In 2007, Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler began a new collaborative project inspired by American author Norman Mailer's 1983 novel Ancient Evenings, set in pharaonic Egypt. The project ... See full summary »
Dave Bald Eagle,
John Buffalo Mailer
Barney plays the Entered Apprentice and his opponents include the Order of the Rainbow for Girls (who look a lot like the Rockettes), Agnostic Front and Murphy's Law (two New York Hardcore bands), Aimee Mullins, and Richard Serra. Molten Vaseline, dental surgery, a demolition derby by vintage Chrysler Imperial New Yorker cars and a gorgeous creature who is half-cheetah/half woman all figure in this latest edition of Matthew Barney's fever dream. Much of the action takes place in two New York landmarks, the Chrysler Building and the Guggenheim Museum, as well as at the Saratoga Racetrack (upstate NY), the Giant's Causeway (Ireland) and Fingal's cave (the Scottish Isle of Staffa). Written by
Sujit R. Varma
After the teeth have begun to exit the Apprentice's prolapsed intestine, there is an overhead shot of the hitmen standing around the Apprentice on the dentist's chair. The view of the intestine is slightly blocked by the back of one of the hitmen, but as he shifts from side to side, the teeth are nowhere to be seen. See more »
Though Matthew Barney doesn't identify himself as a filmmaker per se -- he's a sculptor by training and practice -- his Cremaster Cycle has me convinced that he has a more expansive vision for the possibility of cinema than any new director since Godard grabbed the audience by the hair and pulled us behind the camera with him.
I think part of Barney's resistance to the filmmaker label is that, like the rest of the world, he's been conditioned to believe that movies are only intended to serve a limited set of purposes, namely to act as filmed imitations of ankle-deep novels or plays; that a literal narrative, propelled throughout by actors talking, is the essential element of any movie. This model has been so deeply embedded in all of our psyches that even when a guy like Barney says "f*&^k all that" and defies every conceivable convention, he still feels as though he's doing something which is only nominally a film, even if it is in fact the opposite: a fully realized motion picture experience.
For those who don't know, The Cremaster Cycle is Barney's dreamlike meditation on ... well, I guess it'd be up to each viewer to decide exactly what the topics are, since the movies deliberately make themselves available for subjective interpretaton. Clearly Barney has creation and death on his mind, as well as ritual, architecture and space, symbolism, gender roles, and a Cronenbergian fascination with anatomy.
The movies are gorgeously photographed in settings that could only have been designed by someone with the eye of a true visual artist. In the first half of "3," Barney reimagines the polished interiors of the Chrysler Building as a temple in which the building itself is paradoxically conceived. The second half, slightly more personal, has Barney's alter ego in garish Celtic dress scaling the interior of a sparse Guggenheim Museum, intersecting at its various levels what are presumably various stages of his own artistic preoccupations -- encounters with dancing girls, punk rock, and fellow modern artist Richard Serra, among others.
In the end, what kind of movie is it? It certainly isn't the kind of movie that'll have Joel Silver sweating bullets over the box-office competition. Nor is it likely that more than three or four Academy members will see it, though nominations for cinematography and art direction would be well-deserved. It sure isn't warm and fuzzy: for my money, it might be a little too designed, too calculated. I always prefer chaotic naturalism over studious control. Friedkin over Hitchcock for me. It *is* the kind of movie that the most innovative mainstream filmmakers will talk about ten and twenty years from now when asked what inspired them. Barney's willingness to work entirely with associative imagery, to spell out absolutely nothing, and to let meaning take its first shape in the viewer's imagination, is the kind of catalyst that gives impressionable young minds the notion they can do something they didn't before think possible.
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