W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Kollontai's theory: The revolution must destroy marriage." [Vladimir Ilyich]
"The ravishing sex reformer and radical in a provocative pose; composing sex and politics, it also reveals Makavejev’s “aestheticism”; the unexpected rabbit, the strong, two-colored vertical stripes and particularly the inexplicable empty frame." Amos Vogel on the promotional poster for W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism in Film as a Subversive Art (1974)
"The promotional poster of W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) features actress Milena Dravić sticking her arm triumphantly through an empty picture frame. To her left stands a chair with a white rabbit on it. The backdrop is a striped wall. The black and white photo is used on the cover of Film as a Subversive Art (1974). It is taken from a scene in the film at 1:04:08, in which Milena says "Death to male fascism" and "Freedom to female people!"." --Sholem Stein
"This film is, in part, a personal response to the life and teachings of Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Studying orgasmic reflex, as Sigmund Freud's first assistant, Reich discovered life energy, revealing the deep roots of fear of freedom, fear of truth, and fear of love in contemporary humans. All his life Reich fought against pornography in sex and politics. He believed in work-democracy, in an organic society based on liberated work and love." incipit, with background sound of a heartbeat
“Who will protect us from our protectors?
W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (W.R. - Misterije organizma, W.R. - Мистерије организма) is a 1971 film by Dušan Makavejev that explores the relationship between communist politics and sexuality, as well as exploring the life and work of Wilhelm Reich.
Narrative and documentary elements
The film intercuts documentary footage with, predominantly, a narrative about a Yugoslav woman who seduces a Russian ice skater. Despite different settings, characters and time periods, the different elements produce a single story of human sexuality and revolution through a montage effect.
The main elements juxtaposed throughout the film are:
The main documentary part of the film focuses on Reich's work pioneering vegetotherapy and his treatment by the American government. These segments feature interviews with Eva and Peter Reich (Reich's children), practitioners of vegetotherapy, friends of Reich, and community members who recall dealings with Reich. Footage of vegetotheraphy in progress is also shown. Standard documentary techniques are used (flat interview photography, voice over, location shots minus characters). This plot fades towards the background as the film progresses.
Milena (played by Milena Dravić) and her roommate Jagoda (played by Jagoda Kaloper) are proponents of free sexuality and work democracy. Milena avoids her previous lover, the proletarian Radmilović (played by Zoran Radmilović) in order to court the Russian artist Vladimir Illych (played by Ivica Vidović). As Milena and Jagoda discuss freedom of sexuality as it relates to revolutionary freedom, Radmilovic pursues Milena by ripping down walls, to no avail.
Milena is a metaphor for the Yugoslavian working class's struggle for liberation against the totalising influence of Russian communist state. Milena is killed when her sexual encounter with Vladimir Illych (the representative of Russian communism) goes awry. (To make the parallel more obvious, the Russian artist is a full namesake of Lenin (Lenin's proper Russian name was Vladimir Illych). Also, during his speech on the abandoned ship's deck, he assumed a position typical of how Lenin was depicted in numerous statues of him.) He, unable to fully experience his orgasmic urge, beheads her with his ice skate which is the film's metaphor for revolutionary theory. Makavejev dooms self-determination of the Yugslavian people, and the struggle of people worldwide for true freedom, to the fate of being totalised by Russian state communism, and the quest for sexual freedom to be overshadowed by "red fascists".
Poet and performance artist Tuli Kupferberg, dressed as a soldier, parodies war and the sexual nature of man's fascination with guns by stalking affluent New Yorkers on the street and masturbating his toy rifle. As part of the climax of the film, the Kupferberg's gun masturbation is intercut with other orgasmic sequences.
Artist Betty Dodson discusses her experiences in drawing acts of masturbation, as well as her discussions within consciousness raising groups about female sexual response. The Dodson sequences are relatively straightforward documentary interviews; Dodson's large scale drawing of a man masturbating dominates the background of the shots.
Nancy Godfrey is an artist who makes a plaster cast (in the style of Cynthia Plaster Caster) of Jim Buckley's erect penis on film. This scene was a point of contention for the censors. On most prints Buckley's penis is covered with psychedelic colours added in editing.
Jackie Curtis, one of Andy Warhol's entourage and occasional film star, is shown on the streets of New York.
- Milena Dravić as Milena
- Ivica Vidović as Vladimir Ilyich
- Jagoda Kaloper as Jagoda
- Tuli Kupferberg as US Soldier
- Zoran Radmilović as Radmilović
- Jackie Curtis as Herself
- Miodrag Andrić as Soldier
- Živka Matić as Landlady
- Wilhelm Reich as Himself (archive footage)
- Mikheil Gelovani as Joseph Stalin (archive footage)
- Jim Buckley as Himself
- Betty Dodson as Herself
- Nancy Godfrey as Herself
- Dragoljub Ivkov
- Nikola Milić
- Milan Jelić
- Bulat Okudzhava, singer
- Communist film
- A. S. Neill
- The Vow (1946 film)
- Hugo Jaeger
- List of mainstream films with unsimulated sex