When I was mainly a lazy lazy stand up comedian I traveled from town to town, Firkin to Firkin (now a dead chain due to a loss of interest in double entendres and giant Jenga within the student community who turned instead to the It's a Scream chain which uses a combination of luridly coloured alcodrinks promotions and Edvard Munch to attract punters which is an odd combination, a painting about madness, about suddenly being deafened by a piercing scream, now hangs as a pub sign, though of course you too would be deafened to the point of madness by the inane intoxicated cackles and screeches within, so perhaps the kindly massive corporate brewery that peddles tatty fizz is genuinely warning you to avoid entering with the swinging Munch sign, it's as good as a splash of blood above the saloon door. But I digress).
Whilst flogging my array of hermaphrodite gags and John Peel impersonations in English towns I had enough free time to go spend most of my afternoon waking hours in the cinema. Sadly of course, once out of London you don't only miss the smell of rotten matter and vomit but also the variety of movies. Oh the subtitled or non-Hollywood film is a rarity in the mill or market town, but the Adam Sandler film is not (mind you, I sat next to Germaine Greer at a screening of Big Daddy and she laughed all the way through, then I had to have a discussion about it with Mark Lawson who looked down his stout, damp nose at me as he pointlessly intellectualized the frivolous tat and thought how cleverly his head wobbled). But because I didn't always want to tour the Hebden Bridge clog museum or see another display of local mined and carved slate I found myself watching pretty much everything.
In Birmingham I actually saw Dude, Where's My Car?, mainly because the other films were 102 Dalmations and a cartoon about a magic dog or something, and as a lone man I thought it best not to go into a children's movie as I might look like a cross between the child catcher and a man beguiling children by glueing
sugared popcorn to his trousers and it actually wasn't as bad as I presumed.
It got to the point where I was seeing a hundred movies in the cinema a year, oh yes I counted and catalogued - we are all closer to OCD than we think. On a typical day I might see Heart (the peculiar hotch potch of grand guignol from Jimmy McGovern), Clint Eastwood's True Crime, Beat Takeshi's Hana Bi and possibly something with a Chevy Chase wannabe (if they exist). The only thing I have managed to avoid is a Rob Schneider film (though I did glance briefly over my own seatback screen onto the one in front at Hot Chick when flying back from New York recently. Oh look I've just revealed that I have a modicum of disposable wealth).
But my typical day of movie watching is an obese zilch compared to the occupants of the documentary Cinemania. Set in New York (where I both saw this film and became bound by their hefty egg and dough based meals) the camera follows a group of film extremists who watch between 600 and 2000 films a year - it sounds a lot, though ultimately 2000 films a year is little more than 41% of the hours in a year, allowing for 33% of them to be spent sleeping, that gives you a whole 26% of hours to eat, run between cinemas and collect film related memorabilia such as the soundtrack to The Wild Geese or Disney related coke containers from fast food outlets.
Jack, Eric, Bill, Roberta and Harvey are the stars of the movie, varying in age from mid-thirty to seventy-ish they are united in their desire to experience as much big screen entertainment as humanly possible. Each individually sits in their apartment (they all live alone save for one middle-aged man who lives with his mother) and map out the screening of every film in New York. They then carefully sift through the timings and distances between screens to work out how many of the films they want to see they can see, then when they discover the impossibilities for some screenings they try to discover the quality of the individual prints, a shoddy print or news of a poor stand in projectionist soon leads to a decision to ignore that particular screening of the Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
It would be very easy to make mock of these obsessives but directors Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak avoid that, indeed this is a very affectionate portrait of some pretty extreme people, people who are predominantly prepared to eschew work and rely on benefit (most are on disability benefit) to live their celluloid dream. The film also avoids giving us a great pile of back story so that we can play amateur psychologist (Oh, he felt his father never loved him and his father looked like Gary Cooper so he visits the cinema to see what he believes to be his family... or somesuch crap).
Roberta appears to be the most extreme, she is a woman in her sixties with a temper nasty enough to lash out a ticket collector who rips her ticket, thus damaging her enormous collections of pristine tickets she has catalogued since the 1940s, creating a diary of film visits. She is also banned from certain cinemas for her behaviour though attempts to sneak into them by using shoddy disguises. At the time of filming it appears she was close to being thrown out of her apartment, an apartment which is really just a walk in closet of film gubbins (why she needs 20 brochures for the same film festival I don't know, but she does). Other apartments would not look out of place in Life of Grime, stacks of tattily boxed videos and a small collection of cushions making a sleeping area.
Some of these cinemaniacs will watch anything, their heroes will be the likes of Betty Hutton, others will be cahiers du cinema style cineastes. Eventually Jack becomes the main focus of the film and he is certainly the most erudite (he is in the lucky position of being able to live this way due to the bequest of a wealthy dead aunt). Many of his comments ring true (afterall any fool knows that life can never be as perfect as cinema and those of us who have spent too much time watching movies know we are in for a disappointment when out of those velvet style seats. Heck, my eyes were damper watching Philadelphia than they were at my Grandmother's funeral, but then Philadelphia had a more moving score).
Jack simply sums it up; when you get to the emotional climax of a film and the protagonist walks off, triumphantly alone, the film freezes and the credits roll, in real life, you get to the other side of the street, walk home, burn your food and prepare for another day. Cinephile Bill is in love with France and desperate to be a philosopher sitting in a pavement café in Paris because it looks so great in the movies, but Jack tells him he did that and without the celluloid frame it's just sitting talking in a café while your coffee gets cold (nevertheless Bill's business card, though he has no real business, still declares that he is a writer and philospher, though doesn't mention that he is also the architect of the most ludicrously proportioned peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which he uses to get him through a hard day's watching).
One of the most moving moments is Roberta viewing the conclusion of Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' where Gary Cooper's love (Ingrid Bergman I think, I forget now, something the cinemaniacs never would) dies as the sun comes up, Roberta tearfully explains that Cooper's crime was to love a woman more than God, and God is a jealous god and so kills her. The mood is lightened later when Roberta discovers a collection of Last Action Hero disposable drinks containers she has stashed at the back of a cabinet.
These people are not fools, they are extremists, all suffering varying degrees of compulsive behaviour, but they are no sadder than you or I. They live much of their lives through the emotions of those on screen (and the adrenalin pumped as they desperately rush from cinema to cinema, each journey time carefully noted) and if they seem a little strange, well that's because they are, and that's fine by me.
Mind you, I wish some of the people in the cinema where I saw this hadn't smelt quite so clammy.