I thought it would be a fun way to mark the fiftieth installment of The Paris Cinema Project by taking a very informal look at changes in the Parisian cinematic landscape, as well as some consistencies. To accompany my posts, I often take images of cinemas, or spaces that used to be cinemas, from the internet, but this time I’d like to use pictures that I’ve taken during my last two visits to Paris, in 2013 and 2015. On that last visit, there were only 83 cinemas in the city, not counting the Cinémathèque française, although there were far more screens than that, as a number of exhibition sites had been divided into multiple cinemas. As a point of comparison, by the late 1940s there were around 300 cinemas in the city. But I’m not presenting this post to lament the demise of cinemas in Paris. Rather, I want to take a look at some of the ways that the cinema still occupies important spaces in the city, even if not in the same way as twenty or thirty years ago, let alone close to a century.
Several of the great cinemas remain. The Gaumont Opéra on 2 boulevard des Capucines in the ninth arrondissement has been there for a long time, having opened in 1927 as the Paramount, the main French cinema of the American film company. In November 1934, as just one example of the kinds of films shown there, fans of Claudette Colbert (and Cecil B. DeMille) could have gone to the Paramount to see the studio’s most recent spectacle, Cléopatre, although not all the movies at the time were from the parent company. Eighty years later, in 2015, my daughter and I saw Pixels there (in one difference between French and American cinemas, we had to rent our 3D glasses rather than have them handed to us at the door, and my French was barely up to the complexities of the transaction).
By 2015, there were plenty of other cinemas still in Paris that had been there since before World War Two or just after. Some of them, just like the Gaumont/Paramount, were among the traditionally most important cinémas d’exclusivité in the city, for example the Marignan on the Champs-Elysées. Many of them, however, were in the neighborhoods, the typically smaller and less grand cinémas des quartiers, like the UGC Danton in the sixth arrondissement on the boulevard St. Germain and the Cinéma de l’Hotel de Ville on rue du Temple in the fourth, both of which had been in operation at least since the early-1930s.
A number of other cinemas, on the other hand, have been repurposed into different kinds of spaces of consumption, and for many of them it can be hard to tell that they were once exhibition sites. In the sixteenth arrondissement, for instance, on the rue de Passy, which used to be one of the busier streets in Paris for neighborhood cinemas, the Majestic is still there at number 18. Down the block, at 22 rue de Passy, the old Regent cinema is now an Aubade lingerie store. At least from the outside, the place seems too small to have ever been a cinema, even by the cramped standards for Paris exhibition sites. Across the street, at 23, where the Victoria used to show movies, there is now a boutique and office for SNCF, the Societé Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, or French national railway system. Here, the exterior space seems too administratively modern to have been a place where anyone might have watched movies.
In a different neighborhood, the fourth arrondissement, the Saint-Paul cinema on the rue Saint Antoine is now home to a Julien de Savignac wine and spirits shop, and here, too, the site’s past as an exhibition site seems lost. On a larger scale and in a different part of the city, on the boulevard Montmartre in the second arrondissement, the location of one of the first great cinemas in Paris, the Omnia-Pathé, had become a Virgin Megastore by 2013, when I saw it; in the last few years, of course, DVD and Blu Ray stores have gone the way of so many cinemas in the city, and now there’s a Maisons du Monde home furnishings outlet there. The space of the old Omnia was huge, and so too is that of the Maisons du Monde, but you have to use your imagination to picture a cinema there now.
There are, however, the abandoned cinemas that still bear the traces of old exhibition sites. The location of the Novelty cinema, in the twelfth arrondissement, is just a few blocks away from the UGC Lyon-Pathé, which has been a seven-screen site for at least the last forty years and is still in business. But the Novelty was boarded up when I photographed it in 2015, and I believe it remains so. Perhaps because a large overhang invokes a marquee, the site still looks like it could house a small cinema. The same is true if we move back to the rue de Passy, this time to number 71. There’s a Benetton store there now, but at least through 1931 or ‘32 it was the Impéria cinema. The Impéria closed after that, and it’s impossible to tell how many different businesses have occupied the space, except that a cinema never came back there. Still, because of the grand, open door in the front and the depth of the retail space at the Benetton, you can still get a sense of how the cinema may have looked from the street, and of the lobby space inside.
There are cinemas that are now theatres, like the old Cyrano in the eleventh arrondissement, which has been remade into the Théâtre de Bastille. There are cinemas that have been torn down and replaced with churches, as in the case of the late Ciné-Magic on the rue de Charonne in the eleventh arrondissement, now the less playfully named Église Néo-Apostolique. And there are sites, like the old Cinéma des Champs-Elysées, on the city’s most famous thoroughfare, that are now car dealerships, in this instance for Mercedes-Benz.
We should also count, though, the spectacular preservation projects. In the tenth arrondissement, the gigantic, faux-Egyptian Louxor cinema, which opened in 1921, had been in disrepair for decades. The city of Paris bought the property and restored the Louxor to what it once had been, although with several screens rather than one. When my daughter and I went to see the Louxor in 2013, the newly-released Franco-Moroccan film Né quelque part was playing there, along with other films from North Africa.
New cinemas are also still being built. In 2016, the Gaumont company, which for so many years operated so many cinemas in Paris and the rest of France, opened Les Fauvettes in the thirteenth arrondissement on the site of an old music hall. By the end of Les Fauvettes’ first year of operation, the films ranged from L’Atalante (1934) to Harry Potter et la chambre des secrets (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ), and from Madame de… (1953) to Bridget Jones’Baby (2016).
As I mentioned earlier, the point of all of this is not to bemoan the passing of so many cinemas. The same might be said about bookstores in the city, or the stores that used to sell old magazines, or records. The cinematic geography of Paris has of course changed. But there are still plenty of cinemas there, and it’s still possible to find many more, with the help of newspapers and film magazines from the period and also after just a brief archaeological dig through restaurants and clothing stores and automobile showrooms.