OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie
July 14 & 15, Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006, realartways.org.
"Live the risk of being" is a mantra given to Bud Clayman, a sufferer from both Asperger Syndrome and what he calls Obsessive Compulsion '87, a state of utter inner bafflement causing him to "over-analyze every action and idea," that befell him in 1987. It has been a long path to acceptance and enablement for Clayman, and part of that process is the film OC87. The film is one man's journey through the tortures of his own mind, the risks of the creative personality, and a window on the tenuousness of our daily lives and interactions with others.
In 1979, Clayman, a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy and of the film and television department at Temple University in Philadelphia, wanted to make films and to work for film companies. He got as far as a visit to L.A. and an effort to get his foot in the industry's door, then he went into a psychic tailspin that paralyzed his professional and social progress.
One way of dealing with his ongoing condition is trying to capture a sense of it on film. Some of the most compelling moments in the film show Clayman riding a bus or walking the street while the disruptive mental interventions that fill his head are voiced on the soundtrack. Acts which we might all find somewhat tedious — the morning commute via bus to work, for example — are punctuated by thoughts of fear and frustrated violence to an extent that is almost comical. It's easy to think: pushed far enough or made sufficiently uncomfortable, anyone might harbor such thoughts. And that's precisely the point: we never know what's going on in the minds around us, and if we were to think about it, as Clayman does obsessively, we might find ourselves completely distraught. As psychologist Jon Grayson explains, most people would let such thoughts pass as negative or harsh, but for someone like Clayman, such automatic thoughts have a life of their own, becoming more real than anything else.
The film benefits greatly from the candidness of Clayman's self-presentation. Just as he has a hard time filtering out inappropriate thoughts or determining which reactions are acceptable, he also, as a storyteller and director, has a hard time deciding what should be in the movie. The fact that he's upfront about such difficulties — visits to a doctor who helped him in the past, and to the high school mentor who put him up for a time post-graduation, until there was an almost inevitable falling-out, pain Clayman but are necessary to his vision of his life. We see others trying to find a way to react to him that will make a positive impression, and we can't help but wonder how his interlocutors feel about him — they seem cheery, non-judgmental, accepting, and open, just the kind of people Clayman needs. And yet, the discomfort of personal interaction lingers.
There are tense moments — as when Clayman speaks directly to the camera in solo shots — that let us see the dark side he often lives with. But with others Clayman is outgoing and friendly and quick to laugh. Gradually it becomes clear that the best therapy for him is making the movie. We are watching a form of talking cure. By getting on film such exchanges, Clayman takes control of the narrative of his life and creates a view of his condition that could not be achieved as meaningfully any other way.
The importance of the film is particularly clear when we see Clayman with his parents. Both, we assume, treat him as they always do, but because he is wielding the camera, they have to face him publicly. We see a well-meaning but taxing mother, and a father rather bemused by his son, though supporting the film financially. We might also wonder about the views not recorded: The film gives us a sense of the value of positive thoughts and support, and shows us scenes — such as Clayman reading aloud a letter of gratitude to his obviously uncomfortable but patient father — that make progress possible, but many untold tensions seem to linger in the background.
With films as seemingly artless as this, capable editing is paramount. Clayman and his fellow directors, veterans Glenn Holsten and Scott Johnson, and editor Kathleen Soulliere do the film many favors by finding a shot, a look in the eye, a visual with a voice-over, a cut between scenes that keep us entertained and engaged. Clayman was considered by his high school classmates as someone likely to achieve something remarkable, and we can see that, beyond the illness and the dysfunction, the drive to make a mark is quite alive in Clayman, now in his early 50s. This risky and rewarding film shows a personal struggle that is at times bathetic, at times comic, but always interesting and worthwhile.
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