Cinema Paradiso Revisited

This past weekend I had the pleasure of watching one of my favorite movies of all time and one the worst movies I have ever seen. Talk about conflict!


The first one is an Italian film, Cinema Paradiso, focused on family and personnel growth. The second is soft porn, Good Luck Chuck, masquerading as a comedy.

Cinema Paradiso came out about twenty years ago. Good Luck Chuck is much more recent.  Chronologically, the time between them is a blip; but, examining them culturally, the rapid degradation of the art form is nothing short of riveting.

Cinema Paradiso begins right after World War II in a small town in Italy. The story line centers around a young boy named Toto and his friend Fredo. Fredo becomes a father figure to Toto as Toto’s father was killed during World War II.

The two develop a relationship around Fredo’s job, where he runs the only movie theater in town. He teaches Toto how to run a screen projector which, at the time, was an actual trade. Fredo teaches and mentors Toto on cinema, generally but more importantly, on life. In so doing, Fredo sees in Toto the seeds of greatness.

When Toto becomes a young man, Fredo forces Toto to promise to leave the town and never return. Toto’s gifts and talents are so great that Fredo knows they were meant to be shared with the world and not confined within such a small community. Fredo tells Toto that if he ever returns, he will never speak to him again.

The scene is beautiful and poignant in that Toto leaves the only place wherein he is truly loved. He leaves  his widowed mother and sister, as well as Fredo, to explore and conquer the rest of the world.

Many years later, having become a fabulously successful businessman, Toto returns to attend Fredo’s funeral.  The town is clearly in awe of Toto’s fame as his dealings are well documented in the press.  He returns a conquer, of sorts, but without family. In essence, that was the price he had paid for the life he lived. His true loves had been formed, and left, in this small town — friends, family and the unrequited love of a girl with whom he had attended school. Toto and Fredo sacrificed much having loved each other as only father and son can. Yet, both knew the price of greatness. The love that Fredo (and Toto’s family) felt for him would have only slowed him down.

There is something special about human nature that compels us to want to keep those we love and cherish close to us; but, to truly love someone is about encouraging, then allowing, them out into the world so that their greatness can be revealed. Cinema Paradiso captured this with beauty and grace..

Fast forward twenty years later to “Good Luck Chuck.”

It centers around Chuck, who at age thirteen, was cursed by a girl for not kissing her during a game of spin the bottle. Chuck’s curse is that women can find their “one true love” after having sex with him. Chuck is forever destined to be alone since anybody he “loves” i.e “has sex with him” then leaves him to find their true love.

As women discover that “Chuck” is a good luck charm, they throw themselves at him with reckless abandon. He begins to have sex with anybody and everybody. He is shown having rampant sex in every conceivable position. So plentiful and frenzied is Chuck’s sex life that the director splits the screen into four mini-screens so that we can fully capture his prowess. In one particularly depressing scene, Chuck goes to visit his friend for advice only to find him pleasuring himself with a grapefruit.

The movie, though billed as a comedy, is really soft porn. I never once laughed during the movie and I was beside myself to think that a director would actually think that a man pleasuring himself with a grapefruit was somehow funny.

Good Luck Chuck” featured Jessica Alba and Dane Cook, both of whom are considered talented professionals. Many people were involved in the to direction, production and marketing of this movie. Yet no one involved intervened to stop this abomination. It is a sad state of affairs that this film made it to the movie theaters. It’s showing only reinforces my belief that our culture has descended to a nearly unprecedented low

I don’t know when sex got linked to humor, but it seems that those lacking in creativity or talent resort to it for cheap laughs. I saw it up close around 2000 when I went to see Susie Essman, from “Curb your Enthusiasm” preform at a comedy club. I thought she was funny and quite talented so I wanted to see her live. Sadly, her whole show revolved around her haranguing a family of ten from Ohio.  Like me, I imagined they came in hoping to see a talented comedian.  Instead she asked everyone’s preference regarding sex (anal- homosexual-positions, etc.). She even asked the elderly mother and father about their sexual history. They laughed nervously, so as to go along with the routine, but I knew they had been humiliated. They had come as a  family to have a few laughs. Instead were psychoanalyzed by a middle-aged-sex-obsessed (now pseudo) comic. Her performance was truly pathetic. I felt sorry for the family that had been unwittingly subjected to Essman’s maliciousness as she tore into them for cheap laughs. Perhaps I should take solace in the fact that not one person  laughed during her entire set.

The degradation found now in our “arts”…movies and television… is truly frightening.  During the last decade or two, television has gone so far as to develop a new archetype, the anti-hero, which is on full display with shows like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” These are “heroes” so flawed we root against them.

Our heroes no longer inspire. They are, however, on display as a reflection of our culture and how far we have fallen.

When “Cinema Paradiso” came out it coincided with the end of the First Gulf War.  Since that time, Hollywood has harangued the political class and the military for the wars and violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And yet, Hollywood can not, or will not, acknowledge that much of the anti-American sentiment now in full display throughout the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) is also a result of the cultural rot that America exports through its cinema and television  programing.

Movies have the ability to raise us up or tear us down. In service to its own political agenda and cultural demise, Hollywood is hell bent on lowering society’s cultural norms. I only hope that new mediums such as YouTube will seek to inspire a new generation of artists to acknowledge and seek to produce the greatness and power of human creativity.