Kodak pulls plug on Kodachrome

The Associated PressJune 23, 2009 

— Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak is taking your Kodachrome away.

The Eastman Kodak Co. announced Monday that it's retiring its oldest film stock because of declining customer demand in an increasingly digital age.

The world's first commercially successful color film, immortalized in song by Simon, spent 74 years in Kodak's portfolio. It enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s and '60s but in recent years has nudged closer to obscurity: Sales of Kodachrome are now just a fraction of 1 percent of the company's total sales of still-picture films, and only one commercial lab in the world still processes it.

Those numbers and the unique materials needed to make it persuaded Kodak to call its most recent manufacturing run the last, said Mary Jane Hellyar, the outgoing president of Kodak's Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group.

"Kodachrome is particularly difficult [to retire] because it really has become kind of an icon," Hellyar said.

The company gets about 70 percent of its revenue from its digital business, but plans to stay in the film business "as far into the future as possible," Hellyar said. She points to the seven new professional still films and several new motion picture films introduced in recent years and to a strategy that emphasizes efficiency.

"Anywhere where we can have common components and common design and common chemistry that let us build multiple films off of those same components, then we're in a much stronger position to be able to continue to meet customers' needs," she said.

Kodachrome, because of a unique formula, didn't fit in with the philosophy and was made only about once a year.

Kodachrome was favored by movie and still photographers for its rich but realistic tones, vibrant colors and durability.

It was the basis not only for countless family slideshows on carousel projectors over the years but also for world-renowned images, including Abraham Zapruder's 8 mm reel of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

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