WR: Mysteries of the Organism

Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism remains as stupendous and mind-shattering a film today as it must have been at the time of its first release in 1971. I hadn’t seen it for many years when I screened it for my class this past week; and, despite the fact that so many things in this film are burned into my memory, I wasn’t entirely sure how well it would hold up. But I needn’t have worried. WR is just as powerful as it ever was; indeed, its very untimeliness in our current cultural-historical context makes it even more disconcerting and destabilizing, perhaps, than it could have been when first released.

Many of the pre-1989 Eastern European films that I have been showing in my class are powerful in their evocation, and critique, of what living under “actually existing socialism” must have been like. Today, when that way of life has entirely vanished, even the negative aspects of these films work to display a fascinating otherness: to show us that political conditions, social relations, and cultural norms need not be eternally the way they are in today’s universal commodity culture. Though these films were intended, and indeed worked and continue to work, as powerful denunciations of the injustices and cruelties of Communist Party rule, they do not thereby comfort us in America (and in “the West” more generally) with the flattering thought that our own way of life, now triumphant worldwide (and under siege only by those whose desperation has driven them to cruel and barbarous counter-ideologies) is thereby justified. Rather, both these films’ depiction of other ways of life, and their protests against the miseries of those other ways, create a kind of opening. This process, which is implicit in so many of these films, becomes explicit and polemical in WR. Makavejev’s film is the only one on my syllabus that overtly proclaims itself as Marxist; in doing so, it dissects the ironies of both actually existing socialism and actually existing capitalism, and brings us elsewhere. WR is a “utopian” film, in Fredric Jameson’s sense of this term, less because of the sexual bliss (pornutopia?) that it promises, than because of its aggressive and stimulating disjunctions.

Much has changed, of course, in the years since WR was made. The film is deeply engaged with a particular location in time and space — America and Yugoslavia/Serbia at the end of the 1960s — and with a particular a constellation of ideas — the liberatory conjunction of Freudianism and Marxism, as seen in Wilhelm Reich’s theories and early “sexpol” work, and as promised in American countercultural ideals of self-realization via sexual freedom on the one hand, and Yugoslavian socialist ideals of samoupravljanje (“self-management,” or, as the film also calls it, “work-democracy”), on the other.

However, neither the American counterculture nor Yugoslavian socialism is much more than a (bad) joke these days. Sexual “liberation” has become ubiquitous, because it has been ubiquitously commodified. Sexual seduction and display are essential to the processes of marketing, advertising, branding, and economic circulation generally; the release of sexual impulses from repression, and their active solicitation in the marketplace, has not resulted in the liberation of human energies and potentials that Reich and Herbert Marcuse hoped for, but rather in a narrower confinement of desire within the circuits of consumerism and commodification than either of those thinkers could ever have imagined.

As for “self-management,” in practice it was little more than a cynical alibi for the same forms of regulation, regimentation, and corruption that existed in other, more orthodox, socialist countries — at least, this is what I am told by all the ex-Yugoslavs I have met who are old enough to remember it. It certainly didn’t result in, or correspond to, any liberatory change of consciousness, as the post-Communist disintegration of Yugoslavia attests. And if “self-management” still exists today, it does so, not as a socialist ideal, but, grotesquely, as a capitalist one. You can see “self-management” today in the exhortations toward “excellence” by business gurus like Tom Peters, who basically proposes that people become obligatory exploiters and entrepreneurs of themselves, and embrace their own precarity under the name of “flexibility”. You can also see “self-management” in the practices of “hip” and “innovative” corporations, which emphasize “flat hierarchies,” and encourage “creativity” and “decentralized decision-making” among their employees. One sees this in the emphasis upon the importance of the “creative class” for econimc growth today. But one sees it also in the way that even low-paid workers in retail are expected to absorb themselves in the corporate culture (whether of WalMart or of Starbucks), and to take the initiative in sales and promotion. In all these cases, workers are increasingly being charged with the task of policing and disciplining themselves, and (in Marxist language) actively exploiting (extracting surplus-value from) themselves. That is what “self-management” comes to today.

