Ivo Raposo Jr., LL.D.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Centímtro Cinema
It all started, as with many kids of my age, by playing with film toys and portable, silent 16mm projectors.
When Cinema Paradiso was released in 1988, I saw myself in the character Salvatore ‘Totò’ di Vita. There were striking similarities between the story of Totò and the one I pursued in projection booths. As a young teenager I accompanied my sister and her friend to a screening of Heidi at the Cine Santo Afonso, owned and managed by the priests of a nearby church. I asked the manager if I could enter the booth and see how a film was projected. Projection booths were “forbidden territory” to kids but I was granted permission to see the projectionist working. With repeated visits I became overwhelmed by 35mm projection and saw myself putting aside all my silent 16mm reels and toys.
It was in that booth that I first learned how to thread and operate a 35mm projector. The Santo Afonso booth had a pair of Philips FP-5 projectors. From 1956 onwards I became so involved with 35mm projection that I was asked to become a part-time projectionist at the Santo Afonso. As in Cinema Paradiso, one of the priests was never keen to let the theatre show anything with sexual innuendo or content, and would demand that movie reels be cut and all of those scenes removed. Patrons would complain about those cuts and boo loudly whenever they noticed one.
In later years I applied for a professional license to become a true projectionist. In those days, the official permit was granted by City Hall and endorsed by the projectionists’ union. Exhibitors had training facilities for newcomers but when I started my career I was already trained and able to run projectors on my own. As a result, as theatre chains expanded, I was invited by an exhibitor to inaugurate a brand new theatre in the neighbourhood, the Cine Bruni Saens Peña, where I worked for many years.
Tijuca, the district where I lived, had an unprecedented number of movie theatres. From 1907 to the late 1970s these theatres crowded the central part of the district, called Praça Saens Peña, which had 13 theatres, including one with no fewer than 3500 seats.
During all those years as a projectionist I also had to further my education. That meant bringing books and doing homework inside the booth while working. I later graduated from law school and decided to quit the business.
Even after becoming a lawyer, however, I never forgot my days in the booth or turned my back on my previous career. The ambient noise from the projectors, the smell of film, splices, film editing, maintenance, and having to deal with large reels, changeovers and continuity were forever in my mind and spirit.
When the demise of those great movie theatres began in the 1970s I was compelled to do something about it. I was particularly fond of the magnificent Metro-Tijuca, which was demolished in 1977. At that point, all three Simplex XL projectors, the theatre’s decor, the seats, screen and curtains were being removed and sent to a scrap yard. I quickly started negotiations with the owner to acquire it all. It was a long struggle that lasted many years.
I began construction of a replica of the Metro-Tijuca in the backyard of my summer house in the city of Conservatória. For sentimental reasons it was nicknamed “Centímetro” (“Centimetre”), alluding to its smaller scale. It is, however, complete and fully functional. Practically all of the equipment in the original Metro booth was recovered and put to work there.
To the best of my knowledge the Metro-Tijuca replica is the only known replica of an M-G-M theatre built so far. It is a deserved tribute to one of the best theatres ever erected. M-G-M had three Metro theatres in Rio de Janeiro and one in São Paulo. All were designed and built to Loew’s specifications. To be accurate, the replica had to comply with some of its original design.
The Metro-Tijuca replica is visited by flocks of tourists who come to Conservatória. A special presentation and a small lecture are given to visitors on a weekly basis. The theatre is also an integral part of the Cinemúsica festival programme every year.
In my estimation, film projection should never die. It is certain that digital projectors are bound to replace film and that projectionists will be banned from booths, but surely no new gadget will ever be able to replace the magic provided by film, since Edison and the Lumière brothers introduce it to the world.
© copyright caboose 2012
Ivo Raposo Jr. started as a projectionist during the Holy Week of 1957, screening Marcelino Pan Y Vino, after a short period of time as a trainee in the Cine Santo Afonso, a local theatre that belonged to a nearby Catholic church. He was eventually granted an official work permit as a professional projectionist and as a result in the beginning of 1963 he was invited to work in the newly inaugurated Cine Bruni Saens Peña. At the end of the year he was called to be a projectionist for Universal Pictures’ board of directors at their office in Rio. At Universal, he was also in charge of film reviews and advertising material for theatrical releases. In 1964, however, he passed college exams and enrolled as a student in law school. After graduating as a lawyer he stopped working as a projectionist but continued to be involved with the business. In recent years he built a replica of the legendary Metro-Tijuca in his summer home at Conservatória, Rio de Janeiro, and he is currently the chairman of the local Cinemúsica Film Festival that happens once every year. The Festival is now in its fifth year successfully presenting seminars, panellists and screenings of new films.