Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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kekid
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#26 Post by kekid » Wed Oct 14, 2009 4:05 pm

As far as I recall this is the first time that an Eclipse box has been issued with no indication as to any future releases.

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MichaelB
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#27 Post by MichaelB » Thu Oct 15, 2009 10:05 am

An absolutely essential set. Transfers are adequate rather than spectacular, but still comfortably above average for eastern European material (especially of this vintage), and the films are extraordinary - I know I'm not the only one who prefers them to Makavejev's later, more notorious work.

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#28 Post by Tribe » Tue Oct 20, 2009 8:46 am

David Kehr on this set:
October 11, 2009
DVDs
Enthralling the West, Confounding the Censors
By DAVE KEHR

AT the 2008 Telluride Film Festival, the madcap philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek presented Dusan Makavejev’s 1968 film “Innocence Unprotected” as part of a program of personal favorites: a shout-out from the Balkans’ current international superstar of intellectual provocation to his most illustrious predecessor.

Mr. Makavejev, now 76, hasn’t made a major feature since “Gorilla Bathes at Noon” in 1993. But for several years in the late ’60s and early ’70s, he was an art-house and film festival favorite whose blend of sexual frankness and political critique, served up with a strong dose of black humor, kept Western audiences enthralled and Eastern bloc censors in a state of simmering outrage.

The boiling point came with “WR: Mysteries of the Organism” (1971), Mr. Makavejev’s hilariously unstable blend of fiction and documentary that suggested orthodox Communism was little more than a giant act of sexual repression. The film was immediately banned in Yugoslavia, and Mr. Makavejev embarked on a life of artistic exile, making films in Canada and Western Europe (“Sweet Movie,” 1974), the Netherlands (“Wet Dreams,” 1974), Sweden (“Montenegro,” 1981) and Australia (“The Coca-Cola Kid,” 1985). By the time he returned to Yugoslavia to film the 1988 international co-production “Manifesto,” the country was in economic collapse and would soon begin to tear itself apart in ethnic infighting — a fateful dynamic that can already be felt in Mr. Makavejev’s first features.

The Criterion Collection brought “WR” and “Sweet Movie” to DVD in 2007, and now Criterion has added “Dusan Makavejev: Free Radical,” a boxed set of three early features, to its no-frills Eclipse line. These films — “Man Is Not a Bird” (1965), “Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator” (1967) and “Innocence Unprotected” (1968) — may arrive as ghostly dispatches from a vanished country, but thanks to Mr. Makavejev’s bounding wit they seem as full of unruly life as ever.

After training as a psychologist at Belgrade University, Mr. Makavejev began making documentaries in the early 1950s. “Man Is Not a Bird,” his first feature-length film, seems like the natural next step in his development. Apparently begun as a documentary on the mining industry in the Bor district of Serbia, the film quickly evolves into an erotic fable — with a strong resemblance to contemporaneous films of the Czech New Wave — involving a middle-aged engineer (Janez Vrhovec) and the female barber (Milena Dravic, later to star in “WR”) who is the sole ornament of the dirty and crowded industrial town in which she lives.

Unlike the Czech filmmakers, however, Mr. Makavejev accentuates the political context of the action: the film opens with a bearded man, identified as “the youngest hypnotist in the Balkans,” lecturing on the dangerous power of irrational beliefs. Just as he hypnotizes his victims into flapping their arms like birds, so does the engineer fall under the spell of his blond paramour. Framing the love story with more documentary material, including the preparations for a workers’ awards ceremony featuring a performance of the “Ode to Joy” by a visiting orchestra, Mr. Makavejev suggests that hypnosis functions on a social level as well. That is, until the inevitable moment of betrayal brings all belief systems crashing down.

In his book “The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism,” J. Hoberman describes Mr. Makavejev as “the irresponsible heir to Sergei Eisenstein,” using the montage techniques developed by that great Soviet theoretician to subvert the ideology they were designed to impose. In “Love Affair,” Mr. Makavejev began making use of found footage and cinematic quotations, lifting, for example, an extended, uncomfortable sequence from Dziga Vertov’s masterpiece of montage, “Enthusiasm” (1931), in which happy peasants strip a church of its religious icons, only to replace them with portraits of Lenin and Stalin.

The central couple of “Love Affair” echoes that of “Man Is Not a Bird”: a middle-aged technocrat (here, a Muslim expert in rat extermination) falls hard for a radiantly sexual blonde (a switchboard operator of Hungarian extraction). In between lectures by a sexologist, a tour of a Belgrade crime museum, performances of East German workers’ hymns and detailed mini-documentaries on how to install a shower and bake a strudel, we watch as the affair turns from liberating force to instrument of oppression, its meanings multiplied by Mr. Makavejev’s droll juxtapositions.

