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Idris Elba in front of the Paris Theater in Manhattan for the em>Luther: The Fallen Sun US premier in March 2023

Art & Culture

Paris calling

Netflix has tarted up New York’s legendary movie theater, and the cinephiles are happy.

In the first episode of season five of Sex and the City, Carrie skips up to the Paris’s box office, treats herself to a movie date for one, and sighs, “it was one of those perfect New York nights.” At brunch the next day, Charlotte is horrified that Carrie went alone to the movies on date night.

Any NY cinephile would totally get why she’d choose the landmark Art Moderne theater.  Not only is the city’s longest-running arthouse cinema next door to the shoe department at Bergdorf’s, but it also has serious cred: Marlene Deitrich cut the ribbon when it opened in 1948; it introduced Zeffirelli and Fellini to the city in the 1960s and 1970s; and it became such a part of the local cinema scene, it cameo’d in classic New York movies like Annie Hall (you’ll spot Alvy leaving it, also alone, near the end).

The Paris reopened with a program of 48 screenings of 29 films, designed to showcase its new sound capabilities “with a slate of our favorite movies,” in 70mm, for the first time in 15 years.

So when Netflix, the home-movie streaming giant, took over its lease in 2019, there was some understandable kvetching among the cinephile set. After all, the single-screen theater was the last of its kind in the city. (It didn’t help that Netflix kicked off its tenancy by showing its own new-release movies, like J Lo’s The Mother in May.)

But then Netflix shut The Paris down this summer to install a Dolby Atmos sound system. Sometime in August, its iconic marquee announced Lawrence of Arabia, a tantalizing film to see again on the big screen if ever there was one. And after going dark for two months, it reopened over Labor Day with Big & Loud, a month-long program of 48 screenings of 29 films, designed to showcase its new sound capabilities “with a slate of our favorite movies,” in 70mm, for the first time in 15 years.

Actress Pamela Anderson posing in front of the Paris Theater in Manhattan, February 2023
Pamela Anderson poses in front of the theater before a special screening of Pamela, A Love Story in February. Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Netflix
Front of the Paris Theater in Midtown Manhattan
Prior to each screening, the program manager addresses the audience: “News from the outside world: no one needs to hear from you for the next few hours. It’s okay to turn off your phone.” Photo by ajay_suresh, CC by 2.0/Flickr

The run’s been so successful, it’s drawn crowds down W 58th to match Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in its heyday or even Barbie this summer. (Like Barbie, there’s even an unofficial “dress code” of choice: See how many T-shirts referencing Lynch, Coppola, or Kubrick you can spot in line.)

One moviegoer equated his Lawrence of Arabia outing to Sunday mass. “Sold out crowd for a four-hour 70mm Sunday mass at the reopened Paris theater. Exhilarating.” (Its third and final showing is already close to capacity; book fast).

Another described their night at Jacques Tati’s Playtime as, “The hottest club in New York for trans women.” One bemoaned, “Man. A Paris Theater screening of Sorcerer (1977), still two days away, is all but sold out. Time to reopen some more of NYC’s old revival houses.”

Crowds lining up outside the Paris Theater on 58th Street in Manhattan to see Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet
The Paris introduced Franco Zeffirelli to the city in the 1960s. Here, crowds line up on 58th Street to see his Romeo & Juliet in February 1969. Photo by Walter Leporati/Getty Images

Raft of nostalgic movies aside, the streamer has kept the theater’s retro vibe intact. Vintage movie posters from SoHo’s Posteritati Gallery line the back lobby wall; 1950s-inspired popcorn boxes branded with the Paris’s iconic red logo sell themselves on looks alone; and its velvet chairs are still insanely tight and close together.

Endearingly, the theater’s new programming director, John Vanco, personally introduces each film. His go-to line: “News from the outside world: no one needs to hear from you for the next few hours. It’s okay to turn off your phone,” is consistently met with applause.

After a late-night showing of Blade Runner: Final Cut, a group of thirtysomethings was already plotting their next visit, shouting out upcoming titles—“The Matrix! Mad Max!”—as they scoured the analogue series flier available for the taking in the lobby. One leaned in urgently and said, “seriously, guys, let me know what you want to see next. I’m in for anything.” Carrie would surely approve.

Big & Loud runs through Sunday, September 24. Sign up for the Paris newsletter and get your first box of popcorn free.

Hero photo of Idris Elba in front of the Paris by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Netflix

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