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Society for Cinema & Media Studies

A Cinema of Revolt: Black Wave Revolution and Dušan Makavejev's Politics of Disgust
Author(s): Sarah Hamblin
Source: Cinema Journal, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Summer 2014), pp. 28-52
Published by: University of Texas Press on behalf of the Society for Cinema & Media
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A Cinema of Revolt: Black Wave
Revolution and Dušan Makavejev's
Politics of Disgust
by Sarah Hamblin

Abstract: Expanding discussions of negative feelings in black wave cinema beyond pes-
simism, disgust in Dušan Makavejev's Sweet Movie (1974) intervenes in both the revo-
lutionary philosophy of Yugoslavia's second revolution and the problems of revolutionary
representation in political modernist cinema. Disgust, a powerfully negative emotional
response, disrupts the communication of politics to produce a profoundly ambivalent
presentation of revolutionary action. Against a positive political cinema that affirms and
thus reifies its revolutionary ideology, disgust operates as a means of "nonarticulation"
that prevents Sweet Movie from clearly articulating a "correct" revolutionary politics.
However, although disgust may work to liberate the film from orthodox revolutionary
dogma, at the same time it undermines Sweet Movie's ability to spur political action. As
such, negative feelings like disgust produce a vexed aesthetic that at once expresses the
possibilities and the limits of revolutionary cinema.

lished an eight-page supplement titled "The Black Wave in Our Film."1 The
article critiqued current manifestations of novi Jogoslovenski (new Yugoslav) film,
In lished a a rmovement
ticle movement
that the1969,
imir Jovieigčht-ič, pbelagievedthatot ,hatheve "current
il the official supplement article's manifestations newspaper author, titled of Vladimir "The of the novi Yugoslav Black Jogoslovenski Jovičič, Wave Communist believed in (new Our Yugoslav) Film."1 to Party, have pub- film, The "il
used the idea of artistic freedom."2 In the context of the relaxation of controls
over cultural production that ensued from Josip Broz Tito's project of socialist
self-management, novi film emerged as a radical political cinema of individual ex-
pression that was critical of communism as it had developed in the Eastern Bloc.
In the wake of Stalinist repression, novi film advocated a reconceptualized marxism
that rejected the reductive simplicity of its more vulgar manifestations and their
ossification into bureaucratized dogma. In response to its critical nature and indi-
vidualistic character, Jovičič expressed a concern shared by a growing number of w

1 Vladimir Jovičič, "Crni talas u našem film," in Borba Reflektor, August 3, 1969, 22-29. Since an English Čo
translation of this article is not readily available, my references to it are taken from the pas ages that Daniel
Goulding translates in Liberated Cinema: The Yugoslav Experience (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, '35

1985). >
2 Vladimir Jovičič, quoted in Goulding, Liberated Cinema, 81. d)

Sarah Hamblin is as istant professor of film studies and English and director of the cinema studies minor at the University
of Mas achusetts, Boston. Her research focuses on global art dnemas and graphic literatures, and she is currently completing CM

a book manuscript on global revolutionary filmmaking in the 1960s.

28 Summer 2014 I 53 ! No. 4

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cultural critics that novi film had become ideologically dangerous, arguing that the goal
of its filmmakers - "to simply negate all that exists in order to affirm themselves" -
had itself to be "negated."3 Significandy, Jovičic focused his criticism on one specific
aspect of novi film : its negative affective register. As Daniel Goulding explains, the term
that Jovičic uses for the title of his article had origins in French 1930s black pessimism
films, Polish black series documentaries from the 1950s, and Czech dark wave films
of the 1 960s, all of which presented highly negative, bleak portraits of social reality.4
Jovičic accused novi film of adopting a similarly pessimistic and overtly nihilistic tone,
with such "monochromatic tendencies" producing an "invalid cinema of pessimism
and defeatism and an attempt to reject all that is positive."5
Jovičic indictment of such negativity marks the centrality of negative feelings
to black wave politics. Indeed, the movement's appeal to pessimism - its "reverse's
Zhdanovism" - was a response to the enforced optimism of socialist cinema used as
a means of promoting communist ideology Indeed, as Herbert Eagle makes clear,
the confines of socialist realist aesthetics meant that films were bound to serve "the

explicit, immediate needs of socialist construction by fostering appropriate attitudes"

through the depiction of society "not as such but in terms of its 'revolutionary devel-
opment' - that is, that contemporary social reality is presented not as it is , but with a
substantial (though inaccurate) admixture of what is supposed to be according to ideologi-
cal positions."6 The consequence of this adherence to an ideological vision of society
meant that films should be "didactic and clear-cut" and, in terms of their emotional
register, "ultimately optimistic."7 Following this logic, the "blackness" of novi film was
designed to push back against such regulated optimism by highlighting the gap be-
tween "what is" and "what is supposed to be." Thus, while black wave was an epithet
imposed on a group of filmmakers who, as Anna Schober points out, "preferred to use
the term 'novi film' or, in reference to the French New Wave, 'New Yugoslav Cinema'
when referring to themselves," its use by journalists, party members, and eventually
Tito himself enabled a range of different styles and approaches to filmmaking to be
reconciled and unified, thus "creating] a kind of label that started to replace the
previous, rather self-coined name of 'novi film' [that] could then be picked up by
cinema enthusiasts themselves" to develop a more substantial movement.8 In this way,

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 79. French black pessimism films like Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko (1937) were part of the poetic re
movement. Such films took up proletarian story lines and were both melancholic and fatalistic in tone and proto
in style. The Polish black series, thought to begin with Look Out, Hooligans! ( Uwaga chuligáni!-, Jerzy Hoffman a
Edward Skórzewski, 1955), was a relatively short-lived documentary movement that pushed back against soc
realist images of a romanticized communist Utopia, focusing instead on the darker elements of Polish societ
highlighting, as did the Yugoslav black wave, the cleft between communist rhetoric and reality. Goulding's refere
to the Czech new wave as a "dark wave" highlights two of the movement's common stylistic features- its quo
narratives and the incorporation of black and absurdist humor- the latter of which certainly characterizes

5 Vladimir Jovičič, quoted in Goulding, Liberated Cinema, 81.

6 Herbert Eagle, quoted in Goulding, Liberated Cinema, 7.

7 Ibid.

8 Anna Schober, The Cinema Makers: Public Life and the Exhibition of Difference in South-Eastern and Central
since the 1 960s (Bristol, UK: Intellect Books, 2013), 81-82.


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and as tides like Želimir Žilnik's Black Wave (1971) highlight, negative feelings became
fundamental to this new radical political cinema, one that stands in opposition to the
grand passions of orthodox marxism, which romantically papered over the problems
of actually existing communism.9
Dušan Makavejev's films, however, do not quite fit into this pessimistic framework.
Makavejev, a key figure in this new cinema and described by David Paul as "the most
radical filmmaker to have emerged in Eastern Europe," is often considered to repre-
sent the lighter, more comedic side of the black wave.10 Indeed, Makavejev's own in-
vestment in humor and joy as "weapon [s] of counter-repression"11 results in what Paul
Arthur irreverently refers to as a set of films that articulate "Marxian dialectics as in-
terpreted by the Marx brothers."12 But Makavejev's Sweet Movie (1974) is a strange case
that, while not adopting the melancholic tone of other black wave films, does draw on
negative feeling through its evocation of disgust. In Makavejev's own words, the film's
emotional register morphs, beginning as "a light comedy, [then] later changing into
a political thriller and horror movie."13 This shifting tone marks an engagement with
the politics of negative feelings beyond the typical black wave turn to pessimism as the
negation of the enforced optimism of Yugoslav socialist realism. Rather, disgust signals
an alternative engagement with negative feeling as a mode of communist self-critique,
one that at the same time complicates the radical potential of desire. Indeed, while
desire may embody the liberating ideals of a new humanist marxism conceived as total
self-emancipation, in Sweet Movie its cinematic construction remains problematic for
revolutionary politics, and it is against the positivism of desire that disgust articulates
its own revolutionary potential. However, disgust, as a powerfully negative emotional
response, disrupts the communication of this politics to produce a profoundly am-
bivalent presentation of revolutionary action. In this way, Sweet Movie intervenes not
only in the revolutionary philosophy of Yugoslavia's second revolution but also in the
problems of revolutionary representation that drive the political modernist cinema of
the period. Against a positivist cinema that affirms and thus reifies its revolutionary
ideology, disgust operates as a means of "nonarticulation"; in line with the politics of
radical self-emancipation that preclude a didactic cinema aimed at teaching the audi-
ence the truth of revolution, disgust prevents Sweet Movie from presenting an objective
revolutionary politics. However, although disgust may work to liberate the film from
orthodox revolutionary dogma, at the same time it undermines Sweet Movie's ability to
spur political action. As such, disgust produces a vexed aesthetic that at once expresses
both the possibilities and the limits of revolutionary cinema.

9 Ibid., 82.

10 David Paul, "Introduction: Film Art and Social Commitment," in Politics, Art and Commitment in the East European
Cinema, ed. David Paul (London: Macmillan, 1983), 10.

