Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer | Varied Celluloid

Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 5 - 2011

Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer (2010)
Director: James Dirschberger
Writers: James Dirschberger and Adam Wroblewski
Starring: Dyan Dwyer, Joanne Dwyer and R. Budd Dwyer



The Plot: R. Budd Dwyer was a local Pennsylvania man who started from humble beginnings and found a love for the political system at a young age. After working as a school teacher, he began his political career and ultimately crawled all the way up to the State Treasurer’s position. Along the way he made some powerful enemies within the governor’s mansion and Honest Man pinpoints that it was these enemies who pushed forth and convicted him on a bribery case that would ultimately lead him to a very harsh sentence. With his pension at stake, which would leave his wife and children with literally nothing… he decided to act as a martyr and commit suicide in front of a press conference where he was expected to announce his resignation. The video from the press conference has went somewhat viral on the internet and was passed around in “mondo” videos during the eighties and nineties, but the real story of R. Budd Dwyer has remained obscure… until now.

The Review
The internet is a unique and ever so cruel experience in the great lineage of social interaction. While we have discovered how vast and different the world is outside of our regular day to day existence, we have also had our personal tolerance for horrendous visuals escalated to a degree never seen in mankind. Where, in the past, pornography was once an item that was purchased in a seedy location that would often frighten away mainstream audiences – now it is available with great anonymity and with the greatest of ease. Even more disturbing is the availability of real life horror footage. Such is the case with the final moments of state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer. Known mainly to “Mondo” (a term coined for ‘documentaries’ that focused primarily on disturbing footage) movie collectors from the VHS tape trading days, with the advent of the internet age these videos have went on to find a new life in the digital age. As unfortunate as that most assuredly is.



The frequency with which this real life suicide footage was passed around was mainly due to the vulture-like behavior of the reporters who lingered around after Dwyer’s death and filmed the incredibly grisly aftermath of his head wound. The initial footage itself wasn’t the most harrowing aspect of the scene, but the horrifying up-close footage of death and its aftermath gave viewers a shock that one imagines wasn’t found in the majority of these tapes. Reporters have long held that their focus in the moments after Dwyer’s death was solely to capture the horrors of suicide and dissuade others who may have plotted a similar path, but as Dwyer’s real life son proclaims within Honest Man… it was all a way to line their own pocketbooks. Honest Man is the documentary that tape traders have long been hoping for after initially witnessing this shocking footage. The final moments of Dwyer’s life have long been surrounded by speculation (as he gives a sparse speech before committing the act) but now, through first hand experience, we are told this man’s story and it turns out to be even more tragic than most of us ever expected.

Going into this movie, I found myself vaguely familiar with Budd Dwyer’s life through his Wikipedia page, but as we all know… that website can be a bit hit or miss when it comes to obscure topics (though, it is often underrated for its content as well). Still, Honest Man doesn’t just politely push forth the notion that, by most accounts, Budd Dwyer was an innocent man… it slams you with the notion that he was a relatively virtuous politician living within a serpent pit. Now, one has to accept that when dealing with a situation such as this – filmmakers are most assuredly going to push forth their own agenda. However, in a world where Casey Anthony (or OJ Simpson, during the 90’s) is allowed to freely roam it seems utterly atrocious that a man like Budd Dwyer was on the verge of facing 55 years in prison and a $300,000 fine for a crime that he quite literally did not commit. Budd Dwyer did not technically accept a bribe at any point, but was accused of potentially taking one at a future point by an acquaintance who wrote of this possible future-transaction on his home computer. If that, combined with his incredibly drastic action, doesn’t break your heart… then you simply aren’t human.



There are conspiratorial accusations levied throughout the film that the current governor, Dick Thornburg, had it out for Budd Dwyer due to some very public disagreements with financial “perks” relegated for the governor’s position. While I am, by my very nature, skeptical of such accusations, certainly when seemingly petty actions require much larger and grandiose retaliations of revenge, when you see U.S. attorney James West gloating after the trial of Budd Dwyer (he was an enemy of Dwyer’s and worked under Thornburg) and claiming that they would seek the absolute harshest sentence possible (55 years in prison and the $300,000 fine)… you really have to wonder. While I still remain skeptical, if it is true that Budd Dwyer was convicted on taking a bribe that the court just happened to feel that he would take at a later date… justice was not served and in fact Budd Dwyer was one of the most public instances of a human being caught up in the cruelty of the political system.


The Conclusion
Honest Man details one of the most disturbingly tragic stories of our modern times. After watching the documentary, you start to feel vaguely annoyed at the prospect of those who make light of his death on the internet. While we all seemingly disapprove of the intolerable and bureaucratic system of life-long politicians that we have, Budd Dwyer proved to be an every-man who made it to a powerful position. He loved his family and by all accounts was a great husband and father. One wishes that such a man could have held on to life and appealed his case, but hopefully with this documentary the meaning of his final moments can at least carry the weight of the message that Dwyer had actually hoped to convey in his death.




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