Fabled indie executive Bingham Ray, whose death last month in Utah cast a pall over the Sundance Film Festival, was given an affectionate and sometimes rowdy send-off at New York's Paris Theater Friday.
According to many who knew him, Ray would have liked it. In fact, Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles joked that he wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Ray had orchestrated the whole thing.
Why? Because Ray was a notorious prankster and loved having an audience -- and this was a big one, overflowing the orchestra seats and spilling into the balcony.
It was a kind of class reunion of executives, producers, directors, and actors who shaped the independent film business during the ’80s and ’90s. Among them: Michael Barker, Jonathan Demme, Debra Winger, Jim Jarmusch, John Turturro, Ted Hope, Christine Vachon, Oliver Platt, Patricia Clarkson, John Pierson, Bob Berney. Bill Pullman and David Lynch delivered a video tribute. Mike Leigh sent along a written one.
The tone, naturally, was somber, but no one who took the stage could talk about Ray for long without starting to laugh, or at least shake their head.
Barker, who was a good friend of his, recalled when Ray gave a quote to the New York Times about Barker and Tom Bernard's stewardship of Sony Pictures Classics: "They're no better or worse than anyone else." Ray's explanation, which came more than a year later: He was jealous, but not anymore.
Pullman recalled relieving himself into a snow bank alongside Ray after a screening of Lynch's "Lost Highway," and Ray asking him, "What the hell was that about?"
Ray was remembered for the shorts he wore (at frigid Sundance, at fancy Cannes), the opinions he held, the jobs that came and went, the stories he told, his devotion to the Grateful Dead, his love for his family, and most especially his passion for movies.
Platt told of how Ray cornered him at Sundance claiming he was going to distribute "Pieces of April," a film Platt starred in that Ray had helped develop but lost control of. "It was my fucking movie. Now I'm doing it." He named his son, Nicholas, after director Nicholas Ray. He even woke up Jarmusch, a Nicholas Ray fan, to tell him this happy news.
As the tributes piled up, the music was played (a trio channeling Dylan, The Band, and, of course, the Dead), and the clips were shown ("Breaking the Waves," "Life Is Sweet," "Lost Highway" and a film Ray made when he was 16, called "The Futile Attempt"), it was clear that the audience was mourning more than the loss of one man. Bingham Ray represented the passing of an era, when there was a purity of purpose that he, for one, never lost.
As Barker put it: "We've been through a lot together. We should appreciate each other in a way we've never thought about."
Perhaps some of them did.