An early act of postmodern appropriation, “Innocence Unprotected” takes a curious cinematic artifact — the first Serbian talkie, also titled “Innocence Unprotected” and produced during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia by a Belgrade weightlifter and escape artist — and recontextualizes it as a mordant national epic.

The metaphorical nature of Mr. Makavejev’s strong man hardly needed to be underlined in the Yugoslavia of Marshal Tito. Yet Mr. Makavejev views Dragoljub Aleksic, the diminutive body-builder who wrote, directed and starred in the 46-minute feature from 1942, with genuine affection, if something less than awe. Intercutting Aleksic’s 1942 exploits — which include biting through chains, balancing head-down on a unicycle and dangling by his teeth from an airplane as it flies across the city — with the grayed but no less dynamic Aleksic of 1968, Mr. Makavejev seems to admire his unflagging energy and optimism, suggesting that the unprotected innocence of the title belongs to his hero as well.

No Germans appear in the 1942 film, an omission that Mr. Makavejev corrects by introducing newsreel footage of Nazi soldiers trooping through the center of Belgrade. A scene in which the heroine is threatened with rape by a devious businessman is intercut with graphics from a German newsreel, illustrating the advance of German troops across the Balkans. Aleksic arrives at the last minute, swinging through the window on a rope just in time to preserve the virtue of his beloved, perhaps alluding to Tito’s self-cast role as the protector of Yugoslavian virtue during the occupation.

Aleksic’s heroism may be a tawdry fiction, but it had the desired effect on the masses: newspaper photos show crowds lined up in front of the Belgrade cinema where the 1942 film had its premiere. After the war, we learn, Aleksic was prosecuted for collaboration — nobody believed his story that the Germans weren’t involved in the film’s production — but eventually the charges were dropped, and his film entered the history books. In Mr. Makavejev’s version, a few scenes have been hand colored to give them a kind of sad, sloppy exuberance. This is history replayed as farce; the tragedy would arrive a few decades later. (Criterion/Eclipse, $44.95, not rated)

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knives
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#29 Post by knives » Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:13 pm

Innocence Unprotected is so perfectly strange that I'm not sure if I am genuinely loving it or simply loving the camp it resides in. It's not as bizarre or indescribable as I originally expected it to be, but it has this strangeness in the viewing of it that I can't describe. Scenes describing scenes describing events with no realization between them. Really the only way I can describe this one is in the terms I'd describe it's star. Everything about it from the arrogance to the strangeness should have one hating it, but that immodest, goofy, overconfident charm is nearly impossible to resist. If not for the obvious political goals it could easily have been a Herzogian documentary on the strange. Speaking of docs if this film could count as such, I think so but am not entirely sure if it fits the definition, I'd have to say this is my favorite, maybe best in a more filmic sense, of all that I've seen.

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Tommaso
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#30 Post by Tommaso » Sun Nov 08, 2009 7:18 pm

I finally made it through the whole of the set. "Innocence Unprotected" is simply amazing. I must admit that after watching it I initially thought that this was just a big hoax and that the original 1942 film was simply an invention by Makavejev. Okay, looking at Imdb I'm now somewhat convinced it DOES exist, but Makavejev's way of treating this material and the 'campy' nature of that 'lost' film makes it coaleasce very effortlessly with the rest of the film and makes it appear surprisingly modern (or rather: like a modern parody of a 1940s film; perhaps the original film simply isn't any good). But the way in which Makavejev combines his very disparate materials into an organic whole is simply noteworthy I think.

I must say that I liked the two other films even better, though. "Love is not a bird" seems to show where this seemingly unclassifiable filmmaker comes from artistically. I was very much reminded of Fellini and Antonioni in places, though the film already has a lyric quality very much of its own. "Love Affair" I found completely heartbreaking, but it left me with a curious feeling of joy nevertheless. Makavejev has a wonderful gift of making his actresses shine, of bringing out their completely unstylized, natural and radiant beauty. I probably have to see these films again to say more about their 'meaning', but as a whole this set confirmed my impressions of "WR" and "Sweet Movie": truly a major director whose comparative neglect is completely undeserved and whose films must be among the very best made at that period of time. So, thanks Criterion, for making us aware.

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#31 Post by rossen » Tue Nov 17, 2009 3:42 pm

This is from Amazon today. It looks that Free Radical can't be bought from them, they're having some unspecified issue with the box set. The message is as follows:

Item Under Review
While this item is available from other marketplace sellers on this page, it is not currently offered by Amazon.com because customers have told us there may be something wrong with our inventory of the item, the way we are shipping it, or the way it's described here. (Thanks for the tip!)

