Sunday, November 2, 2008

#110: Cinemania


Directed by Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak
Released June 13, 2002

Anyone who thinks I'm even remotely strange for doing this project will seriously need to recalibrate their judgement scale after seeing the five characters profiled in Cinemania, a documentary about true cinephiles in New York City who watch up to 1,000 movies a year in city theaters. They make databases for the movies they want to see, and then map out the train schedules they'll need to follow, while factoring in theaters with worthy projectors and the ones that are showing good prints, etc...

I think if I lived in a city like New York, with so many theaters and movie options, I could see myself turning into one of these people if the right combination of pathos and sadness entered my life. I can totally understand how people will view this documentary and think that these people lead a sad existence, but there's a part of me that is very jealous of what they do.

There's Jack (the "star" of the movie), who seems the most sane of the bunch because he is also the most reflective personality, able to stand outside himself and discuss in detail the hows and whys of his mania. He defines the line between loving movies and cinephilia is "the point where you pay a price, where there's pain involved." He's incredibly interesting to listen to and probably the one person in this "cast" whom I'd enjoy seeing a film with.

Then, we're introduced to Bill, who claims to have moved to New York initially because the city was showing a retrospective of the work of German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Bill states, "Film is a substitute for life. Film is a form of living." Bill talks about how he has avoided a real career because the work and preparation involved would impede on his ability to see films. His daily preparation for heading to the cinema, which looks like someone preparing for a camping trip, is meticulous, extensive and almost maddening.

Harvey, who appears to be autistic, memorizes the running times of each movie he has seen and must sit in the front row. He has a collection of promotional film stills, along with hundreds of LP soundtracks that he can't listen to because he owns no record player. Jack derides Harvey as fascinating because "will see almost anything you put before him... no matter how trashy or bad."

Eric, an unkempt grey haired man getting by on disability payments, is probably the least socially appealing person in the cast. "Film buffs do not socialize," he says. "Film buffs get together to see movies. They do not get together to have parties, they do not get together to know each other."

Roberta, along with Jack, refuses to watch movies on video or DVD. She is an obsessive collector of everything from programs from theaters where she attends movies, collectible soda cups, and even the train cards she used to get to the theater. She's overly emotional and is said to often be rude to people who work at the theaters. At one point in the movie, a woman whom Roberta attacked at the Museum of Modern Art is interviewed about the incident, and she talks about how Roberta lunged at her and choked her because of how she tore her ticket stub.

The documentary examines the lives of these people and their social intersections at various points, but still only seems to be scratching at the surface of its subjects. By that I do not only mean the five filmgoers, but also the psychological implications of this cinephilia, or how their family or friends perceive what they do or how they spend their time. As for how these people got started down this path, there is only a minor examination by a few of the subjects.

I agree with Jack when he says at one point, "this should be a mini-series." As a document of obsession, Cinemania would have benefited from some deeper digging. If they managed to contact the MoMA employee who was choked by Roberta, why not track down a few of Jack's ex-girlfriends, or Eric's former employer, or talk to Harvey's parents? I suppose the fact that the movie left me wanting much more, even after viewing the extra scenes on the DVD, is a credit to the film makers.

One of the most ingenious parts of the documentary comes at the end, as the subjects of the film watch themselves in the movie about them. As they hilariously deconstruct everything they see, you can't help but wonder if the fact that the movie was made using video and not actual celluloid is the ultimate slap in the face to them.

For more on Cinemania:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD.

The Cinemania trailer:

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