If I were part of a big snowball fight in 1897 Lyon, myself and maybe 10 or 12 others, I’d stick to the basic universal snowball fight rule. I would throw snowballs only at combatants — at those who were throwing them at me or at anyone in this particular throng who had declared themselves to be more or less fair game.

If a friend or a co-worker had happened along and I wanted to invite him to take part, I might hit him with a snowball or two — that would be okay. As long as the harmless violence stays within the fraternity, so to speak.

It goes without saying I wouldn’t throw snowballs at, say, an elderly woman or a couple of small kids who happened to be walking nearby. Or an innocent dog who’d strayed into the vicinity. Or a guy who was riding a bicycle and just trying to get through.

But in this high-deffed, colorized, smoothed-out Lumiere Bros. clip, the snowballers attack a passing bicyclist with a kind of strange, stupid fury. They pelt the poor guy again and again and knock him off his bike, and one of them even briefly snatches the bike — “It’s my bike now, deepsheet! Hah!”

If I’d been the bicyclist and especially after I’d hit the show-covered pavement, I might have taken a swing or two at someone. “Jesus…fuck’s wrong with you, man?” As in, knock yourselves out but what’s this got to do with me? If I’d been one of the attackers, I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if the bicycle guy had let one of us have it. Ignore the rules of civilization, and you shouldn’t be surprised if someone pushes back.

The snowball fight was posted on YouTube on 3.20.20, but yesterday The New York TimesSam Anderson posted it along with a few paragraphs’ worth of reactions.

“This is my favorite film of 2020,” Anderson wrote. “[It’s] a tiny masterpiece that perfectly distills not only our current mayhem but also, more profoundly, our baffling displacement in time.” The sequence lasts 52 seconds.

The Lumière brothers were, of course, among the world’s first cinematographers and editors. The footage was originally captured in jumpy, rickety monochrome, of course. It’s amazing how nowadays footage this old can be made to look this good. Check out the 1896 footage of the little girl and the cat [after the jump], which looks especially fresh and real due to the high frame rate (60 fps).