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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Dušan Makavejev Day

 

‘No filmmaker of his generation from Eastern Europe could match the charisma and originality of Dušan Makavejev. Forever bustling from festival to festival with his inspiring wife Bojana Marijan—who contributed to the sound and music on many of his works—he embodied all that was best in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Long before the six republics descended into bitter, vicious wars of attrition with one another, Makavejev was a unifying spirit, the cynosure for all filmmakers in Yugoslavia. Serbian born and bred, he inspired contemporary directors from Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Montenegro with his passionate discourse and his broad-minded dialectic. Over the years his voice grew huskier and his hunched back more pronounced, but his curiosity remained undiminished. He disarmed his critics with a laugh or a quip. “We in Yugoslavia are 100% Marxist,” he loved to repeat, “50% Groucho and 50% Karl.”

‘Makavejev was “First Secretary” of the Belgrade Film Archive Club in 1954 when Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française arrived in Belgrade with a diplomatic trunk filled with works by Clair, Feuillade, and Pagnol and other classics of French cinema—all uncensored. In the years that followed, “Wajda’s trilogy made a huge impression on me,” he told me in 2001. “Then came Jules and Jim, Breathless—freedom of editing without careless editing, plus the casual treatment of the story, with casual dialogue. I liked the dancing camera in Chabrol’s À double tour. He was for me probably more important than anyone else in the early days. Some of the images from Les bonnes femmes have stayed with me for forty years.”

‘Like many aspiring directors in Eastern Europe, Makavejev had to cut his teeth on shorts and documentaries, which set the template for his love of reportage and realism in future years. “One of my amateur films was screened at a festival of amateur cinema in Cannes in 1957. A group of us film society members traveled with two tents to the Riviera in December, and found a place to set them up in the hills behind the railroad at the back of the town, where the Algerians lived, and for one franc a day you could erect your tent!” His maiden feature, Man Is Not a Bird, released in 1965 and selected the following spring for the Critics’ Week in Cannes, revealed a socially committed filmmaker who took risks with both form and content, flashing forward and backward in time as it tells the tale of an engineer visiting the copper-processing town of Bor and falling for a young hairdresser. The visuals are bleak, but Man Is Not a Bird has an irreducible humor and impudence that deftly sidesteps pessimism.

‘Our first meeting occurred in a smoke-filled editing room in the bowels of one of those gloomy government buildings on Belgrade’s Knez Mihailova. It was March of 1967, and Dušan was editing what would become the first of his international art-house successes. The Serbian title was “Ljubavni slučaj,” and Dušan explained that this meant “Love Case” in English. I suggested he should call it Love Dossier, and he accepted this with alacrity. However, better brains than his and mine decided in their wisdom to entitle the film Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator. This enigmatic, amusing, and faintly sinister film opened at the Yugoslav national festival in Pula in July 1967, and was bought by Brandon Films for the U.S. following its New York Festival premiere two months later. It inaugurated the golden years of Dušan Makavejev.

‘Much influenced by Godard, Makavejev pushed to still further boundaries a dialectic that in each of his films opposed interludes of documentary to scenes of fantasy. At the same time he pioneered a forensic approach to cinema. In Switchboard Operator, an erstwhile revolutionary and civil servant who has been relegated to the status of rat-catcher, seduces and then inexplicably murders a young woman in contemporary Belgrade. The sex scenes in Switchboard Operator are stitched together with interviews with a sexologist, images of the autopsy on the victim’s corpse, clips from Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm, and laconic comments on the life of rats that roam the city sewers.

‘His next work, Innocence Unprotected, was selected for Berlin in June 1968, and WR: Mysteries of the Organism featured in the first edition of the International Forum for Young Cinema in 1971. Innocence Unprotected portrayed the Serbian athlete Dragoljub Aleksić, who in 1942 had made a film about his own gymnastic feats, interspersed with stretches of wide-eyed melodrama. Makavejev virtually “re-made” this exercise in vanity, tinting some sequences, and bulking it out with a collage of wartime newsreel clips and interviews with Aleksić himself and his original cameraman.

‘At the Berlin Festival of 1970, Makavejev was a member of the jury and showed his mettle off-screen when Michael Verhoeven’s West German entry, O.K., dealing with the rape of a young Vietnamese girl by four U.S. soldiers, aroused the wrath of jury president George Stevens. Makavejev argued forcefully that any filmmaker has the right to speak freely about world issues, and, accused by Stevens of being an agent for the East German government, he finally resigned. Rumors circulated that West German Chancellor Willy Brandt then personally intervened in the crisis, and Stevens agreed to reconcile with Makavejev and his fellow jurors.

