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306. The receptive (II)

The Italian film Cinema Paradiso (1988) provides a useful lesson in reduction. Paradiso is a somewhat sentimental story that charts the childhood and adolescence of an Italian film director; fatherless, he is adopted by the local cinema projectionist in his small village; at first, the relationship is reluctant, but when the projectionist is blinded in a fire the boy takes over the projection booth—from the projection booth he eventually leaves the village and becomes a big success in Rome. Along the way, the pair confront the local priest, who demands, much to local chagrin, that all kisses be excised from films in order to preserve moral rectitude in the village.

The young hero also embarks on a youthful romance with the local banker’s daughter, but, as with all youthful cross-class romances, contact is eventually broken; and, sworn by his mentor never to return to the backwater, the director-to-be sets off for the big city and his destiny. He only returns, about thirty years later, when the projectionist dies—and he finds that the old man left him a gift, a film reel that splices together all the excised segments, all the kisses, removed under the priest’s direction. So concludes a meditation on youthful love, homecoming, and cinema.

The original Paradiso was not a success in the Italian market; it was only when the film was radically cut that it achieved international success. The popular film critic Roger Ebert, being the midwit’s midwit, gave the longer cut a higher rating than the shorter cut, although he admitted that he preferred the shorter cut overall. Never trust critics; they second-guess themselves and wrangle for status endlessly, and so make ridiculous statements.

In the full cut, the director meets his teenage love again after glimpsing her daughter and the whole relationship is semi-revived and rekindled. In the second cut, this entire diversion is removed and is merely alluded to in a few seconds in which the entire film is reviewed over the closing credits. I first noticed this when I watched the film at seventeen or so: I saw scenes in the over-credit section that reviewed the entire film that were not in the film itself—yet I inferred, even though these scenes were a matter of seconds, that the director had met his old lover again as an adult.

Paradiso exemplifies the principle that less is more; we should never do more than is necessary to achieve an effect. Emotionally, it was far more powerful to have the director return home—merely hint that his lost love might be there—and then for him to review the film reel of kisses; the reel said more about lost love than the fully explicated reunion with his lover contained in the original cut; suggestion is always stronger. Similarly, people should avoid lies because lies take extra energy: we are primed to only use the minimum energy required to achieve our goals. The liar must talk all the time, trying to convince you—the truthful person conserves his energy and so is laconic.

The liar cannot be responsible even with their own energy: “Yeah, but no. You see it was totally like this, mate. What happened see was that I was totally—are you with me, mate?—I was totally trying to get…” The typical reaction: why are you wasting my time and yours with this bullshit? The liar wastes your time because he is irresponsible with his own resources; he wastes his time first—literally wastes his own brain energy. Consequently, almost anything can be improved by reduction: parties, fewer guests; finances, buy less; personal life, cut people out; Twitter, block people; software, bloatware means bad—and so on. Nature wastes nothing, least of all her breath. To return to the start, you will notice that in the film world endless sequels, with bloated length, result from greed or vanity; and what makes these bad is that they are too unreal; every Marvel film should be twenty minutes long.


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