In the footsteps of the Paris of lost cinemas

By Denis Cosnard

Posted today at 01:04

The scene, filmed for a very old number of the program “Cinéma, cinémas”, seems rather unreal. Patrick Modiano wanders the shelves of a supermarket built on the site of a neighborhood cinema he frequented in his adolescence: le Pax, rue de Sèvres, in the 6e district of Paris.

“There, it must have been the central bay in the direction of the screen”, suggests the writer in front of a row of laundry. He throws one of his long arms in the air: “The balconies had to be up there” and the screen “On that side, instead of dairy products”. Two steps forward, and here it is reminiscent of the red curtain, the boxes hidden behind the screen, the smell of darkness, the artists who provided the attractions: “It was often a couple of conjurers or tightrope walkers, I even wonder if there wasn’t a trapeze thing …”

It takes memory – or imagination – to bring the Pax back to life among pie charts and bags of kitty litter. Opened just before the war, the cinema closed in the spring of 1966, then was demolished to make way for a building without grace, with this supermarket on the ground floor. Only one memory remains of the old cinema hall.

They were called Capitole, Les Agriculteurs, l’Apollo, l’Atomic, Le Cyrano-Roquette, Marcadet-Palace, Ornano 43, Lord Byron, Le Vox… Paris hosted the very first meeting in 1895. cinematograph, in the Indian Room of the Grand Café, boulevard des Capucines, in the Opera district. Since then, the City of Light has remained the world capital of cinema, with a record number of theaters.

The Palais des Fêtes (Paris 3rd), closed in 1961.

Many closed between the 1970s and 2000s, especially the smaller ones, victims of competition from television and real estate pressure. But others have emerged, in particular multiplexes. And public aid allows many fragile places to hold out for whatever reason, despite the temporary closures imposed by the Covid-19. So much so that, in total, Paris still has 82 establishments. Better still: the number of screens, which fell to 344 in 1996, rose to 411 at the last score of the National Center for Cinematography, in 2019.

The old Cinéac-Montparnasse cinemas (Paris 14th arrondissement), closed in 1966.

It is impossible today to know what traces the pandemic will leave, while the streaming platforms are experiencing a golden age, reinforced since the confinements. And that, in the world of cinema, everyone is asking the question of the future of cinemas. An entire universe could disappear or reinvent itself. As before.

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