Thursday, May 7, 2009

W.R. - Misterije organizma - Mysteries of the Organism (Dusan Makavejev, 1971)

Not for the faint of heart, this polemical documentary approaches its subject—the relation of sociopolitical structures to human sexuality and psychology—from every possible direction, often randomly and sometimes with absurdist discontinuity. The director prefaces the film with these words (in the English language version): “This film is, in part, a personal response to the life and teachings of Dr. Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957).” The first section of the movie alternates between documentary footage and interviews about Reich, his theories, and the state suppression in the U.S. of his books and ideas. Basically, he argued that the orgasm involved a transfer of energy that was not only pleasurable but necessary for psychological as well as physical health, and he taught that the involvement of society at large or government in regulation of sexuality results in totalitarianism and widespread unhappiness. Reich’s larger theories were soundly repudiated by the majority of psychologists and federal agencies, principally because they involved untested physiological notions and questionable therapeutic practices—the film seems to recognize this at the same time that it portrays the closing down of the Organon movement as a witch-hunt. Later the film shows other physical-psychological regimens—primal scream therapy—that seem pretty much on the same level as the Reichian exercises.

Then the movie begins to add more and more ingredients, including material from the sexual freedom movement of the late 1960s—a ruby-tinted prismatic scene of a bearded young man and a long-haired young woman making love outdoors, interviews with masturbation advocate Betty Dodson, a visit to the office of Screw Magazine, interviews with a glitter-bedecked young transexual, a practical demonstration of the methodology of the Plastercasters, who take molds of erect penises, and so forth. This is mixed with the absurdist political theatre of the period, notably, Tuli Kupferberg prowling around New York wearing a fake military outfit while the Fugs sing “Kill for Peace” in the background.

And all this is connected, somehow, to an exaggerated dramatization of the political-sexual struggle in communist Yugoslavia, where two attractive young women, room-mates, address the stirring question—what is revolution without joy?—each in their own way, the brunette by making love with men, the blonde by lecturing her fellow-workers on the counter-revolutionary nature of sexual repression. She is attracted to a Russian figure skater, a Hero Artist, and tries to join with him in an ideal revolutionary act of making love. He's self-absorbed and creepy, and afterwards he kills her, but she doesn’t seem to mind, singing along with him and smiling from the autopsy table where her severed head has been placed. All through these episodes contrasting fragments of film are intercut, including official Soviet footage and reverential depictions of Stalin, exemplifying the propaganda of totalitarian rule, and then shots of Soviet shock treatments while the glowing words of revolution go on in the soundtrack, to random snippets of western materials. The film ends with a mournful song sung by the hero-murderer, and somehow the tone of the movie has shifted from its earlier stages—curiosity, defiance, joy, anger—to an elegiac mood.

It’s sad that we’ve still learned so little. It strikes me that this movie needs footnotes more than most. It’s dated, firmly stuck in 60s anti-establishment culture. This is both its strength and, because so much happens that depends on allusion and time-bound references, modern audiences just won’t get it.

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