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The Criterion Collection presents
WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

"Gentlemen, in our Democracy, everyone is entitled to a doughnut. Some get the doughnut, others get the hole in the doughnut."
- Radmilovic (Zoran Radmilovic)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: June 26, 2007

Stars: Milena Dravic, Ivica Vidovic
Other Stars: Jagoda Kaloper, Tuli Kupferberg, Zoran Radmilovic
Director: Dusan Makavejev

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong sexual situations, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:24m:22s
Release Date: June 19, 2007
UPC: 715515024228
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AAB+ A

DVD Review

The Criterion Collection continues to pump out a most eclectic selection of titles on a monthly basis. They never stray from an amazingly daring release practice with a pair of films from director Dusan Makavejev: Sweet Movie and 1971's WR: Mysteries of the Organism seeing the light of day on DVD. The latter is the filmmaker's best work, harkening back to the old days of the "art film." This is basically two movies in one, with documentary footage and a fictional story combining to create a simply unforgettable experience.

Makavejev's first image is that of a potential ménage à trois sharing an egg yolk by allowing it to flow through their fingers. We then jump right into a documentary about the psychological studies of Wilhelm Reich (the "WR" in the title), whose semi-Freudian theories on the human orgasm are compelling. We see footage of Reich in action, including men and women writhing around (usually fully clothed), and moaning, often on his command. These scenes are far less titillating than expected, but there's no question about the existence of a method to Makavejev's madness. The interviewees also discuss Reich's hatred for the US government and communist practices, creating a nice bridge to the fictional portion of the movie.

This story involves Yugoslavian woman Milena (Milena Dravic) who preaches Free Love more often than she practices it. Her roommate, Jagoda (Jagoda Kaloper), is a Free Love junkie, entertaining a different man every time Milena comes home. Milena gives an impassioned speech involving Stalin that rallies her fellow communists and also leads to footage of an old propaganda film about the former Soviet leader. Mix those clips with looks at New York City transvestites, a mold being made of Screw magazine editor Jim Buckley's penis, and a hippie in soldier's gear (Tuli Kupferberg), and you get something you simply won't forget.

To call this a strange film experience is an understatement, as there isn't much of a straight-forward narrative anywhere in the 84-minute running time. If you can't get a total grip on what Makavejev is trying to accomplish, you aren't alone, but it's the experience of trying to take everything in that makes it worth the time. During Milena's initial meeting with figure skater Vladimir Llyich (Ivica Vidovic), it appears she'll soon enjoy the pleasures that Jagoda is so familiar with. On the contrary, her relationship with this Stalinist figure takes numerous twists and turns, ending (along with the movie, itself) with a series of events nearly impossible to predict.

The unthinkable is accomplished for such a political piece. A series of themes and speeches are bandied about, yet it's never preachy or overrun with unnecessary allegories. The symbolism expressed is engaging but not something you'll be overly challenged to decipher. Still, this subject matter and occasionally graphic footage isn't for everyone—I was petrified during the "molding" bit until I knew what was going to happen to the moldee—but those with an open mind will be rewarded.

Things are off to a slow start, but once I got my first glimpse of the hippie soldier I was hooked. The seamless transition into Milena's story helps also, culminating in the brilliant aforementioned speech. This is the director at his best, jumping from Milena preaching on a rooftop to Jagoda and a random couple trying as many positions as they can, often writhing in rhythm with their comrade's vocalizing. This set piece, like much of Criterion's latest banner DVD, is literally poetry in motion.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original full-frame format, the feature benefits from nicely restored source material. Overseen by Makavejev, the presentation features bright, vibrant colors that combine with sharp, detailed images. Edge enhancement is kept to a minimum and nearly all instances of dirt and grain have been cleaned up.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish and Serbo-Croatianyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio is the original mono mix, but such undynamic sound suits this material just fine. Music is broadcast nicely; never getting in the way of the consistently crisp and clear dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Daniel Stewart
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Hole in the Soul - 1994 short film by Dušan Makavejev.
Extras Review: Another typically comprehensive and enlightening booklet graces this Criterion release, and is only the beginning of a great extras collection. There's a commentary track here as well, with Daniel Stewart essentially reading text from British film critic Raymond Durgnat's 1999 book about the movie. This is a great track, with Stewart almost serving as a tour guide through the director's unique styles, shedding a bit more light on his intentions.

Hole in the Soul is a 52-minute 1994 short film by Dusan Makavejev that is a very funny look at his home of Yugoslavia during the drastic changes of the times in Eastern Europe. This is a fun, important little film during which we see some footage from WR, as well as an appearance by Milena Dravic.

There's a pair of Dusan Makavejev interviews, with one from 1972 and the other from 2006. The older one runs 28 minutes and was conducted for Danish television by filmmaker Christian Braad Thomsen. This discussion focuses on revolutionary cinema, radical liberation, and how those concepts factor into his films. The newer piece is also about 30 minutes in length and conducted by film scholar Peter Cowie. This is a great companion piece to the other interview as we get to hear from Makavejev about the effect his film has had on his life and career and what it's been like living in exile from Yugoslavia.

We're also offered clips from an "improved" version of WR. This five-minute sequence finds Makavejev introducing said clips to Cowie, with the point being to show his response to Britain's Channel Four's request to edit the more sensitive parts out. The rather funny result is well worth a look, as this is truly a unique way to cover some things up.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

The Criterion Collection shines again with the release of the obscure WR: Mysteries of the Organism. A study in old-school art-house cinema, Dusan Makavejev'a psychedelic trip of sex and Communism strays from most conventions, and Criterion's amazing audio and video restoration is on par with their best efforts, with a typically complete extras collection to boot.

 


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