mike@projection-booth.com mike@projection-booth.com

August 6, 2013

Episode 126: WR - Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

Special Guest: Lorraine Mortimer

Dušan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism mixes a documentary on psychologist Wilhelm Reich with the World Revolution of the late '60s/early '70s, going from upstate New York to Yugoslavia. We explore Makavejev's WR along with his follow-up, Sweet Movie.

Buy Lorraine Mortimer's Terror & Joy: The Films of Dusan Makavejev
Read an excerpt from Terror and Joy from Senses of Cinema
Buy WR: Mysteries of the Organism on DVD
Buy Sweet Movie on DVD
Listen to Rob St. Mary's interview with Ed Sanders of The Fugs

Listen/Download Now:

"Theme from Sweet Movie" - The Rudy Schwartz Project
"Kill for Peace" - The Fugs



  1. Hey Mike and Rob, Andy from Serbia (former Yugoslavia) here. Big fan of the show.
    I usually use a nickname when commenting (posted on Blade Runner as "The Foreign Viewer" and on Near Dark episode as the more talkative "anonymous" of the two, for example), but since this is a topic close to home, I think full disclosure would be more in order.

    I've never understood American movie buff's, let alone Criterion's, interest in Makavejev, since W.R. is a very 70's experimental film (not unlike a more meaningful Nick Zed film) and Sweet Movie is so up Makavejev's own ass (that's tough love talking), that it's amazing some people actually managed to see the whole thing in one sitting. Then again, WR is, ironically enough, the only movie about Reich and Sweet Movie does feature the late grate mr. Vernon and very cute (and thankfully not late) miss. Lynn, so there's my answer in a way, I guess.

    Sometimes your show covers all the bits and pieces that a movie consists of (as is the case with Fire Walk with Me or The Magnificent Ambersons), but sometimes episodes come up a bit short.

    Now, I know a foreign movie is never easy to cover (although, you two do a pretty good job when it comes to movies from Asia), but I still felt there was more things to cover when it came to this film. For instance, did you try to contact Makavejev himself? He is a bit forgotten now, even in Serbia, and I have no idea if he can speak English well or use Skype, but he is a talkative guy and there's always a chance he'd be willing to talk to foreigners about his work, even if with the help of a translator. And if not, you could always try contacting Eric Roberts to talk about their work on Coca-Cola Kid. Also, I think you should've had a guest on to talk specifically about Reich. While I have little respect for his "science", his life story is more than interesting (not to mention the extreme attempts by the US government to shut him down, as if he was some kind of Heaven's Gate cultist) and even his whacky theories can be fascinating (if silly) stuff to listen about.

    Continued below...

  2. As for your somewhat lackluster analyses of film's history, I can't really blame you on that one. You'd have to explore Yugoslav history, cinema and politics to fully understand how such film was made, and that would probably bore most listeners to tears, and possible even yourselves. Since I'm not trying to come of as a spoiled overtly critical jackass of a listener, I'll add a few things about the movie you may (or may not, I guess) find interesting.

    I grew up in the 90s when the country was falling apart and former communist strongmen were becoming "new" nationalist right-wing strongmen over night. The 1990s brought two things to Yugoslavia - democracy (sort of) and war (which some states were more and some much less involved in). State's censorship was used only against actual political opponents in the 90s, so no one gave two dimes about some old anti-communist experimental movie anymore, so the movie became available on TV (and in mom and pop pirate VHS stores which were opening all over the former Yugoslavia at the time). I first saw it as a kid and, just like 99 percent of people who saw it for the first time, thought - I don't know wtf that was, but hey - boobs! :).

    The thing was that while Yugoslav critics loved the movie (even if they didn't have the balls to admit it due to censorship), Yugoslav people in general saw it as silly fun (at best) or decadent crap (at worst) and no one really cared one way or another about its messages. On the other hand, Makavejev's films were always more for his experimental ilk than for the general audience. Foreigners were confused by the scenes set in Yugoslavia, we were confused by scenes about Reich and America and everyone were confused about phalluses. Only much later did I find out who Reich was and how he ties in to the movie. Once you start cracking movies confusing elements, if becomes less of a LSD mess and more of an allegory about the nature of freedom and politics.

