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Dusan Makavejev: WR - Mysteries of the Organism

WR: Mysteries of the Organism
Director, Producer, Screenwriter: Dusan Makavejev, 1971

Stars: Miodrag Andric, Jim Buckley, Jackie Curtis, Betty Dodson, Milena Dravic, Nancy Godfrey, Dragoljub Ivkov, Milan Jelic, Jagoda Kaloper, Tuli Kupferberg, Zivka Matic, Nikola Milic, Zoran Radmilovic, Wilhelm Reich, Ivica Vidovic

 Review by Tito-8 North Bay, Ontario

Summary: Weird, dull

This HIGHLY unusual film is pretty boring stuff, and aside from the occasional interesting scene, this really is a chore to watch all the way through. I must confess that I know nothing about the theories of Wilhelm Reich, but here's hoping that his thoughts were much more interesting than the jumbled mess that is depicted here. I suppose it might be watchable enough for people who are familiar with Reich, but if you aren't, then I strongly urge you to avoid this film

 Review by GARY MORRIS

Makavejev’s most famous film is WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1968-1971), and while some critics – notably Robin Wood – have argued that here the director’s collage approach has finally gone out of control, the match of subject and director is ideal. The "WR" of the title refers to Wilhelm Reich, the controversial psychologist and philosopher whose "orgone box" alleged to cure cancer and other diseases landed him in a Pennsylvania prison, where he died in 1958. Reich was, like Makavejev, an unapologetic liberationist, disgusted by both communism’s hatred of creativity and capitalism’s idolatry of consumerism. For both men, to quote Reich as quoted in the film, "Fascism is the frenzy of sexual cripples." Makavejev’s paean to Reich is a kaleidoscope of constructs and effects, a wild mélange that’s variously a heartfelt tribute to a martyred pioneer, a screed against war and more personal brutalities, a satire of communism, and a plea for liberation on all levels. Shot in both Yugoslavia and the United States, WR includes a rich sampling of Reich quotes, a bit of footage of Reich and his wife, interviews with family members, devotees, and Maine locals who knew him as an okay guy who was slightly eccentric. His influence is indicated in voiceover quotes from both Reich and Makavejev ("Comrade-lovers, for your health’s sake, fuck freely!"), scenes of a bioenergetic workshop in New York, a penis plaster cast being made, and a rare sighting of one of the (then) "ten or fifteen orgone boxes left in the country."

The film is a crazy quilt of visual quotes, ranging from the ironic hagiography of an old Russian melodrama about Stalin to the grisly horror of Nazi medical footage of electroshock therapy. WR’s weapons against these atrocities are whimsy, satire, and sex. He skewers war in the person of poet Tuli Kupferberg, seen prancing through the streets of New York in a comic costume holding a fake gun and quietly rattling passersby. Most impressive in this regard is a recurring story of Party faithful Radmilovic (Zoran Radmilovic), Reich enthusiast Milena (Mileana Dravic), and her roommate Jagoda (Jagoda Kaloper). Hilarious indeed are Milena’s arguments with a canny old lady, who dishes the Reichian ideal as practiced by a couple nearby: "To me it’s just a fuckfest!" When her boyfriend Radmilovic upbraids her thus, "Now that you’ve passed a Party course, you snub intimate proletarian friends!" she replies in perfect communist-speak: "That’s a slanderous lie, you irresponsible element!" In a brilliant stroke, when a perfect orgasm leads to Milena’s beheading, she continues to dispense Reichian homilies from the little white pan in which her head sits. Not surprisingly, WR had its share of censorship problems; in fact, Makavejev left the former Yugoslavia in 1971 when the film was banned there.

