The Charismatic Characters of Montmartre

Discover the voice of Montmartre

By Forum des images

Forum des images

Sur la Butte Montmartre (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images

Montmartre : Who are you ?

Montmartre, a city in the city: its mount, its basilica, its two hundred and twenty two steps and its funicular, the artists who are devoted to painting in the Place de Tertre and the cabarets of Pigalle... Greedy, frivolous, generous, the Mount Montmartre abounds with atypical characters. Proclaimed on May 7th, 1921, the Republic of Montmartre remains faithful to its ideals: Cubists, Dadaists, surrealists or futurists meet there and live amongst the average inhabitants in a friendly atmosphere. The spirit of mutual aid and sociability which is characteristic of this places lives on there, like a joyful festival in modernity. Still today, the folklore continues. Whether they are true “Montmartrois” or provincials having migrated to the capital, the outspokenness of the characters that you will meet there make the memories unforgettable. Go encounter the million and one faces that make the Mount of Montmartre so alive, so charming, so authentic…

Just ten years ago, at the number 14 on Three Brothers Street, the coffee machine still worked with gas, the stove with coal, the counter was not in zync but in formica board. There were still Ricard ashtrays on every table, memories of bygone days where smokers were still allowed inside small cafés.

Georgette, almost ninety years old, is an attractive caricature of Inhabitant of the Auvergne gone up to Paris he has there a very long time. She is the boss of the Fine Mocha, small a little bit old-fashioned coffee of the Mound Montmartre where the conversations are nevertheless of the most hilarious. Fifty years having invested in this affair, always accompanied by Fernande, her most faithful customer, Georgette does not succeed in leaving the premises of a whole life. Well then?

Montmartre aux artistes (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images


Montmartre is also the historic district of the artists, the symbol of the bohemian life of Paris. The Cités d’artistes (who the famous Wash-shed) appeared from the end of the XIXth century. Let us continue our walk through the streets of Montmartre ... After the morning coffee in the Fine Mocha, let us venture towards an unusual and warm place. Go back up the street of Three Brothers and up to Rue Tourlaque, near the Montmartre Cemetery. Then, hang to your right on Damrémont Street until you cross the Rue Ordener. Here, situated at number 189, is an impressive building compound of three alcoves. Proud of its 187 artist studios built in 1934 by Adolphe Thiers for the City of Paris, "Montmartre for the artists" is raised up in front of you. Welcome to the heart.

La Renaissance (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images

The Renaissance: a bar not like the others

A few minutes away from there, at 112 Championnet Street, you will stumble upon a bar that is unique: the Renaissance. Its retro atmosphere gives her the feeling of a saloon timeless, fanciful and typical of these places which age but never tarnish. The local hangout for the inhabitants of Montmartre but also the theater for numerous shootings, the decoration of The Renaissance inspires as much conviviality as it does fantasy. Michel Deville in 1974 with "Love at the Top” to "Inglorious Basterds" in 2009, to "My New Partner" by Claude Zidi in 1984, the cinema has made its mark on this bar. The current seats and curtains were leftover generously by Quentin Tarantino after the shooting. And know that it is not a coincidence if the American chose this place to shoot one of the cult negotiations in his movie because he had discovered it himself in "The Blood of Others" by Claude Chabrol, shot in this location in 1984 with Jodie Foster and Sam Neil.

Return in the Fin Moka with Georgette and Fernande for a small well-deserved apéritif after wandering the streets of Montmartre this morning. The walls, as much as faces of our two old friends, carry the marks of times-passed. The good mood of this woman from Auvergne and this cheeky Parisian is however most invigorating.

With her magnificent toothless smile, the invincible Fernande declares her allegiance to her glass of Salers, a bitter alcohol of which she must have several grams in her blood.

Without family and without other ties apart from the formica board which they have shared for so long, Fernande and Georgette calmly let, but not without a certain melancholy, pass by the last moments of their life in Paris. Even if "their" Montmartre has indeed changed, not for anything would they want to leave this neighborhood …

But be beware of the snake in the grass. With their thick accents, both inhabitants of Montmartre have not left their tongue in their pockets! In their discussions of the weather outside, the pollution and ices that are melting, industry, red cars and the color green, they bicker and are outspoken: "I say shit as I say hello", concludes Georgette.

And Fernande adds : "I don’t like country people, they are conceited”.

Undoubtedly, the charm of Montmartre also comes from this: of this natural frankness, and the people of the neighborhood who never mince their words but never seem unpleasant!

Escaliers de Montmartre (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images

The gentian, that plant which they have been drinking for a few years already in the Fin Moka, Fernande and Georgette eat the roots today. The neighborhood bar on Three Brothers Street has become a tapas bar: The Wasp. The atmosphere is anything but that, but the soul of Georgette's Montmartre floats in the air. "The Wasp", it was indeed its nickname as the bar, unintentionally, emitted a whistling rather similar to that of the insect ...

Within the thick walls of "Montmartre of the artists", sculptors, painters, film-makers, writers, potters continue living together, and learning from one another in workshops. An vast universe, with vast imagination that no one would dare to judge …

Here you will hear them discussing technique, you will maybe meet Roman Goupil for a cigarette break on the Italian-style balconies which breathe a fellinien spirit into this place where individuals circulate, convergent, cross and leave. But never, ever, will you hear the residents criticize in this small enclave, haven of peace where reigns the spirit of Montmartre.

