“Flipside” opens at the IFC Center

    It’s very fitting that the song accompanying the end credits of the documentary “Flipside” is “Unsatisfied,” The Replacements’ 1984 anthem to teen angst. Hearing it, I thought of something I haven’t thought about in years. A book by a female music critic and surfer whose name I can’t recall in which she recounts playing that song and agreeing with her boyfriend that it cuts to the core of their own feelings of dissatisfaction. A tangential thought inspired by a meandering but fascinating and often melancholy film about making sense of personal aspirations versus actual accomplishments. And long playing records. LPs. Vinyl. And collecting in general. Not hoarding. (As Judd Appatow explains at one point, “It’s not hoarding if all your shit is awesome!”) 

    The documentary opens on Friday, May 31 at Manhattan’s IFC Center. Wilcha and other guests will be on hand after selected screenings. Go here for ticket info.

    Chris Wilcha’s 2000 film “The Target Shoots First” documented his job as a production manager at the Columbia House Record Club. (Remember those? Ten CDs for a penny? I probably still owe them money.) Shot on a HI-8 camera, he explored the dynamics of working for the corporate capitalists his conscience told him he should avoid at all costs. The motto of Gen-X-ers like him was “never sell out.” But he had to pay NYC rent so he put on a suit and got a job his marketing executive father approved of. The film was a festival success and aired on HBO, so Wilcha quit his day job.

    The next two decades were busy ones for Chris. He directed TV commercials, got married and had two children. An offer to direct a DVD extra for Judd Apatow (executive producer of this film) led him to move to the West Coast. Legendary screenwriter David Milch hired him to do a bio-doc of the great jazz photographer Herman Leonard. (Herman shot that famous smoke-filled photo of Dexter Gordon.) He directed episodes of the TV version of Ira Glass’s “This American Life.”

    Like many documentarians (Errol Morris is one) he alternated highly paid commercial work with personal documentaries. But most of them remained unfinished. A long project very dear to him involved trying to help save Flipside Records, a record store in a small New Jersey town where he worked as a teenager. Still open but barely holding on, Wilcha revisted the crate-digger landmark, exploring topics such as, “Why does the store smell like smoked pork?” (Many of the cardboard boxes used to store LPs came from a nearby butcher shop.) “Why did a rival record store open just blocks away and why is it doing better than Flipside?” (One customer cites cleanliness and order as a factor.) “Why is UHF-TV legend Uncle Floyd (Floyd Vivino) a regular customer?” And so on.

    The visuals of “Flipside” include thousands of hooks to cultural memories or discoveries. In the rival record store I noticed copies of “Wierd N.J.,” a cool magazine about historical and cultural oddities in the garden state. 

    If there is a theme connecting all of the material it is memories and collecting. Wilcha’s father is a notorious collector of odd things: toiletries from hotel rooms, AOL install discs from the 1990s. Chris pours through hundreds of handwritten notes, each one of them bringing back good or painful memories. I worry about kids today who don’t keep written journals or print their photos or write letters. If the servers fail (and eventually they will) they may lose all records of their existence.

    The renewal of interest in vinyl is promising, even though many consumers prefer the over-priced 180-gram remastered records to finding gems in crusty old used record stores. Wilcha ultimately makes peace with the fragmented nature of his unfinished projects and memories. Maybe a rich life is just a collection of moments and creative choices strung along like a rabbit hole search down Wikipedia or in a smelly record store.

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