Always in the Dark

They Lost It at the Movies

Jack Angstreich has a problem. He's attended some 7000 film programs in the second half of his 32 years, but lately it's been hard to keep up. "I used to go to five shows a day, but now I only see one or two, because I can only stand to go to the Walter Reade or to Astoria," home of the American Museum of the Moving Image. "Everywhere else there's too much spill on the masking." Harvey Schwartz, 48, has cut down to five or six shows a week from a high of 10 to 15 since his MOMA membership lapsed. "There were a lot of reasons," he says, giggling. "I couldn't afford it." Eric Chadbourne, 53, moved here 25 years ago from Canada and began proofreading to support his binge viewing. He favors French films of the '30s, classic comedies, and silents, but doesn't get out as much anymore, in part because of rising ticket prices and in part because he's seen everything. In the revival community in New York, Jack, Harvey, Eric, and few other obsessives are notorious. "If I do a screening and I don't see at least one of them, I feel like I've done something wrong," says David Schwartz (no relation), AMMI's chief film curator.

Welcome to the world of Cinemania, the forthcoming doc by Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak on five of New York's sultans of sitzfleisch. As if their big-screen debuts were not enough, AMMI has invited them to flip the script on their arch-rivals, the programmers, by selecting and introducing a film for a two-day series this weekend (kicking off with a sneak of Cinemania). "I'm jealous of them, but I have a job, and a family—maybe just sometimes I'm jealous." says David Schwartz.

Other movie buffs find the Cinemaniacs similarly irresistible. When Christlieb was working the box office at Anthology Film Archives, she noticed that the same faces seemed to be showing up every day and decided they were worthy of a feature. Kijak heard about Angstreich through a roommate, and pitched a short about him to the Independent Film Channel. The two filmmakers met when they arrived simultaneously at Anthology to catch Angstreich in the act. "He knew we were both coming and didn't tell either of us," recalls Kijak. "He was on the phone telling his friend, 'I have two film crews on me right now!' "

"There's definitely a pathology involved," he adds, "but we tried to humanize them as much as possible." Angstreich says even though moviegoing has ceased to be fun, he can't stop because "I feel like I'd regret it later if I missed something." He's currently living off an inheritance, but admits he survived some periods through "guile." Schwartz, who manages a building owned by his father in the Bronx, cops to "hopping" a few doors and crashing critics' screenings. Chadbourne, who works part-time in the mental health field, fancies himself the last of a breed. "It was so much easier 20 years ago," he says with a sigh.

For the Cinemaniacs' fantasy filmfest, Chadbourne will present Remember the Night (1940), a Barbara Stanwyck-Fred MacMurray screwball scripted by Preston Sturges. Angstreich concedes that his film, Frank Borzage's After Tomorrow (1932), wouldn't have been his first choice. "I don't really remember it that well. But I knew there was a good print of it, and it's very rare." Harvey Schwartz picked Andrew L. Stone's shipwrecker The Last Voyage (1960). "I haven't seen it in 30 years, and it's burning a hole," although when asked in what he could only giggle some more.

 
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