Visit Great Cities in the 1920s in Restored Color Film: New York City, London, Berlin, Paris, Venice & More

Woody Allen’s Mid­night in Paris stars Owen Wil­son as a Hol­ly­wood screen­writer on vaca­tion in the French cap­i­tal. Alas, the City of Lights as it is in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry does­n’t sat­is­fy him. When he walks his streets he thinks only of the nine­teen-twen­ties, when a trav­el­er in Paris could eas­i­ly cross paths with the likes of Paul Gau­guin, Hen­ri Matisse, and Edgar Degas — as well as expa­tri­ates from Pablo Picas­so and Dju­na Barnes to F. Scott Fitzger­ald and Ernest Hem­ing­way. Or so he imag­ines, at any rate, and so he goes on to expe­ri­ence when he finds him­self trans­port­ed back in time to the city of the “Lost Gen­er­a­tion” at each stroke of mid­night.

With the video above, you, too, can take a trip to nine­teen-twen­ties Paris — as well as nine­teen-twen­ties New York, Chica­go, San Fran­cis­co, Lon­don, Berlin, Stock­holm, Copen­hagen, Ams­ter­dam, Nice, Gene­va, Milan, and Venice. A com­pi­la­tion of peri­od footage sourced from the Prelinger Archives, it light­ly col­orizes, adds ambi­ent sound, and in oth­er ways enhances its dis­parate mate­ri­als to make them feel all of a piece.

And indeed, the clip plays almost as if shot by a sin­gle, and sin­gu­lar­ly ambi­tious, world trav­el­er of one hun­dred years ago. That hypo­thet­i­cal trav­el­er’s world is both ours — filled as it is with such rec­og­niz­able and ever-pho­tograph­able sites as the Eif­fel Tow­er, the gon­do­las of Venice, and the non-latex-clad cyclists of Copen­hagen — and not.

Whether tra­di­tion­al or mod­ern, the dress of every­one on the street looks neater and more for­mal than that worn by urban­ites in the main today. In some cities, horse-drawn car­riages still make their way through the traf­fic of bus­es, trams, and waves of seem­ing­ly iden­ti­cal per­son­al cars. (Ford man­u­fac­tured more than two mil­lion Mod­el Ts in 1923 alone.) The nine­teen-twen­ties brought rapid urban devel­op­ment in both the New World and the Old, as well as rapid devel­op­ment in motion pho­tog­ra­phy. Not for noth­ing was it the decade of the “city sym­pho­ny” film; for equal­ly good rea­son, it remains the decade of which many of us dream, even a cen­tu­ry lat­er, when we want to feel the exhil­a­ra­tion of moder­ni­ty.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch 1920s “City Sym­phonies” Star­ring the Great Cities of the World: From New York to Berlin to São Paulo

Expe­ri­ence Footage of Roar­ing 1920s Berlin, Restored & Col­orized with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Nerves of Steel!: Watch Peo­ple Climb Tall Build­ings Dur­ing the 1920s.

Great New Archive Lets You Hear the Sounds of New York City Dur­ing the Roar­ing Twen­ties

Footage of Cities Around the World in the 1890s: Lon­don, Tokyo, New York, Venice, Moscow & More

Down­load 6600 Free Films from The Prelinger Archives and Use Them How­ev­er You Like

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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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