The true Hollywood

The language of cinema isn’t universal. It’s French.

Crest Theatre

1013 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 476-3356

Back in the day, I worked as a projectionist at a Southern California art-house cinema and, during that time, was convinced Los Angeles was Movie Capital Earth. You could catch any film, anytime, anywhere—and I did exactly this, taking in nearly as many films as days in a year for five years.

But then I hopped the pond to France and discovered I was dead wrong; the French do movies better. And here in Sacramento, we can learn beaucoup from France.

In Lyon, the birthplace of modern film, Cinéma Institut Lumière screens classic movies in a modern theater rivaled only by L.A.’s Egyptian Theater. Except that, of course, they screen better films in Lyon than on Hollywood Boulevard. Case in point: Two weeks ago, The Hangover—a film that this paper’s house critic wrote deserves to be on a shortlist of worst films ever—earned nearly $50 million in three days at American multiplexes. That same week at the Institut, they showed a Douglas Sirk revival series and François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. The future of American youth? Dim, like Tivoli lighting.

In French, hangover translates as “gueule du bois,” which literally means “wood mouth,” and this is appropriate: Hollywood “cinema” is like deep-throating a 2-by-4—hard to swallow.

Yet Hollywood inundates megaplexes each weekend with two or three offerings on four or five screens each. President Barack Obama snubbed French president Nicolas Sarkozy on a recent visit to Paris, but maybe he should have at least taken in a film with the French leader? Sarkozy gets it.

For starters, each summer, the French government tips its beret to movies by funding and promoting La Fête du Cinéma, loosely translated as “cinema party,” or a weeklong national celebration of film. And it’s a pretty sweet deal: For seven days, all screenings cost only three euros, and even matinees sell out.

When I lived in the capital of the French Alps, Grenoble, for two years—just after 9/11 and until President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished”—Cinéma le Méliès, a single-screen independent house a block from my pad, showed rare revival flicks and never-would-see-the-dark-of-a-projection-booth-in-Sacramento international fare. Grenoble is smaller than Sacto, but for some reason, the city had enough cash to fund a proper art house (this week, for example, Méliès is screening Jaffa, a Palestinian film, and Japanese filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest).

And while it’s bad enough that the French have America beat on the distribution side, nowadays—what with inventive filmmakers like Michael Haneke (who just won at Cannes) and Laurent Cantet (whose The Class won over audiences this spring at Tower Theatre)—they’re flat out making better films. Again.

Film School 101 teaches the influence Jean-Luc Godard and the French new wave had on American filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. And, just like the electro-dance fad owes its jiggly ass to four French deejays (read: Justice and Daft Punk), the best American filmmakers owe their denouements to the irreverent Cahiers du Cinema squad. This was true in the ’70s—and even today. I mean, where would Sacha Baron Cohen be without Jacques Tati?

Actually, probably still making a killing on HBO. But you get the point. Bonne ciné.