Ron Bachman was born a “freak” by 1950s standards, and that’s largely how people treated him. His little body stopped at his chest; his teensy legs folded behind his torso. With stunning grace and agility, and with normal happy-child-cheer, Bachman walked on his hands. When he was 4 years old, doctors amputated his legs, which he couldn’t use, and tried to make him use prosthetic legs, which were nearly three times as long as the rest of his body. Painful-to-watch footage shows Bachman doing tricks and exercises for doctors, reminiscent of ’50s films of chimpanzees in laboratories.
Bachman, now 46, tears up when recalling his parents dropping him off at the doctor’s to practice on his fake legs. It’s one of many heart-wrenching moments in this inspiring film about the Northville, Mich., giant of a small man.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith says Bachman has had a great impact on the rocker’s life over the past 20 years, from the night he swung up to a divider near the stage and caught Tyler’s eye. After the show, Tyler invited Bachman backstage and gave him a huge hug; they’ve been friends ever since. Bachman was an amazing example to Tyler, he says, because Bachman found joy in his life and shared it with others, despite his handicap. Bachman follows Aerosmith and other classic rock bands across the country in his motorcycle/dune buggy vehicle. Aerosmith’s song, “Walk this Way,” is Bachman’s motto, and the inspiration behind the movie’s title.
Though Bachman appears to a casual viewer to exist physically from the waist up, he fathered a child. He’s raised his teen daughter, and she seems not only charming and well-adjusted, but adoring of her dad.
Touching stories such as Bachman’s are rich territory for a documentary. But pulling at heartstrings and providing a voyeuristic window into such a life can only go so far. Then filmmaking takes over, and that’s where Walk This Way sings. The 30-minute film is seamless, moving swiftly through tales of Bachman’s life, his ordeals, his triumphs, his history, his life today, and statements from his friends and family on the gigantic impact Bachman and his spirit have had on their lives.
Director/producer Kathy Vander and cinematography director John Prusak have won a small list of awards for the film, including the prestigious CINE Golden Eagle Award. But it’s the message the film sends that renders it timeless.
As Walk This Way closes, Bachman visits a grade school in suburban Detroit. He has the kids repeat, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” He asks the kids if they’ve ever heard that saying before. They drone a telltale “yeees” in cacophonic union. Well, he responds, that’s a lie.
Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.