Paris is the City of Love, they say, an urban hub of romance where La vie est une fleur dont l’amour est le miel, as Victor Hugo once proclaimed.
Paris is the European capital of secret love affairs too, the charismatic metropolitan center where sex-positive lovers escape to find their way into each other’s body.
Cliched as all these monikers may be, the city built on the shores of the Seine possesses an undeniable allure, if only because of its sheer urban panache. No matter where you look, Paris delivers an overdose of vibrancy, the quintessential joie de vivre that locals and visitors alike feel and breathe while meandering through the Parisian avenues and boulevards.
Still, the French capital can keep its secrets, and even if hidden in plain sight, the city conceals some relics from a bygone era, where eroticism became de rigeur, and people from all walks of life flocked to certain establishments to watch the latest porno flic.
1970s: A decade of decadence
Porn cinema in the 1970s was as ubiquitous as bell-bottomed trousers among the younger generation and sequined jackets on the stage. During the so-called ‘Golden Age of Porn’, sex was everywhere you looked, and even where you didn’t look, or want to look. It was in this decade that the ‘porn star’ figure was born.
Small, dingy halls showing a bit of smut proliferated during the 70s as the people of Europe longed for a glimpse of technicolor flesh. France in fact became an extremely prolific producer of such material, ranking shoulder to shoulder with Germany and Sweden.
The thrill of the sexualite on a big screen, shown on a 35mm reel (albeit with dodgy colours, and even worse dubbing) attracted a regular clientele who attended screenings with quasi-religious zeal.
Porn cinema on a big screen fell foul of the advent of the VHS tape in the 80s, however. Why pay for a cinema ticket when one could just pop down to the local video store and rent the latest releases for a fraction of the price (and enjoy a more private screening in one’s home, too). One after the other, porn cinemas all across Paris and elsewhere in Europe began shutting for the last time, and the dank and dingy halls of big-projector smutty enjoyment became extinct. Well, almost.
Cinema Beverley: From Paris avec l’amour
Tucked away inside an alleyway that runs perpendicular to boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, one of Paris’ bustling thoroughfares in the 2nd arrondissement, Cinema Beverley is an anomaly, a tribute to a past that once entertained male and female alike. The locale is a piece of living, breathing neon history, tucked away mere yards from a trendy restaurant, yet it might as well be another world.
Cinema Beverley is the gateway to another time, to another era, yet its purpose is as contemporary now as the very first day it opened its doors to the public. For you see, Cinema Beverley is the last surviving cinema screen in Paris dedicated to showing hardcore movies.
A personal journey: A visit to Cinema Beverley, avec trés plaisir
Paris is a huge metropolis. There is a plethora of cafes, restaurants, tea rooms, shopping arcades, and tourist landmarks to get lost in any day of the week.
The city caters for all tastes, from the most chic and expensive stores that line the Champs Elysees to the more modest (and affordable) shops of the outer arrondissements.
All that is well and good, as the city plays host to people from all walks of life, and with the most eclectic intentions. But there are other tastes that lust to be catered for also, and Paris sure never disappoints.
I last visited Paris with my partner, who had shrewdly made me aware of the existence of Cinema Beverly earlier on that day. She had planned it all along, you see, as a surprise for me. With a glint of her trademark wickedness in her eyes, she revealed to me where we were going to spend our private Saturday night in Paris. Intrigued by the idea, I wholeheartedly agreed.
Two lovers’ journey across the Parisian night
We took a cab ride over to our destination. Driving around in Paris is an unforgettable experience, for all the wrong reasons. Basic traffic rules and etiquette seem to be non-existent, nor do drivers appear to care that much about the moving chaos around them.
Nevertheless, the taxi driver managed to get us to our destination without any damage to our personal integrity. He even wished us bon appetit, wrongly believing that we were heading for the trendy restaurant located just round the corner from our true destination. We were hungry alright, but our taste buds were wet for more sophisticated pleasures.
Couples’ Night, here we, ahem, come
Saturday night means Couple’s Night at chez Beverley. The cinema screen is devoted to tandems of lovers streaming in from all sides of the Parisian nightlife, searching for a safe haven to unleash their passion.
Beverley’s threshold is a quaint throwback to the 1970s. A single, tiny ticket office, the kind which the oldest generations would have been used to, before the advent of the multiplex monster. It is quaint and poignant, and it inspires a vague feeling of je ne sais quoi.
The ticket office is manned with singular aplomb by Maurice, a jovial, mild-mannered man with an honest smile. My partner had made a reservation, and a brief conversation in broken, staccato French ensued. Maurice’s bonhomie eventually led him to point to the hand-written note stuck to the ticket office window: Couples Night-44e.
So all it’s clear then. It may sound like a lot of money for a cinema ticket, but you get a lot more than just that: You gain entry to another world.
And just like that, we are in. Cinema Beverley is just as quaint and classic in the inside as it is in the outside. Several rows of seats line up the dimly lit interior, hemmed in by a brick wall on the right. All told, there’s room for about 100 people, though it rarely -if ever- does Beverley welcome so many pleasure seekers in one single session.
And just beyond the last row of black leather seats, there waits a proper cinema screen that will soon fill the attendees’ senses with the desire and the lust they came looking for here.
So we head to our seats, tucked in at the far end of the third row from the back. Some other pairs occupy a few of the seats behind us, enjoying a panoramic view of the room from that position. Indeed, the last rows (or first, depending how you look at it) are Beverley real estate. And just before the lights dim and the show begins, Maurice himself puts an appearance. He addresses the audience in French, of course, and always smiling, as a man talking to old friends. While I could not tell what he was saying, the gist of it was clear: Have fun.
Then the lights go off and the projector whirs into life. The big silver screen fills with moving pictures, almost poignant in their weathered nature. The films shown that night were Extase (circa 1976), featuring the infamous John Holmes, and Vierges folichonnes (circa 1970), if you’re interested. The movies were dated, sure. The dubbing, atrocious (not that they were great in storyline anyway). But hence lies Beverley’s quaint charm. The films, far from coming across as anachronistic, become the perfect conduit to convey the right mood onto the audience.
And by all accounts, the attendees that night were in a true horny state. The Beverly night tribe performed the whole gamut of sexual liaisons. We did also, of course. We weren’t there just to admire the art, after all. We became part of the Beverley entity through sex and vintage porn, through bad dubbing and dubious acting, and the energy of males and females doing and enjoying what they like the most filled Beverley.
Soon, it was time to go back to our hotel. We left Beverley’s magic behind and stepped out into the Parisian night again, and it felt like stepping from one world to another. This other world was loud and bright and full of life, and though midnight had long come and gone, the boulevards still teemed with the tireless energy of the City of Love.
Cinema Beverley stands and exists as a threshold to the past, of that I have no doubt. It is a relic from an era that I remember, but never got to experience.
Then we were back at our hotel, ready to reminisce and replay our own movies.
But that, mes amies, is a story for another time.