Image: The Champo theater
Jacques Brinon  /  AP
In Paris, there are seemingly endless rues and quais and museums and cafes to explore, which means visitors often hurry past one of the city's greatest attractions: its cinemas.
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updated 8/19/2010 9:17:16 AM ET 2010-08-19T13:17:16

It may seem backward to travel to one of the most beautiful cities in the world and sit in the dark.

In Paris, there are seemingly endless rues and quais and museums and cafes to explore, which means visitors often hurry past one of the city's greatest attractions: its cinemas.

They're found throughout the French capital — and in particular the Latin Quarter. No city in the world boasts such a bevy of independent theaters, where vibrant repertory series and exciting selections play nightly.

New York might quibble, but most of its independent theaters long ago shuttered. Manhattanites can proudly claim the essential Film Forum, but Parisians can stand on the Left Bank and have nearly a dozen similar options within a five-minute walk.

Spending an entire trip among flickering projections would, of course, be extreme. But it does occasionally rain in Paris and sometimes a cool night at the movies is just the ticket after a day of traipsing around the attractions. And, unlike many destinations in Paris, no one — or perhaps everyone — is a tourist at the movies.

Your first move is to pick up your moviegoing Bible: the weekly Pariscope, which can be had for less than a euro at any newsstand. In it, you'll find a detailed listing of every showing that week. It's in French, but addresses, movie titles and show times are easily understood.

A key point: V.O. signifies version original (with French subtitles), whereas V.F. means version francais (dubbed in French). Now, if your French is poor, you are limited to movies in English, but this is only a slight impediment. Great, old American movies are plentiful and the odds are good that at any moment, a flick with Humphrey Bogart or Woody Allen is showing somewhere is Paris. As with jazz, the French are ardent celebrators of American filmmaking.

This is, after all, a birthplace of cinema. Here, it is the seventh art. So some history is in order, which means a trip to the Cinematheque Francaise.

Image: The Mac Mahon theater
Jacques Brinon  /  AP
The Mac Mahon theater in Paris. If you check out movie times, take note: V.O. signifies version original (with French subtitles), whereas V.F. means version francais (dubbed in French).

Any film buff is well aware of the Cinematheque's significance: Formed from Henri Langlois collection in the '30s, its archives and constant screenings have long served as a kind of home base for Paris' film scene. Many of the famed directors of the New Wave, like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, gathered here, though you can't imbibe this history from its original location. It moved in 2005 to a beautiful, curvaceous building designed by architect Frank Gehry on Parc de Bercy in the 12th arrondissement.

Aside from several fine, modern theaters at the Cinematheque, you can also find the Musee du Cinema, which includes some truly magical artifacts from the history of cinema: Louis Lumiere's 35mm projector, Thomas Edison's kinetoscope, Robert Wiene's expressionist sketches for "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," a copy of the robot Maria from "Metropolis" made for the museum, and much more.

There are also rotating exhibits at the museum, and the collections — film excerpts, stills and props — will surely whet your movie appetite.

Turning to your Pariscope newspaper, the advice is simple: Follow the movies. See what's playing and go after what intrigues you.

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I, for one, generally seek out the great films of the '40s and '50s, some of which found artistic renown through the French. The famed French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, co-founded by Andre Bazin, was essential to trumpeting the artistry of American genre filmmakers like Howard Hawks and Nicholas Ray.

This is one reason Paris may be the best place to see a film noir, in all its black-and-white, moody, fatalistic grandeur. The films might feature fast-talking detectives in Los Angeles, but a film noir feels most at home in Paris.

The selection on any given week in Paris is usually exceptional. A recent week, for example, boasted an Alfred Hitchcock series, a new print of the Clark Gable-Marilyn Monroe film "The Misfits" (1961), an Al Pacino series, Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" (1955), the fabulous but lesser known noir "Fallen Angel" (1945), Bogart's "The Enforcer" (1951), Robert Mitchum in 1947's "Crossfire," Sydney Lumet's "The Offense" (1972), the new, touring print of Michael Powell's "The Red Shoes" (1948) and much more.

You'll quickly notice some differences to the Parisian moviegoing style. Show times are often listed for when the ads and trailers start and for when the film actually begins. Popcorn is not something generally eaten at the art house cinemas: Moviegoing is serious business.

Certain theaters are worth seeking out. Le Champo, on the rue des Ecoles, is perhaps the quintessential Parisian art house cinema. First opened in 1938, its survival has at times depended on the support of protesters refusing to allow closure.

If you don't like the selections there, you can always try one of the other fine theaters around the block on rue Champollion. Many of Paris' independent theaters are only a stone's throw from here, including the nicely programmed Action Ecoles. After a movie at the Champo, walk up the hill for a drink outside at one of the cafes on the pleasant, restful Place de la Sorbonne.

If you go ...

One of the oldest cinemas in Paris is the Studio des Ursulines, near the Jardin du Luxembourg on the rue des Ursulines. It was built on the site of a Ursuline convent from the 1600s, and made into a silent film art house in 1926. It now shows first-run movies, but its plush red interior is hard to beat.

On the Right Bank, Cinema Mac-Mahon will always be dear to me, since it was where I first saw "Taxi Driver" on the big screen. It sits in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, just off the Place Charles de Gaulle.

Studio 28, opened in 1938, is a lovely Montmartre theater and a good destination for "Amelie" fans. This is the place the beloved film's heroine frequented, (and she did chomp on popcorn). If you can, time your visit to coincide with sunset, and from the top of Montmartre watch the lights turn on across Paris as the city dims.

