I’ve known Bingham for more than a dozen years, from the time he was running October Films in the mid-1990s. He was sharp, funny, perceptive, opinionated and passionate – about the movies that he was involved with, and about movies in general.
We both lived in Westchester County, north of Manhattan, and were both involved at the start of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, a not-for-profit arthouse that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. I started a film club at the beginning of the Burns that was affiliated with the newspaper I worked for at the time and, when I left the newspaper (and was effectively excommunicated from the Burns), Bingham later took over the hosting and producing chores of the film club.
But he only lasted a year or so because his taste could be a little, well, adventurous for the audience. I ran into him after he was replaced as the film club’s host and we had a laugh: “They only wanted me to feed them cookies,” he cracked about the audience, instead of the meat-and-potatoes cinema (or even cinematic spinach) that he wanted to mix into their diet.
Bingham was a major force in the independent film world exactly because of that adventurous taste. You need only search “October Films” on IMDB to get a sample of the kind of filmmakers whose work he championed, before October was bought by Universal, eventually morphing into USA Films and then Focus Features.
And he was a good guy, always a treat to run into and talk film with, whether at various festivals (he died after suffering a stroke at Sundance last week) or just around town. We shared a love of the Grateful Dead and an irreverent sense of humor. He was feisty but engaging – and he had just launched a new venture, as director of the San Francisco Film Festival, when he died.
His death comes as a shock and leaves a big hole in the film world, one that will not be easily filled.
Of the films I saw on Monday, the two I liked the best were “About Face,” Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ documentary about supermodels of yesteryear, and “Save the Date,” a bittersweet tale of young adult romance that features a breakout performance by actress Lizzy Caplan.
Directed and cowritten by Mark Mohan, “Save the Date” features Caplan as a bookstore manager who has just moved in with her longtime boyfriend (Geoffrey Arend), a rising indie rocker. But she has commitment issues – and, when, in the middle of one of her boyfriend’s shows, he publicly asks her to marry him, she freaks, bolting from the room leaving him flat-footed in the middle of the club.
The film also stars Alison Brie as her sister, who serves as her sounding-board and, frequently, her goad. It’s as honest a portrait of that blend of support and irritation in close sibling relationships as I’ve seen.
Caplan captures focus in virtually every scene she’s in, even when it’s not her scene, because of her exceptional focus and ability to make stillness and indecision seem alternately dramatic, tragic and funny. It’s an exceptional film about one young woman trying to sort through her confused feelings about love and life, even as everyone else around her is pushing her to do it faster.
Greenfield-Sanders’ “About Face” is a fascinating look at the world of modeling from the viewpoint of some of the most famous faces ever to grace a Vogue cover or pose for Avedon or Scavullo. They talk about being young and naïve – and about being older and, surprisingly, much more secure. Modeling, as several point out, is not a career that breeds self-confidence; just the opposite, in fact.
It’s an intriguing blend of interviews, archival footage and old photographs. Greenfield-Sanders talks to everyone from China Machado to Isabella Rosellini, from Cheryl Tiegs to Carol Alt, from Jerry Hall to Marisa Berenson. It’s bound for HBO later this year and well worth waiting for.
I also saw Ry Russo-Young’s “Nobody Walks,” cowritten with Lena Dunham of “Tiny Furniture” fame. It’s a deliberately studied film about the disruptive effect that one free-spirited young New Yorker, Martine (Olivia Thirlby), has on an L.A. family when she moves in temporarily. Her mother is college friends with the woman of the house (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has volunteered the services of her husband (John Krasinski), a film editor, to help with sound design for Martine’s experimental film.
Martine isn’t deliberately provocative – yet every man she meets not only wants her but wants her to himself. Her presence provokes several different men – from the husband to his assistant to the guy who Martine met on the plane and gave her a ride. But most of them treat their dalliance as something seismic – all except Martine, to whom it’s just another event, one in the string that make up her life. There’s something haunting and yet distant about the film in its portrait of male inability to deal with female freedom.
Katie Aselton’s “Black Rock” was an interesting exercise in genre, based on a simple premise. Three young women (Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and Aselton herself) go camping together on a deserted island off the coast of Washington state. But they are not alone on the island, as it turns out: There are three hunters on the island, one of whom is the brother of the women’s classmate from elementary school.
Too much liquor around a campfire leads to a flirtation that turns deadly – and before they know it, the three women are being hunted by the men who are, it turns out, Iraqi war veterans given dishonorable discharges, ostensibly for committing atrocities.
The first half of the movie is intriguing, with two of the women sharing unfortunate history that estranged them years earlier and the third trying to act as conciliator to bring them back together. The second half has a dark “Deliverance” vibe, as the women fight for survival.
Still, as enjoyable as it is to watch Aselton and Bell run around naked in the woods, the script by indie icon Mark Duplass (Aselton’s spouse) paints itself into a corner in the third act. The finale is clumsily shot and would have benefited from better fight choreography. Ultimately, a horror-thriller like this requires a focused, more finely tuned script than this one had.
It’s now early Tuesday morning and I just watched the announcement of the Oscar nominations. The surprises, such as they were, involved the pleasant surprise of a best-actor nod for Demian Bichir for “A Better Life” and the snubbing of Albert Brooks for a supporting actor nomination.
I hated “The Adventures of Tintin,” but it pretty much swept the various critics’ awards as animated film – but didn’t get a nod here. The fact that a confused and obvious film like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” would get a best-picture nod – while films such as “Shame,” “Drive” and “Young Adult” were snubbed – shows just how out of touch the Academy voters are.Print This Post