1 1 Dušan Makavejev, quoted in Robert Sitton, James MacBean, and Ernest Callenbach, "Fight Power with Spontaneity
and Humor: An Interview with Dušan Makavejev," Film Quarterly 25, no. 2 (1971-1972): 3.

12 Paul Arthur, "Escape from Freedom: The Films of Dušan Makavejev," Cineaste 27, no. 1 (2001): 11.

13 Dušan Makavejev, quoted in Edgardo Cozarinsky and Carlos Clarens, "Dušan Makavejev Interview," Film Comment
11, no. 3 (1975): 51.


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Revolutionizing Marxism: Novi Film and Praxis. In the wake of the post-Stalin
thaw, the black wave established itself within the tradition of politically committed art
that David Paul views as part of the history of artistic practice in Eastern Europe.14
As film historians like Daniel Goulding, Herbert Eagle, and, more recently, Pavle Levi
have argued, although remaining committed to a certain marxist spirit, black wave
filmmakers were strongly critical of the material expression of communism in Yugo-
slavia, especially at the level of culture. As Levi argues, this critique resulted in a set of
films that challenged dominant narratives concerning "the 'unquestionable' collective
national mythology promoted by the Yugoslav state and pertaining to the national War
of Liberation (1941-45), the revolutionary struggle of the Yugoslav peoples, and the
nature and functioning of the Yugoslav socialist model," as well as its attendant forms
of reification and dogmatism.15 Cinema was fundamental to this mode of critique,
given the political function of socialist realism and the development of Partisan war
films as modes of institutional propaganda in the early years of the Yugoslav indus-
try. Indeed, despite what Levi refers to as the more "relaxed" ideological supervision
of culture that developed under Tito's leadership, there remained a "rarely disputed
ideological framework maintained by the state" that the black wave refused to repro-
duce.16 Levi continues:

Thus, for instance, Živojin Pavlovic, one of the foremost representatives of

the New Film, had the following to say about the epic Partisan war films,
classic instruments of ideological propaganda in the hands of the socialist
establishment: "Those who here spoke about the war by way of the celluloid
. . . did not scold history, they beautified it, but in a most disgusting way. . . .
In Yugoslav cinema, various forms of un-truth permanently replace each
other. . . . Quasi-poetics replaces quasi-epics, quasi-drama replaces quasi-
psychology, and quasi-mythologization of history replaces quasi-documen-
tation. Instead of art about the revolution, we have revolutionary kitsch."17

The black wave, then, coalesced around filmmakers' mutual desire to interrogate com-
munist history, to expose its mythologies, and to critique its practices. In this vein, it
pushed back against Stalinist narratives that uncritically romanticized revolutionary
history, transforming marxist theory into an infallible monolithic science whose prin-
ciples existed as predetermined laws to be repeatedly reaffirmed.
The urge to develop critical-historical narratives of communism and to explore the
possibilities for new marxist futures outside the positivist logic of scientific marxism
aligns the political commitments of the black wave with the marxist humanist journal
Praxis (founded in 1964 and first edited by Gajo Petrovic and Danilo Pejovic), which

14 Paul argues that a sense of political commitment and social responsibility are part of the legacy of communism in
the fabric of Eastern European art; Paul, "Introduction: Film Art and Social Commitment," 7.

15 Pavle Levi, Disintegration in Frames: Aesthetics and Ideology in the Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Cinema (Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), 16. Levi presents a more in-depth and comprehensive analysis of this history
than I offer here, as does Goulding, in Liberated Cinema. The historical narrative that I lay out draws heavily from
their work, in particular their analysis of Praxis philosophy.

16 Levi, Disintegration in Frames, 15.

17 Ibid., 16.


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was similarly devoted to a critique of all forms of social and political domination.
As Mihailo Markovič, one of the most prominent Praxis philosophers, explained, the
journal developed as a response to and rejection of the vulgar marxism popularized
by Stalin and to its overly bureaucratic and "impersonal sheep-like collectivism."18
As a result, Yugoslav revolutionary philosophy emerged in the late 1950s as an es-
sentially humanist theorization of social transformation that emphasized previously
dismissed marxist ideas about creativity, alienation, and individual freedom while at
the same time highlighting the need for nonmonolithic, nonabsolutist approaches to
political and cultural theory. By returning to Marx's early writings, the Praxis group
developed a sophisticated humanist marxism characterized, as Eagle argues, by the
idea that free individual creative expression was the ultimate goal of a genuine revo-
lutionary program and that saw institutionalized communist bureaucracy and Soviet
dogma as profoundly antithetical to the realization of this aim.19 As Eagle goes on
to demonstrate, for Gajo Petrovič, the journal's longest-serving editor, alienation was
best understood as a social as well as an economic problem, and a truly revolutionary
politics must account for both forms of repression, since "only that self-determined
activity is free in which a man ... is not slave of this or that special thought, emotion
or tendency."20 Part of the problem with the Soviet revolution, then, was its perpetua-
tion of social forms of alienation through its insistence on a singular marxist truth that
dictated all acceptable modes of thought and behavior. For Praxis thinkers and black
wave filmmakers, therefore, revolution had to combine collective social transformation
with subjective individual liberation, whereby "the freedom of each individual will be
the condition of the freedom of all."21 As Levi explains via Ljubomir Tadic's essay
"Order and Freedom," the concept of absolute individual freedom promulgated by
the Praxis group is realized as the Utopian achievement of nonalienated existence in
which man is utterly and fully in control of his actions, thoughts, and desires: "[F]ree-
dom is possible only when man is truly the subject, the creator , of his own fate, and not a
mere object over which power is exercised."22 The cinematic parallel to this concept of
freedom found its expression in the black wave's investment in uninhibited individual
expression as a rejection of ideological control. As such, the movement's investment
in the problem of social alienation meant that its critique of the current social system
was entwined with the legitimization of subjective experience and the refusal of es-
tablished aesthetics. Black wave cinema, therefore, replaced what the Yugoslav film
theorist Dušan Stojanovic called the "collective mythology" of Yugoslav nationalist
realism with "endless individual mythologies."23

18 Mihailo Markovič, "Praxis: Critical Social Philosophy in Yugoslavia," in Praxis: Yugoslav Essays in the Philosophy and
Methodology of the Social Sciences, ed. Mihailo Markovič and Gajo Petrovič, trans. Joan Coddington, David Rougé,
et al. (Hingham, MA: D. Reidei, 1979), xi. Markovič's introduction to this collection of essays from Praxis lays out an
in-depth history of the group and its philosophical development, the outline of which I have summarized here.

19 Herbert Eagle, "Yugoslav Marxist Humanism and the Films of Dušan Makavejev," in Politics and Commitment in the
East European Cinema, ed. David Paul (London: Macmillan, 1983), 132.

20 Gajo Petrovič, quoted in ibid., 133.

21 Markovič, "Praxis," xi i.

22 Ljubomir Tadič, quoted in Levi, Disintegration in Frames, 30.

23 Dušan Stojanovič, quoted in ibid., 17.


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For Levi, the black wave's investment in a politics of liberated individual expres-
sion carries serious implications for the way that revolutionary transformation is un-
derstood as it calls into question the ability to think marxist revolutionary ideals "in
static terms, as a set of concrete, predetermined properties."24 Quoting Petrovič, Levi
argues that the struggle for a completely nonalienated, and thus fully liberated, indi-
vidual (and therefore, society) means that revolution must be rethought as a perpetual

"When, if at all, should creativity of a socialist revolution stop?" [Petrovic's]

answer to this question is, "[OJbviously, when every self-alienation is abol-
ished, when man becomes fully man, and society completely human. How-
ever, when should such a moment actually arise? Hopefully never. ... If man
is to be, developing to the full extent his potentialities, then the social revolu-
tion is thinkable only as a never-ending process."25

For Praxis thinkers, this reconceptualization of revolution as a perpetual process of

personal and collective liberation means that revolutionary art becomes, in Živojin
Pavlovic's words, an "essentially anarchistic event," a revolutionary praxis that unceas-
ingly pushes against the ideological limits placed on ways of thinking and being not in
the name of something, but for its own sake.26 The evocation of a spirit of anarchism
is important here, for it marks the necessary absence of a predetermined interpreta-
tive framework. Both Praxis and the black wave advocate for the noninstrumentalized

nature of revolutionary art; against the dogmatic tendencies of institutionalized think-

ing, revolutionary art must operate without deference to a préexistent political agenda,
which is to say that its function as a piece of revolutionary art cannot be established
in advance. The revolutionary philosophy of the black wave thus emphasizes the per-
petuity of revolution and a resolutely nonteleological sense of social transformation
alongside a certain logic of autogestive spontaneity, all of which come to bear on Sweet
Movie^ politics of disgust.

