These are the only two photographs I could find of a clandestine cinema temporarily located in the Paris Catacombs and accidentally discovered by the police in 2006 while on a training exercise. The group responsible for the cinema, which was called Les Arènes de Chaillot, is La Mexicaine de Perforation or “Drilling Mexican.” The reference to Mexico relates to the name of the neighbourhood directly above the catacomb in question. LMDP is a member of L’UX, a Paris-based clandestine organisation whose goal is to improve and restore the hidden and abandoned sides of urban heritage. After discovering the cinema, which was festooned with electrical wriring that pirates energy from above, and what the police thought was a bomb-like object but that turned out to be a couscous maker, the police team retreated and returned days later with experts from Paris’ electrical authority. By then the entire cinema and bar had been dismantled.
For more see urban resources or here and Brick Magazine. If you read French, there’s a great site here with an explanation of the term “Chaillot” as well as photographs of the undergound tunnels. Below, a remnant left behind after Les Arènes de Chaillot was dismantled. Click below to read the excerpt from Brick Magazine.
The Lizard, the Catacombs, and the Clock:
The Story of Paris’s Most Secret Underground Society
“It’s a war of knowledge. Whoever knows the most is king.”
On August 23, 2004, they discovered a cinema sixty feet beneath Paris.
The sun was shining on the Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower gleamed across the Seine, and deep below ground, police came across a sign. The officers were on a training mission, exploring the 4.3 miles of catacombs that twist beneath the 16th arrondissement. The former quarries are centuries-old, illegal to enter, and the sign at the mouth of the tunnel read, “No public entry.” Police are not the public; they entered. Their headlamps flashed against the limestone walls and then suddenly the officers were surrounded. Invisible dogs snarled and barked from all sides. The men’s hearts hammered. They froze in their tracks. They cooed canine comforts into the dark.
In time, the officers’ lights found the PA system. They found the stereo, with guard-dog yowls burned onto a CD. They found three thousand square feet of subterranean galleries, strung with lights, wired for phones, live with pirated electricity. The officers uncovered a bar, lounge, workshop, dining corner, and small screening area. The cinema’s seats had been carved into the stone itself, with room for twenty people to sit in the cool and chomp on popcorn.
On the floor of one cavern, officers discovered an ominous metal container. The object was fat, festooned with wires. The police called in the bomb squad, they evacuated the surface, they asked themselves,What have we found?
They had found a couscous maker.
A few days after the couscoussière incident, officers returned to the scene. This time they brought agents from Électricité de France. But they were too late. Already someone had undone the galleries’ wiring, disappeared with the equipment, vanished with the booze. What had so recently been a private cinema, a secret hideout, was now just an empty quarry. The cinema’s makers had left a note. “Ne cherchez pas,” they wrote. Don’t search.
Don’t search? For what? For whom? While the Agence France Presse reported a possible “extreme right-wing” connection, the BBCspeculated on a full-fledged “underground movement.” All of Paris dreamed of its subterranean screening society.
However, the people responsible for the cinema under the Trocadéro, a place they dubbed the Arènes de Chaillot, are not quite any of these things. “We are the counterpoint to an era where everything is slow and complicated,” they explain. This group also balances the aspect of today that is instant and shameless, hysterically tweeting. They are patient, serious, and they keep their secrets.
After the cinema episode, it would be two years until the city would see their work again.