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The Grand Rex


The Grand Rex

The Grand Rex

The Grand Rex was born in 1932. It is the last historic movie palace still open in Paris with the original auditorium. It is by far the largest auditorium in Paris, the only one over one thousand seats, ahead of the eight hundred seats of theater 3 of the Paramount Opera, and theaters 1 of the Normandie and the Bretagne.

The Grand Rex
Left, the main lobby, and its escalator (on the left), and the bar (on the right); the exit is located to the left, the entrance to the auditorium to the right, and the entrances to theaters 4 through 7 to the back.

At the beginning of the 30s, when the world was stuck in a terrible depression, cinema, which had been talking for a short while, helps people escape and dream. In 1930, Jacques Haïk, both visionary and a little bit crazy, buys the land at 1 Boulevard Poissonnière. He has already dreamt the movie theater he wanted in most details. He will only accept to reduce the number of seats, initially set to 5,000, to 3,200. The cinema will be inaugurated December 8, 1932, five years after its famous neighbor and nearest competitor, the Paramount.

The Grand Rex

The guests are greeted by eighty ushers. Inside, they find a beautiful starry sky and moving clouds; since the, this sky has filled with wonder generations of kids (how often could we hear things like "Look, we're outside!" or "It's dark already!" during Disney matinees). Because whatever the time on our watches, it's always the evening inside the auditorium. On its sides, it's hard to say whether we're in Spain, North Africa of Turkey. In the basement, first aid is available, along with a police station, a nursery, and a kennel. On the screen, "The Three Musketeers" is being played. A forty musician orchestra is present on the stage. The ventilation system makes sure cigarette smoke goes down to the ground without bothering other viewers (this is theory, as I've always seen the smoke going up, like every where else!)

The Grand Rex The auditorium today didn't change a lot since the opening day. The number of seats was slightly reduced to 2,750. It is now the last and only French theater with two balconies (like the Gaumont Palace, the Paramount or the Trianon used to have). The orchestra and the first balcony (called the mezzanine) have 950 and 500 large seats each and plenty of leg room. The second balcony (called the balcony) is very steepy, it has 1,300 seats. The sceen has a beige curtain, weighing several tons, colored in red by the lights.

At the end of every year for decades, a Disney movie is played at the Grand Rex for about six weeks. Before the movie, viewers can see the "Féerie Des Eaux", a spectacular show where thousands of gallons of water dance on the stage (like the Fountains of the Bellagio in Vegas, but in the auditorium). During these presentations, the attendance is huge (sometimes more than 30,000 per week, one screen!) For a couple of years, the Disney movie is release two weeks before every where else, and a short musical show is played on stage before the movie.

The Grand Rex

 

The screen is 16.90m (55ft) wide; all the width is used, only the height varies, from 745m (24ft) for cinemascope to 8.45m (28ft) in 1.85. Although these sizes are more than decent, it is a pity than the picture is smaller in cinemascope than in 1.85 (on the Champs-Elysées, the UGC Normandie used to have the same problem). This screen probably is the largest flat screen in Paris.

The Grand RexThe Grand Rex - The Grand Large screen
Left, the usual appearance of the auditorium; right, the Grand Large screen is rolled out

In 1988, as fierce competition rose from new theaters like the Forum Horizon and the Max Linder, that offered very large screens, and as UGC and Gaumont created the "UGC Prestige" and "Gaumontrama" labels, the Grand Rex got its new weapon: the Grand Large screen, inaugurated for Luc Besson's "The Big Blue". Just before the movie, this screen, rolled up near the screen, quietly rolls out in the dark on the sound of the Abyss theme. The Grand Large screen is truly a giant screen, since it is 24.90m (82ft) wide and 11.35m (37ft) high. It is the largest screen in Paris, ahead of the Gaumont Italie. During a Grand Large screening, the orchestra and the balcony are closed, because viewing would be most uncomfortable; only the balcony, and its 1,300 are open. Although the Grand Rex remains then the largest auditorium in France, it is impossible to use the Grand Large for some movies like Disney's, which often sell more than 2,00 tickets. A movie played in Grand Large gives a huge picture, and the fact that the screens is closer to the audience makes it look even bigger.

