I had a fucking nose bleed this morning. I’ve not had one of those for years. I woke up, blew my nose and there was claret pissing all out of my face. As a kid I used to get them really badly, hour-long streams of bright red blood splotting into a constant loop of refreshed toilet tissue wondering when it was going to stop. When it finally did stop one existed for days with a large purple nostril-bung compromising the respiratory system. Of course, as it crumbled away, naughty little fingers would aid it’s passage inevitably resulting in the clot suddenly giving way spraying blood all up the walls. At 16 I had one half way up a mountain in Switzerland, it refused to stop and I lost so much blood I had to be carted back down to the chalet feeling all faint and weird. Since then the largely accepted ‘I get nose bleeds’ was replaced by a ‘shit. Nose bleed’. They became more sinister and as I get older a nosebleed of course equals brain haemorrhage or some dreadful virus. But this morning I was thinking of Budd Dwyer. If you knew about Budd you’d know why, as far as nose bleeds go, he had rather a nasty one. Confused? Well I wrote an essay on Budd a few years back and have decided to publish it on Piqued.
Hey man, nice shot *
In January 1987 Senator R. Budd Dwyer called a press conference that was anticipating his public resignation from politics. He had been convicted for fraud and was due to be sentenced the following day for a maximum term of 55 years in what he described as an ‘American Gulag’. Instead of resigning, midway through an emotive and at times rambling speech he pulled a .357 Magnum with a 6.5-inch barrel from a brown Manila envelope and fired a single round into his mouth.
This may seem fairly unremarkable; let’s face it we hear of this sort of shit going down on a daily basis. Suicide isn’t a unique or isolated event; most of know someone who has had to deal with the aftermath of such a killing. My mate Henry strung himself up 6 years ago leaving a wake of confused and angry family and friends but the fucker didn’t invite us all round and make us watch.
The footage of Budd Dwyer taking his life is now freely available, with the minimum of search parameters, for all to see on the Internet. Just download the M-peg and you have 45 seconds of frank and utter horror.
The shock of the film initially arises from the graphic violence that occurs when a person shoots himself or herself in the face. The stock Hollywood treatment of such a killing usually depicts vast amounts of brain matter blasting out from the back of someone’s head, sliding in lumps down walls and/or spraying annoyingly red blood over furniture. The Budd killing is more sedate. Firstly, he is standing upright and when he discharges the magnum into his mouth a small puff of smoke appears over his head and he speedily crumples into a heap. It is only then as he sits with his head slowly falling to his left does gore make an appearance. This bit is very nasty; Dwyer’s sinuses were shredded by the blast and the result is a remarkable amount of bloody gook pouring from his nose like a fast running tap, his eyes roll back into his head and the lids slowly close…
Budd Dwyer was born in 1939 and was clearly destined for a career in politics; by the age of 26 he was a member of the Pennsylvania state house of representatives before reaching the Pennsylvania state senate at 31. At the age of 45 he made it to his final post as the Pennsylvania State Treasurer but had he survived he would be well on his way to the Whitehouse and certainly had the right stuff to become top dog.
As it turned out his career would end in Pennsylvania but by all accounts this is because Budd was framed for a crime he arguably didn’t commit. He was married with two children and outside of his family regarded as affable, honest and helpful renown for his sense of humour. The city councilman from Budd’s hometown of Meadville said of him “if you needed something done, you knew who to call, and you always got a straight answer.”
He was convicted on conspiracy of mail fraud and racketeering charges stemming from the ‘award’ of a state computer contract to a California firm known as Computer Technology Associates. The contract was intended to review the hundreds of thousands records of public school employees after Pennsylvania public officials declared they had paid too much in Social Security investment. Budd was appointed by the state treasury to check the records and collect overpayments and he contracted John Torquato (a carpetbagger from California) of the CTA to take on the work. Allegedly Budd accepted a kickback for his and other prominent Pennsylvania politicians’ efforts for having the contract ‘steered’ in the way of Mr. Torquato. Theoretically Dwyer alone was to receive $300,000.
It was only when Al Benedict a former state auditor and gubernatorial wannabe exposed the CTA scandal and specifically pointed the finger at Dwyer that a 2 1/2 year political wrangle ended in Budd’s conviction. Apart from Dwyer the accused consisted of former state Republican Chairman and Robert Asher (who went to prison) and a recently obtained list of co-conspirators that contained the names of 10 prominent Democratic and Republican Pennsylvania politicians, some of whom are still around today as either officeholders or lobbyists. Today Asher is Pennsylvania’s Republican National Committeeperson and Benedict the accuser, one year on from Dwyer’s initial arrest, pleaded guilty to an ‘unrelated charge’ and went to prison.