‘The initials WR stand for Wilhelm Reich, the Austro-American psychoanalyst who claimed to have discovered “orgone” energy, which enhanced one’s sexual energy. Reich’s written work was still banned in the U.S. when Makavejev began his research for WR: Mysteries of the Organism—and as late as 1960 his books had been literally burned at the request of the Food and Drug Agency of the time. Looking back from the perspective of 2001, Dušan said, “My cinema is one of essays—but the essays are not always evident, they are often hidden.” To some degree WR serves as a disquisition on the life and experiments of Reich; but to an even larger degree it’s a call to arms against censorship and intolerance. Makavejev offers a clear dialectic between the frustrations and stupidity of rigid ideology (read: Communism) and the freedom of a Reichian world. He then proceeds, like Magritte or Braque, to fill his canvas with a cluster of sundry clips from the 1946 Soviet film, The Vow, about Stalin, one of which follows a close-up shot of a plaster-cast phallus. The fictional thread of WR describes a doomed affair between Milena Draviċ and a Russian skater, contrasted with the zestful copulation of Jagoda Kaloper and “Comrade Ljuba.” Theory and practice, the irrational and the rational, thus meet in head-on collision, and the result is a film that mauls the sacred iconography of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, affirming that “Politics is for those whose orgasm is incomplete.” It’s a classic utopian parable, in the mood of Huxley’s Brave New World or Orwell’s Animal Farm. Jagoda Kaloper traveled with WR to campuses across America, and I introduced her and the film at the University of Rochester. The undergraduate audience of the early seventies revelled in Jagoda’s nude scenes, even if the political references often seemed out of reach. In Yugoslavia, however, WR was banned without ceremony—for sixteen years—and in many other territories the film enraged the censors.

‘“At the end of 1972, the liberal leadership in Serbia was forced to resign,” Makavejev recounted to me in a 2008 interview. “An ideological/fundamentalist tsunami threw the media into a kind of psychotic vertigo. Already printed books were chopped up into old paper, theatre plays were removed from the repertory, and a campaign against the ‘black wave’ in films treated us as foreign agents.” It was time for this paradigm of the avant-garde to depart for new horizons. He acquired a charming apartment at the foot of the Rue de Seine in Paris, and pressed ahead with his next project. Entitled Sweet Movie (1974), it was shot in Montreal, Niagara Falls, Paris, and Amsterdam, with no contribution from Yugoslavia. A satire on everything from Communism to beauty pageants, and from chastity belts to coprophilia, Sweet Movie also addressed the ghastly crimes of the Stalinist era, notably the massacre of Polish officers in Katyn Forest. Scatological in the extreme, scattershot in its relentless assault on bourgeois values, Sweet Movie was premiered at the Cannes Festival. Meeting Makavejev in the Petit Carlton Café after the press screening, I said I had reservations about the film. Makavejev turned on his heel and stalked out of the bar. We would not talk again for several years. Looking back, I think that my disappointment stemmed not so much from the flaunting of taboos in the commune scenes as from the childishness of several sequences (although there’s a fine line between childishness and frivolity, or as Makavejev would say, between chocolate and excrement)!

‘In Montenegro, funded by the Swedes in 1981, Makavejev used such Bergman luminaries as actor Erland Josephson and editor Sylvia Ingemarsson. In Susan Anspach, he also found the perfect actress to play his bored bourgeois housewife, who kicks over the traces by setting fire to the bedclothes, and eventually poisoning her entire family. While her husband is abroad, she finds solace in an underground nightclub, where the Yugoslav immigrant known as “Montenegro” satisfies her sexual cravings. The film marked a return to Makavejev’s provocative form of the sixties and early seventies, even as its linear narrative helped to attract a large audience in numerous countries.

‘In October 2006, I recorded two interviews with Makavejev for Criterion, one on WR and the other on Sweet Movie. There he confirmed that he liked making satirical films, because he could then “smuggle across” some ideas and information that might otherwise be boring, and that for him editing was more important than shooting. The following year, he spoke to me for a book that the European Film Academy published to mark its 20th anniversary. “Our hand-held cameras were curious and critical,” he noted. “Instead of performing, our actors were asked just to be alive. Our stories on film became unpredictable, as in life.” Our final conversation was at the Berlin Festival in 2008, when we talked on stage at the Berlinale Talents program and Makavejev reiterated his desire that people should see his films more than once, that they could return to it as one returns to Mark Twain or Dostoevsky and gleans something fresh and new each time.

