Monday, February 16, 2009

Movies in Paris, Paris in Movies

Let’s say that it’s a cloudy, rainy day (for a change) in Paris, and you don’t know what to do. I say, go to the Forum des Images, the massive film archive in the bowels of the Forum des Halles where for five euros you can watch films until your eyes go buggy. I usually avoid the Forum des Halles at all costs—riding the escalator down into that claustrophobic underground shopping center generally feels like a descent into the lower reaches of Hell. But out in one of the outer tunnels of this giant ant farm there is a stretch of cine-mania that merits braving the depths of this 1970s architectural nightmare.

First there is your conventional movie multiplex, offering recent films. Then there is the new François Truffaut library, where Parisians can check out books and DVDs and other less fortunate mortals can peruse mountains of material on-site. And then there is the Forum des Images, which recently reopened in groovy shades of pink and white and black. The initial mission of this archive was the “preservation of the audiovisual memory of the city of Paris,” whereby any film that made any reference to the capital was stored in its ample database. This translates into 5,500 films, documentaries, shorts, and even newsreels and advertisements. Gone With the Wind made it in because at one point Rhett brings Scarlett a hat from Paris. The Forum then decided to branch out and include another thousand or so films from other specialized collections. Chances are, you’ll find something you like, which you and a friend can then watch on an individual screen (with headphones) in the high-tech, orange and pink (it’s not as bad as it sounds) collections area. If you are into group viewing, you can rent a small screening room for 15 euros. Or you can simply plonk yourself down in one of the five movie theaters which show samples from the collection, or themed series (right now it’s New York), or kid’s films or heaven knows what else. True film junkies can take master classes with directors like Claude Chabrol or James Gray, or take in movie “concerts” where silent films are accompanied by live musicians.

What’s amazing is that as far as I know, there is nothing like this in either New York or Los Angeles, and God knows both cities are swarming with film fans. The Forum des Images is the brainchild of the Paris city hall, who is it’s primary source of funds. Now there’s an interesting concept to pitch to Hollywood….