As for Wilhelm Reich himself, upon whose ideas and career the film is largely based, today he seems less like a sex radical than like a crypto-conservative without knowing it. Reich’s glorification of the orgasm is actually quite heteronormative and prescriptive, as well as being entirely caught up within the discursive deployment of sexuality-as-liberation, described and denaturalized by Foucault. (Indeed, as far back as the 1950s, Norman O. Brown had already denounced Reich’s privileging of “normal adult genital sexuality” over the multiple potentials of “polymorphous perversity”). Reich’s later ideas about orgone energy, for which he was prosecuted and persecuted by the US government, and which (in the late 1950s and the 1960s) had a correspondingly subversive prestige among writers and intellectuals (like Norman Mailer and William Burroughs), today seem little more than variants of today’s fashionable (and entirely conformist) New Age beliefs.

Where does all this leave WR: Mysteries of the Organism? I’ve been suggesting that the ideas and practices which make up the film’s subject matter have all been tarnished by the passage of time. In a certain sense, this means that what Makavejev proposed, in 1971, as images of liberation, have now become parts of everyday experience, in all their banality and obviousness, and have turned out not to be liberating at all. But I am trying to suggest that, in an important way, this only makes the film more visionary and more relevant. And this, of course, has as much to do with the film’s form and dynamics as with its overt content. WR begins as a sort-of documentary about Wilhelm Reich. But other strands quickly get woven in, and Makavejev’s montage becomes increasingly dense and delirious as the film proceeds.

In America, besides the materials on Reich, we see Tuli Kupferberg (of Fugs fame) wandering around New York City, dressed in military fatigues and waving around a toy machine gun, while on the soundtrack we hear The Fugs’ sarcastic song “Kill for Peace”; we see Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis wandering through the East Village, and speaking rapturously of the liberation s/he found in drag; we hear commercials on the radio for Coke and for Coppertone suntan lotion, among other products; we witness examples of Reichian body therapy in action; we visit the offices of Screw Magazine, and see one of the editors getting a plaster cast taken of his engorged cock.

On the Serbian side of things, we get the fictional story of Milena (Milena Dravic), a Party militant and Reichian, who believes that the Revolution is incomplete without free love. Milena has rejected her former proletarian lover Radmilovic (Zoran Radmilovic), whom she finds too macho and too crass. Instead she has fallen for, and works hard to seduce, the Soviet ice skating champion and “people’s artist” who goes by the Leninesque name Vladimir Ilyich (Ivica Vidovic). This allegorical drama would seem to have much to do, therefore, with the strained relation between Stalinism and Titoism, between Soviet and Yugoslav Communism. To what extent did Tito represent a Third Way to socialism, beyond the deadlocks of the Cold War?

In any case, this all gets played out in a series of tableaus: Milena, dressed in partial military drag, haranguing the people of her tenement block on the necessity of sexual revolution; Radmilovic denouncing the “Red bourgeoisie” (one presumes he has read Milovan Djilas’ The New Class) , and breaking into Milena’s apartment to proclaim his undying lust and to shut up Vladimir Ilyich in the cupboard; Vladimir Ilyich alternating between lofty discourses on the beautiful ideal of communism, and physical brutality, as he tries to stave off Milena’s sexual advances; and finally, Vladimir Ilych’s murder of Milena after he accedes to her blandishments and she brings him to orgasm. These scenes are themselves intercut with Communist found footage, including scenes of the Red Guards during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and (most amazingly) sequences from an actual 1946 Soviet film made in adulation of Stalin.

As these various “Western” and “Eastern” strands of the film are themselves intercut and scrambled together, we get a film that is amazingly rich and complex. WR: Mysteries of the Organism is perhaps the most brilliant example ever made of the “intellectual montage” theorized by Eisenstein and put into practice by Godard. Watching the film, we are bombarded with a massive overdose of information and implication. The strands of the film could not be more disparate, nor the styles (from documentary rawness to mannered, deliberate staging) in which these strands are presented to us; and yet everything seems related to everything else, everything in the film affects and is affected by everything else. Makavejev probably calls this dialectics; I was more reminded of the ontology of William James (very much taken up by both Whitehead and Deleuze) according to which relations are external to the things that they put into relation; but these relations are themselves every bit as real as the things to which they refer (for more on this, see here). The result is a kind of expanding multiplicity of potentials and encounters and juxtapositions and resonances.

