Montreal has been widely heralded as an international sex capital. And this week, one of the city’s pillars of raunch is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Cinema L’Amour, located centrally at the corner of St Laurent and Duluth, has been screening porn for 40 years as of this week. The cinema screens straight porn, but owner Steve Koltai says audiences from across the Kinsey scale have always been welcome. The anniversary will be marked with a vintage film screening, a local band’s performance and cheap beer.
Koltai argues that stereotypes about the type of person who comes to a porn cinema aren’t usually the reality. “We have a lot of very decent people who come here,” he says. “I’d say most are in the 40 to 60 age range. A lot of times people come in for a warm place to stay during the day. It’s cheap. It’s 10 bucks and you can stay in and screen films all day for one price. If people need to blow their nose, I’ve got toilet paper, they can do it if they need to.”
Koltai inherited the business from his father, Ivan, who bought Cinema L’Amour in the early ’80s. The Cinema was built in 1914 and was originally called Le Globe, apparently after Shakespeare’s theatre in London. It was initially a combination of cinema and live theatre venue. The neighbourhood was then predominantly Jewish, so Le Globe screened many Yiddish-language films throughout the ’20s and ’30s.
In 1932, the cinema changed hands and was renamed The Hollywood. By 1969, the owners decided there was money to be made in pornography, so they changed names again, this time to become The PussyCat. In 1981, Ivan Koltai purchased the cinema in order to create a small franchise. He had already owned the Cinema L’Amour in Hull, Quebec, and he wanted to screen films at both cinemas.
“My father had the cinema in Hull, because the laws in Quebec were far more permissive about what you could screen,” Koltai recalls. “So we were located near Ontario, so people would cross the border to see our films.”
Koltai says the cinema has rarely had problems with the police. “Our films all get passed by the Regie [the Quebec government’s censorship board], so there are no issues around censorship. The only way the police come is if they get called. Someone called the police once, but it was over nothing — by the time the cops showed up, there was nothing going on.”
Koltai says the biggest fuss occurred when one of Montreal’s French-language daily newspapers did an exposé on the cinema nine years ago. “Their headline was like, ‘Porn on the big screen, live orgies!’ It was really sensationalized. They went undercover for weeks and I think they saw one couple doing something, and that was it, but they blew the whole thing up.”
The upside, reports Koltai, was that “we got tons of customers after that. People read it and believed it. But they showed up and were like, ‘Is this geriatric porn? Where’s the live sex show?'”
“The cinema itself is quite magnificent to look at,” says Aaron Hancox, a local filmmaker who made a documentary about the cinema and who is organizing the 40th birthday bash. Hancox points to the cinema’s beautiful design touches, a stunning balcony and moulding, all of it from the cinema’s 1914 origins.
“At the same time, it’s this weird dinosaur. It’s amazing they can keep it running, given the internet. They obviously have a very faithful clientele.” Hancox will be screening the Russ Meyer 1965 campy cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! to celebrate 40 years of porn. He says the reason he chose a Russ Meyer film to celebrate was because when The PussyCat first opened its doors 40 years ago, they showed a Meyer double feature.
Koltai says Cinema L’Amour has picked up business in recent years, with the legalization and subsequent growth of swingers clubs. “Couples come here to check out the movies and other couples before they head to the swingers’ clubs. It’s understandable that things begin here, or that people might be inspired that way. I mean, everything’s geared to intimacy. It’s impossible to come and not get turned on by the movies. I should really be renting rooms as well.”
Cinema L’Amour’s 40th birthday party kicks off Wed, Dec 2 at 9pm (4015 St Laurent). Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! will screen at 10pm. The local band the Hellbound Hepcats will perform and the event will be emceed by Montreal author and Xtra columnist Daniel Allen Cox. $10, with funds going to Head & Hands, the HIV/AIDS awareness and youth support group.