‘By the 1990s, Makavejev’s cinema lay like a beached whale on the sands of time. The Coca-Cola Kid, Manifesto, and Gorilla Bathes at Noon, made between 1985 and 1993, all failed to reach a wide audience. The antic wit was no longer so acerbic, the surrealism no longer so engaging, nor the political comment so trenchant as it had been in his heyday. Long into the future, nonetheless, Dušan Makavejev will remain a figure as emblematic of his period as Ken Kesey in literature or Velvet Underground in music. I like to think that Dziga Vertov and Salvador Dalí would have been his lifelong fans.’ — Peter Cowie

 

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Further

Dusan Makavejev @ IMDb
Dusan Makavejev obituary: the revolutionary ringmaster of Yugoslav film
Dušan Makavejev obituary
Dušan Makavejev @ The Criterion Collection
A Farewell to Yugoslav Cinema’s Greatest Antagonist: Dušan Makavejev
DIRECTOR ON A TIGHTROPE: DUŠAN MAKAVEJEV
Dušan Makavejev (1932–2019): Studies in Eastern European Cinema
Dušan Makavejev @ MUBI
Yugoslav Marxist Humanism and the Films of Dušan Makavejev
A tribute to the great anarchist of Yugoslav cinema, Dušan Makavejev
Dusan Makavejev: Or, the Case of the Messed-Up Serbian Director
Dušan Makavejev on WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM
Blood and Sugar: The Films of Dušan Makavejev
The Last Yugoslav: On Dusan Makavejev
Something Against Nature: Sweet Movie, 4, and Disgust
The World Tasted: Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie
ANARCHY AND ECSTASY: THE INTERMEDIATE CINEMA OF DUŠAN MAKAVEJEV
The Case of Dušan Makavejev
Behind the Velvet Curtain. Remembering Dušan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism
Dusan Makavejev’s visionary insolence
Dusan Makavejev and His Political Sexploitation Movies

 

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Extras


Dusan Makavejev & Rambo Amadeus


PORTRETI: DUŠAN MAKAVEJEV – MISTERIJA MAKAVEJEV


Nicely Offensive: Dusan Makavejev interviewed by George Melly

 

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Interview
from Film Comment

 

Do you know the latest definition of hard-core pornography, by Justice William Rehnquist? “Representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, [or] masturbation, excretory functions and lewd exhibitions of the genitals.”

What do they mean by “lewd”?

Well, they would be able to define it. But then, again, no two persons would agree as to whether a certain “exhibition” is or isn’t.

Well, I’m afraid this is not a very good time for critical filmmaking. It goes very much in cycles, and in general—not just in a particular country, though of course in very different keys-the present mood is oppressive and repressive.

Sweet Movie, though, gets away with the first cock on a French screen, perhaps because it’s a gallant quote fromGoldfinger—the “goldcock.”

Oh, I didn’t think of it that way. Anyway I didn’t worry about that; being satirical you’re always allowed to go a little further. I worried more about Pierre Clémenti, a well-known actor, performing in the nude. The “goldcock” is just an insert, a kind of comics-like joke. Clémenti instead is doing his own performance, his own contribution to the film, and we are recording, almost documentary-like, that performance. But what seems to have angered some people most are things that are not at all sexual. They have felt attacked for instance by the commune scenes. As soon as they see others playing with food, some people get petrified, much more than with sex, like Carole Laure putting Cachorro’s cock against her face and playing tenderly with it. Actually this is covered by a black stripe in the print now showing in Paris. As you know, Carole Laure objected to two tiny bits of the film and we had to remove them temporarily. As to this particular shot: she had seen the rushes back in November ’73, and only six months later she started legal action .

Perhaps she needed some time to think it over.

I suppose so. Actually this is not sex or depiction of sexual activity but a kind of very playful, childish, sensual contact, coming as it does after she has been nursed, breast-fed, all in the same vein. Only Cachorro’s self-castration “number” strikes a different note, being a parody of “macho” attitudes. But as soon as the commune starts playing about with food, and they start vomiting, pissing and all, people feel attacked. This is a kind of documentary about a therapy session, and people just won’t admit that into a fiction film. They feel attacked because we’re shifting the ground and they are not able to keep the compartments closed, uncommunicated. Stick to fiction, they say.

