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March 23, 2021

The Projectionist

the projectionist abel.jpg

Abel Ferrara - 2019
Kino Lorber BD Region A

I am not sure why Abel Ferrara chose to title his film The Projectionist. His subject, Nicolas Nicolaou is not noted as having served in that capacity. In a career spanning roughly forty-five years, Nicolaou, in immigrant from Cyprus, has risen from teenage usher, to management, eventually owning a small chain of theaters, and owning real estate in New York City. Ferrara's film ends with a high note, showing Nicolaou's high tech operation, allowing him to remotely run his New York City theaters from his luxurious home in Cypress. It almost goes without saying that this documentary of a man who totally loves film and the film-going experience needs a postscript, if not a full sequel.

I do not know the status of all of Nicoloau's theaters, but the one featured prominently, located in Brooklyn, is closed due to Covid-19. As the expression goes, it is not just business, but personal. There is a new story to be told about how Nicoloau navigates his way through forced closures, retrofitting theaters air conditioning, seating restrictions, even thinner profit margins, and uncertain availability of films with some given quick availablilty on streaming platforms.

Where the film held the most interest for me was Nicoloau and Ferrara taking a tour around Manhattan where the theaters use to stand, intercut with old documentary footage and photographs from the 1970s. I visited many of the theaters seen or mentioned from my time living in New York City between 1969 and 1977. This was when most theaters were single screen, with a handful of exceptions. As a film student, I could easily watch nothing but vintage classics in 35mm prints at several theaters dedicated to cinema's past. I understood Nicoloau and Ferrara's nostalgia for the corner of 59th Street and Third Avenue where on one block stood the Coronet and the smaller Baronet theaters, and nearby, Cinema I and Cinema II. These were theaters that showed films like Five Easy Pieces, Taxi Driver and other films from the "new" Hollywood as well as the so-called "art" films from Europe.

It is also fun to hear the stories of Nicoloau's former employers, how he got his first theater, and tales of a long gone New York City. Part of Nicoloau's chain, both as an employee and eventual theater owner, were several porno theaters, both straight and gay. Nicoloau has a live and let live attitude towards both what was happening on screen as well among the audiences.

More time is spent in an actual projection booth in Matt Barry's short, Cinevangelist: A Life in Revival Film. This bonus extra is a recording of George Figgs, telling about how movies took over his life as a young boy in Baltimore, some of the history of the exhibition of art and revival films, and his own operation of a small revival theater, The Orpheum. A second short could probably be made simply of Figgs recounting his association with Baltimore legend John Waters.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 23, 2021 06:50 AM