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Cinemania

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 03/29/05 12:54:36

"Where fandom takes the bus to Crazytown."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I will admit to having a rather large movie obsession - if I don’t watch at least one film a day, things just don’t seem right. Even if I weren’t reviewing, I’d still be watching the hundreds of films I see every year. And yet I’m an amateur compared to the people featured in “Cinemania,” who are so addicted to moviegoing to such a compulsive extent that a day isn’t a day unless they squeeze in four, five, six, or maybe more flicks. Film, according to one subject, “is better than sex, it’s better than life.”

At times the documentary, from directors Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak, seems to make fun of its subjects, and at times it treats them like best friends. You may do the same; there are definitely freaky qualities about the five people the movie follows, and yet for the most part, these are people you wouldn’t mind knowing, if only to talk about film for a while. (Which, the movie tells us, is the only thing these people discuss. No time for niceties or personal concerns. All talk amongst each other is always, always, always about cinema.)

The five subjects are a nice cross section of movie freakdom, each with his or her own tastes and moviegoing style. Eric is a guy who doesn’t care for bleak art house fare; he prefers to have fun at the movies, with a particular fondness for cheapie monster flicks. Harvey, with his uncanny ability to name from memory the exact running time of any feature asked of him, is the guy who’ll go see anything new, having mastered the art of spending a whole day in the multiplex on just one ticket. Bill, whose tastes lean toward French cinema (he longs to move to Paris), is hindered by his moviegoing by his unemployment, and therefore tends to me more frugal in his obsession. Roberta, who was banned for life from New York’s Museum of Modern Art for assaulting ticket takers (they dared to rip her ticket stubs, which she compulsively collects), avoids Hollywood fare in favor of classics, foreign, and independent works. Jack also prefers the film festival scene, knows who the best projectionists in town are, and has gone so far as to reorganize his entire diet to cut out any foods that may require him to take a bathroom break during an entire day of movie watching.

More than just an introduction to some eccentric types, “Cinemania” is a profile of compulsion. Hours are spent pondering the best possible movie schedule, studying the effects of choosing to see one movie instead of another, struggling to discover the best way of cramming in as many movies as possible in one day without missing an important gem. Discussions are had on, no kidding, “dreaming in CinemaScope.” Jack, the most memorable of the bunch in a geeky but likable way, comments on how it’s impossible for sex in reality to compare to the expectations film creates, and how making love to Rita Hayworth would only work if it could be done in black-and-white, since that’s the format used to glamorize her.

For these people, the movies have dominated their lives to an almost breaking point. None have time for a career (Jack lives off an inheritance, while Eric, Harvey, and Roberta all collect disability), nor is there room for a social life outside of seeing friends at neighborhood screenings. Bill’s actively looking for a girlfriend, but one gets the impression that a relationship just wouldn’t work, as it’d take up too much precious moviegoing time.

I’m sure a studying psychologist could have a field day with this movie, watching so many neuroses and compulsions at work all at once. But again, these five are not merely folks to be mocked or picked apart; they’re genuinely human characters, intriguing to watch, intelligent in their ideas. There’s never a moment in “Cinemania” where we don’t want to know any more about these people, and that is why it works so well.

So what would these subjects think of seeing themselves in a movie? It’s hard to say. The film ends with the quintet in a theater, watching the movie, discussing their thoughts after the credits roll. They’re pleased, I think, but I also get the impression that as happy as they were with seeing themselves on the big screen, they had better hurry, since there’s another film across town that’s about to start...

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