Directed by: Dave O’Leske
Starring: Fred Beckey, Helmy Beckey, Vasiliki Dwyer, Jim Whittaker
Indie Film Review by: Benjamin Schofield
Ever heard of Fred Beckey? I sure hadn’t until I watched this, and now I love him.
Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey tells the story of Fred Beckey, a legendary mountaineer that dedicated his life and being to climbing. The #documentary includes interviews with all sorts of other mountain climbers, family members, friends, girlfriends, acquaintances and of course Beckey himself, so you get a pretty solid account of the man’s life and achievements. Perhaps best of all is the footage of a 93-year-old Beckey (yes, ninety three), still braving these mountains and making you question just what your excuse is for living such a pathetic, unfulfilling existence.
The film uses stacks and stacks of archive footage and photographs of Beckey’s old expeditions, as well as presenting some of the fascinating notes that he took during his travels. Cartoons string this footage together, giving the documentary a fun, carefree feel, which appropriately matches Beckey’s apparent fun and carefree philosophy, particularly during his early days, where he would drive all his climbing gear around in a pink thunderbird and pick up girls along the way. The cinematography and editing are fairly simple, cutting between talking heads and other footage, which does cause the film to feel a bit slow at times, particularly as some of the subject matter is somewhat repetitive (Beckey climbed a mountain real good, then he climbed another mountain real real good, then he climbed one not so good, then he climbed one real good).
Of course, as with any documentary, it can only really be as interesting as its subject, and Fred Beckey is as great a subject as any. Watching a man that has dedicated his whole life to something, persisting through failure and achieving great success, not for fortune or fame, but merely for the love of craft, is nothing short of inspiring. And through it all, Beckey remains positive, charming and funny. Throughout the documentary, he repeatedly asks the crew why they’re filming; at one point he tells them to stop filming him just walking around because it should be a documentary about climbing. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The documentary is not about climbing at all, it is about Beckey; not just Beckey the climber but Beckey the man: his struggles, his accomplishments, his failures, his strengths, his vulnerabilities, his life. And what a life.