“This is no job for you. You’re always by yourself. You see a film 100 times. You’ve nothing else to do. You talk to Greta Garbo and Tyrone Power like an idiot. You work like a dog. Even holidays, Easter, Christmas.”
Alfredo, the projectionist in the enchanting “Cinema Paradiso” (1988), utters the above words to Salvatore “Toto,” the young boy who sees the work of unspooling movies for people as the ideal job for him. It should go without saying that I find a great communion with that child who grows up to take his love for cinema and make a career out of it.
When I was Toto’s age, there was a movie theatre near our house that showed double features every day. It was named “The Roosevelt.” This palace (in my mind it was grand, although in reality it may have been a run-down place) showed a vast array of incongruous selections. There, I was introduced to David Lean, and he was paired with a Steve McQueen action film. To whomever was curating and putting together these works for my consumption and education, I salute you. There was everything from the slapstick French comedy “The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob” (1974) starring Louis de Funes, to Peter Sellers in “The Party” (1968), to Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” (1954). My mom and dad (I bow down) put up with the endless hours I enjoyed watching this reverie on the big screen. Time stood still while the movies played for me at the Roosevelt, temporarily being snapped out of my trance when the projectionist would forget to load up the second reel and the screen would go blank. On those rare occasions when the celluloid would go up in flames, I cursed at the heavens. There couldn’t have been a bigger disappointment. I’d like to sit (as I still do) as close to the screen as possible. I didn’t like being distracted by the couple who were only interested in making out instead of watching as Cary Grant as he went up the stairs to save Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious” (1946). For me, it was always about dreaming and longing. Although my parents provided everything I needed at the time, the movies made up for the bigger aspirations I had in my mind. I never wanted to be on the movie screen or be responsible for making movies. I only wanted to see them, and I wanted others to enjoy what I was seeing. The Roosevelt is no longer there, long ago becoming the victim of the economy and the advent of videos. But if it hadn’t been for that movie theatre, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, is a valentine to old movie houses as well as a coming of age story, as we watch young Salvatore’s ultimate career being shaped by his experiences at the theatre. It is sentimental and full of comedy, which balances it all out, the way a tinge of salt is needed in pastries. The tone of it works because the entire story takes place in a flashback.
Salvatore, now a famous director in Rome, hasn’t visited his mother nor his hometown in Sicily for the past thirty years. He gets a phone call that Alfredo, the longtime projectionist, has died, and that the funeral is tomorrow. As he lays his head on his pillow at night, the chimes outside his window beckoned the sound of the bells that he rang as an altar boy falling asleep at church right after World War II.
It is the priest whom young Toto follows into another house of worship, the local movie house in the main town’s plaza, the Cinema Paradiso. The cleric watches the films before they’re shown to the public and rings his bell whenever there’s a kiss on screen and Alfredo has to cut the moment out. “In 20 years, I’ve never seen a kiss,” complains an audience member. Toto is in particularly drawn to the shimmering light coming from the upstairs balcony, and the porthole itself is the mouth of a lion.
Toto’s being raised by his widowed mother. He finds solace at the movies and desires to be in the projection booth with Alfredo who forbids it because it’s a fire hazard, for the films strips are highly flammable. Eventually he does teach Toto how to work the projector. “Oh, you get used to it,” Alfredo says about being alone in the booth. “Sometimes you can hear that the house is full of people laughing and having fun. Then you’re happy too. It makes you feel good to hear them. Like you’re the one who made them laugh – who made them forget their troubles.”
The best moments are when we get tastes of the array of old movies showing on the screen and see how this war ravaged Italian village is brought back to life by the power in them. We see moments from Luchino Visconti’s “La Terra Trema” (1948) and Raffaello Matarazzo’s “Catene” (1948). It is Alfredo who tells Salvatore to get out of town and follow his dreams of being a filmmaker. The last ten minutes, which involves a glorious montage of movie moments, bring this cinephile to tears every time.
Alfredo : “Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt.”
Available to stream on HBO, HBO NOW, HBO Max and DIRECTV. Available to rent on iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, Redbox and Apple TV.
