Taken just a couple of years before the start of World War I, this clip takes you into the street life and daily routine of New York in the dawn of the 20th century.
The MoMa is hosting the Moving-image works collection, a selection of around 30,000 film and video works from the birth of cinema to the latest advancements in digital video of today.
You can find in their catalogue absolute gems like D. W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley from 1912, probably the first gangster film in history, Mack Sennet’s Josh’s Suicide, which can be considered the first romantic comedy ever made, and one of the first computer animations, the iconic Hummingbird from 1967.
New York 1911 is a documentary travelogue filmed by the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern. Surprisingly, the film precedes for more than a decade Walter Ruttman’s seminal Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis. And although it doesn’t share the groundbreaking editing experimentation and plasticity of the latter, it shows the city with casual and almost pastoral swagger you don’t usually associate with New York City.
Not as frenetic and modernist as the famous city symphonies that came after it, New York 1911 surprises for how the city is depicted with this slow vibe that almost reeks of boredom.
You see people going about their business, street traffic, curious kids waving at the camera… men checking out women… a mindblowing window into the everyday life 100 years ago.
The nearly eight-minute clip gorgeously restored by the Museum of Modern Art cuts long shots of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, Battery Park, Broadway, the elevated railways at Bowery, and of course, the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue.
Although Svenska Biografteatern also sent their cameras to the Niagara Falls, Paris, and Venice, the clip from New York stands as their most famous and the only one in the museum’s collection.
The MoMA’s restoration was made from the original nitrate print of the film and if you happen to be in NY, we really recommend you watching it in its 35mm glory.
Of course, if being in NYC is not an option you can always watch it on YouTube.