Against a background of concern for the future of cinema, the Grand Rex celebrates its 90th anniversary with great fanfare

WE WERE THERE – The legendary cinema offered itself an evening worthy of its history and its ambitions. To better thwart the crisis that is going through at the moment, in France, the seventh art.

The “king of cinemas” is celebrating his ninetieth birthday and wants to let it be known. To celebrate the longevity of the Grand Rex, Alexandre Hellmann, grandson and heir to the premises, invited nearly three thousand guests to a ceremony, between nostalgia and faith in the future. A way for this entrepreneur to highlight the good economic health of his establishment, at a time when the sector is recording historic declines in attendance.

“Is it okay here, the line for invitations? » At the corner of boulevard Poissonnière, a compact crowd gathers for several tens of meters and waits in the winter cold. The lights of the newly renovated facade of the Grand Rex illuminate passers-by. Three young women, long coats and bleached hair, crowd in front of the guards, explain that they are expected inside. The employee retorts to them to queue, like everyone else. Impossible to make their cinema: they turn on their heels, with a sulky pout.

Red carpets, gilding, Cannes festival-style photocall, large golden letters “90” projected everywhere and toilets “similar to that of a luxury hotel”says the director of the establishment… Every corner recalls the bend premium started by this room in the 80s. At the time, the seventh art was already in crisis. The gigantic rooms, acclaimed during the Roaring Twenties for their profitability, are replaced by multiplexes, considered more modern. In the lobby with its rather flashy art deco decoration, a new crowd is forming around the minibar. In the impeccably dressed crowd that clumps together, a few men in suits try to make their way, glasses of champagne in hand. Each “guest” is entitled to a drink, thanks to a ticket in the colors of the cinema distributed at the entrance. Everything is served in a plastic glass, while the usual sweets, stored on shelves, are chargeable.

Four waiters in uniform are busy behind the counter. On their chests, the same gold letters “90” as those projected on the walls. “Put away your restaurant ticket card, we won’t take it”retorts a waitress when a woman orders her popcorn.

On the scene of the atmosphere precisely, a master of ceremonies welcomes an impatient public, before launching a film which recalls the history of the place. A floor of “reserved” armchairs fills up. “You can stand on the sides, or at the bottom”tells us an usher in uniform, hair tied and a smile on her lips.

Our ringmaster is quickly joined by Alexandre Hellmann and Bruno Blanckaert, general manager of the establishment. On the giant screen scroll the faces of the many Hollywood stars who have walked the red carpet of the Rex, during these previews which bring together fans in large numbers. Quentin Tarantino, Patrick Dempsey, blockbuster stars The Hunger Games or series Game Of Thrones. So many reminders of the central place that the Rex holds in the cinephile ecosystem. The screenings give pride of place to commercial cinema, the one that still attracts the public in theaters. On the projected images appear fans disguised sometimes as superheroes, sometimes as manga characters.

To support their euphoric speech, the two accomplices broadcast a few video capsules, promising a show. The lights go out and on screen, Christopher Nolan’s face appears. The director of tenet – and author of Hollywood’s most expensive films – swears, heart on hand, to adore Le Grand Rex. He sings the praises of the Parisian hall. The first, according to him, to have programmed it when he was only a “little independent filmmaker”. The sequence ends, the director reappears on stage, looking satisfied. “He might come back to show us his next film”he promises.

If cinema today can pride itself on being “the largest room in the world” (all cinemas of equivalent size have closed), it is in particular thanks to its conversion into a performance hall. Rather than risking its receipts by programming unprofitable auteur films, the Rex chose to rent the hall for shows on “slow” days. This is explained on stage, in a speech with accents of American stand-up, Bruno Blanckaert. The septuagenarian in costume launches into the enumeration of his “misadventures” as a programmer. From the time when Nicola Sirkis offered to play his Indochina concert directly on the Grands Boulevards – “I almost ended up in police custody”, quips the director – on the evening when the British rock band Madness and their delirious fans boned a hundred seats in the great hall. Blanckaert pauses and evokes another musical epic, this time with Madonna. The American star would be completely “fan” of the place, he says, at the microphone. “She came to sing eleven nights in a row!”

For this “exceptional evening”the same promises on stage a “exceptional surprise”a “old friend from home”, who made her pop star debut at the Rex. The master of ceremonies takes over, enjoins the room to make noise. On the left side of the stage emerges a Christophe Maé in baggy and converse, who came to sing the three hits that made him famous in the 2000s. “Where is happiness, where is it?”, asks the singer feverishly. In the audience, some spectators sink into their leather seats, laughing or embarrassed.

The evening concludes with the screening of The Fabelmans , the latest feature film by Steven Spielberg, another heavyweight of Hollywood cinema. The “exceptional” preview of this effective and consensual film seems to keep its promise. In particular, he managed to fill the 2,700 seats in the atmospheric room. This strategy – commercial – seems to pay off for the Rex if we believe the good attendance figures of the room. Thanks to his vision “all blockbusters”the establishment manages to avoid, but narrowly in spite of everything, the economic debacle which affects the rest of the cinema.


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