WR — Mysteries of the Organism reflects the experimental nature of an Eastern Europe country coming to terms with its ongoing decentralized Stalinist system. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to watch a film drawing parallels between love, sex and social structures, this is it. And what is most alluring here is that nothing will prepare you for the type of shock you’ll experience. Director Dusan Makavejev created this artistic collage during Yugoslavia’s most creative period in cinema, and it is one of the those films that ends up being about whatever you make it out to be.
- Director: Dusan Makavejev
- Writer: Dusan Makavejev
- Cast: Milena Dravic, Ivica Vidovic, Jagoda Kaloper, Tuli Kupferberg, Zoran Radmilovic, Jackie Curtis, Miodrag Andric, Zivka Matic, Wilhelm Reich Mikheil Gelovani
As is sometimes the case with avante garde cinema, there is no consistent plot running through this film. The predominant narrative features a Yugoslav woman attracted to a Soviet communist figure skater and brings him home. Meanwhile, we get plenty of archival footage intercut throughout the film to drive home a political undertone that mainly laments the tainting of communism by Western influences. As if that’s not enough, there is plenty of talk about sexual liberating theories of Dr. Wilhelm Reich.
This is a wild film. As an exercise in montage, WR — Msyteries of the Organism is moving experience with an almost mysterious ability to conjure up a variety of emotions. Many words come to mind when describing this experience. On one hand, the archival footage of the Nazi party and Joseph Stalin is rather haunting. Such footage is charged with a strong political current, though at times it’s difficult to discern. Not only does the footage seem rare, director Dusan Makavejev’s provides long shots of Stalin speaking in intimate settings that provide the uncanny feeling that we are somehow witnessing private moments in history. Other archival footage seems to be less focused, as when Makavejev juxtaposes disturbing footage of people being lobotomized and being violently massaged to induce orgasms. These images become all the more disturbing as Makavejev often overlays them with sounds of hysterical screams of unbearable suffering. The sense of tragedy, though highly unsettling, is hypnotic in its ability to capture our attention.
The difficulty in watching this film is that the underlying political intent is not always clear. And even when it appears that the message is clear, it is so outlandish that we become distracted by truly shocking content. For instance, one of the film’s messages is that communism’s purity was destroyed by the repressed sexual mores of the West, a Reich theory that links sexual freedom to political and economic freedom. In one scene, a woman manually arouses a man in order to create a cast of his erect penis. In another scene, a man strokes a rifle in ways that are clearly suggestive. But what do these individual moments mean? It seems likely that the film is meant to be viewed as a complicated view communist movement and its relationship to sexual freedom. In this way, a truly experimental approach seems best suited to fit the material. I’m not sure I understand all of its layers and intentions, but it is clear that Makavejev is demanding our attention. For the most part, he succeeds.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Ebert’s orginal review of this film does a great job establishing how offensive this film was to everyone. As he says, “In the East, it was banned because it might offend the Russians. In the West, followers of Wilhelm Reich charged that Makavejev had cannibalized the work of that late persecuted genius. In England, they thought the film was pornographic. And so on.” I am also in agreement that Makavejev’s forte was his ability to work in collage, juxtaposing images that appeared totally unrelated. This is definitely an ideological juggling act, and one that does a good job in the process of showing us how absurd many things can be when viewed in a certain light. In Ebert’s second review of this film in 2007, he provides more background to the career of Makavejev, comparing him to the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Russ Meyer in the unmistakable uniqueness of their films. And I appreciate learning also about critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who spoke of Makavejev’s method as “materials in collision; combining documentary, fiction, found footage, direct narration and patriotic music in ways that are startling and puzzling.” Ebert closes his review by reminding us that calling this film “great” was sure to offend some, and it did. Though I don’t consider it a great film, I consider it one of high historical importance.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: Good
Do you like WR: Mysteries of the Organism? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: The Lady Eve
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Dusan Makavejev’s WR — Mysteries of the Organism this week, he now has 319 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.