“OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie” is a completely unique documentary that depicts one man’s struggle — co-director Bud Clayman — with his Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Yes, Bud’s got the one-two punch of Asperger’s and OCD, the symptoms of which began to manifest themselves in his late teens/early twenties, as they do in many young men who suffer from such mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Right around the time Bud “got sick,” as he calls it, he happened to be in the City of Angels, fresh with a degree in Film and Television from Temple, a cover letter in hand, knocking down the doors of every studio and agency in town like any other young film school graduate. This added layer of story enhances the poignancy of Bud’s directing the film, a lifelong dream, and the filmmaking process itself is put front and center. The first third of the movie is largely concerned with the filmmaking process, featuring scenes of Bud recording his voice-over, and many shots of the crew on location shoots, or just standing around while Bud goes through his torturous mental processes.
One way to make a documentary is to show “how the sausage is made” so to speak, and ‘OC87’ definitely takes this approach in attempting to reflect the inner life and subjective experience of one man with a decidedly abnormal inner monologue. Bud’s brand of OCD is called “Harm OCD,” which means that he obsesses over his own fantasies about causing harm to others, and has a difficult time functioning in public, trying not to stare or let his violent thoughts become reality. This is relayed in several sequences shot in his perspective, where Bud reenacts a normal part of his day, walking down the sidewalk or taking the bus, with a voice-over of his inner monologue instructing him not to stare or stop analyzing the glances of strangers. This is a fascinating sort of filmic experience and look into his mind, but with Bud as the singular focus and driving force of the film, sometimes, as an audience, you just want to take a break from Bud. Of course, some may find him hilarious and charming in an oddball way, but for this writer, Bud got a little boring.
The power of cinema is to reflect subjective interpersonal states, and tell stories about people, but a film also bears the responsibility to make something about that subjective experience interesting and compelling to an audience who might not understand or relate. There are moments where the film gets bogged down and slows to a stop — in extended conversations with Bud and his therapist or with his father, who doesn’t understand his illness — and unfortunately, these moments happen towards the beginning of the film when we should be bonding with our protagonist and learning to root for him. This comes too late, when audiences may be already lost or checked out. There are some poignant moments such as Bud’s anxiety about going back to his high school reunion and going speed dating — these moments work because anyone can understand and relate to these anxieties, and it’s curious to see how Bud, who is wired differently, deals with them. What’s meaningful is how similar his reactions are to others.
About an hour in, the film takes off, as Bud goes to California to talk to other men who suffer from similar ailments, such as newscaster Jeff Bell in San Francisco (Harm OCD) and “General Hospital” actor Maurice Bernard (bipolar). These moments are compelling, especially to get another person’s experience, and funny, just to see Bud’s excitement and quirky personality. It’s all too little too late though, as the long lead up to this is too slow, saggy and poorly structured to pull an audience in. It’s the explanation of the situation, but it doesn’t really impart that much information about these disorders — just Bud’s personal experience. Which is fine, because it’s his movie, funded by his father, but there’s only so much one can care about one man’s inner monologue, especially when the film spells out just what a strong support system and privilege of care he has.
‘OC87’ ends on a positive note, with Bud coming into his own and seeming to find himself and his passion again at age 47. He doesn’t seem bothered by his age, commenting that, in terms of getting his life back, it’s “better late than never.” And that’s a lesson we can all relate to. [C+]