Written by Giuseppe Tornatore and in collaboration with Vanna Paoli
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio, Salvatore Cascio
Director Giuseppe Tornatore on Bringing “Cinema Paradiso” to the Screen
“I got the initial idea in autumn of 1977. I was involved with the movie theaters in my village as a projectionist. That autumn, they closed one of the oldest theaters that dated back to the early 1930s. The owner decided to sell the building and they had to clear out all the furniture, and basically clean out and strip the building. He asked me to take anything I wanted. So I spent three or four days there, helping to clean it out…it was so dirty, so musty, the smell, the whole atmosphere was just so sad. It just came to me to take this atmosphere and put it into a story. For the next ten years, I made notes as ideas came to me. I interviewed many of the old projectionists in town for their stories, then I wrote the script. I always thought it was something I’d make after I made a name for myself, maybe as my fifth or sixth movie. After I finished my first film, my producer said to me “Don’t you have a passion project? Something you’re dying to make?” And I told him the entire story of Cinema Paradiso, right there. He was so touched that I decided to make it as my second movie.” (huffpost.com)
About Cinematographer Blasco Giurato
Born in Rome, 7/6/1941, he made professional training with a series of short-length films, winning the Florence “Festival dei Popoli” with “The furthest island”. His camera operator career begun at the side of Dario Di Palma, then Rotunno and Kuveiller, collaborating with the greatest directors of the period, such as Fellini (“I Clowns”, “Roma”), Zurlini, Gregoretti, Giraldi, Questi, Wertmuller, Vancini, Pasolini, Maselli, Petri, Monicelli, Lumet, Bolognini, Pontecorvo, etc. In 1975 he started working as a Director of Photography with a TV drama by Daniele d’Anza, “La Baronessa di Carini”, an huge success still nowadays, and Eriprando Visconti’s “La Orca”, which brought him immediately his first “Nastro d’Argento” and “David di Donatello” nomination for best cinematography. Throughout his career he’s been often requested for commercials. In 1985 he had his first collaboration with Giuseppe Tornatore for the film “Il Camorrista”, followed by “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”, “Everybody’s Fine”, “A Pure Formality”. (aquafilmfestival.org)
About Composer Ennio Morricone
Ennio Morricone was born in Rome on 10 November 1928. His long artistic career includes a wide range of composition genres, from absolute concert music to applied music, working as orchestrator, conductor and composer for theatre, radio and cinema. In 1946, Ennio received his trumpet diploma and in 1954 he received his diploma in Composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia under the guidance of Goffredo Petrassi. He wrote his first concert works at the end of the 1950s, then worked as arranger for RAI (the Italian broadcasting company) and RCA-Italy. He started his career as a film music composer in 1961 with the film Il “Federale” directed by Luciano Salce. World fame followed through the Sergio Leone westerns: “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965), “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (1966), “Once Upon a Time in The West” (1968) and “A Fistful of Dynamite” (1971). In 1965, Morricone joined the improvisation group Nuova Consonanza. Since 1960, Morricone has scored over 450 films working with many Italian and international directors including Sergio Leone, Gillo Pontecorvo, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuliano Montaldo, Lina Wertmuller, Giuseppe Tornatore, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski, Warren Beatty, Adrian Lyne, Oliver Stone, Margarethe Von Trotta, Henry Verneuil, Pedro Almodovar and Roland Joffè. His most famous films (other than the Italian westerns) include: “The Battle of Algiers;” “Sacco and Vanzetti;” “Cinema Paradiso;” “The Legend of 1900,” “Malena;” “The Untouchables;” “Once Upon a Time in America;” “The Mission” and “U-Turn.” His absolute music production includes over 100 pieces composed from 1946 to the present day. Titles include “Concerto per Orchestra n.1” (1957); “Frammenti di Eros” (1985); “Cantata per L’Europa” (1988); “UT, per tromba, archi e percussioni” (1991); “Ombra di lontana presenza” (1997); “Voci dal silenzio” (2002); “Sicilo ed altri frammenti” (2007); “Vuoto d’anima piena” (2008). In 2001, Ennio Morricone began a period of intense concert activity, conducting his film music and concert works for symphony orchestra and polyphonic choir in more than 100 concerts across Europe, Asia, USA, Central and South America.
