Otto, Or Up With Dead People
Directed by Bruce LaBruce
Jürgen Brüning Filmproduktion, 2008
Oh, Oh, LaBrucio: You Never Forget Your First!
By Carolyn Tripp
I had my first LaBruce when I was about sixteen or so. Being an out-of-town girl made the big city rags seem more exciting than perhaps they should ever be given credit. Eye Weekly, at the time, was just such a rag. The writers were inspirationally bitchy, the back page adverts were shocking, and the contents nothing short of remarkable to this impressionable then-country dweller.
The LaBruce shades in action
A vague impression of Bruce LaBruce’s writer pic (when Eye still did them) stands out in my mind as well. I think it was his shades that initially caught my attention, and insodoing (I don’t mind admitting) made me read his work. I didn’t even know who Hunter S. Thompson was at the time, so it was LaBruce who quickly earned the title of Coolest Motherfucker I Had Ever Seen. It should also be noted that this was way before I had even begun to employ the term “motherfucker” with any kind of regularity.
What I read all those years ago was part of a weekly column penned by the filmmaker entitled “Feelings.” This was a series of insightful accounts inspired by what I can only assume to be an uncanny amount of civic pride between the years of 1997 and 2003. Indeed, I had no idea at the time that LaBruce was this iconic filmmaker, so the pull for me had a great deal to do with his realism. His stories were unusual, yet relatable, making bizarre occurrences seem everyday, and indeed for him, I’m certain they were.
Devastating situations about which I hadn’t a clue (gay bashing for one) that were usually covered like self-indulgent pap, or worse still, ignored altogether by lesser writers, got an insightful examination from LaBruce. His personal accounts and criticisms were passionate and real, but steadfastly avoided the route of pity. I suppose he was the first writer I encountered who, within his autobiographical style, chose to set his own character against the victimhood associated with circumstance. It worked; I was hooked.
If we may fast-forward to the present day, I’ll admit that Otto; or, Up with Dead People is the first film I’ve seen by the Torontonian. But, much like my first encounters with his writing, I’m pretty sure the impressions left will be recalled for more jaunts down memory lane in 2018.
Why can't I crave brains like other zombies?
Otto takes us around town with its pitch perfect and appropriately emo titular character (Jey Crisfar). We begin in the graveyard where he emerges from his gravesite, stumbling with typical zombie incoherence. Otto, unlike any other zombie we’ve seen grace celluloid since the genre’s inception, is an intelligent fellow. He finds himself in the midst of an identity crisis when he can’t comprehend why he doesn’t need to consume human flesh.
LaBruce uses zombie actions as models for present day apathy. In Otto’s case, he desperately wants to feel, fumbling his way through the city, gradually picking up pieces of his past life. In his case, this remains an effective representation of a homosexual pariah. Otto is bashed, taunted, and generally misunderstood. Otto occasionally receives similar indignative from his artist peers, who happen to be making a zombie film in which, upon their meeting, he is cast immediately.
There are other less convincing and rather tedious monologues delivered by the otherwise camera-friendly Medea Yarn (Katharina Klewinghaus). I turned to my date with a confused look on my face. She sounded like a German girl trying to be French trying to be German. Even if I’m off the mark, the result was still distracting. The lengthy points in the script belonged to Klewinghaus exclusively, and although otherwise impressively accomplished, these were not her brightest moments.
Then again, this is a film for LaBruce fans. Its intellectual rhetoric remains profound, even if at times a bit tiresome, making pronouncements that many in his audience already hold true. Still, Otto remains appropriately humorous, ballsy, witty, and very, very bloody. In his introduction, LaBruce mentioned his dislike for the current trend in “torture” horror, and I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree. This filmmaker has the testicular fortitude to show what the Marquis de Sade scribed and what Quills was never able to show without maintaining its “R” rating.
Go see Otto. Even if it isn’t your first LaBruce, you’ll find your affections renewed.
If you missed the Royal Cinema’s Bruce LaBruce: A Retrospective you can view Otto; Or, Up With Dead People online at http://www.ovn.tv/.