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Paris porno cinema makes lone stand against the Web

By Johnny Cotton

PARIS (Reuters) - In a shabby cinema tucked away in a backstreet of central Paris, a crowd of aging devotees are putting up quiet resistance to the might of on-line pornography.

Faced with the onslaught of the Web and its thousands of sex sites catering to every taste, "Le Beverley" bills itself as the last registered porn-only cinema in Paris still serving a diet of retro classics to a loyal clientele.

Its program of 35mm films from the 1970s, along with more modern offerings, attracts 700 customers a week, many of them regulars.

Owner Maurice Laroche has run the theater for 30 years and remembers the heyday of sex cinemas, when Paris's Grands Boulevards area was full of competitors.

But with the Internet and on-demand pornography, Laroche has seen numbers plummet with 1,000 fewer customers passing through the poster-lined hall every week than they did 15 years ago.

"There are clients that I've known since I came here, about 30 years ago. We've followed their working life, they've retired and since we're all about the same age they worry whether Le Beverley, as it's the last - barely profitable - cinema, is going to disappear or not," he said.

The City of Love's numerous sex shops are no substitute, Laroche says, for the sense of community in the cinema where many customers have built up friendships over the years.

"Those clients meet others in the cinema who they've known for some time, and who they've got along with. Quite a few meet up at midday for a little lunch before heading to Le Beverley to let the food go down," he said.

Some 700, almost exclusively male, customers return weekly and Laroche puts the average age at about 60.

He started his career in mainstream cinemas and remembers showing cult classics such as "A Clockwork Orange", the 1971 Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novella.

Though he said he had only seen two or three pornographic films in his life, he moved to Le Beverley for a career change and bought it from the former owner in 1992.

The films are shown on a loop and its 120-seater cinema is at its busiest around three o'clock in the afternoon. Laroche says the aging clientele have little desire to brave the Paris metro system late into the night.

One of its little blue paper tickets costs 12 euros ($16), a bargain as far as Laroche is concerned as the price has remained untouched by inflation for six years.

The film reels are delivered once a fortnight by his supplier, of whom he is now the only customer.

He sees no future for his business once he retires, but for the moment at least the thought of his loyal fanbase stops him from closing the doors for the final time.

"I came here by chance and I don't regret it," he said. "I've got great customers - not many of them anymore, but they're high quality."(1 US dollar = 0.7468 euro)

(Editing by Mark John and Angus MacSwan)

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