WHEN BUMS STOP FIGHTING
If three years ago, you would have told me I would be sitting around talking to the creator of ‘Bumfights' and comparing camera notes, I would have told you your insane. As far as I was concerned it must have been created by ex-porn brokers looking to cash in on the ‘extreme' video wave like the sweaty palmed fucks I figured they were. Boy was I wrong.
Come to find out it was a group of relatively young filmmakers, the oldest being 25 and the youngest, Ryen McPherson, was 18 when all of the fun of making money on shock video turned into jail time and numerous charges.
Unless you have been without television or internet for a few years you have probably heard all about the Bumfight fiasco. If not, let me sum it up for you; Young filmmakers record bums fighting and sell the video. Distribution is had, money is made, exposure is gained. Arrest warrants, jail time, human rights activists. Finally the judge orders them to do 280 hours of community service working with the homeless.
Within all of this, Ryen McPherson found himself on a psychotic ride of everything from fame, freedom and money to hate, jail and looming prison sentences. Let's not forget about the whole nation hearing about it every night on the news right after the arrests and frequently there after for the next three years. Then, there are the copycats that have beaten and set fire to the homeless (one time it resulted in death), each incident the assailants claimed they were inspired by Bumfights (that must be hard knowledge to live with). All of this coupled with being filmmakers to start a new genre of filmmaking that spread throughout the seedy side of the internet and video distributors like herpes at an orgy. Oh what a ride it must have been.
Ryen voices annoyance with people for judging the original films without ever actually watching them. With in numerous interviews (including this one) he has stated the same ideals about his infamous project. “If you've seen it you'll realize that the majority of violence takes place between teens and not Bums. This is a fact that I've been trying to get through to the "judge a book by it's cover" world since day one. There is maybe three incidents in which homeless people are engaged in violence and those incidents are just as spontaneous and unexpected as the high school brawls. The bum footage manly consists of Rufus the Stunt Bum and Bling Bling the Crackhead among other unique personalities simply ‘doing what they do'.”
On the other side of things, I went looking around through the mass of information about Bumfights and Indecline on the internet. I found a few sentences that I think gives a good general description of what many people think of the filmmakers:
- I am absolutely incandescent with rage and disappointment. I CANNOT believe that the
judge reduced the charges in the Bumfights case to misdemeanors. How could he look at the smirking faces of those soulless evil little bastards and basically give them a little patty-cake on the hand for what they did. -
And this too shall pass…
So here it is Mid 2006. We don't hear about the Bumfights guys much anymore. There are hundreds of clones trying to make similar type of films that have saturated the market. But for Ryen McPherson the show goes on. The Indecline group still sells their merchandise and videos [www.indecline.com], and Ryen has added other elements to his filmmaking that are more of a narrative nature.
I sat down with Ryen McPherson in a small café to talk with him before an impromptu photo shoot. Ryen was a quiet guy scribbling madly in his notebook of writings and art. He was not loud or in your face and didn't strike me as the ‘extreme' filmmaker or the greasy, car salesman - distributor type. His demeanor was quiet and his words were laden with self-surety. To add insult to injury on my preconceptions he tells me he doesn't drink, smoke, or even drink caffeine. The seedy puritan?
A few minutes into the photo shoot and I got an education in McPherson's mentality. He walked through the grocery store as if it were a canvas, anything was now his to create with. He stood inside a windowed freezer door just so I could get an inspired shot. Items on the shelves were no longer products; they were pieces to be moved to suit the moment of photography. It never felt like defiance or malice, just liquid creation in any surrounding.
While walking and absconding doughnuts, Ryen tells me that he is up for a probation violation and is looking at possible jail time. The reasons are convoluted and none of it really makes much sense to me. But the basic gist is that he did finish his community service and there was a paper work snafu somewhere. Aren't all guys that go to prison innocent? Either way, his lawyer appealed and they lost. With one final appeal to go, it is looking grim for Ryen McPherson.
He tries not to let it affect him though, and if nothing else, his latest films are proof that his brush with the law has not taken away his edge. Ryen's recent compilations of films at www.stabtheprincess.com are warped and shockingly creative. From the film ‘Angry Emo Child' (Shown at the 2005 Underground Vegas Film Short Film Showcase) about a love torn emo kid with his favorite razor blade in a bathtub, to his latest machination called ‘King of the Jews' (I'd love to give it a description, but you just need to see it for yourself). He is still pushing the moral envelope and finding stories under societies rocks; dank, dark little tid-bits that make you reevaluate your current version of the cosmos.
Ryen would like to take his art further in a lot of ways. You get the impression that he would be happy to leave the Bumfights fiasco all behind and be known for what his films (and recently, paintings) are now. And when you ask him what the opening scene to a feature ‘done by Ryen McPherson' would be like, you'll get a profound look into his way of seeing reality.
So, what have I learned? What does all this mean?
Ryen is not the slick, bottom-feeding, asshole I thought he was. Does that mean he is my newfound hero? Hell no. 60% of what he does I don't see eye to eye with. But he is a creative guy that is eager to help out filmmakers he respects. His life is in the wake of bizarre infamy with a stint in prison just over the horizon. It's an experience we cannot really grasp unless we lived a similar tale. Yet still, if you are going to stick your shocking ideals in the publics face (especially for money) then the people in power are going to take notice and they'll stick you right back in the public's face on their terms, by their rules. It's not romantic, it's life.
The bums have stopped fighting, the policemen wait at the ready with their batons and Ryen McPherson sits up all night, racing a burning fuse, doing the same art he always has.
And this too shall pass…
Ryen recently was asked to do an Interview with Ed Bradley of the acclaimed CBS News program 60 minutes. Hopefully the world will see it soon.
Meanwhile, Ryen's second appeal against jail time concerning an alleged probation violation has been denied. The San Diego court system decided to fight Mr. McPherson until they won. Want to see the appeal denial? We have one that was sent to them here: APPEAL DENIAL
So by the end of July he will be in a San Diego jail for roughly 3 to 6 months (I wonder if they'll let him out for good behavior). Yes, he has heard every variation of the 'don't drop the soap' gag but if you can think of a new one send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
And lastly: We have made Ryen a UVF Commissioner in name now and officially upon his return. We look forward to seeing him again, we just hope he doesn't
toilet paper and try to shiv Evan when he comes back.
photos: A Ross
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