Let me give one example of this, from WR. Vladimir Ilyich, just before he slaps down Milena in order to punish her for her sexual aggressiveness, speaks (the actual) Lenin’s lines about having to resist the (implicitly emasculating) beauty of art (Beethoven, specifically) because of the iron necessity of remaining hard, and cutting off the heads of the enemies of the people. A few scenes earlier (or later? I don’t quite remember), in the offices of Screw Magazine, editor Al Goldstein defends his publication of pornography as a perfect expression of “the American dream,” and of the ideals of free speech. [This will later become the major proposition behind Milos Forman's fine film The People Versus Larry Flynt. Forman, like Makavejev, is an emigre from the Eastern Bloc, but he doesn't come near Makavejev's complex irony, or "dialectical" take on things]. These scenes resonate with one another, as well as with many other scenes, bits, or citations within the film.

In the first place, both of these scenes suggest a conflict rather than a harmony between the twin goals of sexual and political revolution. Vladimir Ilyich’s Lenin quote argues that aesthetic and sexual pleasure must be sacrificed in the name of revolutionary vigilance; if we let the tenderness of art, or the relaxing fulfillment that follows orgasm, fill up our souls, we will never have the ruthless strength necessary to destroy the bourgeois order. This is echoed in another scene, in which Milena reads aloud from a text of Lenin’s, to the effect that the State is necessary, not to give the workers what they desire (which can only be done by the workers themselves, when class society and the State itself have withered away), but to brutally repress the workers’ enemies. This, of course, is precisely the logic that leads (as Bakunin argued in the 19th century, and Djilas in 1950s Yugoslavia) to the Communist State’s self-perpetuation as a new organ of domination and exploitation. More generally, the political necessity to which Lenin appeals means the indefinite deferral of (sexual) satisfaction, in precisely the way that Freud’s Reality Principle does.

Meanwhile, Al Goldstein’s affirmation of the Americanism of porn resonates with other invocations of the “American Dream” in the film, most notably one by Reich’s daughter Eva, who contrasts American freedom with the enslavement that she sees as characteristic of Communist societies, who mold their children into “good citizens.” By extension, this gets linked to the evidence of commodification, via ubiquitous advertising on billboards and on the radio, which is a continual presence in Makavejev’s American documentary footage. It would seem that, in this way, Makavejev already anticipates the commodification of “free” sexuality, that I referred extensively to above, and that has only accelerated in the 35-odd years since the film was made.

On the more “micro” level, there’s a sequence that moves from a close-up of the dildo that is the final result of the “plaster-casting” process, to a shot of Kupferberg caressing his toy rifle like an enormous phallus, to footage (from the old Soviet film) of Stalin (actually an actor portraying him) receiving the adulation of the people as he speaks of the “arrow” that Lenin shot at the bourgeoisie (a phrase that Milena picks up as a sexual metaphor in her wooing of Vladimir Ilyich) to a shot of the “cloudbuster” (this Reichian invention is a sinister, multiply phallic-like device pointed to the sky, that is supposed to soak up and neutralize negative (deadly, cancer-causing) orgone energy). What do we make, then, of the power and signification, and the politics, of the phallus? How does commodification relate to authority, to war, to death and destruction, and to pleasure?
All this is just one small example (or series of examples) from the film. I have gone into it in such great detail only in order to suggest the way WR involves the viewer in spirals of mind-boggling, seemingly infinite, elaborations and ramifications. (Much more of this can be found in Raymond Durgnat’s excellent little book on the film). Eisenstein posited intellectual montage as a method for incorporating dialectical rationality (conflict and sublated resolution) into film. Godard extended intellectual montage into a principle of digression and discontinuity, not resolving conflict, but suspending the very narrative of conflict by a sort of indefinitely extendible parataxis, and thereby making possible a sort of meta-fictional, and itself potentially indefinite, aesthetic meditation. (Think of when he stops, in the middle of Two or Three Things I Know About Her to ponder the beauty and mystery of cream swirling in a coffee cup, and of what this implies about the encounter between subject and object. Or think — to emphasize how important this rapturous aestheticism is, even in one of Godard’s most explicitly “anti-aesthetic” films — of the Mozart sonata played in the barnyard in Weekend).

