Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 1

14 Jul

I spent a week in Paris, July 1-7, and even though I wasn’t there to see movies, I did photograph a number of theaters and movie posters and various locations attesting to the city’s ongoing cinephilia, including a visit to a treat-filled video store up the block from my hotel. And I did get to see one movie while I was there.

Me and Bette on a Paris street

One of the first things I noticed on my first day as I got out of the train at the subway station near my hotel was a huge poster for a movie I’d never heard of that had opened in Paris in June:

What struck me was the presence in the cast of four major names—well, at least names that were familiar to moviegoers in the U.S. once upon a time: Tom Sizemore, Bokeem Woodbine, Danny Trejo and Steven Bauer, along with Taryn Manning who starred in HUSTLE AND FLOW about nine years ago. So this is where aging American characters actors were going for work—to France! However, the IMDB listing for this film insists it’s an American film. A search on Amazon when I got home revealed that it went straight to DVD in the U.S.

After I settled into my hotel I took a walk up the street to get some Euros, a cell phone and some Metro tickets. Along the way, I discovered Videosphere, a video store near my hotel on the Boulevard St. Michel that seemed to have everything.

The big surprise for me was the prevalence of VHS on the rental shelves. Of course, the tapes would be in the PAL Secam system, making them unplayable on VCRs in the U.S., but, still, the idea of a well-stocked video store keeping VHS copies on hand of titles that are probably not available on DVD warms this VHS preservationist’s heart.

What also struck me was the heavy auteurist bent of the cataloguing system used for the Classic Hollywood section. I can’t imagine an American video store offering sections devoted to Gordon Douglas (somebody I’ve been meaning to write about here) and Stuart Heisler, let alone Charles Vidor and Mark Sandrich, not even the old Greenwich Village mainstay, Kim’s Video.

I would go back for more visits and make other discoveries and even a purchase of two DVDs, but first let’s walk in the area north of the hotel and see what theaters were there.

This is the Cinema du Pantheon, which was screening Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, in 3-D, with English subtitles, but at inconvenient times for me (1PM every day).

Right next to it was La Librairie du Cinema du Pantheon, a bookstore devoted to film books.

It was open when I took this photo so I should have gone in then. I don’t recall why I didn’t. When I took closer shots, the store was closed, so I never managed to enter it.

Around the corner is the Studio Luxembourg Cinema Accattone (just called Cinema Accattone on the exterior):

It also offered the Godard film, also in 3-D with English subs, but at way more convenient times for a man who would be devoted to sightseeing later in the week: 8PM and 9:30PM every evening. (Of course, they wrote it out as 20h and 21:30h, which required the use of my fingers to figure out what times that meant—yes, there are all kinds of learning curves overseas.) So I made plans to squeeze this film in on one of my free evenings.

There were more theaters in the area, but I wouldn’t discover them till further walks later in the week, on Sunday and Monday, just before I returned home. In the meantime, jump ahead a few days to Saturday July 5 and my trip to Versailles in honor of all the Marie Antoinette movies I have (well, two of them) and the Marie Antoinette anime series I’ve watched 16 episodes of so far, “Rose of Versailles.”

On the way home on the subway (you say metro, I say subway), I made a last-minute decision to skip the Eiffel Tower and go straight to the Cinematheque Francaise, provided I could figure out from the maps and Time Out Paris how to get there by train. I did, so I went. Unfortunately, it took 105 minutes (like going from upper Manhattan to Coney Island) and by the time I found the entrance of the Cinematheque on Rue de Bercy, it was 6:30 PM and the place was due to close at 7PM. There was an exhibit I wanted to see called “Le Musée Imaginaire d’Henri Langlois,” a tribute to the legendary film collector who co-founded the Cinematheque after the war and was famous for his devotion to saving everything and not just the agreed-upon “classics.” Back in the 1970s, I had read Richard Roud’s biography of Langlois, A Passion for Films: Henri Langlois & the Cinematheque Francaise and was very impressed by his personality and accomplishments. I should stop here and point out that I don’t speak French and was grateful to find so many bilingual Parisians in positions of customer service.

In any event, I was told at the entrance to the Cinematheque that the exhibit could only properly be appreciated if given an hour or an hour-and-a-half to stroll through it. I opted to see what I could. After going to the cashier and asking for a ticket for this exhibit I was sold a ticket for less than what they said it would cost and told to go to the second floor. I did and found that I was at the main museum exhibit and not at the special Langlois exhibit. I had been sold the wrong ticket and was told I’d have to go back to the cashier and exchange it for the right ticket and pay the extra Euros required. But, I insisted, I’d told her which ticket I wanted. Nonetheless I was told to go back downstairs or just be satisfied with seeing this exhibit. You’d think they could have cut this wronged American tourist some slack and let me go up to the 5th floor for the Langlois exhibit without all this hassle, especially since time was getting short, but no. In retrospect, I should have just seen what I could on the second floor, but stubbornly, I went back down and went through the lengthy process of exchanging the ticket. By the time I got up to the 5th floor for the Langlois exhibit, it was 6:40 PM. It was a text-and-picture-heavy exhibit requiring a lot of reading. Plus lots of abstract paintings whose connection to Langlois and the Cinematheque could only be discerned through reading lots of tiny panels. I searched in vain for something that spoke to Langlois’ essence. A proper tribute would have been piles of cans of 35mm film, some of them open and free to be touched and held up to the light. But there was nothing like that. I pleaded with the 5th floor clerk to let me go down to the second floor and see what I could before the place closed. She said she would call her colleague there, whom I’d already dealt with once, and make the request. I took the elevator and when I got out on the second floor, I could hear the clerk laughing and saying “Americain.” They were clearly making fun of this high-maintenance American. Yes, folks, I was “that guy.” I approached her with a big smile on my face and she waved me through. There was lots of good stuff on this floor.