At The Renaissance, the coffees have given way to the beers. The regular customers will certainly have a few words to say to convince you that there is nothing common about this bar. Here reigns an atmosphere not like the others: chairs and tables in ebony, the record player and place mats make an intergenerational place.

Les vignes de Montmartre (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images

"It is the wine of Montmartre. Who drinks a pint, pisses a quart."

The day comes to an end, but not our walk, because the evening still reserves us beautiful surprises. The walk up the mount is difficult, but the game is worth the prize. Upon our arrival on Saint Vincent Street, the Agile Rabbit welcomes us. In front of the cabaret is the Clos-Montmartre, the vineyard that has been growing on the north side of the mount since year 944!

Since then, the local production called "Piccolo" has not stop flowing like water in the inns and cabarets. Every year, it is here that they hold the traditional grape harvests festival, which honors the new vine. A-typical characters filled with humor, it is certainly Anatole, the rural policeman of Montmartre, that will speak to you the most sincerely about the beverage!

Le Président de la République de Montmartre s'exprime (1985) by Forum des imagesForum des images

Since 1934, the last vineyard of Paris has been celebrated cheerfully on the occasion of the grape harvest festival. On this occasion, stories come back into our memory.

In October 1982, under a greying sky, the Tout-Paris had met here to taste the new harvest. At that time, Jacques Chirac, then Mayor of Paris, already seemed to be a fine amateur of local products. In a whirlwind of folk dances, floats, local dishes and of course Piccolo, between tradition and small mistakes, the President of the Republic of Montmartre, Maurice His, spoke.

Discours de Jacques Chirac (1985) by Forum des imagesForum des images

Afterwards, Jacques Chirac also gave a popular speech that was also certainly a little tipsy. Far from urban and austere Paris, here reigns the friendly air of a small village in the countryside.

"A beauty mark on the cheek of Paris", Montmartre makes the capital rosy cheeked each year during this time of rural bacchanal!

Place du Tertre (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images

An afternoon, Place du Tertre …

Montmartre takes on a number of faces both typical and unusual. On the Place du Tertre, next to the Sacré Coeur, the painters immortalize some of them. It is here, near the Basilica, that Pierre Carré, singer with a banana hairstyle and lively red suit, performs for local residents before going down to Pigalle at nightfall.

Having begun in cabarets as the "Tire-bouchon" or the "Bohême", he has comes to perform every evening for the past twenty five years on the stage of the "Noctambules", at 24 Boulevard of Clichy.

The archetype of a provincial who moved to Paris, for nothing in the world would he leave this mount. Even if the spirit is no longer exactly the same, even if the district changes and even if Pigalle by Night attracts more young people today, Pierre Carré will continue singing songs of the seducers and cooing under the disco ball.

Moulin Rouge (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images

In Pigalle

The world fame of Montmartre also comes from its cabarets, so it would be good not to forget them. Appearing in the XIXth century, they were bars where you could have a drink while taking in a show during the glory days of the district. Going down to Pigalle, through the historic heart of the 18th district, we cross several of these establishments in which the biggest artists began. ‘L’écurie des Trois Baudets’, born in the 1940s, and situated at 64 boulevard of Clichy, was the prestigious room where Georges Brassens, Raymond Devos or even a certain Jacques Brel were discovered. And while we are speaking about cabarets: since 1889, the red windmills turn every evening in the sky of Montmartre. We suggest you finish the stroll with this key monument of the district or more so, of the capital, this symbol of charm, of dance, frivolity, this temple of the amateur and anonymous night birds : the Moulin Rouge.

It is with Mine Vergès that we penetrate into the most famous of the Parisian cabarets. Wardrobe designer by profession, she is, for the past forty years, the small skillful hand that creates the most grandiloquent of costumes for the spectacle “Féérie”.

In her company, from the wings, we assist in the preparation of the artists then the show. Excitement of feathers and glitter, the wide splits, colorful dress-ups, twinkling, sacred: Mine has trouble saying to herself that she will soon pass on the torch. So she takes advantage of it as long as she can.

Pigalle la nuit (2015) by Forum des images (Pascal Schneider)Forum des images

Since these images were turned, in this swarms of streets and places steeped in history that is Montmartre, things have not stopped transforming, all while managing to not alter the spirit of the district. In the neon lights, under little enticing shop windows on the boulevard of Clichy, Montmartre and Pigalle never stop.

Immortal, timeless, this district did not stop surprising us, delighting the visits of both the tourists and the Parisians alike. "The life in Montmartre, it was wonderful!", exclaimed the painter Marc Chagall. And apparently, it still is ...

Credits: Story

La Voix de Montmartre est une exposition produite par le Forum des Images

Un projet de la Direction du Développement Numérique du Forum des images. Depuis la fin des années 80, le Forum des images a cherché à capter et à conserver l'histoire et l'évolution de Paris. Plusieurs centaines de documentaires ont ainsi été produits par l'institution, venant enrichir sa collection parisienne. Cette exposition a été inspirée par ces films.
En partenariat avec le Google Cultural Institute.

Le Forum des Images tient à remercier Pascal Schneider pour ses photographies, ainsi qu'Eric Gervais.

© 2015 Forum des images

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