Makavejev, however, is neither as didactic as Eisenstein, nor as contemplative as Godard. Rather, he pushes intellectual montage in the direction of what I can best call a kind of energizing of potentialities (of what Deleuze would call the virtual, or what Whitehead would call the “mental pole” of a concrescence). Makavejev is concerned with multipying potentialities, even (or especially) when these potentialities (obviously) cannot all be realized (since they are “incompossible” with one another), and when they lead to an impasse. Which is why the film can both enthusiastically celebrate the potentials of free sexuality, and envision the way such a “liberated” sexuality is only a pseudo-liberation, as it issues either in rampant consumerism (the American way), or in the exaltation of a sort of phallic totalitarianism (which applies, in different ways, to both Stalin and Hitler), or to the panicked reassertion of male privilege via murder (Vladimir Ilyich loses his self-possession when he gives way to orgasm and to his desire for Milena; which is why, in classic masculine-domination mode, just like in all those American film noirs, he punishes the woman for having allured him).

That is to say, in comparison to either Eisenstein or Godard, Makavejev’s intellectual montage is… more intellectual, more world-significant in its ramifications. (None of this should be seen as criticism of Godard, for whom I maintain an undying love and allegiance). But, besides being more intellectual, Makavejev is also (how to best put this?) more material — no, rather, more corporeal, more deeply embodied, than Godard (or Eisentstein). This has much to do with Reich, whose insistence on the embodiment of affects and desires is perhaps the most significant and powerful aspect of his theories. Reich, for instance, thought and wrote at great length about how repressions and conflicts and erotic positions are manifested, not just in linguistic and intellectual symptoms (as per Freud), but also very much in bodily postures and gestures, in what might be called the visceral forms of expression. (This non-linguistic dimension is precisely what the Lacanians ignore, systematically and on principle). This aspect of Reich’s theory is in fact explained to us, on screen, by a Reichian analyst (Alexander Lowen, if I am remembering correctly).

Following this principle, Makavejev’s montage is as visceral as it is intellectual. The sexual scenes in WR have generally been the ones that have caused the most controversy: in the dvd of the film that I showed my class, during the plaster-casting scene the man’s erect penis is obscured by a ridiculous sort-of psychedelic efflorescence special effect. This is something that wasn’t there when I viewed the film years ago; it was added to the film by Makavejev in 1991 (he proclaimed it an “improvement” ) in order to satisfy British censorship regulations (is WR the only Eastern-bloc film that has been thus censored both by a Communist country and by a capitalist one?). But in fact, the most physically jolting scenes in the film are not directly sexual at all — they are documentary scenes of Reichian therapy, showing patients violently thrashing and convulsing their bodies while yelling things like “give it to me.”

This is supposed to be therapeutic: it is supposedly a way of breaking through bodily rigidities that are also psychological repressions, of cracking what Reich called the “character armor” in which we neurotically encase ourselves. But actually seeing this on the screen affects me physically in a way that is quite disturbing: it is hard to voyeuristically watch a body in such convulsion, it feels to me like pain even if I know that, for the person going through this, it is not supposed to be. And Makavejev heightens the ambiguity by juxtaposing a clip of another, much more overtly sinsiter, form of “healing” through the body: footage of somebody being subject to electro-convulsive therapy (“shock treatment”). It’s not in any sense automatically liberating to have done with Cartesian dualism, and to locate power and affect in the body: if we accept such an analysis, we must also ponder how fascism works in and through the body. (This is a lesson we very much need to learn, as we pursue work in Affect Theory. I think that recent theoretical writing by Brian Massumi and Erin Manning is exemplary in this regard).

