You think you watch a lot of movies? Sure, you’ve got your piles of DVDs surrounding your home entertainment system like a protective fort and of course there are the constant trips to the local movie theatre, but when it comes to Jack Angstreich and the other movie buffs of Cinemania, you’ll end up with your tail between your legs. Directors Stephen Kijak and Angela Christlieb profiled these members of our society, who literally do not go a day without seeing a movie, or two, or three, or four, or five.
Angstreich, one of the more outspoken members of this documentary, took some time, through countless e-mails, to answer questions about his beginnings in cinema, his life as it currently stands, and his experiences in making a documentary that could very well put many so-called “movie buffs” to total, melt-to-the-ground shame.
How and when did this huge obsession start? Was there a certain movie that triggered it?
I suppose the obsession emerged out of a general interest in movies, which is not at all uncommon, as well as a certain voyeuristic component to my psychology, which may possibly be unusually enhanced in myself. I also possessed (and still possess) an intense interest in foreign cultures, languages, and landscapes and so forth, and so it was possibly natural that I would begin reading about film and become curious about its history. After reading Buñuel’s autobiography, which had a profound impression on me, although I had seen none of his films, I was excited to attend a triple-bill of his work at the renowned Thalia theatre in Manhattan in late 1986. I was intrigued by the films, but it was the theatre’s calendar which may have had the more significant effect on me since it had a program of double- or triple-features that changed nearly every day. Since I had been reading film history I knew something about most of the films they were showing. I realized I could finally see many of the films I was reading about. I proceeded to do so, and then quickly learned about other venues, and began to read more about the films and the directors whose work I was seeing, which caused me to be curious about more films and so forth. It just inevitably expanded from there. I suppose Godard’s “Hail Mary” and Agnes Varda’s “Vagabond” had the most substantial effect on me before I saw the Buñuel program, but I didn’t have the momentous conversion to cinema as an art through the experience of a single film that other enthusiasts have sometimes reported. The conversion emerged out of the experience of seeing very many diverse films. It was the diversity itself, which was enrapturing.
Have you lived in New York all your life?
I’ve always lived in or around New York City, and as I implied in Cinemania it’s probably difficult to imagine me outside of the island of Manhattan despite my protestations of cosmopolitanism, but I imagine this is ultimately a cosmopolitanism of the mind. I don’t travel anymore. Sometimes I regret not having been born in Paris, and I certainly regret that my mother at the misguided behest of my father ceased to speak to my sister and I in French when we were very young children, since now I would be discouraged from compounding my alienation from society with the additional obstacle of the language barrier were I to consider moving there. But, then again, I’ve heard that the projection in Paris is often poor, and that foreign films are routinely shown dubbed into French, even at the Cinémathèque. I’ve also considered London, and San Francisco, which has the additional advantage of more pleasant weather and possibly friendlier people, and maybe fewer straight men proportional to straight women, which could be to my advantage. The weather also attracts me to Los Angeles along with the attractiveness of many of the women but I’m strongly disinclined to drive. I really would like to move to Miami for the same reasons, but there is probably no significant film culture there. I’ll probably have to remain in New York.
How did the opportunity arise to be part of this documentary?
Stephen Kijak, one of the directors, met my roommate (at the time) when he started working at the same place. He told my roommate that he was a filmmaker and my roommate told him about me. Stephen was intrigued by the stories about me and the peculiar nature of my lifestyle and proposed to “Split Screen” that he direct a segment about me for that show. They liked the idea, and I subsequently met Stephen and shot the segment. He was able to meet some of the other unusual people in the film community, and also met Angela Christlieb, who I was friends with from Anthology Film Archives. She had begun her own feature documentary on obsessed cinephiles, and on one day, I was being filmed by both film crews simultaneously. After the success of the “Split Screen” segment, Stephen and Angela decided to collaborate and I helped them find the other people in the film.
What was it like to have the camera follow you around as opposed to you following a camera’s movement on a movie screen?
I found the experience amusing. I suppose I have an exhibitionist component to my character as well as a voyeuristic one.
At one point, you introduced the “master list”, which seemed huge. Has it grown considerably since then?
Actually, I have ceased compiling the “master list”. It ultimately became onerous to continue, and I suppose I became somewhat disillusioned about it because film exhibition is so frustrating and disappointing. But I’ve probably attended around 1500 feature-length screenings since that footage was recorded.
There’s a part of the film where you’re in a bookstore and there are a few boxes labeled “For Jack”. Have the boxes been emptied much since then?
Many, many books have been brought to my apartment since that footage was recorded, but I have also filled many more boxes with further discoveries. I have been unduly remiss in my obligations to the bookstore, but I imagine it will be resolved amicably in the future.
Get the rest of the interview in part two of JACK ANGSTREICH – CINEMANIAC EXTRAORDINAIRE>>>