During his long career, Ennio Morricone has also received many awards. As well as the Golden Lion and the honorary Oscar he was awarded in 2003, he has been presented with eight Nastri D’argento, five BAFTAs, five Oscar nominations, seven David Di Donatellos, three Golden Globes, one Grammy Award and one European Film Award.
In 2009, the then President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, also signed a decree appointing Morricone to the rank of Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor. In the recording field, Morricone has received 27 gold discs, seven platinum discs, three Golden Plates and the Critica discografica award for the music of the film Il Prato. The soundtrack from the film “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009 while Morricone himself was awarded the prestigious Polar Music prize the following year. His more recent works include scores for the television series “Karol” and “The End of a Mystery,” “72 Meters” and “Fateless.” In the 21st century, Morricone’s music has been reused countless times for television and in movies including Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (2003), “Death Proof” (2007), “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) and “Django Unchained” (2012). In 2007, Morricone received the Academy Honorary Award “for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music”. In November 2013, he began a world tour to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his film music career and performed in locations such as the Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Santiago, Chile, Berlin, Germany (O2 World), Budapest, Hungary, and Vienna’s Stadhalle. On 6 February 2014, Riccardo Mutti conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Morricone’s Voices from the Silence, a cantata Morricone composed in response to 9/11 to give voice to innocent victims. In Autumn 2014, Morricone participated in the recording of a documentary about himself by Giuseppe Tornatore, which is yet to be released. His European tour resumed from February 2015 to March 2015, with 20 concerts in 12 countries, in Europe’s largest arenas, such as the O2 in London and the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. Playing to a total of 150,000 spectators and with most of the shows sold out, Maestro Morricone’s “My Life in Music” European Arena Tour was a resounding success. On 12 June 2015, Morricone conducted a mass composed in dedication to Pope Francis. It was commissioned by the Jesuit Order to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the recongregation of the Jesuit Order at the Jesuit Church in Rome. 2015 also saw Morricone collaborate with Quentin Tarantino on an original soundtrack for the very first time. On December 7th 2015, “The Hateful Eight” had its world premiere followed by a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Original Score category the very next day. (enniomorricone.org)
About Director Giuseppe Tornatore
His films touch the soul of Sicily, transcending the ordinary, the conventional, the stereotypical. Giuseppe Tornatore was born and raised in Bagheria (outside Palermo). He started working very young as a photographer, publishing in various photographic magazines. At the age of sixteen he staged two plays by Pirandello and De Filippo. For the cinema he has made various documentaries, including “Il Carretto,” highly acclaimed at several regional and national film festivals in Italy. In 1979 be began a long collaboration with RAI (Italy’s national television network), for which he directed several programs. From 1978 to 1985, he was chairman of the CLCT Cooperative, which produced Giuseppe Ferrara’s film “100 Days in Palermo,” with Lino Ventura. Tornatore also co-wrote the screenplay and directed the second unit. In 1986 he made his debut in feature films with “Il Cammorrista” (“The Gangster”), starring Ben Gazzara. Freely adapted from the book by Giuseppe Marrazzo, this singular motion picture won Tornatore a Golden Globe for best new director. Rural life is a hallmark of Tornatore’s “Sicilian” movies. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, which took place in small-town Sicily, was the film that put Tornatore on the map with international audiences. It won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1990. “The Star Maker,” set in post-war Sicily, was released in 1995, followed by “Malèna” in 2000. The social statements of “Malèna,” an emotional story which takes place in a fictional Sicilian town during the war, are powerfully thought-provoking…Tornatore, a younger director, is not afraid to confront, in a serious way, difficult historical and social issues that most Sicilians themselves rarely discuss –including Fascism and the Second World War– through the eyes of individual characters and situations. With time, he is earning respect as that rarest of cinematic talents –a “Director’s Director.” (bestofsicily.com) A few of his other works include “The Unknown Woman” (2006), “Baarìa” (2009), “Everybody’s Fine” (2009), “L’ultimo gattopardo: Ritratto di Goffredo Lombardo” (2010), “The Best Offer” (2013), “Correspondence” (2016) and is most recently in pre-production for “The Glance of Music” in 2021.