THS member Howard Haas from Philadelphia recently returned from a vacation in France and shares his observations of surviving historic movie theaters in Paris and in Strasbourg.
Upon arrival in Paris, buy a copy of Pariscope magazine for only .40 Euro (about fifty cents), in order to chose among hundreds of movie theaters. Movies are sometimes shown in their original language version (VO) with French subtitles added, but are sometimes dubbed into French. Unlike in some other European cities, seating is general, not reserved. In regard to Paris cinemas, Howard focused on surviving movie palaces in downtown Paris.
Flagship historic theaters are located in two different downtown Paris commercial centers. The earlier area is centered at the famous historic Opera. Near the Opera are two famous, bustling, upscale department stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, both of which have glorious, stained glass atriums and three buildings each (for home, clothes for women, and clothes for men).
In that historic Opera area in 1927, the PARAMOUNT was built as a two thousand seat movie palace with a beautiful neoclassical facade. Here is Howard’s photo of the since renamed Gaumont Opera, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/7187/photos/908 . Howard found it very cool that it even has a “Gaumont Opera” flag flying above, and so he photographed the flag: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/7187/photos/44090 Without a ticket, you can visit the lobby with its marble and pretty Art Deco metalwork. The auditorium has been divided up, and the building now has seven screens. A few of the auditoriums and screens are reportedly very large. This website has photos, http://www.silverscreens.com/param_en2.html
The former Paramount is listed by Gaumont by its “Capucines” street address because that chain has two other multiplexes nearby. One, the GAUMONT OPERA PREMIERE, is notable because its immense 1930s Art Deco facade was built for a movie palace. In the 1990s, only the facade survived. A new six screener emerged inside. In the largest, 400 seat auditorium, Howard enjoyed the Wall Street thriller “Margin Call.” Howard’s photos are here: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/8254/photos
A short distance away is the GRAND REX, built in 1932 with 3500 seats, an Art Deco exterior and lobbies and an atmospheric auditorium which had an assist by John Eberson. On a prior trip, Howard enjoyed a movie in that auditorium, which is now the grandest palatial movie auditorium surviving in Paris. Seven additional auditoriums have been added to the theater. Silver Screens photos:
Near the Grand Rex is the MAX LINDER PANORAMA, opened in 1914 with 1,200 seats and totally renovated by every generation since. Still a single screen, it is now plain in design, sits 700 on three levels, has superb surround sound, and for years has showcased art films. From the upper balcony, Howard appreciated the indie British melodrama “Tyrannosaur” and photographed the huge screen, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/16578/photos/44086
The other downtown district with surviving movie palaces is the famous Avenue des Champs-Elysees. It is large enough, and busy enough with customers, that the same movies are often shown at both metro (subway) stops, at George V and at Franklin D. Roosevelt. On the exteriors of the movie theaters, there is neon and many huge movie posters, but not the ornate architecture of the Grand Rex or the Paramount.
The UGC GEORGE V, now an 11 screener, had its roots in 1952 as the single screen George V, and that single screen still survives. Though not understanding more than a few words of French, Howard was able to understand the plot of a French family comedy, Les Vacances de Ducobu, from the balcony of that original auditorium, now plain in architectural style. Nearby is the UGC NORMANDIE now a four screener, originally built in 1937 with 1940 seats. In his last trip, in 2009, Howard immensely enjoyed another comedy, Le Petit Nicholas, in its now flagship auditorium, the former balcony which has exotic wood, 865 seats and a huge screen.
Near the FDR stop are two historic cinemas operated by Gaumont. The AMBASSADE was built in 1959 with 1100 seats, and now has seven screens. Howard’s night time photo from 2009: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6928/photos/44728
The MARIGNAN with its grand rotunda lobby, opened in 1933 with 1800 seats, and now has six screens. The original auditoriums in both theaters have been divided up, but Howard did not visit either yet to report.
Far away from Paris, in the Alsace region of eastern France, in the former German town of STRASBOURG, there are several surviving historic cinemas, but two stand out. The VOX is Art Moderne and now has six screens. Howard’s photos here, though he notes that his camera changes the red neon at night into an orangey yellow:
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/29298/photos The ODYSSEE has had another screen added, but its original screen, built in 1913 as the Union Theater and modeled after Berlin’s Union Theater, still survives with its beautiful neoclassic design. It has 260 seats, and hosts concerts as well as movies. At 9 AM, walking by, Howard spotted it open and inquired what was showing in the main auditorium that evening. The theater staffer asked Howard if he would like to see the auditorium? Ah, yes. Howard’s auditorium photos didn’t come out well, but take a look at these: http://www.photo-alsace.com/photos-cinema+odyssee+strasbourg+alsace.html
Howard also notes that everywhere, the French were very nice to him and none less so when upon asking, they found out he is an American.