Silver Screens

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Focus On Movie Theaters

Being a moviegoer in Paris and its suburbs wasn't always a rewarding experience in the late seventies or early eighties.

The capital was divided into several main areas :

  • The Champs-Elysées (large single-screen movie theaters divided into three to six auditoriums complexes, at least one of them being large, and some medium size single-screen movie theaters, movies being played in their own languages (in V.O., for Original Version). Back then, the Champs-Elysées was the only place to consider if you wanted to see a major movie in a large theater without the dreadful French dubbed version (aka V.F., for French Version).

  • The Latin Quarter (usually very small movie theaters showing "art-et-essai" (art or research) movies in "V.O." on one, two or three small screens, and some small UGC and Pathé four or five screen complexes).

  • Popular Areas - Grands Boulevards/Opéra, Place Clichy and to a lesser extent Montparnasse - (often similar to the Champs-Elysées, among them some beautifuls places like "Le Grand Rex" and its 2,800 seats, or the largest auditorium of the Paramount, but all movies are dubbed in French).

  • Places attracting people living nearby - Alésia, Convention, 16th arrondissement, Gobelins... - (smaller complexes, French dubbed versions for all movies).

  • The Suburbs. Especially complexes, some born from the division of large movie theaters in towns like Versailles, Enghien, or smaller ones in Nogent-Sur-Marne or Villeneuve-Saint-Georges; others entirely built in or adjacent large malls (Créteil, Boulogne, Noisy-Le-Grand, Rosny-Sous-Bois, Vélizy, Evry, Les Ulis...).

Boulogne - Largest Theater Gaumont Ouest Boulogne. The largest auditorium is decent, with its 10 meter (33 ft) wide screen
The same Gaumont Ouest, a medium size auditorium. No comments! The seven screen complex, open in 1981, would never live to see its tenth birthday. Boulogne - Salle Moyenne
Efficiency was the winning word. Movies were played the worst ways possible, and screens got smaller and smaller (the French called them "écran timbre-poste", or "écran mouchoir de poche", for stamp size or tissue size screen!). It was almost mandatory to tip the usher, however nice or hepful she had been, or you might get yelled at in front of all the audience. The most widely heard sentence was "This auditorium is really small!" All that made viewers regret they didn't stay home and watch tv.

Little maintenance was done. The brown seats, the carpet and even the screens could be in terrible shape. And decoration could be called sober. Remember, this was the seventies. Aluminum outside, orange, brown, green and mauve inside. How tasteful!

The minds changed in the early eighties, when Jean-Jacques Zilberman and his friends took over the Escurial, and gave it a 10 meter wide screen, Dolby Stereo sound, and even sometimes 70 mm movies, before doing the same thing - on a larger scale - to the Max Linder, a single screen movie theater formerly operated by Parafrance, which could accomodate 800 people.

And Jean-Pierre Lemoine, who had earlier "committed" a terrible seven screen "Forum Orient Express", impressed everyone when he opened the "Forum Horizon", a beautiful six screen movie theater, all but one in Dolby Stereo, four of them medium or large, the largest one equipped with THX (THX was uncommon in France at that time; unfortunately, it still is), where moviegoers loved to see major movies.

Lately, Dolby Stereo sound developed (UGC is the only big circuit left with many of its auditoriums still equipped in obsolete mono sound, but renovation seems to be on its way, and hopefully this should be nothing but bad memories soon), many screens widened, sometimes after some digging in the underground to increase the volume, or even by putting down the wall between halls 3 and 4 of the Gaumont Marignan (formerly Pathé Marignan) to make a beautiful 400 seat auditorium with a 12 meter (40 ft) wide screen. UGC created the "UGC Prestige" label, Gaumont the"Gaumontrama", and later the superb "Grand Ecran", place d'Italie (13th arrondissement).

Most of the new complexes are larger (they call them multiplexes, or even mega-multiplexes or megaplexes), more beautiful, and very small screens - almost - disappeared.

Gaumont Disney Village, near Mickey's

In its 2 1/2 year existence, the nineteen screen UGC Ciné Cité has become the second most visited movie theater in France, badly harming the oldest and smallest locations in the Latin Quarter. Like the Pathé Wepler (Place de Clichy) and the Gaumont Parnasse (in Montparnasse), each with twelve screens, it attracts many at its morning cheaper shows (27 or 29 Francs instead of more than 50 usually), and old complexes which renovated such as the UGC Normandie, the Gaumont Marignan the Rex and the Paramount Opéra were able to keep their audience.

In the suburbs, the Pathé Belle-Epine, the UGC Ciné Cité Rosny and the Gaumont Disney Village are triumphant, Jean-Pierre Lemoine's (the one who built the Forum Horizon) seventeen-screen Megarama in Villeneuve-La-Garenne is a success. But after a few months, the nine screen Gaumont in Saint Denis (near "Le Grand Stade") is still almost empy, the only failure, so far, among the Parisian multiplexes.

Things could change a lot in Paris within the next few months : in November, the huge eighteen screen UGC Ciné Cité Bercy will be inaugurated; it will accomodate up to 4,000 visitors. After that, Gaumont will open a multiplex near the Aquaboulevard, and MK2 (formerly 14-juillet) should open a 13 screen multiplex (the first one in the world?) near the "Bibliothèque De France" (the brand new National Library).

In the suburbs, three auditoriums were added this summer to the UGC Ciné Cité in Rosny (15 screens now); four auditoriums and one thousand seats will be added to the twelve screen Pathé Belle Epine; thirty kilometers (twenty miles) South from Paris, in Evry, CGR (Circuit Georges Raymond) will transform the rather small and ugly five screen Espace Cinéma in a beautiful eleven screen Mega CGR. And not far away, in Corbeil, UGC intends to open a huge multiplex. Both multiplexes hope to get viewers who don't hesitate to drive to Belle Epine; downtown Corbeil, the small triple-screen Ariel would be completely remodelled and would present movies in V.O. (but wait before celebrating, this has been heard before...).

Houston AMC 30 Houston AMC 30. A huge 30 screen movie theater. Is it one of tomorrow's palaces?

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