Before the actual killing you can listen to the end of a peculiar speech by an individual who was clearly driven out of his mind, this is illustrated in the sharp preparation of his death and by analysing a transcript of his closing statement that exists just before the m-peg cuts in.
Firstly, he quite naturally, protests his innocence before gently attacking the justice system and why carrying out plans to ‘expose the warts on the legal system’ are for him essentially hopeless. Some time earlier a film crew had begun packing up their equipment, the resignation of a bent senator was already being covered by 5 TV crews and numerous newspaper reporters and perhaps felt that they were just surplus to requirement, but Budd had insisted that they stay. He then begins handing out sealed envelopes to his aides stipulating that the one for his wife Joanne has a note in it. It is only here that the gun is produced sending the room into a flurry of panic.
If you search on the internet you can find footage of Bud’s death in colour and you can just hear what is being said if you follow the transcript (also available online. I could post links to both but I feel that you may see something for the sake of it when really you should think about why you’re watching something like this). With the gun in his hand he starts to say something but is beaten down by a shouting room of ‘Don’t do it Budd’. As an aside and to demonstrate how Budd may have been viewed by his peers, the people in the room are clearly not fearing for their own safety in spite of the fact that a large fruitcake is waving a fucking huge gun around in their faces, they are genuinely concerned for him. That and the fact they really don’t want to see his insides.
Budd says ‘please leave the room if this will offend you.’ I personally think that in spite of all the preparation of his suicide it was only at this very point that he realises that he is going to die by his hand. The background pleading in the room begins to get quite loud when Budd politely asks them not to try and stop him. The last thing he says is ‘this will hurt someone’ (he’s quite right) and very quickly he pushes the barrel in his mouth with one hand and fires with the other.
The room erupts in screams and shouts then Dwyer’s aide speaks, ‘someone call the ambulance and a doctor (!) and the police…show a little decorum, please…dear God in heaven…’ But all the while the camera is continuously focused on a close up of Budd slumped against a wall with brains pissing out of his face.
Not being an American passionate about American politics in the 80’s what possible justification is there in watching this movie outside of the gratuitous voyeurism?
I feel there are two main reasons why I feel the film should be viewed. Firstly, one is given a chance to face ones own and others mortality. In an age of TV nannying where a generation of people have never really seen or felt the consequences of warfare, unless one is extremely unlucky in reality, we just don’t see killing or even death. Conflicts that have recently taken place Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur result in the unseen deaths of tens and thousands, Rowanda alone casually reported 500 children being massacred one afternoon by machete wielding men. I don’t want to see what was inevitably filmed but at the same time we are rarely even given the chance to imagine what that must have actually looked like. Why? It happened, it is relevant to us. Reeling off a figure like ‘500 children massacred’ is beyond belief so it almost becomes surreal. But if we had seen it live or on film we would really (Roland Barthes would take issue here but you get the picture) know what happened; when someone is injured with a knife, bits come off, disturbingly vivid colours of hidden guts come out, people mortally scream because unlike in the movies, people don’t always instantly just die.
In short it can be justifiably argued that by viewing Budd’s killing a dormant side of our human selves has a better chance of correctly forming. Life isn’t like the sanitised world of ‘Midsummer Murders’, which ‘entertain’ via a digestible form violence, murder and death. It is this sort of programming that allows all of the horrors we read about in the news to just wash over us without a chance to really understand what suffering is and how we can collectively help stop it. In some ways the Budd film readdresses this deficit.
Secondly, because Budd wanted his death filmed by whatever warped mechanism in his head that clearly derives from a very desperately sad man, he arranged it with precision, always with the viewer in his mind (the same mind that you get to see running out of his nose). He demonstrates what can happen to an individual driven beyond despair whilst (in Budd’s case) reminding those responsible what they have done by using him as a pawn in a larger gaming plan. To us the film should act as a stark and shocking warning as to the lengths people will go to gain and sustain power and the very real result that can occur by the consequences of their actions.
Only Pennsylvania TV broadcast the killing in full, every TV station in the country cut the actual execution but the state where Budd was the treasurer took the (brave) decision to show what he really did to himself. Out of respect? Acknowledgement of their own guilt? Possibly in subjecting the very people that could have saved Budd from the trumped up charges against him to a few moments of film that would stick in their heads for the rest of their lives.
You have, nonetheless, been warned.
*The title refers to the 1998 song by ‘Filter’ based on Budd Dwyer’s death. See below