The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station is one of the most famous silent films ever made. First released in 1895, it is the subject of a now widely-discredited legend about its first screening. Supposedly the moving image of a train headed right towards the camera was so overpowering when it was first shown to an audience that people ran screaming from the theater, fearful that the train was about to barrel through the screen and crush them.

Again, there is enormous doubt that anything like that ever actually happened. But it’s a great story. Of course, when you look at The Arrival of a Train today, it looks so simple and quaint. It’s hard to believe anyone could be fooled by the illusion, 1895 or not.

But this video posted this week to YouTube gives you a little more of a sense of what this silent film must have felt like 120 years ago. A YouTuber used neural networks (specifically Gigapixel AI) to create a 4K 60 frames per second version of The Arrival of a Train. The results feel shockingly real, particularly the movements of the passengers in the foreground, who feel flesh and blood in a way they never did when I watched this in film school.

Take a look:

Here’s The Arrival of a Train in its original resolution and frame rate:

It feels like an entirely different experience.

We need to preserve and maintain the original versions of these silent films — not doing so would be like coloring a black and white film and throwing away the original print. But this is a fascinating experiment. I would be curious to see it replicated on other silent films of the era.

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