The Normandy Invasion Captured on 16 mm Kodachrome Film (1944)

The Nor­mandy Inva­sion, oth­er­wise known as “Oper­a­tion Over­lord,” was launched by the Allies on June 6, 1944. On that day — D‑Day — Amer­i­can, British and Cana­di­an troops land­ed on five sep­a­rate beach­heads in Nor­mandy, on the west­ern shores of France. By the end of August 1944, the Allies had lib­er­at­ed all of north­ern France and start­ed march­ing towards Nazi Ger­many.

At the time, the film­mak­er George Stevens (1904–1975) was a lieu­tenant colonel in the U.S. Army’s Sig­nal Corps. Dwight D. Eisen­how­er, tasked with plan­ning and car­ry­ing out the Allied inva­sion of Nor­mandy, want­ed film crews present at the inva­sion to pro­vide footage for a doc­u­men­tary film. Stevens took charge of the Spe­cial Motion Pic­tures Unit and gath­ered a group of cam­era­men and writ­ers dubbed the “Stevens Irreg­u­lars”. They used the stan­dard Army motion pic­ture stock, 35 mm black and white news­reel film. But they also brought along a hand-held cam­era and some 16 mm Kodachrome col­or film. Stevens shot sev­er­al hours’ worth of col­or footage from France, Bel­gium and Ger­many. The scenes from the lib­er­a­tion of Dachau con­cen­tra­tion camp are par­tic­u­lar­ly shock­ing and left their mark on the lives of the cam­era­men. In 1994, Stevens’ son used this film footage to assem­ble the doc­u­men­tary George Stevens: D‑Day to Berlin.

Bonus mate­r­i­al:

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

Early Experiments in Color Film (1895–1935)

Hol­ly­wood did­n’t start pro­duc­ing col­or fea­ture films until the mid 1930s. (Becky Sharp, the first Tech­ni­col­or film from 1935, appears in our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.) But exper­i­ments with col­or film­mak­ing start­ed long before that. Ear­li­er this year, Kodak unearthed a test of Kodachrome col­or film from 1922 (above). But then you can trav­el back to 1912, when a film­mak­er test­ed out a Chronochrome process on the beach­es of Nor­mandy. Or how about mov­ing all the way back to 1895? Here we have footage from Thomas Edis­on’s hand-paint­ed film Anabelle’s Dance, which was made for his Kine­to­scope view­ers. For more on the his­to­ry of col­or film, vis­it here.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Tech­ni­col­or Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Cin­e­ma with Sur­re­al, Elec­tric Col­ors & Changed How We See Our World

Col­or Film Was Designed to Take Pic­tures of White Peo­ple, Not Peo­ple of Col­or: The Unfor­tu­nate His­to­ry of Racial Bias in Pho­tog­ra­phy (1940–1990)

Tsarist Rus­sia Comes to Life in Vivid Col­or Pho­tographs Tak­en Cir­ca 1905–1915

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.