Recognize this?

Yep, the original “Maria” robot suit from Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1927).

Within minutes, though, a guard approached me and started yelling at me in French. I pleaded ignorance. I assumed he wanted me to leave because it was near closing. I pointed to my watch, which said 6:50 PM and said, “I still got ten more minutes.” He barked some more. When he pointed at my camera I immediately put it in my jacket pocket and showed him my empty hands. “See? No camera.” He kept barking at me in French. I passed a magnificent-looking 35mm projector that was about 100 years old and I stopped to “ooh” and “ahh” over it. He barked some more. Soon I was out of there and back in the lobby.

I went over to where the adjoining theater was and checked out their schedule. When I figured out that 19h meant 7PM, I realized that a film I wanted to see, Part 2 of Kinji Fukasaku’s THE YAKUZA PAPERS, was being shown in 35mm in five minutes! However, I checked with the guy selling film tickets and learned it was in Japanese with French subtitles. I have this film on DVD at home with English subs and it’s part of a series that definitely requires English subs to appreciate, so I decided against my one chance to see a film at the Cinematheque Francaise. Instead, I went back to the area around my hotel to see the Godard film, ADIEU AU LANGUAGE, at 8PM.

What is there to say about the Godard film? If you’ve seen any of his films of the last 40 years, you know what to expect. Which is to say, I didn’t, since the last new Godard film I saw was NUMERO DEUX, back in 1976! There’s no real plot, just a couple of characters who interact occasionally and make sweeping statements like:

“A woman can do no harm. She can annoy. She can kill. No more.”

“There is no nudity in nature. Animals are not naked because they are naked.”

“If Russians become European, they’ll never be Russian again.”

“Soon everyone will need an interpreter to understand the words coming out of their own mouths.”

Not every line was subtitled. The 3-D was a real eyestrain. For every 3-D shot that had the illusion of depth, there were five or six that were way out of sync. There were references to Frankenstein, including a scene where the main character, dressed as Mary Shelley, reads from her book, in English. There are clips from the following films, with the actors seen in the clips listed: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931), featuring Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins; THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1951), featuring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner; and METROPOLIS (1927) featuring Rudolph Klein-Rogge and Brigitte Helm. The latter clip was quite a coincidence considering I’d seen the actual Maria robot suit used in the film at the Cinematheque just over an hour or two earlier.

I mentioned to the friendly cashier that I’d had a problem with the 3-D and wasn’t sure if it was the projection or the film itself. She was pretty sure it was Godard’s “choice” to make things difficult for the viewer, but she suggested I chat with the projectionist when he arrived, which would be any minute now. (Why he wasn’t there for the actual showing wasn’t explained.) In any event, I soon grew tired of waiting and left.

Here’s an image of Langlois’ film can-filled bathtub that illustrates the kind of physical exhibit I’d like to have seen in the Langlois exhibit:

In Part 2, I’ll visit other sites around Paris, go back to the video store a few more times and discover more theaters near my hotel.

5 Responses to “Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 1”

  1. Ed Rampell July 14, 2014 at 9:20 PM #

    What a great good fun story! In addition to being a brilliant writer about all things cinematic, Mssr. Camp would likewise be an excellent travel writer!!! I loved this story about the City of Light from the POV of movies there by one of my longtime favorite film writers! Can’t wait to read Part II! What a joy!

  2. Mo July 14, 2014 at 9:48 PM #

    I can’t see any of the scores of pictures you took in 1991 when we toured around Richmond – Monument Ave., Bojangles’ statue, etc. – but you manage to post all this barely out of jetlag! Bro, your passion and interest in film have always been contagious, and I sure appreciate all you exposed me/us to, and shared. I wonder which Godard’s filmes I saw? Next time you go to Paris, perhaps I come too, and put my 7 years of studying the language to the test.

  3. Robert Regan July 15, 2014 at 2:45 PM #

    Most cool, Brrian! Eager for more!

  4. Marc J. July 15, 2014 at 6:08 PM #

    Brian, you did all of this in one week in Paree’ Did you you speak with subtitles?
    Le Cie Manifiq”

  5. Maryann Chach July 16, 2014 at 11:20 AM #

    Vive le cinema! Je t’aime Paris. Loved your quirky, cineaste tour de Paris. Steve & I went to Paris in April (after 28 years) and we did make it to the Cinematheque Francaise. It’s a wonderful space — what I love is the story about how it came to be the Cinematheque. The Frank Gehry building was commissioned as an American cultural center and supposedly the Americans didn’t know — except in some general way – how the building was going to be used. Well, the construction was over budget and then it was too expensive to operate and they finally sold it at a heavy discount to the French. Also love that the building is on Place Leonard Bernstein.

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