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The Flying Train

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2020

MoMA has published a two-minute film from 1902 of a German suspended railway called the Wuppertal Schwebebahn. It presents an almost drone-like view of a German city at the beginning of the 20th century, in contrast to the ground-based and stationary films that were far more common in that era. The film is also extremely crisp and clear because it was shot in 68mm:

The Flying Train depicts a ride on a suspended railway. The footage is almost as impressive as the feat of engineering it captures. For many years our curators believed our Mutoscope rolls were slightly shrunken 70mm film, but they were actually shot on Biograph’s proprietary 68mm stock. Formats like Biograph’s 68mm and Fox’s 70mm Grandeur are of particular interest to researchers visiting the Film Study Center because the large image area affords stunning visual clarity and quality, especially compared to the more standard 35mm or 16mm stocks.

My favorite bit is the kid on the swing at about the 25 second mark — a casual unstaged moment that allows the viewer to imagine themselves in that place and time, almost 120 years ago.

And as the latest instance in a trend that I am increasingly irritated by, this film was immediately run through an AI program to upscale it to 4K, stabilize it, and colorize it. The result is….. I don’t know, cheesy? It just looks worse than the original, which is so vivid to begin with. And the added sound is distracting. But the worst thing is that this “restored” video has almost twice the views as the original. *shakes fist at cloud*