If the state of Today’s Cinema has you lying awake at night, weeping softly into your pillow as you mourn the imminent death of the Seventh Art — if you despair of ever again living in a world where movies are appreciated and enjoyed and valued, as products of human creativity and cultural expression that are worthy of both study and celebration — if such ruminations are putting you into a depressive state, then drop everything and pack your bags: the Cinema is alive and well and thriving, and all you need to get in on the fun is a plane ticket, a French phrase book, and a wallet full of euros.
The City of Light is a city deeply in love with the screen. While New York and Los Angeles may lay claim to being superpowers of film production, Paris is indisputably the world capital of the movie audience. In a land that struggles with an international reputation for cold aloofness and hoity-toity arrogance, the affection and enthusiasm that Parisians display for the movies is disarming: with a warm, earnest, inclusive and utterly un-self-conscious puppy-love, the people in this mecca of cultural sophistication devour every scrap of celluloid that can be projected onto a screen, scarcely discriminating between obscure Romanian melodramas and the latest Adam Sandler cringe-fest. All are eagerly anticipated, publicized, reviewed, discussed, and weighed with equal interest and respect, if not always admiration. There’s a frankly charming innocence and an open-mindedness in the French attitude and the way that each new release is received, a genuine interest, and a sense that movies are being enjoyed for all the right reasons, regardless of cultural or commercial pretensions.
There are spots in Paris — the block around the Odeon Metro stop on the throbbing, stylish Boulevard Saint Germain, for instance, or the narrow, fabled alleyways of the student-centric Latin Quarter — where you can stand within sight of three movie theaters, all showing a different slate of films on a given night. There are a few mega-multiplexes — one that I’ve frequented has a dozen screens, plus a chic cafe and a large classy shopping area that sells books, DVDs, and home decor — but the majority of theaters have two or three screens and different screenings each night of the week. Some specialize in mainstream Hollywood and French blockbusters, others in contemporary, “serious” international offerings, and still others in retrospectives of classics, both well-known and obscure. Last night I went to a 7 p.m. showing of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (here translated as “La Taupe” - The Mole) in a packed multiplex theater, then walked a few blocks to a two-screen moviehouse in a quiet back alley, in time for the 9:30 screening ”The Magnificent Ambersons” in 35mm, part of a two-week RKO festival. A couple weeks ago I saw “L’Amour dure trois ans” [“Love Lasts Three Years”], a popular, mildly irritating French romantic comedy, in a packed room with stadium seating; a few days later, it was ”Hugo” in 3D at an old-timey filmotheque, where the lobby was decked in dark red wallpaper and hanging lamps and the original projection equiptment was visible behind glass as you made your way up the cramped staircase to the theater.
And there’s no end in sight. The moviegoing culture here is thriving, because going to the movies is a cherished and vibrant mode of participation in the culture itself. In America, industry executives may be wringing their hands, fearing impending doom — but they have only to hop across the pond to see that, in fact, the movies are alive and well: it’s the audience that makes the difference.
By Madeline Whittle