Desiring Revolution. Rather than reaffirm collective communist ideals, then, black
wave filmmakers conceptualized revolutionary cinema as a practice invested in the
liberation of individual consciousness from all forms of institutionalized thought. In
an interview with Sight and Sound in the early 1970s, Makavejev describes his cinema in
such revolutionary terms, framing it as a "guerrilla operation" against "everything that
is fixed, defined, established, dogmatic, eternal."27 As did Jean-Luc Godard, who Ma-
kavejev said had placed himself at the service of the revolution, Makavejev understood
his cinema as part of a larger revolutionary struggle that "wag [ed] the same war as
those who fight on the barricades."28 For many novi film practitioners, this investment

24 Levi, Disintegration in Frames, 30.

25 Ibid.

26 Živojin Pavlovič, quoted in Levi, Disintegration in Frames, 30.

27 Dušan Makavejev, quoted in David Robinson, "Joie de Vivre at the Barricades: The Films of Dušan Makaveje
and Sound 40, no. 4 (1971): 177.
28 Ibid.


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can be witnessed in a commitment to the revolutionary possibilities of a sexually liber-

ated consciousness. Inspired by the antiestablishment politics of the Polish and Czech
new waves, which similarly explored the centrality of sexuality and desire to human
experience, black wave filmmakers extended this emphasis to explore the possibilities
of sexuality as a foundation for revolutionary humanism, an investment significant
enough that the theme for Mihovil Pansini's Genre Experimental Film Festival (GEFF)
in 1970 was "Sexuality as a New Road towards Humanity."29 This investigation of the
revolutionary possibilities of desire preempted the battle cries of Daniel Cohn-Bendit
and the ideologues of May 1968, who argued that Stalinist bureaucrats "reduce the
evils of capitalism to economic injustice [so that] when they extend their criticism of
capitalism to other fields, they still imply that everything would be solved by a fairer
distribution of wealth. The sexual problems of youth and the difficulties of family life
are ignored. ... If a social organization is repressive it will be so on the sexual and
cultural no less than the economic planes."30 Of all the black wave directors, Maka-
vejev stands as the most compelling explorer of this philosophy; in response to the
sexually repressive nature of Yugoslav society and Soviet communism, Makavejev's
films explore the idea of liberation through the removal of sexual taboos, such that to
give in to one's own desires is to relinquish the control that received social and moral
restraints place upon human freedom. As Amos Vogol describes it, in Makavejev's
films, "sex is the great civilizing force" and, tied as it is to rebellion, perhaps the only
one capable of "counteracting the congealed insanities of contemporary civilization,
East and West."31
Unsurprisingly, the use of sexually liberated characters to critique the failures of
communist revolution was unpopular with Yugoslav authorities, and Makavejev's
last amateur film, Don't Believe in Monuments (. Spomenicima ne treba verovati , 1958), about
a young girl's attempts to have sex with a nude statue, was considered too erotic and
was banned for five years, as was his first play, New Man at the Flower Market (196 2). 32
Similarly, Makavejev's first two feature-length productions tie their critique of com-
munist repression to an exploration of the liberating potential of unrestrained sexual
desire. In Man Is Not a Bird ( Covek nije tica , 1965), which is described as "A Love Film" in
the opening title sequence, Jan Rudinski, a reserved and dedicated Soviet engineer, is
seduced by a vivacious young hairdresser, Rajka. However, Rudinski's commitment to

29 Mihovil Pansini's GEFF grew out of the amateur experimental avant-garde tradition fostered by film clubs in Yugo-
slavia. Established by Pansini, a physician and amateur experimental filmmaker, the festival centered on the notion
of antifilm, which was an extension of other modernist, avant-garde cinemas, including the French new wave, Italian
auteurist cinema, Brazilian cinema novo, and new American cinema. The festival was held approximately every two
years from 1963 until 1970 and combined discussions of experimental film techniques and aesthetics with political
and social philosophy. See Pavle Levi, Cinema by Other Means (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 114-117;
"GEFF," Monoskop,

30 Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, trans. Arnold
Pomerans (San Francisco: AK Press, 2000), 96.

31 Amos Vogol, "Makavejev: Toward the Edge of the Real ... and Over," Film Comment 9, no. 6 (1973): 53, 51.

32 The eroticism of these two artworks was cited as the official reason for their being banned. However, Makavejev
maintains that his critique of communist ideology, especially in New Man at the Flower Market, was actually the
motivation for their censorship,- Lorraine Mortimer, Terror and Joy: The Films of Dušan Makavejev (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 9.


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his work soon eclipses his willingness to satisfy Rajka 's desires, and during a lavish cer-
emony in which his allegiance to the ideology of productivity is rewarded, Rudinski's
acceptance of a medal and commendation is cross-cut with Rajka having passionate
sex with another man. Similarly, in Love Affair; or, The Case of the Missing Switchboard Op-
erator (. Ljubavni slučaj ili traģēdija sluíbenice P.T.I. ', 1967) Isabella, a sensual "modern girl,"
seduces Ahmed, a repressed state exterminator overly invested in a sense of order,
whereas WR- Mysteries of the Organism (WR - Misterije organizma , 1971), perhaps Maka-
vejev's most compelling (and certainly his most famous) meditation on the revolution-
ary possibilities of sexual desire, combines the sexual alienation theories of Wilhelm
Reich and footage of American countercultural radicals (Tuli Kupferberg's guerilla
theater, Jackie Curtis's transvestitism, Screw magazine's anarchic sexual politics, and
Betty Dodson and Nancy Godfrey's sex art) with the story of Milena, a Soviet revolu-
tionary who espouses the principles of erotic socialism. In each of these films, sexual
desire is placed in opposition to communist orthodoxy, acting as the liberating and
pleasurable foil to the repressive and somber ideology of work and production.33 Even
after WR and Sweet Movie , as hard-line conservatives took power in Yugoslavia, expel-
ling Makavejev from the party and forcing him into exile, Makavejev continued to play
with these themes in his more commercial productions Montenegro (1981), The Coca-Cola
Kid (1985), and Manifesto (1988).
However, although this trajectory traces an investment in the affirmative powers
of sexual liberation, these would not be Makavejev's films if their ideological message
were uniform and clear. As almost everyone writing on Makavejev has noted, his films
remain fundamentally ambiguous, combining and juxtaposing different narratives
and materials to continually complicate and disrupt any coherent ideological analysis.
Indeed, in each of these films any affirmative power embodied in acts of sexual libera-
tion is simultaneously destabilized by a concomitant exploration of the violent and
controlling impulses that such sexual freedoms can potentially provoke. As Lorraine
Mortimer points out, in Man Is Not a Bird , Love Affair, and WR, all three female leads are
roughly pushed away by their repressed lovers with increasingly brutal consequences,
this same dynamic reappearing in Montenegro as the repressed Marilyn kills her lover
and poisons her family.34 Similarly, as Eagle argues, the Reichian therapy sessions in
WR are tinged with chauvinism in the way that the therapists Lowen and Ollendorff
treat their female patients, and the crosscutting between the patient undergoing elec-
troshock treatment and the people moaning and writhing during one of Dr. Lowen's
group therapy sessions implies an underlying authoritarianism. Likewise, Eagle con-
tinues, the actions of the American countercultural movements that supposedly advo-
cate the revolutionary exercise of sexual freedom "often degenerát [e] into forms of
egotism, sexual chauvinism, narcissism, fetishism and dogmatism."35 There is another
side to desire, then, something destructive that frustrates revolutionary transformation;

33 Eagle offers a more detailed discussion of the relationship between sexual freedom and individual liberation across
these films ("Yugoslav Marxist Humanism," 132-144), as does Roy MacBean, "Sex and Politics: Wilhelm Reich,
World Revolution and Makavejev's WR," Film Quarterly 25, no. 3 (1972): 2-13.

34 Morti mer, Terror and Joy, 90-9 1 .

35 Eagle, "Yugoslav Marxist Humanism," 143. Eagle presents a similarly compelling analysis of the juxtapositions of
sexuality and repression to life and death in Love Affair ( 135).