Because of how it’s visceral and intellectual at the same time, Makavejev’s montage affects me in ways that no other work quite does. I’ve written in the past about visceral horror — even visceral/intellectual horror, as in the earlier works of David Cronenberg. But nobody approaches quite approaches Makavejev’s mixed intensities: the way he is utopian and darkly pessimistic at the same time. WR: Mysteries of the Organism is radically demystified and even disillusioned; the film has none of the naivete that characterised so many people’s utopian hopes and political and sexual (and pharmacological )dreams in the 1960s. Yet at the same time, it refuses to give up the radical potentialities whose difficulties and unconscious hypocrisies and ambivalences it nonetheless uncovers, and even mocks. There’s something so sweet about Jackie Curtis, as s/he describes his/her joy of becoming a “woman” (a joy that is very un-Reichian, let it be noted). And Milena’s harangue to the masses about sexual freedom is a hilarious send-up of a Party meeting, not to mention that it degenerates into a shouting match with Radmilovic, and then into some good-old-time Serbian singing and dancing; but the depth of Milena’s call for satisfaction, not in some future time, but in the here and now, continues to resonate throughout the film.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism ends with a scene of Vladimir Ilyich’s remorse, as he comes back to consciousness after murdering Milena while in the throes of orgasm, and becomes aware of what he has done. He sings a sad and oddly moving song, about loss and desolation and repentance, while wandering through a snowy landscape, past campfires around which (apparently) poor and homeless people are gathered. The song is addressed to God, which is a bit odd for a self-professed materialist and atheist. The song is moving, as I said, but at the same time I couldn’t help thinking about how it was all very well for him to be sad, when (unlike Milena herself) he had evidently gotten through it all scott-free.

But before this, there’s another sort-of concluding moment. Milena’s decapitated head has been found in the river, and is set (facing the camera) on a platter. All at once the head begins to speak, of the cosmic joy of orgasm, and of regret (rather than anger) that Vladimir Ilyich turned out to be a “Red fascist,” unable to cope with the experience of pleasure. The last thing that Milena’s head says is, “in spite of everything, I am still not ashamed of my Communist past.” This is a motto that could apply to the film as a whole, with its multiplicities, its ambiguities, its understanding of the terrible ironies of history, and of the mobilization of the body, its rejection of closure, and yet at the same time its refusal to give way on its desire.

10 Responses to “WR: Mysteries of the Organism”

  1. Dejan says:

    As for “self-management,” in practice it was little more than a cynical alibi for the same forms of regulation, regimentation, and corruption that existed in other, more orthodox, socialist countries (…) And if “self-management” still exists today, it does so, not as a socialist ideal, but, grotesquely, as a capitalist one.

    As a Yugoslav old enough to remember I can attest to the fact that the meeting of capitalism (esp. consumerism) and socialism already happened within samoupravljanje, simply because Yugoslavia is traditionally open to Western societies and a mixture of Russian/French and Anglo-Saxonic politicocultural influences. Besides, samoupravljanje was sponsored by Western capitalist countires in the form of endless financial credits that practically ran the economy and made it possible for the illusion of selfregulation to be sustained for decades.

    But on the exemplary case of the United Nations (where I worked for a spell) you can already see how Communist-style bureaucratization and regulation penetrated capitalism; for this enterprise, partially conceived by Tito, entirely functions as a self-managed company. A refugee fund will get endless supplies of money and the task of spending it. This is accomplished by NOT WORKING (i.e. pretending to work) while having endless bureaucratic meetings where the staff, via politically correct discourse, should get the samoupravljanjesque idea that the common office clerk has the same powers of influencing the UN’s policy as the boss of the organization (and all the while everything is regulated, politically).
    Shortly, like samoupravljanje, the UN is virtual.

    Tito’s origins remain a mystery. I don’t want to slip into conspiracy theorizing, and side with those Yugoslavs who believe that he was created at the meeting of Yalta with the task of perpetuating Western interests in Yugoslavia, but there are many indications – including what you notice in the review – that Yugoslavia was a social experiment, which would provide a blueprint for today’s ”’Third Way” cocktail of socialism and capitalism serving as humanitarian totalitarianism. Also the way Tito organized the decentralized constitution, with the murky and not-so-clearly-motivated goal of restraining Serbian federal power, while championing EU-style ”regions”, speaks in favor of the idea that the social experiment was meant to test a model of cohesion, and then break it apart. In Serbian we have the ironic phrase that throughout our history, we have been used as a ”moneta za potkosurivanje” (the currency for setting the bill straight) between the various power interests crossing paths across our territory.

