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Mar. 2 2010 - 10:12 am | 1,727 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

‘Epic Beard Man’ documentary reveals history of violence, troubled past

In a new documentary about  Thomas Bruso (aka ‘Epic Beard Man’), we are shown an intimate, and at times disturbing, portrait of a man whose life has been punctuated by violence and turmoil. Put together by filmmakers Nathan Maas and Aaron Curry, the documentary focuses less on the infamous AC Transit fight, and instead takes a brief but penetrating look at Bruso’s everyday world. We learn about his childhood (i.e. Bruso claims his mother placed him in an oven as a baby, and was then committed to a mental institution; Bruso was subsequently raised by his abusive father), his time in Vietnam, his drug and alcohol abuse, his relationships, and his public exploits — all conveyed in first-person narrative, through Bruso’s brash, unapologetic words.

Shortly after the AC Transit video initially appeared online, it was quickly labeled an Internet meme. And perhaps, at a distant glance, rightfully so. It is violent and voyeuristic, and infused with an instant, albeit fractured, narrative. But to look at the exchange between Bruso and Michael, his opponent in the video, as nothing more than a viral sensation would be a limited view.

Race has become the centerpiece of the meta-narrative that’s grown from the video. Read just some of what’s being said online and the racism and bigotry being expressed is volcanic. It’s the type of reaction normally reserved for the Stormfront forums, but when such vitriol reveals itself everywhere from Yahoo Buzz to YouTube, the problem begins to appear malignant. But Bruso’s portrayal in this new documentary cuts deeper than race. What we see is a man engulfed in personal turmoil.

Through Bruso’s own scattered, manic accounts of his life, we are provided a sobering glimpse into the mind of a man who has experienced considerable trauma. This is not to say Bruso is a victim, entitled to beat down anyone who irks or disagrees with him. But it is acknowledgment that his harsh attitude may have been tempered by violence — living through childhood abuse, service in Vietnam, turbulent relationships, etc. In each of his post-fight interviews, Bruso proves he is an expert shit talker who excels at telling outlandish stories (just watch the embedded videos here for proof). So it is difficult to say whether the stories he’s recounting for filmmakers Maas and Curry are true, or just exaggerated versions of the truth. Whatever the case, it’s likely this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Epic Beard Man.


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    About Me

    I am a writer, editor, and blogger who lives and works in the once-decaying heart of America's Rust Belt (i.e. Pittsburgh, PA). My work focuses on subculture, crime, mental health, race, class, and creativity.

    My writing appears in Spin, Good, XLR8R, Next American City, RaceWire, and Swindle, among other print and online publications. I have reported on the decline of sampling in hip-hop; interviewed artists and musicians who survived Cambodia’s killing fields; investigated the struggles of U.S. military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; and shadowed graffiti writers, coaxing candid confessions about their obsession with illegal art.

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