Dirs: Angela Christlieb, Stephen Kijak. Germany. 2002. 80mins.
Cinema is "better than sex - better than love," enthuses Bill at the beginning of Cinemania, a funny and affectionate chronicle of five film-crazy New Yorkers and the astonishing lengths to which they will go to feed their obsession. A perfect crowd-pleaser for festivals - where audiences should experience an eerie frisson of recognition - this documentary could also thrive in urban niche locations and is ideal for television.
If Woody Allen invented these people as characters for one of his films, he'd be accused of gross exaggeration. Bill (who looks and sounds like a young version of Allen) scrupulously washes his glasses before each screening and arms himself with a large bag of peanut butter sandwiches, thermal underwear and pills for "sniffles", back pains and anxiety. "My psychiatrist told me yesterday I have a compulsion," he reveals.
Jack eats only junk food with no vegetables so as not to waste precious time on the toilet. Harvey will watch anything, but prefers The Attack Of The Crab Monsters to Antonioni, while Bill's taste runs to highbrow art cinema. With Jack's help, he drafts a lonely hearts ad in the hope of finding a female French soulmate and moving to Paris.
Cinemania's only woman is Roberta, an apparently harmless old lady who first got the bug as a 14-year-old in 1950 and likes films because they allow her to explore other cultures - but turns out to be a notorious terror who has been banned from several cinemas and once tried to strangle an usherette who tore her ticket stub. She is an ardent hoarder, who keeps everything from programmes to souvenir Coke beakers. Another of the five has a huge collection of soundtrack albums, but no hi-fi to play them on.
Apart from brief comments from the hapless usherette and David Schwartz, the chief curator at MOMA, one of New York's leading art cinemas, the film focuses on the buffs and their eccentric and hermetic world. It observes them poring over subway plans in order to whizz around town to a maximum of screenings or phoning cinemas to check on the competence of that day's projectionist and the condition of the print. It also explores how they survive economically and touches briefly on the strange psychology of ultra-cinephilia and its unsurprising effect on their personal lives
The film could easily have lampooned its subjects as weird saddos, but several of the quintet have a wry sense of humour and self-awareness, especially Jack, the most articulate and analytical. "Normal means being like someone else. It shouldn't have value attached to it," he insists.
The feature is roughly shot and edited in patches, and flags slightly in the middle stretch. But it rallies at the end, when the five gather in a preview theatre to see a rough cut of the movie. They approve of it (although Jack is impatient to see the six-hour directors' cut) and clearly love all the attention. An amusing theme song by Stereo Total is a nice touch to an attractive, entertaining package.
Prod co: Hanfgarn & Ufer Film and TV
Int'l sales: Wellspring Film + Video, New York
Prod: Gunter Harfgarn
Scr/ed: Christlieb, Kijak
Music: Stereo Total, Robert Drasnin