Victor Bonacore's enlightening, fast-paced documentary is obviously a must-see for Van Bebber fans, but I'll do you one better. Having seen the documentary, it's a must-see for fans of indie film, low-budget film, those who are high on the cinematic spirit in general. So even if you happen to not be a Van Bebber fan, but happen to be reading this review, I implore you to watch if you respect the craft.
Jim's respect for the craft goes back to when he was a movie-obsessed kid growing up in Ohio. He created super 8 movies in his backyard, corralled friends and family as actors, utilised a wildly brilliant talent for violent special effects and a slightly less-brilliant penchant for kung-fu. You'll be impressed by the sheer amount of Jim's filmography that is thrown at you in the documentary, he clearly had a hunger for telling stories, one which never stopped at the completion of any one project.
Fast-forward to the 1980s and Jim has created the seminal revenge movie Deadbeat at Dawn, which quickly became a cult film. From there, Jim went on to struggle in the 15-year process it took to make his next movie, his opus The Manson Family. I was already mostly familiar with the process of this particular movie, thanks to the excellent behind-the-scenes documentary "The Van Bebber Family" that is included with the 2-disc edition of The Manson Family.
After the belated release of The Manson Family, Jim found himself acting work in several indie horror movies (and is praised by filmmakers for his dedication), all whilst attempting to get his next project off the ground, a killed-croc movie called Gator Green. In the doc, we join Jim as he scouts locations, then films scenes for the Gator Green short film. He unfortunately never got the feature film version made...
Jim is understandably frustrated at the business side of filmmaking. Like many of us, he wishes money in general was much less a factor in getting a movie made, but Jim continues to struggle, because he's an artist hungry to tell stories, but not so desperate as to "sell out". In the doc, we get glimpses of the powerful Van Bebber fanbase, but as Jim reminds us, he finds the idea of having fans (or indeed, being a fan himself) utterly distasteful, preferring to know and love these people, in return for them wanting to know and love him based on seeing these movies that resonated so much with them.
Jim is frank, opinionated and not afraid to speak his mind. Clutching a beer and a cigarette (sometimes a weed pipe), he makes for compelling interviews, even as he switches between different hairstyles and fashion choices like Bob Dylan as the documentary runs up and down the timeline, showing us the unchanging rebel in all his natural glory.
The interviews in general are hit-and-miss. While it's great to see and hear from former Manson and Deadbeat cast members (the ever-elusive Marcelo Games remains hidden away), a lot of the usual whining about Hollywood is repeated numerous times, while the more honest anecdotes about Jim often play backseat to interviews with eager fans who think every other filmmaker is secretly stealing from him. To me the only thing such a contempt for Hollywood shows is a yearning to be a part of it, and to constantly hear supposedly proud members of the horror underground obsess over Tinsletown is idiotic.
The makers of the documentary clearly followed Jim around for a while, capturing different stages of the man through struggling to work and get finances going. It creates an intimacy with its main subject. Jim might lose his temper from time to time, he might say something unbelievably smug or he might say something very nasty about another person, but these are flaws we should all recognise, flaws that most of us have, flaws that make Jim seem all that more real. It's refreshing to see such a real personality in general, and it's no wonder Jim has inadvertently created such a loyal fanbase.
Kudos to Bonacore and Michael Shershenovich in particular for the editing. It reminds me of the fast-paced documentaries of Mark Hartley. Although there isn't a great deal of work done on restoring a lot of the old film clips, so if you're wondering whether to buy this on DVD or Blu-Ray, you'll get DVD quality either way.
The icing on this love letter was the last scene. Jim is chest-deep in swamp water holding a cigarette and beer, talking to the camera. I won't spoil it for you, but it was such a perfectly realised ending to this documentary for several reasons, it ended up being one of the masterstrokes of this piece of work... Adventurous, funny, wise and a little bit drunk.