Dušan Makavejev - Director

Nationality: Yugoslavian. Born: Belgrade, 13 October 1932. Education: Studied psychology at Belgrade University, graduated 1955; studied direction at the Academy for Theatre, Radio, Film, and Television, Belgrade. Military Service: 1959–60. Family: Married Bojana Marijan, 1964. Career: Experimental filmmaker for Kino-Club, 1955–58; joined Zagreb Films, 1958; worked for Avala films, 1961; went to United States on Ford Foundation Grant, 1968; worked in United States, since 1974; instructor of film at various universities, including Columbia, Harvard, and New York. Awards: FIPRESCI Award and Silver Bear Award, Berlin Film Festival, for Nevinost bez zastite , 1968; FIPRESCI Award, special mention, Berlin Film Festival, for W.R.—Misterije organizma , 1971; Mostra Special Award, Sao Paulo International Film Festival, 1998.

Dušan Makavejev
Dušan Makavejev

Films as Director:

(shorts and documentaries):


Jatagan Mala (+ sc)


Pečat ( The Seal ) (+ sc)


Antonijevo razbijeno ogledalo ( Anthony's Broken Mirror ) (+ sc)


Spomenicima ne treba verovati ( Don't Believe in Monuments ) (+ sc); Slikovnica pčelara ( Beekeeper's Scrapbook ) (+ sc); Prokleti praznik ( Damned Holiday ) (+ sc); Boje sanjaju ( Colors Are Dreaming ) (+ sc)


Sto je radnički savjet? ( What Is a Workers' Council? )


Eci, pec, pec ( One Potato, Two Potato . . . ) (+ sc); Pedagoška bajka ( Educational Fairy Tale ) (+ sc); Osmjeh 61 ( Smile 61 ) (+ sc)


Parada ( Parade ) (+ sc); Dole plotovi ( Down with the Fences ) (+ sc); Ljepotica 62 ( Miss Yugoslavia 62 ) (+ sc); Film o knjizi A.B.C. ( Film about the Book ) (+ sc)


Nova igračka ( New Toy ) (+ sc); Nova domaća zivotinja ( New Domestic Animal ) (+ sc)

(feature films):


Covek nije tica ( Man Is Not a Bird ) (+ sc)


Ljubavni Slučaj, tragedija sluzbenice PTT ( Love Affair ; Switchboard Operator ; An Affair of the Heart ) (+ sc)


Nevinost bez zaśtite ( Innocence Unprotected ) (+ sc)


WR—Misterije organizma ( WR—Mysteries of the Organism ) (+ sc)


Sweet Movie (+ co-sc)


Montenegro ( Or Pigs and Pearls ) (+ sc)


The Coca-Cola Kid


Manifesto ( For a Night of Love )


The Gorilla Bathes at Noon


A Hole in the Soul (+ sc, role as himself)


Danske piger viser alt ( Danish Girls Show Everything ) (co-d)


By MAKAVEJEV: books—

A Kiss for Komradess Slogan , 1964.

Nevinost bez zaśtite [Innocence Unprotected], Zagreb, 1968.

WR—Mysteries of the Organism , New York, 1972.

Shooting the Actor; or, The Choreography of Confusion , with Simon Callow, London, 1990.

By MAKAVEJEV: articles—

"Fight Power with Spontaneity and Humor: An Interview with Dušan Makavejev," with Robert Sutton and others, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1971/72.

Interview with R. Colacielo, in Interview (New York), February 1972.

Interview with G. Braucourt, in Ecran (Paris), September/October 1972.

"Let's Put the Life Back in Political Life," interview with C. B. Thompson, in Cinéaste (New York), vol. 6, no. 2, 1974.

Interview with Robert Benayoun and Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), June 1974.

Interview with Edgardo Cozarinsky and Carlos Clarens, in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1975.

"Film Censorship in Yugoslavia," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1975.

Interview with F. La Polla, in Cineforum (Bergamo), June/July 1986.

"Innocence Unprotected," an interview with R. Stoneman, in Sight and Sound , July 1992.

