Peter Whitehead and the Sixties

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(BFI DVD 2007, RRP £19.99)

“Peter Whitehead and The Sixties” is the first official DVD issue of “Wholly Communion” (1965) and “Benefit of the Doubt” (1967), two documentaries ‘directed’ by an obscure and yet notorious figure. Peter Whitehead was, and is, a chameleon who excels at endlessly reinventing himself. As an undergraduate at Cambridge University he studied natural sciences but soon abandoned these to pursue fine art at The Slade in London. If one believes other versions of Whitehead’s life, then at Cambridge he may have been recruited by British Intelligence who propelled him into the bohemian art world. Regardless, in the mid-sixties Whitehead briefly but successfully refashioned himself as a film-maker (albeit not a particularly competent one). For many years Whitehead was close to Howard Marks, and veterans of the sixties counterculture tend to view his role as an important prosecution witness against this pot celebrity in a major drug smuggling trial as somewhat shameful. With the release of this BFI retrospective DVD, it would seem Whitehead is once more a film-maker….
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DREAMSTORY

Stanley Kubrick: Eyes Wide Shut [Warner Brothers]

“That’s what you say now, so at this moment you may even believe it.” (1)

1. A yuppie nightmare movie segues into the enigma of its director’s death. There are no more questions that could be answered. As there were previously no answers to be had. The director could be anonymous. But the author too is dead. Schnitzler died in 1931 and his traumnovelle lays it out: traum as dream and as trauma. The two almost interchangeable if it is that the dream is that which can present the ‘demand of the other’ and present it in such a way as for us to feel it as a pressure to respond (to our ‘other’ so to speak). But dream is fantasy too and the core here, the propulsion, comes as an imaginary infidelity. That it is desire that is beyond the demand. But is it good? Is it bad?
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MINISTRIES OF THE ORGASM

‘Sexpol’ in Reich and Makavejev

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On the night NATO blew up the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavian (Serb) director Dusan Makavejev’s film WR: Mysteries of the Organism was shown for one night only at the NFT in London.
Given that ‘WR’ stands for ‘Wilhelm Reich’, and ‘organism’ flimsily disguises ‘orgasm’ (a euphemism supposedly urged by censors), it’s hardly surprising that institutional Western bohemia has loved the work since it it first appeared in 1971. Portly, bearded English critic Raymond Durgnat, the author of a recent monograph on the subject, claims it on behalf of all those turned off by ‘unpleasure’ in Godard and Brecht. Nearly 30 years later, free love and ideological boxing have disappeared into demographic margins for error (at least as practices), but Reichian notions of sexual ‘repression’ and organic psychology have taken over the asylum, so to speak, setting the policy agenda for the coming century.
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“LONG LIVE DEATH”

On Pasolini’s Salo

The attempt to deny differences is a part of the more general enterprise of denying life, depreciating existence and promising it a death where the universe sinks into the undifferentiated
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Being one of the most celebrated films that has yet to be issued with a certification by the British Board of Film Classification, Pasolini’s Salo is perhaps the most controversial of all banned films in a list that includes Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs. In many ways it is easy to see why Pasolini’s film has created such a furore. Critically acclaimed yet hardly ever seen, Salo, from its banning in Italy to its seizure by the Met’s Vice Squad in August 1978, is possibly the most provocative and disturbing political film ever made. [Read more →]

Wag the Dog

11 days before the election the president is suddenly facing a sex scandal after disappearing into his office with a teenage girl. He is leading in the polls but something has to be done, so a task force is set up, led by Robert de Niro, and it is decided the thing to do to get the sex scandal out of the headlines is go to war. To manage and produce this media event the services of Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman are employed: [Read more →]

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