After months of heavy rainfall, Paris found itself underwater during the winter of 1910. This rare footage was recently rediscovered and it showcases everyday life in the flooded city.
This review is part of the April Showers Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog. Be sure to read the other posts!
Paris or Venice?
Some of the most interesting films from the early silent and nickelodeon period are actualities. Actuality films are not out to tell a story or sway opinions, as is the case with a documentary or a travelogue. Instead, they merely record scenery, happenings and people, acting as an illustration for real events. Through these actualities, we get a chance to see pre-revolution Moscow, nineteenth century Jerusalem, workers leaving a French factory and other tastes of a long-gone world.
Today, we’ll be looking at a four-minute actuality film taken during the 1910 flood of Paris. Unusually heavy rains in late 1909 and early 1910 caused the Seine to rise 26 feet above normal levels and a violent January storm finally caused the river to burst its banks, which resulted in most of Paris being completely flooded. Thousands of people were evacuated and the water did not return to its usual levels until mid-March of 1910.
A good many Parisians stayed in the city to wait out the flood, going on with their everyday lives as best they could. The government assisted by constructing wooden walkways for the public to use and boats were soon paddling down the streets. There was no electricity and the BBC reports that judges were obliged to huddle in blankets while presiding over courts. The clerks of flooded banks had to scramble to save safe deposit boxes and securities certificates from being swept away or damaged by the rising water.
The Seine Flood shows the wooden walkways, the rising water flowing under the bridge, the boats. Probably the most dynamic and interesting shots are from a camera mounted on one of these boats as it floats through the streets of Paris. We also see efforts to reduce the floodwaters with the use of drainage pumps.
Despite the dramatic footage, I am happy to report that the comparatively slow nature of the flood meant that no lives were lost, so I suppose there is some good news amongst all the soggy destruction.
By the way, viewers may notice that while the images in this picture appear to have light tinting, the intertitles are bright red. This was common practice in France during the silent era as a way to discourage piracy. While it was comparatively easy to pirate a film, it was more challenging to insert colored intertitles and their absence would be a sign that the picture was pirated. Eclipse, The Seine Flood’s company used red, as did Pathé Frères, while Gaumont used green.
The Seine Flood is a chance to see first-hand footage of an important event in French history. I am thrilled that it was recovered and made available to the public over a century after it was created.
Where can I see it?
The Seine Flood was released on DVD as part of the Saved From the Flames set, which includes rare and wonderful rediscoveries and “vaulties” that survived against all odds.
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