Saturday, September 13, 2008

We'll always have (the) Paris

The Plaza Hotel is taking on condos, but the neighboring Paris Theatre is relatively unchanged, as it celebrates its 60th anniversary today. That's quite an accomplishment; I don't how the few remaining freestanding cinemas stay open in a still-voracious Manhattan real estate market, but they do. The Paris' secret is its pedigree--it was the first deluxe moviehouse built in the city following WWII, inaugurated by no less than Marlene Dietrich and the Ambassador of France, and it has had a distinguished history. This includes the controversial exhibition of Roberto Rossellini's The Miracle in 1950, a free-speech cause celebre that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Romeo and Juliet played there for a year in 1968, a run immortalized in the 1969 film Cactus Flower, where Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn linger outside the lobby-less theater following a screening. (The Paris makes cameos in a number of movies shot at the Plaza, including the 1971 Matthau picture Plaza Suite and I think the climax of The Way We Were.)

Columnist Joe Queenan had his say in The New York Times. Sure, it's kind of unhip and fusty, and might well be renamed the Daniel Auteuil, given the number of films I've seen there showcasing the French star. It's the premiere venue for a certain kind of tradition-of-quality French cinema, and was the late producer Ismail Merchant's preferred venue for his collaborations with director James Ivory--I saw their underrated A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries there, and, after Merchant's death, the deflated, end-of-an-era White Countess, too. (I believe the producer owned the Indian restaurant that was next door.) But my interest in Alain Delon and French thrillers ignited following a revival engagement of Purple Noon at the Paris, Kenneth Branagh's middling Hamlet (1996) was more of a thrill in its 70mm presentation there, and I had a good time with friends at The Dinner Game in 1999. Here's to many more memories of Paris, encapsulated in this fitting image I found on Flickr.

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