Obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar and Asperger’s Syndrome are fascinating topics for a documentary. They’re big buzzwords now that the psychiatric community is more public, but that doesn’t mean the general public really understands these somewhat common disorders.
So Bud Clayman made a very personal documentary, OC87, in which he profiles his own OCD and Asperger’s and explores their treatment. His self-case study provides a clear illustration of what is different inside an Asperger’s head, so that objective viewers can gain some kind of understanding.
Asperger’s patients don’t get the social rules right, Clayman explains. Getting the rules wrong then makes him anxious. Throughout the movie, Clayman provides a frank objective description of what’s going on inside his head. He provides voiceover narration or some insight from his therapist, but he’s articulate and clear at conveying this unique condition.
What’s amazing is that Clayman is so self-aware. He can discuss every trigger to his condition, including his overreaction to his own behind the scenes crew. Illustration is the best example of his condition, and it shows that it is just that – a condition, not the defining element of his personality. The condition makes him feel certain things and do certain things, but he’s still an intelligent person who can analyze what’s going on.
When Clayman is doing well, he’s charismatic and charming. He can certainly edit together a good take, and then reveal the difficulties he actually had between cuts. He’ll do an interview with his old roommate and then deconstruct both the interview and the anecdote within the interview to show how Bud reads situations differently. When he’s in an uncomfortable situation, we see the note cards that remind Clayman of basic rules that help him come across as more “normal,” even if it’s not natural to him.
Halfway through the film Clayman gets broader. He interviews newscaster and author Jeff Bell, who is extremely articulate about his own OCD. Then he hangs out with Maurice Bernard who plays a bipolar character on “General Hospital” and is bipolar in real life. These sections give a broader perspective on these conditions.
There are pros and cons to the personal approach. The pro is that it is deep and raw and vulnerable. The con is that it can sometimes feel like we’re meeting really obscure characters in Clayman’s life, but part of his condition is that in his head these are the major events of his life. It’s a valid approach and it could be for budgetary reasons or aesthetic reasons, and it may ultimately be better than an all-encompassing scientific approach. Clayman does reach out to enough other subjects that it’s not just a one man show, but they are single examples more than fully incorporated characters in his journey.
I like what Clayman presented here. It’s not the definitive film on social disorders but it is a uniquely personal one. I wish him the best in his film career (part of the film is his own dream of making movies) and applaud him contributing to the public education for understanding people’s unique needs.