Attempting to describe Dušan Makavejev’s 1968 film, ‘Innocence Unprotected’ is a near-impossible task. It is perhaps one of the strangest films in the ouvre of one of the world’s strangest directors. ‘Innocence Unprotected’ is the name of Makavejev’s film as well as the first Serbian talkie from 1941. To confuse matters even more, Makavejev’s film is about the 1941 film and a large portion of its running time is comprised of footage from the original movie. The rest of the film involves interviews with the actors and montages of Serbia in the grip of Nazi occupation. What makes the original film ‘Nevinost bez zaštite’ something of a feat is that it was produced during Nazi occupation and had they been discovered, they could have been punished severely.
As the story goes, it would seem that when the film was finally unearthed, it was erased from the Serbian cinematic record. The official reason for this relates to a desire for Serbia to distance themselves from the gloom of their occupation. Another, possibly more accurate, reason for this was an effort by Serbia to distance themselves from a film as horrendously dire as ‘Innocence Unprotected’. The film itself is a forgettable melodrama concerning the exploits of real life strongman and daredevil, Dragoljub Aleksić. Aleksić ranks as one of the most absurd characters in history, primarily because he’s real and thought it was a good idea to make a fictional film starring himself as the hero. The film cuts between painful scenes of z-grade soap opera nonsense and ‘real’ footage of Aleksić performing (admittedly horrifying) feats of strength. The spurious understanding here is that Aleksić’s feats of strength and insanity somehow render him a hero, capable of avenging injustice and watering the garden of love.
Okay… are you still with me?
This is where Makavejev comes in. He rather ingeniously uses the reality of this dire film from 1941 to make a commentary on an aspect of his country’s history that was erased from the record. He unearths a time capsule that should never be forgotten – not the film itself, but rather the period in Serbian history. Aleksić’s film doesn’t dwell on the Nazi occupation in which it was made, but it was an undeniable protest against oppression by virtue of its existence. When the film premiered in 1941, Serbians queued up for hours to see it. It was a cause to celebrate – a raspberry blown in the face of Nazi tyranny. What makes ‘Innocence Unprotected’ such an amazing protest is just how bad it is. What makes Makavejev’s treatment of this film so powerful is the brazen way in which he disregards it. It’s as if he is holding the film aloft, telling his country, ‘this is our history… deal with it!’.
So while Makavejev’s film has great importance in the history of avant garde cinema, it is the 1941 source material itself that gives this film a spot in ‘The Sound of Trash’. The song I want to share with you is one of the most unexpected in cinema history. Aleksić (playing himself, remember) is on the verge of performing his most dangerous daredevil feat to date. His beloved, Nada, is upset at the possibility Aleksić may meet a ghastly end as a result of this feat. Aleksić calms Nada down the way anyone would… a funeral dirge song, sung to a droning accordion accompaniment. There’s not much else I can say. Just watch (and listen to) the clip below. I believe the changes in colour are the result of Makavejev’s tinkering.