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Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Gross Behavior: Leonard On Bingham


Leonard I Do Believe You’re Jealous

A little over a week ago my 95 year old aunt passed away.  She had a good, full life. On the day prior to her death she complained of having difficulty breathing and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia and were never able to stabilize her condition.

The day after her burial I was back in Los Angeles playing catch up when I came across an item on the internet that Bingham Ray had collapsed at the Sundance Film Festival and was rushed to hospital. There was nothing in the piece that indicated his situation was grave and perhaps sensitized by my aunt’s recent death I trolled the net for hospitals in the Park City and Salt Lake area.

My intention was to call him up and give him the gears about the rigors of going to film festivals – long days and nights, meals on the run, insane screening schedules and the like. But I got busy and put off the call until the following day.

He died the next day, the result of multiple strokes that proved fatal.

Health issues aside Bing was denied the long, full life of my aunt. None of us realized that we were going to be denied another couple of decades of sparring, joking, debating and reminiscing with someone who had been a friend, adversary and dissident for more years than I care to remember.

I can’t exactly remember when I first encountered Bingham but my guess is that he was working for Sam Goldwyn and it might have had to do with the largely forgotten film Ping Pong. Regardless he was on the scene as a brash, in your face presence that was committed to the orphans and castoffs given a sometimes fleeting entry into the marketplace.

He was a diligent advocate for the films and filmmakers that needed a little help from friends. He was also funny, combative, relentless and very accessible.

And he had an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema. During an encounter at a film festival whistle stop he greeted me with, “Leonard I do believe you’re jealous,” employing a dry, vaguely posh English accent. I didn’t immediately get “it” in the probable throes of festival fatigue; approaching his words initially on a literal basis that suggested some unintended slight or an obscure reference from a recent review.

“C’mon,” he prodded, “Martin Landau.” The penny dropped. Of course it was the line James Mason spoke to Landau in North by Northwest. I chuckled as the group he was with puzzled over this extremely arcane shared in-joke.

Over the years this became his standard greeting and occasionally he’d explain its meaning to novices. The Landau character as I recall doesn’t have a response; he simply shoots Vandamm (Mason) with a blank cartridge to underline his conviction.

Bingham had a number of virtues few of us can claim. He didn’t hold many grudges and wasn’t someone prone to gotcha politics. When we talked it was a true discussion whether it was one-on-one or in a group. He wasn’t diplomatic, not that he was abusive or dogmatic. Bing simply spoke his mind and that was fine, mostly, when he was running October Films with Jeff Lipsky and problematic when he worked for others.

He would listen to alternative perspectives though I suspect there were very few instances where he was won over by someone else’s point-of-view. My wife locked horns with him when she was working on the opening of Secrets & Lies. It was over some tiny detail and her memory is that his sensitivity related to the fact that his father was an adoptee. The bottom line was that he was completely engaged in the process, more than happy to cede authority to capable people and when the occasional difference arose he asked the smart questions.

Bingham Ray was smarter than the average independent torch bearer. That didn’t necessarily make him more shrewd or successful than his competitors. But he was his own man and always worked with what he had and _ without putting his professional legacy under the microscope _ produced an enviable track record of getting maximum mileage for films with dubious commercial prospects.

I never heard him say that he out-foxed someone or picked up a slam dunk box office hit. The films he liked didn’t fit into a clean groove. They were messy, oblique and that oh so overused term: difficult. But he knew they had over-riding quality and that there was an audience that would respond to them sufficiently if he could just figure out how to get to them. His dives into the marketplace almost always were ranked at the top end of the difficulty scale. Bing had enough self awareness and security to go for the long shots; he needed the challenges because that’s just who he was as a person.

It’s easier to convey his agility and acuity than to distill his sense of humor. He was innately funny and thrived on the ironic nature of the film business. He had a tacit disdain for the many that didn’t get the joke because he knew that once you lost your sense of humor, all was lost.

The news from Park City is that there’s a giant hole in the big picture. The vets all know why that is and are also all too aware that it will not be filled in. Bingham Ray was unique and as with such folk that singularity can’t be fully appreciated until it’s gone. He left the party much too soon and it just won’t be as much fun for the rest of us.

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One Response to “Gross Behavior: Leonard On Bingham”

  1. independent releasing, at times fighting windmills, he will be missed…

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon