Gaumont Les Halles : The Last show
December 31, 1998, the Gaumont Les Halles closed down after nineteen years of existence.
The opening week (above) and the closing week (below).
The complex was almost taken over by a smaller circuit, but this won't be done. It is the first closure of a movie theater in Paris since the end of 1995, when the Publicis Saint-Germain et the first smallest auditoriums of the UGC Biarritz (near the Champs-Elysées) closed down, after their buildings had been sold. A few months later, the largest auditorium of the Biarritz, which had become the Majestic Biarritz, closed down too because the attendance dropped and became a restaurant.
The six-screen theater opening in October 1979 in the brand new "Forum Des Halles". It could accomodate up to 1,300 patrons. On the opening week were played : "Courage Fuyons" (a French comedy, in the largest auditorium), "Apocalypse Now" (dubbed in French!), "Le Toubib" (a French drama), "La Luna", "Wise Blood" and "The Champ". In the lobby, six waiting lines, or "bowling alleys", were formed by metal bars. Since the opening, first shows started around noon, at a reduced fare. For a time, no shows started later than 9 pm because of security problems in the mall. In the first few months, tickets were always sold at the last moment, and prevented you from seeing the previews.
My first several visits, I was desperately trying to see the "LARGE AUDITORIUM" at last, until I found out there was none. All the auditoriums were medium-sized, with 6 or 7 meters (20 to 25 ft) wide screens. They all had more or less the same width. Because of the mall, the ceiling was too low, and did not allow bigger screens.
Theater 1 was located left of the box office. It was very long. You had to go up three steps to get in, which allowed a slight slope, and the screen was high, and one of the smallest in the complex. Viewing a movie rom the last row had a lot of common with television. I saw "1941" there, and it suffered from the small screen. On the wall, stripped cloth (different colours in every auditorium), and fluorescent tubes clicked when turned on.
Other auditoriums were more pleasant, especially for the late seventies. Some of them had a slight slope to improve viewing conditions. Every auditorium, except theaters 3 and 6, had screen curtains, that opened from one side to the other (space problems). Black bars bordered the image.
The complex changed a little bit during its life. Waiting lines disappeared, the box office opened and moved closer to the entrance, make the place friendlier. Theater 1 and 3 first got Dolby Stereo sound, the others came after. Theater 1 had a very impressive Bose bass cannon. It was equipped with SDDS sound, which was only used a couple of times.
From the opening, programming was original, with a combination of art movies in their own languages and popular movies, French speaking or dubbed in French. For a while, all foreign movies were dubbed in French, until "version originale" (movies played in their own languages) became the rule. Few epic movies were played after the opening of the Forum Horizon (the Gaumont Les Halles had not been the best place to see 1941 and Alien...), except for a few Gaumont movies like "The Big Blue", "Léon", "The Fifth Element", or recently "The Horse Whisperer".
Recently, after the transformation of the Forum Horizon in UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles with 15 auditoriums, and its extension to 19 auditoriums, the attendance dropped (from 550,000 to 320,000 viewers in seven years), although 11am shows at 25 Francs (the lowest price in Paris) remained a big success, and Gaumont decided to close down the complex.
Many thanks to Jean-Paul Théry and Delphine (Gaumont) for their support, and to Jean-Louis Garnier and all the staff for their help and kindness.
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