But you didn’t fake the pissing or shitting.

In action films where you have fight scenes, the actors or their stuntmen sometimes get carried away and really beat each other; sometimes it’s very difficult to draw the line between faking and real beating. There, of course, is the excuse that it’s the eternal moral struggle of good and evil. It is as if violence was OK as long as it’s not serving any kind of liberation. You’re supposed to accept things. You’re not supposed to throw out. You’re supposed to swallow everything that’s pushed down your throat. The real problem is what to do with biology in this context, what to do with this kind of new knowledge about where our problems are really located.

In Character Analysis, Wilhelm Reich states that our typical phases proceed according to a definite plan which is determined by the structure of each individual case. He lists: “loosening of the armor, breaking down the character armor which is definitive destruction of neurotic equilibrium, breaking through of deeply repressed and strongly attached material with the reactivation of infantile hysteria”-this is where Otto Muehl and your film come in—”working through of the liberated materials without resistance, chrystalization of the libido from pregenital fixations”—this is also in Sweet Movie—”reactivation of the infantile genital anxiety, appearance of orgasm anxiety and establishing of an orgastic policy…”

The interesting thing with Reich is that he never made any of his therapy public, never did any group therapy, always worked on a person-to-person basis, he hated homosexuality. So he had a number of his own hangups in spite of being such a great pioneer and breaking through much stronger than any other in his time or since. But this breakthrough led him directly to what people considered to be lunacy. He was so alone with his knowledge. His understanding of the connection between biological individual well-being and a political social behavior was so unacceptable that he was just left alone. He lived in a kind of ghetto, boycotted in a kind of invisible cage.

In his writings of the last period, before he was “railroaded” and put in jail, he discusses more and more this invisible enemy. He had this theory that “HIGS” were against his work, and “HIGS” were “Hoodlums in Government.” And the truth was that there were, of course, but he was always trying to define, to create new concepts to explain his predicament. He speaks of Moscow agents being sent from Washington; they were actually sanitary agents from the Food and Drug Administration, former Navy men mainly chasing people who were selling rotten food and dangerous cosmetics-you know, pretty tough guys. And they were happy to find this spectacular case of a crazy scientist up north in the Maine hills, who according to rumors had patients masturbate in strange coffin-like telephone booths. They thought they were going to find something sensational, and there were federal agents all over the states renting orgone accumulators, trying to get people to testify about the atrocious goings on at Reich’s.

In the documentary part about Reich at the beginning of WR: Mysteries of the Organism, all the people interviewed in the town near where he lived, look rather funny: small-town American-Gothic types. They remind one of those science-fiction Hollywood movies of the early Fifties, where there always were small communities endangered by giant ants, things from outer space, monsters from the black lagoon, what you will. And in that footage you got in Maine, a community was seen acting in the same way – only The Thing had been Reich.

What’s extraordinary is that these people in American towns in the Midwest live in a very good relation to nature—fishing, hunting, swimming. But in a social sense they are completely isolated in a kind of dreamland of permanent security. These little towns are the proletarian dream: these people have been poor, or their parents were, and came to America and found little plots of land and built Paradise there. Living always in this kind of permanent security, their own economy supporting them nicely, getting a fairly good education, feeling defended by government and army—anything from outside that doesn’t conform to their way of life is bound to be monstrous. This strange German scientist doing his experiments up in the hills was perfect for the part of Monster. They even invented that Reich was keeping children in cages for scientific purposes!

Like Jewish ritual murders, in the anti-semitic mythology. By the way, were any objections risen to the scene in Sweet Movie where Anne Prucnal seduces the children?

The French censors were very nice about it, they said they couldn’t deprive adult French moviegoers from seeing this kind of “research film.” They just had us put a warning in all the publicity, that some scenes may be provoking or hurting to many people’s feelings.

An Argentinian film censor was asked once why he didn’t allow on a cinema screen some footage that had been on TV screens. His answer was that even if more people, in figures, watched TV; they watched it in isolation, never more than four or five, while a cinema audience develops a group feeling, and if somebody booed or shouted at the screen others might follow and a riot could start. That’s a man who knows his job!

Somebody told me that the last military putsch in Brazil started as a right-wing reaction against some kind of left-wing unrest among navy cadets who had been watching Potemkin. It sounded so fantastic—Brazilian cadets only a few years ago watching Potemkin! We have here again the boomerang effect: positive action triggering negative reaction.