 Review by jimi99, denver

Summary: the holy grail of orgasmic worship

I have been trying to see this for many years, particularly after I discovered Reich in my reading in the early 80's, read some of his writings as well as a great biography "Fury on Earth". Now our library has it on a new video release, and I have to say it was worth the wait. It is a masterpiece of documentary insight into its subject Wilhelm Reich, of subversive cinema in that it has a great power to undermine the beliefs of the viewers/participators, and of classical comedy and drama as embodied (good choice of words) in the "fictional movie" within the documentary. Occasionally punctuated by the wild and crazy NY poet/musician Tuli Kupferberg roaming the streets of Manhattan in full battle array and carrying an M-16 (I don't think they could get away with that these days, unless they had a Mr. De Niro in the cast.) Yes, it is blatant hippie/yippie revolutionary zeitgeist of 1968-1971, which was very much fueled by the father of the sexual revolution, Dr. Reich, who had died in 1957 in jail for not answering a subpoena to defend his claims of cancer cures. He said he would be judged by scientists but not by lawyers. Inasmuch as he was the only individual to have his books burned by both Hitler and the US government (FDA), his story and his philosophy should be more widely known, but of course he is still suppressed by some of the powers that be. The erotic content of "WR" is tame in the face of today's hardcore but all the more effective for it, in that Reich condemned pornography but glorified healthy sexuality above all else. And for those "doves" that still populate the earth by the millions or billions, the words and deeds of the good Dr. Reich, who was exiled by Hitler and then Stalin (who is shown in this documentary in some amazing pseudo-heroic films he had made of himself,) still resonate. As do the words of Tuli Kupferberg and his band The Fugs, on the soundtrack: "Kill, kill, kill for peace...Near or far or very middle East..."


 Review Christopher Null

Those familiar with Dusan Makavejev's work will not likely wonder why WR: Mysteries of the Organism features an opening shot of a trio of people playing with a yellow egg yolk, but rather will wonder why they aren't naked.

Makavejev's defining work is one of eerily appropriate juxtapositions, fact and fiction, old footage and new. Ostensibly a documentary about psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich (the WR of the title), the film begins with a roughly half-hour discussion of Reich's theories. As Freud's first assistant, Reich was fascinated with sex and sexual politics, and he pioneered theories regarding the "orgone," a kind of cosmic energy with healing and sexually-charging powers. Reich's family, friends, and acquaintances are interviewed, with his far-out theories and therapies displayed for the viewer, as well as a chronicling of his rapid fall from grace, which culminated in the destruction of his work by the FDA in a late 1950s book-burning.

But just when you get comfy with the fascinating treatise on Reich come a litany of other films and stories intercut with the documentary. There is the American poet Tuli Kupferberg, running around the streets of a city in military regalia, narrated by his poetry. There is the androgynous Jackie Curtis, one of Warhol's crew, waxing about sex. There are excerpts from a Soviet propaganda film, starring Stalin. And there is the editor of Screw magazine, having his member cast in plaster.

While all of the above feature documentary footage, a sixth(!) story – a work of fiction – surrounds them all. In this story, a Yugoslavian woman (Milena Dravic) becomes infatuated with a Russian figure skater, all while her roommate holds sex parties in their apartment. Milena preaches the virtues of communism to all who will listen, and soon we see her social politics as an analogy for her sexual ones – and Milena and the skater end up copulating, with disastrous results.

If only WR kept up the interest level of the Reich biography, this might have been a fantastic picture. Too bad that none of the supporting footage nor the fictional tale match the sheer curiousness of Reich's story. Makavejev has certainly gone out of his way to make WR stick together, each of his fragments working together to tell a story bigger than the sum of its parts. The narrative's communist theme turns into one of sex; Reich's sexual research results in a fascist destruction of his work. If only it worked that way in practice – WR's supporting bits just don't have the punch they need, and that drags the film down. Kupferberg's raving lunacy serves as counterpoint to nothing. Curtis's whining about sex comes across as, well, whining about sex.

In the end, WR (originally rated X) should be noted for having a great first third, when Reich is the focus. After that, Makavejev's slip-slide into madness becomes ever more obvious.

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