Birri defines Org, the film’s title, as not a word but a prefix or suffix, for words such as organ, orgasm, orgy, amorgos, or Williams Reich’s Orgone theory. It does not function as a descriptor for the film, but as a means for audience members to engage in their own reactions to and associations of the word, and the film’s images. Coupled with the William Blake quote which opens the film, The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom I can at least begin to describe the hectic experience that is ORG, a film in which the majority of the shots are a fraction of a second long, comprising montages of blistering speed.
A multiplicity of experiences that run through the film’s length begin with the title sequence and a presentation of this word, Org. In fact, the title card itself is only briefly displayed, as a sort of pulsating and throbbing entity. Clips of eyeballs, breasts, unidentifiable animated blobs, among other images, are thrust into this first montage. To see all of them, and focus in on each shot, is beyond human sensory abilities (at least in a single viewing), so we are forced to connect the title with only some of the elements. It could, as such, relate to the organs presented, or as organism (the beating title card itself could be defined as either), orgasm or orgy from the inclusions of nude images. This inner debate becomes one or the innumerable concurrent ideas floating around through the material which follows. Reich’s Orgone theory in particular can be connected with so many shots of stars, moons, or imitations of those images, or the superimposed portions of animated blobs, or so many other examples.
Now, to suggest such a difficult film for viewing will already put off many potential viewers. Add in the fact that it is largely in Italian, with no subtitles, and the pool of people wanting to give it a try is small, to say the least. Yet I nonetheless strongly encourage you all to watch despite these setbacks, for two major reasons. The first, that much of the dialogue would be hard to distinguish and understand even for an Italian speaker. Even in scenes of conversation that appear static, there is still a jolting cutting techniques which creates a choppy feeling for the visuals and soundtrack, all I can really compare it to is stop motion animation. The audio associated with these shots often overlap, in addition to several distortion tactics of the audio. The brief portion of english spoken later in the film, which experiences a similar treatment, can reassure you that you would not understand most of the dialogue on the first viewing, you just cannot, it is a bombardment. A second reason to watch, it is just a rare film approach to be seen. However, it is suggested to read to plot beforehand, and also look into the available translation of one of Birri’s introductions of the film.
The plot of the narrative portion of the film (there is also a section that could be called documentary), partially based on, Thomas Mann’s The Transposed Heads:
Some years after the explosion of a mushroom cloud, a black man named Grrrr helps his white friend Zohommm to seduce his beloved Shuick in a love triangle. When Zohommm later becomes jealous, he consults an electronic Sybil about his woman and friend. She confirms his suspicions and, in despair, he cuts off his head. Grrrr, his black friend, finds him dead and also kills himself. When the woman Shuick discovers them, she tries to jump off a cliff, but is stopped by the electronic Sybil, who brings the two friends back to life. Shuick reunites with the two men, but their heads have been transposed, swapped (by mistake or not?) and a dispute arises between the two bodies to decide who will now get the woman. Is a man his head or his sex? This little question, the film leaves open.
Now, since any attempt at a sort of ‘complete’ synopsis of the film would be far too daunting, even impossible, I just want to present my thoughts on some scenes and examples.
Another memorable scene prominently displaying the variations of ideas presented is a fairly early one, in which Zohammm and Shuik have sex after he has asked Grrrr to bring her to him. On some sort of large, inflatable bed, as sparse images of their actions begin, the first sounds on the audio track are animal noises, of monkeys, elephants, wolves, etc. After a few minutes pass, some comparable images are offered. Images of the sexual acts, with Zohammm replaced by superimposed pictures of animals.
This provides the first reaction, an equation to animal sex and lust. Another interspersed series of shots presents Hindu statues of the erotic, as well as extreme close-ups of the couple. Both of these can lead a viewer to describe it as a timeless, even sacred act. Additionally, the connection to other art forms (sculpture, drawing, and painting) presents itself, as close up shots of their bodies mimic close ups of the statues, and their forms are repeatedly replaced by drawings. One last such train of thought which can become evident is an association of this sex with demons, whose images and appendages (alongside a recurring sight of some creator/sorcerer character, rather villainous in appearance) can make way for a comparison of their act as evil.
It does not necessarily display any of these, of any other, interpretation or metaphors as the most prominent or relevant to Birri’s own thoughts, but more reflexive of what audience members already feel in relation to the subjects and actions presented. Their preconceived notions of sex will most likely hinder which connections they latch onto. A study of audience subjectivity, even an attack on it or ironic presentation of it, continues throughout.
Just before this scene, there are pictures of an italian translation of a Peanuts comic strip (in fact, many such images of comics, either such newspaper strips or from comic books, comprise another layer of the presentation). Interestingly, this acts as one of the most expository examples of the next theme, humans and space.
Paraphrasing what the strip says in english, Lucy says something about loving to look at the stars and amazed at how many there are. Linus says something about what his eye doctor told him, I think relating to how these images of stars are just lights of destroyed stars just now reaching us. The final panel has Lucy saying: tell your eye doctor he spoiled the stars for me.
