In many ways, all stories are New York stories, and this has never been more the case than with Cinemania, a fun, charming, yet frightening documentary about the most obsessive film lovers you’re ever likely to meet. While nutcases are to be found in every corner of the globe, the Big Apple seems to have its own particular variety; the sort of people who collect everything under the sun, live in cramped, newspaper-laden apartments, and seem to shower only when the smell reaches their own nostrils (which is just about never). A small group of these folks — Jack, Eric, Bill, Roberta, Harvey, and Richard — are all case studies in OCD and behavioral disorders, yet are harmless because they have chosen to focus on films rather than child molestation or self-mutilation. They all spend their days attending film festivals, catching as many shows as possible (one man even relates how he saw 1000 films in a single month, although I don’t see how that is possible unless sleep is avoided entirely), and constructing lists and schedules that will maximize their precious time. One man works a crummy day job to fund his obsession; another lives off the inheritance he received from his aunt; while the others (surprise) collect disability. Work would be an impossibility given their lifestyles, but once we spend a little time with them we also realize that punching a clock is simply beyond their temperaments. All are, to a certain degree, disturbed, but I won’t dismiss them as garden variety lunatics. After all, they love the cinema and from all appearances, have great taste. Some wacko who insists on seeing The Phantom Menace 300 times is one thing; a man who would rather relate his love of Bresson, Dreyer, Kurosawa, and Eisenstein is quite another.
It goes without saying that these people are unlucky in love, and despite a few tales to the contrary, are most likely virgins. I imagine prostitutes have entered into the equation, which means that I might have been featured in this film had I not met my wife. I cannot relate to Roberta’s outbursts, for example, but it is telling that I envy these people because they have found a way to avoid work and still see hundreds of films on the big screen. Perhaps they are a bit too focused on the fantasy element of cinema (one obsesses over Rita Hayworth to the point where I thought he might start masturbating on camera), but who wouldn’t want to spend their days in the world’s number one film city while in the company of classic restorations, re-releases, and international hits? I’m not about to adjust my diet in order to make sure I can sit uninterrupted for ten hours at a time, but I do avoid liquids in the hours leading up to a film because I have the bladder of an octogenarian. And I am picky about seating, and sound, and the framing, although I have yet to compile a list of local projectors and their phone numbers (as one man has) so that I can address such issues immediately.
And despite the nerdish qualities of these eccentric New Yorkers, there is much to cheer. One man tells of the time he knocked an old woman to the ground because she wouldn’t shut up during a movie. He had an opportunity to escape, but was unwilling to get up prior to the film’s conclusion. As a result, he was arrested. He has also grabbed food out of people’s mouths, and despite being vague, has had many problems with the police. While I usually let my wife do the dirty work (she’s kicked old ladies, so don’t fuck with her), I can relate to the man’s rage, as it seems the cinema has become an extension of the living room rather than remaining a sacred spot of entertainment and enlightenment. The philosopher of the bunch has even worked out a twisted moral philosophy whereby it isn’t wrong to kill someone who is spoiling your good time. I can’t say I disagree.
It would be easy to say that these people need to get lives, or that a taste of pussy would change everything, but I’m not willing to go that far. I am certain that their Rain Man-like qualities would become annoying after an extended visit, but aren’t we all obsessive about something? When there are so many among us who yammer endlessly about NASCAR, Beanie Babies, reality shows, or the latest fad diet, isn’t it refreshing to find Americans who care deeply about films that are decidedly outside the mainstream? So don’t hate the man who places book length personal ads or who believes it is his destiny to marry a fat, unattractive French woman. Embrace him, for at the very least he has the courage to reject conventional sources of pleasure. And to the last, they understand who they are and do not whine about a society that “doesn’t have a place for people like us.” They don’t have time for self-pity; they have screenings to attend.