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Essential Cinema: WR: Mysteries Of The Organism

Monday, October 2----Has there ever been a film as transgressive, as outrageous, as experimental as the classic WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM, directed by the iconoclastic Yugoslav pioneer Dusan Makavejev?

The film, a mind-bending cult hit when first released in 1971, mixes Stalinism, sexual freedom and Freudian analysis in an intoxicating mix that leaves the viewer guessing, or simply asking out loud "Did I really see that?". The film screens this week as part of the 50 Years of Janus Films celebration of classic international cinema of the past 60 years.

The plot concerns two young Yugoslavian girls, one a politico and the other a sexpot, who have an affair with a visiting Russian skater. Mixing metaphors of Russia's relationship with Yugoslavia, intercut with footage and interviews with philosopher Wilhelm Reich and Screw Magazine publisher Al Goldstein , the film applies Reich's theories of Orgone energy to treat Stalinism as a form of Freudian sexual repression.

The film, which was made during the height of Marshall Tito's power as the Yugoslav strongman, somehow made it through the country's censors for a brief theatrical release in its own home country. Once international journalists began to unravel its metaphoric plot as a sly critique of Communist fascism, the film was banned outright and its director was subjected to harassment and scrutiny for the rest of his career.

Following its ban in its native country, the film was shown at the 1971 Berlin Film Festival, where audiences and critics were floored by its sexual audacity and its imaginative use of metaphor. The film won the FIREPSCI International Critics prize at the Festival, and then had a long career as a cult hit in Europe and North America.

The film was generally programmed in the United States as a "midnight movie", thereby canonizing it as a cult film for a particular audience. Along with such films as EL TOPO (which will also screen at this year's New York Film Festival), it became one of the first films that young people and cinephiles would see over and over again at packed midnight screenings, where the odor of cannabis was stronger than the lysol.

With the strong international response to the film, Makavejev was able to continue working his sly magic in his native Yugoslavia, directing such well regarded films as MONTENEGRO (1981), which was screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and won an Audience Award at the Sao Paolo Film Festival, and THE COCA-COLA KID(1985), an English language satire on corporate greed starring Eric Roberts and Greta Scacchi.

WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM is one of those either-you-love-it-or-you-hate-it films that have strong partisans on both sides. As one of the lead characters muses "In our Democracy, everyone is entitled to a doughnut. Some get the doughnut, others get the hole in the doughnut." Nuff said.

Make up your own mind as the film screens on Tuesday evening at 9:30pm (not quite midnight, but close enough) and on Friday, October 6 at 4:15pm. Be there, or be square.


Sandy Mandelberger
Festivals Editor

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New York Film Festival
Online Dailies coverage of the 44th NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL September 29 – October 15, 2006

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