to a board and photographed. All this becomes clear in the positive image in which the cut-out nature of the photo and text are more obvious, as is the prominence of the tacks at the pasteboard corner and the grain on the underlying wood mounting.
Lacking the actual slide produced from this negative, I can only guess at how the resulting final product would have looked, but using PhotoShop I have created an informed approximation based on certain reasonable assumptions. First, the image would have been masked to conceal the tacks and the wood mounting. It is also fair to assume that the positive slide would have been developed at fairly high contrast to darken the background.
Beyond that, color is the big question mark. Was it colored? If so, what colors were used?
For my mock-up I used colors from other slides of the era in hopes getting the palette right. I could also have tried to adapt colors from the poster (right), but I just can't believe that the person that handcrafted this slide would have gone with blue coloring for Huston's face.
Of course, you are free to disagree.