Cinema Paradiso celebrates not merely the joy of film, but the thrill of projecting movies. This is an activity that a super majority of film fans have no clue or care about. Even during the era of 35mm, the average filmgoer bought their ticket, loaded up on popcorn, sat in their seat and waited for the screen to light up. Rarely did people look at the back of the theater to the small windows of the projection booth. The only time they care for that space was when the film missed a sprocket, jammed and burned up. Even then the average film lover had no clue what the projector would go through to give them their movie magic. Which is fine. They are there to be immersed in the illusion of cinema and not know all the tricks. For most of my life, I was one of those people until I went to film school and met Ray Regis.
Ray was a rabid film collector from the Boston area. Through means which will not be discussed here, he had accumulated a collection of nearly 1,000 35mm film prints and tons of trailers. His mysterious career included a time when he was the projectionist for the Cardinal of Boston. He lived and breathed films. I spent so much of six years hanging out with him in the massive projector booth that worked all three screens in the archives complex. He was a master when it came to adjusting his projectors to get the optimal quality out of them for a screening. As much as I wanted to learn how to project, I quickly learned to do everything but project. I would have never gone home. After midnight, we’d grab the first reel from six or more films from a recently acquired collection and watch them to decide if we wanted to see the whole film later. We’d stumble out towards our homes at 4 a.m. But if I’d projected, we would have stayed until 8 a.m. when the first classes arrived. Ray lived for the grinding sound of the projector and framing the image just right. It was an addictive life. After graduating, I stuck around for two years working for Ray. Whenever I see Cinema Paradiso, it hard to not think of Ray especially since he kinda resembled Philippe Noiret without the mustache. Also Ray had a copy of the film in his collection which always was shown each year.
Toto (Girl with a Suitcase‘s Jacques Perrin) comes home after a late night to get told by his girlfriend that someone from back home had died. Laying in the darkness, he’s overwhelmed by the memories of Alfredo (Round Midnight‘s Philippe Noiret), the projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso. While Toto was supposed to be an altar boy, he preferred to learn the rituals of the projection booth. This was at a time when the projection booth was a dangerous place thanks to black and white nitrate film. The films were pretty much dynamite and spark in the wrong place could devastate all the dreams from Hollywood. This most feared even happens and Alfredo and the theater suffer the most. While he recovers, Toto must take over the role of projectionist. The bond between the projectionist and the pupil grows during this time. But Toto finds a rival for his cinematic passion in a local girl. Can the projectionist give the right advice to Toto?
Cinema Paradiso was a massive foreign hit back in 1988. Besides winning the Cannes Film Festival, it also scooped up the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Unlike a lot of foreign films that have won over the last few decades, Cinema Paradiso is still a joy to behold. It hasn’t fizzled as the hype faded. A lot of that has to do with Noiret’s gruff charms. This new boxset from Arrow has both the 124 minute version that was originally released and the 174 minute Director’s Cut that came out years later. The big difference between the two films is in the second half when the adult Toto encounters his lost love. It shows Alfredo in a different light as a meddler. This is one of those films where the director’s cut shows the prudence in losing scenes. The release version is the one to share with friends.
This is a film that really hearkens back to a bygone era as we get deeper into the era of digital cinemas. The allure of the projection both is gone since it now contains a video projector and a computer. The projectionist has been discarded since the manager can make sure the system is turned on. Where’s the fun in a portable hard drive? You can’t hold it up the light and ingest the frames of the movie like a reel of 35mm. As much as I want to hang out in the projection booth with Ray checking out a 16mm of Rope from Hitchcock’s collection, such times are gone.
The videos is 1.85 anamorphic. The 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision is of the 124 minute theatrical cut. The Blu-ray features the 174 minute director’s cut. The transfers for both the theatrical and director’s cut capture the richness of the Italian locations. This looks better than Ray’s print and he kept that in great shape. With 4K UHD, you’ll be getting the digital film experience. The audio is uncompressed original stereo 2.0 Audio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both tracks are in Italian. The mix brings out the sounds of the projection booth. You’ll hear the clacking noise of the projector. The score by Ennio Morricone & Andrea Morricone soars around you. The movie is subtitled in English.
Audio commentary with director Giuseppe Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus. He points out a few of the autobiographical elements in the film. A lot of the track is Marcus picking about elements of the film.
A Dream of Sicily (54:45) features director Giuseppe Tornatore recalling when he decided to become a director even in Bagheria. He talks of the difficulties of making it in the Italian film industry from Sicily. The documentary s in Italian with English subtitles.
A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise (27:26) allows director Giuseppe Tornatore to explain what inspired to make the film. He mentions once having served as a projectionist. There’s also clips of French actor Philippe Noiret discussing the film and his role. The short is in Italian and French with English subtitles.
The Kissing Sequence (7:01) director Giuseppe Tornatore reflects on the embracing finale of Cinema Paradiso. They list all the scenes in the censored reel. In Italian, with English subtitles.
25th Anniversary Trailer (1:40) promised to bring back the magic.
Director’s Cut Trailer (1:24) is the promise of 51 additional minutes.
Arrow Academy presents Cinema Paradiso. Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore. Screenplay by: Giuseppe Tornatore. Starring: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio & Salvatore Cascio. Running Time: 124 minutes. Rated: R. Released: December 8, 2020.