    The lady who talked about Makavejev was about 90% of the time on the mark. Some correction would be that Yugoslav communist government, led by strongman Broz, was not among USSR's puppet governments since 1948. If you made fun of Stalin, no one cared. This film was banned (or more specifically not allowed to be completed) because it featured a few shots of Broz next to Stalin, which the government saw as Makavejev's attempt to equate the bad guy Stalin with the "good guy" Broz. Also, all those phalluses and elements of anarchist ideology didn't help, either. :)

    The movie is trying to give the finger to East and the West through focus on sex. Makavejev point was that true freedom lies in sexual freedoms and that morally conservative communism can therefore never be freedom. He saw Stalin as the head of a mental institution where every citizen was a patient and electric shocks were the norm. Stalin was, just as the nazis, an unnatural force that was trying to control human freedom by every means. On the other hand Broz may not have been a sadist like Stalin, but he was also conservative and sex was just not part of the deal when it came to publicly accepted freedoms in Yugoslavia. US was also not a true freedom because, in Makavejev's opinion, it destroyed truly free people like Reich. In the end, the people were also guilty for the lack of freedoms, since majority of people in Eastern and Western states were conservative when it came to sex at the time (the great irony of this movie that's in connection with that last statement is that only Milena Dravic, a screen queen of Yugoslavia and the most prominent actress in the movie, does not get naked because she herself wasn't too comfortable with on-screen nudity).

    Did I mention French cinema and philosophy was great inspiration for Makavejev and other artists from his generation? :)

    Anyway, I'm done boring you. It's not a bad episode by any means, and if you ever do a show on Sweet Movie, I'm sure you'll do even better. :)

    Concluded below...

  3. by the way
    There's a website that covers all forms of nostalgia (mostly by making fun of the bad nostalgic stuff) called That Guy with the Glasses (Brad "The CinemaSnob" Jones is on it and Josh Headly loves to give them tough love). There's a guy with film and literature degree there who goes by the nickname OanCitizen (something to do with Green Lantern comics, I don't know) who hosts a fun, but very analytical show called Brows Held High where he presents and dissects critically acclaimed and controversial movies, often foreign or experimental.

    He did two episodes on Makavejev,
    Brows Held High: W.R. - Mysteries of the Organism
    and Sweet Movie
    He wasn't too kind to Makavejev, but I like the episodes anyway.

    I'll wrap up this gigantic post with a request. Do Coca-Cola Kid, please! :) Mr. Roberts is always fun to talk to and he may have even more to say about the inner workings of Makavejev than the lady you just had on. And having gorgeous miss. Scacchi can't hurt either. That movie is not great, but it has so much cool little things about it and so much misdirected potential that I'm sure there's an interesting story behind the making of it.

    And if you hate Coca-Cola Kid, then please do Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985). Such fascinating and very little known film would make for a great episode!

  4. Hey Andy -- thanks for the very thoughtful response to our show. Much appreciated.

    Indeed, we tried like mad to contact Mr. Makavejev. No luck with that, alas. Sometimes we talk about who we've tried to speak to, other times not. Just depends on the frustration level most of the time.

    As for Mr. Roberts, I've reached out to him several times in the past and even introduced myself at a local convention to no avail. A shame as I'd love to talk about Runaway Train or La Cucaracha with him some time.

    I think that your comment may be the first time Nick Zedd is mentioned on our site. I sure hope it's the last. ;)

    Apologies for the lackluster coverage of the film. It's such a great movie, it deserves better.

    And, thanks for the recommendation on the other podcast we should check out. Good shows are hard to find, especially shows that cover Makavejev films!

    1. I shoud've known you did your best, when it came to contacting Makavejev. I guess this 1991 interview for an English-speaking show is the closest thing to hearing the guy speak in English https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fblElUBbrA

      I'm really disappointed to hear that about mr. Roberts. Doing Lazy Cat (or whatever that film is called) is a must for him, but talking to a podcast is a "skip". Shame.

      Hey, once you see a Zedd movie, you can never unsee it, so he's always with us, in a way. Like a not-so-cool scar. :)

      And I'm sorry for sounding too critical, since I do love what you guys are doing and I appreciate the work you put into most episodes, even when you end up dumping on something I love (like Lynch's Dune). :)

      As you say, good podcasts are hard to find. So how do you know a show is good? If you can listen to an episode about a film you don't know or care about and still not get bored, or better yet, get interested to find out more about it. And you definitely pass the grade on that one. For example, I'll never see a Coffin Joe movie (for various reasons), but your episode about them was one of the best you've ever done.