There are other unique theaters, too, like the Pagoda on the rue de Babylone in the 7th arrondissement. True to its name, it's styled after a Japanese temple. If you want a more modern view of Parisian moviegoing, try one of the MK2 theaters. The MK2 Bibliotheque at the Francois Mitterand National Library on the Quai de Seine, has 14 theaters and a futuristic vibe.

The Grand Rex is a movie palace built in 1932 and its main auditorium can seat nearly 3,000. The biggest theater in Paris, it's a common spot for flashy premieres, so the selection is typically first-run films. Its exquisite Art Deco design gives it a fantastical aura, like a grand, fairy-tale cinema.

All of these theaters beam out wondrous films every night. As you exit to the street rubbing your eyes, you might think that the best part of all about moviegoing in Paris is that the city awaiting you outside is hardly less of a dream than the movies.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Perfectly Paris

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  1. Mood lighting

    The Eiffel Tower and the Hotel des Invalides are illuminated at dusk with in Paris. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Heart of the Louvre

    The intricate ceiling of the Appolo Gallery at Paris' Louvre Museum is reflected in a display case in the foreground. Built in 1661, the gallery was not fully completed until 1851. In all, over twenty artists worked on the decoration. The Appolo Gallery gallery contains more than two centuries of French art, and houses such wonders as the French Crown Jewels, including the famous Régent (140 carats) and Sancy (53 carats) diamonds, as well as the 105-carat Côte de Bretagne ruby. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. To the heavens

    The Sacred Heart Catholic church (Basilique Sacré-Coeur) is seen on Paris' highest point, in Montmartre. The view at the top of the dome is excellent -- 271 feet above Montmartre Hill -- and is the second-highest viewpoint after the Eiffel Tower. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Looking glass

    This elaborate stained-glass cupola (dome) inside Magasins du Printemps department store is located above the main restaurant in the store. Installed in 1923, it is composed of 3,185 individual pieces of stained glass. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Keeping cool

    Tourists soak their feet in a reflecting pool at Place du Trocadero, an area of museums and gardens. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Sights from the Seine

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  7. Museum of masterpieces

    Originally a royal fortress for kings, and open to all since 1793, the Louvre is one the world's greatest art museums, housing 35,000 works of ancient and Western art, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. More than 6 million visitors see the Louvre per year. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Shopper's haven

    Local art, food and other goods are sold in passage Jouffroy, across Boulevard Montmartre. Originally designed to protect pedestrians from mud and horse-drawn vehicles, the passages (shopping arcades), arre located between the Grands Boulevards and the Louvre. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Modern art

    A view of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Its 1977 factory style architecture contrasts with the surrounding buildings of Paris' oldest district near Notre-Dame cathedral. It has a public library, and the French National Museum of Modern Art. (Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Holy architecture

    One of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture is the Notre Dame Cathedral, attracting 13 million visitors each year. The name Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French. (Stéphane Querbes / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
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    The famous stone statues of Notre Dame. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Tranquil gardens

    The Jardin des Tuileries is Paris's most central garden. Its fountains, sculptures, cafes, formal gardens, and central location, make it a popular destination for visitors and locals. (Amélie Dupont / Paris Tourist Offi) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tuileries Palace

    Tuileries Palace encloses the western end of the Louvre and the formal gardens that make up Jardin des Tuileries park, stretching from the Louvre to the Place de Concorde, and bordered by the Seine. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Moulin Rouge

    The cabaret Moulin Rouge was built in 1889, in Paris' red-light district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy. The Moulin Rouge is best known as the birthplace of the can-can dance. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Flowing with history

    The Fontaine des Mers at one of the main public square, Place de la Concorde. At 20 acres, it is the largest square in Paris. (Henri Garat / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Honoring warriors

    The Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs-Elysees. The arch honors soldiers who fought for France. The names of generals and wars fought can be found on the inside and top of the arc. Underneath, is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I . (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Coffee break

    People walk past a boulangerie (bakery) in the Montmartre district in Paris. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Paris blues

    A piece of renowned French Roquefort blue cheese is displayed in a shop in Paris. (Philippe Wojazer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Pricey real estate

    The Place Vendome is an octagonal square located to the north of the Tuileries Gardens and east of the Eglise de la Madeleine. The bronze spiral column at the center of the square was constructed in 1810 by Napoleon to celebrate the French army’s victory at Austerlitz. Within the square are apartments, and posh hotels and high-end retailers, including Cartier, Chanel, and Bulgari. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French connection

    The high-speed rail network in France goes to several Parisian train stations, including Gare Du Nord shown here. The name was derived by the idea that travelers would be able to travel to Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany and the Scandinavian countries. It is the busiest railway station in Europe, and the third -busiest in the world. (Cate Gillon / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The grandest address in Paris

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  22. Impressive collection

    The Musée d'Orsay is one of Paris' most popular museums, housed in the former railway station, the Gare d'Orsay. The museum houses an extensive collection of sculptures and impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Grand design

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  24. Prestigious avenue

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  25. Le Pantheon

    Le Pantheon was originally intended to be a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve to fulfil a vow made by Louis XV while he'd fallen ill. It was used for religious and civil purposes until 1885 and now functions as a famous burial place. (David Lefranc / Paris Tourist Office) Back to slideshow navigation
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