Tag Archives: Matthew Barney

INSPIRED AND DISALLUSIONED: 7.5-hour movie experience

5 Dec

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of witnessing American visual artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney‘s epic Cremaster Cycle — a project consisting of five feature-length films made over an eight-year period (1994-2002).

Screening at Pacific Cinémathèque for the first time in Vancouver in five years, these films were named for the male muscle that raises and lowers the testes in response to external stimuli.


I freely admit to having a hard time putting my thoughts on The Cremaster Cycle into words. It was the most all-encompassing, sensory, confusing, overwhelming, inspiring and deflating film-going experience ever.

And it lasted for 7.5 hours.

There, I guess that about does it.

Don’t get me wrong, it was worth the effort it took to sit still for  that long. I particularly liked Cremaster 2. The costumes oozed high fashion and the deep organ music composed by Jonthan Bepler only enhanced the experience.

One can see elements of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and David Cronenberg in Barney’s haunting, dream-like masculine style.

Oh, and Barney is married to Björk. How awe-inspiring is that? (Love, love that adorable Icelandic divinity.)

Cremaster 2 is a hazy blend of striking scenes that don’t quite connect. We witness a strange, mechanical sex scene in which male and female torsos do it amidst a swarm of bees; the unfolding of the story of American murderer Gary Gilmore (played by Barney himself); an appearance by novelist Norman Mailer who plays Harri Houdini; an amazing aerial view of  a couple of Canadian Mounties backed by the organ-grinding Mormon Tabernacle Choir; cowboy line dancing; and a scene with two famous death metal musicians playing embodiments of Johnny Cash (with, again, a swarm of bees).


And check the guy on the bottom right. Cute right? Ya, he dies.

According to Barney’s website, the life of bees is meant to “metaphorically describe the potential of moving backward in order to escape one’s destiny.


Wait, bees can do that? How d’you mean, exactly? I tried to research this and got distracted because I have no idea what this means.

Moving along, there’s also this gorgeous sculpture of a mirrored saddle! Amazing.

Suffice it to say, Barney’s interpretation of the facts of nature made me feel like I don’t know anything about anything.

(Read: It’s exhausting being deep when you can’t even comprehend the bottom.)

According to Wikipedia, the full series was released in a limited series of 20 sets of DVDs, each sold for at least $100,000. They are screened mainly as gallery exhibits and will never be made available on mass-market DVD.

I feel cool now that I’ve seen them all. (I sat there for 7.5 hours, you guys. This is dedication to being cool!)

Anyone seen The Cremaster Cycle? What did you think? I need input to strengthen my critique.

All photos courtesy of cremaster.net