Screen Reviews
Flipside

Flipside

directed by Christopher Wilcha

produced by Judd Apatow

starring Christopher Wilcha, Ira Glass, Judd Apatow, Herman Leonard, David Milch, Uncle Floyd, Starlee Kine

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Multiple times in Flipside, both staged (in context) and unstaged subjects hold vinyl records in their hands, flipping between the “A-sides” and “B-sides.” These moments are fleeting but provide a motif and semblance of texture across what first seems a scattershot of disconnected stories and false starts.

Flipside is a bit of a “bait and switch.” At first, it seems like a confession, as promising young filmmaker Christopher Wilcha initially breaks out of the family business of marketing by way of subterfuge with the guerilla documentary, 2000’s The Target Shoots First. Wilcha was well-poised on a high-speed trajectory to follow his passion as a documentary filmmaker. Two decades later, he finds himself caught unawares in the priorities and pursuits of love, marriage, and family, but also back in the throngs of marketing, as a successful and sought-after director of commercials.

Flipside, a film by Chris Wilcha
courtesy of Grandstand Media
Flipside, a film by Chris Wilcha

It’s here we find Wilcha at the crossroads of middle-age, questioning whether he’s squandered his creative potential and become a sellout, antithesis to youthful Gen X ideals.

In his studio, he begins sifting through drawer after drawer of full hard drives that are crammed with hours upon hours of video from a variety of his incomplete passion projects. Later, in a similar exercise, he finds himself at his parents’ house sorting through artifacts of his youth, looking for breadcrumbs and meaning to determine how, where, and when he lost his way from idealistic artist to another marketing shill like his dad.

This is where this film could make a sharp right turn into self-indulgence, but Wilcha manages to carve a fine line and uses creative frustrations and his bonds with material possessions as a jumping off point to something far grander in scale.

As a jumping off point, Wilcha homes in on his love of music and how it was indulged and nurtured by his high-school job at Flipside Records. Flipside is what was once the more atypical record collector’s dream and expectation: a virtual “bee beard” of piled and stacked, wall-to-wall, meat-scented vinyl records. Wilcha returns to this key touchstone in his life and finds it, albeit much dustier, frozen in amber. The world has moved on and progressed, but Flipside was stuck in its past by heft of its massive inventory and its proprietor’s unwillingness to adapt over the past 30 years.

Wilcha attempts to merge his desire for something meaningful and his skills as a commercial filmmaker to rescue Flipside Records from itself. The Flipside record store’s charm is also its primary challenge, and Wilcha is looking down the barrel of another false start.

Wilcha then follows the path of his career and life from its origins at Flipside, The Target Shoots First, to collaborating with Ira Glass on stunted docuseries This American Life, and on to working with Judd Apatow, which ultimately leads to his own well-meaning “bait and switch” by David Milch in documenting the final days of jazz photographer Herman Leonard.

That is where the documentary truly starts. It’s in these outwardly unrelated subjects that Wilcha succeeds in weaving a philosophical tapestry about the natures of collecting, creativity aging, mortality, truth-value, and remembrance. There are very poignant and key moments when the notoriously brash David Milch’s kernels of truth with regards to obligations to humanity pierce through his battle with Alzheimer’s, or when Herman Leonard reflects on the creative nature intertwined with the time of his life. The end result is a testament that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Much like the rare tracks buried and strewn amongst the smoked meat boxes of the record store serving as the film’s namesake, Flipside holds an incredible amount of treasure and meaning to be discovered. And like the polarities between a record’s forward-leaning A-side to its back-leaning B-side, Flipside pulls and tugs on multiple personal, creative, and philosophical dichotomies and manages to culminate them into something truly transcendent.

The film premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and is in theaters now.

Oscilloscope Laboratories


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