• WR: Mysteries Of The Organism

    Released by: Criterion Collection
    Released on: 6-19-2007
    Director: Dusan Makavejev
    Cast: Milena Dravic, Ivica Vidovic, Jagoda Kaloper, Jackie Curtis, Tuli Kupferberg, Miodrag Andric
    Year: 1971

    The Movie:

    Croatian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev’s Wilhelm Reich inspired WR: Mysteries Of The Organism takes the philosopher’s ideas – primarily that orgasms are good for your health, that fascism is a result of sexual repression and that the libido regulates the flow of mankind’s sexual energy – and puts many of those idea up on screen. While Reich originally rose to prominence working alongside Sigmund Freud, as the political landscape of Europe changed in the thirties and into the forties, his theories and thesis’ would become increasingly political. If you’ve seen Makavejev’s better known Sweet Movie, you’ll know that sex and politics are right up the director’s alley.

    The plot of the film, such as it is, mixes up footage of a singular running plot which follows two beautiful young Yugoslavian girls, one a political activist and the other a sex maniac, who get mixed up in a love affair with a Russian visiting their country to compete as a skater who just so happens to have never had an orgasm. From there, the film intercuts archival footage of Wilhelm Reich and clips showing various sexual deviants and artistic types (including Warholian hanger-oner Jackie Curtis) hanging out around the core of Manhattan, including an interesting bit involving SCREW magazine. It also interjects bits with Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs dressed as a soldier who strokes his rifle in masturbatory fashion and a scene in which an artist named Nancy Godfrey makes a plaster cast of Jim Buckley’s fully erect penis.

    WR: Mysteries Of The Organism was banned in Yugoslavia shortly after it was made and the director stayed out of his homeland for quite some time afterwards. The film also caused quite an uproar when it played in the United States and in England as well, and it seems that a lot of what Makavejev was trying to communicate was simply lost on an audience either unfamiliar with Reich’s theories (and therefore unable to understand the way Makavejev mixed up sex and politics in this picture) or just unwilling to accept that there may be any validity to them. Underneath the sex and violence that is absolutely put into the film with the intention of shocking and titillating, however, is a pretty earnest message about the dangers of fascism and sexual hang ups and how the two relate. If you don’t hold Reich’s theories in any sort of regard, you probably won’t agree with the points that it tries to make and it’s probably really not quite as simple as saying ‘the world would be a much happier place if everyone got laid as often as they’d like’ but even the most puritanical right wing pundit has to agree that a healthy sex life has it’s pros.

    More importantly, the film also possesses a rich sense of humor. There’s a playfulness to its explicitness that ensures (if we’re paying attention, at least) that we see the lighter side of the plights Makavejev points out. He’s poking fun at the Soviet’s because they don’t see the humor in things and he’s poking fun at the American’s because they’re too damn prurient when it comes to sex for their own good. He does so with some rather abstract and almost surrealist moments, but the comedy is there and the movie is a fascinating mix of pseudo-documentary, comedy, commentary, allegory and a celebration of human sexuality.


    Criterion’s 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a good one. Properly flagged for progressive scan playback, the image quality is strong throughout. There’s a bit of mild print damage and some shots look grainier than others but colors are strong without looking artificially boosted and detail levels are very good. Black levels are good and while skin tones have been intentionally played with a bit here and there, sharpness and contrast look dead on. There aren’t any problems at all with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or aliasing and the transfer probably looks as good as the elements could realistically allow for.

    The audio quality of the Dolby Digital Mono track is fine. Some scenes are spoken rather softly but not to the point where it’s really a detriment. Dialogue is generally quite well balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and generally things sound just fine here, the score in particular has some nice resonance to it.

    The first extra is a commentary track in which actor Daniel Stewart reads excerpts from Raymond Durgnat’s 1999 book on this film which confirms in no uncertain terms the effect that Stalinist politics has had on Makavejev’s picture. It also explains many of Reich’s theories and how they clash with the fascist politics that Makavejev is lashing out against here and in some of his other films. There’s the standard biographical information interspersed here, which helps us to understand Makavejev’s position on things a bit better, but this track is at its best when its dissecting the many layers of the picture, which it does frequently and with refreshing honesty.

    From there we move on to a pair of interviews with Makavejev, the first shot in 1972 for Danish television is a twenty-eight minute segment in which the director speaks, in English, about how he worked Reich’s ideas into this picture. The commentary covers a fair bit of the same ground but it’s interesting here to get to hear Makavejev explain things in his own words. The second interview is a twenty-nine minute interview shot in 2006 where Peter Cowie basically interviews Makavejev about his film. This provides a retrospective look back at the film, its history, and its influence and it allows its creator to look back on it from a more modern perspective.

    The disc also includes two BBC related extras, the first of which is a five minute bit with Cowie and Makavejev in which they discuss how the BBC requested that the director make an ’improved version’ of the film for broadcast – clips with digital censoring show how ridiculous it would be to try to make this film fit into that sanitized mold. The second BBC related extra is a documentary that Makavejev produced in 1994 called Hole In The Soul, which is a strange fifty-two minute autobiographical piece which he narrates. It’s interesting in that it covers some of the controversy he’s found himself wrapped up in over the years and uses pertinent clips to explain some of these issues.

    Also included inside the keepcase is a full color booklet containing disc and film credits as well as an enlightening essay from Jonathan Rosenbaum entitled WR, Sex And The Art Of Radical Juxtaposition which sheds some welcome contextual information on many of the film’s themes and ideas.

    The Final Word:

    Criterion has provided an exceptional package for a truly unique piece of work. As thought provoking and incredibly well made as WR: Mysteries Of The Organism is, it’s certainly not a film for everyone but those with an interest in the correlation of sex and politics as they relate to artistic expression and personal freedom will certainly appreciate Dusan Makavejev efforts and this extras laden DVD is the right way to do that.