ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak is taking your Kodachrome away.
The Eastman Kodak Co. announced yesterday it was 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 departing 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.
Kodak now gets about 70 percent of its revenue from its digital business, but it 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 motion-picture films introduced in the last few 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.
Simon sang about it in 1973 in the aptly titled "Kodachrome."
"They give us those nice bright colors. They give us the greens of summers. Makes you think all the world's a sunny day," he sang. ". . . So Mama don't take my Kodachrome away."
Kodachrome was favored by still and motion-picture photographers for its rich but realistic tones, vibrant colors, and durability.