Dir. by Dusan Makavejev - 1 hr. 24 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
Sometimes, I'm just in the mood for a supremely weird movie, and as I learned from "Sweet Movie," anything from director Dusan Makavejev is a sure bet in that regard. "W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism" is the movie that immediately preceded "Sweet Movie," and it's definitely work from the same mind. Part of that is that there's only a minimal attempt at continuity (at least in a traditional sense), part of it is including Yugoslavian content (yeah, I know that's not one country any more), but it's more or less that once you've seen something by Makavejev, it's unlikely you'd confuse his work with anyone else's, even other directors who incorporate surrealist streaks.
So, talking about the "plot" of "WR" isn't necessarily going to be entirely useful. This is an episodic movie that blends documentary footage and plots with fiction plots. The basis of "WR" is Wilhelm Reich's work (just follow the wikilink if you want to know more), which he explored after fleeing the Nazis and Europe, settling in the United States. His work supposed that orgasms were the basis of life energy, and tried to build a unified theory of life and health around that. The fiction segments basically follow Milena (Milena Dravic) and her attempt to seduce a Russian figure skater, Vladimir Ilyich (Ivica Vidovic), as well as her public rabble-rousing about the importance of sex, both in people's everyday life and as a cornerstone to successful public policy. Also, there are threads involving Tuli Kupferberg (of The Fugs fame), Jackie Curtis (a Warhol cohort), and footage of Joseph Stalin, among others.
Where to begin? One of the things that really endeared this film to me is that there was a point to it. It's somewhat unusual to blend nonfiction and fiction into a cohesive narrative (and I'm not saying the narrative was entirely cohesive, just that it did all build to the same point, even if the different segments seemed unrelated by anything other than theme). But the narrative was generally about Reich's ideas about the orgasm's importance (a narrator informs us at one point that the average person has about four thousand of them over the course of their life), and that neuroses arise from thwarting that impulse. It doesn't matter whether or not you or I buy into that, what matters is that the film states it's purpose, explores the matter at hand, and then presents a fictional exploration of the confrontation between the need for sexual gratification and the Soviet Communist movement's suppression of that need.
Another positive point to "WR": I've got at least half a dozen tabs open in my browser, just to properly explain any of the stuff that's in the film. This is the sort of piece of art that dangles threads in front of you, hoping that you'll choose to further explore at least one or two of them. That's somewhat obscured by the surreal and shocking scenes in the film, but those are to be expected (and welcomed; that's kind of the point of watching a film in this vein). The impact of some of the scenes in the film have been dulled by time (in particular, Jackie Curtis talking frankly about his relationship with another guy, including talk of gay marriage, was less shocking than it might have once been). Part of that is that the internet has made footage of people engaged in coitus depressingly pedestrian and common. So seeing two (or more) people going at it isn't as titillating as it could be. On the other hand, there's lack of self-awareness, rock-hard abs, and southern hemisphere grooming habits, and the presence of a sense of playfulness and joy in most of these scenes that make them fun to watch (like an invitation to enjoy yourself, versus someone yelling at you to get off right fucking now). Maybe you've wondered exactly how a plaster caster goes about the business of making such a cast; this movie will solve that riddle.
There wasn't really that much that I didn't like about "WR." Sure, it's a ragged, crass, graphic film, but that's why I wanted to watch it in the first place. Those are it's positive points. Ultimately, I can see why the Communist approach to lovemaking was of importance to a director from a country surrounded by the Eastern Bloc, but I don't place the same amount of importance on that dilemma as Makavejev does. So that material was watchable, but not compelling to me, which means that I wasn't spellbound by a lot of the second half of "WR." But I can't hate a film that has Tuli from the Fugs jerking off a rifle; that's timeless and hilarious.
3 / 5 - Streaming