Though WR is more developed and aggressive, of course, the basic approach of that film is much the same as in The Switchboard Operator, your second feature. Did it shock people in Yugoslavia back in ’67?

Switchboard Operator was widely accepted by critics and audiences. It became a box-office success and was part of a new trend in non-linear story-telling, mixing documentary and fiction all the way. Also in its fresh approach to subject matter: sex, everyday life, the relationship between work and love and History, and so on. The interesting thing in this experience is that if you have fiction alone, or documentary alone, the audience is geared to this particular genre or level of communication, but if inside a fictional story you insert documentary fragments they become more documentary than in a purely documentary film. Being geared to watch fiction you start discovering in documentary certain qualities that would have passed unnoticed otherwise, but you also start recognizing in fiction all this marginal documentary remains—the way people dress, move, eat, their homes. No matter how transposed on a fictional level, they keep a value as expression of a certain culture, of a given moment in history.

Anyway, I was happy to get many people to watch Switchboard Operator even without this intellectual frame of reference. I feel that all of us, those who started making films after 1960, were condemned to represent what’s called “author’s cinema”—-a kind of intellectual filmmaking. It’s difficult to liberate oneself from this, and try to be just entertaining. The great quality American movies had in their best days was to be made under market dictatorship. They were not afraid to please the market, and just had to be interesting all the time. If they felt like making some intellectual comment, they had to infiltrate it. Besides, ourselves being filmmakers from marginal countries as far as film industry go, we are supposed to express our national cultures. And being interesting becomes a kind of secondary duty.

Take westerns, for instance. Take horses, landscape, trains, guns. These are documentary items, and there is real action being done with them, in them, though the framework may be purely fictional. You get this strong impression of a life force at work, and bad guys against good guys become just a very simple excuse for a kind of biological display. Like the fantastic chases—real people, real horses, real rocks—this is behavior on an ecological level. It’s something we’ve come to reevaluate after these years of intellectual perversion in movies. Going back to roots. And the roots, of course, are in American movies, the only film industry in the world that is supported only by the public.

 

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13 of Dusan Makavejev’s 31 films

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Antonio’s Broken Mirror (1957)
‘In this remarkable short (Makavejev’s first to be shown at the Amateur Film Festival at Cannes), the director was coming into his own as a filmmaker. The nuances of the story can largely be reconstructed on the basis of the film’s cinematography and editing even without the sound, which has been lost. (To remedy this, in 2011, the composer Zoran Simjanović created a new sound track for both Anthony’s Broken Mirror and The Seal, with which the films are now shown). The film’s preoccupation with the reality of psychic desires also betrays Makavejev’s training in psychology, which he studied at the University of Belgrade and which informed his later films. In Anthony’s Broken Mirror, Makavejev already explores both the intense desire one can feel for artifice and the dangers of trusting this desire too much. This dialectic applies to Makavejev’s own relationship to cinema, as seen, for example, in Innocence Unprotected (1968). Indeed, Anthony’s Broken Mirror presages several important stylistic traits of Makavejev’s later professional films: the lyrically inspired plot with just a touch of romanticism; disjointed editing; and the powerful clash between the (neo)realist iconography and surreal plot, as well as between the “objective” point of view of the filmmaker and the “subjective” ones of the characters.’ — Diana Nenadić


the entirety

 

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Don’t Believe in Monuments (1958)
‘A young woman tries to make love to a park statue, but despite her passionate efforts, the monument remains cold and heartless. Don’t Believe in Monuments is an early short, where Makavejev subtly ridicules Yugoslav state-sponsored monument and history worship.’ — IMDb


the entirety

 

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Parade (1962)
Parade, one of Makavejev’s best-known films, is view into the preparations International Worker’s Day where the director all but ignores the titular parade. The film focuses on the people – those who work and those who wander the streets, sometimes lost among the throngs, shown in a by-the-way fashion and not without humor. Makavejev claims he sought to show, man as he is …’ — letterboxd


the entirety

 

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Miss Beauty 62 (1962)
‘Sarcastic look at 1962 Yugoslav beauty contest.’ — IMDb


the entirety

 

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L’homme n’est pas un oiseau (1965)
‘A love romance between older, respectable engineer that came in the industrial town to do some expert job and young hairdresser in whose house he stayed in and the consequences of that relationship, especially after young driver gets involved.’ — MUBI


Excerpt

 

