Paris, New York & Havana Come to Life in Colorized Films Shot Between 1890 and 1931

Cities have long pro­vid­ed a rich envi­ron­ment for pho­tog­ra­phy, at least to pho­tog­ra­phers not inter­est­ed exclu­sive­ly in nature. But only with the advent of the motion pic­ture cam­era did the sub­ject of cities find a pho­to­graph­ic form that tru­ly suit­ed it. Hence the pop­u­lar­i­ty in the 1920s of “city sym­pho­ny” films, each of which sought to cap­ture and present the real life of a dif­fer­ent bustling indus­tri­al metrop­o­lis. But while city sym­phonies cer­tain­ly hold up as works of art, they do make mod­ern-day view­ers won­der: what would all these cap­i­tals look like if I could gaze back­ward in time, look­ing not through the jit­tery, col­or­less medi­um of ear­ly motion-pic­ture film, but with my own eyes?

Youtu­ber Igna­cio López-Fran­cos offers a step clos­er to the answer in the form of these four videos, each of which takes his­tor­i­cal footage of a city, then cor­rects its speed and adds col­or to make it more life­like.

At the top of the post we have “a col­lec­tion of high qual­i­ty remas­tered prints from the dawn of film tak­en in Belle Époque-era Paris, France from 1896–1900.” Shot by the Lumière com­pa­ny (which was found­ed by Auguste and Louis Lumière, inven­tors of the pro­ject­ed motion pic­ture), the sights cap­tured by the film include the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Tui­leries Gar­den, the then-new Eif­fel Tow­er, and the now-soon-to-be-reha­bil­i­tat­ed but then-intact Notre Dame cathe­dral.

The Paris footage was col­orized using DeOld­ify, “a deep learn­ing-based project for col­oriz­ing and restor­ing old images.” So was the footage just above, which shows New York City in 1911 as shot by the Swedish com­pa­ny Sven­s­ka Biografteatern and released pub­licly by the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art. “Pro­duced only three years before the out­break of World War I, the every­day life of the city record­ed here — street traf­fic, peo­ple going about their busi­ness — has a casu­al, almost pas­toral qual­i­ty that dif­fers from the mod­ernist per­spec­tive of lat­er city-sym­pho­ny films,” say the accom­pa­ny­ing notes. “Take note of the sur­pris­ing and remark­ably time­less expres­sion of bore­dom exhib­it­ed by a young girl filmed as she was chauf­feured along Broad­way in the front seat of a con­vert­ible lim­ou­sine.”

Shot twen­ty years lat­er, these clips of New York’s The­ater Dis­trict have also under­gone the DeOld­ify treat­ment, which gets the bright lights (and numer­ous bal­ly­hoo­ing signs) of the big city a lit­tle clos­er to the stun­ning qual­i­ty they must have had on a new arrival in the 1930s. The streets of Havana were seem­ing­ly qui­eter dur­ing that same decade, at least if the col­orized footage below is to be believed. But then, the his­to­ry of tourism in Cuba remem­bers the 1930s as some­thing of a dull stretch after the high-liv­ing 1920s that came before, dur­ing the Unit­ed States’ days of Pro­hi­bi­tion — let alone the even more daiquiri- and moji­to-soaked 1950s that would come lat­er, speak­ing of eras one dreams of see­ing for one­self.

via Twist­ed Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Immac­u­late­ly Restored Film Lets You Revis­it Life in New York City in 1911

The Old­est Known Footage of Lon­don (1890–1920) Fea­tures the City’s Great Land­marks

Time Trav­el Back to Tokyo After World War II, and See the City in Remark­ably High-Qual­i­ty 1940s Video

Berlin Street Scenes Beau­ti­ful­ly Caught on Film (1900–1914)

Pris­tine Footage Lets You Revis­it Life in Paris in the 1890s: Watch Footage Shot by the Lumière Broth­ers

The Old­est Known Footage of Lon­don (1890–1920) Fea­tures the City’s Great Land­marks

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


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