Old Beirut cinemas recall more tolerant days





...Theaters once played a more unifying role. Lebanon lived under French control from 1920 to 1943, and the lingering influence of France, along with the magnetism of Hollywood, led Beirut to what many here still consider a golden age of moviegoing.

In the mid-1950s downtown Beirut was filled with glorious movie palaces like the Empire and the Majestic and the Roxy. Lebanese presidents attended premieres, and many still recall the rush of stepping into an air-conditioned theater during Ramadan or its bookend holiday, Id al-Fitr....

Even in the early years, though, movie theaters were entwined with politics. The Communist Party met in a Beirut cinema in the 1920s. In 1974, a new theater in the Holiday Inn aimed to open with “The Tamarind Seed,” featuring Omar Sharif as a Russian agent, but the Russian Embassy protested. “They held it for two months,” Mr. Soueid said....



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