THE LIVING ROOM
A FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY FILM PROPOSAL
Dust twinkles in a projector beam. Muttering to himself, a professorial older man gesticulates at a movie screen reflected in horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose. His hands stab darkness only a bit less vigorously than an orchestra conductor. He's watching a movie he's seen literally 100's of times: Fellini's 8 ½. Just like the hero in that film's climax, surrounding him in the theater is a cast of characters from all parts of his life: friends, former students, and ex-girlfriends.
This is, in fact, ex-film professor David Kleiler's wake.
But, no, Kleiler's very much alive. It's a long, confusing story that involves idiosyncratic formulas that produced a death date prediction, and friends from his small film society rallying around him. If you know Kleiler, all of this makes sense. In the 80's, he ran a film series called "Festival of the Bizarre and Insane." In his world, lines between art and life, illusion and reality constantly blur.
All Kleiler has ever wanted to do was share his love of film with others and discuss it. For nearly fifty years he's been showing films in his living room with friends, family members, and students. Just as the beloved English professor holds open office hours to discuss literature, Kleiler opens his home and uses film discussion to help people understand themselves. Are you Gene Hackman in I Never Sang For My Father? Are you Monica Vitti in Red Desert? Liv Ullmann in Persona? Kleiler is the confidant you call for a take on current movie releases or to have a long conversation about why a certain film speaks to you.
At the age of seventy-eight, it's a tradition he carries on today. He and his roommate run an informal film society called the "Salon/Saloon." It's a tight-knit group of eccentric film-obsessed people that gather weekly at Kleiler's condo to discuss deep cuts of cinema into the wee hours of the night. From Sullivan's Travels to Donnie Darko, The Searchers to Safe, Persona to Ponette, they've held nearly 200 screenings. Whether at the theater or at home, Kleiler's weekly film viewing diet still rivals that of a first-year film student.
Even though, at this point in his life, he's legally blind. He's got macular degeneration, but that's certainly not going to stop him from watching movies.
Films in the Living Room is an intimate documentary feature that follows Kleiler and the eccentric Salon crew, their post-screening discussions, their backstories and their film-obsessed lives. We see Kleiler's roommate, Jean-Paul Ouellette (who once worked with Orson Welles and Russ Meyer) emerge from his bedroom in the morning to bicker about programming with Kleiler. We listen to Kleiler's old friend and insanely brainy statistician Eric Van (who once did sabermetrics for the Red Sox) lend arcane mathematical and metaphysical insights to the post-screening discussion. We visit Dima Ballin, a Russian immigrant who Kleiler has known since Ballin was in eighth grade, work on his podcast about obscure horror films. In stylized sit-down interviews, these subjects talk about how much the Salon means to them at this point in their lives.
Scenes from these characters' lives and their late-night Salon film discussions serve as a springboard to the through line story of Kleiler's unusual, film-enmeshed life. Using on-camera interviews with friends, family, former colleagues and students, we hear about Kleiler's childhood skipping Catholic school to catch Bogie movies. We learn how, as a young professor, he started living room screenings as a way to practice class lectures. He showed Buñuel and Bergman to impressionable young Babson business students, some of whom questioned their lives after lively nights discussing art films. One student dropped her fiancé after seeing Persona. Others dropped their business degrees. One of his students eventually went on to film school and said of Kleiler, "Anyone can teach you how to make a movie. Kleiler was teaching why."
Making home an unofficial retrospective theater and student drop-in center put a strain on his marriage. By the early 80's, Kleiler was divorced and unemployed, but that's when the fun begins. Starting a film society called "The Rear Window," he becomes a wayward film impresario, screening movies and leading film discussions not only in his living room but in art galleries, rock clubs, and even a puppet theater. Members of Boston's burgeoning music and art scene came out to see and hear him talk about obscure cinema classics. The 80's end with Kleiler's crowning achievement: creating a grassroots movement that saved the Coolidge Corner, an art deco palace that to this day is arguably Boston's best movie theater.
Films in the Living Room is produced, directed, and edited by David Kleiler's son, David Kleiler, Jr. Now a father himself, Kleiler Jr. grapples with his father's successes and failures, legacy, and demons. He examines his father's numerous quirks and ticks, especially his lifelong habit of list-making where he uses self-created formulas to organize his days and predict things like his death. Some moments in Kleiler Sr.'s life are shown using stylized, cinematic recreations. In a Fellini-esque turn, the whole family reunites at the childhood home to restage one of the movie parties in the 70's, using a cast of current day Babson students.
For film fans everywhere, Films in the Living Room is a document of a world that's dying: film enthusiasts who celebrate cinema and audience-based, co-viewing experiences. It shines the light on a microculture of film obsessives, but in a larger sense, explores the transformative power of art and people's deeply personal relationships to it. Films also tells a story about how one man's passion, at once infectious and inspiring to so many, complicates his own career and family life.
Just like the great works of cinema Kleiler and the crew discuss. Films in the Living Room aims to pose questions it can’t answer. How do viewing and discussing all these films help Kleiler understand his own life? Ultimately, there's a question looming for Kleiler's friends and loved-ones. What will be the last film he actually sees?