A documentary film follows five film addicts. They go to three to five shows a day, and have done so for decades. Three of them live on disability, in tiny, grubby apartments crammed with the detritus of their mania. One has an inheritance. Only one has a job, which he hates but puts up with so that he can go to the movies. These are not colorful, wildly imaginative eccentrics. They are rather sad, colorless, dumpy and disheveled, mostly inarticulate and withdrawn almost to the point of autism. One collects soundtrack LPs, but doesn’t have a record player to listen to them. He is obsessed with calculating film running-times. He can watch anything, but then has nothing to say about it afterwards. Another collects glossy programs and product tie-ins, and holds every ticket stub from every film she has ever seen. A third, unattached and shy, dreams of Paris; movies were really only a portal to his fantasy of romance and a city. In each case, the films themselves seemed almost secondary to the cinephiliacs’ very particular obsessions.
The whole setting was key too: they all needed to be in a cinema most of their waking lives, video tapes and DVDs didn’t count; one of them didn’t even own a television and refused to watch movies that way.
The most articulate of the five explained precisely why he stayed at the movies, and I could understand: “Who would want to live in this reality?” “When you put a frame around an experience, it intensifies it. There’s no frame around our lives.” He was the one who dreamed of the Paris cafés he had seen in all those French New Wave films, but when he actually went to Paris, it wasn’t like the movies, “I was just sitting in a café; it was banal.” He realized, he said, that he wouldn’t see the Milky Way forming in the froth in his coffee cup, as Jean-Luc Godard had shown in Two or Three Things I Know about Her. And I had to laugh, because that’s one of those quintessential movie moments for me too, and how many people around him in his life would know the stubbornly hermetic film he was referring to, or had even heard of the great director? When he said it wouldn’t be enough to make love to Rita Hayworth, or even to her character in Lady From Shanghai, you’d have to make love to her in black and white because that’s what she is – again, I got it.
The cinema’s the temple; the movie’s the ritual. You are only fully alive when you are participating in the transcendent. The world outside the cinema, it’s nothing but props and backdrop. Like an empty studio set, it’s just a husk, a cast-off shell. It has no affect, no resonance, no soul. It’s just matter, moving pointlessly through time. In the dark, with the light of our self-made myths illuminating our faces, we find again the old mysteries that had once made the world a place where we could be something great, if only for as long as the darkness lasted.