Out on the Town, Student Life

Cinéma L’Amour: Beyond the merch

If you have walked around campus for more than five minutes, odds are you have seen someone sporting a “Cinéma L’Amour” tote bag. But what exactly is the Cinéma L’Amour? Are these people avid viewers of the erotic films played by the cinema or are they just posers? I decided to find out.

Cinéma L’Amour was originally opened in 1914 under the name “The Globe.” It served as an independent movie theatre at the heart of Montreal’s Jewish neighbourhood and played Yiddish films throughout the 1920s and 30s. It changed its name to “The Hollywood” in 1932 but remained a traditional cinema and opera house until 1969. However, the cinema truly put the 69 in the year 1969 when it changed its name to “Pussycat” and became an erotic cinema. 

The story of Cinéma L’Amour and the iconic woman who sits atop their logo began in Hull, Quebec, right across the river from Ottawa. Owner Steve Koltai, who inherited the business from his father, explained that he chose this location because Quebec’s lax censorship laws made it the only province that could play hardcore porn films for audiences. As such, politicians and diplomats would flock from Ottawa to Hull to view films that were banned just over the river in Ontario.

I met with Koltai in the lobby of Cinéma L’Amour which, behind the reflective window doors, is a lot less intimidating than one would imagine. The lobby is punctuated by beautiful vintage porn posters from the cinema’s archive, which contains posters of all movies that have been played since its inception. Many of these originals are available for purchase online at @lamour.art.gallery. There are also tongue-in-cheek posters, with my personal favourite reading: “5 stars. You Won’t Cry. But Bring Tissues.”  

You can buy movie snacks as well as various DVDs such as Schoolboy Fantasies 4 and Bisexual Cuckold 5 behind the counter. 

The interview was punctured by theatrical moans emanating from the screening room where Scream: an XXX parody was playing.

The owner seemed happy that so many people in Montreal wore the merch that can exclusively be purchased at the cinema, but did concede that these merch-wearers have no idea what the cinema represents. When asked if the clientele wears the merch, Steve laughed and made it obvious that the clients prefer to keep the anonymity granted to them in the dark of the cinema room.

The cinema, I discovered, operates more as a social club than anything else. 

“People aren’t coming for the movies, they’re here for the social interaction,” Koltai said.

The cinema serves as a starting point for those curious about anything from voyeurism to swinging.

“You have the liberty to do whatever you want as long as you are discreet and respectful,” Koltai explained.

Koltai’s son Devyn represents the third generation to manage the cinema. He is breathing new life into the cinema, with hopes to make it accessible to more traditional audiences, and has started hosting events using Cinéma L’Amour as a venue under the banner “Cinéma Erotica.” Their most recent Halloween event featured a screening of the art film “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover,” followed by a rave with live DJs.

Overall, my experience at the cinema was very positive, even if I chose to abstain from the sexual experimentation aspect. It feels like any other family-run business, and it’s obvious the staff care greatly about their clients and want them to have the best experiences possible. So whether you are curious about what the cinema has to offer, want a tote bag to add to your collection, or a vintage poster to decorate your apartment, Cinéma L’Amour is the place to go.

Cinéma Erotica’s next event is planned for February, which will be hosted in Cinéma L’Amour and available through Eventbrite.

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