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Accidental Discovery On The Trail Of The CinemaScope Holy Grail

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Mario Beguiristain, Miami Beach, Florida, USA Date: 05.07.2007
Now that it was certain that I’d be going to Paris this past June, I put on top of the list of things to do a visit to rue Henri Chrétien, named in honor of the inventor of CinemaScope.

I had learned of the existence of such a place through a network of friends (led by USC Cinema classmate Rick Mitchell) who were devoted to the memory of the now-defunct widescreen process. Evidently, the 20th Century-Fox publicity department somehow managed in the nineteen-fifties to successfully brainwash a lot of impressionable movie-loving boys into thinking that the arrival of CinemaScope equaled that of the second coming of the Messiah.

And I am one of them.

Now in our fifties or sixties, we wander through Multiplexes and Home Theaters set-ups trying to recapture that experience which is forever gone. So making a pilgrimage to the street named in honor of its inventor made perfect sense to me, as it did to Francois Carrin, and Thomas Hauerslev (editor of in70mm.com) who had gone there before me and circulated their photo taken standing by the commemorative plaque to the “inventeur du CinemaScope.”

I also wanted my picture there! And there was a cosmic link. A few days before my trip I had won a navy blue “Cinerama Adventure” T-Shirt (just like the ones worn by Carrin and Hauerslev in their photo) at a screening of David Strohmeir’s “Cinerama Adventure” in nearby Fort Lauderdale. Like the three Magi following the shooting star or Richard Dreyfus searching for the Devil’s Tower, I was compelled to go there.
More in 70mm reading:

On the Trail of CinemaScope

Internet link:

So I opened Google Earth and asked to be taken to “rue Henri Chrétien, Paris France.” Like magic I was flown there—to the Paris suburb of Saint Cloud, where a marker indicated the “Place Henri Chrétien.” “Ah ha! There’s not only a ‘rue,’ but also a ‘place,’” I said to myself as I packed the Cinerama Adventure T-Shirt in my suitcase full of anticipation.

Once in Paris, I recruited three film buff friends to accompany me on my pilgrimage: Gerry Herman, director of the Hanoi Cinémathèque, Javier Orce, Sales and Marketing Director of the Ciudad de la Luz Studios in Alicante, Spain, and his partner Andreu Toledo, who is a security guard at the studio. They were in good spirits; ready to embark on the adventure and take the photo I wanted to have.

The Paris Metro map indicated that we should take the 10 Metro Line to its final Boulogne/Pont Saint Cloud stop, then we would have to walk a bit to reach the plaza. That’s what we thought. But it wasn’t a walk at all, but a rather steep climb up winding roads that was often interrupted by stairs and, mercifully, escalators. When my companions doubted that we were going in the right direction, we asked passersby but nobody had heard of Place Henri Chrétien in that neighborhood. I started to have my doubts when finally an old timer, straight out of Jacques Tati’s “Play Time”, assuaged my fears by pointing to the top of the mountain and saying in French “it’s all the way to the top.”

So we continued climbing and eventually we reached a narrow parking lot next to a modernistic church shaped like Sally Field’s Flying Nun headdress. In a corner of the lot stood a granite monolith with a plaque just like the one I had seen in the Carrin and Hauerslev photo—but there was no mention of Chrétien as the “inventeur du CinemaScope.”
Something wasn’t right. There had to be another marker around there, or was my memory playing tricks on me? We asked around and nobody knew what I was talking about. So we gave up. My friends asked me to pose by the plaque so they could take the damn picture and we could get on with the rest of the day’s activities—it had been four hours since we had started the trek. They photo was taken.

“When I get back I’ll email Rick Mitchell and find out where the other plaque is,” I told my companions who let me know clearly that one CinemaScope pilgrimage was all they were willing to make.

So once stateside the confusion was cleared. There was no “rue Henri Chrétien” but an “Avenue” and it was in NICE not in PARIS! I had stumbled into another place with another casting of the same plaque, but why was it there? I can only guess. Chrétien was an astronomer and Saint Cloud is one of the highest points near Paris. Did he once have an observatory there—perhaps now demolished and replaced by the whimsical church? That’s my theory, but it will have to be confirmed by others who no doubt will continue this quest for the Holy Grail of the birthplace of CinemaScope.
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Updated 21-01-24