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as Makavejev himself comments, "there is another danger in embracing this ideal of

eternal pleasure. Eternal pleasure is death also."36
Sweet Movie occupies a pivotal position within this narrative for its analysis of the
revolutionary possibilities of desire and disgust and for the place it inhabits in both
Makavejev's career and in larger histories of political cinema. Indeed, while it is true
that Makavejev's films maintain an investment in the politics of sexuality and desire
beyond Sweet Movie , this particular film marks the end of a certain kind of filmmaking
for Makavejev. There are at least two primary reasons for this shift. On one level, the
change in Makavejev's filmmaking after Sweet Movie is, in part, directly related to the
shocking and disgusting elements of the film that this essay addresses. As Mortimer
notes via Eagle, " Sweet Movie had frightened off potential backers for future projects,
its message 'too strong,' its means too 'shocking.' ... No one in the West would let him
make a film in the way he had made his first five features," and Makavejev was, to a
certain degree, therefore forced to embrace a more commercial film style to ensure
backing.37 But this shift toward the mainstream is also bound up with the global turn
away from what András Kovács calls "parabolic discourse."38 For Kovács, the inter-
national countercinema trend to which Makavejev's early films belong - an "auteurial
ideological" strain of political modernism - was winding down by the mid-1970s as
modernist radicalism gave way to resurgent classical paradigms on the one hand and
postmodern narrative structures on the other.39 Sweet Movie, then, speaks to this transi-
tion, and it is possible to understand the film as the culmination of a certain trajec-
tory in Makavejev's politics in which a critique of desire as a revolutionary force is
intertwined with and juxtaposed to disgust to mark what Julien Suaudeau refers to as
the height and limit of Makavejev's pursuit of a physical cinema with revolutionary

Sweet Movie tells the story of two women, Miss World (Carole Laure), a Canadian
beauty queen, and Anna Pianeta (Anna Prucnal), a "prostitute of the revolution," who
represent Americanization and Stalinization, respectively, although, as Stanley Cavell
notes, their names imply that they are global phenomena.41 Their intertwined stories
of desire, sweetness, and death on one level maintain the lightness and joie de vivre
for which Makavejev is so well known, while on another level they formulate a critique
of desire as a foundation for revolutionary transformation. As Kovács adroitly sum-
marizes, the film exposes the ways by which "both consumer culture and its radical
revolutionary critique use the same methods of erotic seduction and infantilization" to
maintain ideological control; the freedoms that both ideologies expound are revealed
as illusions, with the individual reduced to commodity status, either as an eroticized

36 Dušan Makavejev, quoted in Susan Dermody, Bruce Jenkins, and John Mandelberg, "Is There Life on Earth? (Is
There Life after Birth?)," Velvet Light Trap 16 (1976): 47.

37 Mortimer, Terror and Joy, 226.

38 András Bálint Kovács, Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980 (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2007), 371.

39 Ibid., 371, 382.

40 Paraphrased from Mortimer's translation of Suaudeau's French-language article, "Dusan Makavejev, l'enfance de
l'art," Positif 490 (December 2001) {Terror and Joy, 196).

41 Stanley Cavell, "On Makavejev on Bergman," Critical Inquiry 6, no. 2 (1979): 313.


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commodity within consumer culture or as an expendable object seduced by the revolu-

tionary promises of an authoritarian community.42 Moreover, for Kovács, Sweet Movie
doesn't exempt itself from its own critique:

Instead of withholding the aesthetic attractiveness of his film, he stuffs it with

the most vulgar, excessive, even disgusting, motives of sensuality, which politi-
cal modernist countercinema attacked and tried to avoid. By contrast, Maka-
vejev shocked the audience by saturating his film with images of intensified
sensual pleasure that in a moderate form are meant to be seductive in the cin-
ema, but here is represented as murderous obscenity. Doing this, Makavejev
makes his film part of the same obscene media business that abuses human
beings for the sake of eroticized seduction, whether with the goal of promot-
ing consumer culture or critiquing it.43

Kovács 's brief analysis of this film is significant not only because it asserts Sweet Movie
as a critique of desire but also because it recognizes that this critique is fundamentally
bound to the film's evocation of disgust. However, while for Kovács, this intertwining
means that the film, ultimately, remains locked within the very logics of spectatorship
that it sets out to critique, it is my contention that the film's evocation of disgust is ac-
tually what enables it to preserve the revolutionary possibilities of political modernist
cinema, and that it is through the film's critique of the cinematic expression of desire
as a means of affirming a given ideology that the revolutionary potential of disgust

The Sweetness of Cinematic Desire. Set in 1984, a year forcefully associated with
totalitarianism by Orwell's classic novel, Sweet Movie begins with the Crazy Daisy Show,
in which Martha Aplanalp (Jane Mallett), the head of the Chastity Belt Foundation,
is searching for the virgin with the most beautiful hymen; the winner's prize will be
marriage to her billionaire son. This opening sequence immediately articulates a re-
lationship between abstinence and fascism. As Martha comments, the chastity belt
requires "no metals, no elastic supports, no tranquilizers. Through the guidance of
our sensational method, your own body kills the animal. We advocate simple triumph
of the will." The reference here to Leni Riefenstahl's notorious Nazi propaganda film
Triumph of the Will ( Triumph des Willens , 1935) marks the first link of repressed sexual
desire, bodily control, fascism, and cinema, a chain of associations that the film con-
tinually complicates. Given the terror that Miss World experiences at the hands of Mr.
Kapital 's (John Vernon) sterile sexuality (i.e., his compulsive need to disinfect himself
and his bride) and her status as a commodity in the relationship (she is the virgin bride
bought "brand new"), it would be simple to read this sequence as another critique of
conservative attitudes toward sexuality and thus the commune as a Utopian carnival
of bodily freedom.
But Sweet Movie is decidedly more complicated. While the Crazy Daisy Show
certainly pokes fun at puritanical sexual mores, one cannot overlook the ironically

42 Kovács, Screening Modernism, 380.

43 Ibid., 381.


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hypersexualized presentation of this virgin competition. With the notable exception of

Miss Yugoslavia, the contestants are dressed provocatively, and their interactions with
Dr. Mittelfinger (Don Arioli) flirtatious. More significant, when Miss Canada (soon to
be crowned Miss World) is asked to remove her underwear, instead of looking at the
questioner, she turns and looks seductively into the camera before replying, "I'm not
wearing any." This moment of direct address plays on the audience's desires in a famil-
iar way, and the glance at the camera makes it appear as though we're voyeuristically
participating in this interaction. But Miss World is a commodity, and her sexualized
behavior is designed to make this commodity seem more desirable. We see this again
when she is trapped in Jeremiah Muscle's (Roy Callender) milk-bottle home, where she
surrenders herself to him after hearing his personal advertising slogan, "Try me, I'm
delicious." After licking his face to taste his "chocolate complexion," Miss World again
turns to the camera and says, "Sweet," and Jeremiah turns and says, "Finger-lickin'
good." Jeremiah's self-advertising is the means through which he seduces Miss World.
Indeed, despite being kidnapped and stuffed into a suitcase, she seems pleasantly sur-
prised by Jeremiah's "taste" and smiles at the camera. As a result, her exploitation
is recast; what in any other situation would read as horrific abuse appears here as

Figure 1. Miss World (Carole Laure) performs for the camera at a commercial shoot in Sweet Movie (Maran
Films, 1974).

comedic, and although the hyperbole of these scenes is certainly, on one level, a part
of Makavejev's comic surrealism, it remains that the humor is based on a misogynistic
violence that, bizarre as it may be, is directly related to Miss World's commodity status.
At this level, then, sex is shown to be the means by which an ideology is propagated
and the erotic nature of these two encounters designed to sweeten it for the audience.
To this extent at least, these scenes with Miss World critique the use of sex within the
visual media of consumer culture. Thus, in her closing scenes, Miss World is mastur-
bating in a vat of chocolate for a commercial shoot - her body literally transformed
into the commodity she is selling - as the cameraman comments with saliva on his
lips, "I want them to feel as if they're eating you." The scene brings her earlier abuses


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full circle as the black statue designed to turn her on brings to mind Jeremiah Muscle,
and her drowning recalls an earlier scene with Martha Aplanalp, who tried to drown
Miss World in a pool. Thus, while the eroticism of the scene is intended to be its selling
point, and while Miss World certainly seems to be enjoying herself, what is revealed
to the audience is the dehumanizing and self-destructive nature of consumer culture
brought sharply home as Miss World dies, choking on melted chocolate, swallowing
capitalist ideology to the point of drowning in it, the last shot of her mimicking Mar-
ion Crane's dead body in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) in reference to the violence
that underscores cinematic scopophilia.
However, Sweet Movie uses this analysis of Western television and advertising to
jointly illustrate how communist cinema similarly employs desire as a means of sweet-
ening its ideology, and thus how, in this respect, capitalism, Soviet-style communism,
and fascism bleed into one another. The previous allusion to Triumph of the Will ref-
erences one of the most famous deployments of cinema as an ideological weapon.
Significantly, however, this reference, linked as it is to the chastity belt, suggests more
than simply a Reichian theory that ties repressed sexuality to fascism. It also indicates
a relationship between political cinema and fascism, for, according to the logic of
Sweet Movie, it is through desire that cinema persuades its audience, presenting specta-
tors with an ideology that they consent to uncritically, prompted into acceptance by
the pleasures it offers. In this way, political cinema uses desire to bolster the myths of
both capitalism and its revolutionary critique. This preoccupation with cinema as a
means of ideological persuasion is present in much of Makavejev's work, and his ear-
lier films engage with the fascist undercurrents of political cinema. Alongside the play
on typage in Man Is Not a Bird , Barbulovič's wife, during one of the early scenes in the
film, is made up to resemble the mother from Vsevolod Pudovkin's famous film Mat
Mother , 1926).44 WR uses footage from Mikheil Chiaureli's epic ode to Stalin, The Vow
(. Klyatva , 1946), to explore how cinema is used to deify communist leaders,45 and in the
same film, the mise-en-scène of Milena's passionate speech to the tenement building
recalls Sergei Eisenstein's Strike (. Stachka , 1925).46 Love Affair employs newsreel footage
from Dziga Vertov's Enthusiasm (. Entuziazm , 1931) to indicate the (sexual) repression
that underscores everyday communist life and the use of cinema as a means of se-
duction. Even in Innocence Unprotected Ç Nevinost bez záštitě ^ 1968), Makavejev combines
clips from Serbian collaborationist newsreels, Nazi propaganda films, documentary
footage of the destruction of Yugoslavia at the hands of the Germans, and Grigori

44 Eagle makes this point ("Yugoslav Marxist Humanism," 134). His overview of Makavejev's films catalogs several of
the cinematic references that I list here.

