I was blown away by the integrity of this film footage dated around 1897. What struck me first were the sounds: the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, the clatter of carriages and wagons – common sounds of yesteryear that we no longer hear. And yet, other sounds endure: the clang of Notre-Dame’s bells, a dog’s bark, the tinkle of a bicycle bell, and laughter and murmur in the streets. Those magnificent horses were everywhere (think of the manure piles to be removed daily; the stink and the flies in hot weather!)
Other observations: how hazardous those streets were. Tight constricted clothing, but nevertheless very elegant. Street theater – so much going on! I know every one of those landmarks: how strange to see the same buildings and same locations populated by people 120 years ago! Exactly one month ago I was at the Round Pond in the Tuileries Gardens. In this film you see the same pond, but instead of casually-dressed men and women lounging in chairs, you see boys in caps and sailor suits prodding their sailboats with long sticks. Extraordinary. As one commenter noted – It looks like a French impressionist painting come to life.
And that moving sidewalk? Talk about avant-garde! It was in fact an experiment for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900. See for yourself. Further below is another view of Paris nearly thirty years later.
Here’s some more footage taken in 1927: less horses, more motorized vehicles. In exactly twelve years’ time war would break out. Occupied Paris would be besieged by German Nazis. That’s the other extraordinary thing about watching historical films: you know what’s going to happen next, and they – blissfully unaware – do not. I’m amazed by the hordes of people in the streets. Central Paris was packed! It seems more crowded then than it is today. Notice the men, how pompous and self-important they were.