We're working to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

Possible explanation?

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MichaelB
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#32 Post by MichaelB » Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:21 am

I've watched the entire thing: there was nothing technically wrong with my set. And not a lot that could conceivably have gone wrong, as it's about as no-frills a package as can be imagined (three features, one per disc, no extras - and the subtitles were fine).

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Wu.Qinghua
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#33 Post by Wu.Qinghua » Wed Nov 18, 2009 4:01 am

MichaelB wrote:I've watched the entire thing: there was nothing technically wrong with my set. And not a lot that could conceivably have gone wrong, as it's about as no-frills a package as can be imagined (three features, one per disc, no extras - and the subtitles were fine).
Same with me ... I have no reason to complain yet ... The discs work, the subtitles seem to be fine and I spotted things I never saw on any of those old British VHS tapes ...

Maybe they are trying to correct their product description? ... I mean the three discs run in no way near to 295 minutes altogether, as amazon is claiming on the website ... And, btw, I doubt that it is correct to label the films (and its language) as "croatian" ...

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dad1153
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#34 Post by dad1153 » Wed Nov 18, 2009 3:13 pm

And, btw, I doubt that it is correct to label the films (and its language) as "croatian" ...
Indeed. My boss is a Croatian-born American citizen (he hates Serbs! #-o) and grew up in what was then Yugoslavia where there were several regions (Serbia and Croatia among them) that spoke their own languages. These were mishmashed into Serbo-Croatian, the national language for all the regions that composed Yugoslavia until its break-up in the 1990's when both camps reclaimed their own languages and independence.

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#35 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Wed Nov 18, 2009 8:48 pm

rossen wrote:This is from Amazon today. It looks that Free Radical can't be bought from them, they're having some unspecified issue with the box set. The message is as follows:

Item Under Review
While this item is available from other marketplace sellers on this page, it is not currently offered by Amazon.com because customers have told us there may be something wrong with our inventory of the item, the way we are shipping it, or the way it's described here. (Thanks for the tip!)

We're working to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

Possible explanation?
When I spoke to them, Amazon said that the packaging was damaged for a portion of their stock in the warehouse and they needed to assess it before more potentially damaged copies were sent out.

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MichaelB
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#36 Post by MichaelB » Thu Nov 19, 2009 5:31 pm

dad1153 wrote:Indeed. My boss is a Croatian-born American citizen (he hates Serbs! #-o) and grew up in what was then Yugoslavia where there were several regions (Serbia and Croatia among them) that spoke their own languages. These were mishmashed into Serbo-Croatian, the national language for all the regions that composed Yugoslavia until its break-up in the 1990's when both camps reclaimed their own languages and independence.
Given that the films are all technically from Serbia, 'Serbian' would be the most accurate description of the language now, though Serbo-Croatian would be the most accurate description at the time they were made.

But when I went to the Sarajevo Film Festival for the first time, I made enquiries about the difference between Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian and was told that they're virtually the same language - but with occasional recourse to slang terms that are designed to betray which specific "language" you're speaking (in much the same way that you can't talk about Derry/Londonderry without taking sides in the Northern Ireland dispute).

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Wu.Qinghua
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#37 Post by Wu.Qinghua » Thu Nov 19, 2009 6:05 pm

MichaelB wrote:Given that the films are all technically from Serbia, 'Serbian' would be the most accurate description of the language now, though Serbo-Croatian would be the most accurate description at the time they were made. ...
Well, when I posted my initial short comment I had read an article by Facets' Ray Privett, which I found on the internet (I can't find it at the moment so I can't post a link now), in which among other things Privett discusses differences between Yugoslav filmmakers who were working in Belgrade and filmmakers working in Croatia in the sixties and early seventies. I think I don't go wrong if I sum it up like this: Whereas Belgrade-based filmmakers like Makavejev, Zilnik and others were influenced by the Yugoslav New Left (Praxis group and so on) and took part in the leftist student movement in about 1968, filmmakers in Croatia tended to support the nationalist movement in the early 70s.

I don't know if Lorraine Mortimer is discussing this in her new book on Makavejev ("Terror and Joy. The Films of Dusan Makavejev. Minneapolis 2009). It's been lying on may desk for weeks now but being a fierce supporter of the Neo-Gramscian faction of Cultural Studies I don't enjoy reading this kind of anthropological text that much so I am just eyeballing it from time to time.
But Boris Kanzleiter and Krunoslav Stojakovic, two social historians, have published a marvelous anthology on the Yugoslav student movement in 1968, which contains lots of documents and interviews dealing with this topic, including extensive new interviews with Makavejev and Zilnik and some documents on the movies and its reception. (1968 in Jugoslawien. Studentenproteste and kulturelle Avantgarde zwischen 1960 und 1975. Bonn 2008 = Yugoslavia in 1968. Student protests and cultural avantgarde 1960-1975). Highly recommended to all those who can read German.

