Can you feel nostalgia for a time and era you were not alive to witness? A medium that had all but disappeared before your time? I feel all of this and more after watching Cinema Paradiso for the first time.
Progress always comes too late – Alfredo
Mostly set just after World War II, we follow the life of the young Sicilian boy Toto. He’s a choir boy infatuated with the magic of celluloid and spends his spare time pestering an aging projectionist, Alfredo, at the small village’s movie theatre unsurprisingly named Cinema Paradiso.
At first, Alfredo tries to shoo away the inquisitive chap but then trains him up just before tragedy strikes, reminding us all not only how important it was to make celluloid less flammable but that you never know how your youth can impact you in later life…
Celluloid vs Digital
The first thing that struck me watching Cinema Paradiso was how it addressed my own feelings towards the celluloid medium of film. I started going to the cinema in the mid to late nineties i.e. the very end of celluloid cinemas. As of around 2010, most cinema screens now have a digital projection system.
So what exactly is there for me to be nostalgic about? By the time I knew the difference between celluloid and digital, the evolution was all but complete.
I’m all for progression in technology and experimentation. In fact, the technology we have is helping to restore and rescue important films like Parting Glances (1986). Films that are slowly crumbling away in their original form. But it’s also melancholic knowing that this advancement is to the detriment of an entire art form.
Celluloid at the end of WWII was highly flammable. Like, oh my goodness cinemas could just go up in flames at any moment. The main exciting incident in Inglorious Basterds (2009) anyone? After Alfredo was left blind after an explosion in Cinema Paradiso’s projection room, new and improved technology arrived too late to save his sight.
But does progress always come too late? I’m not convinced that’s the case. Frankly, I sure wish 3D would stand and face the corner for a while, think about what it’s done and only come back when it’s willing to apologize for its recent cinematic atrocities and when it’s ready to properly contribute.
Small town life vs Big town dreams
Toto became the New Cinema Paradiso’s projectionist upon its restoration and considered quitting school since he already had a job. Luckily, Alfredo shot that idea right down. Earlier in the film, Alfredo is laughed at by a classroom of eight-year-olds as he attempts to pass school exams in order to improve himself.
Alfredo knows it’s too late for him, but it’s not too late for Toto. Young Toto manages to become a hotshot film director while under strict instructions from Alfredo to never come back to his hometown and never reach out to Alfredo ever again. Alfredo specifically tells Toto not to be nostalgic and to never return. But if we shouldn’t be nostalgic, what the hec is this film for?!
A spoonful of sugar helps the nostalgia go down
I personally believe to be nostalgic is to have the utmost appreciation. Toto appreciates Alfredo showing him the ropes of projection, appreciates the push Alfredo gave him to reach his full potential, no matter what Toto ended up sacrificing.
In the 1980s when the film was produced, cinema’s domination of film distribution had already rapidly declined with the invention of TV. With decreasing sales and audiences becoming harder to please, it’s easy to become jaded within the film industry. Within any industry, really. Lots of different sectors experience ups and downs and that, my friend, is a fact of life.
So how do you keep yourself going through the hard times? Simply, by being a little nostalgic and thinking back to the good times. And for Toto, this is back in Sicily with an old projector and seeing his good pal Alfredo every day.
Have you ever seen Cinema Paradiso? Isn’t it just the sweetest, most gorgeous movie? Let me know in the comments!