Friday, April 3, 2009

Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008)

The brilliance of some films is visible on multiple levels. Films such as Network (1976) and American Beauty (1999) are both satirical, yet they can be simultaneously viewed as good cinema. Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008) is not such a film. It can be read as a satire, Bruce LaBruce’s whorish attempt at an instant cult classic, or simply as an entirely original work of art. Actually, it seems more like a combination of the three. Otto satirizes the zombie crowd’s lust for films that only have merit for their shock value. In case you aren’t familiar with him, Bruce LaBruce is famous for (infamous for?) his no-budget B films. He is one of few directors to have directed a porno and had a film premier at Sundance. Without seeing the film, Otto often comes across at an extremely misguided attempt to corner a niche market—gay zombie horror porn. With that said, the film is neither a horror film nor a porno. There is relatively little gore, and much less sex than the right wing IMDB trolls would have you believe. Otto may be a satire; Otto may be an attempt into instant cult status; but in any case, Otto is art.

Otto; or, Up with Dead People was shown at the Sundance film festival. However, simply being accepted into Sundance does not mean a film is good. Otto was also shown at the wonderful MoMA in NYC. Once again, this does not mean that it is a perfect film, but it should be noted in what way the film is being perceived: as a work of art. Most people will dismiss Otto as a pointless B movie, but in reality it is not pointless. Otto is one of the most original works of feature length cinema from the past decade that I have seen. And this is not simply based on the subject matter. LaBruce utilizes his distinct style and unique cinematic techniques to make Otto a truly fresh work of art.

Now onto the film. Otto (Jey Crisfar) is convinced that he is a zombie who just recently was resurrected. Stumbling around town, he comes across a flyer for auditions for a zombie movie, Up with Dead People. At the audition, the director of the film, Medea (Katharina Klewinghaus), is impressed with Otto’s commitment to the character. Otto of course truly believes that he is a zombie, while Medea is sure that Otto is just a regular guy who always seems to be exceptionally dirty. Zombies are often presented as allegorical to “the ultimate consumers who all eat the same things, congregate at the same places, act the same” (Fangoria). With Otto, LaBruce completely reverses this idea. Otto is a complete outcast. Not only is he a zombie, but Otto is gay. He experiences what is either gay-, zombie-, or gay zombie-bashing and generally not accepted by society.

Another of LaBruce’s interesting cinematic choices is presenting Medea’s lesbian lover, Hella (Susanne Sach├če) as a silent film character. Hella is always presented in grainy black and white and her dialogue is even replaced with intertitles. Medea and other characters are still presented in full color even while the black and white Hella is sitting right next to them. As a film studies major, I am forced to attempt to find the symbolism/hidden meaning behind presenting Hella as such. However, I have come to the conclusion that LaBruce was simply attempting to present Hella as a specific type of character from the silent film era and he does so with clever blatancy.

Otto is not what most people would consider as entertaining. Otto is not what most people would consider as art. If you watch the film thinking that you will hate it, I can guarantee with complete certainty that you will hate it. Watch this film with an open mind, and don’t take it too seriously or literally. Network and American Beauty are praised because they work on two levels. They exaggerate the existing conventions of Hollywood cinema in order to criticize whereas Otto cinematically breaks free of the zombie genre in its criticism. As Dr. Marco Abel would say, whether or not you like the film is irrelevant. Otto is a entirely original piece of art.

Grade: B

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