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    Matinee idylls

    A group of extreme New York movie fanatics who often spend all day in front of the silver screen are affectionately portrayed in the documentary "Cinemania."


    Some call them movie buffs, cineastes. Others call them nuts, crackpots. Psychotherapists, however, would likely characterize Jack, Bill, Eric, Harvey, and Roberta as suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, the need to obsessively watch films — a lot of films — being their peculiar compulsion.

    Directed by: Angela Christlieb, Stephen Kijak.
    Featuring: Jack Angstreich, Eric Chadbourne, Bill Heidbreder, Roberta Hill, Harvey Schwartz, Richard Aidala, Tia Bonacore, David Schwartz, Michael Slipp.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    These five eccentric New Yorkers are the subject of "Cinemania," an engaging documentary by filmmakers Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak. Bill is unemployed, Eric, Harvey, and Roberta are all living off Social Security, and Jack is financially "set for life" thanks to a rich aunt's inheritance (although you wouldn't know it from his stumblebum appearance). All five spend their waking hours watching movies wherever movies are playing (and in New York that's everywhere), sometimes taking in as many as four or five screenings per day!

    Bill is twentysomething, single. Jewish. Since his love is European cinema he dreams of one day marrying a nice Parisian girl who shares his love of the French New Wave. (Paris is the only other place on earth with as many movie houses as Manhattan, apparently — his personal ad reads more like an application to the Tisch School of the Arts!) Bill carries a business card that promotes him as a "writer and philosopher" and has memberships to just about every organization in the city that shows films. Unfortunately his unemployment benefit is scheduled to run out right before the New York Film Festival opens (he might then have to fork over $14.00 a ticket to see anything that interests him, but he'd rather not).

    Eric, on the other hand, hates most international cinema. He detests art-house directors like Resnais and Antonioni and Bergman. He likes to be entertained — Ginger Rogers and Betty Hutton are more his forte, but he'll happily sit through "Attack of the Crab Monsters" — and feels that most foreign films are dull, a quality mostly misinterpreted as profundity on the part of film critics.

    Jack is the intellectual of the bunch. He waxes poetic about the nature of his celluloid compulsion, acting as a sort of cinematic go-between as he accompanies his fellow "cinephiles," hanging out at Eric's messy apartment watching "Stage Door" for the umpteenth time, teasing Roberta outside the Museum of Modern Art (from which she's been barred following an altercation with an overzealous ticket taker), or quizzing Harvey on the running times of randomly selected movies ("For Whom the Bell Tolls"? Harvey will tell you that, at 168 minutes, the restored version is actually two minutes shorter than the original).

    All five, in fact, have apartments cluttered with movie memorabilia-voluminous reference books, posters, souvenirs (Roberta is clearly proud of her complete set of Jurassic Park collectible soft-drink cups), and endless piles of old programs, flyers and brochures. All five take copious notes (Jack nostalgically recalls the month in which he saw close to 1,000 films — "I was probably overdoing it," he confesses). And all five pore over theater and subway schedules, calculating down to the very second how they can take in a documentary at the Film Forum here, an homage to Pre-Code Women at MoMA there, and a mainstream opener at the Loews 25, hopping from bus to foot to train with barely a moment to eat or, heaven forbid, take a bathroom break.

    Whereas at times the experience of watching "Cinemania" is akin to a circus sideshow (Jack himself admits to being a voyeur, and that if he didn't spend his money on films he would probably invest in "surveillance equipment"), the filmmakers are respectful of their subjects and in the end a certain fondness shows through. The odd quintet themselves are all refreshingly aware of their neuroses, discussing their antisocial behavior with self-deprecating humor and insight that's genuinely touching.

    Alternately amusing and sad, "Cinemania" is a tender portrait of five wacky individuals for whom life is clearly better when projected.

    DECEMBER 12, 2003

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