Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Amidst the slop-n-slurp and overall typical blandness of the modern zombie sub-genre, Bruce LaBruce has fashioned a touching gay heartbreak film in Otto; Or, Up With Dead People. Shades of AIDS, gay bashing, and fractured monogamous relationships linger over this small film that is part black comedy and part inner-circle satire, but that ends up truly being about a young gay man who decides to "go north" (the new "go west") where the climate is nicer on his dead skin. The final long shot of Otto walking down a vertical road toward the horizon hits harder than the similar open-road shots in My Own Private Idaho.

We first find Otto pushing up from the earth and roaming the streets of Berlin like a organism instinctively drawn to something without any intellect to give it reason or direction. What small traces of life left in Otto surface in flashbacks of he and his boyfriend in full, colorful love hysteria. We surmise that that's where Otto's body is leading him... to a reunion with the man he left behind when he went to the grave. When they finally meet-up by chance, Otto's ex is in military garb (was he perhaps shamefully secretive about his homosexuality?) and brings up Otto's time in a hospital over a "sickness" (did Otto die of AIDS?).

Such questions may seem judgmental or simple-minded, but when Otto takes his shirt off, and LaBruce lets the camera linger on that soft bruised chest of his, it's impossible not to ponder those kind of questions.

Since LaBruce has been making low-budget films since 1990, he must have a desire to get annoyances off his chest. Running parallel to the tale of Otto is the story of Medea Yarn, a stereotypical Euro film-school phony better at regurgitating college lecture talking points than at actually making a film. While trying to finish her political zombie-porn project, Medea's path crosses with Otto's and she instantly scoops him as the perfect muse and star for her masterstroke. On a trip through a garbage dump, Medea rants to Otto, "look at all this... it's like the mass grave of capitalism." From reading an breif interview with LaBruce, it appears that he genuinely shares sentiments such as these, yet it also seems that he's wise enough to poke fun at the absurdity and rigidity of hard line political ideology that rarely stops to crack a smile.

LaBruce doesn't totally dump on Medea as he uses her for a vessel to his own personal views and ego-centric reference points (something LaBruce does too openly and often and, indeed, can come off a bit phony in itself). Though Otto; Or, Up With Dead People breaks past what is stubbornly expected of movies that fall within the zombie sub-genre, it's not quite clear what LaBruce's total intentions are. All of the passages featuring Otto are excellent, and strong enough to carry the film, but scenes containing zombie gut-fu*king and zombie orgies leaves one wondering if LaBruce is perhaps just participating in the same trash art he chastises Medea for.

I haven't seen any of LaBruce's previous films, but in browsing his web site it appears that "trash art" may be the exact category that his earlier films fall into. It's too hard to tell at this point. After witnessing LaBruce's creation of Otto, I'm curious to find out if he stumbled onto something special this one time, or if he has a humanity in him that exists beyond one character.


Marilyn said...

Fox - Was that you who sent me an email? You know, I've never known what your real name was.

ryan said...

I've seen all of LaBruce's other films, and found them pretty much unwatchable (except of course, for all the hot sex, which, let's face it, is really the only reason I ever watched them), and his political commentary to be a superficial excuse to use controversial imagery (Raspberry Reich?) for erotic purposes. I don't doubt that he's probably a pretty intelligent man, but a shitty filmmaker who, in my mind, was really weak at conveying any kind of insight in his films, though they are chock full of obvious symbolism. Maybe he's the poor man's Sam Mendes (though I don't hate Mendes near as much as you do). Also, I don't hate LaBruce. I'm glad people like him makes movies, I just wish they were a little easier to sit through. Though admittedly I'm curious to see Otto.

Fox said...


Yes! That was me. :) I realized afterward (and from your response) that it may have been unclear. But now you know my real name!

Fox said...


That was kind of my fear when looking at his site and researching some of his older movies. Raspberry Reich seems to be one that comes up the most. I'm thinking of heading over to I LOVE VIDEO after work... but I'm a little nervous now.

And there are elements of what you describe about LaBruce in Otto, but, to me, there is a sweetness in it as well. But I wonder after watching some of his other films if I will change my feelings on Otto a bit. I'd be very curious to hear what you think since you're familiar with his stuff.

Would it be safe to assume that his stuff is kinda like the worst parts of Gregg Araki movies? Like, the ending to The Doom Generation but amplified times 10??

Kat was saying that he has ties to James St. James, but I didn't know if she was just confusing the similarities in their names.

Lastly... one of the funniest things that happened while watching Otto was when one of the zombies had a much bigger ching-chong than me, and it made me feel, erm... small. But then I read that he uses porn stars in his films and I felt much better!! :)

ryan said...

Funny you should mention Araki, because I was thinking of him when I wrote that first comment. Both of those men, I think, are still sort of stuck in undergraduate levels of glaringly obvious artistic symbolism in their films because they're not talented enough as artists to hit deeper truths without it. Again, I think both men are probably pretty smart, but that doesn't make them good artists. Both of them make films that I liked in high school, and my early 20's, because they were edgy, and dangerous, and flippant, and, frankly, intentionally offensive/blasphemous/controversial, but just for the sake of being so. Not because either of them actually had a whole lot to say, or wisdom to offer. That doesn't mean their films can't be enjoyable, because sometimes they are, but they're enjoyable in the way eating at McDonald's can be enjoyable. If you want a real meal with substance, you go elsewhere.

Soiled Sinema said...

I'd meant to watch this sometime soon.