Film Review: Beautiful Jim

August 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Released: 2013; Documentary; Written & Directed by: Rex Jones; With: Jimbeau Hinson, Brenda Fielder

Beautiful Jim is the product of the Southern Documentary Project, a partner institute of The Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. Rex Jones, a permanent staff member of the Project has chosen singer / songwriter Jimbeau Hinson as the subject of an almost-hour-long documentary representative of a story of “the most storied place.” While that is absolutely accurate, as Jimbeau is a true Southern treasure (and he has a helluva story to tell), I’d argue that his story is representative of so many things, not the least of which is a subject that receives far too little attention these days and the pure, unadulterated fearlessness it takes someone to emotionally and physically battle a terminal illness.

Jimbeau is a product of Newton, Mississippi, and is, as the doc description states, “the first openly bisexual singer/songwriter in country music.” He has been HIV-positive for over 30 years and has almost succumbed to AIDS twice. He has been married to his wife for 33 years, and has written some of the more recognizable songs in country music, as well as having worked exclusively for the Oak Ridge Boys at the height of their career.

The film is a snippet, a slice-of-life. More specifically, it’s Jimbeau’s life and, while he’s able to give a pretty concise backstory in the 53 minutes allotted, the film also features his town, his comfy home, his beautiful, stalwart wife, and, most importantly, his music.

The film opens and closes on Jimbeau, himself, singing his heart out, eyes bright, smile wide, and voice clear. Jimbeau’s music is a character in this film. We see it all the time in the cleverest of rocked-out celluloid, in the most developed of biopics, but it’s so personal here. Jimbeau is allowed to speak candidly about how music was his true gift, the one thing he felt he had to offer the world, and while AIDS threatened his life, it also threatened the future of his gift, which may have been just as important.

Jones’ camerawork here is clean and this movie is technically very tidy. While Jimbeau discusses his high school and the typical teenage years there, full of angst and resentment, the camera neatly pans its way across his high school auditorium. While Jimbeau speaks solemnly about the rise of AIDS and his time with the Oak Ridge Boys, the sequence of photos and news articles is positively ship-shape. I read online that Jones shot a majority of the film himself using a GoPro (a small mount-anywhere camera) which explains a fantastic shot of Jimbeau’s pill box lid opening revealing the varied bottles within. I never once thought about the filmmaking or the camera work while watching this film which is exactly as it should be. Jimbeau is the real focus of the film, not the technicality. That said, there’s an art to an uncluttered experience, to understanding how to show it all beautifully without showing it all off beautifully and Jones nails it.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Jimbeau’s energy and charisma. This film could have been poorly executed and it would likely still shine under the tutelage of Jimbeau’s glittering personality. Toward the end of the film, Jimbeau mentions a friend of his who once said, “In order to be a great songwriter, you need to be a great person” because, as Jimbeau had previously mentioned, songs must be a mirror to the audience. It is clear that Jimbeau’s songwriting chops are based squarely on this principle. This movie is fascinating and wholly entertaining. It would be a shame to miss it.

– Leah Gehlsen Morlan

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