2003, NR, 80 min. Directed by Angela Christlieb, Stephen Kijak.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Aug. 22, 2003
"We have to go to extremes every once in a while," explains grandmotherly, bespectacled Roberta, one of the five New York City cineastes who are the subjects of this pithy doc. Yeah, no kidding. Roberta’s been known to disrobe in a too-warm theatre rather than complain to the management; at the end of the film, a MoMA staffer relates how Roberta literally throttled her for tearing an otherwise collectible ticket. Then there’s Harvey, who "will watch anything" and knows the running time of any movie by heart. Eric sleeps on a threadbare couch in a dreary room waist-deep in clutter and is obsessed with the contract starlets of yesteryear. Mousy Bill subsists on peanut-butter sandwiches from a tote bag and follows a precise urination schedule prior to each screening. Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t had sex "in many years." And then there’s Jack, a likable intellectual who has the presence of mind to declare theirs "a hopeless, Sisyphean life" but still eats a constipating diet, lest nature’s call disrupt the down-to-the-minute dashes between theatres that make up every day. The wrong seat or the slightest error in projection is a crisis. These people are invested. Directors Christlieb and Kijak don’t have to do much more than point the camera at their subjects, whose every word and gesture is self-revelatory. Like so many documentaries about the lovable oddballs among us, the film walks a fine line between observation and exploitation. There are plenty of uncomfortable moments (Bill displays his regimen of psych meds; Roberta offhandedly mentions that she expects to be evicted) but Christlieb and Kijak unwisely pave them over with a soundtrack of cheerful synthetic pop tunes by Stereo Total. However, if these attempts at kookiness are disingenuous – and they probably are – they’re at least offset by the film’s awkward intimacy. You won’t be able to hum the catchy, eponymous theme song the next day, but you will likely recall Bill’s fruitless attempts to attract a European bride (and thereby a residence in Paris, the world’s premier film mecca) by dropping off his calling card at a French restaurant. The editing is artful enough, culling informative montage – how does one live in New York City and see movies constantly without a job? – from doubtless hundreds of hours of footage shakily shot amid sidewalks, subways, and screening rooms. A couple of the cinemaniacs are less defined than others, but the portrait that emerges is a detailed composite of life on the fringe.