Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer

Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer

Here at The Blood Sprayer we have always said we would cover Horror, whether that be real life Horror or fictionalized Horror is another road we want to travel more often.  This idea started a few months back when I discovered a documentary called Cropsey, and has been furthered after much talk with The Blood Sprayer staff. We want to cover Horror in all its forms, this is where we come to our next story.

A couple of months ago I started hearing murmurs about a film called Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer and I was immediately interested. Budd Dwyer is someone who most everyone is familiar with, and for a very singular reason; his death. Case in point:

Most all of us have seen this picture or the video from which it originates. A press conference that turns into a live televised suicide. It was not the first time such a thing had happened. But it was  far more widely viewed, first across the state of Pennsylvania, and then across the U.S. and the rest of the world. R. Budd Dwyer, Pennsylvania’s state treasurer killed himself on live television to further support his claims of being innocent of taking bribes as opposed to striking a plea bargain and in turn conceding guilt. The video is widely available even now, a testament to the viral nature of everything in our society…once it’s committed to film or video it can and usually will take on a life of it’s own.

I remember the first time I was exposed to the video and just sitting in shock at the fact that I had literally watched a man blow his brains out. I am a Horror fiend, I can watch Horror movies all day every day, but when it comes to real life death and destruction I get sick to my stomach.  I’ve only watched the video once all the way through, I can’t bring myself to watch it again. It was with this feeling in my gut that I sought out more information about this documentary that I found was out there.  I visited the website and contacted the filmmaker, James Dirschberger. To my surprise I found out that James was originally  from Buffalo, a city about an hour from me in Rochester, NY.  I thought it was interesting that someone was going out of their way to make a film about the back story of that Faces of Death style video, rather than poke fun at it.

The film starts out showing clips of the press conference and I started getting knots in my stomach, not ready to watch it again. I even covered my eyes and waited as the credits rolled. I really think that the film would have lost me right there if in the first five minutes we saw him kill himself. I suppose it has something to do with the gratuitous nature of that video. It just would’ve felt cheap to me. The film continues on without showing that seminal moment.

We are taken through a history of Budd Dwyer; from his upbringing in  Blooming Valley, Pennsylvania as told mainly through the eyes of his sister, Mary Kun, who brings up an interesting point- “Most people don’t think about why he did it, just that he did it.”  So basic a premise, but so true, I’m guilty of it myself.  His story continues on past his adolescence and onto his career in politics quite fluidly. Being a public servant came easily to Budd Dwyer, and we hear this from not only his family, but his friends and former co-workers in the Government.

Very quickly we move straight into the scandal that was at the root of Dwyer’s suicide. If I had but one complaint about the film perhaps this was it, we just move straight into his downfall. At the same time Dirschberger does a fine job of establishing Dwyer, and it’s clear that in a lifetime this is the one thing that shook him to the core, so it does make perfect sense to dive straight in so to speak. The scandal revolves around bribery, of which Dwyer was convicted of based on evidence that lightly painted the crime, it wasn’t concrete and boldly stroked. Other men involved in the same case were given the proverbial slap on the wrist but Dwyer was the whipping boy. One of the most poignant moments of the entire film comes when Dirschberger interviews the man responsible for coming forth with the bribe, and he concedes that while they had spoken of it and Budd was interested, it was never followed through upon. In that moment we realize that Budd should have never been convicted when it wasn’t fully proven he did anything wrong.

Honest Man proves a rare treat in documentaries of this sort, a moment of vindication rather than just straight up and down reporting. The most provocative and telling stories are told by Dwyer’s wife, son and daughter. They tell the tale of a man who worked so hard to prove his innocence that he made the ultimate decision, which resulted in his notoriety. His daughter speaks of how at times she laments the fact that her father’s death is so readily available for consumption. She furthermore  goes on to say how she hopes that anyone who sees it tries to seek out more information about him and learn the story behind his death.  While there are places out there to find the story of Budd Dwyer, without a doubt, this film, Honest Man is the most reliable, well researched and poignant of any of the  sources available.

For more information on Honest Man, including upcoming screenings and how to purchase a copy of your own, please visit: http://dwyermovie.com/

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3 Responses to “Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer”

  1. Does the film show the deed? I don’t want to see it again myself. Disturbing. But I have not forgotten it. Thanks.

  2. At one point they do show the entire news conference, including the shooting and the uncomfortable minutes afterwards. You are given plenty of forewarning so if you feel like you won’t be able to handle it you can always ffwd. It’s such a great doc, I more than highly recommend it.

  3. Dwyer’s suicide was NOT broadcast live. It was taped.
    He killed himself around 11am, was pronounced dead at 11:31am, while tapes of his death were first broadcasts by some outlets during their noon newscasts.
    Just wanted to point that out.
    I have the socially inconvenient urge to point out all fallacies when i come across them. This misconception seems to permeate everything about Dwyer’s suicide. Even the articles and entries (wikipedia for instance) that state explicitly that it was tapes (one of five) that were broadcast, are misleading or ambiguous in other sections on this point.
    Lastly, do you know if this doc is available for free online anywhere?

    iHATEnoamChomsky April 6, 2011 at 5:02 AM

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