Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
October 13
October 13, 1971
W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism released

On October 13, 1971, New York was abuzz with talk of a scandalous movie released that day, Dušan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. A fusion of documentary and fiction, W.R. melded a symbolic narrative about a Yugoslav woman who seduces a Russian ice skater with an examination of the ideas of controversial psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich as it explored the link between communism and sexuality. Makavejev’s take on Reich’s ideas was that if people were less restrained, they could achieve sexual satisfaction that would in turn create happier and more relaxed people, thus alleviating many of the political problems of the both the Communist Europe and the puritanical USA. Footage of Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs simulating the act of masturbating a gun and women making a plaster cast dildo from the erect penis of one of the editors of Screw magazine got critics’ attention, and not always in a good way. “I have never, in all my years of moviegoing, booed a film, no matter how bad, boring or insipid,” wrote David Bienstock of The New York Times, “that is, until I saw Dusan Makavejev's film, WR-Mysteries of the Organism.” Bienstock took particular offense at the crude misrepresentation of Reich’s complex ideas on sexuality, saying that the film “exploited, misinterpreted and maligned the very man's work that it professed to hold dear.” Attacked in New York after being banned in its native Yugoslavia, the film nevertheless attracted many champions as well as detractors. Roger Ebert, who includes the movie in his book Great Films, described it as “insanely brilliant,” was a particular vocal promoter of the film, as were Raymond Durgnat (who wrote a book on the film in 1999) and Jonathan Rosenbaum, author of an essay on the film for its Criterion DVD release, and the film is now considered a classic of avant-garde cinema.


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