Ktismatics

18 November 2008

WR: Mysteries of the Organism by Makavejev, 1971

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:29 am

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wr-comrade

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wr-head

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21 Comments »

  1. Aha! You old sly boots.

    Who will police our judges and who will release our release? That’s what I want to know.

    The final song is great, no? A true red fascist – with heart!

    The version I have has got goldfish and psyhcedelic stars superimposed over men’s erect rude bits because in the UK we fear the lightning strike power of an engorged johnson. Of course, this tease just increases that power!

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    Comment by NB — 18 November 2008 @ 11:41 am

  2. I think the copy I saw was remastered in 2007: looks beautiful, including fully-exposed erect penis!

    Romantic, ascetic… that song just goes on forever, verse after verse. Okay, I’ll put up the severed head too. Just because the revolution kills off sexual desire doesn’t mean she won’t keep coming back — another zombie moment in cinema.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 18 November 2008 @ 2:53 pm

  3. One of the people Nicholson began to quote often — either he was making a study of him or doing a good job faking it — was Wilhelm Reich, the former colleague of Freud’s who developed the theory of “orgone power” or orgasmic energy and later went to jail for merchandising sexual vibrations in dubious “orgone boxes.” Everybody in the later Sixties seemed to be imbibing Reich, who in his writings prescribed sexual freedom as a cure for most of society’s ills.

    To Jack, Reich was “the most important political writer and thinker of the last century.” Reich became like a new religion for Jack, a counterpoint to Catholicism, and one that, like the Mother Church, contained articles of faith that might be utilized in every area of life.

    When he was promoting Drive, He Said, his definitive movie on the Sixties, Jack continually brought up Reich’s name. “I do feel that the country is hung up in a sexually repressive society,” Nicholson said in a 1971 radio interview, expounding on his belief in Reichian theories, which in his mind were linked, intriguingly, with infant psychology and familial relationships.

    “The way Reich describes it — the very description of [a sexual climax], of a change, of an expansion and contraction . . . He believes that from infancy it is incorporated into the psychology of every person; that they deal with the flow of ‘sexual energy’ by either holding it down — as you do with breathing. . . You control its expression by how much ‘fuel’ you give it to express itself. . . . You ten develop ‘familial relationships’ around these attitudes of tension — and the ‘family’ then develops it into towns, cities, and societies.”

    Jack may have been standoffish about some aspects of the Sixties, but he understood what would work for him. Drugs and sexual liberation yielded positive results, in this case… Being stoned “relaxes you, and makes you a little more content to be in a room all by yourself,” Jack said about screenwriting in one interview o the subject of drugs…

    “I thought Jack was more traditional when I first met him,” said John Herman Shaner. “It wasn’t until later, the mid-Sixties, that I realized this guy is totally untraditional. All of the traditions shackled him. Both the psychedelic and sexual revolutions freed him up totally and helped him become the actor that he is. He was unable to express himself in a more easy way. He loosened. And he became less diffident, more expressive, more positive about himself.”

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    Comment by Seyfried — 18 November 2008 @ 3:20 pm

  4. I’ve never read anything by Reich, but he does come up in art and theory more than one might expect given the rather crackpot reputation — or maybe because of it.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 18 November 2008 @ 8:33 pm

  5. clysmatics you might have now been able to experience the spirit of Serbian social parody, which is always full of Italian-style sexual titillation with the new moment being that it’s mixed with politics; this is the school of parody my site draws on, among other things. I am underwhelmed by your analysis though, as if youll remember this movie started our acquaintance.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 19 November 2008 @ 6:17 pm

  6. You’re right, PC, though I had entirely forgotten this earlier connection. I just looked back in your archives to see how enthusiastically you endorsed Ktismatics. And we did get along well for quite some time afterward, with some stimulating discussions.

    Regarding WR, I had remembered your engaging in discussions about Reich with some other blogger, perhaps Warszawa, and I had a vague recollection of your recommendation of this Soviet-era Yugoslavian movie. It’s got a similar feel to the Czech movie Daisies, which I also watched recently. Apparently the authorities were not amused: I understand that both filmmakers were banned after making these movies. Hollywood had no tradition of overt politico-realism propaganda movies, hence no parody of that tradition.

