Pompton Lakes record store plays big part in Chris Wilcha’s new documentary ‘Flipside’

flipside review

Chris Wilcha’s documentary “Flipside” is about the Flipside record store in Pompton Lakes, among other things.

Filmmaker Chris Wilcha needed to declutter.

Decades after he moved to California, all these things were still at his parents’ home in Franklin Lakes — boxes of old Spin magazines, a collection of Fisher-Price turntables. And then there were the leftovers of a quarter-century of filmmaking — cartons stuffed with documentaries he’d never finished, rough drafts for movies he’d never begun.

Wilcha is still working on clearing out his parents’ place. (“I really need to rent a van,” he confesses.) But at least he did come up with an idea for all those in-progress movies.

Turn them into a new movie.

The picture opens May 31 at the IFC Center in New York and it’s called “Flipside.” It’s largely about the Pompton Lakes record store of the same name, a musty Aladdin’s cave of undiscovered treasures. But it’s also about a mail-order record club. And Uncle Floyd. And a lot of other people and places that passed through Wilcha’s life, and in front of his lens.

Mostly, though, it’s about what it means to have a dream, and what it takes to make it real.



Q: When did filmmaking take hold of you? Were you one of those teenagers running around with a movie camera?

A: I was not that kid, to be completely honest. As a teenager I was mostly working at Flipside, or playing in a band, or going to Maxwell’s, or hanging out at Sam Ash looking at guitars I could never afford. The filmmaking urge didn’t kick in until I got to NYU and got interested in nonfiction filmmaking. There was this sense back then that there was meaning in everyday experience — that it was worth documenting your life, your friends, the scene you were in. And for me, there was also this realization that all that stuff was going to disappear, if I didn’t save it somehow. I collected some stuff already, so when I got a camera as a graduation present, I became this hoarder of memories, too. “Archivist” is probably nicer!

Q: Which turned into your first film, “The Target Shoots First,” about your right-out-of-college job in the marketing department at Columbia House, which fascinates me for a couple of reasons. First off: Didn’t people mind when this kid showed up at work with a camera and just started filming everything?

A: I think it would have if I were just some interloper doing it for a day, but I was there all the time, and I would carry this little camera around with me all the time. It became part of my persona — “Hey, it’s Video Man!” And then after a while, people forgot about it. I didn’t get in people’s faces, but I would bring it to every dumb meeting, the company Christmas party, whatever. Sometimes I’d just sit it down on a desk and leave it running.

Q: We see some of that footage in “Flipside” and the other thing which fascinated me — and will probably astound a lot of recent college graduates — is that there really was a time in the early ’90s when a kid with a B.A. in philosophy could walk into a job in the music business. And a staff job with benefits, and a private office.

A: I look back at it and all the infrastructure that existed to support, basically, a mail-order catalog — I mean, there were copywriters, there were art directors, there were people whose only job was to keep up the photo archives. There was a lot of money around because the whole model was, hey, we’re going to re-sell people their entire record collection. “Oh, yeah, I have the whole Dylan catalog on vinyl but now I need to buy it again on CD!” Those days are definitely over, but for the companies, for a long time, it was like a license to print money. It’s just I eventually realized, hey, I’m on a nice path to a marketing career but I don’t want to market things. I want to make things.

Q: After “The Target Shoots First” came out in 2000, you did some other things, but most of what you were making were commercials. How did you get back into nonfiction filmmaking?

A: Commercial directing became my main source of income but I always still pursued outside projects, even if some of them went nowhere. And I would always, every couple of years, go back to Flipside and shoot a bit; Dan, the owner, would look at me, like, “Really? We’re still doing this?” And then COVID came and, maybe like a lot of people, I spent the pandemic going through old objects, artifacts, projects that still seemed to have a lot of life in them. And I thought, I’ve got to find a way to do something with all of this. And it’ll be a crime if I don’t finish it while Flipside is still around.

Q: You weave all this together, along with some other stuff — like working on Ira Glass’ TV series, and his decision to mount a stage show, or a conversation with “Deadwood” creator David Milch. But the heart of it is really Flipside. The place is like a real-life “High Fidelity,” with an eccentric owner, and bins full of obscure albums, and this die-hard clientele.

A: I will tell you, a definitely major hope of mine is that people who see this film will go make a pilgrimage to that place. It’s an experience that’s hard to find anymore. It’s not about finding what you want; it’s about finding something you didn’t even know existed. It’s about digging, and sifting, and being surprised. It’s not something you can find online.

Q: Literally. I went to the store’s website and it was a dead end. Its Facebook page hasn’t had a new post since 2011.

A: That’s Dan! He was never interested in the internet, or doing mail order. He has a friend who does an Instagram account for them, but that’s about it. What Flipside offers is a real-life experience, and I think that’s something worth having and preserving.

Uncle Floyd in “Flipside.”

Q: Right. I mean, you could do a search, and maybe find some of those records on eBay. But you’re not going to have the experience of going through a carton of albums, when you look up at the customer who just walked in and it’s Uncle Floyd.

A: That was such a wonderful moment. I wanted to do a whole documentary on him but for whatever reason he and his manager were like, “We’re not interested in revisiting the past.” But we ended up with a little mini-doc about Floyd, in a way; he talks about his career, the ups and downs, the mythologizing. He buys some old records. He plays some music.

That’s the thing about Floyd: He is a working musician, you know? Bar mitzvahs, company picnics, morticians’ conventions — whatever the gig, you hire him and he will be there. And be present, totally.

Q: It’s funny, because the movie could seem kind of random — here’s some of this project I worked on, here’s a bit of something else I made. But there’s still a throughline. These are people — whether it’s Glass with his stage show, or Uncle Floyd with Oogie, or Dan with his retro record store — who are committed to doing something in the arts that a lot of people around them think is a bad idea. But they persevere.

A: I just found the persistence of everyone really inspiring. All these different people who are consumed with doing something, creating something, and even if those dreams are deferred, they keep at it.

I’ll tell you, something kind of unexpected that’s happened once we started screening this is people will come up afterwards and really want to talk about their own problems with a project. They’ll say, “I’m totally blocked on this thing, how do I get past it?” or “I was working on something and then it just sort of stalled and I put it aside, how do I get back into it?” You know, we all hit these obstacles. But, hard as it is, you just have to keep at it.

That’s the thing as an artist, you gotta act, you gotta follow through, you gotta keep going. And if my movie provokes one person to pick up something they abandoned and get back to work, that’s fantastic.

“Flipside” will screen at the IFC Center in New York from May 31 to June 6 (visit ifccenter.com) and also will be at The Clairidge in Montclair from June 7 to 20 (visit theclairidge.org). For more on the film, visit flipside.oscilloscope.net.


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