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Director Matthew Barney Writer Matthew Barney Stars Matthew Barney, Björk Certificate tbc Running time 135 minutes Country USA / Japan Year 2005
Matthew Barney is a visual artist. Think 'film' as in the sort of media that might attract the attention of the Turner Prize or, its American equivalent (with an international remit), the Hugo Boss award. The most recent Hugo Boss award was won by a Brit, Tacita Dean (who has also been shortlisted for the Turner). Barney won it back in 1996 and has garnered a string of prizes since. So you could say that, in his field, he's comfortably at the top of the heap.
I mention all this because you may come to a review of his film with the question, "But will I like it?" And while that question is still open, it is probably rather better than, "Is it any good?"
Although Barney has his critics, even in the art world, to suggest his stuff is rubbish is maybe a bit like saying Meryl Streep can't act: her finished work may vary in quality but it's the product of someone at the top of their profession. But even if Drawing Restraint 9 is great art of which this reviewer is unqualified to say it is reasonable to wonder whether going to the cinema should entail the attitude of mind that going to see a Tate Modern multi-media application might demand. Surely a film-goer has every right to judge a fill as a movie rather than an art exhibit?
Drawing Restraint 9 demands more or perhaps a rather different type of application to the type of movie commonly at art house cinemas. Yet I recall the delightful shock of seeing Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou that unapologetically surrealist outburst that resulted from his friendship with Salvador Dali. Or Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, that reveal astonishing depth in the personalities instructed not to move or blink for four minutes. More recently Béla Tarr's masterpiece, The Man From London, where the scenery carries a force as powerful as the plot or characters. These people dared to use moving pictures in a different way, and cinema is (in my opinion) better for them.
Matthew Barney has little or no interest that I can deduce in conventional cinematic form. When it comes to film, it is as if he started with a blank page, or another medium upon which to bend like sculpture and ideas. Fans of his earlier Cremaster cycle of films will recognise a certain organic development in his films: the plots and persons seems to grow in a way that mimics the growth of crystals, or of speeded up plant growth, all redolent with arcane or sexual symbolism.
Drawing Restraint 9 seems to me a more rounded and mature work than his Cremaster opus. It is more tightly structured and coherent. The viewer can piece together the threads of stories by patient observation. The work of a Japanese whaling ship and various issues surrounding its trade, and the Shinto marriage ceremony on board. During an intense lightning storm the tea ceremony / marriage ceremony takes on disturbing dimensions that set our mind and senses racing.
Barney's (real life) partner, Bjȍrk also combines many new ideas in creating the music. The main suite is written for the sho, one of Japan's most ancient instruments. She worked with Noh theatre scholars to develop musical settings for a poem to produce an authentic, haunting sound.
Drawing Restraint 9 is no more an easy cinematic experience than a Rodin is a catchy picture postcard. But it rewards serious attention and its lyrical and elegiac qualities make the journey an interesting one. The strange visual experiences will leave an impression even on viewers that don't delve beyond the surface. Those that do, will find Barney has drawn his cinematic sculpture on sound ideas and symbols of substance.
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