Two ideas, man is fascinated with space, and recent science/exploration has, in Birri’s words, caused the human ego, at to time, [to lose] its centeredness. As the three main characters don make-shift space suits and travel to distant (?) ruins, in a craft that appears to be a VW bus, their is now a parallel presented with this fascination as seen in film. In one sense, its inclusion feels like a tongue-in-cheek rouse for the film to contain the cliches of action and character that may be ‘required’ of film. While this could be more speculative (although it is a perspective more blatant later on), what is definite is the inclusion in the subsequent montages of, a history of cinema, so to speak. Images of stills a shown chronologically at rapid pace, the central examples from Melies’ A Trip to the Moon (one is the figures who Birri cites as the film being dedicated to). A comparison with the history of film, provides both a study of certain common trope to be found, and a contrast of where films are today, how distant they are from Melies’, just as how distant human perception of space is from the time of the orgone theory.
This purpose dominates the beginning of what is marked as the second episode, interviews with various filmmakers active in the 60s and 70s. These directors are Roberto Rossellini, Jean-luc Godard, Jan Nemac (in absentia), Jonas Mekas, Julio Garcia Espinosa, Glauber Rocha, and Fernando Solanas/Octavio Getino. Yet each interview is edited so that their actual are almost entirely indecipherable, picking out a few of their words to display briefly as text on the screen.
At this point, the descriptor of the film, used in its summaries, as pataphysical, seems most apt, particularly when speaking of its study of film. This sections acts as a means of defining what cinema is today (well, at that time), how the worldwide new waves and new cinemas can be cohesively summarized. Yet this reflexivity is taken to a further ironic, self-aware level, in which the uses of metaphor, un-orthodox style, satire, and a removal of usual comfort for the audience, elements present in the works of these directors, is taken to such an extreme that such a purpose is nearly negated. The interviews, as a result of the extreme speed of edits and shortening of shot length, aren’t able to fully present the words of the filmmakers, an attempt at cohesion and understanding is already flawed. These extremes allow a further detachment, for a study of comparable metaphysical studies in the ‘new’ film works and movements. Yet, in this pursuit, unlike the works of these interviewees, we cannot fully appreciate the elements that make up the film, shots are going to inevitably be missed and lost, exempt from the audience memory (but this is not necessarily a flaw). Perhaps a reason why Birri calls it a non-film.
When focus is turned to the actors, scenes of more candid discussions with the director, and of several means of creating a character, is when the film turns most experimental. Describing this section is far beyond the ability of a few words and stills. Suffice it to say it is an astounding extended montage, in which the actors don make up, costumes, in a darkened room, they watch films, they read texts, they study paintings, they perform. Colors pulsates over the scenes, and in this chaos they find their words, their gestures.
Towards the end of the film, there is a return to the narrative of the transposed heads, as Zohammm and Grrrr, on a beach, fight over Shuick. Along the lines of how the history of film of dissected, histories of violence and revolution become apparent, in accord with this ensuing fight. Pictures, texts, audio, of armies of state soldiers, of resistance, of bombing, of rhetoric of the Black Power movement, strung together with this, it now seems, epic battle.
And then, there seems to be a total deconstruction and destruction of the film. A lasting image of the beach, a young boy (Grrrr and Shuick’s son?), is on of the final recurring scenes, as all the through-lines of repetitive scenes, perspective, subjects, etc. are more and more sparsely interspersed. The audio track because shifting, detached, and broken apart, almost like the ranting of a narrator. During the pictures of the beach and landscapes, on the film are shadows of audience members shading up and leaving. Shadows, then, are all that are presented, of distant figures and shadow puppets on a white screen. The screen in white for a few minutes. Then it turns to a red background, during this whole time the disjointed narration continuing. Then it ends. Purportedly, it is possible that at the original screening this red screen and narration continued for nearly an hour, forcing many viewers to eventually just leave in the middle of it. The film does not seem to end, it’s just over when we choose to leave.
Writing this may prove to be more for just my own benefit, to get my thoughts down if my memory decides to fade. Even if you don’t want to give this a try right now, do download, or bookmark it in a to-watch list. Because, I feel I can safely say it will be a rare immersion into a film, unlike most others.
How about a few more stills, to entice:
Thanks for all the work you’ve put in here. It sounds an extremely dense film, which without the background understanding and meanings you provide might easily be dismissed or undervalued. So it sounds worth checking out!
Yet this reflexivity is taken to a further ironic, self-aware level, in which the uses of metaphor, un-orthodox style, satire, and a removal of usual comfort for the audience, elements present in the works of these directors, is taken to such an extreme that such a purpose is nearly negated. The interviews, as a result of the extreme speed of edits and shortening of shot length, aren’t able to fully present the words of the filmmakers, an attempt at cohesion and understanding is already flawed.
This is very fascinating; thank you so much for this detailed analysis. As intimidating as this sounds, I’m still really eager to see it.
Wow, outstanding posts! Cheers for bumping this thread, Thampu. Now I’m eager to see it too.