19 Nov Totall Badass
About 8 months ago my good friend Bob Ray sent me a cut of his documentary “Total Badass”. The cut was a bit of a mess but it was clear that there was a pretty amazing tale unfolding. Tonight i saw the final cut at a screening in Brooklyn and I was shocked at how much he had been able to do without changing it significantly.
The film follows his friend Chad Holt, who is a total badass. I’ll leave the explaining and the reviews to the reviewers but i did want to relate a post show screening story from tonight. Early in the film we learn of Chad’s exploits in his band, Front Butt. In the band he would wear a butt in the front of his pants and he would leap from the stage into a trash can. It was clear from the footage that the performance transcended schtick. The danger and the pain were real and palpable, painful to watch. The band, like all other aspects of his life was designed to transcend expectation and push the envelope in all directions. It would be quite easy at first glance to kind of dismiss the front butt, and the stage diving, and the music as a gimmick. However, it was clear that while for some people the experience was like a freak show, for others there was something transformative about how Chad pushed way beyond the boundaries to an area of danger almost as a gift to the audience. In pushing himself so far he made room on the other side for those too scared to push themselves.
In order to drum up press and enthusiasm for the screening, the booker had promised live stunts. He bought a trash can and Chad was urged to use it. While in some ways the film is a chronicle of Chad’s exploits, it is also a tale of redemption. Over the course of the film, Chad pulls his life together and is able to start taking care of his son and daughter full time. At the screening Chad said, “I don’t want to do this because I’m at a different place in my life. I’ll do this, but it won’t be authentic and it will be kind of sad. But ya’ll take a vote and if you vote on it I’ll do it.” I voted no. It was a tie. I had a bad feeling about it for two reasons. Number 1, I just thought it would be a lame gesture. Number 2, Chad mentioned that he didn’t have health insurance and I just thought it would be awful if their film tour was messed up because of this silly gesture.
After some awkward back and forth Chad brushed past me and headed towards the front of the venue holding the trash can. The filmmaker had given me his flip camera to capture the q and a so I follwed behind him. When we got to the front he started to take his wallet and phone and lighters out of his pocket and dumped them on the hostess platform. A few people had streamed out of the venue to witness, but he didn’t wait around. He dove into the trash can and headed down the stairs. I felt the same hot jet of adrenalin that I get when my kids fall. He flopped painfully down a couple of steps and I knew that something was wrong. He hit the middle platform with a thud and then rolled down the next section. He hit the bottom explosively and flopped to a halt. Staring at both him and the little flip camera screen had given the whole thing an edge of surrealism.
The filmmaker, Bob has his little photo camera trained on Chad. He filmed the stillness because Chad wasn’t moving. I headed down the steps and it was clear that he was breathing but my sense of dread began to turn towards real fear. With his feet splayed at an awkward angle it seemed that he might be hurt. I also thought that he might be faking it to let those who had voted for his degradation feel some guilt. There was a lot of confusion and the stress level started to ratchet up the longer he laid like that. I searched Bob’s expression for any sense of fear or doubt, but found none, which was comforting – at first. My jacket was locked in the theater so I got the promoter to let me in. He seemed a little nervous, but excited by the tension. We were all kind of joking about it, but after 20 minutes i was starting to get nervous. The danger of it started to get to me. Sure, there was a 90% chance he was fine, but if he was hurt, or had a spine injury he needed help immediately.
We went back to the front and I checked his feet. They hadn’t moved at all. I started to get freaked out, so freaked out in fact that I felt the need to leave. Bob moved forward and peered inside the trash can with a lighter to check his eyes. He was calm but appeared nervous. He couldn’t seem to get any kind of response from Chad. Finally a guy standing near by said, “This is ludicrous, i’m calling an ambulance”
I left. I still thought it might be a performance but I was cooked. i couldn’t take the pressure and i didn’t want to get caught up in the drama. I bid Bob goodnight and took off in a foul mood. I thought about Chad’s kids. I pictured him in a wheel chair. I felt like shit and my thoughts were flying around like bats in a small room.
About three blocks from the venue I heard the ambulance on its way and i was glad to be out of there. When I got home I saw that I had a voice mail. My friend Adam had called to tell me that moments after I left Chad popped up. It had been all performance. In total badass form he talked his way out of trouble with the ambulance.
That was high art.