    In your post on WR you said:

    So it turns out, readers, that Milena lost her head for Deleuze’s idea of immediate access to bliss. Metaphorically, this is related to the question we all had to ask ourselves in Communism: is Paradise on Earth realistic, or is it a fantasy that inevitably ends in decapitation?

    It seemed to me that Milena lost her head because she released the Russian skater’s multiply repressed and sublimated libido, which unleashed violence rather than free love. This is what Reich said in the documentary segments of WR, where he attributes the hostilities directed at him and his commune by his New York neighbors to this same mechanism of suddenly-released and misdirected libido.

    “this is the school of parody my site draws on, among other things.”

    Just yesterday I was speaking with a high school film teacher who grew up in Greece during the Soviet era (his father worked for Radio Free Europe, the American propaganda medium). He talked about seeing Eastern Bloc TV and movies unavailable in the US, and in this context he specifically commended the great Yugoslav animation tradition. I was pleased to tell him that I know a guy from the internet who comes from this very tradition. As you know, PC, I’d be more taken with your parodic interventions if they weren’t so often used as the premise for launching extended personal attacks on individuals of your virtual acquaintance. If your goal is to stimulate affect then you’re successful in my case, since the personal criticisms make me feel sad, angry, self-conscious. I can feel those emotions without you too, of course, and I know I shouldn’t take your remarks to heart. But I guess that’s just the way I am, especially since you and I have had some good times talking with one another.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 November 2008 @ 7:15 pm

  7. “It seemed to me that Milena lost her head because she released the Russian skater’s multiply repressed and sublimated libido, which unleashed violence rather than free love. This is what Reich said in the documentary segments of WR, where he attributes the hostilities directed at him and his commune by his New York neighbors to this same mechanism of suddenly-released and misdirected libido.”

    Yes, I agree with this. In the mortuary, she says he couldn’t handle it. Immediate access to bliss? Why, that’s only an orgasm. What’s to be afraid of?

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    Comment by NB — 20 November 2008 @ 3:50 am

  8. In this movie Reich’s American disciples appear rather silly and narcissistic in their pursuit of personal release. Maybe Makavejev was highlighting the commodification of libido in American capitalism vis-a-vis the disciplined militaristic sublimation in Soviet totalitarianism. But Reich wound up jailed in America, his books publicly burned, so the free market didn’t turn out to be quite so free for Reich. That Makavejev emphasized the American trivialization of Reich rather than his suppression must have been intentional. Clearly he regarded the Soviet regime as his parodic target, presumably because that was the particular boot under which he and his country were being crushed, and also I think because he must have regarded it as the more lethal form of reaction against freedom.

    It seemed that Makavejev really would like to have seen more free love undermining the system. While Milena kept talking about sex, it was her roommate who got naked, and it was the Serbian worker who crashed through the wall of sexual repression rather than the effete Russian figure skater. Stop talking about it and just do it, seems to be the message here — though I presume Makavejev the talking artist found self-referential irony in his representation.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 November 2008 @ 4:26 am

  9. On a self-referential note, I deleted a reply from Parodycenter that constituted a personal attack. Am I exercising a Stalinist tactic for suppressing personal freedom of expression, or extending a gesture in support of free-flowing libido? I’m hoping it’s more the latter than the former, though of course it is all just talk after all.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 November 2008 @ 4:36 am

  10. “In this movie Reich’s American disciples appear rather silly and narcissistic in their pursuit of personal release.”

    Yes, it is far from an unironic portrait of Reich’s theories. Do you remember the footage (which I think is from the Soviet Union) of some poor sod receiving what looks like extremely painful and enforced ECT and then it cutting to a load of proto-yuppie Reichians screaming on the floor? He who chooses his slavery, is he a slave still?

    “It seemed that Makavejev really would like to have seen more free love undermining the system.”

    Yes, probably. Though the American sections highlight that free love can quite easily be circuited through the system. Makavejev eloquently tempers his idealism.

    That artist makes casts of the penises of famous people, including the editor of Screw (I think Hendrix was another of her famous models). She aestheticises and commodifies – objectfies – that which is so often stimulated by objectification. It is a beautiful object. An object of worship perhaps. An object of ridicule. Something to praise. Something people fear. And nothing at all. Just a penis. Even something that could be just a dildo – nothing to do with actual men at all. Very funny, I think.

