Posted by Greg Ferrara on February 12, 2017
Did you know that the energy harnessed by orgasm is the same energy responsible for the Northern Lights? No? Well, perhaps you are unfamiliar with the Orgone, an energy that exists everywhere and in all of us. It can be harnessed in an Orgone Accumulator, a wooden/metal box created by Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich in the 1930′s, that one sits in to accumulate Orgone energy. Once inside, the good energies build up within the subject, breaking through their “body armor,” as he called it, meaning their collective neuroses, and the good feelings begin to flow. For the rest of us, the bathroom works just fine. In 1971, Serbian director Dušan Makavejev, fascinated by Reich and his energy accumulating cabinet of curiosity, put together a movie, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, part documentary, part fictional narrative, part satirical, part propaganda. What makes it work so hypnotically well, is that all of those parts overlap with each other without a care or concern as to linear narrative or even functional argument.
The movie begins with a narrator speaking on the virtues of orgasm as we watch a couple fornicate through a kaleidoscopic lens. But we also see a man, Tuli Kupferberg, dressing up as a ragged soldier marching up and down New York’s city streets with a rifle, but not a real one. And then we get a little background on Reich and his journey to America, where he took up residence in Maine in the forties, and began building Orgone Accumulators and marketing them as a cure for diseases, including cancer. He even had Albert Einstein test them but Einstein concluded the boxes did nothing. We hear residents from Maine talk about Reich and his experiments, his habits and where he got his hair cut. We are told of how the government ordered him to stop making and selling Orgone Accumulators and when he didn’t, imprisoned him and burned all of his books. That’s really true, by the way, not a part of the movie’s mix of docudrama surrealism. The FDA actually burned his papers and books. And then we meet Milena (Milena Dravic), a fictional character and revolutionary feminist, preaching to all who will listen about free love and endless orgasm. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Nancy Godfrey gives Jim Buckley a hand job until he is fully erect and then makes a plaster cast of his penis. Because, art.
If you enter into a viewing of WR: Mysteries of the Organism expecting a straightforward documentary, you will be disappointed. There’s a chance you may be disappointed anyway but for my part, WR: Mysteries of the Organism is one of the most entertaining, ridiculous, outrageous and propulsive documentary/comedies ever made. It belongs to no specific genre but to almost every genre one can imagine. Some people may take its politics seriously while others may struggle to determine what those politics even are.
So… what is this movie about? In a word: Sex. It’s about sex. It’s about suppression, oppression, expression and all of that hippy drippy free love stuff we got during the sixties. And how the freedoms sought out by people from the Eastern Bloc countries to the good ole’ U.S. of A have a similar foundation in the autonomy of individual sexual expression. And it’s remarkably sophomoric and simplistic in its philosophies.
Some critics and viewers take this seriously, others just enjoy watching the insanity unfold on the screen. Count me in the latter group. Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his essay on the film, seems to take its arguments more seriously than most but also calls the film a collage, meaning that it is, for all intents and purposes, a feature length montage, editing together disparate images that, on the surface, have no meaningful connection but when taken as a whole, create a sensory narrative that we intuitively understand. And that is as spot-on an understanding of the film as I can imagine. It is indeed a collage, and a masterful one at that.
Its quasi-fictional forerunners go back as far as Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages, up to its own contemporaries, like The Hellstrom Chronicle, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary despite its central character, Dr. Hellstrom, being completely fictional and played by actor Lawrence Pressman. But WR: Mysteries of the Organism goes many steps further by mixing things up so much, and taking so many free-wheeling liberties with narrative, that the end result seems less like dialectic and more like a visual exploration of the techniques featured on the Beatles’ Revolution #9.
Near the end of the sixties, collage works, like Revolution #9, were becoming a popular artistic force. Artists like Robert Rauschenberg, starting in the fifties, became celebrated and revered for works that combined various elements together, with the end results creating a cohesive whole. WR: Mysteries of the Organsim represents the cinema’s best effort in making its own collage genre come to life. Its documentary/narrative/musical/dramatic/comedic elements seem to have no connecting dots when viewed up close but linger in the mind later as one consistent and unified work. It’s too bad this type of art, in all forms, fell by the pop cultural wayside. I would have liked to have seen more of it. As it is, we’ve got this extraordinary piece of work, and in the absence of an actual Orgone Accumulator, it’ll have to do.
WR: Mysteries of the Organism is currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of the Directed by Dušan Makavejev theme.
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