Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
There is a village priest in "Cinema Paradiso" who is the local cinema's most faithful client. He turns up every week like clockwork, to censor the films. As the old projectionist shows the movies to his audience of one, the priest sits with his hand poised over a bell, the kind that altar boys use. At every sign of carnal excess - which to the priest means a kiss - the bell rings, the movie stops and the projectionist snips the offending footage out of the film. Up in the projection booth, tossed in a corner, the lifeless strips of celluloid pile up into an anthology of osculation, an anthology that no one will ever see, not in this village, anyway.
Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso," which is one of this year's Oscar nominees for best foreign language film, takes place in Sicily in the final years before television. It has two chief characters: old Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who rules the projection booth, and young Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio), who makes the booth his home away from an indifferent home. As the patrons line up faithfully, night after night, for their diet of films without kisses, the boy watches in wonder as Alfredo wrestles with the balky machine that throws the dream-images on the screen. At first Alfredo tries to chase Salvatore away, but eventually he accepts his presence in the booth and thinks of him almost as his child. Salvatore certainly considers the old man his father, and (this is the whole point) the movies as his mother.
I wonder if a theater has ever existed that showed such a variety of films as the Cinema Paradiso does in this movie. Tornatore tells us in an autobiographical note that the theater in his hometown, when he was growing up, showed everything from Kurosawa to the Hercules movies, and in "Cinema Paradiso" we catch glimpses of Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne and of course countless Hollywood melodramas in which men and women look smolderingly at one another, come closer, seem about to kiss, and then (with the jerk of a jump-cut) are standing apart, exchanging a look of deep significance.
We become familiar with some of the regular customers at the theater. They are a noisy lot - rude critics, who shout suggestions at the screen and are scornful of heroes who do not take their advice.