WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

May 5th, 2010

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

Criterion Collection #389

I was drawn to this film because I saw director Dušan Makavejev’s short film Man is Not a Bird years ago and recall appreciating it, I know a little Serbo-Croatian (spoken in the director’s homeland, Yugoslavia), and I’m someone who wishes we lived in some sort of free love utopia, though it seems love is a little too complicated for all that. So when I heard a Makavejev film about sexual liberation was making it to the Criterion Collection, one so provocative that it was banned in and got him exiled from Yugoslavia, I was on board. But I’m still wondering what the hell I watched.

The movie starts off with an introduction to the real-life figure Dr. Wilhelm Reich (the “WR” of the title), a colleague of Freud who went on his own and eventually claimed he had discovered a primordial power pulsing through the cosmos (called “orgone energy”) that was the source of the human orgasm, or . . . something. I’d actually heard of Reich and his work before, but it never made a lick of sense to me. And while the charges of pseudo-science and false medical claims leveled by the FDA (once Reich fled Europe for America) were probably well-founded, the lengths the supposed regulatory agency went to suppress the man were extreme–even going so far as to incinerate much of his literature. Even if Reich was dead wrong, which I suspect he was, burning books has no place in THE FREE-EST COUNTRY ON EARTH™. While Reich was persecuted in Europe, let us not forget that it was America that destroyed his work and threw him in prison (where he later died). In the film, Reich’s widow says without hesitation, “The American dream is dead.” Right on, sister.


Looking for orgones. No, really.

Anyway, then the movie goes on to something completely different, and it’s unclear whether Makavejev really believes in orgones and whatnot or just likes the message of sexual exploration. Probably the latter. In an interview on the DVD, Makavejev says something to the effect that he just wanted the audience to be aware of the subject and hopefully they would research it later. I hate it when movies do that.

The rest of the film jumps back and forth between a fictional scenario in Yugoslavia and documentary-style footage from New York, none of which really relates to other parts of the film, or to much of anything. The scenes in Yugoslavia portray a Party woman who makes grand speeches from the balcony of her flat, trying (I think) to persuade her comrades that only sexual liberalization can ultimately fulfill communism’s promise, and between these pronouncements rejects the clumsy advances of a drunken workingman while pursuing a repressed figure skater in Socialism On Ice. The ending to this mini-story is too bizarre to even attempt to explain. The booklet included with the DVD contains an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum which says of this and similar films, “The fact that they came from Communist countries made them much harder for Westerners to place, process, and understand; in most cases, an adequate sense of context was lacking.” Leave it to Criterion for the massive understatement. I’m sorry, but for this dumb Yank, the obscure philosophical schisms that once divided communists are as foreign as anything from ancient history. In the post-Soviet, post-Yugoslavia, corporatist China world, all the communist movements seem like the same dead or dying monster. To even begin to divine a psycho-sexual theory of communism is, to me, like trying to formulate a musical theory about trees.

If you say so.

If you say so.

But I think there was surprise among leftist activists of the 60′s how sexually repressive the communist countries actually were. It didn’t make sense to them, but in my mind, personal and economic freedom are two sides of the same coin, and once a government has authority over one, it inevitably intrudes on the other, since personal and economic freedom are, it turns out, inseparable. Indeed, the Yugoslav authorities thought Makavejev’s free-love inclinations somehow threatened the communist order, and he was forced to flee.

The DVD includes a commentary that at times almost sounds like it’s making a salient point, then devolves into a lot of -isms; I mean, who would have guessed that the scene of a plaster mold being made of a man’s erect penis evokes the post-populist syndicalist-anarchism of the neo-retro-proto-socialists–or whatever, I don’t remember at all. This commentary goes to great lengths to provide a philosophical justification for almost every scene in the film (although even it asks more questions than it answers), but I honestly don’t believe that Makavejev had any sort of plan for most of the American scenes. It just seems like he filmed whatever sort of interesting signs of sexual liberation he could find. Oh, and then filmed a guy in weird soldier’s attire wandering around NYC, for . . . some reason. Vietnam? Sure, why not.

I don't know.

I don't know.

I don’t think every film has to wear everything on its sleeve, and there is occasionally room for obscurity and broad audience interpretation of the material (I am a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, after all), but whatever message or feeling Makavejev was going for is totally lost here, that is, if the whole thing wasn’t simply done for shock value, which seems just as plausible. As a sociopolitical statement in the early 70′s, I’m sure the film carried weight for many (hence its inclusion in the Collection), but as a film standing on its own nearly 40 years later, it leaves a lot to be desired.

It sort of reminds me of Deep Throat: ground-breaking at the time, but now in all honesty is neither a good film nor a good porno (or so I’m told, ahem). Not that WR is attempting to be pornography by any stretch of the imagination, but it performed similar feats by challenging what the artform could be, what could be shown on the screen, and daring the authorities to make a much bigger deal over it than they should (and did).

This is what I assume all Lifetime movies are like.

This is what I assume all Lifetime movies are like.

To make matters worse, the movie is not particularly good-looking. The Yugoslavian scenes are obviously filmed on better stock and have rich colors, which Criterion has done their usual stellar job to clear up, but with few exceptions the shots are pretty unmemorable (quite the opposite from what I recall of Makavejev’s earlier film, Man is Not a Bird). The rest of the movie is grainy documentary-style film, along with even older stock footage.

It’s hard to recommend unless you’re deeply interested in the subject or a foolhardy Criterion completist.

WR is on Roger Ebert’s series Great Movies, though he admits its inclusion may cause some outrage.

Some Changes and News

May 3rd, 2010

See the sidebar for a new page and an updated one (finally filled in the “About” page). I’ve got the first review for the new Idiotic Criterion Challenge on the way, but not sure when that’ll get done as I have to keep it secret from my girlfriend for as long as possible (she doesn’t see the value in it while there are chores to be done, but I told her that I was perfectly capable of finding my own ways of wasting time, thank you very much).

I’ll be doing some editing here shortly, making the primary column wider, mostly, since it is weirdly narrow and a lot of embedded web content is too big. So, you might happen upon some jacked up layouts in the next few days, but no need to worry.

Revolutionary Computer Application

May 3rd, 2010

It’s fast, stable, and universally compatible. What could it be?

(By the way, I like his ideas about what a new operating system should be like.)

Will You be a Special Infected (Again)?

February 26th, 2010

As promised, a Left 4 Dead 2 edition:


The System Works, People

February 26th, 2010

So I was poking around on my web traffic stats, and, surprisingly enough, I was actually getting, like, traffic. A little more than normal, anyway. Turns out the top referrer is a Google image search. So, I did a quick search myself, and my Special Infected pic from some months ago is the third result for the term “special infected”. (For those scratching their heads, it’s a take on a popular zombie shoot-em-up video game called Left 4 Dead.)

I guess maybe it actually pays to generate, what’s that stuff called… oh yeah, content. I was working on a Left 4 Dead 2 version, I’ll have to get back on it.

Necessity as Mother, etc.

January 17th, 2010

Don’t ask me how I found this (and I swear it’s not what you think), but this made for some lulz:


How’s that for a first post of the year?

70-Minute Review of The Phantom Menace

December 30th, 2009

The longest I’ve ever watched anything on YouTube, so needless to say it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Enjoy! (some NSFW-ishness)

Weezer Why Not?

November 17th, 2009

Baseball vs. Football

October 8th, 2009

My momma always said that football was ritualized warfare.

Make You Some Hooch

September 10th, 2009

It’s the American way.