Just Above Sunset
February 6, 2005 - Our Man on Paris finds Bob L'Éponge

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A regular feature of Ric Erickson’s site MetropoleParis is Paris Posters – shots of at least four of the best posters slapped on the sides of Paris kiosks that week.


Friday night last week he sent this - 

Many posters for films on view this week are for films starting in the cinemas here next Wednesday.  After SpongeBob SquarePant's big week in US media it seems appropriate that the French version comes to us... as well.

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The ongoing SpongeBob SquarePants controversy was covered in Just Above Sunset here and here  And the French website for this film is here - with the words: UN HÉROS. UNE LÉGEND. UNE ÉPONGE. 


But wait!  There’s more.  Ric also adds -


With the Arab world so much in the news, it stands to reason that there has to be films about it too, as Iznogoud here shows.  One of the lead actors, Jacques Villeret, died this week.   Of what?  I must have missed that issue of Le Parisien.  Jacques was recently famous for the comedy, 'Diner des Cons.'


'Diner des Cons' (1988) was released here as “The Dinner Game” and you will see it on cable now and then, in French with subtitles.  You will find a synopsis here.

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So what is it with the French and their love of film?


Last week in the Los Angeles Times their resident film critic explained that.


Paris, with popcorn

Why visit this legendary city only to while away the hours in the recesses of its fantastic movie palaces? Film lovers say it's cinematic heaven.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2005


Turan opens with atmospherics -

Nobody writes songs about January in Paris.  It's cold and bleak, and the impenetrable rain clouds make 8 a.m. as dark as midnight.  It's perfect weather for going to the movies, which is what I do.


Yeah, yeah…  But the point?

Neither addicted to film nor blind to this city's inexhaustible charms, I go to the movies in Paris in all weathers and all seasons because it is, by a wide margin, the best place in the world to watch film. Los Angeles, London, even New York pale when it comes to the sheer number and variety of choices — about 300 titles, three times the best top U.S. cities can manage, and many of them in English. Paris' riches include a peerless selection of American films from Hollywood's golden age, playing every week of the year. After all, this was the first city to show films publicly (a plaque at 14 Boulevard des Capucines celebrates that Dec. 28, 1895, event), and it is loath to give up its preeminence.


The rest of the item covers odd films and major, and minor, venues.  He mentions a “sparkling version” of Jacques Tourneur's barely known 1951 female pirate movie, "Anne of the Indies," which he saw on his trip in early January.  Say what?

So why is Paris a good movie city?


Paris' position as the preeminent moviegoing city is not an accident; it flows from France's belief in and commitment to the art of film. This is a country that believes, more strongly and self-consciously than even America, that film is part of its heritage, its actual cultural identity.

Determined to preserve cinema's importance in society, the government prohibits TV broadcasters from showing films on Wednesday and Saturday nights, traditional French movie going evenings.


If film is part of our heritage, our actual cultural identity, one must weep for America when one thinks of “Smoky and the Bandit” and its sequels, and “Police Academy” and its sequels.

But back to Paris.  Turan mentions many theaters - the Panthéon at 13 Rue Victor-Cousin in the 5th arrondissement - the oldest movie house in Paris, and the first to show films in English.  And there’s La Pagode - 57 Rue de Babylone in the 7th arrondissement which started in 1895 as a ballroom for one of the wealthy owners of the Bon Marché department store.

But there is the new –


When I went to the MK2 Bibliothèque, Paris' hottest new theater complex, to see Pixar's "The Incredibles" (wonderfully retitled "Les Indestructibles"), I saw a superb spot with Asian actors and a soi-disant Wong Kar-Wai feel that inexplicably turned out to be an ad for Lacoste shirts.

This $30-million branch of the 44-theater MK2 chain, in a long, sleek glass-and-steel building in the shadow of France's controversial François Mitterrand National Library, is not only one of the best places to see new films, but it's also a cultural mini-city.

Starting with trademark passion-red two-person love seats as standard issue, the MK2 and its 14 auditoriums are as comfortable and current as theaters get. It even has electronic billboards that tell you how much time remains until a film ends and starts again and how many seats remain unsold in a given theater. Seeing a film here makes you feel as though you're not just going to a movie but participating in an elegant, sophisticated event.


Maybe so.  But Turan also recommends Le Grand Rex, on Boulevard Poissonnière in the 10th – and that is now a national historical monument.  He says Darryl F. Zanuck once used it as his private screening room.  More of that Ugly American thing, I guess.


For the masses?


Most of my moviegoing time in Paris was spent on a block of streets around the Odéon Métro stop in the Latin Quarter, a kind of celluloid triangle that's home to numerous small repertory houses. I've seen so many films in this neighborhood that when I glimpse the nearby statue of French Revolutionary leader Georges Danton, his arm thrust forward leading the sans-culottes to victory, I instinctively think he's screaming, "This way to the movies!"


No, no, no.  When in the Odéon area go to the Moosehead – the Canadian sports bar.  Ric and I both comment on it here. 

But Turan goes to all the movie houses there, and elsewhere in Paris.



It is poetically fitting, somehow, that this extraordinary range of cinematic largess should be in Paris.  Paris, with its stylishly dressed citizens and deeply romantic physical setting.  Paris, where every rainy street looks like a shadowy film-noir locale and the distinctive sound of police sirens unavoidably brings Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Gabin to mind.  Paris, the movie set of our dreams.


Ah, maybe so.



In a companion column Turan also covers film bookstores located in Paris and adds this –


Perhaps the largest, most wide-ranging of the film bookstores is Ciné Reflet, whose 14 Rue Serpente location in the Latin Quarter is near the major repertory cinemas that crowd around the Odéon Métro stop.

Under the watchful eye of Mr. Cinema, a former boxer who prefers not to give his real name and whose red gloves hang on the wall, this store displays a rich cornucopia of material that includes old projectors, soundtrack phonograph records (as diverse as "Popeye" and "Rocco and His Brothers"), even books in English.

This is a place to wander serendipitously, like an old attic, coming across copies of venerable French film magazines such as Mon Film from the 1930s and such oddities as back issues of the UniJapan Film Quarterly from the 1970s. A good selection of current French film magazines is also available.

One of Ciné Reflet's least expensive specialties is small flashcards or mini-posters, each devoted to a given film or film event. I caught a glimpse of one commemorating the Cannes Film Festival of 1947. Almost as good as being there.


It is a curious place.  And five year ago in June I had dinner with this Mr. Cinema – we met at Le Saint Jean on the Places des Abbesses up in Montmartre near where he lives.  He’s not a bad fellow.  But my French is awful and his English was worse.  Perhaps if we understood each other better we would have argued a lot.  And one should not get in arguments with ex-boxers.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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