    While the perception of many Yugoslavs, all across the country, not just in Serbia, that they experienced Tito as an alien entity, a President that you just couldn’t put in a referrential plane, was he a Croat, was he a Serb, where did he come from, how did he appear…all of that creates the impression that Yugoslavia wasn’t really GENERIC.

    The moment when I stopped experiencing this as a conspiracy theory is when on several occasions I met Dutch people who would say, ”What? Problems in Yugoslavia? But WE created it!”

    This has much to do with Reich, whose insistence on the embodiment of affects and desires is perhaps the most significant and powerful aspect of his theories.

    I assure you, in Serbian society at least, this is possible because of the liberal and exuberant attitude towards bodily enjoyment which characterizes the Christian Orthodox religion, which does not exercise an equally stringent form of Carthesianism as the Catholic church. If our priests were Deleuzian, I think they would agree with him on that point.

    While the forgiving nature of Slavic temperament (you will encounter this in UNDERGROUND as well), where evil passions and bitch fights are quickly replaced by wedding parties and celebrations, accounts for the ending of the film as you have described it.

    This is very different from Zizek’s Pauline Christianity, which operates on some kind of dialectics for all I can see.

    not just in linguistic and intellectual symptoms (as per Freud), but also very much in bodily postures and gestures, in what might be called the visceral forms of expression. (This non-linguistic dimension is precisely what the Lacanians ignore, systematically and on principle).

    Now for as long as Deleuzians keep repeating that Lacanians ignore the body, I will have to keep repeating that they don’t, for they see body language as another form of language. Noone in Lacanian therapy was ever prohibited from strip-dancing or doing yoga exercises, if he or she felt that was their preferred mode of expression. While Deleuzians in championing this direct access to the body, seem to conveniently ”overlook” language. It’s not FAIR.

  2. Steven Shaviro says:

    “Now for as long as Deleuzians keep repeating that Lacanians ignore the body, I will have to keep repeating that they don’t, for they see body language as another form of language. Noone in Lacanian therapy was ever prohibited from strip-dancing or doing yoga exercises, if he or she felt that was their preferred mode of expression. While Deleuzians in championing this direct access to the body, seem to conveniently ‘’overlook’’ language. It’s not FAIR.”

    But the point is precisely that not all expression, and not all communication, is linguistic. Sometimes the body may “speak” a “language” (e.g. the “hieroglyphics” of hysteria, according to Freud). But there are many forms of bodily expression (and of expression generally) that are non-linguistic: sub-linguistic, pre-linguistic, or simply, sheerly a-linguistic. And these potentialities of nonlinguistic expression (and communication) are precisely what Lacan, like all followers of Saussure, systematically fails to take account of.

  3. Dejan says:

    Ok I do not discount that possibility, but can you provide an example? It is easier to conceptualize in that fashion.

  4. Dejan says:

    … a non cinematic one, because I would like to examine this problem from a practical viewpoint

  5. Dejan says:

    PS i forgot to mention that the humor in the film is, erm, affective.
    it has a delirial quality, akin to the british sense of the absurd,
    but meatier, more based in gesticulation, expression, the body. less dry.
    full of SEX.
    this sort of humor is to be found in most important yugo films (esp. slobodan sijan).

    zoran radmilovic was a genius at this sort of humor. he ran an
    incredibly progressive theater show ”radovan iii” which ridiculed the
    absurdities of samoupravljanje. he was at his best when he completely destroyed the written dialogue and started to improvise, with lots of amazing pantomime. your working class jerry lewis or something like that.

  6. Kirby Olson says:

    I remember watching this film with you Steve at some friend of yours house in Seattle in about 1993. I remember a sense that the 10 Commandments were not being followed, and that this had led to an amazing sense of chaos throughout the film.

    I also remember that there was a huge ship coming into dock and it was called The Good Ship Lollipop.

    Back then I was thinking in terms of Klossowski’s taboos, and how we had to multiply taboos. And that to relax would lead first to a sense of holiday, but ultimately to chaos.

    I think this film represents the matriarchal political vision: how once principles disappear there is only chaos, and that this is much worse than everyone had thought.