    “While Milena kept talking about sex, it was her roommate who got naked, and it was the Serbian worker who crashed through the wall of sexual repression rather than the effete Russian figure skater.”

    Milena feels that free love can be programmatical – but this is a contradiction (her speech in the atrium is both inspired and ridiculous – followed by Maoists holding up their little red books!). As she says herself, “Communism without free love is nothing but a cemetery.” By choosing the ideal over the reality, the skater over the filthy, chauvinistic Radmilovic, she ends up being decapitated by that ideal: those beautiful skates, real classy. She realises the skater’s a preposterous shit after he knocks her away – but finally gives in to love. He just can’t do it though.

    “On a self-referential note, I deleted a reply from Parodycenter that constituted a personal attack.”

    Yes, I read it before you deleted it. So what? It’s your blog, your suzerainty after all.

    “Am I exercising a Stalinist tactic for suppressing personal freedom of expression, or extending a gesture in support of free-flowing libido? I’m hoping it’s more the latter than the former, though of course it is all just talk after all.”

    I think you understand Makavejev very well.

    You thought that song at the end was too long? I reckon it’s one of the most profound, moving and funny moments in a great film.

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    Comment by NB — 20 November 2008 @ 6:35 am

  11. I appreciate your calling attention to the subtleties of this seemingly superficial farce, NR. The juxtaposition of state-administered torture with self-inflicted Reichean pleasure exercises does set up a pain-pleasure oscillation shows something of Lacanian jouissance. The temptation is to regard the torture victims as getting off on the experience, choosing their slavery as you say, collaborating with their own torturers, deriving sexual pleasure from subjection. The molded phallic sculptures I didn’t think much about, but as you say it is a very direct sublimation of libido and fetishisation of the object. The sculptress gives this guy a hand job, and then at max turgidity, the moment just prior to release, she stops and coats the erection with plaster.

    Can you say more about the song and why you found it so moving?

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    Comment by attentiontolife — 20 November 2008 @ 9:39 am

  12. Thanks Atl, I didn’t remember your watching this movie with me. Oh you didn’t? You say you logged in to your blog on my machine because yours is in the shop? Well that explains it then. And no, I didn’t pose as a model for the sculptress.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 November 2008 @ 9:44 am

  13. Hello ATL,

    “The temptation is to regard the torture victims as getting off on the experience, choosing their slavery as you say”

    But they didn’t choose it. Society did. Soviet society. Repeat after me: “Socialism + electricity = communism!” Oh that could be a matheme!

    “The juxtaposition of state-administered torture with self-inflicted Reichean pleasure exercises does set up a pain-pleasure oscillation shows something of Lacanian jouissance.”

    Yes, I guess. Are they pleasure exercises? I didn’t know they were pleasure exercises specifically, but then I don’t know too much about Reich beyond this film. I’m afraid I have little truck with the idea of jouissance. Lacan was taught by Jesuits, wasn’t he? Jouissance is such a Jesuitical idea. It’s like all those people who say, “There’s no such thing as altruism. Bah!” The purity is what you extract: yes, it takes subjective agency to enjoy – and maybe, for some (for many), this is a whole history of pain.

    Why not “enjoyment”? Why not complicate people’s idea of enjoyment rather than give it this bad pun terminology “jouissance” – for ever in a dialectic so we can never enjoy with abandon again? Of course, it is applied retrospectively. A bit like the term

    I’m very fond of the song because it’s both deeply ironical and heartfelt, particularly as he is wandering around a wasteland with blood on his hands. It’s an honest prayer: wanting good for other sinner – which is for them to keep on sinning in their loveable sinning ways. Absolution is only there for those who can see past the bloody hands. God perhaps?

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    Comment by NB — 20 November 2008 @ 10:54 am

  14. We’re of course talking about a movie about Reich and not about Reich, but I’m skeptical about the premise of moving through violence toward love as the working-through of previously repressed libido. Nietzsche was skeptical too, and Foucault. We can talk about power as aphrodisiac, but wielding power for its own sake affords a pleasure that seems distinct from sexuality. If we stop regarding violence as an unfortunate but necessary phase toward freedom and give it its due, then both sex and violence would increase as repressions are relaxed. If sex works better with a partner, then so presumably does power: somebody has to play the victim in order to complete the circuit. This I think is how sadism becomes a virtue, as well as its collective expression in fascism, Stalinism and other forms of totalitarianism — also unfettered capitalism where wielding economic power over the poor is regarded as a virtue.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 November 2008 @ 11:03 am

  15. “I’m skeptical about the premise of moving through violence toward love as the working-through of previously repressed libido”

    Wityh reference to this film, do you mean the skater? Oh no, I don’t think he’s discovered love after working out his violence, only that he’s lost something quite precious. He had it in his hands – literally. He feels wretched at least.

