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

In May of 1896, Charles Mois­son and Fran­cis Dou­bli­er trav­eled to Moscow on behalf of the Lumière Broth­ers com­pa­ny, bear­ing with them the new­ly devel­oped Lumière Ciné­mato­gaphe cam­era. Their pur­pose: to doc­u­ment the coro­na­tion of Tsar Nicholas II—the last Emper­or of Rus­sia, though no one would have known that at the time. The coro­na­tion was an extra­or­di­nary event, soon to be over­shad­owed by even more extra­or­di­nary events in the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary years to come. An enor­mous cel­e­bra­tion fol­lowed, with gifts, bread, sausage, pret­zels, beer, and a com­mem­o­ra­tive cup to rev­el­ers. The promise of these gifts led to what was lat­er called the Kho­dyn­ka Tragedy.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands descend­ed on the city. Rumors that food was run­ning short—and that the cups con­tained a gold coin—sent crowds rush­ing for the Kho­dyn­ka Field. Over­com­ing 1,800 police offi­cers, they caused a stam­pede that killed 1,389. That evening, Nicholas and the Empress Alexan­dra attend­ed a ball, then vis­it­ed wound­ed in the hos­pi­tal the fol­low­ing day. One of the Tsar’s valets, Alex­ei Volkov, who sur­vived the Rev­o­lu­tion and lived to write his mem­oirs, described walk­ing “along the Khondin­ka” and meet­ing “many groups of peo­ple com­ing back from that site and car­ry­ing the Tsar’s gifts. The strange thing, though, was that not one per­son men­tioned the cat­a­stro­phe, and I did not hear about it until the next morn­ing.”

The stam­pede seems a tes­ta­ment to the pover­ty and des­per­a­tion among ordi­nary Rus­sians at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry. That his­to­ry does not enter the frame in the minute of footage shot by Mois­son and Dou­bli­er, which you can see recre­at­ed above in stun­ning detail—with both col­or added and in orig­i­nal black and white—by Denis Shiryaev. The footage is sim­ply dat­ed May 1896 and might have been shot either before or after the coro­na­tion. As Peter Jack­son has done with footage from WWI in the fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary They Shall Not Grow Old, Shiryaev makes the grainy, blur­ry past come alive with the help of an “ensem­ble of neur­al net­works,” as he writes on the video’s YouTube page.

The enhance­ments to the video trans­fer of the orig­i­nal film include:

1) FPS boost­ing – to 60 frames per sec­ond

2) Image res­o­lu­tion boost­ed up a bit with ESRGAN (gen­er­al dataset)

3) Resort­ed video sharp­ness, removed blur, removed com­pres­sion “arte­facts”

4) Col­orized (option­al) – due to high request I have decid­ed to include both ver­sions of the processed video: col­orized and black and white.

Boost­ing the frame rate to 60 fps espe­cial­ly gives these bustling and/or saun­ter­ing Moscow denizens of Tver­skaya Street a life­like appear­ance. (See here for a com­par­i­son of var­i­ous frame rates). Whether you pre­fer col­or or black and white, it may be easy to imag­ine strolling down this cob­ble­stone avenue your­self, dodg­ing the dozens of horse drawn car­riages pass­ing by.

It may be hard­er to imag­ine that per­haps days or hours before or after this slice of Moscow city life, the last tsar of Rus­sia was crowned, and a crowd of some­where around half a mil­lion peo­ple rushed through the streets for a glass of beer and a free bite to eat. See more of Shiryaev’s AI-assist­ed film restora­tions at the links below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

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

How Peter Jack­son Made His State-of-the-Art World War I Doc­u­men­tary, They Shall Not Grow Old: An Inside Look

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Johnny Fortune says:

    I won­der if the peo­ple in the video would be still alive today, and if so how old they would be now. It would be inter­est­ing to ask them about the toi­lets they had in those days, as I have a great inter­est in lava­to­ries and toi­lets and the entires toi­let room enclo­sure in gen­er­al. I am actu­al­ly a Tur­d­ing cham­pi­on hav­ing vis­it­ed toi­lets in thou­sands of dif­fer­ent places and coun­tries around the world some Muslin coun­tries have pret­ty inter­est­ing setups as well as the for­mer Yugoslavia. I have even encoun­tered a DRY toi­let in Ire­land some­thing from this era.

  • YouSuck says:

    Wow. John­ny you are brain­less beyond belief. It’s 1896. Even a new­born baby back then wont be alive today. Think­ing about turds all day real­ly impedes your math skills it seems. Do every­one a favour and don’t ever post on the inter­net again.

  • Johnny Fortune says:

    That’s a very inter­est­ing choice of name you have cho­sen “You Suck ” I bet you do, and you have been ever since your dad took you to the tool shed with some can­dy. Peo­ple have been known to live very long lives in Japan and Italy even Methuse­lah lived to be 969 years in Greece, by you are too stu­pid to know these things. Tell me when “You Suck” do you spit or swal­low?

  • David says:

    Mag­i­cal. I wish some­one would do this for the film that sur­vives of Tsar Nicholas II and his fam­i­ly. There’s much footage of them on YouTube for instance and whether you’re Russ­ian or not it elic­its noth­ing but pathos, it’s like look­ing at ghosts, how won­der­ful it would be to see them more vivid­ly as the real peo­ple they were.

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