Paris Match: Let’s Go to the Movies
By Theadora Brack
As promised, this week we’re going to shimmy back up to the hill of Montmartre, and pay homage to my favorite movie house in Paris, Cinema Studio 28. Don’t forget to pack your fancy duds, too, because we’ll also trek it back in time again with photographer Maurice Sapiro. Winding it back to the summer of 1956: While playing the trumpet with the 279th Army Band in France, Maurice documented the streets of Paris, deftly improvising with light and architectural texture like a jazz musician. Inspired by the Lumière Autochrome color film process, Maurice’s shots still snap, crackle and pop, much like the City of Light herself. In the words of John Milton, “Come and trip it as you go, on the light fantastic toe!” Step right up. Here’s your ticket!
Trekking to Paris? Why not take in a film? After all, cinema is as French as Camembert cheese. In fact, both date back to around the time of the Revolution. Moving pictures got their start in the 1790s when enterprising showman Étienne-Gaspard Robertson began charging admission to weird magic lantern horror shows he called phantasmagoria, projected on the walls of a crypt down under the ruins of the old Capuchin crypt near the Tuileries. Apparently, “the Great Robertson” also invented the zoom, the dolly shot, and the pan.
“I am only satisfied if my spectators, shivering and shuddering, raise their hands or cover their eyes out of fear of ghosts and devils dashing towards them; if even the most indiscreet among them run into the arms of a skeleton!” he said. Bonjour, Goosebumps!
Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
Now, movies as we know them today came along a century later, when the Lumière brothers patented perforated movie film and invented the cinematograph (which could not only shoot movies but develop and project them as well). In 1895 they held the first public screenings ever, at the Grand Café near the Paris Opéra. Later they invented color photo film too, but that’s whole other reel!
Time marches on: Dear fellow news junkies, we have the Pathé Brothers to thank for introducing the news reel to theaters in 1908. They also experimented with hand-colored film. Try watching their footage of Loïe Fuller’s “Serpentine Dance” without grabbing your very own bed sheets and giving it a whirl. I’ve tried but no can do.
Lights! Crepe! Action! Here’s the deal: On November 5, 1892, Marie-Louise Fuller (a.k.a. “the Priestess of Fire”) became an overnight sensation at the Folies Bergère after she performed her signature twirls while decked out in billowing Chinese silks, under rotating jewel-colored spotlights projected from above. Looking very much like a life-sized origami in motion, she transformed modern dance in one fell swoop. Like wild fire, word spread. A star was born. Soon the Grand Magasins du Louvre and Bon Marché were selling Loïe-inspired skirts, ties, and scarves. Enraptured by Paris’s “Electric, Salome,” even bars and cafés hopped on the fan wagon, and created flaming cocktails, donning the dancer’s name.
In 1900, the New York Times wrote: “Loïe Fuller’s inimitable fire dance is the boldest and most marvelous that has ever appeared in spectacular dancing in any epoch. Between the dream world and reality, inhabits the darkness with never-to-be-forgotten apparitions.” Or as one critic cooed, “She delivers dance from the high kicks and tutus!”
The Hills are Alive!
Now, let’s trot on over to Studio 28 at 10 Rue Tholozé. With just 170 seats and about ten screenings a week, it has earned a special place in the annals of cinema. Founded in 1928 (hence the name), it immediately carved a niche in history as the world’s first avant-garde art theater when it showed films by Abel Gance in “Polyvision,” a technique involving three synchronized projectors to show the first wide-screen movies.
Fast Forward: Two years later, Studio 28’s fame was secured when Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel premiered one of the first surrealist films there: “L’Age d’Or” (The Golden Age). Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller went to see it, and afterwards Miller praised it as “pure cinema and nothing but cinema.” But an angry mob was apparently somewhat less impressed—upset by its sacrilegious symbolism, they attacked the theater, threw ink on the screen and destroyed an art display in the lobby that included works by Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró and Max Ernst (who starred in the film). After that, programming took a lighter approach when it introduced France to comedies by Ernest Lubitsch, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and Frank Capra.
Before you go
Today, Studio 28 provides a delightful experience while remaining relatively inexpensive compared to other Paris movie theaters. During July, it offers a special reduced-fare series featuring international classics along the lines of “Rebel Without a Cause”, “East of Eden”, “Roman Holiday”, and “Double Indemnity”, among others. The cinema offers a rare opportunity to experience films the way they were before the multiplex—it’s no wonder that Audrey Tautou’s “Amélie Poulain” headed to Studio 28 every Friday.
Also to note: Studio 28 maintains a rotating display of artwork, and showcases the hand- and footprints of famous actors and directors who have premiered films there.
Sweet Spot: A bar at the end of the lobby opens onto a small beer garden (enclosed in winter) where you can sit and have a drink or some snacks before the show. Once you’ve entered the auditorium, settle into your plush red seat, let your eyes adjust to the dark, and make sure you check out the old piano nearby. It last saw serious use when Charlie Chaplin showed his movies here. The large set of surrealist light fixtures in the same auditorium were created by artist and film director Jean Cocteau. Monsieur Cocteau called Studio 28 “a cinema of masterpieces and a masterpiece of a cinema.” I think you’ll agree.
Please note: Cinema Studio 28 is closed during the month of August.
Other favorite cinemas
La Pagode (57 rue de Babylone, 7th arrondissement), looks like a Japanese temple. It was built for the wife of the founder of Au Bon Marché, the oldest department store in the city.
Le Balzac (just off the Champs-Elysées at 1 rue Balzac) will make you feel like you’re on a steamship bound for a distant land, thanks to its porthole-and-riveted-steel-hatchways ocean liner decor.
At La Péniche Cinéma that particular aesthetic is carried even further, as the theater actually is a ship—well, a barge, anyway—docked at Parc de la Villette each winter, and then moored at La Villette canal basin all summer.
Le Grand Rex is by far the city’s largest and flashiest theater. Located at 1 boulevard Poissonnière (between Metros Grands Boulevards and Bonne Nouvelle), this humongous movie palace was erected in 1932 at the height of the Art Deco movement. It can seat audiences of 5,000.
Pinching from Henry Valentine Miller YET again: “Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Carpe diem!
Grab my hand. Let’s take a spin around Montmartre with Maurice Sapiro.
(Thank you, Maurice!)