DVD Review HTF REVIEW: WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Matt Hough, Jun 9, 2007.

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  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    WR: Mysteries of the Organism
    Directed by Dusan Makavajev

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1971
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    Running Time: 85 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono English/Serbo-Croatian
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $39.98

    Release Date: June 12, 2007
    Review Date: June 9, 2007


    The Film

    3/5

    The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of avant garde filmmaking around the world. Dusan Makavajev made a name for himself in his native Yugoslavia making films which juxtaposed socialist ideas with images from the worlds of science, the arts, erotica, and crime, to name just a few. His international success WR: Mysteries of the Organism was banned in his own country for its satirical blending of Marxian philosophy with a Freudian emphasis on sexual urges both masturbatory and through coupling. Nevertheless, it created a sensation at Cannes and in film festivals and art cinemas around the world. Looking at it through the time tunnel of almost forty years, one sees clearly what the director was attempting while at the same time regretting that time has not been kind to its themes or its methodology.

    Ostensibly an amalgamation of images and thoughts about the mysteries of sexual urges within us all, Makavajev begins his film with a mini-documentary on Austrian Wilhelm Reich, a socialist who paired his beliefs of the socialist ideal with the essential need for the human body to average four thousand orgasms during a lifetime. Reich’s radical ideas on achieving sexual gratification were controversial and eventually led to his arrest in the U.S. in the 1950s and the destroying of his books in our country as late as 1960.

    With Reich’s views as his jumping off point, Makavajev constructs a collage of images containing such sights as hippies practicing free love, Yugoslavs advocating the practice of continuous sex to further the Communist cause, a stoic Stalin depicted gently in various films both real and fictional, candid interviews with Andy Warhol star transvestite Jackie Curtis talking about her sexual experiences, a plaster cast of a man’s erection being fashioned by Screw magazine, and antiwar street performer Tuli Kupferberg protesting (and in one image sexually fondling his machine gun). While the images (and dozens of others featuring less famous individuals) are occasionally fascinating, the satire seems flaccid and the images disconnected sometimes from his theme, placed in the movie just for the sake of a quick shock or merely showing something weird (scientific experiments where long tubes are inserted into a man’s nose, electroshock therapy causing horrendous spasms, a cat resting on garbage pails spilling over with waste).

    Makavajev also intercuts another story within the film, one of Melina Dravic putting Reich’s orgasmic theories to the test with a champion Russian ice skater (Ivica Vidovic). That the theories don’t quite mesh with the proud communist skater is putting it mildly, though again, the images Makavajev constructs are sometimes astonishing, and he even manages to end the film with a musical number “I’m Here, Too” sung by the skater.

    These kinds of 70s grab bags of sexual freedom, political ideologies, and hodgepodge imagery usually don’t stand the test of time, and this one certainly didn’t for me. While the intent of his satire is clear and the themes he’s showing sometimes still resonate with us, his scattershot approach in 1971 simply left me cold in 2007. Today, others might have a far different reaction to the film than I.

    Video Quality

    3.5/5

    The film’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio is presented faithfully in this new DVD transfer. The mixture of very old and new footage makes judging the video quality very difficult indeed, though most of the color film shot in 1971 appears here reasonably sharp and in pretty good shape. There are some scratches with this material, however, but the color is accurate and small object detail reasonably acceptable. Some of the old footage, of course, is practically unwatchable while other clips vary with the amount of grain present and the detail to be found. Subtitles when they occur (the film is partly in English) are easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.

    Audio Quality

    3/5

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound has light hiss throughout and features limited fidelity. Still the speaking, singing, and sound effects come through clearly enough despite coming from a variety of sources due to the collage nature of the presentation.

    Special Features

    4/5

    For a film this untraditional, an audio commentary is a must, and there’s a fine one here put together from comments made in the 1999 book on the film by Raymond Durgnat. Though the explanations of socialist philosophies occasionally get too obtuse and verbose, the rest of the track gives outstanding background on the actors, the sources for the clips, and on Makavajev’s career. The comments are read by Daniel Stewart.

    The DVD presents two interviews with the director: one conducted in 1972 for Danish television features numerous clips from the movie and a more recent 2006 personal reappraisal is in anamorphic widescreen. Each one is a little less than thirty minutes long and both are in English with various subtitles.

    When WR was first presented on British television, the director was asked to censor two scenes that featured graphic sexual images. Rather than placing black bars over the offending images or airbrushing them out, the director rather cleverly “edited” the moments using interesting overlays. The DVD presents the director’s clever solutions to the censorship problems.

    In 1994, director Makavajev made a semi-comic autobiographical film for the BBC entitled Hole in the Soul. The 51-minute movie showed some photographs and home movies from his early years, a curious visit to the Hollywood of 1994, and a more melancholy return to his Belgrade home as his country changed forever. This film is included on the disc, mostly in English but with occasional English subtitles. There are also a few clips from his films integrated into the presentation.

    The enclosed booklet is much slimmer than usual featuring a few stills and a long essay on the movie by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

    In Conclusion

    3/5 (not an average)

    WR: Mysteries of the Organism is not a narrative film in the traditional sense, and simply surrendering yourself to its barrage of images both sexual, political, and surrealistic is perhaps the best way to experience what the director intended. This kind of film is not really my cup of tea, but as a change of pace from the usual narrative, it’s certainly something different and may be a film one might take a chance with as a rental.


    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
     
  2. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Excellent review, Matt!
     
  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Thanks, Neil. I consider that high praise indeed. I'm sure you've found that writing about movies which one has little or nothing with which to identify is the hardest thing about this job.
     
  4. TonyDale

    TonyDale Second Unit

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    Matt - I'm thoroughly enjoying your reviews, and this one is an exceptional addition to your ouevre. (Must add this to my Netflix queue as soon as possible).
     
  5. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    You are exactly right, Matt. But again, I think you handled this review with great skill!
     

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