The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Bums sue ‘Bumfight’ producers on various counts

Off the Radar

Off the Radar spotlights random and weird culture bytes from newspapers and magazines all over the nation. It appears every Thursday in “The Mix.”

They say everyone has his day in court. The maxim is now true for two homeless men from La Mesa, Calif. who are taking their case from the dumpsters to the district attorney’s office.

Rufus Hannah, 47, and Donald Brennan, 53, stars of the underground cult film Bumfights, are suing the producers of the film for civil-rights violations and assault and battery, among other charges.

The film, which cropped up for sale at this summer, depicts random acts of violence against and involving homeless people in the streets of La Mesa and Las Vegas. It features drunken homeless men brawling in front of fast food restaurants, rolling down stairs in shopping carts and soliciting crack from random strangers on the street.

One segment, called “The Bum Hunter,” features a character similar to “The Crocodile Hunter’s” Steve Irwin patrolling the streets, maligning a man sleeping in between trash bags, dragging him out into the street and making a spectacle of him while running the Irwinesque Aussie commentary.

As the film progresses Rufus the Stunt Bum, Braindead, and Bling Bling the Crack Expert are filmed lighting their hair on fire, pulling teeth out of their mouths with pliers, and ramming their heads into plate glass and metal dumpsters.

If seeing depraved, drunken, homeless men injure themselves isn’t enough stimulation, the film is layered with a thick coating of angry rap-metal music a la Limp Bizkit; interspersed with quick shots of “supermodel” Angela Taylor writhing around and groping herself on the stained sheets of a seedy hotel room.

The film is a white trash wet dream – an ill-fated union of Jerry Springy and WWF wrestling with a dash of just plain mean-spirited misanthropy.

Since time and time again it is proven that America is made up of horny white trash misanthropes, it’s no surprise that the video has become a phenomenal success. According to a written report, the film has sold 30,000 copies based on advertising from its Web site and word of mouth alone. It’s estimated that with video and merchandise sales (Rufus the Stunt Bum sweatshirt, anyone?) the producers have made over $6 million. Now, the film’s stars, Hannah and Brennan want a piece of the pie.

Brennan told The Los Angeles Times that both men were paid during the filming, but payment was erratic. The film’s producers would pay them $50 here and there after stunt shoots. Other nights they would pay them with a hotel room and pizzas for the evening – always with a 12-pack.

“When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from,” he said, “you’ll do anything to get one.”

He also said that both men were promised $50,000 on completion of the film, a debt which has not been paid as of yet.

“The real bums are the men behind the camera, not the ones in front of it,” said Browne Greene, the attorney representing the two men in their civil suit.

The four filmmakers – mostly twenty something film school graduates from California – are now facing felony charges for allegedly soliciting violent acts, as well. One of the defendants, Ryan McPherson, also faces four counts of alleged witness dissuasion for offering $25,000 to homeless men in exchange for their silence.

McPherson, 19, is the originator of the Bumfights phenomena. He had the idea for the film while taking a break from shooting his usual subject – skateboarders.

He approached Hannah and Brennan, who later agreed to be his subjects. Brennan describes a friendship that arose between the men and McPherson. He would take them home for holiday dinners and pay for any medical attention they might need, but after Hannah split his head open and Brennan broke his leg and ankle during a brawl, Brennan began to change his mind about participating in the stunts.

“They started getting weirder and weirder,” he said. “He wanted us to ram our heads into stuff and throw us off cliffs. He knew if he got us inebriated, he could take advantage of that,” he said.

Members of homeless advocacy groups are pointing to the films as exploitation in the most blatant sense of the word. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) even called for a federal investigation into the production.

The filmmakers’ lawyers assert that all of the film’s subjects were willing participants and no laws were broken during the production. McPherson’s attorney said that he was only giving the men money out of sympathy, not to encourage them to perform for the videos.

“Our clients didn’t make these guys homeless. They didn’t make them alcoholics. That’s how they were when they were found by the gentlemen who were shooting the films,” said Michael Pancer, attorney for filmmaker Zachary Bubeck.

Despite the media attention and the lawsuit, Brennan and Hannah don’t want to see McPherson and his colleagues, who they still describe as friends, put in jail. After all, what’s a little lawsuit between friends?

“I don’t want to see it happen,” Brennan said. “I feel like he went behind my back a little bit. We didn’t realize he was starting to make money off of this stuff.”

For now, Brennan, with “Bumfights” tattooed on his knuckles, is back on the street corner waiting for his day in court. Since the film’s release, however, he’s become a celebrity on the streets.

Tourists stop and ask to take their picture with him, proclaiming how exploitative the film was while pressing $5 into his dirty palm.

Hey, a buck’s a buck, right?

Compiled from media sources.

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