Monday, January 29, 2007

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism * Dusan Makavejev * 1971

This film is somewhat of a collage, defying category. Makavejev weaves together various elements, consisting of a documentary about psychoanalyst and founder of orgone energy Wilhelm Reich, a narrative film about two Yugoslavian women and their love affairs, one of whom courts a Russian ice skater who, after achieving his first massive orgasm, beheads her with the blade of his skate, a Soviet propaganda film about Stalin, and various shots of transvestites, protesters, artists and other 1970s New York weirdos. (The latter footage includes Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs marching around masturbating a toy rifle and artist Nancy Godfrey creating a cast of Screw magazine editor Jim Buckley’s erect penis.)

Prior to the screening of this film, I was entirely unfamiliar with both Reich and orgone energy, which, onscreen, involves people lying with their backs arched, hips gyrating, moaning and screaming out, “No, no, no!” or the occasional “Mama!”—in one scene, a whole room full of people engaging in such activities appears especially bizarre. Reich coined the term in reference to a “universal life energy” with healing and sexual powers that he claimed to have discovered in the 1930s. Unfortunately for him, his theories were wholly rejected by American psychologists, his books burned by the FDA.

The film’s underlying theme seems to explore the relationship between Communist and sexual politics, that if everyone were able or willing to release their orgone energy, much of the world’s political problems would be cured. However, this is a somewhat loosely laid out argument, the various components of the film not forming a clear-cut whole, but rather an insane hodgepodge. I was more engaged by the first half hour or so, when it appeared to simply be a straight documentary about Wilhelm Reich. Not to say that I disliked the rest of it, though I can’t say I’m certain as to what to make of it. The film was originally rated X, though I’d disagree with that evaluation—there are a number of sexually explicit scenes, but it isn’t exactly pornography. This did not, however, stop the middle-aged couple seated next to me from leaving in a huff mid-screening. Really, what did they think they were getting themselves into?

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