25 December 2009

The Decade List: Otto; or Up with Dead People (2008)

Otto; or Up with Dead People – dir. Bruce LaBruce

Partially a remake of his own brilliant Super 8½, Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or Up with Dead People is a shockingly affecting effort from Canada’s most engaging queer provocateur. In place of Super 8½’s Bruce (played by the director), a stubborn, egotistical porn artiste and occasional “butt double,” and Googie (Stacy Friedrich), the lesbian underground filmmaker who’s exploiting him for her documentary, we have Otto (Jey Crisfar), a gay, hoodie-donning, once-vegan boy who believes he’s a zombie, and Medea Yarn (Katharina Klewinghaus), who could best be described as a science experiment morphing Gudrun from The Raspberry Reich, Maya Deren and a Saturday Night Live spoof of Anne Rice into a single person. LaBruce steps away from himself with Otto, focusing instead on Medea’s dueling film projects: one a political zombie gay porn epic Up with Dead People, the other an invasive, self-serving exposé of Otto.

I often underestimate the way in which LaBruce, like Gregg Araki, punctures a searing truth and sadness through a well-practiced brand of sympathetic and condemning disposition. Medea, assisted in her agenda by her brother Adolf (Guido Sommer) and girlfriend Hella Bent (Susanne Sachße), is a curious figure, something of an art terrorist who uses manipulation and greed to push her generally noble, leftist cause(s). “Americans produce enough garbage… to buy 82,000 football fields six feet deep,” she lectures to Otto. “Although I can’t think of a better use for football fields,” she adds.

There’s something different though about the character of Otto. To Medea, his zombie act is the perfect metaphor for consumerism and political ambivalence, but for Otto, his somnambulist, undead state isn’t an act. LaBruce never interferes with either character’s belief about whether or not he’s an actual zombie, which pushes forth a different idea of what has brought about this state. Otto thus becomes a metaphor for the crippling ennui, disillusion and dehabilitation of contemporary youth. Otto; or Up with Dead People is an effective balance between these varying metaphors and cultural criticism, more shocking in its piercing depth than in its over-the-top provocations.

With: Jey Crisfar, Katharina Klewinghaus, Marcel Schlütt, Susanne Sachße, Guido Sommer, Christophe Chemin, Gio Black Peter, Stefan Kuschner, Mo, Kembra Pfahler
Screenplay: Bruce LaBruce
Cinematography: James Carman
Music: Mikael Karlsson
Country of Origin: Germany/Canada
US Distributor: Strand Releasing

Premiere: 19 January 2008 (Sundance Film Festival)

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