The Paris Cinema Project

When Dorothy Arzner’s Nana (1934) finally arrived in southwestern France, Bordeaux-Ciné put the news on the cover of its edition from October 26th, 1934. The trade journal announced that “Nana, with the great star Anna Sten, triumphs on the region’s screens.” Viewers in and around Bordeaux had been waiting long enough for Sten to get there. The movie had opened in Paris, at the chic Lord Byron cinema in the eighth arrondissement, six months before, in April.

With a few exceptions, that would be about right for most films in Bordeaux and surrounding cities. In 1937, the much-anticipated biopic, Un grand amour de Beethoven, with the great star Harry Baur, first showed in Paris in January, but only came to Toulouse in May. Even a fairly insignificant film, and one unknown to us today, Arlette et ses papas, from 1934 and starring Renée Saint-Cyr and Max Dearly, opened at the Marignan on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in mid-September, but didn’t arrive in Bordeaux until a month later. Only a very few films opened at once in Paris and elsewhere in France; when King Vidor’s Les Carrefours de la ville (City Streets [1931]) premiered at the Français-Paramount in Bordeaux in April, 1932, it had also only just opened in Paris, at Jean Tedesco’s Vieux-Colombier cinema, which had been founded as a showplace for avant-garde films but also showed some of the more significant movies from the United States and Europe.

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Bordeaux-Ciné, from October 26th, 1934, announces the “triumph” of Nana in the region

Most of the French film journalism from the period focused on Paris. In spite of that, however, or perhaps because of it, there were a number of film periodicals devoted to specific regions. The weekly Les Spectacles, for instance, covered northern France and Lille in particular, with an audience mostly of film exhibitors in that area. There were at least two trade journals for southwestern France, indicating the importance of the area to the film industry: Sud-Ouest Spectacles, which reported on Toulouse and Bordeaux somewhat equally, and then, of course, Bordeaux-Ciné, emphasizing the city in the title while also paying attention not only to Toulouse but also Albi, Montauban, Augoulême, Pau, and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Paris was often at the center of Bordeaux-Ciné, typically because that’s where movies opened. In May, 1937, for instance, the magazine could only hope wistfully for Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion to come to the region, with the film having just opened in Paris at the Marivaux cinema in the second arrondissement. But Bordeaux as well as Toulouse were very much the first film cities of southwestern France, as the tabloid could claim, for instance, also in 1937, that only after extended and exclusive runs there would the latest Marlene Dietrich film, Le Jardan d’Allah (The Garden of Allah [1936]), move out to Limoges, Perigueux, Libourne, and other, smaller cities in the area.

Bordeaux-Cine 10-26-34 Arlette

An advertisement, from the October 26th, 1934 issue of Bordeaux-Ciné, for Arlette et ses papas, at the Fémina-Pathé

Dietrich’s film, like Les Carrefours de la ville, had played at the Français-Paramount in Bordeaux, a cinema owned by the American film company, Paramount, and part of a wide chain of exhibition sites in France controlled by the studio (the chain’s flagship cinema in France was, naturally enough, in Paris, in the ninth arrondissement). It seems that, during the 1930s and at least until the surrender to Germany in 1940, the Paramount was one of two great cinemas in Bordeaux, along with the Olympia-Gaumont (part of another great, vertically integrated company).  Films might play at those two locations for several weeks, and only one film would play at a time. The other major cinemas there—the Fémina (part of the national Pathé chain), the Apollo, the Intendance, the Rex, and a few of others—would show new films and also major reprises, and often in double-bills. These were the cinémas d’exclusivité in Bordeaux, the major sites showing the best and newest films.


At the site of the Français-Paramount, on 2 rue Fénelon in Bordeaux, there is now a twelve-screen cinema

Throughout the ‘30s, Bordeaux had a population of around 250,000, more than enough to support other cinemas as well, the smaller cinémas des quartiers in the city’s neighborhoods. But if there were such cinemas, Bordeaux-Ciné never mentioned them. The tabloid did, however, provide a good sense of the important cinemas in other cities. In 1937, for instance, it announced the opening of a new cinema in Biarritz, Le Colisée, which would feature Clark Gable in Les Revoltés du Bounty (Mutiny on the Bounty [1935]) as its first film. There was also the Variétés in Toulouse, where Baur’s Beethoven biopic had played, as well as the Moderne in Lourdes.

Bordeaux-Ciné also tracked the popularity of films, at least to the extent that it could. From Toulouse, for instance, in January 1933, the journal reported that Marcel Pagnol’s Fanny (1932) earned almost six-hundred thousand francs at the box office, a record for any cinema in the city and more than double what the Toulouse municipal opera house earned during the same period. Then, in the late-spring of 1937, fans in the area wrote in about their favorite movies. Pagnol’s César (1936) was an overwhelming choice with about 16,000 votes, 4,000 more than the runner-up, Marcel L’Herbier’s 1935 melodrama, Veille d’armes, starring Annabella and Pierre Renoir. Pagnol, in fact, came up a number of times in Bordeaux-Ciné; in October, 1932, for instance, in the article, “When the Talking Film Remains Silent” (Quand le film parlant reste muet), extolling Fanny as the example proving that speech needn’t dominate the image.

Bordeaux-Cine 1-24-36 Listings Listing

From the January 24th, 1936 issue of Bordeaux-Ciné, the list of cinemas and films in Bordeaux

Then as now, Pagnol typically would be featured in discussions about sound in early-French cinema, often posed against his friend René Clair, who advocated for more active, inventive uses of sound (Hannah Lewis’ recent book, French Musical Culture and the Coming of Sound Cinema [Oxford; 2019] goes into the debate between the two filmmakers in detail). And, of course, the evidence would indicate that Pagnol’s films were popular throughout France. But it’s also possible that this Marseille-based filmmaker, well on the periphery of the Parisian film scene, might appeal particularly to fans living far away from Paris, and to a journal like Bordeaux-Ciné that fully understood the cinematic significance of Paris and the secondary status of every other region in France.

Bordeaux-Ciné reported on a range of issues, both local and national, from the performances of opera and ballet in the city to the decisions of the national censorship board, the Commission de Contrôle (in April 1940, for instance, the journal told readers that the commission approved a reissue of Renoir’s La Règle de jeu [1939], but would allow a reprise of Marcel Carné’s Le Jour se lève [1939] only after a few cuts were made). Bordeaux-Ciné maintained that coverage from the first issue in 1929 until 1940. The last available issue, however, from July of that year, shows that the periodical had fallen on hard times just after France’s June surrender to Germany, if not before.  There were fewer photos and advertisements, and the look was amateurish, as if it had been printed in someone’s basement, rather than glossy and professional, as it had been. But the record of more than a decade of publication of Bordeaux-Ciné reminds us that while Paris may have been the most important city for motion pictures in France, it was by no means the only one, and that regional film cultures and practices were always central to the construction of French national cinema.

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The last available issue of Bordeaux-Ciné, from July 5th, 1940