W.R. – Misterije Organizma

W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism
Dušan Makavejev
Yugoslavia, Federal Republic of Germany 1971

22.02.2020 11:00 Eng. subtitles Akademie der Künste
25.02.2020 22:30 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1

35 mm, 84 min. English, Serbo-Croatian.

W.R. – Misterje Organizma is four (or even more) films in one: Dušan Makavejev’s documentary take on the USA; an educational film about Wilhelm Reich; a feature film about Milena, a Yugoslavian Marxist who calls for free love in the spirit of communism; and an essay on exactly that – the relationship between communism and sexuality. This relationship – spirit and matter – is given cinematic shape, driving both mind and body between analytic-satirical editing and sensuous excesses of colour and form. The many strands of the film come together in a deliberately bewildering, overwrought montage that would rather spin a brightly coloured tangle of images, excesses, jokes and shock moments than follow any one thread consistently. “Beneath the film’s light-hearted frivolity and marvellous humour lurks a more serious ideological intent: opposition to all oppressive social systems”. (Amos Vogel) It is likely not just Milena’s fiery castigation of Stalinism that earned W.R. – Misterje Organizma a 16-year ban in Yugoslavia. (ab)

Dušan Makavejev was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (current Serbia) in 1932. He studied psychology and film directing. After numerous short films, he directed his first feature film Čovek nije tica in 1965. Many of his subsequent works belong to the Yugoslavian movement “Novi Film” (aka “Black Wave”). Several of his films were censored because of their political and sexual themes. In 1970, Makavejev was a member of the international jury of the Berlinale. In 1973, he left Yugoslavia and subsequently taught at various universities in the USA. He died in 2019.

Wisdom from the east

The surprise of the Festival (and that’s too mild a way of putting it) has been the Yugoslav director Dušan Makavejev’s W.R. – THE MYSTERIES OF ORGANISM. So far, thanks to the New Cinema Club, Makavejev has been known in England for three films: his first feature title, A MAN IS NOT A BIRD, the censor-ridden The SWITCHBOARD-OPERATOR, and INNOCENCE UNPROTECTED, in which he trained the steps of an amiable execrable film made during one year, as a gesture of patriotism, by a professional strong man. Like Innocence Unprotected, his new film creates its own unique genre. It starts off as a free documentary about Wilhelm Reich, the psychologist, whose often scatty but always humane theories of the cosmic role of orgasmic energy caused him to end his life in an American prison.
From this the film launches into an extraordinary visual extravaganza of poetic connections – the sort of thing that Eisenstein calls “a montage of attractions” but which Makavejev prefers to describe as “a political circus.” He associates the most disparate elements – scenes of Reichian therapy; a hippie stalking the streets of New York in the guise of a GI; Joe Stalin as personified by the actor Michael Gelovani at the peak of the personality cult; two pretty Yugoslav girls actively propagating the ideal of copulation for Communism; a film of mad folk, made under Hitler to justify the practice of euthanasia.
All this is assembled, set in motion, forced into startling collisions in support of the Reich-Makavejev theory that cruelty, violence, inhumanity, political totalitarianism can be directly equated with sexual impotence and frustration. It charges on to surreality. Actuality material shot in the U.S.A. records a Priapian celebration as Jim Buckley, the editor of “Screw Magazine”, has his sexual member cast in plaster, at the same time as one of the Yugoslav heroines is attempting to seduce a Soviet ice skating champion all Stalinist pink plastic heroism and virginity.
(…) This, without doubt, has been the film of the Cannes 1971 Festival; and I am not the only one who has gone to each of its four screenings, just to be reassured that there is no illusion about Makavejev’s talent. Not that he is likely to receive any more gratitude than did Reich from censors of right and left, east and west; but he has certainly put the Yugoslav cinema firmly on the map.  

(David Robinson, Financial Times, London, 26.05.1971)

In the footstep of the master

As it entered its second week, the Cannes Film Festival, which has not been prodigal in revelations, was given a salutary jolt by a film with the not very forthcoming title of W.R. – THE MYSTERIES OF ORGANISM. This of course everyone promptly misread as “orgasm”, which as it turns out is not so far off the mark: Dušan Makavejev, maker of Switchboard Operator and Innocence Unprotected, takes as his starting point this time the career and eccentric theories of Wilhelm Reich, who saw full sexual enjoyment as the true point and expression of Communism and, later in America, announced that cancer, among other ailments, could be cured by conserving sexual energies in his orgone box. (…)  The result of this bizarre combination of ideas is riotously funny and at the same time strangely disturbing. The film can be read in at least half a dozen ways: as a political satire (Makavejev's manipulation of film documents, particularly Chinese newsreels and unbelievable extracts from an old Russian fiction film deifying Stalin, is absolutely brilliant), an essay in applied sexology, a subjective autobiography, a pop-art collage, a story, a documentary…

(John Russell Taylor, The Times, London, 25.05.1971, Infoblatt No. 22, 1. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, Berlin 1971)

Production companies Neoplanta (Novi Sad, Yugoslavia), Telepool (München, Federal Republic of Germany). Written and directed by Dušan Makavejev. Cinematography Aleksandar Petković, Predrag Popović. Editing Ivanka Vukasović. Music Bojana Makavejev. With Milena Dravić (Milena), Jagoda Kaloper (Jagoda), Ivica Vidović (Vladimir Iljić), Tuli Kupferberg (US-Soldat), Zoran Radmilović (Radmilović), Miodrag Andrić (Soldat), Zivka Matić (Landlady), Dragoljub Ivkov, Nikola Milić, Milan Jelić, Betty Dodson, Jim Buckley, Nancy Goldrey, Jackie Curtis.

Films

1955: Pečat / The Seal (5 min.). 1957: Antonijevorazbi-jeno ogledalo (5 min.). 1958: Spomenicima ne treba verovati / I Don’t Believe in Monuments (4 min.), Slikovnica pčelava / Beekeeper’s Scrapbook (9 min.), Prokleti praznik / Damned Holiday (10 min.), Kosnice pune smijeka (8 min.), Boje sanjaju / Colors Are Dreaming (8 min.). 1959: Sto je radnicki savjet? / What Is a Workers Council? (11 min.). 1961: Pedagoska bajka (11 min.), Eci, pec, pec (10 min.), Osmjek 61 / Smile 61 (15 min.). 1962: Ljepotica 62 / Miss Beauty 62 (14 min.), Film o knjizi A.B.C. / About a Book (14 min.), Parada (11 min.), Dole plotovi / Down With the Fences (11 min.). 1964: Nova doma-ca životinj / New Domestic Animal (10 min.), Nova igračka / New Toy (15 min.). 1965: Čovek nije tica / Man Is Not a Bird / Der Mensch ist kein Vogel (81 min.). 1967: Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice / Love Affair / Ein Liebesfall (76 min., Retrospective 2002). 1968: Nevinost bez zaštite / Innocence Unprotected / Unschuld ohne Schutz (75 min., Competition 1968). 1974: Sweet Movie (98 min.). 1981: Montenegro / Die Ballade von Lucy Jordan (96 min.). 1985: The Coca-Cola Kid / Coca Cola Kid (98 min.). 1988: Manifesto (96 min.). 1993: Gorilla Bathes at Noon (83 min., Competition (out of competition) 1993). 1994: Rupa u duši / Hole in the Soul, autobiographical documentary (52 min.). 1996: Danske piger viser alt / Danish Girls Show Everything (93 min.).