From time to time I get complaints on my blog or on the Marxism list about my movie reviews that are supposed to be some kind of diversion from the really important topics like the declining rate of profit or torture in Bahrain, etc. In my own defense, as if any were needed, I write about popular culture because I am a student of CLR James who was not above writing a book on cricket. And there’s also Ernest Mandel, who wrote a book on spy novels. Plus, who wants to stay limited to the nitty-gritty of the class struggle? There’s more to life than that.
That being said, it is not like I am writing reviews of the latest Adam Sandler movie. Indeed, despite being hairshirt sectarians, the World Socialist website is not above reviewing something like “Titanic”, even though David Walsh dismissed it as “a bad piece of work—poorly scripted, poorly acted, poorly directed.” One thing I’ve learned after having written over 600 reviews in the past 20 years or so, there’s no need for me to weigh in on something like “Titanic”. Life is too short and I’d rather just ignore the “poorly scripted” and focus on offbeat, worthy material that I think lefties would get something out of.
That should suffice as an introduction to “OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie”, a documentary that opens on May 25th at the Village East. OC87 refers to the mental state of Bradford “Bud” Clayman, the subject of the film and one of its directors:
The title OC87 refers to a state I was in in 1987 when I tried to control my whole world. I literally tried to be independent of everyone and everything around me. If someone would go to make small talk with me, I would remain silent. If someone would try to help me, I would refuse that help. This film is my coming out party, so to say. It is a rebirth for me which I think everybody should have. It is a letting go of the shackles and demons that have haunted me most of my life. It is my personal liberation.
The OC stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the “shackles and demons” that Clayman sought to overcome by working with a group of dedicated professionals to tell his story. OC does not cover all the bases, however. As indicated in the film’s title, Clayman also suffered from depression, bipolar, and Asperger’s, a Job-like assortment of ailments that kept him confined to a group home for 8 years. While the film is inspirational to the degree that it shows Clayman coming out of his shell, there is little expectation of a happy ending. Instead, the prevailing sentiment of all concerned, especially Clayman, is that life will remain a struggle—something to be expected given the brain chemistry that fate dealt him.
“OC87” follows Clayman around as he meets with medical experts, old friends and with fellow OC sufferers. When he is by himself, he talks into the camera about all the trials that daily life imposes, mostly trying to not give in to his symptoms. While the popular perception of OC–known to many through Martin Scorsese’s biopic about Howard Hughes, a Larry David episode or the detective series Monk—mostly consists of frequent hand-washing and the like, the variety that Clayman suffers from is far more insidious, as the press notes indicate:
Through video diaries, Bud reveals eye-opening glimpses of his inner world, including OC87, an altered state of mind named by Bud and his therapist. “My mind becomes filled with intrusive thoughts that over-analyze every action and idea,” he says. “As my awareness becomes dominated by themes of control and mental commands, OC87 causes me to lose touch with not only my feelings, but also social connection.” It also gets in the way of ordinary living: riding a bus, getting in an elevator, unclogging a drain. As a long standing struggle, OC87 is embedded in Bud’s pent-up confrontation of a former mentor—a moment that‘s been brewing for thirty years.
Clayman’s interaction with others suffering from mental illnesses is filled with both his and his acquaintances good sense of humor. Despite the burden imposed on them, they make the best of their lives, including a psychiatrist who had Schizophrenia (Dan Fisher, MD-PhD), a television daytime drama star with Bipolar Disorder (Maurice Benard, General Hospital), and a radio news anchor with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Jeff Bell).
Despite the obvious focus on getting through life with a major mental illness, “OC87” is also about the redemptive power of art, specifically film. From an early age, Bradford Clayman was passionate about television and movies, enough so that this became his major at Temple University. After graduating, he moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a scriptwriter or editor, an attempt that was hobbled by his disability. Finally now, after a quarter-century, he has arrived as a documentary director. One hopes that with his success, he will be able to move on to other projects.
Returning to the question posed at the beginning of this review, I would say that I review films like OC87 for the same reason I have been involved with radical politics for 45 years. It is my way of connecting to interesting people whose values I share. While I have never had any interest in getting to know the directors of the garbage now playing at my neighborhood Cineplex, I am delighted to have found out about someone like Glenn Holsten, one of “OC87”’s directing team. In the press notes, he had this to say:
How have I changed? I have a deeper understanding of and sensitivity to the perhaps hellish journeys that fellow travelers in life may be experiencing in the most common of places—buses, elevators, diners. I have a heightened sensitivity to people I pass on the street who might not be able to look me in the eye when I greet them. I don’t assume to understand how someone receives a message, until they tell me. I have a greater appreciation for my own ability to navigate different social situations. And, as Buddy says in the film, I live with the risk. Working on the film has reminded me of how delicate life is.