Agfacolor is a series of color photographic products produced by Agfa of Germany. It was originally introduced in 1932 as a 'screen plate' version, similar to the Autochrome process, but in late 1936 Agfa introduced Agfacolor-Neu transparency film. This technique is based on the patent no. 253335 of Dr. Rudolf Fischer 1911, Berlin. The new Agfacolor film was a 'tri-pack', like Kodachrome, introduced by Kodak in 1935.
Unlike the Kodachrome tri-pack process however, the color couplers were integral with the emulsion layers. (In Kodachrome the color dyes have to be diffused into the film during development). This greatly simplified processing of the film.
During World War II, large quantities of raw Agfacolor stock were seized by the Soviet Union and served as the basis for the Sovcolor process, which was widely used in the USSR and other Eastern bloc nations. Agfacolor consumer products were also marketed in North America under the names Ansco Color and Anscochrome (from Agfa's U.S. subsidiary, Agfa Ansco, which was later merged with General Aniline and had the name changed to General Aniline and Film), but met with limited success.
Ansco Color was also used in Hollywood films, including some produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which later changed the name to Metrocolor. Films shot in Ansco Color included Brigadoon (1954), Kiss Me, Kate (1953), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Lust for Life (1956), the final film shot on this film stock.
Münchhausen is the third German feature film––out of over a dozen––to be produced utilizing the famous Agfacolor film used between 1939 and 1945. One of the few motion-picture color films developed in the 1930s, Agfacolor was the German response to Technicolor and Kodachrome.
Launched by Eastman Kodak in 1935, Kodachrome became the first modern color film in history. At first designed as a 16 mm film, the Kodachrome material was later used to manufacture photographic film for slides and put the United States on the leading spot of the international race to develop the world’s best color film. Realizing they were at least one year behind their American competitors, German technicians decided to steer away from Kodak’s approach to capturing color images on film and invested on their own technology. Their work bore fruits in the summer of the same year, when chemical engineers of the Agfa company in Germany tested their new material Agfacolor at the swimming competition of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
The basic difference between the two materials is that Agfacolor contains several layers of emulsion in the film itself, creating the color as it is being developed. With Kodachrome, colors are added to the film at a later stage by different development baths. Although the German technology promised the use of one and the same material for different purposes, ranging from photographic negative-film for prints to photographic slides and motion-picture films, it took another three years––until July 1939––for any German film-maker to experiment with the film.
It was not until the beginning of principal photography for Frauen Sind Doch Bessere Diplomaten (Eng: Women Are Better Diplomats), starring the popular singer/dancer Marika Rökk and Willy Fritsch, that Agfacolor was used to shoot a major motion picture. As it turns out, this was still too early and the film yielded mixed results. Yet, the use of Agfacolor was reinforced by the top of the Nazi film industry, Reichsminister Joseph Goebbels, and the executives at UFA eventually gave in to his pressure. Agfacolor was then used throughout the entire film shoot of Women Are Better Diplomats.
Goebbels was in a hurry. He admired Hollywood movies and examined them carefully in regular private screenings (sometimes with Hitler and his staff). Technicolor films like A Star Is Born, The Garden of Allah or Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made him realize that Hollywood feature films presented a threat to Germany’s internal market and that Hollywood’s dominance of color film technology should be matched, as least if Germany was serious about entering in a cultural war with the U.S. and Britain.
But actors and crew members involved with Women Are Better Diplomats soon called the production ‘the film that never ends’. Besides the fact that one of the leading actors, Karl Stepanek, had to be replaced after escaping to England, many scenes turned out far from any resemblance to reality––Agfa’s color reproduction was not precise. For instance, outdoor shots were difficult to handle: a lawn in front of a castle appeared completely yellow, later brown, then bluish. ‘Burn this shit!’ yelled Goebbels, as he watched the first release print of the historic comedy. Although his order wasn’t followed, a considerable number of scenes had to be re-shot with improved material and some underwent countless printing process alterations. The technology was not fully developed yet.
Meanwhile the production costs had risen from 1.5 to 2.5 million Reichsmarks. More than two years after its start date, Women Are Better Diplomats opened in October 1941. Despite its rather weak color quality, the film proved to be a major hit, earning more than 8 million Reichsmarks by the end of the war.
After this difficult deliverance, the following Agfacolor movies were shot and printed much quicker and with better results. The technology was improved at a rapid pace. Veit Harlan, perhaps the most prominent ‘official’ film director of the Third Reich, was allowed to shoot his next picture in Agfacolor. And between the summers of 1941 and 1942, Veit Harlan finished Die Goldene Stadt (Eng: The Golden City), a dreamy propaganda fairytale starring his wife Kristina Söderbaum as a young, innocent country girl who comes to the golden city of Prague and is seduced by an unscrupulous gigolo.
The Golden City premièred at the Venice Film Festival in September 1942. The film was awarded for its outstanding technical quality and actress Kristina Söderbaum won an acting award. There is a special ‘touch’ to Agfacolor that has delighted audiences since it was introduced. The character of the material is rather pastel colored, emphasizing golden and warm tones, making the picture look like "old paintings."
It is amazing that after a relatively short period of testing, directors, cameramen and set designers appeared to have perfected their command of making color movies. It goes without saying that their entire work method had to be reconsidered after the switch from black-and-white to color cinematography. Münchhausen is one of the best examples of how skillfully the new medium was used and how quickly an entire community adapted to it.
Shot by cameraman Werner Krien, who had done black-and-white-pictures before, and assisted by special effects specialist Konstantin Irmen-Tschet (once in charge of the SFX camera in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), the film displays an impressive symphony of colors.
Irmen-Tschet was responsible for creating moments like Münchhausen’s famous cannonball ride, which took weeks of tests until it looked exactly how he had envisioned it. Among many others, Irmen-Tschet also worked on the scene where Münchhausen encounters a beautiful female moon habitant. For the latter, he used the Schüfftan effect, which consisted of a small mirror reflecting the head of the actress on top of the plant.
As director Josef von Baky tried to avoid radical cuts between scenes of different colors in order to avoid irritating the spectator’s eye, costume designer Manon Hahn put together hundreds of index cards and noted each color of every costume to guarantee the right combination.
A significant number of Agfacolor movies survived the war, but most of them exist only in fragments today.