Orgone Biophysical Research Lab
Ashland, Oregon, USA Critical Review:
WR Mysteries of the Organism*
Ashland, Oregon, USA
Dusan Makavejev's WR Mysteries of the Organism*
by James DeMeo, Ph.D.
Director, Orgone Biophysical Research Lab
Ashland, Oregon, USA
Copyright (c) 2007 by James DeMeo
The pioneering research on human sexuality undertaken by the late Dr. Wilhelm Reich constituted a breakthrough in understanding about the emotional and bioenergetic nature of the sexual discharge, as well as providing for deeper understandings of the psyche-soma (mind-body) relationship, and the role of chronic sexual stasis in the genesis of mental disorders and biopathic degenerative disease. Since his death, numerous studies have confirmed parts of his discovery on the
Function of the Orgasm (the title of his 1927 and later expanded 1942 book on the subject), notably on the health benefits of a gratified sexual life. Reich's larger sex-economic theory of society has also been confirmed, dramatically so, in my own research study
Saharasia, which proved that sexually gratified societies were lacking in social violence, but also did not have pornographic, homoerotic, bi/poly-sexual or pedophilic impulses. Only the sexually-frustrated societies showed such correlations to violence and distorted sexual expression. I've already written on this subject, of Reich's discoveries on human sexuality, in a chapter within my larger book
Saharasia. The interested reader should consult that work for a summary, or better yet, consult directly what Wilhelm Reich said about human sexual expression in his own numerous books:
Here, however, I wish to expose certain aspects of a growing problem, of public distortions and attacks against Reich's work. These have taken on two major expressions:
1) Overt condemnations, based upon deliberately distorted misrepresentations of his clinical findings, as when religious moralists condemn Reich for their misperception that he advocated a "sexual free-for-all" and poly-sex perversions of all sorts, which simply is not true. Reich did argue for a loosening of sexual taboos and allowance of young lovers to have loving and responsible premarital sexual relations within their own peer-groups, something which is quite normal and healthy, and that, too, can infuriate the religious moralists.
2) Another more subtle form of attack and distortion comes when those advocating pornography and the "free fuck" mentality abuse Reich's name as justifications for their activities or world view. Since Reich is well-known for his writings on sexual freedom versus sexual taboos, it is not uncommon to see advocates of the most grotesque forms of sexual distortions abuse Reich's name as justification.
Since Reich is no longer alive to defend his work, that burden falls upon those professionals and others who know the facts, to speak out in his defense. Here, I wish to identify what is perhaps the most egregious example of the second expression noted above, of pornographers abusing Reich's name to glorify their activities, with the apparent goal of destroying his work precisely because Reich's criticisms of their behavior are so powerfully illuminating. It is the ultimate twist, that the natural scientist and psychiatrist who understood human sexuality and problems of sexual gratification and misery better than any other, and who offered social and therapeutic remedies by which sexual impotence and pornographic impulses could be eliminated, is today subjected to the slimy embrace of the pornographers. The apparent reason is to distort Reich's advocacy of a socially permissive attitude towards young heterosexual love -- as with Romeo and Juliet -- and his rational criticisms of organized religion's generally sex-repressive and anti-female nature, into a license for their own pathological ideas and behaviors. Reich would be turning in his grave over this situation.
The "most egregious example" I referenced above is the 1971 film by Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev, WR Mysteries of the Organism (hereafter WRMO), widely shown in off-beat and university cinemas in the 1970s, released as a VHS version in 2001, and recently released once again into the public on DVD. The film mixes documentary footage from Wilhelm Reich's early research with clips of a love-making scene out in an open meadow under the blue skies, with wonderful emotive music, a deeply moving scene which stirs the longings of the viewer. Then director Makavejev inserts the phrase "fuck freely, comrades", along with other sexually degrading words and scenes, the effect of which is like being punched in the belly. The film then degenerates quickly, into scenes of cartoonish sexual displays, a former member of the "Fugs" rock band mock-masturbating the barrel of a machine-gun with a mock-blissful look on his face, the editor of "Screw" magazine being masturbated to erection by two young women of the "plaster-caster" porno-cult, after which they make a plaster casting of his penis, and then a rubber dildoe -- followed by a lecture from a "masturbation therapist", with one distortion of Reich after another. Mostly it is childish pre-genital stuff, designed to titilate sex-frustrated people. A sub-plot continues through the film, of a female communist party member who falls in love with a sexually-dysfunctional ice-skating champion, who cannot make love to her, so instead he chops off her head with his ice-skates. The disembodied head then speaks from a table-top. Whatever serious issues might have been suggested at the beginning of the film, or by a few interviews made with friends of Reich who thought the film would be something authentic, is torn to shreds very quickly, leaving every decent person in the audience feeling nauseous. By this method, the name and work of Wilhelm Reich has been associated with sleazy pornography.