45 Mortimer ( Terror and Joy, 23) notes that Makavejev also uses Mikheil Chiaureli's The Fall of Berlin ( Padeniye Berlina,
1949) in his own 1993 film Gorilla Bathes at Noon ( Gorila se kupa u podne ). She also points out, via Ray Privett's
interview with Makavejev, that Chiaureli was directly inspired by Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will in developing
the "heroic, pathetic portions of his own film" (25). Moreover, she notes that one of the scenes that Chiaureli borrows
from Triumph (the meeting in Nuremberg) was, according to Makavejev, "stolen by the Nazis from Communist street
theater" (25). Thus, in referencing a scene from The Fall of Berlin that references Triumph of the Will that references
communist street theater, Makavejev once again explores the overlap between fascist and communist mythmaking
through cinema.

46 MacBean ("Sex and Politics," 9) argues that the courtyard in WR is also reminiscent of that in Jean Renoir's 1936
film Le crime de Monsieur Lange.


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Alexandrov's Soviet musical Circus ( Tsirk , 1936) to trouble the boundaries between na-
tionalism, communism, and fascism.47 It is possible, then, to trace through this portion
of Makavejev's oeuvre an indictment of the role of film in the processes of communist
mythmaking and the use of desire to bolster such ideology, alongside an examination
of the concomitant repressive and authoritarian foundations of the Soviet organiza-
tion of everyday life.
A similar preoccupation is found in Sweet Movie , whose male protagonists are Luv
Bakunin (Pierre Clémenti), a sailor from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Po-
temkin , 1925), and El Macho (Sami Frey), a stereotype drawn from numerous Pancho
Villa movies. The scene with El Macho is particularly illustrative of this critique of
revolutionary cinema, as it takes place during an on-location shoot for a film about
the Mexican Revolution. Immediately we are struck by the falsity of the tale being
told - there are multiple anachronisms in the shots, and it is hard to imagine why a
Mexican revolutionary would be halfway up the Eiffel Tower. If this weren't enough,
the repeated shots of the cameras, El Macho's bad lip-synching, and the director's
comment that he needs to "look straight into the camera and look terribly Mexican be-
cause I didn't fly all the way over here to have you look like a French extra" all hammer
home the profoundly constructed nature of this mythic revolutionary image. When El
Macho takes the stage, he sings of his willingness to die for the cause and the nobility
of such a death while the women in front of him scream as if he's a rock star. Again,
it is through sex that this message of martyrdom is sweetened for the public - while
singing of his "wild stallion" nature El Macho gyrates his hips, and a low-angle shot
emphasizes the bulging outline of his penis. Miss World falls for El Macho, and they
have sex, only to become locked together, so that the supposedly pleasurable expres-
sion of sexual desire is instead reduced to an involuntary muscle contraction that ends
in humiliation. Indeed, the two are finally forcibly separated in front of a large crowd
in the kitchens of a busy restaurant, and while El Macho leaves, singing his revolu-
tionary song to the cheering kitchen hands, Miss World is wheeled out with the trash.
She is once again used up and discarded, passing from the objectifying hands of the
capitalists to those of the revolutionaries to highlight the oppressive uses of sex and
seduction that characterize both sides of this supposed antagonism.
While El Macho reveals the constructed nature of revolutionary myths in cinema,
the character Luv Bakunin stands in as the embodiment of the desires they are em-
ployed to produce. Luv introduces himself to Anna as her new lover, his desire to get on
the boat being immediately tied to sex. Anna's reciprocation of these feelings, her own
desire for "an authentic sexual proletarian," is delivered in direct address in a manner
that recalls the Crazy Daisy Show. This time, though, we share a point-of-view shot
with Luv as he mounts the stairs to join Anna. The spectator, then, is put in Luv's posi-
tion; Anna's sexual advances are toward us, and Luv's desires project our own. This
eroticism makes the boat a desirable place for Luv, and as the shots of the cheering
men and women by the side of the river suggest, there is a pleasure in looking for the
audience too. But as Anna herself avers, everyone who loved her has died, and the boat
is full of corpses; its walls are covered with images of fallen Soviet heroes mixed with

47 Eagle, "Yugoslav Marxist Humanism," 140.


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Hollywood stars in a
further commingling of
capitalist and commu-
nist ideologies via the
cult of celebrity. Despite
these warnings, Luv
chooses to stay. Inevita-
bly, then, after making
love on a bed of sugar,
she stabs him. Luv,
however, . enjoys this
moment; as he com-
ments, he no longer has Figure 2. Anna (Anna Prucnal) stabs Luv (Pierre Clémenti) in a moment
of postcoital, sugar-covered bliss in Sweet Movie (Maran Films, 1974).
to be jealous that it was
the revolutionary sailor Vakulinchuk who died aboard the Potemkin. Luv becomes, like
Vakulinchuk in Eisenstein's film, yet another supposedly inspirational martyr sacrificed
for the promise of the Utopia to come. As with Miss World, Luv dies post-coitus and
surrounded by sugar. Thus, sugar, desire, and death come together, the ideology of
their politics appearing so sweet that they are desired, even to the ultimate destruction
of those concerned.

The violence underscoring these moments is bought home by Luv's body position
after he dies, with his mouth wide open in a close-up that mirrors both Miss World's
death and the massacred bodies in the Katyn Forest. The inclusion of documentary
footage of Nazis uncovering the mass graves of thousands executed by the People's
Commissariat of Internal Affairs (Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, or NKVD)
demonstrates the links between Nazism and Stalinism,48 and the intertitle quoting the
British ambassador to Poland, Owen O'Malley - "let us think of these things always
and speak of them never" - further implicates the capitalist West in a global system of
ideological repression.49 Significando the red sugar background over which the inter-
tide appears becomes the material from which a red rose is fashioned - the same one
that we see on the back of Dr. Mittelfinger's chair, on the cameras at the Crazy Daisy
Show, on Mr. Kapital's helicopter and the gate to his home, and on Anna's boat, where
it appears the sugar rose is created. This horrific act of violence, then, is directly linked
back to sugar and desire, to capitalism, communism, and fascism. To this end, while
the liberation of our desires is a fundamental element of revolutionary struggle, Sweet
Movie's critique reveals how revolutionary cinema has enslaved this desire to ideological
ends, and at this level, revolutionary cinema cannot be differentiated from mainstream

48 One could also understand this moment as a reference to the Stalinist purges in which any voices of dissent were
executed. Here, Luv's murder marks the silencing of the anarchist alternative that the historical Bakunin's thought
represented and the consolidation of Stalinist authority. This idea is reinforced through the similarities between Luv
and the exhumed corpses in the Katyn Forest, their visual echo metaphorically placing Luv among those executed by
the NKVD.

49 Mortimer makes a similar point, arguing that Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin "betrayed the Poles who had fought
with them against Hitler with their decision never to speak of the murder of the ten thousand innocent people."
Lorraine Mortimer, "Something against Nature: Sweet Movie, 4, and Disgust," Senses of Cinema 59 (2011), http -JI


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Hollywood or the visual

media of consumer capi-
talism inasmuch as they all
use desire as a means of

manipulating the specta-

tor. If the radical potential
of desire, then, has been
reduced to a kind of fascist

management of spectato-
rial subjectivity, we can
begin to understand why
Sweet Movie is ultimately so

Figure 3. The members of the commune regurgitate their food in Sweet

Movie (Maran Films, 1974). From Desire to Disgust.
Disgust appears frequently
in discussions of Sweet
Movie. Mira and Antonin

Láehm argue that the film

is "based on the esthetics
of ugliness and disgust";
Nina Power defines it as "a

study in revulsion" whose

"major sensation" is dis-
gust; and Julien Suaudeau
describes it as "frankly
repelling."50 For some, this
sense of disgust is gener-
ated by Miss World's mas-
Figure 4. Two commune members, covered in vomit and urine, fight
turbatory commercial; for
over a tongue in Sweet Movie (Maran Films, 1974).
others, it is Anna Planeta's
seduction and murder of four young boys that proves the "peak of outrage." But the
behavior of the members of Otto MüehPs Vienna Therapy Commune is arguably
the most challenging part of the film - Paul Arthur describes the scenes as "emo-
tionally harrowing" - inciting a sense of physical disgust through a graphically abject
display.52 The commune scene begins with a group dinner that quickly disintegrates
into a food fight. The members of the commune spit food at one another and gargle
their drinks before making themselves sick and regurgitating their food back up on

50 Mira Liehm and Antonin Liehm, The Most Important Art: Eastern European Film after 1 945 (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1977), 424; Nina Power, "Blood and Sugar: The Films of Dušan Makavejev," Film Quarterly 63,
no. 3 (2010): 49; Julien Suaudeau, quoted in Mortimer, Terror and Joy, 196.