The Grand RexThe Grand Rex - The Grand Large screen

The Grand Rex - The Grand Large screen
Very unusual, the Grand Large screen, seen from the orchestra

 

The Grand Rex - La cabine de projection
The projection booth is located at the top end of the balcony. Since it is very high, the projection angle is important (and the screen is slightly leaning to the back). The Grand Rex can play movies in 70mm, although nothing new has been released in this format in quite a while. It is equipped in Dolby SRD and DTS (not EX or ES yet). Let's not forget that 70mm movies with 6 magnetic tracks could offer an excellent sound (I haven't forgotten the surround effects from "The Black Hole" more than twenty years ago).

Until the end of the 70s, the Grand Rex was the last auditorium with the Rotonde where smoking was allowed. The atmospheric system was supposed to prevent the cigarette smoke from bothering the viewers, but I never noticed anything different from any other places, as the smoke always went up in the air.

In 1981, the Rex got a gift one year ahead of its fiftieth birthday: it was listed as a historic monument, at the same time as the Cigale, the Eldorado, and the Luxor. Let's hope it'll bring it more luck, since all these the Cigale and the Eldorado became live theaters, as the Luxor has been abandoned for years with an uncertain future.

It's hard to describe the feeling when you see a movie along with more than two thousand people; this experience has very little to do with the 500 seat auditoriums in the best multiplexes. After a long wait in the cold, it feels like a very nice reward to enter this warm and beautiful place. I will never forget my first visit in this auditorium, when I came to see "The Empire Strikes Back", in 70mm of course!

The Rex hosted the famous "Festival du Film Fantastique", simply known as the "Festival du Rex", organized by the magazine "L'Ecran Fantastique". One week every year, the auditorium was packed with fans of horror movies. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Eventually, the festival moved out, because of fear of incidents (which never happened, by the way). Nowadays, the festival has been replaced by the "Nuit Des Publivores" (hours of commercials) or "Gloubi-Boulga" nights (tv series intended for kids in the 80s, and now watched by young adults).

Add for the "Festival du Film Fantastique" in "L'Ecran Fantastique" (1985)

 

Les autres salles

In 1973, three new auditoriums were built in the available volume in the basement, along with a night-club (the Rex Club, which has roughly the same size as theater 1).

Rex 2Rex 2
Rex 2Theater 2 (above and left) is the largest. It can accomodate 503 viewers, but the screen, which has a curtain, is only 8.50m (28ft) wide. It has a superb lighting which creats hundreds of stars. It has Dolby SRD.

 

Rex 1 Rex 1
Rex 1 Rex 1
Theater 1 (above) has 272 seats and the same 8.50 (28ft) screen, which looks nicer in a smaller auditorium. It also has Dolby SRD. Don't miss the sculpture on the left wall. These two auditoriums have a low ceiling, preventing from enlarging the screens.

 

Theater 3 offered one hundred seats and a small screen (about 4 meters, 13 feet wide), with a curtain. This auditorium was torn down to be replaced by the "Etoiles du Rex".

Next to the other side of the buiding, while more and more tickets were getting sold in movie theaters, four new auditoriums were built in 1986.

 

Rex 4Rex 4
Rex 4Theater 4 is the nicest and the best looking of all the smallest auditoriums. It was completely remodelled, and it now has stadium style seating. With 137 seats, it is the second smallest auditorium, but with its curved screen of 8.50m (28ft) (same size as theaters 1 and 2), it offers the best viewing conditions. It is a pity that the sound is only Dolby SR!

 

Rex 5Rex 5
Theater 5 (above) is shaped like a corridor, but the rows of seats are on a shallow rake, and the original screen was enlarged to 7.50m (25ft), a correct size in this auditorium. The sound is Dolby SR.

 

Rex 6Rex 6
Rex 6Theater 6 is the smallest. It has 100 seats, a small 4m50 (15ft) screen with a curtain, and mono sound.