"Nipoèem ne ugadaeš', u kogo v karmane ljagsuška," in Iskusstvo Kino (UR), August 1992.

"La vie en tant que 'remake'," an article in Positif , June 1994.


Taylor, John, Directors and Directions , New York, 1975.

On MAKAVEJEV: articles—

Wood, Robin, "Dušan Makavejev," in Second Wave , New York, 1970.

Oppenheim, O., "Makavejev in Montreal," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1970.

"Makavejev and the Mysteries of the Organism," in Film (London), Autumn 1971.

Robinson, David, "Joie de Vivre at the Barricades: The Films of Dušan Makavejev," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1971.

MacBean, J. R., "Sex and Politics," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1972.

Vogel, Amos, "Makavejev: Toward the Edge of the Real . . . and Over," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1973.

"Dušan Makavejev," in Fifty Major Filmmakers edited by Peter Cowie, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1974.

"Sweet Movie," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1974.

Schaub, M., "Unbeschützte und verlorene Unschuld, Dušan Makavejevs Spekulationen," in Cinema (Zurich), vol. 21, no. 2, 1975.

Perlmutter, R., "The Cinema of the Grotesque," in Georgia Review (Athens, Ohio), no. 1, 1979.

Cavell, Stanley, "On Makavejev on Bergman," in Critical Inquiry (Chicago), no. 2, 1979.

Kral, Petr, "Perles et Cochons: Les Fantasmes de Madame Jordan: Montenegro," in Positif (Paris), March 1982.

Eagle, Herbert, "Yugoslav Marxist Humanism and the Films of Dušan Makavejev," in Politics, Art, and Commitment in the East European Cinema , edited by David W. Paul, London, 1983.

"Dušan Makavejev," in Film Dope (London), December 1987.

Makavejev section of Filmvilag , vol. 33, no. 8, 1990.

Forgacs, I., "Ezt mondta Makavejev. . . ," in Filmkultura , no. 12, 1993.

Cerneko, M., "'Big Mak', ili tragedija s èeloveèeskim licon," an article in Iskusstvo Kino (UR), January 1994.

Shaw, David, "The Mysteries of the Organism called Dušan Makavejev," in Suspect Culture (CN), Fall 1994.

* * *

Before making his first feature film, Man Is Not a Bird , Dušan Makavejev had developed his filmmaking skills and formulated his chief thematic and formal concerns by producing a number of 35mm experimental shorts and documentaries. His second feature, Love Affair , furthered Makavejev's reputation and situated him within a growing community of Eastern European filmmakers committed to exploring the potential of the film medium by opening it up to new subject matter and experimenting with non-conventional narrative forms. Love Affair deals with the romance between a Hungarian-born switchboard operator, Isabella, and Ahmed, an Arab sanitation engineer, and the breakdown of the relationship, Isabella's death, and Ahmed's arrest for her murder. However, this straightforward plot is only the skeleton which supports the rest of the film. Influenced by Eisenstein and Godard, Makavejev builds an elaborate, Brechtian amalgam of documentary-like examinations of rat extermination, interviews with a sexologist and criminologist, actual stock footage of the destruction of church spires during the October Revolution, as well as almost quaint digressions on how mattress stuffing is combed and how strudel is made. Makavejev questions the nature of sexual relationships in a changing, post-revolutionary, but still puritanical society by juxtaposing ostensibly unrelated images. For example, the razing of the church spires is intercut with and comments on Isabella's seduction of Ahmed and the destruction of his archaic sexual inhibitions.

Innocence Unprotected also manifests Makavejev's interest in the dialectics of montage, the ability to create new ideas by juxtaposing incongruous or contradictory images. In this film, Makavejev rescues a little bit of "unprotected innocence" from oblivion by incorporating the original Innocence Unprotected , the first Serbian "all-talking" feature, into a new cinematic context. This 1940s romance-adventure—filmed by a well-known local strongman-daredevil during the Nazi Occupation, censored by the occupation government, and ironically later denounced as being Nazi-inspired—is intercut with interviews Makavejev conducted with members of the original production crew as well as newsreel footage from the period of the occupation. Moreover, Makavejev hand-tints portions of the original film to contribute to the critical distance created by the archaic quality of the footage. Perhaps more than any of his other films, Innocence Unprotected shows Makavejev's loving interest in traditional Yugoslavian folk culture and humor.

