‘OC87’: an insider’s view of mental illness

The documentary film-as-journal is presented in “OC87,” a new movie directed, written by and featuring Bud Clayman, a Philadelphia man who has been fighting Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome since he was a teenager.

(The film’s subtitle is “The Obsessive Complusive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie”)

48 when the movie was made, Clayman still appears to be a troubled man, but like those who have been through rehab for addictions, he manages to function in ways that weren’t possible when his illness was at its worst.

Lucky to be the son of wealthy parents, Clayman was able to hire an award-winning crew that includes two co-director/writers Glen Holsten and Scott Johnston, as well as editor Kathleen Soulliere and cameraman Daniel Traub.

“OC87” is, on one level, a vanity film, but Clayman and crew break through that stigma with a unique look at mental illness, and a viewing experience that is entertaining and enlightening. (The hired crew has supplied subtle craftsmanship and a bit of perspective that might have eluded Clayman on his own.)

The documentary will no doubt reach its primary audience on cable and DVD, but “OC87” began an exclusive local commercial run at the Bow Tie Criterion in New Haven on Friday.

Clayman’s parents are still alive — Lila is an interior decorator, Mort runs a successful Philadelphia business that allowed him to finance this very polished-looking documentary — and they both must have squirmed a bit at the idea of being interviewed on camera by their son.

Even after all these years, neither parent understands the sources of their son’s distress but they appear to have adapted to a lifetime of lowered expectations and fear of Bud drifting back into severe episodes.

An outsider’s inability to cope with OCD and Asperger’s is illustrated in one of the film’s most moving sequences in which Clayman visits with his first roommate after college whose casual sarcastic criticism of the young Bud proved to be catastrophic.

Bud stayed in his room for days at a time, never eating or showering, and when the gaunt, bathrobed figure finally appeared in the living room one morning, the roommate said Bud looked like someone from the Holocaust.

What anyone else might have taken as a bad joke, Bud took as a terrible criticism that he could not recover from for months. We can see the profound sadness in the face of the now middle-aged roommate who had no idea of how his comment had been perceived. (The film’s title is derived from the year when Clayman hit rock bottom.) 

“OC87” expands to include interviews with other people who suffer from mental illness — including a San Francisco journalist and a Los Angeles TV actor — but it is the film’s powerful first-person study of Clayman that makes it special.

Joe Meyers