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‘Cinemania’ celebrates film fanatics

Six New Yorkers with unique movie obsessions
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

There is a small virus of fixation in almost everyone who goes to movies, but sometimes the bug explodes into a lasting brain seizure. Such are the germ cases like the six diagnosed by “Cinemania.”

They are all in New York City, feeding their habit every day. If not the movie town it was 20 years ago, the Apple remains the big worm farm for American cinephilia (most foreign films that travel open there). For a guy like Bill Heidbreder, a nice, nerdy stick who can make an unemployment check stretch, it’s the best thing this side of Paris — keen on foreign films of the most arcane sort, he is eager to meet a French woman who can share his robust illness.

He and other subjects of the German-funded “Cinemania,” directed and shot with savvy by Angela Christlieb (with Stephen Kijak), are a tribal group. They go to 20 or more screenings a week, often at specialist hives like the Film Forum, and they share tips and opinions, both erudite and primal (“That’s a great movie” / “No, that sucks”).

The most articulate is Jack Angstreich, sort of a reduced but funnier Roger Ebert. He lives trimly on an inheritance and, like the other buffs, can smartly juggle show times, subway schedules, passes vs. tickets, seating options, the best ways to grab free shows.

For a happy hairshirt like Jack, able to use words like “Sisyphean” and by declaration a voyeur, there is more pride than pathos in admitting, “At ‘The Searchers,’ I start to cry during the credits.” He can tell you why calling him schizo is not just ideologically smug but, seen rightly, a compliment.

His pal Eric prefers Hollywood entertainment and is sappy about Audrey Hepburn (hardly a small club). As for Betty Hutton, “once in a while, she goes over the edge.” While savants like Jack and Bill love film theory at its most fevered, a goofy old beard like Harvey Schwartz just loves going to movies.

A film curator is bemused by the addicts, yet likes them to show up, as validation. A young ticket taker remains irate about the pushy temper of Roberta Hill.

“Queen” of film addicts for decades, Roberta doesn’t want her tickets torn, and will greedily take home stacks of programs to cram into a mouse-hole apartment from which she may be evicted.

Even primly pedantic Bill has areas of slob compulsion, and he favors thermal clothing even on warm days. But, as Jack says, this cozy niche of the cine-surreal is one they love, and it beats most of what can be found on the streets.

Do not mutter, “Get a life.” These people have a life, in the cavern of dreams. No film critic is in a position to criticize them.