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Soldier CHAUVET! You are going to Elysée Palace!

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Jean-François SVATON. English translation by Marion CARRIN Date: 14.09.2020
Christian Chauvet with the rewind at the Cannes Film Festival

The title is taken literally, employing the authoritarian intonation from the mission order for our projectionist to go twice a month to the Elysée Palace and occasionally to the Château de Rambouillet. It is May 1963 and Christian has just arrived at Fort Ivry-sur-Seine in the south-west of Paris to do his compulsory military service. After 4 months of classes in the army as a conscript in Montluçon and Giens, he took his first real position as an operator in the viewing room for initiates called "Kowal". Here he will be assigned to carry out archive projections and military report films in 16 and 35mm. Imagine our projectionist, some time later, driving to the Elysee Palace in a van loaded with the necessary portable projection equipment: projector, screen stands, white canvases of various sizes, power amplifier and a large center speaker to finish. It was necessary to set up the equipment according to the room of the Palace, which could vary according to the circumstances. This is how General de Gaulle, often accompanied by his wife and children, attended private evening screenings with enthusiasm and serenity, mainly consisting of French comedies.

• Go to Christian Chauvet Gallery

But who is this guy, soldier 2eme class Christian Chauvet? Let us take a look way back, to the birth of our hero on April 5, 1943 in Niort, a smallish city near the eastern Atlantic coast of France, (about midway between Nantes and Bordeaux.) From unknown parents in this period of war, he was first given the name "X". From unknown parents in this period of war, he was a pupil of the nation and was adopted at the age of eight. His adoptive parents will give him their love, a surname, and will be the ones to take him to see his first film: “The Battle of the Rail”, which will be followed by “The King and the Bird” in the town hall in Saint-Maixent. The magic immediately worked on our little guy. Forever engraved in his memory, as with many children, this first experience will forever influence his film-loving journey. It would then be followed by Sunday performances at the “Aux Arts” and “Hermitage” cinemas.

Christian is definitely drawn to the magic of screenings. Very curious to see the technical operation, he will soon find a godfather in the projectionist in place. Henri Durand will initiate him to this technical art in the service of the spectator. He will let him touch the films, advance the carbon sticks of the lamp house, load the films and finally start sessions etc ... All this is much more exciting for our teenager than the other option: going to work in the assembly line at the local shoe factory. Impressed by his interest and his talent, it was the director of the establishment, Mr. Vecchiali, who encouraged Christian to earn a diploma to become a projectionist. It was in Poitiers at the age of 18 that he successfully obtained his CAP with honours!

Released in October 1964 from his compulsory military service, he will sign on again with the military, remaining with the ECPA (Cinematographic and Photographic Establishment of the Armies). This was his passion and as a civilian he continued to work there under the direction of Mr. René Motais and Mr. Jean Potier of the ECPA. He worked in an auditorium for 10 years until 1973. This work allowed him to improve his skills in the various fields of image, sound, mixing and projector technical handling. At the same time, thanks to occasional substitution in the evenings at the cinema of Gaité Rochechouart in Paris IXth, he will find a job there which later will become daily, a real happiness for an operator in this private cinema managed by its owner, Mr. Gaston Douvin. No summer vacation for Christian, he preferred to do substitute work at the Pathé Francoeur studios. Today, this mythical place hosts the "Femis", a cinema school.

In 1976 the first International Film Festival in Cannes took place in the former Palais du Festival. Official screenings take place in the Great Hall which also must provide private and professional screenings at any time of the day and night. A new era totally devoted to the 7th art. In collaboration with Director Gilles Jacob, Christian will create the Verification Section in order to confirm and inspect all copies from around the world. It was necessary to assemble and disassemble prints for the screenings. The goal was to avoid catastrophes: upside-down films, incomplete copies, duplicate reels, missing reels, lost in transit, etc. Everything had to be seen in advance. 2001 will be his final Cannes Film Festival. Clint Eastwood himself will come to thank him for his career and greet him on the last day after 25 years of irreproachable service. During his career, other famous actors came to thank him after the screenings as well. The projectionist had an essential role in presenting a film in competition where errors could be catastrophic. He also worked during summers at the Locarno Festival in Switzerland. These projections were quite delicate because they took place in the open air in the huge square in the city center, assuming the weather would co-operate.
More in 70mm reading:

2e classe CHAUVET ! Vous allez à l’Elysée!

Christian Chauvet Gallery

Loïc LEDEZ - Master Projectionist

Loïc LEDEZ - Master Projectionist

En Conversation Avec François Carrin

70mm Cinema and Film in France

Conversations with Olivier Brunet

Internet link:

Christian Chauvet with Clint Eastwood at the Cannes Film Festival

When not working in Cannes or Locarno, Christian continued working in Paris. But in 1987, big developments: "his" Gaité Rochechouart cinema is sold. There is a sharp drop in the number of patrons despite an effort to diversify programs. The general economy of the neighbourhood has changed, giving way to a new, very cosmopolitan population, very few of whom were cinephiles. This development also corresponds to the retirement age of the owner who will sell the premises, and which now is occupied by a clothing store.

