Wednesday, April 23, 2008

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Dusan Makavejev, 1971) [7]
Coming out at the peak of the sexual revolution, it's not much of a surprise that a lot of Mysteries of the Organism feels like a product of ideals of a certain time. Its combination of sex and politics was something was handled with a more revolutionary zeal back in the early 70s than it is today. Makavejev starts his film as a pretty much straightforward biography of Wilhelm Reich, a colleague of Freud who espoused radical views on sexuality and his idea of the orgone. The key points of Reich's philosophy was that suppression of sexual freedom is harmful to mankind and that sex and the orgasm is something to be enjoyed and not ashamed of. Makavejev uses Reich's ideas as a jumping off point to a variety of subjects, from a member of The Fugs roaming New York in a makeshift military get-up, to Warhol denizen Jackie Curtis, to the editor of Screw magazine getting his member encased in plaster. These documentary elements reach into Reich's ideas of freedom and how they could be expressed in the (then) modern world when even all of Reich's work has been banned. The film doesn't really find it's thematic groove until the final sequence, a narrative about two Yugoslavian women, one interested in politics, one in sex. As her friend fools around, Milena (Milena Dravic) complains of how the totalitarian nature of the communist state represses sexual freedom, which in limits true freedom, something they were promised. These scenes are intercut with scenes from a Soviet propaganda film starring Stalin, an example of this forced obedience. Milena woos a Russian skater, Vladimir Illyich, only to have him be unable to deal with his sexual awakening, with tragic consequences. This entire section is really the strongest because it resonates thematically. Makavejev uses Reich's theories as a way to critique the Soviet system, which crushed almost all personal liberties in the name of blind allegiance to the state. Makavejev is not anti-communist but clearly anti-totalitarian. The purpose of the film, rather than an examination of Reich and his views, is to use those ideas to the totalitarian like repression most nations have about sexuality, whether they be communist or democratic. Mysteries of the Organism is a much more relevant political document than a sexual one. It handles its sexual material in a way neither pornographic or vulgar but in a way that actually creates a dialogue other than about sex.

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