      Oh, and thanks for breaking the stereotypes about Detroit.

    2. Oh, and just one more thing. It's too bad that Makavejev is now practically retired, since I'd love to see a W(ilhelm) R(eich): Mysteries of the Orga(ni)sm 2, since the US and European cultures and even Makavejev himself have changed so much since the 1970s that I'm sure his new look on politics of sex, freedom, dictatorship and capitalism would be just as fascinating in a different way. There are so many new appraches to that subject now, good and bad.

    3. The Foreign ViewerAug 4, 2014, 5:03:00 AM

      Hey Mike, The Foreign Viewer aka Andy here again,

      I learned about La Cucaracha while checking out Roberts' imdb page a long time ago, but I couldn't understand what the film was all about from the imdb description and it never got onto my "to watch" list. After you mentioned it here, I decided to give it a shot anyway and it turned out to be an interesting little film. Too bad it wasn't a trilogy (let's say a very VERY indie version of The Man with No Name trilogy). Roberts sells the Walter character very well (as if the role was written specifically for him), the script's conflict of ironic cynical reality vs romantic existentialism set as the theme of the story works very well (if slightly overused) and excellent sound work (especially the atmospheric acoustic guitar music and noises like the shrieking Sun or the metaphorical(?) crickets in the background) and camera work set the tone and the weight of the movie really well. And that cockroach scene in the hospital is squirmtastic. Eric was a real trooper when he agreed to do that one. Good thing PETA doesn't know about this movie. :)

      Anyway, thank you very much for this recommendation. Any fan of Eric's should see this.

      And I sincerely hope that you will get to make the episode about this movie. It's completely forgotten, unfairly so, and it really should get spotlighted by some prominent website/podcast/show like yours.

      I know Eric is a big factor for this movie, but since he's unfortunately unavailable, I think that as long as you're able to get either The Man with the Unique Diction - James McManus who wrote the picture (and who does pretty good job playing the creepy henchman), or the director Jack Perez, you'd still have a very solid show. Maybe even add an expert on Eric's work or festival indie filmmaking in the 90s or an indie western fan/expert.

      Best wishes. :)

  5. I love WR, is such an awesome and playful film. Have you seen Tinto Brass' L'Urlo? Some of its elements, as the use of archive footage, reminded me to WR, though it was made a couple of years before. Is sorta erratic but I would recommend it.

    The first time I watched WR I was sooo fascinated by Makavejev... but then I jumped right into Sweet Movie and then I didn't wanted to watch anything else by him ever again.

    Sweet movie is very problematic for me. I'm going to divide it into two films:
    1.- The Marx sweet love boat story which I adore. I always return to it, rethink it, mention it to friends.
    2.-The central plot, which makes it one of the few films from I would be capable to walk out. Specifically, thanks to the Otto Muehl commune scene. UGH. I cannot explain rationally my reaction to that scene. I like to try my limits and that scene somehow managed to torture me. In THEORY, I get what they're trying to do, but after watching it I always feel so dirty and braindead in a bad way, as it sucked my will to keep living. And I've tried twice!!! On the other hand, Saló is one of my favorite films ever, I love how joyless and dry it is at times and how dissects power (I'm yet to hear your episode about Pasolini. He's one of my favorite filmmakers so I'm sorta anxious about what you're going to say). When I watched Sweet Movie I was expecting something like Dorotheas Rache and then just UGGGGH.

    However after listening to the show I'll surely give a chance to Man is not a Bird and Innocence Unprotected.

  6. I mentioned Salò in the previous comment because in both films body and sexuality are means to discuss forms of power and social structure. The problem is that the commune scenes from Sweet Movie are so disturbing for me (also, they're real, not a frigging chocolate pudding or something ) that I can't create a critical distance and think rationally about it, I'm just repulsed :(
    Sorry if my writing in English is clumsy. Love your show, keep up the good work :)

  7. So glad that you enjoyed La Cucaracha. I had a lot of fun with that one.