Tampopo, Shall We Dance (not the J.Lo version), The Fifth Element, Bladerunner, Cinema Paradiso. A few of my desert island films.
Movies entertain us, provoke us and offer us a glimpse, for a few hours, into an actor’s and/or director’s imagination and the wondrous or terrifying place they’re taking us.
It’s something that has traditionally been experienced not in solitude, but with others looking for an escape. Today, the movie experience can be had for the price of Internet access and a subscription to a movie streaming service.
We all watch movies on TV, but I find it can be less rewarding than being in a crowded (or not) theatre with others. There isn’t that collective experience we get when everyone is on the edge of their seats, hanging on the precipice of suspense. Or the punch in the gut during an emotional scene.
I wanted to search out a theatre in Toronto that still projected movies on film, but many calls brought up dead ends. Most theatres have converted over to digital projection. It’s a sign of the times that follows an arc similar to photography. It can be a matter of survival as fewer and fewer mainstream movies will be released on film. Instead theatres can download movies or have them delivered on hard drives.
Of the dwindling number of theatres in Toronto that have not made the changeover to digital is the Mount Pleasant Theatre located in midtown. It’s been a few years since I’d last been to a movie there, but I wanted to see if there was still any nostalgia in 35-mm celluloid.
Working as a projectionist at the Mount Pleasant since 1999, Dan Sorokolit also works the snack bar and cleans up after movies are over. His family has owned the theatre since 1950.
What I found when I went to meet him was not the image I had of a projection booth.
There were reels of film and editing suites, but instead of industrial versions of the projectors, movies were loaded onto massive platters. A film such as Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby arrived at the Mount Pleasant as eight reels of film that Mr. Sorokolit had to splice together into one continuous 3,922-metre spool. Before the screening of a movie, he would deftly load the film for projection. The leader of the film made its serpentine path from the core of the reel, through numerous turns through rollers, into the projector, and then back through more alleyways, back to another platter.
What surprised me was that the projectionist didn't spend the entire movie in the booth monitoring the projector. My image of Cinema Paradiso’s projectionist Alfredo and his young protege Toto watching a film from the high perch that was the projection booth was dispelled.
I guess I'm left to wonder whether there’s any room for the Alfredos of the world. When asked if the Mount Pleasant will make the switch to digital, Mr. Sorokolit responded: “That’s a question mark.”