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Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967)
‘Makavejev’s second feature is an endlessly surprising, time-shifting exploration of love and freedom, about a tragic romance between a young telephonist and a middle-aged rodent sanitation specialist in Belgrade.’ — MUBI


Excerpt

 

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Innocence Unprotected (1968)
‘This utterly unclassifiable film is one of Makavejev’s most freewheeling farces, assembled from the “lost” footage of the first Serbian talkie, a silly melodrama titled Innocence Unprotected, made during the Nazi occupation; contemporary interviews with the megaman who made it and other crew members; and images of the World War II destruction, and subsequent rebuilding, of Belgrade. And at its center is a (real-life) character you won’t soon forget: Dragoljub Aleksic, an acrobat, locksmith, and Houdini-style escape artist whom Makavejev uses as the absurd and wondrous basis for a look back at his country’s tumultuous recent history.’ — The Criterion Collection


Excerpts

 

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WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)
‘When Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries Of The Organism was presented in 1971 at the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street – at that time the premier art house in London – it was only after some wranglings with the censor, who objected to the brief views of an erect penis, albeit one encased in plaster.

‘The Academy was allowed to get away with it, saying that it wouldn’t screen the film at all unless it could show it complete. Later, the situation was compounded by the fact that a great many people referred mistakenly to the film as WR: Mysteries Of The Orgasm.

‘Makavejev’s film – however controversial it was in the early 70s – is not a sex film. But it certainly is a film about sex, since WR stands for Wilhelm Reich, a close associate of Freud and a Marxist who believed, among other things, that sexual freedom was a true expression of communism.

‘This is the fourth film by this highly original Yugoslavian director, and it became easily his most audacious, a landmark in the film-making of the time, after which he never again had quite the same success.’ — The Guardian


Trailer


Excerpt


the entirety

 

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I Miss Sonia Henie (1971)
‘The 1972 Belgrade Film Festival was the place to be. Godina assembled a motley crew of international and domestic festival guests: Tinto Brass, Puriša Đorđević, Miloš Forman, Buck Henry, Dušan Makavejev, Paul Morrisey, Bogdan Tirnanić, and Frederick Wiseman. Every night after the official festival screenings and talks, they went to a tiny apartment with a 35mm camera fixed in a corner. Godina challenged each of his celebrated guests to create a short film, following a set of simple rules: one room, one camera position, no zooms, tilts or pans, a couple of minutes each. And in every short the words “I Miss Sonia Henie”, a famous quote from the Snoopy cartoons, had to be voiced. The rest was left entirely to individual imaginations. The result: I Miss Sonia Henie (1972), a conceptual masterpiece of absurdist black humour, seven distinctively different variations on a ludicrous theme, a cinephile’s wet dreams. The restoration of these significant short films has been completed in the same year in which the Slovenian Cinematheque celebrates its 20th meaningful year of existence.’ — Jurij Meden


Introduction

 

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Sweet Movie (1974)
Sweet Movie, full of unenlighted lunacy, is not really a film at all. It is a social disease.’ — Jay Cocks, 1975

Sweet Movie [is] in effect the most concentrated work I know that follows out the idea that the way to assess the state of the world is to find out how it tastes (a sense modality not notably stressed by orthodox epistemologists but rather consigned to a corner of aesthetics) – which means both to find out how it tastes to you and how it tastes you, for example, to find out whether you and the world are disgusting to one another.

‘The film attempts to extract hope – to claim to divine life after birth – from the very fact that we are capable of genuine disgust at the world; that our revoltedness is the chance for a cleansing revulsion; that we may purge ourselves by living rather than by killing, willing to visit hell if that is the direction to something beyond purgatory; that the fight for freedom continues to originate in the demands of our instincts, the chaotic cry of our nature, our cry to have a nature. It is a work powerful enough to encourage us to see again that the tyrant’s power continues to require our complicitous tyranny over ourselves.’ — Stanley Cavell, 1979


Excerpt


Excerpt


the entirety

 

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The Coca-Cola Kid (1985)
The Coca-Cola Kid has gone down in the folklore of the Australian film industry as a prime example as a project which looked great at the outset, but went horribly wrong in the making. It promised not only the meeting of an internationally acclaimed, radical filmmaker (Dusan Makavejev) with one of the most respected Australian fiction writers (Frank Moorhouse), but also a definitive treatment of a theme beloved of Australian cinema – the uneasy, often hostile, tortuously ambivalent relation between American and Australian societies, allegorised in a tale of the stranger in a strange land. However, Makavejev reportedly had a very difficult time both on set and with his producers, and the finished film betrays fundamental uncertainties of concept, tone and pitch. (For a colourful account of these problems, see Moorhouse’s 1990 book Lateshows.) It is a difficult film to discuss because, thematically, it is completely incoherent. The meanings of individual scenes and certain thematic threads are quite clear, but taken together they make no sense at all.’ — Adrian Martin


