Around the World in 1896: 40 Minutes of Real Footage Lets You Visit Paris, New York, Venice, Rome, Budapest & More

No cul­tur­al tour of Glas­gow could be com­plete with­out a vis­it to the Bri­tan­nia Panop­ti­con, the world’s old­est sur­viv­ing music hall. “Con­vert­ed from ware­house to music hall in 1857 and licensed in 1859, the Bri­tan­nia Music Hall enter­tained Glasgow’s work­ing class­es for near­ly 80 years,” says its about page. “By the time it closed in 1938 it had also accom­mo­dat­ed cin­e­ma, car­ni­val, freak show, wax works, zoo, art gallery and hall of mir­rors,” and it had also changed its name to reflect the fact that every con­ceiv­able form of enter­tain­ment could be seen there. Thanks to an ongo­ing con­ser­va­tion effort, the build­ing still stands today, and its details have grad­u­al­ly been returned to the look and feel of its glo­ry days.

In 2016, the Bri­tan­nia Panop­ti­con marked 120 years of show­ing film in that build­ing. Part of the cel­e­bra­tion involved upload­ing, to its very own Youtube chan­nel, this 40-minute com­pi­la­tion of real footage from 1896, the year its cin­e­mat­ic pro­gram­ming began. (Ambi­ent sound has been added to enhance the sen­sa­tion of time trav­el.)

In it you’ll catch glimpses of life as it was real­ly lived 126 years ago in places like Man­hat­tan’s Union Square, Lon­don’s Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus, Budapest’s Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Rome’s Por­to di Ripet­ta, and Paris’ Bassin des Tui­leries — as well as the Pont Neuf and Arc de Tri­om­phe. The pre­pon­der­ance of Parisian loca­tions is unsur­pris­ing, giv­en that most of the footage was shot by the French broth­ers Auguste and Louis Lumière, pio­neers of both the tech­nol­o­gy and art of cin­e­ma.

The sons of a fam­i­ly involved in the nascent pho­tog­ra­phy indus­try, the Lumière broth­ers patent­ed their own motion-pic­ture sys­tem in 1895, the same year they gave their first screen­ing: the film was La Sor­tie de l’u­sine Lumière à Lyon, whose 46 sec­onds show exact­ly that. A few months lat­er, they put on a pub­lic pro­gram includ­ing nine more films of sim­i­lar length, each also con­sist­ing of a sin­gle shot in what we would now call doc­u­men­tary style. This proved enter­tain­ment enough to launch a world tour, and the broth­ers took their ciné­matographe to Lon­don, New York City, Bom­bay, Buenos Aires and else­where. This pre­sum­ably gave them their chance to shoot in such cities, sug­gest­ing that a wide vari­ety of loca­tions and cul­tures could become cap­ti­vat­ing mate­r­i­al for motion pic­tures: a propo­si­tion more than val­i­dat­ed by the sub­se­quent cen­tu­ry, but not one in which the Lumière broth­ers, who quit cin­e­ma less than a decade lat­er, seem to have put much stock them­selves.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

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

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

Real Inter­views with Peo­ple Who Lived in the 1800s

What the First Movies Real­ly Looked Like: Dis­cov­er the IMAX Films of the 1890s

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 or on Face­book.


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