One part personal essay and one part road picture, WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD sheds much-needed light on an often ignored segment of the population, those with physical and developmental disabilities.
Unlike other Hollywood and independent films about this topic, WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD is unique in that it has been made by someone with a disability himself. Billy Golfus is a former Minneapolis radio show host who, in 1984, suffered paralysis and brain injury in a motor scooter accident. In
this documentary, Golfus takes viewers on a road trip around the country to meet (among others) a blind woman unable to fill out government forms to maintain her benefits, a disability activist who fights for public transportation accessibility in Denver, a musician who has founded a program for
"attitude reassessment about disability and sexuality," and a professor of history at San Francisco State College who notes similarities between the treatment of persons with disabilities and other "minorities." Golfus's journey ultimately becomes a challenge to viewers to confront their own
As its irreverent title suggests, WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD looks and sounds like Michael Moore's 1989 documentary hit, ROGER AND ME. The film's stock quality (blown up from 16mm) is harsh and grainy, yet the low-budget "feel" complements the likeable, raffish spirit of the production. Also
echoing the Moore film, Billy Golfus has written and narrated his piece with wit and candor, and his Kerouac-like road trip has been expertly (but not slickly) photographed by Slawomir Grunberg and edited by David E. Simpson.
What sets BILLY apart from ROGER AND ME is that it evokes a poignancy that was missing in Michael Moore's film. Highlights of the hour-long film include: Billy's two difficult visits with his father, a crusty man who refuses to acknowledge his own physical limitations, yet clearly harbors a
prejudice against others with disabilities ("You're not that disabled," he tells his son. "It's a matter of determination."); Billy's visit with the state bureaucrat who methodically yet confusingly explains why Billy should get less than five hundred dollars a month from the government; and the
superb montage of scenes from films and television shows (including FREAKS, PASSION FISH, "Star Trek," and Jerry Lewis's "Muscular Dystrophy Telethon") that represent people with disabilities in stereotypical ways.
Billy Golfus succeeds with his small film where RAIN MAN failed as a big film (as Billy might say, RAIN MAN represented just another "inspirational cripple story"). WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD may not be always easy to watch, but it is the kind of film that should be watched, and widely. (Adultsituations.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: One part personal essay and one part road picture, WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD sheds much-needed light on an often ignored segment of the population, those with physical and developmental disabilities. Unlike other Hollywood and independent films about this… (more)