by Kendra Bean
I’ve been obsessed with the movies for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I really learned to appreciate them. The film class at Sierra College in Rocklin, California was an elective course that attracted the lazy-minded, and those wandering souls who were hopelessly out of place studying math or science. It was led by an affable and slightly histrionic teacher called Mr. Hunter (incidentally, he also taught drama class) who eagerly introduced us to the basics of film history. I often got the feeling that most of my classmates could care less about Mr. Hunter’s enthusiasm or the films we were made to watch, but I was enthralled, having only recently dipped my toes in the water when it came to getting acquainted with movies made before 1980. George Méliès, Andrei Tarkovsky, Hayao Miyazaki, Alain Delon, Stanley Donen. These names opened up my eyes to the vast and rich landscape of classic Hollywood and world cinema.
Then we watched Cinema Paradiso (1988) and my life changed forever.
Giuseppe Tornatore’s Oscar-winning film takes us on the emotional journey of a boy called “Toto” and the village cinema in Sicily where he grew up. Toto is in love with the movies and spends more time at the Cinema Paradiso than he does in school or at home. His education comes not from textbooks but from Jean Gabin, John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Alfredo (the lovely Philippe Noiret), the grumpy projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso who takes Toto under his wing and learns to love him like his own son.
From WWII to the present day, Toto and the Cinema Paradiso change and grow, but the magic created within those plaster walls never quite disappears. This is a nostalgic homage to cinema history and the role film has played in providing escapism for individuals and uniting communities throughout the twentieth century. Through a wide range of inter-textual references, Tornatore plays on the idea that cinema is truly a global language; that we have all felt emotionally connected to the images on screen, no matter our age or geographical location.
When I first saw this film, I got that rare feeling–the feeling that a light bulb had been switched on and that I’d discovered something meaningful and influential in my life. I had spent the preceding months pondering what I was going to major in in college; what I was actually passionate about and what I was going to do with my life outside of university. Cinema Paradiso–with its endless images of the films that made cinema history great, the evocative score by Ennio Morricone, and the famous montage that trumps just about every other film ending in my book—was the film that did it for me. I’ve loved many films before and since, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for Cinema Paradiso and the window it opened in my life.
That day in Mr. Hunter’s film class was the day I knew I wanted to go on to study film history and eventually be a film historian. I haven’t looked back since.
Kendra Bean is a California native but relocated to the English capital in 2010 and proceeded to graduate with an MA in Film Studies from King’s College London. Her film writing has been published at Bright Lights Film Journal, Movie Fanfare, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower, and YAM Magazine. In her spare time, she dabbles in photography and blogs about cinema at vivandlarry.com, the online tribute to Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier that she launched in 2007. She lives in London where she is currently working on her first book: an illustrated biography of Vivien Leigh.