Friday, May 27, 2005


Is There Any Cause For Concern? A Film Review Of 'Bumfights'

The video, 'Bumfights: A Cause For Concern' has become almost legendary in recent years. In Britain it is distinguished by being banned by the BBFC (a full list of banned videos can be found here.)

The film, which is an hour long video of street brawls, humiliation and a small amount of very soft-core pornography, was submitted in 2002 and rejected shortly after with the following justification:

'Bumfights - Cause for Concern consists substantially of camcorder footage of homeless people ('bums') being abused, assaulted, and humiliated. These scenes are intercut with footage of street brawls and soft pornography.'

'Under the Video Recordings Act 1984 the Board must have special regard to any harm to those likely to view a video and to any harm to society through the behaviour of those viewers afterwards. The Act singles out particular elements as being potentially harmful including criminal behaviour and violent behaviour or incidents. The BBFC guidelines for '18' rated works state that the Board may "cut or reject... any detailed portrayal of violent or dangerous acts which is likely to promote the activity" (page 16). The Board's guidelines for violence also state as particular concerns "callousness towards victims, encouraging aggressive attitudes [and] taking pleasure in pain and humiliation" (page 9). In the Board's view, the video breaches these guidelines by exploiting the physical and other vulnerabilities of homeless people.'

'The Board considered the possibility of cuts. However, given the extent of the unacceptable material, cuts were not considered a viable option on this occasion.'

I mention this as an introduction because it's important to consider the highly controversial nature of the video before declaring judgement on it. It is one of those films that truly divides people into two camps - broadly, those who feel it is a legitimate piece of guerilla cinema that flags an important social issue, and those who feel it is the most base, sick and exploitative rubbish that could be made by middle class white kids with too much money and time on their hands.

So what, exactly, does the film consist of? Well, it mostly contains footage of street brawls, a few segments of 'comedy' from a character called 'The Bumhunter,' who is supposed to be a rip off of Steve Irwin, but in reality sounds nothing like him at all (it really is the worst Australian accent I've ever heard), a 'stunt bum' called Rufus who is paid to run headlong into hard objects, a couple of crackheads, and a few brief glimpses of Angela Taylor, who is announced as a supermodel, something I find hard to believe given that she's in this.

In almost all important respects, the film isn't really any good at all. As a piece of guerilla cinema making, which it pretends to be, even if it isn't, it falls completely flat, mostly because the 'Bumfights' of the title are so very obviously staged. In the most laughable of all - remember, we are supposed to believe these are real - a fight takes place in a back garden, that contains a swimming pool, in front of about fifty spectators, which is, I think, a sufficiently unlikely place for a spontaneous brawl between homeless people that we can say with certainty that it, and indeed all the other fights, were staged.

Clearly, all the fighters were paid money for their involvement. Some of the characters, most notably Rufus, really does look as if he may be homeless, and there is something really quite astonishingly horrible about seeing him run headlong into brick walls, or punching signs, or being thrown off a building in a shopping trolley, that I could muster some intense dislike for the creators of the film for that.

Mostly, though, the film wasn't so much hateful as pointless. Allegedly, 'Bumfights 2', which I haven't seen, provides the movement, who can be found here, with some kind of a manifesto for social change, but I reserve judgement until I've seen it. It does strike me, though, as a real possibility that the manifesto was concocted in response to the inevitably negative reactions of the media to the film. The real trouble is, however, that the film may or may not be morally reprehensible, depending upon your standpoint, but it certainly isn't really worth your time. The attempts at humour, in particular, are just not funny, as much because of abysmal acting ability as distasteful content.

The film works best when it tries to frighten and not amuse. One of the few memorable images in the film is of a hooded bloke destroying a shopfront with a baseball bat, as part of a montage of pretty mindless crime committed under the cover of darkness, presumably by the video's creators (at least, that assumption is never challenged.) If more of the film had been like that, it could at least have claimed legitimate 'guerilla' status, but in fact it ends up playing like the moneyspinner that it is.

One thing does need to be said, however - even if, quite reasonably, you hate the morality of the piece, it is surely inarguable that it must put most viewers off of ever trying crack cocaine, because the people shown who have indulged in the habit are, without doubt, the most orthodontically unhealthy people walking the Earth today. I was reaching for my toothbrush several times while watching.

In my final verdict, I would have to say that there is a certain amount of concern that can be raised about this film - if it is all designed for helping the homeless and raising awareness of their plight, does it need to take quite so much delight in humiliating the homeless people portrayed? Certainly, everything about the film, from its weak attempts at humour all the way to the distinctly pointless interruptions of Angela Taylor in her lingerie, which really isn't as sexy as you might think, causes the viewer to see the whole film as entertainment, and not issuetainment. I think on balance, however, that it shouldn't be banned, mostly because I find it hard to believe that many people are going to attempt any of the actions they see any more than they would do after seeing 'Jackass.'

Still, if you're really concerned about homelessness, give to Shelter.

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