Arriving in Bagheria, a small town 20 km from Palermo, later than expected, I set off in what I thought was the direction of my hotel, only to find that in pitch darkness I had completed a full circle. Exasperated, I inquired at a nearby petrol station where I was told by the attendant that not only did he know the hotel, but as it was run by his uncle (‘mio zio’) I was indeed fortunate to have come across him. If I was to wait ten minutes or so his ‘uncle’ would himself drop by to give me a lift.
Shortly after his uncle arrived on a scooter, helmetless naturally, and in good spirits. With my suitcase between his legs at the front and me holding on at the back, we set off on what turned out to be a very enlightening tour of the town. I was introduced to some of the main streets, piazzas and building which featured in Giuseppe Tornatore’s film Baaria,(Sicilian for Bagheria), which tells the story of a left wing activist battling over decades against the mafia, poverty and conservative values. It captures much of the essence of 20th century Sicilian life.
It was another of Tornatore’s films, however, that brought me to Bagheria, the film director’s hometown. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso has achieved widespread acclaim for its portrayal of the influence of a much-loved projectionist Alfredo (played by Philippe Noiret) on the work of a film director. It is a moving, humorous and engaging movie, which through the medium of cinema depicts aspects of the changing history and culture of Sicily.
Here, there has been an even more moving real life story of the early formative influence on Tornatore’s career, that of local photographer and projectionist Mimmo Pintacuda, who died in December 2013. Pintacuda, who worked as a projectionist for Capitol Cinema in Bagheria, had another vocation as a photographer, and spent fifty years taking photographs of his fellow citizens of Bagheria.
As Tornatore says of Pintacuda:
‘He studied every gesture of his fellow townsmen. And while he distracted them from the dramas of daily life by showing them westerns, police stories and exotic adventures, without realising it he was taking away their existence. He captured it with the same agility as the hunter, and transformed it into photographs’.
He goes on:
‘I had the privilege of learning from Mimmo the art of projection and that of photography. I could not say which of the two has been more important for my career in the cinema, but I am grateful to him for having taught me through each of them that telling stories is simply a craft, and the person that tells them is a craftsman, nothing more’.
Mimmo Pintacuda 50 anni di fotografie (Eugenio Maria Falcone Editore 2005 pp 3-4
Mimmo Pintacuda offers a gripping and evocative photographic social history, a ‘history from below’; parts of which can be viewed at the Museo Guttuso in the town. It is a rich collection and sits well with the cinematic versions of Bagheria, notably Baaria, with which he collaborated. Now, his son Paolo has made a documentary film of his work, which will shed more light on his life.
* Francesca Marchese’s groundbreaking Guardian article on Mimmo Pintacuda is here: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/dec/23/cinema-paradiso-alfredo-mimmo-pintacuda-dies