Saturday, May 24, 2008
Financial problems forced the American Center to sell the stunning 1994 Frank Gehry building which now houses the Cinémathèque Française, a cinema museum, and a film library. The American Center was a striking arts and culture venue, and Gehry won the prestigious Pritzker Prize for this building. However, debts and unmanageable operating costs led to its closure less than two years after its opening.
In 1998, the French government bought it from its American owners for €23.5 million and soon after decided to rent the space to the Cinémathèque Francaise, which is privately run.
Site restrictions make this building atypical of Gehry's mature work, because on two sides it looks "normal" and fits the street lines of adjacent buildings. On the sides facing the park, however, Gehry was able to create the kind of sculptural forms characteristic of his later works, such as the Disney Center in LA and the Guggenheim in Bibao, Spain.
Massive interior alterations were necessary for the conversion to the Cinémathèque Francaise, which opened here in 2005. Located in the 12th arrondissement, the 150,000-square-foot structure houses four theaters and the Bibliothèque du Film (BiFi) as well as space for both permanent and temporary exhibitions. Upon entering, visitors are struck by the sheer size of the lobby, with its lofty ceilings and wide-open spaces flooded with natural light.
The Cinémathèque, which was founded in 1936, has grown to include some 40,000 films, with more than a thousand new ones donated each year. Its collection also boasts thousands of rare and iconic objects, from a 17th-century camera obscura to vintage movie posters and costumes designed by Dior, Chanel and Poiret and worn by such film icons as Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Mary Pickford and Greta Garbo.
Visitors may wander through Passion Cinéma, a luminous space displaying the artifacts of a century of film. "We have the female robot from Metropolis, the one and only!" says Marianne de Fleury, curator of the Cinémathèque’s collections. "And we have one of Scarlett O’Hara’s dresses from Gone with the Wind, as well as the first cameras used by Méliès and the Lumière brothers. We even have the head of Norman Bates’s mother – the skull – from the end of Psycho."
There are also research facilities, a bookstore and a restaurant on the premises – one-stop shopping for all things cinematic.
Note: When in this area of Paris, be sure to walk toward the Seine to see the new footbridge, Pont Simone de Beauvoir, opened in 2006 (see related "Bridges" post from directory at right).
51, rue de Bercy; tel. 01 71 19 32 00
Métro: Bercy (12th arrondissement)