More recently, two of Makavejev's pornographic movies, WRMO and the even more offensive and mis-titled Sweet Movie were jointly released on DVD. Numerous positive film reviews from the poly-sexual Hollywood crowd, apparently fully approving of the porn-content of the Makavejev films, appeared in magazines and on internet shortly afterward. For example, see here, and the other weblinks below. The contents of these films have been so outrageous that they have been banned as hard-porn in many nations, and of course the distortions against Reich were compounded in them. The situation is worsened, as I will show below, in that Reich's name is also being publicly associated with the second and more offensive Sweet Movie.
Here is an earlier review of WRMO I wrote, and circulated to a few internet sites selling the Makavejev DVDs:
A Total Distortion of Reich's Work, February 2, 2004
Under the headline "Nocturnal Admissions" we learn from other film reviews that Sweet Movie created an uproar in Poland, where the actress Anna Prucnal was actually banned from re-entering the country. The following internet film reviews clarify the rational objections people have about Makavejev's films, and why it is so upsetting to see Reich's name and work associated with them:
Like his WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Dusan Makavejev's controversial 1974 feature Sweet Movie is firmly rooted in the principles of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. In cinematic terms, this means bombarding the audience with an onset of imagery so visceral, disgusting and repellent that it "awakens" the viewer in a Brechtian manner by "short-circuiting" the audience's reactions. Sweet Movie interweaves two narratives. One begins with a trip to the "Miss World Virginity Contest," whose winner, Miss Monde 1984 (Carole Laure) is auctioned off to Mr. Kapital (Animal House's John Vernon), a Texas oil billionaire with an odd perversion. Instead of deflowering her on her wedding night, he sterilizes the terrified girl's body with rubbing alcohol and showers her in urine with his massive gold-plated penis, while an audience watches bemusedly through his bedroom window. She later escapes from her bridegroom, in a suitcase, and winds up at a wild Viennese commune whose participants indulge in public defecation and a food orgy that wraps with a massive display of gurgling, yakking, and vomiting. At the tale's conclusion, Miss Monde shoots a television commercial that involves writhing and masturbating in a giant vat of chocolate, .... The second story involves a woman, Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal) piloting a candy-filled boat down a river, with a massive papier-mache head of Lenin on the prow and a lover in-tow who is a refugee from the Battleship Potemkin. She eventually does a seductive striptease and seduces a pack of children, then makes love to her paramour in a vat of sugar and stabs him through the heart. Throughout the film, Macavejev includes shock cuts to Nazi autopsy footage and medical experimentation footage, some of which involves physical abuse of infants under the guise of "baby gymnastics." [emphasis mine, JD]
Another film review provides additional details:
"Sweet Movie" -- a blitz of outrageous and nearly criminal offenses, cobbled onto a handful of silly dream-plots...Otto Muehl's regression therapy (in which members of Muehl's commune vomit and pee all over each other)...dinner plates of fresh shit, a castration in a vat of sugar...
For those who are blissfully ignorant of the Muehl commune, it was a Viennese sex-cult called the Aktions-Analytische Organisation, part of the 1960s European student's movement which nominally took parts of Reich's ideas as inspiration, and then often as not turned them upside down and inside-out, mixing with whatever else caught their fancy. By one internet account, "Otto Muehl was in the sixtees a representive of "Vienna-actionism" shocking the public. This "art" [included the] public slaughter of gooses and pigs." Muehl departed from Austria to set up a commune in Germany, where he was eventually arrested for sexual abuse of children in his commune. After getting out of prison, he set up a new commune in Portugal. Such are the kinds of people Makavejev willfully decided to include in his films.
