Filmmaker Christopher Wilcha outside Flipside Records, the New Jersey record store where he worked as a teenager. Courtesy of Oscilloscope

Did you ever feel like a movie was made just for you? And that that might not be a good thing?

“Flipside” follows Christopher Wilcha, a successful, L.A.-based director of TV commercials, as he revisits the run-down New Jersey record store where he’d worked as a teenager. It’s the tale of a middle-aged professional who’s settled uneasily into a comfortable existence on the money-making fringe of the creative industry he’d dreamed of conquering as an ambitious, know-it-all pop culture geek happily toiling in the dusty stacks of an establishment already creeping toward obsolescence.

Wilcha, who made an early splash with his snotty insider documentary about working for the Columbia Record & Tape Club, 2000’s “The Target Shoots First,” might as well have been me, overeducated and underemployed in a fading niche entertainment business (substitute Jersey’s Flipside Records for Portland’s Videoport). The young Wilcha, according to the present-day version, thrived in “a clubhouse for misfits and fellow obsessives,” where his lofty, antiestablishment Gen X sensibilities joined like-minded patrons and co-workers in the smug assurance that their cultural taste would triumph over a mercenary world bent on destroying it, and them.

“A pop culture footnote. A charming oddity remembered by a small group of people who themselves were getting older.”

Dan Dondiego, owner of Flipside Records, in the documentary film “Flipside.” Courtesy of Oscilloscope

Wilcha’s filmmaking journey with “Flipside” emerges as compromised and bound for discontent as his career. Married to a writer whose own struggles with creative frustration mirror his own, Wilcha tells the tale of his teenage music mecca and its resolutely scruffy owner, Dan Dondiego, in the fits and starts that have marked his pretensions toward feature filmmaking. His passion project to, in some way, use his advertising skills to save Flipside soon joins any number of sidetracked and abandoned films existing only as footage-packed hard drives gathering dust. A Judd Apatow documentary turned DVD extra. A portrait of jazz photographer Herman Leonard thwarted by the dying man’s fading health and more pressing responsibilities. An acclaimed season helming the “This American Life” TV series scuttled by host Ira Glass’ creative restlessness.

Ten years pass, Wilcha raises two kids, continues to make a living making ads for Miracle Whip and predatory banks, and when he returns a decade later to the store’s groaning shelves of precious and ignored vinyl, another tiny record store has, inexplicably, opened up right around the corner. (Wilcha posits that its relative success may have something to do with that store’s owner actually being interested in selling his wares, rather than happily living among them like the crusty curator physical media.)


The twists in “Flipside” are as shocking as they are deeply ordinary.

If Wilcha’s film has a theme, it’s coming to terms with missed opportunities and compromise. I’m not spoiling the film’s several genuinely startling revelations, partly because they’re some of the unique attractions of “Flipside” and partly because their very ordinariness feeds into the weirdly poetic mundanity of the movie. There’s a rock legend, a pair of TV icons – one towering, one cultish – and a judicious storytelling process that appears to recognize how fate and the vagaries of personal strength and weakness can make all the difference.

Wilcha kneeling by records at Flipside. Courtesy of Oscilloscope

But, do we really need another autobiographical story of white, male, midlife angst?

Honestly, that’s a valid question, and that’s a middle-aged, creatively unfulfilled white guy talking. Wilcha’s self-awareness of the ordinariness of his 50-ish dissatisfactions can’t completely scrub “Flipside’s” undercurrent of self-importance. Others may shrug, and I get it. The Gen X flashbacks to the shaggy 20-something Wilcha paint him as exemplary of the “Reality Bites”-style self-righteousness of the culturally egotistical ’90s rebels that most often soured into crabby middle-aged selling out. The film throwing The Replacements’ “Unsatisfied” over the end credits couldn’t be more on target, on every level.

And yet, “Flipside” achieves its goal of celebrating the good parts of youthful cultural passion, even as Wilcha’s portraits of men (and it is all men) still clinging to that uncompromising guardianship of the forgotten and the fading are pretty unflinching. As his camera lingers on Flipside’s resolutely filthy carpet, Wilcha hears his now-grown fellow Flipside clerk (and occasional deserted stacks hookup), Dahlia Seeds singer and avid record collector Tracy Wilson tell him, “Oh honey, you need to let go.”

“As far back as I can remember, I always had this feeling that the world was gonna forget, and that somehow I was in charge of remembering.”

In the end, “Flipside” isn’t about one cramped and lovingly hoarded record store as much as it is a frustrated midlife reminiscence coupled with a wary look into a future fast approaching. And yet, I root for Dan and his stubbornly impractical store to survive (a mid-movie shot of him opening a trap door to an unvisited basement trove of vinyl is oddly thrilling), even as I tick off the ways in which I, too, need to let go of a lifetime of pop culture-obsessed regrets — knowing in my movie-mad heart that I never truly will. Like the outwardly complacent Wilcha, I just can’t. My at-least-weekly nighttime dreams of Videoport make that all too clear.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: