Part Doc, Part Comedy, All Sex

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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.

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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.

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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.

Greg Ferrara

20 Responses Part Doc, Part Comedy, All Sex
Posted By Doug : February 12, 2017 12:53 pm

Uh…whut?

Posted By George : February 12, 2017 3:57 pm

“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.”

A movie for the whole family, huh?

Posted By swac44 : February 14, 2017 9:22 am

Another artist inspired by Reich is UK songwriter Kate Bush, who read his memoir The Book of Dreams and wrote the song Cloudbusting, which became a video mini-movie of its own. Directed by Julian Doyle, with a conceptual assist from Terry Gilliam, it’s one of my favourite movie clips, with a great turn from Donald Sutherland as the scientist father and Kate Bush in boy’s wig as his assistant son.

Posted By swac44 : February 14, 2017 9:30 am

Speaking of movies for the family, Makavejev would push things even further in his 1974 film Sweet Movie, which is kind of like a pornographic Charlie & the Chocolate Factory on acid, if you can imagine such a thing. See John “Dean Wormer” Vernon like you’ve never seen him before…

Posted By doug : February 14, 2017 1:14 pm

“See John “Dean Wormer” Vernon like you’ve never seen him before…”
no thanks.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 14, 2017 8:56 pm

kind of like a pornographic Charlie & the Chocolate Factory on acid, if you can imagine such a thing.

I’m trying… but it’s making me feel sick.

George, plaster of paris is fun for the whole family. But, you know, maybe molded around something else.

Posted By George : February 16, 2017 5:19 pm

“a pornographic Charlie & the Chocolate Factory on acid …”

In the ’70s, there was “The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio” (as the ads said: “It’s not his nose that grows!”) and an X-rated version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (titled “Seven Into Snowy”).

I somehow missed those, but I did see the erotic version of “Alice in Wonderland” (1976), starring Kristine De Belle, who also appeared in mainstream movies like “Meatballs” and “The Main Event.” Alas, the version I saw was edited for an R rating. Darn!

Posted By swac44 : February 16, 2017 8:01 pm

I have a copy of that Pinocchio film, I think it may have involved gore king Herschel Gordon Lewis, and also features Dyanne “Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS” as the Fairy Godmother!

(Oops, just checked, it’s not Herschel Gordon Lewis I was thinking of, it’s another triple-name thread, Ray Dennis Steckler, who gave us The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, and worked as a cameraman on Pinocchio.)

Also features Russ Meyer regular Uschi Digard. Actual director Corey Allen later did a ton of TV work, from Hawaii Five-0 to, uh, The Cosby Mysteries.

Posted By Doug : February 16, 2017 9:19 pm

“In the ’70s, there was “The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio”

NOW that reference in “The Nice Guys” makes sense-if you haven’t yet experienced the Shane Black movie…seek it out and you will love it(if you were around in the ’70′s).

Posted By swac44 : February 17, 2017 9:08 am

Heh…I just watched that again on the weekend! The Nice Guys, I mean, not The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio.

Fun film, but I felt like such a nerd when I got riled by the fact that the projector that first screened the film they were after was a 16mm unit, and the print itself was 35mm. Please tell me I’m not the only one who noticed…

Posted By Doug : February 17, 2017 5:38 pm

swac44-I’ve had my copy of “The Nice Guys” lent out since before Christmas-once a week I ask my friend if she’s watched it yet.
I was in California in 1977-that film nails the culture that I remember. The Costello take cracks me up.

Posted By George : February 17, 2017 6:21 pm

If you liked THE NICE GUYS (which I did), you should also check out the very odd INHERENT VICE.

Posted By swac44 : February 18, 2017 9:29 am

The Costello (Lou, not Elvis) moment had me almost fall out of my seat with laughter. Even the second time! I hope Gosling takes more time out for comedy in the future, most of his filmography isn’t exactly a laugh riot.

(But the daughter having Sex Pistols, Clash and Blondie posters in her room totally didn’t jibe. There’s no way a young girl like her would have been hip to those acts in 1977. Maybe a couple of years later, not to mention the fact that the Blondie and Clash images were from later than 1977, but as a music nerd, this stuff bugs me ALL THE TIME.)

Posted By Doug : February 18, 2017 12:23 pm

“the Blondie and Clash images were from later than 1977, but as a music nerd, this stuff bugs me ALL THE TIME.”
Theoretical workaround: We’re seeing most of the movie from her point of view looking back on her childhood from 2017. So she doesn’t remember all of the details accurately.
Don’t know if you saw this back when I first posted it, swac44
http://finerdrywit.blogspot.com/2016/10/spolers-be-warned-spoilnever-mind.html

Posted By George : February 18, 2017 4:41 pm

“But the daughter having Sex Pistols, Clash and Blondie posters in her room totally didn’t jibe.”

As someone who had teenage sisters in ’77, I can attest that the posters would have been of Peter Frampton, Andy Gibb, and maybe Fleetwood Mac.

This was an attempt at premature hipness — like movies set in the ’50s where middle-class white characters listen to hip R&B that would probably have been unknown to them (until Pat Boone and others began doing covers).

Posted By Swac44 : February 18, 2017 8:08 pm

I was thinking Bay City Rollers, Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy…

Posted By George : February 18, 2017 11:45 pm

My sisters had better taste than that!

Posted By Swac44 : February 19, 2017 8:06 am

Sadly, mine did not. But I will concur that if you were a preteen in LA in 1977, you’d be listening to much better radio than we were in Nova Scotia.

Posted By Doug : February 19, 2017 1:48 pm

“you’d be listening to much better radio than we were in Nova Scotia.”
I spent a few years in a dinky little town in Michigan a hundred miles from Sault Ste. Marie. ONE. ONE radio station. I think they had 12 records to play, all Polka, except maybe for one or two country albums.

Posted By George : February 19, 2017 3:41 pm

Doug said: “ONE. ONE radio station. I think they had 12 records to play, all Polka, except maybe for one or two country albums.”

I grew up near Memphis, listening to then-DJ Rick Dees play his novelty hit, “Disco Duck,” pretty much all day long. He eventually got into trouble with the management over that.

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