Abel Ferrara’s THE PROJECTIONIST – Now on Blu-ray is a Fascinating Look at the History of the NYC…

The Driller Killer himself, Abel Ferrara has had a rather unexpected trajectory to his career since moving to Italy post 9/11 to fund and produce his films. The director who was known more for his exploitation (Driller Killer, Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant, King of New York) output before leaving the county has gone on to make fare more for the arthouse crowd, which usually can be placed into one of two piles, documentaries and films with his frequent collaborator, muse and cinematic surrogate Willem Dafoe. The Projectionist is his latest doc which was just released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray, looks at the life of Nicolas “Nick” Nicolaou, a Cypriot immigrant that started his career as an usher in a NY theater in the 70s and now owns and operates one of New York City’s last independent theaters.

The documentary tells its story in three unique ways — first we have Nick giving Ferrara a walking tour of his old stomping grounds in New York. The two men share a rather candid familiarity as they go from locale to locale discussing the city and its theater scene pre the Guiliani “Disneyfication”. Nick made his money during this seedier Sleazoid Express era New York, running theaters of both the arthouse and porn (both gay and straight) persuasion. Normally we get the nostalgia filled dispatches from individuals lucky, brave or stupid enough to have visited the notorious cinemas during that time, but its fascinating to hear the actual business side of things. Like how the arthouse was usually the loss leader for Nick as opposed to the very profitable exploitation and somewhat off the books porn houses.

Interwoven with Ferrara and Nick’s literal walk down memory lane is a cinematic tour of the eras with clips of what would probably be playing at these theaters in the aforementioned time periods. This adds some definite color to the film and highlights some of the weirder movies that might have unspooled for patrons. Finally we have your standard talking head interviews that is the expositional glue that holds the narrative of a young immigrant and his dream of building an empire on celluloid together. This coalesces into a third act where the dynamic of the film completely switches into a different kind of underdog story as we witness Nick’s struggle to keep one of his last independent theater afloat, in a world dominated by Hollywood blockbusters and the corporate multiplex.

The Projectionist is as much about two New Yorkers catching up and reminiscing about the good old days as it is a snapshot of what it was like to run a theater in the 70’s/80’s. Nicolaou, who is obviously straight, really won me over when it came to discussing the how he would address communities that weren’t happy with his gay porn theaters. Instead of simply focusing on the monetary angle for why he fought for these theaters, he humanizes his patrons and their need to connect in a way that really drew me in and had me cheering him on in that last act. For those like myself who’ve read the books on 42nd Street, you’re not really going to learn anything new, as much as hear a different perspective and find out what happened to those places and the people that ran them.

Get it at Amazon: If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Previous post LUST, CAUTION: A Complex, Passionate Romance Finally Arrives on US Blu
Next post The Hilarity and Fear of DEFENDING YOUR LIFE