Adam Castle’s Lupi Lupi Lu
Castle’s short film is a surprising one. The film does not so much depict the experience of the writer and director’s childhood diagnosis with lupus as dramatizes the heightened emotions of and reflections on that life-changing experience. Written in the style of a stage musical it is a colourful, florid, and exuberant response to uncomfortable and difficult events. Commissioned by BBC Scotland and LUX Scotland, the piece is five minutes long, exploiting the compressed genre native to the stage musical: the medley. The songs are sung by two characters, dressed as a wolf and a butterfly. These are animal symbols of the disease itself whose Latin name, lupus, means wolf; and the butterfly, which is the name of the characteristic rash and the symbol common to the Lupus Trust and Lupus UK. The surreal appearance of the two figures speaks to that sense of being made strange to oneself in illness. Here one’s body becomes legible for its pathological meaning, rather than present and phenomenologically transparent. It is no longer something that disappears from view in the process of interacting with the world, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes. Instead it is thickly present, demanding attention with its difference. The bulging, cartoon features of the characters’ animal suits are an embodiment of this oddity.
Musicals are, Castle has said, are a form that have both personal and universal meanings. They channel something of the parodic, provocative spirit of camp and cabaret that he has developed with Pollyanna, his queer cabaret night, and also harness music’s widely acknowledged power to move an audience directly. There is, then, both obliquity and directness at work here; there is both thought and feeling. The transition between the first song and second song is indicative, showing the pair in a curtained space reminiscent of the hospital ward, the wolf singing the diagnosis to the butterfly. When the butterfly storms off, distressed, the wolf steps into that other costume, becoming a hybrid of non-human symptoms. The power of disease to transform the subject is movingly sung: estranged from itself but mixed with a sense of relief at a fixed identity, we hear the character sing, quaveringly, ‘Finally, I’m not me’.
When the departed character returns, frantic with emotion, he wears his own wolf costume. His diagnosis has become his character and while there’s a confidence in knowing what that is—which is to say, what *he* is—there’s also regret, and a sense of not wanting to know. The musical communicates the double bind of a lifetime diagnosis: it may be desired, but its comforts are not unambiguous.