Jim VanBebber

from: G-Head One

In 2000 or so, I discovered Synapse Films, a low-budget DVD distributor that specializes in cult masterpieces you've never heard of. One reason I became so enamored with Don May's company is a little backyard movie called "Deadbeat at Dawn," and its writer/director/star, Jim VanBebber. ********************** Jim VanBebber likes to party. A lot. It's all over his movies. He even cracks a beer during an interview on the DVD for... more on that later. So, of course, he will occasionally imbibe a bit too much. Such was the case when Synapse released "Deadbeat at Dawn," in a transfer VanBebber felt was sub-par. He left dirty messages on the company's answering machine, which Don May later included on the company's web site. VanBebber was obviously fucked up when he left the messages, and the result is both sad and funny. When I heard them, I had second thoughts about seeing "Deadbeat." Would you watch some guy's movie just because he's pissed off and drunk? I decided to make the leap, and discovered a lost masterpiece, a gang war epic that makes "The Warriors" look like "Norma Rae." It has ridiculous dialogue and cheesy effects, but VanBebber already knows this, and presents the movie in the style of the old AIP biker movies from the 60's and 70's. The movie looks like it was shot by the crew of "Hell's Angels on Wheels" during their off hours, yet it was actually filmed in 1989. The psychedelic colors are a nice touch, and the synth score takes the movie even further out of time and place. ****************************************** As with Giuseppe Andrews, years pass. VanBebber has spoken of his Manson Family movie (then titled "Charlie's Family") before, but the title remains elusive, hard to find even in tape-trading circles. It takes VanBebber many years and many financial setbacks (he had to work at Burger King and donate blood, even though we're talking about a guy who had a movie released onto DVD, from a really great company), but "The Manson Family" finally gets a festival release, and eventually comes out on DVD. **************************************** And it's another lost masterpiece. It takes the "found object" aesthetic of "Deadbeat" even further. Whereas "Deadbeat" looks like the Roger Corman movie you never saw, "The Manson Family" - with its complex structure, different film and video stocks, and tendency to fool some folks into thinking it's real - is like a hundred found objects, edited together into the movie "Natural Born Killers" wishes it was. Nothing against "NBK," but this one's far more gripping. Plus, it has music by Phil Anselmo. You can't beat that. I reviewed the movie for Austin's INsite magazine last summer. Here's the review. (My apologies for any repeated info.) ************************************ The Manson Family: Unrated Two-Disc Special Edition About five years ago, I was haunting DVD news sites, looking for something special. At that point, my collection consisted of John Carpenterís Vampires, a borrowed copy of Black Mask, and a few odds and ends. I needed something new. Something, well, underground. Thatís when I read the name Jim VanBebber. (Except, back then, ďVan BebberĒ was two words, but no big deal.) Here was a guy who loved the drive-in, B-movie scene as much as I did. He was a fan who, since childhood, had also been making movies. He also left drunken messages on peopleís answering machines. So, of course, I had to pick up Deadbeat at Dawn, a movie Iíve watched at least fifty times. Itís apparently out of print, but worth tracking down if youíre into gang war movies like The Warriors or the original Assault on Precinct 13. On the Deadbeat commentary, VanBebber mentioned something called Charlieís Family, a project he started in 1989, but was still trying to finish. In between projects he did some work for Phil Anselmo (of Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual), but Charlie continued to stifle. Thankfully, MPI (notorious for their release of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer years ago) stepped in, releasing Charlie, now re-titled The Manson Family, under the Dark Sky Films banner. Roger Ebert gave this movie the worst good review Iíve ever read. He said it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but that doesnít mean he wants you to see it. (You may roll your eyes now.) As a fan of horror and cult cinema, I do want you to see this movie. Hell, Iím begging you to see it. And make sure itís the unrated version, with the cool documentary on disc two. We all know the story. What sets this apart from Helter Skelter or Tromaís Igor and the Lunatics is VanBebberís emphasis on the family rather than Charlie. The movie has a found object, documentary style, meticulously created to look as close to the real thing as possible. Itís all acting, but itís spot-on. The movie has even fooled a few people. When I watch this for the first time with someone new, they tend to ask if some of the interviews are genuine. None of itís real, of course, which makes this movie more fun than it really should be. Weíre talking about real life murders here. This actually happened. Is it ethical to turn this into a B-movie? If you find yourself asking these questions, consider how much Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Manson case, has made off of Helter Skelter. Think of all the people who tuned in to the miniseries in the 70ís. Hell, think of every movie thatís been made about Jesse James or Doc Holliday. VanBebber himself raises the question of whether this kind of thing should become popular entertainment. But it is popular, and damn it, VanBebber makes it entertaining as hell. Heís grown by leaps and bounds as a filmmaker. If you like cult movies like House of 1000 Corpses, the ones that try a little harder, this is up your alley. **************************************** Here's Jim VanBebber at IMDB: http://imdb.com/name/nm0885666/



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