 

Rex 7Rex 7
Theater 7 (above, and rather dark, sorry for the pictures quality!) looks like a smaller version of theater 5, with 155 seats on a shallow rake, a 5.5m (18ft) and Dolby SR.

 

The Rex mostly plays blockbusters, many of them American, but French too. Disney's animated movies and American blockbusters are very successfull there. Some movies were played in their original languages several years ago, but the experience didn't last, and all movies are dubbed in French now.


Left, an add in 1982
In the area, the Rex's main competitor is the Paramount Opéra. But it has to fight not to lose its customers to the new multiplexes in the suburbs (PathéBelle-Epine, UGC Ciné Cité Rosny-sous-Bois, Megarama Villeneuve-la-Garenne, and maybe soon UGC Ciné Cité Créteil). It was decided to transform the Rex into a fifteen screen multiplex. Of course, the main auditorium would be untouched. An adjacent building was bought. In the initial project, theater 4 wouldn't be changed; theaters 1 and 2 would get stadium style seating after some digging, and theaters 5, 6 and 7 would disappear. In the lastest project, every auditorium would be demolished, as well as the offices, located in the basement. The largest new auditorium would have 300 seats and a 16m (53ft) screen.

The Rex received all the authorizations it needed, but it also wants to build a 300 space parking garage in the basement of the new building, and the city hall refuses this, saying it would create traffic jams (the Sentier is the garment district, which makes it one of the most congested areas in Paris, and the movie theaters have little to do with this problem, but the new mayor probably wants people to know he's in power). The Rex declared it badly needed this parking garage, and that if it didn't get the authorization to build it, it would consider cancelling all expansion plans, which could cause the Rex to close down within the next couple of years. This perspective is really upsetting, especially at a time where our two largest single screen theaters in Paris are threatened (the Max Linder and the Kinopanorama), but an agreement will probably be found soon...

It is hard to figure how the large auditorium of the Rex could survive when all its main neighbours ended up divided (Paramount, Français), torn down (ABC), or divided AND torn down (Marivaux). The Rex bears a major testimony for the younger generations, who don't know what it was to go to movie palaces, even though it won't make it up for the loss of the Gaumont Palace and its 5,000 seats in the early 70s.

 

Les Etoiles du Rex

Les Etoiles du rex Imagined by the Rex director, Philippe hellmann, "Les Etoiles Du Rex" (literally the stars of the Rex) is a fifty minute visit that takes you behind the scenes. It will take you in the basement, in the ceiling, and where theater 3 used to be. The two themes are the Rex and special effects in movies.

Your guide will be a Jessica Rabbit look-alike, Manissa. The tour will begin in a room that recreates the tower of the Rex, with its three white letters, that dominates the building and the boulevard, even though it is actually in the basement.

Then comes the part that will enchant lovers of beautiful movie theaters: you enter a glass elevator located at the back of the stage, behind the screen. The movie can be seen from behind the screen (normal ou Grand Large), and through the screen, you can see the auditorium and the audience without being seen. The elevator stops at the top end of the building.

After that, you'll enter mock-ups of the director's office and the projection booth. A moving tunnel (don't fall down!) to the special effects section of the tour.

Finally, get seating in very comfortable amrchairs in a small luxurious private movie theater, to see a very surprising and entertaining western, with some stars you might know from somewhere; a gift shop ends the tour.

In a nutshell, the tour is especially made for a younger audience, but all beautiful movie theaters fans will enjoy it. The tour is available in English.
Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10am-7pm; tours start every five minutes. Tickets from 30 to 45 Francs; it is possible to buy combined tickets to see a movie.

Manissa, your guide during the visit of the "Etoiles Du Rex"

Below: 70mm, 2800 seats, "Féerie des eaux"... Anything that can attract the audience!

 

1980

 


1973

 


1978

Le Grand Rex - 1, Boulevard Poissonnière - 75002 Paris

www.legrandrex.com

Acknowledgements :
Thanks to the director and the staff of the Rex for their help and their patience.

Photo credits:
All pictures © Silver Screens 2001.
The "Etoiles Du Rex" pictures come from their brochure.