Trailer

 

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Gorilla Bathes at Noon (1993)
‘Even for Dusan Makavejev, who made some odd movies in his time (Sweet Movie one of them, and also Innocence Unprotected), and while this one, his last theatrical effort ‘Gorilla Bathes at Noon’ (catchy title) isn’t one of his best, it is marked by some moments that startle and confound and you have to keep watching. It’s about an ex-soldier for the Red Army who isn’t going back home to Russia after the Cold War ends – his train left and his wife has left him. So he becomes a quasi-wanderer in Berlin, caught between the old and the new, and sometimes squats with some ex-underground types and a red-haired beauty who plays the flute. … Gorilla Bathes at Noon is best seen as a curio, but one fans of his eccentric style should be able to appreciate. It’s almost like a wise man trying to make a young-man’s movie, and it’s charming, if not totally successful, to see it done.’ — Jack Gattanella


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Hole in the Soul (1994)
‘Part of the series “The Director’s Place,” produced by BBC Scotland, Hole in the Soul (1994) is a 52-minute documentary with Dušan Makavejev behind and in front of the camera. It also features family and crew members, old friends and collaborators, animals, and other illustrious characters (whom one is never sure if they are playing themselves, performing a part, or both). Despite all its beauty, despite being the last project that the director was able to complete (leaving aside his participation in the 1996 anthology film Danish Girls Show Everything), you won’t see many mentions, discussions, or celebrations of Hole in the Soul. It is a shame. A shame that is also a sign of our times.’ — Cristina Álvarez López


the entirety

 

 

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p.s. Hey. ** DavidEhrenstein, Thank you for looking into her work. ** August Sander, Zzzzzz. ** Conrad, Hi, Conrad! I didn’t know there was an Ericka Beckman screening at the Pompidou. I’ve been too inattentive. Damn, I would have gone. I do like her work, yes. Glad you dug them. Yeah, something of pronto-Trecartin going on, right? I never thought about that before. Great that you can come to the PGL screening. Thanks! I saw there’s a new Yves Tumor album but not that he’s playing here. Fantastic! I’ve never seen him perform, and I’m often daydreaming about how he realises his stuff live. Thanks a ton for the alert. And for being here. ** Bill, Hi. She says they’re natural light photos, so I guess it’s due to some of post- trickery? Or pure luck? ** Steve Erickson, Oops, sorry to hear about the Loach, but yeah, he certainly can go that way. I’ll skip it. ** _Black_Acrylic, That’s a nice one. The one you tried to use for the poster. Happy you enjoyed the show. Aces that your friend dug the upbeat piece, and I hope the workshop folks follow suit. Please give a shout about how it goes. So are you sidelining the gloomier story? ** Armando, Hi. Whoo-hoo about your book! I couldn’t find it on the publisher website, but I assume it’ll be added any sec. Great!!! I haven’t seen what you sent me after that yet, but I will. Cool, man! Hugs back. ** Right. I ask you to spend your local daytime today with that marvel of a filmmaker Dušan Makavejev. See you tomorrow.

8 Comments

  1. Dennis,

    Hey,

    Would you agree with me in seeing Bergman’s ‘The Silence’ as both a precursor of his very own ‘Persona’, ‘Cries And Whispers’, ‘Face To Face’, ‘Autumn Sonata’; but *ESPECIALLY* ‘Persona’ and ‘Cries And Whispers’?

  2. Great to see this Makvejev Day! A totally original filmmaker whose work I hope hasn’t been forgotten. My fave is “W.R. Mysteries of the Organism” (always mistranslated by reviewers as “Orgasm”) for the contrast between its perfectly lit Yugoslav footage and the roughly done New York scenes with Jackie Curtis. “Sweet Movie” is marvelous too as would be any film starring Pierre Clementi as the sailor for the Battleship Potemkin

    My Big Emergency Sale of CDs, DVDs and Books is ongoing and more Emergency than ever. New items have been added. Write me at cllrdr@ehrensteinland.com and I’ll be glad to send you an updated list/

  3. Makavajev Day, cool. “W.R.” is a favorite of mine, met my first love at a 35mm screening. Also enjoyed “Sweet Movie” and can vouch for “The Coca Cola Kid” as fun and worth seeing. Soon I’ll surely feel inspired to watch more of his films, especially the earlier stuff. I’ve walked by them I don’t know how many times at the video store. Have you or somebody else here come across (or inside, hehe) an orgone accumulator in real life?