WR—Mysteries of the Organism deals with the sexuality of politics and the politics of sexuality. A radical condemnation of both the sterility of Stalinism and the superficial commercialism of Western capitalism, WR is certainly a document of its time—of Yugoslavia attempting to follow its "other road" to socialism while America fights in Vietnam and Moscow invades Czechoslovakia. Makavejev looks to Wilhelm Reich (the "WR" of the title) for enlightenment. Reich was, early in his career, one of the first to recognize the profound interconnections between socio-political structure and the individual psyche. His radical sexual ideas alienated the psychoanalytic profession and his unorthodox medical theories and practices eventually led to his imprisonment in the United States.

Although elaborate cross-cutting blends the two sections of the film, roughly the first half of WR is devoted to a documentary study of Wilhelm Reich's life in the United States. Interviews with Reich's therapists, Reich's relatives, even people who knew him casually, including his barber, are intercut with an examination of American sexual mores circa 1970 via interviews with Jackie Curtis, Barbara Dobson, one of the editors of Screw magazine, and others. The second half of the film is primarily a fictional narrative set in Belgrade, which concerns the love affair between a young female admirer of Reich (Milena) and a rather priggish and prudish Soviet ice skater named Vladimir Ilyich. Freed of his inhibitions by Milena's persistence, Vladimir makes love to her and then, unable to deal with his sexuality, decapitates her with his ice skate. However, after death, Milena's severed head continues to speak. Vladimir sings a song with a lyric written by a Soviet citizen critical of his government. WR ends with a photo of the smiling Reich—a sign of hope, a contradictory indication of the possibility for change and new beginnings.

WR was never released in Yugoslavia, and Makavejev made his two subsequent films, Sweet Movie and Montenegro , in the United States and Europe. Like WR, Sweet Movie has two parts. In the first a beauty contestant, Miss World, is wedded to and violated by Mr. Kapital and, after other humiliations, ends up in Otto Muehl's radical therapy commune. Miss World is taken in and nurtured by actual commune members who engage in various types of infantile regressions (including carrying their excrement displayed on dinner plates) as therapy. The second part of the film is an allegorical commentary on the East. A ship, with a figurehead of Karl Marx, sails about under the command of Anna Planeta, who seduces and murders young men and boys, while providing for their rebirth out of a hold filled with white sugar and corpses.

Montenegro continues this development of allegory in favor of Makavejev's earlier documentary interests. Marilyn, an American-born Swedish housewife, is lured into a world peopled by earthy and sexually active Yugoslavian immigrants who run a club called Zanzibar as an almost anarchistic communal venture. Like the heroes and heroines of Makavejev's earlier films, Marilyn cannot deal with her newly acquired sexual freedom, and she—like Ahmed, Vladimir Ilyich, and Anna Planeta—kills her lovers. Montenegro's linear plot contrasts sharply with the convoluted narrative structure and elaborate montage techniques characteristic of Makavejev's earlier works. While being accused of making needlessly ambiguous films with scenes of gratuitous violence and sexuality, Makavejev has consistently explored the interrelationship of sexual life and socioeconomic structure while experimenting with narrative forms that challenge traditional notions of Hollywood filmmaking.

Makavejev's seventeen years as a "knapsack director," during his exile following WR , were echoed in films about displaced persons, immigrants, and "nowhere men in nowhere lands." As one of his characters says, "The place which is nowhere is a true home." Another character similarly notes, "Everyone has to come from somewhere," prompting a third to reply, "Not me! I come from here!" After Sweet Movie , several promising projects foundered in the choppy sea of international co-financing, until Swedish producer Bo Jonsson, visiting Makavejev at Harvard University, proposed a "high-quality comedy with a popular appeal and measured eroticism," in which the director could add his "little somethings." They soon grew into the rich ethnico-socio-political dimensions of Montenegro (Or Pigs and Pearls). The pearl necklace of its Swedish-American heroine (Susan Ansprach) symbolizes her ego and commodity fetishism; "pigs" emblemise the funky, ego-despoiling, unbridled instincts of work-immigrants from Southeast Europe (promptly polluted by consumerism's teasing of real, biological, desire).

