Montreal skin-flick cinema bucking the trend


MONTREAL – As big-screen porn all but disappears from the Canadian landscape, Montreal’s Cinema L’Amour is bucking the trend by providing what its owner calls a “great vibe” for those who walk through its doors.

The movie house features a new pair of steamy viewing options each week and is believed to be among the last of its kind in Canada as pornography enthusiasts increasingly get their kicks online.

“We’re a voyeuristic, exhibitionistic, stress-free, drug-free, violence-free environment,” says owner Steve Koltai, who inherited the cinema from his father.

“We stay open because it’s a mom-and-pop business, we have good staff, we have a great vibe.”

Sensationalist accounts abound online about the cinema experience, but Koltai suggests finding out about it for oneself.

“You gotta come and live it … come with your girlfriend and boyfriend or come alone,” he suggests.

The double bill will cost you $10.50, while golden agers get a dollar off.

What happens once inside depends on the client, says Koltai, who doesn’t hide the fact he’s seen a smattering of everything in his time.

“Everything you can possibly imagine has gone on,” Koltai says. “They make love, they masturbate, they swap partners. You name it, they do it. Everything has happened.”

An older crowd frequents during the day — at least two seniors were tugging on the front door an hour before opening during a reporter’s visit.

Robert Casini, the theatre’s longtime manager and caretaker, says some regulars who have been around for three decades pay the admission, watch for a few minutes and simply chat with staff the rest of the time.

Some patrons approached by a reporter were asked about their interest but declined to engage in conversation.

For Casini, it’s all about discretion.

“It is an adult theatre — there is some behaviour that goes on here from time to time,” he says. “But if you’re going to come here and just run around like a fool all over this theatre, we would prefer that you not be here.”

The manager says there’s one unbreakable rule: no smoking.

“This place operates like your favourite bar,” Casini says, albeit without booze. “The rest is at your discretion … (as long as) you’re not disturbing others.”

Behind the theatre’s bright yellow sign, beyond a small snack counter and past a wall of pornography DVDs for sale, is also a piece of Montreal history.

The theatre that houses the cinema turns 102 in October and the cinema’s interior remains largely the same as it did when it first opened in 1914 as Le Globe, a place to watch Yiddish films and vaudeville acts on Montreal’s historic St-Laurent Boulevard.

One author who has written about the city’s iconic theatre houses says it’s an accomplishment it still shows films.

“For a theatre to be that old, to be originally built as a movie house and still showing movies is very unusual,” says freelance journalist Dane Lanken.

The theatre is largely untouched inside — the same horseshoe balcony with double loges at the front are still intact and now serve as a VIP section for couples instead of richer theatre-goers from its previous incarnation.

Much of the original equipment remains stowed in rooms around the five-storey high theatre.

Lanken said as TV ate away at cinema audiences in the 1960s, more movie houses looked to porn as a lucrative way of paying the bills. The theatre began showing pornography as The Pussycat in 1969 before becoming the Cinema L’Amour in 1981.

“L’Amour for some reason survived,” Lanken said. “Most of the other theatres that showed porn have passed by because porn became so available — first in videos and then on the Internet,” Lanken said.

When the lights are on, some of the historic charm comes into view, but upkeep is a big job with frequent paint, plastering and maintenance work.

“One of the things about this theatre is that it looks as good as it does after all these years,” Casini says.

So how long can Cinema L’Amour go on?

Times are tough, Koltai concedes. He hasn’t raised prices in several years and longevity comes in part from owning the entire building, which has other tenants.

“There are days we lose money,” he admits.

The theatre has held community events unrelated to porn. Koltai also uses social media like Facebook to drum up business.

Casini has no doubt the Montreal skin-flick playhouse has many years left despite the fate of others such as Toronto’s Metro Theatre and the Fox Theatre in Vancouver, which have both morphed into other ventures.

“Oh we’re going to be around here forever,” he states boldly.

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