The Bingham Show

It’s been a little over three weeks since Bingham Ray passed away and I have read countless tributes, obits and stories, almost all of them touching and heartfelt. In my head, The Bingham Show has been running a regular time slot since his passing and maybe I should have written more, sooner, but I just couldn’t. Of course the idea that it will get better over time is silly and I ought to have known better. Anyone who has lost someone close to them knows that it doesn’t get better with time, it just gets…different.

Bingham was one of the first and kindest and most inclusive mentors I had in the business and one of my closest friends, too. He was quick to understand where Eugene Hernandez and I were going with indieWIRE, always had time for the new kids in school and unlike some other people in the business (you might have a guess or two), Bingham didn’t seem to take himself overly seriously. That didn’t hold true for film, of course. For Bingham, film was serious business but it was the business of wonderment…of the joy, sadness, horror and happiness that a good film can bring.

Moose, Scott and Bingham at the Siasconset Casino on Nantucket

Many people have referred to Bingham as a “film guy” and that’s about as apt a moniker as I can think of. I had the pleasure of sharing a favorite film with him (at least the “favorite” he mentions here, Local Hero, and I suspect like many of us, he had more than one favorite). I never got to watch it with him, but we shared another favorite, one which he quoted often, The Third Man. Sometime in April of 2004, Film Forum was showing a restored print of Carol Reed’s masterpiece and we went to see it, together.

Nothing particularly amazing happened that day. We didn’t share a bottle of whiskey and bond over life’s mysteries, or anything like that but it’s one of my favorite memories of Bingham. The pure joy of settling into that little theater to watch one of the all-time great films is hard to explain. Two years later I watched it again at a theater in Vienna and afterwards I made my way out to the Prater amusement park to see the ferris wheel and I remember wishing he was there with me.

I can’t believe that in almost 16 years of friendship I don’t have dozens of “movies with Bing” stories but I will share another one with you. In 2001, Bingham was on the Sundance Film Festival dramatic competition jury. That year, every time I saw him in Park City he would grab me and shout: “My spoon is too big!” or “For the love of god and all that’s holy, my anus is bleeding!” from Don Hertzfeld’s Rejected and then walk away, laughing that huge laugh of his. You got the feeling that Bingham was happy making himself laugh and if anyone else went along for the ride, well, that was just gravy.

At some point in the late 1990s, I was invited Bingham, Ben Barenholtz, Eamonn Bowles, Tom Prassis and Arnie Sawyer to join the Poker Game. Many of you have heard of this now legendary game and I consider myself very lucky to have been invited. Of course most of the stories told during that game will have to remain unpublished, but there was one that Bingham told involving Sir Laurence Olivier and Danny Kaye that had apparently “made the rounds.” Years later I saw this clip of Malcolm McDowell repeating the story, virtually to the letter. While I had believed Bingham, version, its was so fantastical that I felt a small sense of amazement when I saw the clip. I sent Bingham a link and he responded with “Told ya!”

Nantucket was special for Bingham and one of those fantastic places from where I have a densely concentrated packet of memories of my friend. There was that time we just about pissed ourselves at Brian Williams’ hysterical routine at NFF’s screenwriter tribute, including an obvious but surprisingly funny sperm whale joke. Bingham just couldn’t get over the fact that Williams had gone for such an obvious joke and had still knocked it out of the park.

Then there was that time he was coaching 3rd base in the annual Nantucket Film Festival “celebrity” softball game and made the “slide” sign as I legged out a triple (no, really). To misquote an old ballplayer, I shouldn’t of slud and ended up doing quite a bit of damage to my leg. Needless to say, he looked at me like I was an idiot, sliding in shorts on a rocky field. “What the hell are you sliding for?” “You told me to. It was instinct.” “Ok, DiMaggio.”

I guess this piece is a bit of inside baseball and maybe a little self-indulgent. Therapy in public, if you will. His death does not and I suspect never will, feel real.  If you didn’t know Bingham, you will probably find this all somewhat boring but if you did know him, I hope this helps keep the sound and image of him alive a little longer. He was a larger than life character and if he had a camera crew following him around all the time, I’d watch The Bingham Show every week.

I miss you, Bingham. Rest in peace.

James Schamus, Bingham and me at a NYFF party for "Dancer in the Dark."


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