    What’s new with you? Still enjoying a respite from the TV business?

    I’ve been much more outgoing lately. It’s made a big difference just to make the first move socially and professionally and even reach out a second time if warranted. I moved to a new country alone and am supporting myself through freelancing, so it makes sense to hustle. Sometimes I wonder about adolescent trauma and silly notions of cool carrying over well into adult life: the ideal of standing around smoking, gazing indifferently, letting others approach you or not.

    Had a promising job interview yesterday with a kind of dystopian company. They develop AI that analyzes the plots of movies and TV shows in order to predict their profitability with freakish accuracy. My job would be to feed the demon data. The work is super-flexible and can be done anywhere with internet, so should blend OK with my studies and other gigs.

    I see there are cheap Tel Aviv-Paris flights to be had (and Tel Aviv-Belgrade for a Makavejev pilgrimage). If I keep working hard I hope to make the trip in the fall. As for the opposite trip, what’s your general attitude toward travelling places to make appearances? I could try to pull together events and funding to make it worthwhile.

  4. I never realised these entire films were available online, so I’m happy that I can get some Makavejev in my life.

    The Writing Short Stories class was earlier this evening. I read out my effort Jake’s Détournement and it went down pretty well. I actually submitted it to X-Ray today too, though it will be around 5 weeks before I get a response. At a mere 280 words the thing’s basically flash fiction but I’m happy with it.

  5. Dennis, I really liked the guest post yesterday. Those photos and vids…so uncomfortable, awkward, and stiff, especially in places where you’re supposed to be relaxed in free. Stunning.

    Yes, it’s my non-dominant arm. I’m so right-hand dominant, it’s not even funny. The pain has really subsided recently, but I’m taking pains -pun!- not to use that arm much at all. MRI is still Saturday, we’ll see how that goes.

    Saw my regular doc today for refills, and we were going over my blood and urine test results from December, and I’m like, WTF?! I mean, my kidney function is slightly high -that comes and goes- but glucose and A1C were high…those are the sugar ones. I’m like, dudette, I hardly eat any sugar at all, what the hell? Oh, well. Not in the danger zone, any of them. But still…

    Hahahaha, I scroll like a motherfucker on FB. I have no time for that nonsense. Sometimes, I will stop and read a bit. What’s funny is how everyone’s an armchair analyst on FB…and totally 100% wrong in their predictions of what’s gonna happen. I’m sure it’s wishful thinking, but it’s obviously what you just said…common sense going to die. You and I, we’re both pretty logical, practical, and pragmatic guys. We kind of know how things work, even if we don’t like it. But man, some of my friends on there…I’m just like, what bizarro world are you living in? (Btw, no one here that I’m friends with there, of course, which is why I’m talking so freely here.)

    If you really want to go down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole, get on Twitter someday, hahaha. I did that once…2 hours later and I’m like, what the fuck did I just do with 2 hours of my life? Never again.

  6. I saw Makavajev do a Q&A after a screening of HOLE IN THE SOUL in 1995, with the war in the former Yugoslavia raging. That film is very accomplished, but it felt sad that something so modest was his final work, especially since he lived for another 25 years. GORILLA BATHES AT NOON feels like a failed attempt to catch up with the times. It’s too bad that his best work was so tied to Yugoslavia and the counterculture; when he became an exile and the questioning of the ’60s and ’70s stopped, he seemed lost.

    But I saw Kelly Reichardt’s FIRST COW tonight and liked it a great deal! One negative review compared it to both Apichatpong Weerasethakul and John Sayles; its unique feel comes from actually being able to synthesize a politically conscious depiction of the frontier with a painterly sense of the power of nature.

    Have you seen Yves Tumor’s new video? The demonic costume suits a song called “Gospel for a New Century.”

  7. Hey, man;

    Thank You so so Very Much!

    *Hugs*.

    I hope you saw the other two emails I sent you. Three in total. Please do check them out?

    Any plans for today?

    Take care,

    Good day, good luck;

    a.

  8. so, today’s my stupid birthday or whatever. sigh. not a particularly good day for me

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