Of course, these twisted film misrepresentations most definitely are NOT "firmly rooted in the principles of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich". It is the complete antithesis of Reich's principles, which emphasized love and tenderness, the protection of children from adult seducers and pedophiles, and a very gentle treatment of babies and children. The only connection to Reich is via the widespread mythos created by director Makavejev, whose film career was built on the first WRMO film, the related book (of same title) and lectures he's been invited to give, as a self-proclaimed "expert on Reich" who in fact either knows nothing, or deliberately makes Big Lies. Given the hostility towards Reich's discoveries within mass-media circles, we can expect a continuance of this disinformation for some decades to come.
In fact, I found only one film review, by Christopher Null in 2000, whose author seemed to understand how Makavejev distorted Reich's work.
If only WR kept up the interest level of the Reich biography, this might have been a fantastic picture. Too bad that none of the supporting footage nor the fictional tale match the sheer curiousness of Reich's story. Makavejev has certainly gone out of his way to make WR stick together, each of his fragments working together to tell a story bigger than the sum of its parts. The narrative's communist theme turns into one of sex; Reich's sexual research results in a fascist destruction of his work. If only it worked that way in practice -- WR's supporting bits just don't have the punch they need, and that drags the film down. Kupferberg's raving lunacy serves as counterpoint to nothing. Curtis's whining about sex comes across as, well, whining about sex.
We might close by asking how it was that Makavejev was able to obtain the documentary footage and interviews which provided his film's only authentic connections to Wilhelm Reich. Without those sequences, his film would merley have been just another pornographic movie, mixed up with Marxist rantings.
In an earlier film review article of WRMO in the Journal of Orgonomy, (vol. 5 #2, p.227-233, Nov. 1971) by John Bell and Barbara Koopman, it was revealed that the director Makavejev approached several of Reich's former associates and family members, eager to obtain documentary materials from them to use in his film, and to interview them. The article stated that Makavejev
"...asked them to cooperate with him on a documentary film he was making on the life and work of Reich. He presented himself as a Yugoslav democrat who had a deep interest in Reich's work and wanted to make a film that would set forth Reich's career and discoveries accurately. He was therefore accorded every courtesy and cooperation, and in turn gave many assurances that, despite his background, he was not a Communist; that he had read Reich's works extensively and understood the difference between freedom and license, love and fucking, and the primary and secondary drives; and that he would protect Reich and his work from the political and pornographic distortions to which they had so often been subject in the past. And finally we believed him -- but should we not have known better?"
Makavejev obtained other documentary materials and interviews from the Trustee of the Wilhelm Reich Museum, by claiming to be making a documentary for German television. None of it was true, and today we see how much actual lying the film director engaged in to obtain his needed documentary footage and permissions, footage which was factually the only valid part of the entire WRMO film.
Undoing the damage done to Reich and orgonomy from this one film WRMO, will take decades. People who see them are not likely to re-evaluate what they have seen, especially since so many "authorities" appearing in the mainstream media and film industry continually reinforce the falsehoods, about the film's being "rooted in the principles of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich".
Viewers of the Makavejev films, and especially those who firstly hear about Wilhelm Reich through those films, should therefore be aware of their deceptive background and content, that the pornographic and sick sexual themes of those films have nothing whatsoever to do with anything advocated or written by Wilhelm Reich, who was as much a critic of indiscriminate "free fucking" and an "anything goes" narcissistic poly-sexuality, as he was of rigid religious antisexual moralism.
One issue which remains unresolved is the motivations of director Makavejev to make the original WRMO film. This was done at a time, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Yugoslavia was under tight controls of the Yugoslavian communist state. In his appeals to the American orgonomists, to help make the film, Majavejev told one lie after another about what the film would be like, and about his own interests in Reich. As noted above, he also claimed to be a "Yugoslav democrat" and "not a Communist". Were those also lies? If so, was there a deliberated conspiracy to do harm to Reich's research legacy, given Reich's strong anti-communism? Or is this a another case of some average film-producer or journalist, who says whatever he feels is necessary in order to get people to cooperate with him and "get the information" or the movie shots they need to complete their project, the facts be damned. I considered that Mr. Makavejev was engaged in a "hit job" against Reich, given what we know from various new sources like Jim Martin's Wilhelm Reich and the Cold War, how Reich was repeatedly attacked by American communists. For example, Makavejev's film credits include what appear to be several Communist Party documentaries, such as the 1959 work Sto je radnicki savjet? (What Is a Workers' Council?).