But a new adventure will begin. Two friends who had just taken over the Escurial cinema, Paris XIIth, come to visit and see the Gaité Rochechouart. In it, they discover a rather degraded place, whether it is the exterior covered with graffiti or the two viewing rooms with very evident wear and tear. But the surprise will be the projection booth in a clean and functional state, comparable to a laboratory! Two perfectly maintained DP70 N°1916 & 1917 projectors will be purchased by the partners Jean-Jacques Zilbermann and Vincent Melilli who have undertaken a major project near the Grands Boulevards Metro stop in the center of Paris IX, the former and dormant "Max Linder" cinema.

The two projectors will leave for a complete mechanical upgrade at CinéLume, Porte de Pantin. It will be Mr. Roland Gervais, perfect connoisseur of this top-of-the-line Philips Todd AO model, who will take charge of this high-precision repair. This company will take care of the transport, the new installation and operation on site as well as the second THX sound installation for Paris one year after completing the Forum Horizon des Halles.

Christian will be hired as "chief cabin attendant". A "secret" sidelight: on his own initiative Christian had the back wall of the projection room under construction moved back by two meters, directly giving the order to the mason laying the concrete blocks at the level of the mezzanine, behind the architect's back, “otherwise, they would have never fit in”. The very first image projected onto the 17-meter base curved white canvas will be Audrey Hepburn. For those wondering, it comes from the first 70MM "My Fair Lady" reel, in order to adjust the brightness, mirror position and set the correct objectives for a source at the precise center. The "Max Linder Panorama" for its third new life, will open to the public on November 27, 1987, two days late for administrative reasons and operating rights in V.O. with "The Last Emperor" in 70MM. The first great success is there.

Six doorways dressed in red (two per level) welcome the public. Spectators flock to see this new 200m² screen in a totally dark room like a velvet case, with no reflections. It was after an interview with Stanley Kubrick, supporter of this concept, that the decision was made to give black its splendor everywhere, from floor to ceiling, upholstered seats and walls. Wim Wenders will become the godfather of the place. Previews and meetings will be devoted to him. This cinema will have the reputation of having a series of exclusives on the billboard. It is also highly sought after for morning press screenings or private parties for production companies. Many events will take place there to make it an exceptional venue. For examples, Chinese summer festivals, the “cinematheque”, some 70MM retrospectives from "Ben Hur" to "E.T." with more than 7 tons of copies which will pass between the hands of Christian between one very intensive period between August 3rd to 30th, 1988. Christian worked for the greatest. The Gan Foundation Ciné-Club, hosted by late Jean-Claude Brialy, held a session for 10 years one Sunday a month with the most prestigious guests from the world of the 7th art. He was present for the weekly recordings of the teams of the Canal + “Journal du Cinéma”. There were memorable themed evenings and nights: the three Star Wars films, the three Godfather films, the the Indiana Jones films were major events. The most important success will be "The Bear" with 19,000 tickets sold in the first week. Not to mention "Titanic", "Indiana Jones 3" and so many other immortal films ... all in 7OMM format.

In 1990 Christian was also heavily involved in the trials, tests and development of the world-first LC concept digital sound system for film, with audio coming from a source on discs dissociated from the film print, with the film "Cyrano de Bergerac".

2004 will be Christian's retirement because the sale of the Max Linder to the Kinepolis company is planned. Digital cinema is already well advanced in its development and film is disappearing to make way for electronic images by computer, a vast subject of contention for purists. The new world and its technology push the old into the great history of cinema. Today Christian has not lost his touch or his interest in ensuring a private session, as he did recently during a day with friends at François Carrin - Mr. CINERAMA in France - in Valenciennes in Hauts-de-France.

Very discreet, our man in the shadows now spends his life peacefully in the winter in Paris and in the summer in Berck-sur-Mer. You will be able to run into him there, as he never misses the meetings of the "Cinglés" of the cinema in Argenteuil. After a very intense professional life, full of improbable encounters, he will remain a great perfectionist recognized by the greatest for his modesty and kindness. By dint of spending his life projecting that of others brilliantly, Christian was admitted to the rank of master thanks to the recognition of his knowledge and his love of the perfection of beautiful projection. There are so many films lying dormant now, but if they can passed by the hand of the master they can change their destiny and come back to the light.
Christian CHAUVET Le Toto du Max Linder Panorama
Christian CHAUVET Le Gardien de la Pellicule 1991
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Updated 21-01-24