In 1922, the newly-developed Kodachrome color film was being adapted to motion picture cameras. It wouldn't be ready for prime time until 13 years later, when the film Becky Sharp was made using the process; but it was sufficiently developed for testing. Some of the test footage survived, and has now been released.
According to Kodak's 'A Thousand Words' blog:
I learned that the flicker that you will see is a result of two different things. First, early cameras were hand cranked, or hand wound, to feed the film through. This could result in slight variations in speed. Second, there could be uneven densities in the film itself because of its age. These two physical characteristics combine to produce the "flicker" that you see. There are digital enhancements that can be made to address this but we thought it better to keep this in its original form.
I wonder, who were the ladies in this test? Were they Kodak employees? What kind of lives did they lead? Those questions are lost to the ages.
So without further adieu, here from 1922, a full 7 years before the first Academy Award ceremony, is some of the earliest color motion pictures that you will ever see.
That was kind of like time travel wasn't it? What did you think?
UPDATE March 11, 2010: This just in from friend and fellow film geek Mike C. more information on this piece of footage from a Silent Film Festival site. Well done!
"In these newly preserved tests, made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, actress Mae Murray appears almost translucent, her flesh a pale white that is reminiscent of perfectly sculpted marble, enhanced with touches of color to her lips, eyes, and hair. She is joined by actress Hope Hampton modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), which contained the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film. Ziegfeld Follies actress Mary Eaton and an unidentified woman and child also appear.
George Eastman House is the repository for many of the early tests made by the Eastman Kodak Company of their various motion picture film stocks and color processes. The Two-Color Kodachrome Process was an attempt to bring natural lifelike colors to the screen through the photochemical method in a subtractive color system. First tests on the Two-Color Kodachrome Process were begun in late 1914. Shot with a dual-lens camera, the process recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues."
There's more at the link.
I find that film clip fascinating. It's amazing to think that we're looking at young women, now long dead, but then in the prime of their lives. I wonder if they thought, back then, that people as yet unborn would be looking at them in color, and wondering what their lives were like?