#548 W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (W.R.: Misterije Organizma) (1971)

“Death to Male Fascism.”

WR Mysteries of the Organism is a fascinating 1971 film from Serbian director Dušan Makavejev. Originally screened at Cannes in 1971, the film was banned in its origin country of Yugoslavia for quite some time, be it for its depiction of unsimulated sex or its direct criticism of the Soviet Communism and its leadership. It is an unusual film, namely for its lack of any direct line of narrative – at the beginning it is a strange prose poem, then an arthouse egg thing, and then a documentary on Wilhelm Reich, and a fictional story about a woman’s fight to liberate Yugoslavia’s sexuality. The strange piece mirrors the genius I have seen in other arthouse poem films of the era such as Věra Chytilová’s 1966 Sedmikrásky. The film is a political statement as much as it is a work of art, and it is the brazen and constant use of irony, contrast, and the changing of form that allows this piece to be anything but a narrative and everything more of a commentary on who is free, imperialism, the unwritten laws of sexuality that need to be banished, the war in Vietnam, and the true definitive measure of what the goals of communism truly are rather than what the cult of personality projects on it. 

My favorite aspect of this beautiful film lies entirely in the Wilhelm Reich portions. I have been obsessed with the man as much as I am sure much like Makavejev was. The experience watching Peter Reich (book of Dreams) and Myron Sharaf (Fury on Earth), authors of two of my favorite books on the man interviewed in the flesh, was truly incredible. The format of the documentary and stock portions – the nonfiction portions – was a glimpse into the small town of Rangeley Maine and its citizens, reflecting a time and place lost to history. The same could be said about the footage of Soviet Russia and Yugoslavia, as well as the horrific conditions in the asylums of the era. Tuli Kupferberg (the army guy, and lead singer of The Fugs) rooting around New York contrasted with Jackie Curtis, Betty Dodson, and Nancy Godfrey offers a glimpse into the movement of free sexuality and representation in a world bent on destroying those of us who do not fit the mold (somewhat less metaphorically than one would expect through Makavejev’s lens).   

An incredible piece that, while presenting a wide variety of contrasting ideas, images, fiction, nonfiction, and filmmaking styles. I have seen very little else with the bizarre, disjointed efficacy of this incredible piece. It could only have arrived from the free-form anti-establishment era that all Soviet Eastern Europeans were experimenting with as the dark night of mid-century communism began to wind down. This film, like the other works of the time, is singular in its artistic free expression. 

I watched this film on Criterion DVD, Spine #389.

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