Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Makavejev. 1971) *Perfect Film

"Comrade lovers, for your health's sake, fuck freely!"

I honestly have no idea how I am supposed to feel about WR: Mysteries of the Organism. It is a movie unlike anything that I have ever seen before. Though it certainly has dramatic moments, I think it is supposed to be a comedy. Do not quote me on that. I first came across the film while reading Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies”. The review does not say much about the film itself, but rather Ebert decided to focus mostly on the ideas of the man behind that movie –the inflammatory Dusan Makavejev. I sort of wish that he had done a better job at warning me about what I was going to put myself through.

One of the most unusual cinematic experiences of my life has now passed, and I am forced to admit that the movie may have been beyond my personal comprehension. I could tell that it was going to be different from the start, but WR was really something else entirely. It starts as a comedic and satirically toned documentary about a communist – turned American - doctor named Wilhelm Reich.

Here we have one of the most bizarre men in the history of medicine. He started as an assistant to Sigmund Freud in the 20s, but eventually became far too radical to work in the mainstream. Reich became a major proponent of adolescent sex, abortion, masturbation and divorce. The real controversies started when he began breaking the rules of psychoanalysis by physically touching his patients. He said he had discovered a cosmic wavelength caused by human orgasm that could be the cure for many health problems. He sat his patients in “energy accumulators”, refrigerator sized boxes with wooden exterior and metal interior, so that they could be fully surrounded by the healing power.

The FDA was made extremely uncomfortable by these “cancer curing sex-boxes” and made the interstate transport of the product illegal. I mean, we do live in the United States, a place where sex is only allowed to be seen as a means to procreate. God forbid we investigate the true power behind the human orgasm. I am not saying I believe that it worked, but it is an interesting thought that was needlessly shut down by idiotic suits. Reich was put in prison for continuing to sell his accumulators. He died there a year later from heart failure.

So that is the beginning of WR: Mysteries of the Organism. It is a pretty neat, but unspectacular, documentary about a weirdo. After a while, the film switched gears toward something more political. This switch in subject matter is so fast and unexpected that I did not even realize it had turned into a fiction movie. Two female roommates in Yugoslavia are the subjects in the new story. One of them is a frequently naked sexpot; the other, Melina, is a more radical thinker – maybe even a political or sexual theorist. The sexpot is introduced in a wild sex scene that rivals anything that I have seen in movies. I am not convinced that the sex was “movie magic” and not the real thing. I do not know for sure, but it looked like sex to me.

Melina meets a Russian figure skater and communist named Vladimir to whom she is wildly attracted. After hearing about his feelings toward communism, sex and life in general, Melina supplies him with the most powerful thing in the universe, the orgasm. He is unappreciative, I guess, because afterwards he slices off her head with his ice skate. Why not?

The disembodied head lives on and shares more opinions on life and fascism before quick cutting to scenes of Lenin giving a political speech. The film ends with the head looking directly into the camera with a strange smile that fades into a picture of a smiling Reich. WR never stops to explain itself. You are either in on the joke, or you aren’t meant to understand.

While all of this is happening, there is sub-action that is worth mentioning. In one non-fiction scene, a man gets his penis plaster casted. This could be the most graphic shot of a penis I have seen in a non-pornographic movie. There is also a transvestite who willingly shares his/her first encounter with homosexual sex. That particular scene was very difficult to get through. I am not homophobic in the least, but the moment seemed too personal to be on film.

All of this happens with more actual documentary footage being shown between scenes. The pace of the film is frantic, but the humor is sardonic. I do not think that Makavejev is taking Reich very seriously. It seems to be a comedy, and it works on that level. Everything is swimming in its own ridiculousness. This makes it almost impossible to look away from the screen.

Of course, movies like WR: Mysteries of the Organism do not come without controversy. The film was initially banned in Yugoslavia and deemed pornographic in other parts of the world. It was actually banned from being entered in several competitive worldly film festivals. In one of the most outright examples of censorship in American history, Reich’s novels and essays were burned by the FDA in order to avoid the spreading of his ideas. Maybe that was what censorship bodies were trying to accomplish when banning a movie that is partly about his work. When asked about the controversy, Makavejev responded by saying his film is like a mirror. "People hold it up to themselves and see reflected only what they are most offended by”. Either way, it has gone on to gather acclaim by being named to the 1077, Ebert’s “Great Movies” and it was re-mastered beautifully by the Criterion Collection. You can’t ever keep a message down forever.

I know that I am going out on a limb here, but I am going to go ahead and put WR: Mysteries of the Organism on my sub-list, Jake’s 10 Perfect Movies. I am not doing this because it is all that good, but rather because it is one of the most original, strange and unusual movies maybe ever made. I will remember seeing this forever. Some of the political jargon may be lost on me, but Makavejev undoubtedly made a statement. Now if I could just figure out what it was….=/

WR: Mysteries of the Organism: A+

Jake's 10 Perfect Movies

10. Pulp Fiction
9. No Country for Old Men
8. Suspiria
7. WR: Mysteries of the Organism

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