WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie

DVD Watch

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

Criterion, $39.95

Sweet Movie

Criterion, $29.95

"Hey Potemkin, aren't you from that famous revolution that failed?" chirps Sweet Movie's Anna Planeta to the ardent young sailor who has just boarded her floating candy shop. It trolls the canals of Amsterdam with a bust of Karl Marx on its prow, the better to lure horny idealists and unwary children; the goldfish swimming in the tear suspended from Marx's eye, the corpses alleged to lie within its hold, and the playfully predatory sexuality graphically indulged onboard this good ship lollipop disorient the too-obvious allegory with whimsy, violence, and eroticism in a storm of contradiction. For director Duan Makavejev, the failure of revolution is no reason not to cling to revolutionary ideals. Yet ideals cannot obscure inevitable horror, and none of it should stop you from laughing.

A specter of failure hangs over the aesthetic, political, and sexual revolutions of Sweet Movie and WR: Mysteries of the Organism and lurks about in Criterion's fine packages of extras for good measure. WR takes off from a documentary about psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, whose fusion of Marx and Freud in a theory of social liberation through the energies released by orgasm got him in trouble with the Nazis, the Communist Party, and finally, our very own Food and Drug Administration, which destroyed his writings and threw the Austrian exile in jail, where he died. Elsewhere, in the film's chief fictional thread, a young Yugoslavian woman advocates sexual uprising to her comrades, and her attempt to practice what she preaches results in beheading by ice skate at the hands of a repressed Soviet athlete who she has fondly dubbed "a real Red fascist." Nevertheless, her severed head speaks of refusing to renounce her beliefs.

DVD Watch

These films succeeded in getting Makavejev exiled from his native Yugoslavia and banned from numerous other countries, and while their unique and unstable collisions of documentary and fiction attracted much attention in the West, funding for other projects like these would run aground on the need for a traditional screenplay … except movies like these can't be made with screenplays. In "Hole in the Soul," a 1994 essay film for the BBC included on the WR disc, Makavejev consults a peculiarly demanding "connoisseur" named Dennis Jakob on the state of his career, only to be told that what he did in the Sixties and Seventies won't work anymore, that his films have become nonthreatening, and that he has no future. However unwelcome, much of what Jakob says has an unpleasant ring of truth, even as the cinephiliac hobgoblin's assertion that Makavejev just isn't funny anymore gets roundly refuted by his own inclusion in the film.

Split between mid-Nineties Hollywood and postcommunist, post-Yugoslavian Serbia, this 53-minute-long documentary surveys the emotional landscape of a then-radical, now-bourgeois filmmaker finally allowed to come and go after years of exile, only to doubt the past as much as the future. Still, the unruly energies of WR and Sweet Movie haven't been so tamed by history or the ascendance of Jackass and eBaum's World as one might expect. The uncouth collision of ideas and sentiments here remains at least as transgressive as the child-seduction scene from Sweet Movie that could still land video-store proprietors in court, so have these revolutionary films about failure really failed themselves? Their obscenities add up to something distressingly intangible and yet palpably greater than contributing to the everlasting glory of MTV or Internet notoriety.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Screens Reviews
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
Josh Frank brings the legendary unproduced movie to printed life

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 22, 2019

What If <i>The Texas Chain Saw Massacre</i> Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
What If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
Putting the Austin-made seminal slasher back into context

Marc Savlov, March 22, 2019

More by Spencer Parsons
The Cutting Edge
The Cutting Edge
Trailer-maker Mark Woollen talks shop

March 13, 2009

Slipped Discs
Focus: The Collected Filmstrips of Brian Dewan, Vol. 1
Just the thing for the hyperactive adult on your Christmas list

Dec. 5, 2008

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Duan Makavejev, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Sweet Movie, Criterion

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle