John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Here's a nicely well-preserved peek into historical Moscow, complete with snow-skiing commuters and a frozen market of mushroom and fish.
Warm-weathered folks feeling jealous of New England's recent snow dump might get vicarious satisfaction from watching this footage of winter in Moscow, circa 1908.
The nicely well-preserved documentary was shot by Joseph-Louis Mundwiller, an Alsace-born cinematographer would go on to work on Crime and Punishment, Napoléon Bonaparte, The Chess Player and other weighty hunks of moviedom. Moscow Clad in Snow, as this film is titled, marks Mundwiller's baby-steps into the craft, showing him to be a sharp observer of the everyday mannerisms of city folk and a pious devotee of Moscow's god-sized architecture.
The camera pans through the powder-dusted metropolis to visit the Kremlin, an immense cannon that looks like it could demolish the Great Wall of China, Petrovsky Park (later home to the Dynamo Moscow football club), and a mushroom-and-fish market where venders sell frozen-stiff sturgeons that could penetrate a castle wall, if loaded into aforementioned cannon. The streets are hives of energy despite the whirling snow all around. It makes you wonder what a 10-horse-sleigh pileup would look like.
While separated by more than a century, you can find comparisons between the Moscow of today and this black-and-white wonderland. On IMDB, an Ohio viewer writes:
This kind of filmed record of a distant place and time makes very interesting viewing when it is done well. It gives you a chance to see different sights and ways of living, but if you watch perceptively, you can also see how similar the essentials of daily life really are across time and place. There is a nicely done view of a street scene that goes on for some time, showing crowds scurrying along, and vehicles dashing back-and-forth. To be sure, the vehicles are horse-drawn, and no doubt there were many items in those stores that we would not find in our homes now, but the nature of the activity is still a familiar feature of any city. Then also, some of the scenes of residential areas could almost have been taken in a recent Midwestern winter.
The original documentary was released a year after it was filmed, in 1909; the music you're hearing by Russian Romantic composer Alexander Borodin was added in later.