New DVD review: Makavejev's Sweet Movie and Aristophanes' Assemblywomen
Criterion’s recently released DVD of Makavejev’s Sweet Movie is the first major DVD release in the US format of a Makavejev film along with his better known film WR: Mysteries of the Organism.
Sweet Movie elaborates on a grand theme of Makavejev: sexual revolution as part of political revolution. Makavejev is pondering one of the central paradoxes of all modern political revolutions – whether the English, American, French, Bolshevik or Chinese revolutions – that those all of these revolutions experimented with political and economic arrangements, but most of them ended up with largely conservative sexual arrangements.
The ancient Greeks were not so incoherent in their thinking – they could carry through the idea of democracy to its natural end. Now, as Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen argues (as does Houellebecq), there is a problem with sexual democracy: no one wants to have sex with the old or ugly.
The problem with Sweet Movie, unlike WR, is that Makavejev wishes to sidestep this phenomenon. Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen characters at least make an attempt to square the circle by ruling that, before having sex with a beautiful person, one must first make love to an ugly one. WR’s Reichian philosophy – WR is, among many other things, a documentary about the sex-positive physchological philosophy of Wilhelm Reich - offers some hope that this difficulty can be at least ameliorated, as we see older persons undergoing Reichian analysis and (hopefully) improving sexually.
Sweet Movie disappoints because Makavejev unfortunately chooses a comparatively trivial depiction of sexual liberation. Both female protagonists only (voluntarily) sleep with young and extremely handsome men, and both are themselves extraordinarily attractive young women. All older characters seen in the movie (two Texas billionaires: Mr. Kapital and his mother, and the “scientist” Dr. Mittlefinger) are shown as extremely unappealing, and, in fact, none get to have any sex in the movie.