In 1981 when Makavejev lectured after showing the WRMO film in Lawrence, Kansas -- I was there and heard him speak -- he made condemning statements about the United States, declaring Yugoslavia to be the "freest nation on Earth". That was quite an "over the top" statement, to say the least. Aside from Yugoslavia being a well-known police-state run by a ruthless Communist Party, WRMO and his other major film, Sweet Movie were banned in Yugoslavia, and he was exiled from re-entering the nation until 1988. That alone might speak favorably on Makavejev's behalf, but the Yugoslavian Communist Party bosses did not eject Makavejev because he had denigrated Wilhelm Reich. They were upset because their Communism was also ridiculed, and mixed up with pornography. By one account, President Josip Tito walked out of one screening of the film, calling it "perverted". The film did not even succeed as a sex-political commentary, which might have been useful for Yugoslavia, and even possible had the film stayed true to Reich.
From one film review, "Dusan Makavejev: Heavy Petting" by Michael Atkinson, it also states that the WRMO film "began as a Ford Foundation grant-subsidized documentary on Wilhelm Reich", which apparently is only half-correct. He received a travel grant from Ford Foundation in 1968, which allowed him to come to the USA and Europe where all kinds of things were filmed, including some of the background interviews used in WRMO.
Today I am inclined to view WRMO merely is an expression of the director having grown up in the harsh and sex-repressive communist Yugoslavia, being swept into the 1960's rebellions of youth culture and anti-Stalinism. Surely, he must have felt and observed the powerful clash between the rigid communist system and people's authentic aspirations for freedom and sexual happiness. However, into this rational struggle comes another clash, between the director's core anti-authoritarian tendencies and creative skills in the use of light and color, with his own sex-frustration and secondary layer attraction to dirty-minded scenes, much as a comedian whose intellectual creativity is diminished by always gravitating towards jokes about farting, or women's breasts. It is a self-defeating posture one often sees among artists who deliberately waste their talent.
Any minor film talent who can hold a camera straight is able to shock an audience with provocative scenes of nudity mixed with filth, to shove a camera lens into a dinner plate of merde. The mark of genius is when the plot line, with directors, writers and actors working together, touches upon something essential and real, exposing the deeper human emotions which make it important, and tell a story which has timeless roots. Makavejev hasn't arrived there yet, not by a long shot, and probably never will. He gained his brief notoriety only by inclusion of such towering figures as Wilhelm Reich into the mix. Or in this case, into the mix-master.
Postscript November 2007
New information has come to my attention, indicating how the poison from Makavejev's films continues to spread and damage Wilhelm Reich's name and work.
In the book The Story of V: A Natural History of Female Sexuality (Rutgers University Press, 2004) author Catherine Blackledge quotes some lines from the Makavejev film, and then mis-attributes them to Reich! She says:
Reich never "exhortated" or even suggested any such thing to anyone, to "fuck freely" or using any combination of other words with a similar meaning, as I've already discussed above. Reich also used the term "vegetotherapy" and "orgone therapy", but not "orgasmatherapy". Blackledge quotes from Makavejev's 1971 film narration as if this were Reich speaking, thereby adding a new and ugly twist to what already was a hiddeous distortion of Reich's work. In a "scholarly" academic book from a major university press, the pornographer Makavejev's words are misrepresented as the words of Wilhelm Reich! Incredible.
Postscript December 2008
James DeMeo wrote a book review on The Story of V for Amazon.com which includes the above information. Dr. Philip Bennett also recently wrote a letter to the author Blackledge, with a copy to the publisher, pointing out all of this, and asking for a correction. The DeMeo Review, Bennett's letter and the publisher's response are now posted on-line at the OBRL Blog, here.
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