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6.8.04

Le Grand Rex

Continuing on my cinematic Paris kick (see posts on July 15 and August 1), there is this article (Le Grand Rex, fils de la Belle époque, July 21) by Dominique Raizon for Radio France Internationale, which I somehow missed. It has some great photographs of Le Grand Rex (1, bd Poissonière), the king of Parisian cinemas, including one taken during World War II, when the German army took over the cinema to use it as their Soldaten-Kino (where it showed propaganda films to soldiers) and another of a slender young women costumed in a bright scarlet, pseudomilitary uniform, working at the Rex as an usher in 1947. Every Sunday in July and August, and on the first Sunday only of every other month (or by appointment), you can take a guided tour of this cinematic monument built in the 1930s (my translation):

Anthony Zaccardo, passionate and impassioned, proposes an original exploration of the architecture and passages of this giant, risen out of the imagination of one visionary, Jacques Haïck, former owner of the Olympia. Jacques Haïck had the financial means to realise his ambitious dream when, in 1932, he created the Grand Rex, one of the star features of the Grands Boulevards of Paris. Not far from the Opéra and the theaters of the Porte Saint-Denis and the Porte Saint-Martin, the Grands Boulevards that extend from République to the Madeleine were home to not fewer than 100 cinemas in the Belle Epoque: it's in this environment that the largest cinema in Europe rose up, today the only survivor that continues to be active.
The architect was Auguste Bluysens, who designed the Art deco façade, which critics at the time said did not mesh properly with the Haussmann era buildings around it. The interior decoration, designed by Maurice Dufrêne (who also worked on the Galeries Lafayette department store), is also in the Art deco style, including its bar of shaped mirrors. (The Max Linder, mentioned in this post on July 16, also has a bar, which is such a nice thing to have in a moviehouse.) John Eberson, an American engineer who specialized in large atmospheric rooms, designed the immense movie-viewing space inside, including the most striking element, an arched vault of midnight blue covered with stars. The interior decoration has remained unchanged since the cinema opened in 1932.
In the 1950s, the cinema regained its initial splendor. The programming was conceived in two parts. First, a musical overture with a philharmonic orchestra numbering around 60 musicians, and then 36 dancers, les Rexgirls, came on stage. After an intermission, scenic effects took place: cascades of water, erupting volcanos, an elephant on stage, 2,500 water jets 20 meters [66 feet] tall expelling 3,000 liters of water offered 500 combinable effects to the rhythm of the music, swimming women and frog-men appeared in the Mirror of Neptune. In short, everything was gigantic and spectacular at Le Grand Rex. Every year, at Christmas time, you could also watch these "Water Fairy Tales." In 1953, Le Grand Rex was the first cinema in France to show films in cinemascope. Even in later chapters, the story remains outsized: at Le Grand Rex, Europe's largest screen was showing in 1988, on a screen of 300 square meters [3,229 square feet], Luc Besson's Le Grand Bleu, which sold out the room for three years.
The cinema itself presently has 3,300 seats, and there is seating for 900 in the rooms on the lower levels, where the boxes and rehearsal rooms used to be.

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