51 Beverie Houston and Marsha Kinder, "Sweet Movie," Quarterly Review of Film Studies 3, no. 4 (1978): 557.

52 Arthur, "Escape from Freedom," 11.


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the table. While one man

urinates on his compan-

ions, who take turns drink-
ing it, another pulls a large
animal tongue from his
trousers and begins to slice
it up and throw the pieces
to his friends. As they
start chewing on the raw
meat, he severs an artery,
and blood seeps across
the table. The tongue is
then discarded, only to be
fought over by two people
Figure 5. A commune member proudly displays his plate of feces in
as they try to tear it fromSweet Movie (Maran Films, 1974).
each other's mouths. From
. here, the camera cuts to
three commune members

squatting over plates and

defecating in front of the
group, after which they
raise their plates in pride
before tossing their feces at
one another. While their

speech has regressed into

grunts and yelps, one man
lies on his back as several Figure 6. Nazi doctors demonstrate infant gymnastics in Sweet Movie
(Maran Films, 1974).
people wipe the excrement
from him. As they pamper and clean him like a baby, he urinates freely before suckling
a woman's breast. The scene is crosscut with footage from another documentary, this
time of Nazi doctors helping babies perform gymnastics in a series of images that
promote hygiene, Aryan strength, and total bodily control.
On one level, the commune functions as a site of liberating regression, where the
members purposefully try to expel everything from their bodies and undo the control
they learned as children, a control associated with fascism through the infant gym-
nastics. The relationship between repression, bodily control, and fascism thus finds its
antithesis in the desublimated actions of the commune members. As Beverie Houston
and Marsha Kinder write, "We learn discipline one muscle at a time, starting in in-
fancy with toilet training but then moving on to calisthenics or the goose step. . . .
Hence the regression to infancy can be an act of political liberation whereby one
discards all cultural imprinting and once again becomes a chaotic natural being with
unlimited potential."53 Similarly, Mortimer describes the scene as "Nazi babies now

53 Houston and Kinder, "Sweet Movie," 552-553.


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grown up, who are trying to unmake their fascist-inherited bodies, purging themselves
by their gorging, vomiting, urinating, and defecating."54 The commune thus represents
the tonic to fascism as the rejection of the bodily and emotional control that lies at the
heart of such authoritarian systems, while at the same time it challenges the boundar-
ies of taste at the aesthetic level. The commune members are, therefore, the "beastly
animals, [the] chaotic, natural beings" that Martha Aplanalp warns of, now recast as
anarchists liberated from the bonds of physical, morad, social, and aesthetic control.
As the complete refusal of social decorum, aesthetic taste, and bodily restraint, the
commune represents the most anarchistic freedom imaginable, an embracing of this
"infantile malady" as the site of liberation from fascist control where the participants
both literally and metaphorically refuse to swallow what they have been fed.55
For scholars like Mortimer and Stanley Cavell, Müehl's emphasis on absolute
bodily freedom renders the commune Utopian, which, on an intellectual level at least,
reconfigures any disgust we, as viewers, might feel. For both Mortimer and Cavell, the
commune stands in opposition to the footage of the Katyn massacre, prompting us
to question what is worthy of our disgust. As Cavell asks, "If rotting corpses make us
want to vomit, why at the same time do live bodies insisting on their vitality" make us
nauseous?56 Faced with this tension between disgust at an act of "unredeemable" vio-
lence and the attempts of the commune members to "vomit up the snakes and swords
and fire the world forces down our throats," he concludes that the latter sequence is,
in fact, one of innocence.57 Yet while I find this argument persuasive at the analytical
level, at the physiological level I still find these scenes revolting. This is perhaps not the
case for everyone - disgust is, without doubt, a culturally conditioned emotion bound
to moral and social judgment - but even Mortimer admits that Sweet Movie provoked
in both her and Cavell an initial sense of revulsion that did not diminish over several

viewings.58 Indeed, despite our own personal proclivities, it remains that there are
certain things - what borrowing from Jameson we could call cultural dominants - that
to a Western bourgeois audience (the art cinema audience, par excellence) operate as
triggers of physical disgust. And Sweet Movie includes some of the most ubiquitously
powerful: urine, blood, flesh, feces, and vomit. Undoubtedly, part of Sweet Movie' s proj-
ect is to challenge these very bourgeois values and prompt the audience to question,
as Cavell argues, what we find disgusting and why we find it so, and Makavejev's use

54 Mortimer, Terror and Joy, 194.

55 This is a reference to the title of Pier Paolo Pasolini's cut of the film censored for Italian audiences, Infantile Malady
of Left Communism, the title perhaps satirically alluding to Vladimir Lenin's censure of anarchism as puerile in his
book Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Pasolini's was one of the few edited versions of which Makavejev
approved (Houston and Kinder, "Sweet Movie," 564).

56 Cavell, "On Makavejev on Bergman," 316.

57 Ibid. Mortimer makes an analogous claim in "Something against Nature," arguing that the film prompts us to ex-
amine what is truly worthy of our disgust. This logic seems to draw on Makavejev's comment that it is "impossible
to invent more terrifying sequences than those contained in certain documentaries" (Mortimer, "Something against
Nature," 198).

58 Mortimer, "Something against Nature." In Terror and Joy Mortimer again comments, "Many, including myself, were
initially shocked and repelled" by Sweet Movie, "I can never recapture my own shock and revulsion at these scenes"
(196, 219).


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of montage plays into this challenge, forcing spectators to question their emotional
responses. To this end, Roy Armes argues that part of Makavejev's technique of jux-
taposition involves "set [ting] up an emotional charge in one scene and then, by well-
timed cutting, carry [ing] this emotion over into the following sequence to which the
spectator, left to his own devices, might well have responded very differently."59 In
this way, Sweet Movie certainly troubles our ability to divine any objective emotional
response. But this doesn't change the fact that the scenes, given the triggers of disgust
that we see, will, more often than not, provoke a bodily sense of revulsion, at least at
first. As such, it remains the case, even today, that a sense of physical disgust is still
operative in these scenes, despite how we may come to think about them analytically.60
Given dominant cultural attitudes toward the kinds of acts we see in the commune,
it is fair to say that the sequence traffics in the disgusting and that its negative affective
register is at odds with the crosscut footage of the babies. As Mortimer notes, we see
"cute little beings with personalities, full of life. But we must go back to less pleasant
sights at the commune."61 Or, as Marsha Kinder puts it, "On the gut level, we are still
revolted by the shit and turned on by the sugar."62 Yet, surely, we would think, the foot-
age of Nazis inculcating fascist ideology into babies should be "less pleasant," not the
scenes of antifascist liberation in the commune. But Kinder makes an important dis-
tinction: however we may come to theorize these two sequences, on the gut level it is hard
to find the commune anything but disgusting, and the visceral revulsion that it projects
renders the Nazi documentary footage even more appealing as a kind of ordered
respite from such revolting debauchery. At this affective level, then, the commune can-
not be understood simply as Rabelaisian transgression by which the abject takes on
political power by virtue of its negation of bourgeois norms. Rather, it is difficult and
disgusting (even if only on first viewing), and the alternative that it presents to fascist
control is not enormously appealing. Indeed, the film further complicates the idea that
the commune is a pure expression of revolutionary liberation through the presence of
Anna Planeta, whose new look perhaps implies the new face of a familiar authoritari-
anism. Miss World is also at the commune, and she is once again abused, her partici-
pation seeming less than fully consensual. Indeed, while in the original shooting script
Makavejev intended Miss World to experience the very kind of positive transformation
that the commune represents for Cavell and Mortimer, Laure was so traumatized by
what she saw that she refused to participate. As Makavejev testifies, "Carole was not
able to follow through . . . because she started having problems with nudity. She was
able to be naked in a number of scenes, but mostly when she was alone. She believed

59 Roy Armes, The Ambiguous Image (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), 206.

60 Nina Power ("Blood and Sugar," 51) argues that "the film was met in the first place by a combination of revulsion
and bafflement, and these remain the overwhelming responses to this day, legally and aesthetically."

61 Mortimer, Terror and Joy, 194.

62 Marsha Kinder, "Life and Death in the Cinema of Outrage; or, The Bouffe and the Barf," Film Quarterly 28, no. 2
(1974-1975): 4.


