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Way Out West

photo: porte st eustache

Except for the green Kool–Aid, a calmer entry to
the Forum des Images.

A Matinée At Les Halles

Paris:– Saturday, 7. February:– Uncle Den–Den said there was a movie he'd never seen, playing at the Forum des Images today. As hard as it might be to believe, considering that he goes to movies two or three times a week, a film that Uncle Den–Den hasn't seen must be pretty rare.

The most I've ever done at the Forum des Images is take a look at it from outside. Even that was a long time ago, and since then the underground mall in the centre of Paris known as the Forum des Halles has expanded like elastic, and the Forum des Images got a new, or remodelled, space in it.

Going to the Forum Les Halles on a Saturday afternoon is not for the faint–hearted. With its beingphoto: stump at the crossroads of three RER lines and having five Métro lines nearby, this area of Paris is a destination for everybody outside the city who wants to have an exciting Saturday of shopping or hanging–out.

Bonus photo number one.

Add to this the idea of going to a movie matinée on Saturday afternoon. Even though I thought about all this, I decided to accompany Uncle Den–Den, to see if matinées are any different now than the last time I went – which must have been some time in the early '50s.

I guess you have to be pretty ancient to remember the weekly Saturday afternoon matinée at the neighborhood cinema. Entry cost 15 cents, and another 10 cents was reserved for vital necessities – such as pomegranates, when they were in season.

There would be two feature films. The best one was usually shown first, followed by the weekly news, cartoons, trailers for the following week's program, and finally the lesser, second feature. There was usually a serial too, but I don't remember if it was shown first or in sometime in the middle. If it turned out that the second film was best, it could amount to a long time in the dark with 300 good friends with a lot of pomegranate seeds flying around.

Often enough, these Saturday afternoons were not major cinema experiences. But they could get a whole neighborhoodphoto: poster, souterrain, forum des images of kids out of the house, and into a place where they – we – no, I – could behave like nowhere else. I seem to remember the cinema's floor being painted concrete, so it could be quickly cleaned with a firehose in time for the adults' evening films.

Today, we meet on Daguerre and stroll down it to the Métro at Leclerc and ride our number four line to Les Halles. If I had been alone I would have gone a stop further, to Etienne– Marcel, just to avoid the underground trip through the Forum des Halles.

On show until 7. March – underground movies.

But this is a routine excursion for Uncle Den– Den. He leads us from the Métro station – a total maze, the only Métro station in Paris that reminds me of some of New York's trickier subway stations – unerringly straight to the Forum des Images. I am surprised that it is not a long and difficult walk at all. The Métro line must swing west after Châtelet.

We are a bit early so we take the Porte Saint–Eustache exit to see what it looks like on the surface. Somebody has arranged for a water cascade – to appear to be pouring right into the Forum Les Halles – but it isn't. The water is colored Kool–Aid green. Even if it was drinkable, you wouldn't want to try it.

Back underground, we get in a short line to get tickets. Dennis tells me there is an annual ticket, for about the price of a dozen single entries. For some of the cinema events there is no charge. The two of us act like we are antique, and get reduced–price tickets – a euro more than the kids' price, but a euro less than full–price adults.

Uncle Den–Den gives me a short tour. There is a 'cybercafé' inside, plus a bar for café and snacks, but the real attraction of the Forum des Images is the videothèque – which has 6500 films with Paris in them. These can be seen by consulting a catalogue – it looks like it is Minitel–based – and then the film is shown at an individual TV set.

In front of each of these there is a comfortable–looking lounge–chair, with its headphones attached to thephoto: luxembourg pool seatback. It seems like a good idea – the headphones don't sit on the head, but surround the ears. The whole room seems a bit strange, but I doubt you'll notice if you've chosen a good film – like Agnés Varda's 'Les Daguerréotypes.'

Bonus photo number two.

Finally it is time for our Saturday afternoon matinée. The cinema is laid out with its seats in a semi– circle with the screen as a focus, rather than like the claustrophobic tunnel of a shoebox. The 'salle' is nearly full – mostly with kids, and some of their parents.

A Monsieur in red pants is onstage in front of the screen. Is he the theatre manager, worried about the pomegranate seeds? Is he going to give the customary warning about throwing sharp objects at the screen? Not either. He says a few words about the film to be shown, and mentions that there is a 'goûter' – a snack – available for all after the projection.

Uncle Den–Den has brough me to the weekly séance called the 'Après–midi des Enfants. The film we are to see is 'Way Out West,' featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It was made in 1937, it is in 16 mm black and white, and has a soundtrack in French. It will last 65 minutes.

Uncle Den–Den loves it. The only thing lacking is the line, "Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into!" This line does not seem to be in the French version we hear.

Also, I think he sold me on this by saying it is Laurel and Hardy's only western. It is true that there is a donkey in it, and a saloon, a bartender and a sheriff, a two–bit crook with a scheming wife, and a young maiden in distress. The whole story was probably written on one side of half a napkin during a short lunch in Hollywood.

The movie's pace is odd. There are scenes where time seems to stand still – with Stan looking witless and Ollie looking furious. And then there are the other scenes where sight–gags come in cascades, with repeats that are gags in themselves. The kids love it.

Since the story's heros wear black bowlers – and even eat one – there is no 'good guy' wearing aphoto: pont neuf white hat. The 'bad guy' has a moustache, and his screen wife looks like a raddled Harlow. The young maiden in distress looks like saintly dishwater.

The Pont Neuf, which we'll walk across after the matinée.

Well, it is a fine mess. At the end, with good having triumphed over evil, the heroine rides off into the sunset of a Hollywood back–lot with Laurel and Hardy – with a tired–out and grumpy Ollie being dragged along on a travois being hauled by the donkey.

When they have to cross the mud puddle, again – the heroine, Stan, and the donkey make it across with water only up to their ankles, but Ollie submerges into the deep hole, again. Everybody knew it would happen, but not when.

When the screen goes black and the word 'FIN' comes on, the kids applaud and quickly clear the 'salle' to hunt for their 'goûter' of fruit juices and packaged cakes.

Forum des Images – has screenings from Tuesday to Sunday from 12:00 to 21:00, and until 22:00 on Tuesdays. At the Forum des Images, in the Forum des Halles, Porte Saint–Eustache, near the Place Carrée. Paris 1. Métro: Châtelet–Les Halles. InfoTel.: 01 44 76 63 33.

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