Every so often, when talking with friends or relatives about my PhD, they stop me mid-conversation and say “oh my god, I just realised you’re going to be a doctor!” Yes, I say, but a doctor of movies. I won’t be putting “Dr” as my title on a plane ticket anytime soon; I fear they’ll call on me in a medical crisis and all I’ll be able to do is speak to the patient about French films in a calming voice. The title is a nice touch at the end of the gruelling PhD process, and a necessary step up the ladder of academia, but I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as a doctor. I mostly just think of myself as a French movies person. Which suits me fine, because cinema is one of my favourite things in the world.
I love cinema because it speaks to everyone; it encompasses high art, low art and everything in between. Cinema is an escape, a form of entertainment and a way to switch off from everyday reality. Cinema is an illusion, a distraction, a recreation. Cinema is a business, an industry and, when it comes to monoliths like Hollywood, a world unto itself. But cinema is also a powerful means of self-expression, social commentary and cultural representation. Movies tell us what we care most about, what makes us unique and what we most fear. Cinema is a screen. But it is also a mirror.
One of the main reasons I love the Paris cinema museum, housed in the spectacular Cinémathèque Française, is that it seems to understand the great power of cinema. The museum’s permanent collections cover such practical areas as the evolution of filmmaking equipment (with some very charming early cameras) and the history of classic film (with some stunning original costumes). There is certainly a penchant for French film, but plenty of broader cinema history as well. However, the museum tends to draw most of its visitors to the temporary exhibitions; retrospectives of a specific filmmaker, actor or film. Past retrospectives have included Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Tim Burton and Metropolis.
Another wonderful thing about the museum is its relationship with the other elements of the Cinémathèque. If you visit for a filmmaker retrospective, for example, you can pick up a poster of one of their films from the bookshop, read about their work in the library and even see one of their films at the in-house cinema.
The Cinémathèque is a film lover’s wonderland, and the museum its crowning jewel. The people of this cultural centre, the largest film repository in the world, love what they do, and truly know their cinema. Take it from me. I’m going to be a doctor in the damn thing.