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.