The announcement published by Axel Huyghe, specialist in dark rooms and founder of the site, had the effect of a bombshell. According to its information, the UGC group could close one of the most beautiful cinemas in the capital: the UGC Normandie on the Champs-Élysées as early as June. The group has been thinking about it for several years but, obviously, the file has returned to the top of the pile at its board of directors.

UGC does not own the walls of this cinema. According to the group’s spokesperson, “negotiations with the lessor are still ongoing.” “We are thinking of the employees and trying to reduce the rent which is too expensive. Attendance is down, regulars have moved to the UGC Porte Maillot and the UGC Cité Ciné Les Halles,” we further explain.

Also read: Behind the surprise closure of the UGC George-V cinema on the Champs-Élysées

With its room with its impressive starry ceiling, its fan shape, its screen measuring eighteen by seven meters and its name, a tribute to the famous liner, the great room of the Normandie is one of the most beautiful in the capital. With its 865 seats, it is also the largest after the Rex on the Grands Boulevards. The Normandie has three other much smaller rooms with a capacity of 280 to 150 seats. If it closes, the last prestigious cinema on the Champs-Élysées will have lived for 90 years.

“After the closure of the historic Gaumont Marignan at the end of 2023, that of the UGC George V in March 2020 after 82 years of existence and, four years earlier, the transformation of the Gaumont Ambassade into a flashy Lacoste boutique, the Champs -Élysées have lost almost thirty screens in less than 10 years,” regrets Axel Huyghe. If the closure of the Normandie is confirmed, there will only be one cinema left on the avenue: the Publicis near the Arc de Triomphe. The Balzac and the Elysées Lincoln, the two other cinemas still open in the area, are nestled in streets adjacent to the Champs-Élysées.

This news comes six months after the closures of Bretagne in Montparnasse and that of Gaumont Marignan. The reasons are the same as those for the Gaumont Marignan and the Gaumont Ambassade. The rent is exorbitant and attendance is plummeting. With the rise of multiplexes on the outskirts, movie buffs living in the suburbs no longer need or want to come to the Champs-Élysées to see films on the big screen.

Parisians have long since changed their habits. Originally, the two major cinema districts were the Champs-Élysées and the Grands Boulevards. In 2023, since the rise of the UGC Cité, the MK2s and the Pathé cinemas designed by great architects, Parisians will especially see films in Montparnasse, at Opéra, Beaugrenelle, at Les Halles, in the East and North of the capital city. Even the French cinema industry has deserted the Champs-Élysées. The producers’ offices and agents are all in central Paris and the east. In 2023, for the first time in the history of cinemas, the number of spectators in the suburbs exceeded that of inner Paris.

Le Normandie was opened on February 4, 1937 in place of a café called Le Normandy. The room with 2,000 seats is located at 118, avenue des Champs-Élysées in an avant-garde building, famous for its accordion facade designed five years earlier by the architect Jean Desbois. “The cinema gala evening is given for the benefit of the National Anti-Tuberculosis Defense Committee to which all of Paris is invited,” recalls Thierry Béné, co-editor of the site. Like the great cinemas of the time, the Normandie theater was also designed for attractions; it has a large orchestra pit. As for the stage, its depth makes it possible to accommodate large-scale stage productions.”

The cinema is inaugurated with The Invincible Armada directed by Pierre Sandrini with Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson and Vivien Leigh. According to the archives found by Thierry Béné, the newspaper Paris-Soir of February 6, 1937 comments on the premiere of the film when “everyone in Paris rushed to this inauguration despite the pouring rain, the terrible traffic jams in the neighboring streets and the power outages “. The program begins with a Walt Disney cartoon, an orchestra and a singer open fire but at intermission “disappointment, the loudspeaker announces in the room that due to difficulties the attraction part is canceled”.

The Normandie is launched, the first programs are displayed: The Gods of the Stadium and Jeunesse Olympic by Leni Riefenstalh are released exclusively in Normandy on July 6 and August 17, 1938. Sacha Guitry’s film Remontons les Champs-Élysées is at the poster from November 30, 1938. Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Tavern was scheduled for July 1939. During the Occupation, the Normandie hosted German productions. “Operated by Pathé until June 1940, the Normandie was subsequently in the hands of Serge Desraine. Closed for a few months, the hall reopens for a music hall show during which we can applaud Damia, the orchestra of Raymond Legrand, the father of Michel Legrand, or even the singer and songwriter Georgius,” say our two specialists.

And to continue: “the director of Continental-Films Alfred Greven organized a gigantic dispossession of the inmates by Jews. In November 1940, Normandie thus joined the circuit of the Société de Gestion et d’Exploitation de Cinéma (SOGEC).” With the Normandie, the Olympia and the Moulin Rouge, the German group quickly owns the most beautiful rooms in Paris. During the occupation, the Normandie became the capital’s reference cinema with, among others, the film by Georges Lacombe The Last of the Six, The Murder of Santa Claus by Christian-Jaque, Sin of Youth directed by Maurice Tourneur or The Raven by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Two German blockbusters are scheduled there: The Golden City by Veit Harlan in 1943 and The Fantastic Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Josef Von Báky in 1944.

At the Liberation, SOGEC was nationalized and became the Union Générale de la Cinématographie (UGC). Florence est fou by Georges Lacombe was, on November 10, 1944, the first fiction film to be released in post-war Normandy. American productions whose exhibition was interrupted during the Occupation are returning to cinemas. The Normandie returned to Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the end of 1944, then Howard Hawks’ Air Force in 1945. The Normandie remained the preferred venue for releases of important French films such as The Devil in the Body by Claude Autant-Lara. The idea is to transform the cinema into a music hall, a competitor to the Olympia. Finally, the cinema became a set of four theaters in 1969.

To console themselves, Parisians will discover from June 2024, the sublime Pathé Palace cinema at the Opera designed by Renzo Piano. Further north, Pathé is preparing to reopen the Géode, whose concrete structure by architect Adrien Fainsilber has been preserved and enhanced. This hemispherical cinema with double IMAX projection will be very unique. During the day, Pathé will screen documentaries and in the evening, current fiction. Finally, on the left bank, the Pagoda construction site is progressing well. The new owner Charles Cohen, a billionaire New York movie buff who has already tastefully restored several heritage cinemas in Britain and the United States, has spent lavishly to bring this gem back to life. The gilding, the sculptures, the frescoes are of breathtaking beauty. The reopening of this cinema will be one of the major Parisian events after the Olympic Games. The Pagoda will reveal all its beauty between the end of 2024 and the beginning of 2025.

> > Axel Huyghe is the author of three books published by L’Harmattan: Multiciné: Boris Gourevitch, the man of complexes, 144 pages, 32 euros/ Rytmann, the adventure of a cinema operator in Montparnasse co-signed with Arnaud Chapuy, 128 pages, 29 euros and finally Le Saint-André-des-Arts: desires for cinema since 1971; 96 pages, 24 euros