I can't say that Bingham Ray and I were particularly close, but I think I can say that we were tight. This is because Bingham did me the honor of opting to recognize me as a kindred spirit pretty shortly after we were introduced, in 1997, I believe. October Films, the outfit that he ran with Jeff Lipsky, was behind the David Lynch picture Lost Highway, which Premiere had chronicled the making of—sort of—in a 1996 piece by David Foster Wallace that some of you may have heard of. I was VERY enthusiastic about the picture and even though I hadn't started writing film reviews for Premiere at that time, Bingham was very pleased that I saw it as I did, and he took the fact that I saw it as I did as an indication that I understood the larger scheme of things in a way not unlike his own, and that was that. In conversation, our minds moved at the same speed and on very similar frequencies, which had the peculiar effect of making a lot of our chats rather brief. We'd agree on something being wonderful, or something being awful, and then one of us would start to extrapolate on that, and we'd look at each other and it'd be like, well, I don't need to tell YOU, and that was pretty much that. Or, after a screening, Bingham: "So what'd you think?" Me: "Pretty fucking great." Bingham: "WASN'T IT?" Yeah.
We also knew that we shared a similar impulsiveness. Peter Biskind's book Down And Dirty Pictures drafts this grandiose narrative of October versus Miramax, indie David taking on the Goliath of its particular realm and not triumphing, and while Bingham certainly had issues with certain personalities and was as fierce and as fiercely competitive as anyone you could name in his field, he sure as hell had, throughout his career, very different priorities from a Harvey Weinstein. And a very different personality. While Biskind's book squares off Weinstein and Ray as matched separates, as it were, the two men were...well, for one thing, Bingham certainly did not have anything you could conceivably call a bullying side. A snappish temper, yeah, a bit, but it didn't go far in the service of pushing anybody around. Like Harvey,though, Bingham was known for his bluntness, but there was even nothing remotely cagey about his bluntness, which there definitely is with Weinstein. Weinstein would prefer you not recognize that caginess, because he thinks if you don't see it that adds to his negotiating advantage (this is not entirely unlike the old Nixonian make-them-believe-I'm-just-crazy-enough-to-do-it ploy), but of course it's there more often than not. Bingham was entirely more transparent, which was both blessing and...well, I won't say curse, but you can understand how that can sometimes be a liability. I've got something like that same damn problem myself, and that's another reason we got along, and why it was kind of automatic.
We were also big smokers when we first met, so we logged in a fair amount of time standing around outside in places like Park City and Toronto and having cigarettes and being all like "What the hell are we doing?" about it. The man was an incredible idealist about movies but also a stone cold realist and he never compained, never really complained, about the uphill battle he had with pretty much every film he believed in, every film he knew deserved a shot, and he had a healthy sense of not-quite-spite but definitely defiance in the face of the forces that stood between him and getting that movie seen. By the same token, he did what he had to do when he had to do it. We once discussed a gig that was less-than-optimum for him and he shrugged and said, "What are you gonna do? I gotta put the kids through college." He took ALL his responsibilities seriously. And it made me shudder, during the post-October periods when I saw him in scrambling mode. To think that a guy as sharp as that, with that kind of taste and tenacity and understanding of both art and commerce was NOT running things...I couldn't fathom it.
Through the ups and downs, he was an invariably friendly face, even if in the crush of the crowd at a given event all you and he could do was smile at each other across a room and give a "we're still here" shrug. I hadn't seen Bingham for a few years when I learned the other day of his being taken ill, and then of his death today, and so now he's not here. I suppose that he and I and my old friends and colleagues are getting to be that age, the age when someone you prize comes to mind and you think, oh, it's been too long since I've spoken/had coffee with that person, I really need to do that some time soon and catch up...and you don't follow up on that thought, and then maybe the person is gone. It is I suppose commendable that, as one fellow mourner chose to put it, Bingham died "with his boots on," checking out the Sundance Film Festival. Commendable, but hardly comforting. What are you gonna do?
In his famous 1973 letter to Jean-Luc Godard excoriating his one-time friend and colleague, François Truffaut wrote: "Opposed to you are the small men, from Bazin to Edmond Maire and taking in Sartre, Buñuel, Queneau, Mendes-France, Rohmer and Audiberti, who ask others how they're getting on, who help them to fill out a social-security form, who reply to their letters—what they have in common is the capacity to think of others rather than themselves and above all to be more interested in what they do than in what they are and in what they appear to be." In that tradition, I can sincerely attest that Bingham Ray was one of the best of the small men.