director Dušan Makavejev
What was the last truly radical feature film made? I don’t mean this rhetorically, I mean it really.
Okay, I guess it’s all perspective. If I had to cast a vote at the moment, I would say the most radical film that I have seen that was a recent production was Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing (2012). I would say that it is indeed a radical work of art and a tremendous one at that.
But it’s quite different from the radical films of the 1960’s and 1970’s that were getting made. The 1960’s and 1970’s were more radical times, from the perspective of people and rights and outrage. It’s not that we lack for these issues in our times, but we don’t have the art, at least the cinema of outrage, protest, social critique.
W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism, by Serbian/Yugoslav filmmaker Dušan Makavejev is pretty far out there. It’s hard to imagine this film being made at any other time in history. It is complex, addressing all sorts of ideas and concepts, but is also very much an element of its era.
Makavejev made the film in both New York City and in Yugoslavia, and it has more than one focal element. The title refers to Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst who migrated to the United States after WWII, carrying on some really strange experiments and therapies, writing books about the way that sexual repression was in many ways the core of psychological issues. Part of the film is documentary in the way it covers his later life in the US, people who he treated, footage of said treatments, and commentary on his own treatment by the US.
His books were burned and he was imprisoned for lewdness.
His work, though, was also tied to ideas of more pure Communism and Makavejev spends time with these ideas, of Stalin’s Communism and its failure to truly free the people, people who should be freed as well by “free love”, if you will. The film also features some unsimulated sex. Its provocations not so much provocations as more embedded sense of what is natural and should be normal.
It’s pretty far out. It reminded me passingly of other films I’ve seen from Eastern Europe around this time: Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966), Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and to some extent as well, Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger Is Dead (1969). The Czech films share W.R.‘s tone of play and politics, though these are very different things creations.
I would be curious what other feature films in recent years begin to reach this level of political engagement and avant-garde breaks from standard style, production, and intent.