28 September 2008

Otto; Or, Up with Dead People

Otto; Or, Up with Dead People was shown here last week as part of the Bangkok International Film Festival. Directed by Bruce Labruce, the film showcases a lost gay zombie. I found the whole film pretty touching as we are led not only to the awareness of the plight suffered by Otto, an exploited, beaten zombie, but also his confused mentality.

Of course, the influence of George A. Romero's films are more than patent as the politics of 'the living dead' is used to the full effect here too. We tend to think that gay people can't be zombies simply because they're marginalised and tend to be aware of their living conditions. Common sense seems to tell us that only the mainstream or the majority can be zombies because they take their mainstream values and beliefs for granted. Thus I have seen zombies loitering in shopping malls or sometimes I can even see three hundred zombies sitting in an exam room, slaving away for best grades. However, Bruce Labruce turns the table around and shows that gay people can be zombies too, especially in their attempt to create 'gay essence' and stick to it. Examples of gay essence would be effeminate mannerism, clubbing, sleeping around and becoming good at languages. Perhaps in this sense gay people and mainstream feminists are more suitable for zombie-making than their straight counterparts.

However, in Otto's case, being a zombie has a different rationale all together. He becomes a zombie, not because he follows what the gay route dictates, but more because he is used ironically to show how other people around him, though living, are even more zombie-like than him. By being a zombie, Otto reveals his human side: his confusion, his victimised state, his alienation, as well as his exploitation. I can't help but sympathising with Otto's own trauma as a psychopath-cum-pariah and admiring his positive outlook in the end, when he decides to go north as it can help keep his body from corruption. Like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, despite the evils and prejudices against the marginalised in the contemporary world, Otto remains strong (in a zombiesque way).

There are many layers in this film and Bruce Labruce also parodies himself in the process. There is also a film in the film, with Medea Yarn directing (and exploiting) Otto in her new film about gay zombie liberation. Medea Yarn and her partner Hella Bent believe in the power of the film and Medea herself uses theory jargon that at times becomes inscrutable. In addition, we also see the parody of the cult film, especially its emphasis on flesh, sex, and death. However, the politics of this film is not to transgress or to ask questions, but rather to make fun of the whole cult film industry which at times tries too hard to be serious and forget one of the foundations of film-making: pleasure.

No comments: