Watch AI-Restored Film of Laborers Going Through Life in Victorian England (1901)

In these times, we need to keep at some kind of rou­tine. And so I’d like to doff my cloth worker’s cap to Denis Shiryaev, who once again has returned from the ear­ly days of cin­e­ma with anoth­er AI-restored clip of film from the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry.

Ah, but there’s some­thing amiss this time, a glitch in the matrix of expec­ta­tions. Not all sources can be saved by tech­nol­o­gy. Fans of Shiryaev’s crys­tal clear jour­neys back in time (find them in the Relat­eds below) might find the footage rough. It doesn’t make this film any less fas­ci­nat­ing.

Sagar Mitchell and James Keny­on start­ed their film busi­ness to try to copy the suc­cess of sim­i­lar, ear­li­er film­mak­ers like the Lumiere Broth­ers in Paris. Audi­ences would pay to see short films of how peo­ple lived, worked, walked about, and just exist­ed. It was a win­dow into anoth­er real­i­ty, and by pure chance a hun­dred of Mitchell & Keny­on’s films were found pre­served in a Black­burn, UK base­ment near­ly a cen­tu­ry lat­er. This is a com­pi­la­tion of three of them, scored by Guy Jones with mild atmos­pher­ics.

More than any of the oth­er films that Shiryaev has “restored,” Mitchell & Keny­on don’t try to hide their cam­era or pre­tend it’s not there. Instead, these three films make a point of invit­ing their sub­jects to look direct­ly at us, and because of Shiryaev’s work these dozens and dozens of eyes real­ly seem to be watch­ing us from across time. The young boys are cheeky, the young girls shy, the old­er adults bemused or slight­ly irri­tat­ed. There is no par­tic­u­lar focus here–we can choose who we want to fol­low, which indeed was one of the rea­sons for these films pop­u­lar­i­ty. They were designed for repeat vis­its.

There are two par­tic­u­lar points of inter­est that hap­pen very quick­ly. One is at 1:09–the appear­ance of an Afro-Caribbean man as part of the work­force. Peo­ple of African descent had lived in Britain since the 12th cen­tu­ry, but this might be one of the ear­li­est films of such a per­son. The oth­er is lat­er at 4:24, which might be the first film of a bloke giv­ing the cam­era the rude two-fin­gered salute. This moment is why the British Film Insti­tute dubbed Mitchell & Keny­on “the acci­den­tal anthro­pol­o­gists.”

(You might also watch for the fight that breaks out near the end of the film. Real or not? You be the judge.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Trip Through New York City in 1911: Vin­tage Video of NYC Gets Col­orized & Revived with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Icon­ic Film from 1896 Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: Watch an AI-Upscaled Ver­sion of the Lumière Broth­ers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Cio­tat Sta­tion

Watch Scenes from Belle Époque Paris Vivid­ly Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (Cir­ca 1890)

Watch Scenes from Czarist Moscow Vivid­ly Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (May 1896)

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

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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