Archive for February, 2009


Movies About Movie Love

cinema_paradiso1With this weekend’s Oscar ceremony, we film buffs are in heaven, even if we don’t quite buy into the ultimate choices and the reasoning behind them. People who are obsessed with movies are quite a species onto themselves, sometimes to the point of it being unhealthy. Case in point: the stars of the documentary Cinemania (2002), which I don’t think is even available on DVD anymore. Cinemania follows people who eat and breathe going from one New York film screening to another, all day, every day. Their days are spent in the dark caverns of the MoMA, Film Forum, the Sunshine, and anywhere else with a film schedule. Needless to say, most of their social skills are nil. One guy chooses not to work and lives off his inheritance – he considers his screen-hopping his full-time job. I ran into some of these sorts when I would attend screenings at NYU’s Cinema Studies Department. I walked out and never came back the day one of the groupies yelled at the student volunteer projectionist because the projection wasn’t perfect.

However, there are instances of sublime cinephilia, which take you to another place: Martin Scorsese’s My Voyage to Italy (1999) or any time he provides commentary for that matter, Mia Farrow staring up at the screen at the end of The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), the characters of The Dreamers (2003) re-creating a scene from Queen Christina (1933), juxtaposed with Garbo herself.

Cinema Paradiso (1988), winner of the 1990 Best Foreign Film Oscar, explores the friendship between young Toto and the aging village movie projectionist Alfredo. The film includes clips from classic European and Hollywood movies. Watching an Italian audience react to these movies causes us to see them in a new light, especially when we see the children raptly watching La Terra Trema (1948), reminiscent of Mia Farrow.  The audience though uses the screening as a social occasion as well, talking to the movie and at each other, crying, laughing, reciting dialogue back to the screen, fighting, loving. It’s like the movie is at the same time sacred and citizen. The film ends with an explosion of movie love, scene after scene of kissing, which the village priest had censored out of the film prints with the ring of his bell and which Alfredo has now spliced together for Toto. Cinema Paradiso also celebrates the film material itself, the look and sound of the celluloid traveling through the projector to the screen and the skill required of the projectionist to do this.