Stephen McBurney

  • PhD Candidate (Film & TV Studies)  

Research title

Colour Cinema in Scotland, 1896-1916; The Materiality and Cultural Contexts of Colour Film in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness

Research summary

Colour in early cinema remains under-represented due to lost films, archival policies and historiographical practices. Film History often documents a linear progression, focusing on seminal moments that transformed the industry, or the development of cinematic techniques that helped elevate film to the status of an art form. Such a trajectory belies the multifarious functions and attractions of early cinema. Since its inception, film and colour were intertwined through a diverse range of techniques; from simply applying aniline dyes onto film stock with tiny paintbrushes, to developing elaborate machinery designed to capture colours automatically. Such techniques and technologies helped shape the experience and development of early cinema, and it is my aim to document exactly how within a Scottish context.

Through the use of online and physical archives, I will illustrate the forms and prevalence of colour film in Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow. Between 1896-1916, filtered lights, dyes and complex projectors were used to bring colour to screens across these locations, and each city had its own distinct relationship with colour through the practices of its filmmakers and exhibitors. The films that make up our cinematic heritage have mostly disintegrated through time, and colour on film has proved yet more ephemeral and elusive to us today. Subsequently, my main resources will comprise of contemporary newspapers, trade magazines, fanzines, company records, personal memoirs, and any other materials I can track down. Although it may be ultimately impossible to recreate the experience of colour cinema for contemporary spectators, such a methodology can at least challenge the predominant assumption we hold of early film in Scotland as a black & white phenomenon.


  • AHRC DTP Scotland Studentship Award, 2014-2017
  • AHRC RTSG, 2015. Awarded for archival research & conference attendance.
  • PG Support Fund, 2015. Awarded for conference attendance.


  • Film & TV Studies, Level Two 2015/16. History, Aesthetics, Genre

Additional information


  • Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities


The Great Fire of Bridge Place, in ‘Natural Colour’ (2015)

Blog Post,


Arrested Beginnings of Colour Cinema in Inverness. British Silent Film Festival Symposium, 2016

Kaleidoscopic Colours in William Walker’s “Kennymattygraff” Show

British Silent Film Festival, 2015 & Moving Pictures and Photoplays, University of York, 2015.

Organising Committee, Creativity: Method or Madness? University of Glasgow, College of Arts, PG Conference 26-27 May 2015

Film & TV Postgraduate Research Representative, Postgraduate Student/Staff Liaison Committee, 2014-15