Nicolas Nicolaou hails from a small village in Cyprus. He moved to America as a young boy and brought a love of film with him. A multiple-time dropout, arriving in the US speaking rudimentary English, he represents the self-made American dream in all its best qualities. With The Projectionist, Abel Ferrara (the Bad Lieutenant filmmaker) follows Nicolaou to create a love letter to New York City’s theatrical heritage in this stimulating and reverent documentary
The first half of Ferrara’s film switches between Nicolaou’s Cyprus homeland and his current New York dwellings. Ferrara’s booming voice remains ever-present, as The Projectionist often splits the spotlight equally between documentarian and subject (which sometimes serves as a detriment to the film’s main drive).
Most of the Cyprus sequences act as background to demonstrate Nicolaou’s “unlikely” growth. His simple origins, living among fishermen and fishing himself, leading to owning a chain of movie theaters and clubs in New York remains a remarkable achievement.
The film’s most endearing moments happens during the second half of The Projectionist, as Ferrara explores the city’s theatrical heritage through the eyes of Nicolaou. The images of New York’s streets lined movie theaters, positioned one-after-another, will make any cinephile crave for simpler cinematic times. Ferrara intersperses classic and obscure film clips from Putney Swope, The Devils, and Sea of Love, and scenes from B-soft core porn flicks to match Nicolaou’s reminiscing.
The Projectionist explores not just New York’s former theatrical glory, but the seedy under belly of the city’s adult cinema past. Places like the Pussycat, the Adonis, and the Venus, existed blocks from upscale theaters like the Paramount. Such was the importance of theaters, a place to see a great movie and get some action in-between.
Nicolaou is non-judgmental of what movie theaters are used for, so long as they exist. Filling an-ever necessary niche, the Cyprus-born business man continues to acquire theaters (sometimes maintaining them, even with dwindling profits). His movie houses bow to nostalgia, believing in the importance of the neighborhood cinema and the critical need for films. In a period of the still-struggling art and independent movie houses, Nicolaou’s conviction remains steadfast and a coup d’etat against the larger monopolist chains.
Throughout The Projectionist, Nicolaou remains a marvel. A man whose rise wouldn’t be too dissimilar from a mafioso (without the violence, of course). Relying on “street smarts,” he’s built a loving family and a great life for himself while running a well-oiled business by operating on the margins, finding the moralistic grey in the films he exhibits, and slowly building his profits through astute acquisitions. A self-made man, Nicolaou and Ferrara arrive in this documentary to recount the New York, the cinematic experiences, and the movies of their childhoods. And we’re all better off for it.