Here Iím going to look over Matthew Barneyís CREMASTER cycle. These five digitally lensed films, made over a nine year period, represent one of the most unique events in film history. Unique because theyíve captured the hearts, minds and wallets of the snootier-than-thou New York art crowd, who view them as bonafide objects díart rather than proper films.
I donít know much about the art world (thank God!) but do know a little something about filmmaking, and so can attest that cinematically the CREMASTERS leave much to be desired. Theyíre dreamlike nonlinear swirls packed with all manner of grotesquerie that woefully lack the savvy of true masters of cinematic bizarrie like Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch or Carmelo Bene. Of course, the fact that Barney identifies himself as an artiste and not a moviemaker affords him a pat defense for his filmsí shortcomings: itís art, man!
And yet the CREMASTER flicks cannot be entirely dismissed. Any lover of the bizarre owes it to him/herself to see these films, or at least parts 2 and 3, as they contain many striking elements. Keep in mind, though, that your sole opportunity to do so is via the periodic revival screenings at art film venues (the latest at L.A.ís Nuart Theater in mid-June 2010, where I viewed these films), as the CREMASTER cycle will apparently never be distributed on commercial DVD.
Why? Because Barney sells limited edition DVDs of his films to art collectors for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece (art just isnít art, it seems, unless itís really expensive) and uses the funds to finance his subsequent efforts. In this way he avoids the soul-crushing realities of independent film financing, and makes a comfortable living for himself in the process. I imagine Jodorowsky (who for the past twenty years has been unable to come up with sufficient funds to mount any new films) and Lynch (whose budgets tend to be laughably low) must be tearing their hair out at this news.
But anyway, letís take a look at the CREMASTER cycle. Iím going to review these films in the (dis)order they were made, which means Iíll begin with part 4 and continue with parts 1, 5, 2 and 3. Iíll also take a look at Barneyís more recent project DRAWING RESTRAINT 9, which is essentially CREMASTER 6.
The cycle began back in 1994 with
CREMASTER 4. Far more raggedy and homemade than the subsequent
installments, it features a satyr-like dude (played by Matthew Barney
himself) tap dancing in an ocean-bound cathedral, intercut with racecar
drivers speeding down an open road. Eventually the satyr drops through a
hole, ending up beneath the ocean floor in a slime-clogged maze of
tunnels while tiny balls of goo ooze out of the racecar driversí pockets
and a group of giggling women make their way toward the cathedral. It
concludes with one of the most repellent images of all time: a manís
testicles squeezed and prodded with tongs!
CREMASTER 1 followed in 1995. It had
a far healthier budget than part 4, which is evident in the gaudy art
direction. Thereís even some CGI, which wasnít easy (or cheap) to come
by in Ď95. As I understand it, after finishing the previous film Barney
first hit upon the idea of funding future projects by selling the
previous ones for hundreds of thousands of dollars, initially on
VHS--yes, you read that right: back in the mid-nineties people actually
shelled out upwards of $100,000 for a VHS.
1997ís CREMASTER 5 is the least successful of these films. It
stars Ursula Andress as an opera singer and Barney again, playing
another satyr-like mutant.
CREMASTER 2 arrived in 1999, and I feel
itís the best of the lot. It was the first CREMASTER film I saw (it
being the first to play semi-commercially)
and made enough of an impression that I was inspired to check out the
rest of the cycle (whereas had I begun with parts 1 or 5 I strongly
doubt Iíd have bothered).
This brings us to the three hour
CREMASTER 3 from 2002, the most monumental installment by far. It
contains an amazing succession of bizarre and horrific imagery: a giant
tramping around a mossy seaside cliff, an emaciated stone woman dug up
from the ground, a car slammed into repeatedly by other cars until only
a tiny piece of crushed metal remains, a man (played by Barney) with a
flower penis, a slimy wormlike thingee that emits a stream of goop, a
bar covered in frozen Vaseline, rotting zombie horses pulling a cart
down a racetrack, a guy scaling the interior of NYCís Guggenheim Museum
so he can romp with a satyr
woman residing in the upper levelsÖyes, itís that kind of movie!
That technically concludes my survey, but,
as threatened, Iím going to finish with an quick overview of Matthew
Barneyís DRAWING RESTRAINT 9 (2005). It looks and plays much like
a CREMASTER flick, and was financed and distributed in a similar
fashion--meaning you wonít be seeing it on DVD any time soon (dry