Indisputably the most unruly and anarchic movie voice to emerge from Iron Curtain-land, Yugoslav troublemaker Dusan; an Makavejev remains tied to his historical context as if to a runaway train; his films don’t date all that well, but taboo-busting, Communist-era avant-gardisms never do. As far as American screens went, Makavejev was a one-man Yugoslav new wave, part semidigested Godard, part perf-art brattishness, and part anti-Commie brickbat, starting out with the punchy, wry sarcasms of Man Is Not a Bird (1966) and Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967) and making his biggest splash with the loopy, sociosexual vaudeville WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971). A shotgun-spray collage of Reich plundering and narrative nose-thumbing (some of it found in the socialist realism vaults, some of it shot at home and in the East Village, all of it inspired by a Ford Foundation travel grant!), WR uses every tactic available to direct an erect-cock j’accuse at the idiocies of Soviet ideology. More a masterwork of subversive will than subversion itself, WR got banned in Eastern Europe, and Makavejev went abroad.
Python-esque in their workaday absurdisms and often vicious in their horny attacks on authority and propriety, Makavejev’s films are never as hilarious as he means them to be, and they vary wildly, from 1981’s tempered albeit self-reflexive romantic satire Montenegro to 1988’s dreary yet eloquently barbed period farce Manifesto (starring Eric Stoltz and not included in the BAM series) to Innocence Unprotected (1968), Makavejev’s reediting and extrapolation of the first Serb talkie. They’re all overshadowed, in a sense, by the social firebomb that is Sweet Movie (1974), a Canadian-made allegory that pits a sexually voracious Marxism (represented by a seminude woman seducing underage boys) against Otto Muehl’s ’60s-style “infantile regression commune”; the shit, vomit, piss, and chocolate fly. Here, Makavejev becomes clearly the very demon that Communism could never incorporate: the fuck-you punk who lives to revolt his neighbors.