Notorious director Jim Van Bebber is examined in an attempt to find out how he went from a kid with a camera to the creator of what people refer to as outlaw cinema. Everyone from childhood friends to the likes of Phil Anselmo and Nivek Ogre try to shed some light on the enigmatic filmmaker while Van Bebber opens up about what drives his passion and creativity.
If there’s a name that’s synonymous with independent, underground filmmaking it’s Jim Van Bebber — a man who might be more infamous than his own movies. While both independent and underground movies are considered niche, Van Bebber’s films somehow go beyond their expected limited audience and find many unlikely viewers even in the mainstream. Victor Bonacore attempts to explore the man behind the films and notoriety to find out what kind of person makes “outlaw cinema.”
“Diary of a Deadbeat” follows the standard formula for most documentaries where we start near the beginning of the subject’s life — in this case, when a young Van Bebber picked up a Super8 camera for the first time — and then works its way up to where the subject is currently at in their life. What I like about the structure with “Diary of a Deadbeat” is how it’s almost broken up into chapters: the early days, the college days and filming “Deadbeat at Dawn”, the short film era, “The Manson Family”, California (music videos), and then Florida.
Van Bebber’s unfortunately small filmography works in favor of the documentary as it is able to thoroughly explore these different sections of his life — nothing is glossed over or sacrificed for the sake of the runtime. Backed with a selection of interviews by those who were around Van Bebber at the time, we’re able to not only get a glimpse into the making of his films, but where he was in his life in order to try and get a better sense of who this enigmatic filmmaker is. And while Van Bebber may be known for his seemingly wild and uncontrollable temperament, “Diary of a Deadbeat” tries to show who Van Bebber is as a whole. Yes, most of the interviewees are quick to sing the praise of Jim and his movies, but the documentary never shies away from letting Van Bebber speak his mind and show who he actually is — you get the good with the bad. What’s even better is that the amount of footage at Bonacore’s disposal and Van Bebber’s willingness to document everything — even if it’s just him interviewing himself — it shows his philosophy and uncompromising attitude has always existed. That what you see is an earnest depiction of a man who is almost driven to a level of insanity by the desire of wanting nothing more than to create his vision.
It leads to an interesting question that’s indirectly asked by “Diary of a Deadbeat”: what is artistic integrity worth? Sure, people are quick to tell you never sacrifice your art for anything. However, when you see the unromantic life of an independent filmmaker, where someone is scraping to get by, suddenly “selling out” and commercialized work might not seem so bad to those same people. For Van Bebber that was never a question, and with all of the archival footage available, you see that kind of mindset is something he's always had. And that even if remaining headstrong in your convictions means that projects will go unfinished or ideas will never go beyond the pages of a script, it’s still worth it. It’s as admirable as it is depressing from a viewer’s standpoint. Yet, somehow, not so much in the eyes of Van Bebber who's satisfied in what he’s made because there were no compromises.
“Diary of a Deadbeat” is as much about independent filmmaking as it is about Jim Van Bebber. It’s a documentary that could inspire you to finally go out there and make that one project you’ve always wanted but thought it couldn’t be done. Or, you could watch it and say, “You know what, fuck that guy.” As much people love Jim Van Bebber and admire his work there are just as many of those who dislike the man — he’s someone who’s been called everything from a genius to a white trash lunatic. And that’s the satisfying thing about watching “Diary of a Deadbeat”; you get to see Jim Van Bebber for everything that he is. The point of Victor Bonacore’s documentary isn’t to try and get you to love or hate Van Bebber but rather to find out what makes him tick. In the end, I don’t think any of us will ever know with certainty but I feel as though I have a better understanding of who he is and a new admiration for his films.
Note: As per usual, we don't include ratings for these kind of documentaries.