    “wielding power for its own sake affords a pleasure that seems distinct from sexuality”

    Well, they do often combine. But, like a cigar is sometimes just a cigar then sometimes a crack on the head is just that.

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    Comment by NB — 20 November 2008 @ 11:26 am

  16. Clysmatics I was referring to Milena’s idea of mounting a sexual revolution via Reichian transformative orgasm in direct / anarchic fashion, which the Leninist who ends up killing her ironizes in a previous conversation (out of which you chose a still frame) as a Leninist or a Stalinist would against an Anarchist. But I translated this in terms of mediation versus direct jouissance so that Milena loses her head for thinking that she could get access to Paradise right here right now.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 24 November 2008 @ 12:02 pm

  17. Yes I think that even if Vladimir Ilyich the skater is sublimating his libido into politics, art, and violence, these are real impediments to freedom and love. Paradise is blocked by structure and territorialization, and in Milena’s case it’s an externally-imposed Russian structure that blocks her. She tries to seduce and persuade him, but it only turns into a more violent form of oppression. But the Russian recognizes that even he doesn’t get much joy out of exercising this ruthless sexualized power, as evidenced in his song of failed idealism. Everyone loses in the end: a tragedy disguised as farce.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 November 2008 @ 8:15 pm

  18. I still find the film, upon countless viewings, utterly fascinating in the way it refuses to settle for one interpretation, and exists in some delirious universe totally beyond explication. I can’t say the ending is either a tragedy or a comedy, it’s both and neither. It gives this unique vibe. And nowhere in cinema have I seen this kind of a combination of sexual humor with politics with psychology.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 25 November 2008 @ 4:08 am

  19. Yes I remembered Lenin told Milena ”what kind of a revolution is it that never ends” which is what led me to make a parallel with the idea of jouissance without castration, without Lack, without restraint, and to see Milena as a kind of a desiring-Machine in Deleuzian terms. Her hair looks like she’s been electrified or electrocuted, foreshadowing her decapitation but also indicating that she’s constantly on heat.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 25 November 2008 @ 4:09 am

  20. “this kind of a combination of sexual humor with politics with psychology.”

    The self-referentiality is also self-subversive; i.e., Milena’s speechifying exemplifies how words get in the way of doing what it is her words are exhorting her listeners to do. Radmilovic crashes through the walls of repression and finds a naked woman sitting there under the photo of Freud, yet Milena and Vlad keep talking away. I loved it when Radmilovic looks at the naked girl and exclaims “Oh Calcutta!” Do you know this reference, PC? I never saw the play, but it was a notorious manifestation of the decadent free-love culture of the era, with nude performers prancing on the stage. “The title is taken from a painting by Clovis Trouille, itself a pun on “O quel cul t’as!”, French for “What an ass you have!”.” Probably inspired by Duchamp’s mustachioed Mona Lisa entitled L.H.O.O.Q., or “Elle a chaud au cul” — “She’s got a hot ass.”

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    Comment by ktismatics — 25 November 2008 @ 3:04 pm

  21. i heard of calcutta but didn’t know what this reference means thanks for enlightening me, ex-dad. speaking of radmilovic, he was an utterly brilliant serbian theatre comic who died of horrid cancer but remains in memory as a total genius. he was able to improvise comedy on each and every one of his 23450 performances in the show ”radovan the third”, a hilarious dissection of middle class hypocrisies where two petit burgeoie family clans take it up against each other. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOf8ArRc59w

    the highlights of the play are: radovan’s wife Rumenka (the ruddy one) named after a cow, his daughter who’s been pregnant for 17 years, and another daughter, a truck driver who threatens to break his bones every time they have an argument.

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    Comment by parody center — 25 November 2008 @ 10:35 pm


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