Sweeter Still: Sweet Movie Revisited

By Balivet, Adam | CineAction, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Sweeter Still: Sweet Movie Revisited


Balivet, Adam, CineAction


In the early 1970s, Robin Wood wrote the entry on Dusan Makavejev in Richard Roud's Cinema: a Critical Dictionary, hailing Makavejev's films as "among the most immediately striking and original of the post-New Wave generation." (1) In particular, Wood commended the filmmaker's unique collage method and the challenge it presents to viewers--at least in his first two films--before expressing concern over the unwieldy, hyperrealized WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971). Two events took place after the writing of this piece: Makavejev made the (even more) controversial Sweet Movie (1974), and Wood's criticism took a politically radical turn. These two events, though occurring independently, deserve to be reevaluated with respect to each other, and to their possible intersections. This essay will first look at Sweet Movie in the light of Wood's initial thoughts on Makavejev, and then discuss the film under the more radical perspective of Wood's later criticism. The motive throughout is to discover how the two elements encourage each other and what that interaction can accomplish in terms of radical cinema.

In his assessment of Makavejev, Wood focuses most positively on the distinct style of montage that Makavejev has become well known for: "His particular contribution to the expressive potentialities of modern cinema has been the development of an increasingly complicated collage method: the juxtaposition of heterogeneous materials to produce complex ironies and ambiguities." This style involves the interweaving of fiction, non-fiction, scripted scenes, documentary clips, stock footage--and seemingly, anything that Makavejev deems fit--in what comes across as an instinctual manner. In other words, he relies less on rhythm and cohesion, more on natural timing and effect. Indeed, as Wood points out, "the possible connections are themselves ambiguous or contradictory, so that the spectator is forced into an active participation, invited to supply his own synthesis to the dialectic of thesis and antithesis proposed by the (Um." He sees the effect as twofold: to create the active participation described above (and illustrated by the out-oforder chronology of Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, 1967), and to raise questions on the director's own behalf, to creative an active dialogue--over morals, culture, politics, etc.--for which Makavejev himself has no definitive answers.

Wood makes the case for this active, consciousness-raising style of filmmaking primarily through Love Affair and its predecessor, Man Is Not a Bird (1965). Moving onto Makavejev's fourth film, WR, VVood begins to voice concerns with the direction in which the filmmaker takes his technique, particularly the differences in direction. The first difference he brings up is the much wider pool of resources Makavejev makes use of in WR: "The material drawn together for the collage is much more diverse, which at once multiplies the possibilities of meaning, irony and collision, and makes the effects much harder to control." Truly, WR brings together a much greater number of varying elements--subjects, genres, documentaries (both original and found), etc.--than Makavejev's previous films. As Wood concedes, "It could be argued that this encourages a still more active participation;" which other critics have, but in his view, "it is more likely to lead to vagueness."

He mentions the second and third differences in tandem: "in place of the meticulously detailed, sensitively observed 'realist' fictions of the first two films, WR offers a stylized, mostly comic charade which recapitulates their thematic while largely denying the audience the sympathetic involvement that (repeatedly interrupted and interrogated) generated such intensity of response." The third difference, then, is the shift to support more "progressive" attitudes, in opposition to "traditional" ones, in what Wood views as a satire of both attitudes, compared to the sympathetic portrayal of "traditional" characters in the early films. …

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