Sunday, July 22, 2007

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.


Blogger Beveridge D. Spenser said...

A good point - who are the sexual proletariat (those who do not control the means of reproduction)? Just the horny or the old and ugly?

But remember - sex-positive philosophy aside - "sugar can be very dangerous". The beautiful, sexual revolutionary has a dark side. Even though the dead awake during the credits (preserved by the sugar in their body bags?), the revolution was not a happy one for them.

Heck, I'm just babbling. I'm so glad someone else has even heard of Sweet Movie!

2:55 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

"who are the sexual proletariat (those who do not control the means of reproduction)?"

Houellebecq argues that, since sex has been divorced from reproduction, that sexual capital is not female fecundity (which was it's definition until fairly recently) but rather physical attractiveness. Which means it operates very differently from monetary capital. You can't really spend or save or invest physical attractiveness - unlike female fecundity, which more closely resembles money. (Scarce resource, in other words, that can be somewhat controlled and planned, unlike physical attractiveness).

7:49 PM  
Blogger katia said...

Dusan Makavejev’s “Sweet Movie”/SWM (1976) is about two irreconcilable social strata our specie is fatally polarized on (p
aralyzed) – rich and poor (strong and weak, leaders and followers, deciders and the docile or the rebellious), about their psychology, so different and so unbreakably linked, and about their respective madness as a result of their permanent struggle and the impossibility of their unification. In other words, SWM is a film about the tragic impossibility of a real democracy in a too proud age of formal democracy. Makavejev analyzes two types of violence (that of the rich and that of the poor), coming as a consequence of the impossibility of a reconciliation between those on top and those on the bottom of the social hierarchy. According to the film, the violence of the wealthy (sovereigns) against the poor (the dependent ones) – triggers violence of the poor that sometimes surpasses that of the wealthy in its intensity and meaninglessness. By depicting the destiny of two protagonists, one with a conformist position towards the rich (Miss World, dreaming to exchange her virginity for marriage with a billionaire), and the other with a revolutionary position and sweet dream about a militant liberation of humankind (Anna Planeta moving about Europe on a ship with a giant smiling and crying figurehead of Karl Marx), Makavejev rejects the both attempts to solve the problem of inequality and injustice as sentimental and inadequate. While Miss World personifies the common superstitious idea that the poor can find life on the outskirts of wealth (in a condition that they will be persistent: hard working, in their efforts to get closer to its center), Anna Planeta personifies the two historical trends of rebellious resistance – the Soviet “socialist” (under the banner of Communism) and Western mass culture with its consumerism, freedom of sailing sales, pseudo-prosperity, sexual liberation and entertainment (as a “pragmatic” mini-Communism “equalizing” rich and poor in the utopia of general porous-prosperity). Makavejev’s directorial style in SWM is unique by a semantic distance between the intentional “juiciness” of his visual images and their meaning. Makavejev is a shock therapist of viewers’ blunted perception of the reality as a way to awaken their cognition. His aesthetic canon can be defined as anti-propaganda aesthetics, as a masterful undoing of what ideological propaganda, be it “socialist” or pseudo-democratic has done to human thinking. The film examines why attempts to create real democracy are failing again, in front of our very eyes. In 21st century when the wealthiest 1% (with their intellectual servants and conservative propagandists) advance under the banner of pauperization programs for the 99% through austerity measures, the cultural and aesthetic radicalness of Makavejev’s thinking and style in SWM can be appreciated much more today than it was in a more democratic years when the film was released. Makavejev masterfully combines fiction narratives and documentaries, mock documentaries and semantically stylized images to create a multi-narration about the human existential and political predicaments in today’s world.
Victor Enyutin

8:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home