Anyway, I think I wanted to hint mostly at the fact that it's rather debatable to put Makavejev in the 'Croatian camp' - maybe from a historical or political rather than from a linguistical perspective. Btw, putting him in the 'Serbian camp' might be wrong, too.
Last edited by Wu.Qinghua on Thu Nov 19, 2009 6:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#38 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Nov 19, 2009 6:09 pm

Serbian and Croatian are two of the main dialects of Serbo-Croatian (there are others). There are considerably more differences between Serbian and Croatian than slang (and the alphabet used). Some vowels are extremely different -- for instance the "e" sound in Serbian becomes the ultra-long "ije" in Croatian (in Dalmatian, it is "i"). Also, despite being more linked to the West historically, Croatian retained more antique Slavic vocabulary (viz. the 12 months) , while Serbian adopted more Westernisms.

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#39 Post by djvaso » Fri Nov 27, 2009 6:10 am

This language issues are very complicated even for us born in ex-Yugoslavia and can be easily slipped into political debate.
For me it is very interesting that the boxset was among video bestsellers in Barnes&Noble on-line store during Criterion sale (bellow 70th position).

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Awesome Welles
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#40 Post by Awesome Welles » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:18 pm

Didn't know where else to post this but The Aueturs have Montenegro screening worldwide now. Does this bode well for a future release or does this kind of thing usually happen on The Auteurs?

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#41 Post by Camera Obscura » Wed Mar 10, 2010 2:30 pm

paid way too much for the OOP Fox Lorber dvd of Montenegro to see it screened at The Auteurs.

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sevenarts
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#42 Post by sevenarts » Thu Mar 25, 2010 12:32 pm

Here's my review of the first film in this set, Man Is Not a Bird. An interesting debut, no doubt about it.

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domino harvey
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#43 Post by domino harvey » Wed May 26, 2010 8:30 pm

I watched all three of these films in short order last week in a last minute pitch of unwatched pile spring cleaning. I've given it some time and have come to the conclusion that while it's great that these obscure films were rescued for those who respond well to this sort of thing, I am not one of those sorts. All three films left me sort of shrugging and while I was not displeased with any of the titles, I was left with maybe the worst reaction a film can generate: total apathy. Formless quasi-docu aesthetics and garbly political theatre have been done so much better before and since. Well, at least we'll always have WR, CriterionForumDotOrg

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#44 Post by Numero Trois » Sat Jul 10, 2010 2:40 pm

Perkins Cobb wrote:The former) Yugoslavia must be a black hole for film prints: the last time I noticed something cancelled after actually being printed in the program listings was a pair of obscure titles from BAM's Yugoslav Black Wave series last year.
No other thread for this, but The Believer magazine's annual film issue this year includes a Yugoslavian Black Wave themed DVD. It features six shorts from Karpo Godina. The issue actually came out three months ago and can be ordered here.

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gorgeousnothings
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#45 Post by gorgeousnothings » Wed Jul 29, 2015 6:40 pm

I just finished watching Sweet Movie and generally hated it, though I appreciate what I thought it was trying to do. I found the first half to be very funny, and the ending made me feel genuinely sad, but everything from the stripping scene with the children to the commune scene was so disturbing for me that the film isn't worth rewatching anytime in the near future.

Anyways, I'm very curious about the movies in this set, but I sort of want to avoid watching another Sweet Movie. I get the impression from this thread that these aren't so shocking and gross, but still maintain a level of subversiveness that is seen in Sweet Movie? Should I bother with these if I hated Sweet Movie?

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knives
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#46 Post by knives » Wed Jul 29, 2015 7:42 pm

Definitely. They have very little in terms of adult content and story telling stylings with the two mainline released films. They're much more along the lines of, say, what Milos Forman was doing at the same time though also obviously not him.

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domino harvey
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#47 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jul 29, 2015 7:50 pm

Just skip the Eclipse and watch WR instead (I didn't like Sweet Movie either)

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knives
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#48 Post by knives » Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:06 pm

Why skip the eclipse? It probably has his best movie.

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MichaelB
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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#49 Post by MichaelB » Thu Jul 30, 2015 3:41 am

If I had to choose just one of those releases, it would be the Eclipse box.

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Re: Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev Free Radical

#50 Post by cdnchris » Thu Jul 30, 2015 10:16 am

For sure. The Eclipse set is great (but I haven't seen WR yet).

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