Broken-Headed Man Busts Butt, Nuts

A decade after his award-winning doc on disabilities, Billy Golfus is still battling

Ironically, the net effect of Fairview's action was to provide more drama for Golfus's project. "I started out doing a story about people with severe disabilities being dumped by their mate," he says. "And then it also became about the beauty of the people in this program. It was never about Fairview until they fucked with me and tried to take my tapes away. Certainly," he says, with more than a little satisfaction, "some of that stuff has to be mentioned."

Golfus is currently living in a house in Minneapolis's Seward neighborhood, bought with inheritance money from his father, who died shortly after his memorable scenes with Golfus in Billy. Now 62, Golfus looks remarkably similar to the protagonist who co-produced, co-directed, narrated, and starred in Billy a dozen years ago. Maybe he's a tad grayer, with a few more pounds inside what viewers of Billy will recognize as his trademark overalls. But the paralysis doesn't seem to have intensified.

It remains to be seen whether Golfus can scratch up the interest and the resources to bring his latest project to fruition. One promising lead has been a request by Albert Maysles—a documentary director best known for capturing the Rolling Stones' Altamont nightmare in Gimme Shelter and Jackie O's kooky kin in Grey Gardens—to view some "selects" from Golfus's MSAC project.

Billy Golfus: "If you're not pissing somebody off, you're not doing your job"
Daniel Corrigan
Billy Golfus: "If you're not pissing somebody off, you're not doing your job"

"A select is a juicy scene that sticks in your head that you know you want to use; you just don't know where yet," Golfus explains. "What I'm trying to do now is get 45 minutes of selects out of 50 hours of footage. I just bought this [Apple] G-5 editing device because the G-4 I had wasn't working properly. I'm buying all this expensive stuff that I really can't afford. But I need to put this together for Maysles."

Although Golfus needed twice to be reminded of the number of the parking space he was paying for, he claims the rigors of the editing process have sharpened his mind of late. Golfus seems driven by his work, and almost everything he says circles back to the subject. The heart attack he suffered two years ago receives scant mention. What he wants to discuss at length is his failure to find not only a collaborator (his co-director on Billy continues to work with ITVS) but anyone to help him lug his equipment and conduct his interviews.

"It is rough being on your own. Sometimes it is just too fucking much," he rants. But after beating the bushes for high school and college students, he still hasn't found anyone "who loves it enough not to be paid." And so Golfus says he has become "convinced I have to do this myself."

Golfus maintains a high reverence for the stubborn giants of the film world. Portraits of Billy Wilder and John Ford remain prominent in his office. And he speaks with authoritative depth and passion about a wide range of his cinematic heroes, including Kurosawa, Cassavetes, Scorsese, Altman, and Ozu.

Perhaps colored by his admiration for these figures, Golfus careers from bitterness to a wistful determination. "I can't understand how someone with a master's degree and all these awards has such a hard time making a living. But," he says, softening, "I guess there are ways in which I like being on my own. I honestly think I can make this work. Well, I don't know if I can. But what else have I got to bet on?"

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