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that she was going to be fucked by all of them in front of the camera."63 Laure's
terrified response to the commune, to what was supposed to be a "very sensual and
gentle" sexual awakening, had a significant impact on the film: "I had wanted to make
[the film] much more positive," Makavejev explained.64 "It was planned as a hilarious
comedy, and I believe it would not have been so strong and heavy. When making films
I always follow what happens around me, and in this case some doubts kind of crept
in and they became heavier and heavier."65 The threatening and violent potential of
desire, expressed here through Laure's catatonic behavior and through the failure of
the film to achieve its original vision of revolutionary transformation through total ca-
pitulation to bodily desires, further undermines our ability to read the scene as wholly
positive. What we get instead is another complication of the liberating politics of de-
sire and a further commingling of revolutionary and fascist ideologies.
So it appears that there is a fine line between love and shit, desire and disgust,
oppression and liberation. As William Miller argues in The Anatomy of Disgust , disgust
is, on a certain level, conjoined with desire, so that "we might not want to oppose so-
called unconscious desire ... to disgust at all, but see them as necessary to each other,
as part of a complex syndrome."66 Miller posits two primary modes of disgust, both of
which imply that "fair is foul and foul is fair."67 The first, based on a Freudian theory
of reaction formation, posits disgust as a block to the activation of unconscious desire,
implying that "foulness is an illusion" and the disgusting a barrier to be overcome in
order to achieve the realization of desire.68 The second, based in the notion of surfeit,
positions disgust as the punishing response to the conscious overindulgence of desires,
conversely implying that fairness is the illusion and that "that which initially appears
fair is revealed to be only fragilely so."69 Both modes of disgust, however - "the one
that attempts to deny access, the other that kicks in after glutting" - indicate that what
we desire is disgusting and what we find disgusting we desire.70 The connection be-
tween desire and disgust is echoed in the opening scene of Sweet Movie , which is also
repeated on the soundtrack during the defecation contest in the commune. In these
moments, Anna Planeta sings of something black on the mountaintop that could be
either "cow shit" or "my beloved." Indeed, in her closing moments, Miss World plays
with chocolate in a manner reminiscent of the food games in the commune, and her
body is covered in chocolate just as the man-child in the commune is covered in feces.
Like the commune members, Miss World lets out a series of guttural grunts to further

63 Dušan Makavejev, quoted in John O'Hara, "WR and Sweet Movie. Dušan Makavejev," Cinema Papers 7 (1975): 240.
Houston and Kinder ("Sweet Movie," 553, 562) similarly state that Laure was "too frightened by the 'crazies' and
thus chose to remain the masochistic victim to the end," later suing Makavejev and Sweet Movie's producers for
personal damages inflicted during filming.

64 O'Hara, " WR and Sweet Movie," 240.

65 Ibid., 237.

66 William Miller, The Anatomy of Disgust (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 113.

67 Ibid., 110.
68 Ibid.

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid., 112.


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link the two scenes, while the cut to Luv looking in through the windows of Anna's
boat, the Survival , edited to appear as if he is looking at Miss World covered in choco-
late, brings the worlds together; capitalism, communism, and (anti)fascism all bleed
into one another.

For Nina Power, the fundamental tone of Makavejev's filmmaking changes with
Sweet Movie , marking his descent into pessimism; sex, once "joyful and multidimen-
sional," has been reduced to commodity status, whereas revolution, once a source of
hope, has become "horrible," a "rubbish dump of ideas and useless substances."71
Thus, Power concludes, it is "relatively easy to see the film as a pessimistic response
to the assimilation of the very things, freedom and sexuality, that Makavejev sought
to explore so boldly," so easy, in fact, that it becomes "difficult to isolate a notion of
hope amid all the various minor and world-historical horror that Makavejev parades
before us."72 Power's claim that the negativity of Sweet Movie grows from disillusion-
ment with the possibilities of effecting political change echoes Sianne Ngai's empha-
sis on negative feelings as a diagnostic tool that indexes the frustrations of political
art as it confronts its own "suspended agency."73 Ngai argues that "the separateness
from 'empirical society' which art gains as a consequence of the bourgeois revolution
ironically coincides with its growing awareness of its inability to significantly change
that society."74 Negative feelings thus ensue from this sense of "restricted agency" and
stand as the affective expression of art's awareness of its own "powerlessness" as a
form of political action.75 For Ngai, disgust, the "ugly feeling par excellence," is a
symptom of the "suspended agency" of art as an agent of significant social change.76
However, although the negativity of Sweet Movie does index the emotional register of
Makavejev's revolutionary politics, this is not to say that it expresses a purely pessi-
mistic loss of hope in the ability of art to bring about social change. Rather, the turn
to negativity here references the affective register of the kind of perpetual revolution
advocated by black wave and Praxis intellectuals and signals the transformation of
hope that this revolutionary politics entails. Indeed, if revolution is never-ending, the
optimism that underscores teleology is undone, and without the comfort of this assur-
ance, hope becomes a decidedly darker proposition. Negative feelings thus operate
as a constitutive element of a politics that refuses to calculate the future, functioning
as a foil to the optimistic confidence of teleological determinism as found in either
the total regression of the commune or the Aryan future of the Nazi babies. Denied
the certainty of a teleologically determined end to struggle, revolution is no longer
characterized by the optimistic assurance of the future; rather, it is marked by hope
without expectation, by desire without deter minacy - perhaps, even, by a kind of futil-
ity. In Derrida's terms, we could think of this nonteleological revolution as a version
of messianism without messianicity. As Derrida describes it, such quasi messianism is

71 Power, "Blood and Sugar," 49.

72 Ibid., 51.

73 Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 1.

74 Ibid., 2.
75 Ibid.

76 Ibid., 334.


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"unsure in its indigence [J . . . anxious, fragile, and impoverished [,] ... a 'despairing'
messianism."77 This sense of despair is fundamental to a weak messianic revolutionary
politics because it is that which preserves a version of hope outside of teleological de-
terminism: "without this latter despair and if one could count on what is coming, hope
would be but the calculation of a program."78 Without a corresponding negativity,
without this despair that is the product of uncertainty, revolution becomes, once again,
fully affirmative through the surety of its outcomes and authoritarian through its scien-
tific positivism. The uncertainty of messianism without messianicity thus undermines
the confident optimism of a scientific marxism that has absolute faith in the future,
and Sweet Movie's disgust, operating as it does over and against the affirmative notion
of desire, underscores the film's refusal to divine the future or articulate the truth of
revolutionary action without undermining the pressing need for revolutionary action
in the present.
As such, although disgust certainly does make the film harder to watch, the power-
ful physical response that it elicits does not signal the erasure of the film's revolutionary
dreaming. In fact, it is with this emotional experience, challenging though it is, that
the possibilities of a revolutionary cinema remain. As Ngai points out, our response
to disgusting stimuli blocks the processes of sympathetic identification because disgust
is "constituted by the vehement rejection or exclusion of its object."79 Organized by a
"trajectorfy] of repulsion rather than attraction," by a "phobic striving 'away from'
rather than a philic strivin[g] 'toward,'" disgust is the opposite of desire, refusing the
spectatorial pleasure that the film is at pains to critique and thus the seduction that
Sweet Movie sees as the heart of fascist bodily control.80 This disjunction between the
affective experience and the political significance of the commune precludes the ideo-
logical seduction that will lure the audience into uncritically accepting its politics.
Here, then, a possibility of revolutionary cinema remains, because such negative
feeling becomes a means of disrupting the processes of cinematic seduction. But it may
remain only as a possibility, for this disjunction also creates ambivalence; the spectator
may indeed refuse the disgusting and turn away with contempt. In this case, spectators
experience disgust rooted in surfeit where the spectacle at the commune presents itself
as the revolting consequence of overindulging desire. Such disgust, then, denotes that
the pleasure implied in this behavior is illusory and that this kind of bodily freedom,
at first appealing, is, in fact, horrific. Such a response was, unsurprisingly, common;
Kinder points out that at a screening of Sweet Movie at Berkeley in 1974, some viewers
"wanted to reject the film completely by vomiting in disgust or seeing it simply as a
pile of shit."81 Similarly, Time was morally outraged and declared Sweet Movie part of
the "porno plague" invading America that included Deep Throat (Gerard Damiano,
1972) and Behind the Green Door (Artie Mitchell and Jim Mitchell, 1972), whereas Jay
Cocks described the film as "full of unenlightened lunacy ... a social disease," and

77 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), 212.
78 Ibid.