Makavejev's second comedy in the genre (comedy with psycho-political infill) came four years later, from Australia. The Coca-Cola Kid, not sponsored by that corporation's marketing division, concerns an enterprising young salesman who succeeds in prising open a tiny regional market, a sort of "last valley," hitherto monopolised by a local dynast's soft drink; but himself succumbs to its values. Though ten years in preparation with Australian novelist Frank Moorhouse, its Local Hero -type story and backwoods setting inspired less intricate detail, and a thinner intellectual texture, than the culturally mixed settings of Makavejev's richest films.

His long exile ended with Manifesto (For a Night of Love) , by far the best of the art-house films funded, through the good offices of American Zoetrope's Tom Luddy, by Cannon-Globus (others were by Godard and Norman Mailer). As Bolsheviks of different classes and ideologies fumble their Revolution in 1920 Ruritania, Makavejev hilariously re-explores his abiding subject matter, shared with the Yugoslavian Praxis group of Marxist-humanist writers. His characters can only steer erratically between the four cardinal points of a spiritual compass: True Socialism (which Marxist bureaucratic classes too easily make oppressive), individualism (which Western capitalism makes smilingly rapacious); man's bodily instincts (commonly selfish and barbaric, pace Wilhelm Reich); and idealism (which may only camouflage the cold, abstract logic of power). Whereas "idealistic" Freudians (whether bourgeois or radical, or, like Reich, both) claim love and sex are natural but deny egoism and power, Makavejev understands that both instinct and idealism may spread, not just love and desire, but terror and violence. And after all, Mother Nature, like Anna Planeta, is a serial murderess: whatever lives will be killed, by something. Similarly, biological instincts involve, as much as sex, food; whence much play on bodies and nourishment. In WR , egg yolks, transferred unbroken from hand to hand, suggest an optimum of "communal kindness"; but even food may be over-refined (like, in Sweet Movie , consumerist chocolate, and the white sugar of revolutionary purity). Hence political history weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living. And subsequent "tribal" massacres, in the former Yugoslavia and around the world, corroborate Makavejev's pessimism. Though faint hopes, and pity forhistory's victims, remain, his "laughter" at "mankind's follies" is more wistful, bitter, and tragic than many spectators perceive.

In his largely German film, The Gorilla Bathes at Noon , a Red Army officer, storming Berlin in 1945, suddenly finds himself in the reunified city near a Lenin statue, which he loyally pickets, as it is marked for demolition with yellow paint, like the egg on Marxism's face. This fantasy gambit presages a return to the Wit/Sweet Movie genre of allegorical cinema, although the plot becomes uncertain where to go. The problem, perhaps, was topicality, for the consequences of political collapse were not yet clear enough to work on. And perhaps Makavejev's cultural background, a sort of Freudo-Marxist-Marcusian humanism, uneasily mixing economism and instinct theory, and concentrating on capitalism, cannot quite get to terms with the wider resurgence of nationalism, ethnicity, and "tribal" psychology. Though to these things the films' human stories are very sensitive.

Some spectators find that Makavejev's mixture of caricature and pessimism rather freeze their "rooting interest" in his characters, compared with his early dramas. It is a perennial problem in "serious satire." Nonetheless, Makavejev's sparkling and poetic inventions make him Eisenstein's true heir and the great reinvigorator of "intellectual cinema," integrating montage editing as one instrument in an entire orchestra, with "non-synch" sound, voice-over, music, colour, calligraphic camera, comic symbolism, dramatic fables, and visual sensuality, all weaving arguments so sophisticated that Eisenstein's look prehistoric. Where Godard faltered and fell, the Nowhere Man from ex-communist former Yugoslavia continues to blaze new trails of "philosophical cinema."

—Gina Marchetti, updated by Raymond Durgnat

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