Kicking a Movie-a-Day Habit, After Four Years in Theaters

With the new year approaching, people resolve to kick all sorts of bad habits. Sam Barron is no different – he vows to try to kick his four-year habit of chronic cinema addiction.

“I have an addictive personality: I don’t drink, smoke or anything like that,” said Mr. Barron, 28, a business reporter from Westchester. “Instead, I take it out on movies.”

Mr. Barron says he seen more than 1,300 movies in local movie theaters in the past four years – which averages to about a movie a day. This includes every wide-release movie in the past four years, as well as cult classics, gay-themed films, children’s movies and obscure documentaries. Ask him about a film in some lesser-known Indian dialect, without subtitles, and he’ll most likely give you the plotline.

“When I meet people who tell me they’re film buffs too, I’m like, ‘Um, no you’re not,’” said Mr. Barron, who nevertheless is intent on quitting his film-going ways next month, after having seen more than 390 this year.

For one thing, Mr. Barron began dating a woman who was not charmed by his obsession. For another, he recently landed a new job with a more demanding work schedule, he said.

The streak started as a bet with two other friends that “spiraled out of control,” Mr. Barron said on Monday at a coffee shop near the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, where he planned to watch an 11:10 a.m. showing of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the first of a string of four films, ending with a Spanish movie.

“We’re just regular guys, the furthest thing from film snobs,” he said, adding that he and his friends preferred watching football on Sundays, and professional wrestling, to ever going to see anything other than a big-budget action film.

He began with “Bride Wars” and “Hotel for Dogs” and was soon combing movie listings and organizing viewing schedules that would dovetail with his work hours.

He settled into a weekly routine: a multiplex in Nyack, N.Y., on Monday mornings to see about four or five wide-releases in a row. On Friday nights, he took a seat at the Pelham Picture House for independent films. On Saturdays, he would take the train to Manhattan to watch movies that don’t make it to suburban theaters. On Tuesdays, he would go to the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville not far from his apartment in Ossining.

“When I started, I was like: ‘What’s this? A movie with subtitles? All they’re doing is talking, the whole movie,’” he recounted of his initial exposure to foreign-language movies.

But within months, Mr. Barron had developed an affinity for such films and was even beginning to commit certain acts of film snobbery.

“At one point, I think I actually said something like, ‘Hey, it’s great to see Norwegian cinema coming on strong, huh?’ and my friends were like, ‘Can we punch you in the face right now?’” he said.

He and his friends trusted one another to report their viewing totals honestly, he said. Mr. Barron, for his part, kept a chronological list of the films he saw.

On Monday, Mr. Barron pulled out a fistful of ticket stubs, dozens of them from a variety of theaters, adding amusing stories about his experiences.

In 2009, any doubts he may have had about his friends’ truthfulness were dispelled, he said, after he drove to New Haven to catch an obscure foreign film, only to find one of his competing friends already in the theater.

Mr. Barron claims he has never fallen asleep in a movie and never walked out. He says he never watches movies outside of theaters. He even schedules his bathroom trips by consulting a Web site that offers optimum times for taking quick bathroom breaks during films.

Even on his salary of $25,000 a year, he was able to afford movie tickets by avoiding vacations and other extraneous expenses, and subsisting on cheap meals, including a constant diet of instant macaroni and cheese – and steering clear of theater concession stands.

Also, he would often pay for one film, and then slip into several additional ones afterward without paying again. At one theater, he said, he once saw eight films in a row, eliciting a knowing look from a box office worker.

“I feel more guilty if I do it in independently owned theaters,” he said.

When he started the streak, Mr. Barron was a reporter for a group of weekly newspapers in Westchester; he worked from home and could make his own work schedule. Now, he works for The Westchester Business Journal in an office on weekdays.

On Monday, Mr. Barron entered the Loews and bought a $7 matinee ticket for “Zero Dark Thirty.” He groaned when he saw that his next film, a 2 p.m. showing, was not in a nearby theater, making it difficult to slip in without paying again.

But he settled into the first film, as usual, in one of the rear rows, and tucked his left foot comfortably up on the seat and became gripped by the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

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