79 Ngai, Ugly Feelings, 340, 22.

80 Ibid., 11.

81 Kinder, "Life and Death in the Cinema of Outrage," 5.


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Ian Christie saw its "anarchic provocation" as "a major betrayal of promise [that] has
left Makavejev with a continuing credibility problem."82 In fact, Sweet Movie effectively
ruined Makavejev's career in exile, leading to his virtual expulsion from the art-house
film scene for what Mortimer terms, via Bart Testa, its "transgression of the decorum
of the art film."83 Alternately, if not completely affronted, the spectator may revel in
the spectacle of disgust, for, as numerous theorists of the emotion have pointed out,
there is a "paradoxical magnetism" about disgust; it often fascinates and attracts our
attention as something that we cannot help but take interest in, despite our revulsion.84
Indeed, Time's categorization of Sweet Movie as pornographic indicates that it exploits
the same titillating and enticing elements that such taboo genres make use of. This
allure may simply indicate a fascination with or curiosity about this kind of transgres-
sion, but it may also mark the overcoming of disgust as a repressive force that blocks
desire. Conversely, then, as did Cavell and Mortimer, the spectator may come to see
the foulness of the scene as illusory and the commune revolutionary. But for the film to
remain antifascist - that is, for it to refuse to control the spectator - it must leave these
interpretative possibilities open.
The use of disgust here has to be more complicated, however, if it is to formulate a
revolutionary affective register. Indeed, if disgust functions simply as a different way to
make spectators recognize the truth of revolution - they may continue to see the com-
mune as disgusting and miss the point or overcome their disgust to recognize it as an
expression of freedom - we find ourselves in the realm of active spectatorship, which,
as Jacques Rancière argues, operates within an authoritarian framework, since the
filmmaker maintains his pedagogical position.85 Following this logic, Makavejev steps
in as the ultimate authority, because he has determined not only the correct form of
revolutionary action (the commune) but also the best way to communicate that truth to
the spectator (disgust). While negative feelings introduce the caveat that this education
may not work, if we consider disgust as the simple inversion of desire, as an alternate
means of imparting what revolution should look like, it is still bound to the problematic
logic of truth and calculability because there is a correct mode of action and of com-
munication. As such, there remains a corresponding power differential between those
who know and those who don't, and disgust is assimilated back into an affirmative sys-
tem of representation that reifies revolution and revolutionary cinematic form within
an authoritarian system of knowledge and action.
Alongside this rejection of sympathetic identification, then, disgust carries with it a
further sense of ambiguity that is bound to its negativity. In his theorization of disgust,
Winfried Menninghaus argues that the repulsion that characterizes disgust renders it
profoundly nonaffirmative: unlike desire, which "aims at overcoming distance," "the
defense mechanism of disgust consists in a spontaneous and especially energetic act

82 "The Porno Plague," Time, April 5, 1976, http://www.time.eom/time/magazine/article/0, 9171,913997-1,00

.html; Jay Cocks, "Cinema: Pleading Insanity," Time, November 3, 1975,
/article/0.9171.913640.00.html: Ian Christie, quoted in Mortimer, Terror and Joy, 311n8.

83 Mortimer, Terror and Joy, 216.

84 Carolyn Korsmeyer, Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics (New York: Oxford University Press,
2011), 3.

od Jacques aranciere, ine tmancipaiea speciaior, nrnorum, iviarcn ¿un, ¿/d.


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of saying 'no.' Yet disgust implies not just an ability to say no, but even more a com-
pulsion to say no, an inability not to say no."86 Thus, as Ngai claims, the elicitation
of repulsion underscores a negation of the object of disgust; "while disgust is always
disgust toward [, its] trajector[y is] directed toward the negation of [its] objects, either by
denying them or by subjecting them to epistemologica! skepticism."87 Carl Plantinga
reads a moral judgment into this negative trajectory, arguing that "physical disgust
is used to create - whether explicitly or implicitly - moral and ideological antipathy
toward certain characters and their actions and to promote their condemnation."88
In the context of revolutionary cinema, therefore, such antipathy undermines that
which is presented; in the case of Sweet Movie, it prompts us to doubt that the behavior
in the commune represents the kind of antifascist revolutionary action we desire. The
powerful negativity that disgust exhibits in rendering its object wholly and "compul-
sively" intolerable thus prohibits it from performing the same affirmative function as
desire. In other words, disgust can indicate what is good only by virtue of opposition
to itself, but this move is troubled in Sweet Movie, since the disgusting is the very absence
of authoritarian control that anti-Stalinist revolution calls for, and its opposite, as the
crosscutting makes clear, is fascism.
The negative affective register of the commune scenes thus does more than simply
negate the positivity and optimism of socialist realism to inhibit the mythicization of
revolutionary action. It is also more than a negation that shows what should be af-
firmed through inversion. Rather, the presence of disgust means that the film refuses
to affirm revolutionary action at all; the antifascism that the commune represents be-
comes contradictory since our revulsion renders this freedom unacceptable. We are
left, then, with a critique of Soviet politics and a sense of what revolution is not, but no
acceptable sense of what it should be. In this way, Sweet Movie nonarticulates revolution; it
engages the concept but mobilizes contradiction and ambiguity to avoid the problems
of determinism, reification, and authoritarianism that a didactic political message en-
tails. To this end, the film achieves the black wave goal of personal liberation, as the
negotiation of this contradiction becomes a profoundly subjective experience. Indeed,
the lack of ideological coherence leads us back into the anti-Stalinist anarchism of
the black wave; the use of disgust creates a film that pushes back against received
ideas of acceptability, taste, and morality in which the ideological constraints of what
Dušan Stojanovič calls "the bureaucratized mind" give way to a liberated body and
mind, a "free, independent, personal, even anarchist spirit."89 At the same time, the
representation of this revolutionary possibility cannot be easily reconciled as part of
a predetermined political program or instrumentalized as an affirmative example of
what revolutionary action should be. Rather, the film offers a profoundly noncommit-
tal representation of revolution that accords with what Paul Arthur describes as an

86 Winfried Menninghaus, Disgust: The Theory and History of a Strong Sensation, trans. Howard Eiland and Joel Golb
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 1, 2.

87 Ngai, Ugly Feelings, 22.

88 Carl Plantinga, Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator's Experience (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2009), 212.

89 Dušan Stojanovič, quoted in Levi, Disintegration in Frames, 17.


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inherently "dynamic, unstable, [and] pluralistic" political film practice.90 As Arthur's

comments indicate, disgust is central to this process of nonarticulation: "[A]ny effort
on our part to rationally order or interpret this centrifugal overload of associations,
in part as emotional defense against revulsion, is frustrated."91 Returning to Marsha
Kinder's earlier distinction between gut response and interpretative analysis, Arthur
highlights the way that emotional response interrupts our ability to fully determine the
film; Sweet Movie's affective and ideological slippage encourages confusion and puzzle-
ment so that the process of interpretation is "frustrated." As such, Sweet Movie remains
resolutely nonaffirmative, refusing to offer any definitive answers, so that the process
of interpretation, like revolution itself, remains incomplete.
Although the nonaffirmative nature of Sweet Movie is, on the one hand, the means
through which the film preserves its revolutionary potential, on the other hand, it
marks the limit of any such cinema precisely through this refusal to articulate a clear
politics. This paradox is best expressed by Makavejev himself:

For it seems to me that the all-anarchism of, let's say, the New American Cin-
ema or the anarchism of the New Left, this kind of totally unorganized way
in which people are now reacting to power structures, is inefficient because it
lacks organization, yet if it turns to organization it takes the same old forms,
like the highly organized, militant, puritan, self-sacrificing groups, so this just
perpetuates the old system of power and fighting power with power.92

This problematic pushes Makavejev to posit an oxymoronic "well-organized anarchy"

as the organizing principle behind revolutionary action.93 However, in true Makave-
jevian fashion, he offers no explanation of how these antithetical ideas can be recon-
ciled - if, indeed, they ever can be. And Sweet Movie similarly nurtures this paradox;
in refusing to offer a coherent revolutionary ideology, the film sustains its anarchistic
critique of these old systems of power at the same time that it lacks the organizational
structure that Makavejev posits as essential to effecting social transformation. As such,
in preserving its own antiauthoritarian politics, the film simultaneously undermines
its ability to engage in revolutionary struggle. In this sense, perhaps, we can return to
Ngai's idea of suspended agency; although a site of potential, negative feelings also
index the limits of revolutionary cinema as a means of inspiring social change. Indeed,
Belgrade critics like Milutin Čolic and Milan Rankovic, originally supporters of the
black wave, came to question the negativity of the movement as a viable political
form and to understand its abandonment of social engagement in favor of individual
expression as a return to a bourgeois aesthetic.94 The profoundly antiprogrammatic
nature of Sweet Movie , then, points to the paradox at the heart of political modernist
filmmaking: film can represent a coherent politics with the aim of inspiring directed
action and become implicated in the ends-oriented teleology of marxist orthodoxy

90 Arthur, "Escape from Freedom," 12.

91 Ibid., 12.

92 Dušan Makavejev, quoted in Sitton et al., "Fight Power with Spontaneity and Humor," 8.

93 Ibid., 9.

94 Gou Id i ng, Liberated Cinema, 82.


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and the authoritarianism of the filmmaker as master; or it can exploit ambiguity to re-
fuse any such authority and relinquish control over its ability to direct political change.
Thus, Sweet Movie is, to borrow a term from Milován Djilas, an "unperfect" revolution-
ary film. Djilas titled his radical political critique of Stalinist communism The Unperfect
Society to convey the impossibility of realizing Utopia, with the word unperfect reflecting
his belief that people "must hold both ideas and ideals, but they should not regard
these as being wholly realizable."95 The paradox of Sweet Movie, then - the fact that its
revolutionary possibility is bound to its very failure to communicate a clear political
program or inspire specific forms of social action - similarly points to the unperfect-
ability of revolutionary cinema. This is not to undermine the urgent need to resist all
forms of social and economic domination, but to recognize the fundamental incom-
pleteness that accompanies such a politics. Sweet Movie's challenges and aporias are
the means by which it sustains its revolutionary possibility, but this possibility remains
paradoxical and thus, ultimately, unrealizable. He

95 Milován Djilas, The Unperfect Society: Beyond the New Class, trans. Dorian Cooke (New York: H
World, 1969), 4.


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