Sunday, February 11, 2001

Tuesday night at the movies

Informal group gets together to screen and discuss wide variety of films

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They don't have a name, not officially.

        They have no dues, no by-laws, no board of directors, no press releases, no grants, no subsidies.

        Almost by accident, these scientists, teachers, students and managers have created an informal film circle that has survived for almost a decade to become a de facto Cincinnati institution.

        For grand occasions, they may break out “Tuesday Night International Movie Group,” but are more likely to call themselves TMG, for Tuesday movie group, or no particular name at all.

        Not long after the Esquire Theatre in Clifton re-opened in 1990 following a seven-year hiatus, a few co-workers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) started getting together to see movies on Tuesday nights. (Tuesday was, and is, discount day at the Esquire.)

[photo] Members Joanna Cedercreutz of Clifton and Thomas Deri of Wyoming at The Esquire Theatre.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        Colleagues invited more colleagues, friends started asking friends they knew to be interested in movies, especially foreign, independent and what until recently were called “art house” films.

        “After a while, it got so there were too many people to ask what movie should we see, so we resorted to e-mail,” said Jim Kesner, one of the original movie-goers. He still acts as the group's informal but essential wrangler, recording secretary and statistician.

Discussion afterward

        Every week, an e-mail goes out to a list that now totals some 150 addresses. On any given Tuesday, 10 to 15 people, sometimes more, show up to watch a movie together, then retire somewhere to dissect the experience over a pitcher of good beer.

        “We like movies that are original, complex, honest, whimsical, provocative, disturbing and challenging,” said Henryka Nagy, a Polish native and one of the founding movie-goers. “The more ambivalent and open is the message, the better is the discussion.”

        Between movies, they also may trade jokes, tips, political commentary and appeals to find homes for stray animals. But the tie that binds is movies, more than 325 since 1995, a figure to rival any film society.

The listmaker

    The Tuesday Night International Movie Group began keeping score in May 1995. Since then, they have seen 324 movies. Of those rated by at least five members, here are the highest and lowest scoring titles, each listed with its country of origin:

The best:
    1. Men With Guns (USA)
    2. Dancer in the Dark (Denmark)
    3. Antonia's Line (Netherlands)
    4. Carrington (UK)
    5. Life is Beautiful (Italy)
    6. Il Postino (Italy)
    7. Butterfly (USA)
    8. Burnt by the Sun (Russia)
    9. Shall We Dance? (Japan)
    10. Cabaret (USA)

The worst:
    10. It's My Party (USA)
    9. Cemetery Man (Italy)
    8. Spy Hard (USA)
    7. Waterworld (USA)
    6. Kiss Me Guido (USA)
    5. Madagascar Skin (UK)
    4. Bar Girls (USA)
    3. The Blair Witch Project (USA)
    2. Gummo (USA)
    1. Bandwagon (USA)

        About five years ago, the group moved into literally uncharted territory.

        “In '95 we were trying to think back to the movies we saw, and we didn't have any list,” Mr. Kesner said. That's when the serious record-keeping started, with scores each movie-goer assigns to each film averaged, organized and ranked in almost any order you might care to request.

        “We started to give scores, and he made extrapolations, correlations, standard deviations, everything,” Ms. Nagy joked.

        Things got even more complex when members whom Mr. Kesner habitually describes as “the anarchic dogs from Eastern Europe” demanded a fractional ratings scale instead of whole numbers only. Thus, the group's favorite film of 2000, Dancer in the Dark, outranks its second choice, Butterfly, by a mere fourteen-hundredths of a point.

Getting too big

        While the group's destination is usually the Esquire, they will branch out if an interesting movie is playing elsewhere. Once, they trekked to a drive-in to see Waterworld. Cabaret, a film released in 1972, made the group's most-popular list after members got together and watched it on video.

        Mr. Kesner notes that there is no way to apply to join the group. Someone who is on the list can invite you. Otherwise, things would just plain get out of hand.

        “It is getting large, and may lose its charm due to the fact that we are not able to listen to everyone anymore,” Thomas Deri said. “We are forced to break down into small groups when discussing the movies.”

        That is what happened recently when the group gathered to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Thirty-five people showed up at a local restaurant after the movie; 40 posted ratings.

        Strong opinions were traded. “It was aesthetically pleasing, but emotionally it was just flat,” Ms. Nagy said. Someone else suggested the movie's delicate romance reflected naivete. She answered, “That wasn't naive, that was primitive!”

        At the same time, spontaneous discussions about jobs, menus and personal lives bubbled up at other tables, while Mr. Kesner doggedly made introductions and invited each person to say something about the movie. At least two people confessed they had skipped the movie and just showed up for the socializing.

        That's a big part of what attracts the group's oldest member, 92-year-old Jean W. Rothenberg. “I just love to meet people,” she said. “There are people here from many different countries, and it is fascinating to see how different people respond to the ideas in the films.”

        Ms. Rothenberg joined the group when she met Mr. Kesner after a symphony performance and he e-mailed an invitation to her, saying, “You seem interesting, cultured and opinionated.”

        “My kids, they were horrified,” she said. “They said, "Mother, you are at a vulnerable age.' I told them, "You better get used to it. Stuff comes my way, I'm doing it.' ”

Just a social group

        The group's laissez-faire habits appeal to Nancy Nilsen. “There is no obligation to come or stay after the movie. It is just a social gathering for fun without any strings attached. There are no expectations.”

        While working as a visiting scientist with NIOSH in 1998-99, she met Mr. Kesner and Ms. Nagy, who invited her to the movies. She stayed on the e-mail list when she returned home to Norway, then rejoined the group when she returned to NIOSH in August.

        During her absence, Ms. Nilsen said, “We found out that a lot of non-U.S.-mainstream movies don't make it to Norway or Europe, but the European ... movies were showing in Norway before Cincinnati. So, there were some previews going back and forth over the e-mail.”

        “People who have never actually shown up for the movie are on the mailing list,” said Doug Rohrer, including the brother of his wife, Patricia, a native of Belgium.

        Though opinions about movies, life and philosophy vary widely, conflict is rare, members say.

        “The fact that we work in different places is a facilitating factor,” said veteran member Jerzy Stanek, a native of Poland. “We are not competitors, we do not owe anything to one another, we do not depend on one another, we do not report to one another. That is why employment-based groups have no chance to survive.”

        “We don't exclude anybody, although there are people we have talked about,” Mr. Kesner said to a burst of laughter. “There are certainly people who come once and don't show up again.”

        Most, however, come back again and again, year after year, drawn by the simple pleasures of interesting movies and lively conversation.

        “We like honest opinions and a good argument,” Ms. Nagy said.

        “Our discussions often make us realize how different we are from one another in the way we think and feel; we are often surprised with our own reactions to the movie,” she said.

        “We view our movie going as an endless adventure of self-discovery, so this may be one reason why we last so long.”

        Margaret A. McGurk is Enquirer film critic. Contact her by mail, 312 Elm St. Cincinnati 45202; fax, (513) 768-8330; or e-mail,

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