    Thank God for God!

  7. Dejan says:

    Steven I just realized that internet communication, with its illusion of democratic discourse neatly plugged into a totalitarian and properly ominous Protocol, is remarkably similar to the discourse of samoupravljanje. In samoupravljanje, you were treated to all of the Western consumerist and sexual excess, but you were not allowed to say things like, brotherhood and unioty doesn;t exist, or I don’t believe in the Myth of Tito’s sacred inception.

  8. Kirby Olson says:

    How does the Good Ship Lollipop fit into your theory, Steve?

  9. Nick says:

    Hello,

    Bored at work, I decided to look up references on the web for one of my very favourite films and found your excellent blog review.

    I first saw the film on Channel 4’s (UK) Banned season in 1991, which is the ‘improved’ version with the goldfish and the one you recently saw. Until recently erections on film were taboo in the UK. Why, I don’t know. I agree that it’s a bit ridiculous but I don’t think these additions really harm the film overall. In fact, my partner commented that the psychedelic bits seem to make those scenes more obscene! It’s a testament to our more prudish times that they must be put in to protect us – perhaps that’s why Makavejev cheekily called it an improvement. At the same time, as you say, sex has become ever more commodified and our culture ever more prurient. I think these additions are emblematic of that prurience: we may be aroused but we’re not allowed to see real bodily arousal, just suggestions of it, like adverts with women washing their hair and screaming ‘yes!’. It would be too much otherwise. So, I think the additions may even add to the film’s radical ‘thrust’ … so to speak.

    Kirby Olson is thinking of Makavejev’s follow-up to WR, Sweet Movie.

    I have to agree with Dejan about Lacanians: their focus is on the embodied subject’s* relationship to language and thereby the world. The Lacanian Imaginary sometimes could be called pre-lingusitic.

    Nevertheless, I happen to have big problems with Lacan’s conceptualisations, from the 30s through to the 70s. They assume far too much.

    And I have even bigger problems with Zizek! He’s a Pauline berk, that’s for sure. In Lacan’s own terms, like many Lacanians he’s forgotten the first lesson of Le Maitre: ego misrecognition – only more so. Lacan is everything, everything is Lacan. This is why so many (but not at all) Lacanians talk like members of a cult, I think. And this is no wonder Zizek is such a (ohh, controversial!) fan of Lenin, Stalin and Mao etc.

    Lacan lambasted Reich at the time (along with the, admittedly, idiotic ego psychologists) precisely because of the Reich’s concentration on the body, and his anti-Freudian idea of sexual fulfillment. Deleuze and Guattari were themselves lambasted by Lacanians following the publication of Anti-Oedipus for being too forgiving of Reich’s bodily utopianism. Later on, Lacan began to concentrate on the body and its representations more specifically, only piously designating it as the part of ‘the Real’. The only question is: the Real (or the Symbolic, or the Imaginary) on whose say so? This division of experience is itself a political and ethical event. It is not conceptually neutral, just as Reich’s body and orgone concepts are not neutral.

    *Whatever that is supposed to mean. I think that word is much less neutral than they think. It’s also, contrary to what Lacan believed, a restatement of Cartesian dualism, with the mind and its formulations of the body as subject and the body as object or other/world.

    Anyway, nice article. Your East European film course looks great too.

    Cheers,

    Nick.

  10. [...] Following this principle, Makavejev’s montage is as visceral as it is intellectual. The sexual scenes in WR have generally been the ones that have caused the most controversy: in the dvd of the film that I showed my class, during the plaster-casting scene the man’s erect penis is obscured by a ridiculous sort-of psychedelic efflorescence special effect. This is something that wasn’t there when I viewed the film years ago; it was added to the film by Makavejev in 1991 (he proclaimed it an “improvement” ) in order to satisfy British censorship regulations (is WR the only Eastern-bloc film that has been thus censored both by a Communist country and by a capitalist one?). But in fact, the most physically jolting scenes in the film are not directly sexual at all — they are documentary scenes of Reichian therapy, showing patients violently thrashing and convulsing their bodies while yelling things like “give it to me.” source: The Pinocchio Theory [...]

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