Restored Footage of 1896 Snowball Fight Makes It Seem Like the Fun Happened Yesterday

Ear­ly cin­e­ma is full of leg­ends, but none as endur­ing as the leg­end of the Lumière Broth­ers’ Arrivée d’un train à la Cio­tat (Arrival of a Train at La Cio­tat). The fif­teen-sec­ond reel of a loco­mo­tive so star­tled audi­ences, alleged­ly, they scram­bled from their seats. Ger­man film schol­ar Mar­tin Loiperdinger calls the anec­dote “cinema’s found­ing myth,” a sto­ry repeat­ed over and over, for over 100 years, though there’s no evi­dence it actu­al­ly hap­pened. One film his­to­ry text even titled a chap­ter “Begin­ning with Ter­ror” to under­line the sem­i­nal impor­tance of the event.

If we think about it, the inci­dent, how­ev­er apoc­ryphal, does mark an ori­gin. Con­sid­er how many films after­ward fea­tured trains as a cen­tral scene of the action, from The Great Train Rob­bery to Strangers on a Train to Snow­piercer. There are mag­i­cal trains and train heists in space. Trains are every­where in the movies. If we think about it some more, isn’t cin­e­ma itself some­thing like a train? Even films that play with time still move inex­orably from begin­ning to end, fol­low­ing some sort of dis­cernible through-line from one end to the oth­er.

But, say we were to enter­tain an alter­nate film his­to­ry, a Philip K. Dick-like ver­sion in which, rather than trains, the found­ing myth of cin­e­ma involved snow­balls….

In 1896, the year after the sup­posed pub­lic shock of Arrival of a Train, the Lumières shot Bataille de boules de neige, “Snow­ball Fight,” which you can see in its orig­i­nal black and white, above (with added, faux-vaude­ville music). A group of sol­id cit­i­zens pum­mels each oth­er with snow­balls, then a cyclist, unawares, rides into the fray, gets pelt­ed, and hur­ries off for dear life. It’s a mad­cap ver­ité gem. “The film was shot in Lyon, France using one of the duo’s all-in-one ciné­matographe cre­ations,” notes Petapix­el, “which was part cam­era, part pro­jec­tor, and part devel­op­er.” There were no reports of pan­ics in the the­ater.

At the top of the post, you can expe­ri­ence the short in full col­or and HD, thanks to Joaquim Cam­pa, “who used the AI-pow­ered soft­ware DeOld­ify to upscale the footage to 1080p, inter­po­late addi­tion­al frames for a smoother result, and col­orize the old footage.” Despite appear­ances, it seems the film’s speed remains unchanged. Campa’s star­tling­ly imme­di­ate ver­sion arrives in the midst of a debate over the trendy col­oriza­tion of old films and pho­tos. Rather than bring­ing us clos­er to his­to­ry, the British Library’s Luke McK­er­nan told Wired, dig­i­tal pro­cess­ing “increas­es the gap between now and then.”

Col­orized, cleaned-up, and upscaled images show us the past as it nev­er actu­al­ly exist­ed, his­to­ri­ans claim. But isn’t that what film and pho­tog­ra­phy have always done? As media of tech­ni­cal inven­tion and rein­ven­tion, they inevitably shape and alter the scenes they cap­ture, both dur­ing and after shoot­ing. When Georges Méliès saw the Lumière’s films, he was not inter­est­ed in their real­ism but in their poten­tial for cre­at­ing fan­tasies. He went off to make his spe­cial-effects mas­ter­piece, A Trip to the Moon, which screened in both black-and-white and gar­ish­ly hand-col­ored prints in 1902.

“Sure, it can be argued that adding col­or, inter­po­lat­ing frames, and remov­ing scratch­es is cre­at­ing infor­ma­tion that was nev­er there and could ‘obscure the past instead of high­light­ing it,’” writes Petapix­el. “But how many peo­ple (who aren’t film buffs) will have ever heard of ‘Bataille de boules de neige’ before today? And how many might dis­cov­er a pas­sion for film­mak­ing or his­to­ry as a result?” Per­son­al­ly, I’d like to see more films that look like “Snow­ball Fight.”

via Joaquim­Cam­pa

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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 the Films of the Lumière Broth­ers & the Birth of Cin­e­ma (1895)

The Ear­li­est Known Motion Pic­ture, 1888’s Round­hay Gar­den Scene, Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

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

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