A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Matthew Barney's THE CREMASTER CYCLE is playing Metrograph
Matthew Barney’s art film cycle Cremaster is a wildly uneven mix of amazing sound and images and the most pretentious notions. It’s the sort of film that is everything that is wrong with art and artists, and yet, in places, it’s a hypnotic masterpiece. It’s literally an art film.
I’ve seen it all, once, in one sitting and I never need to see it again.
Okay, the short version of what the film is. The Cremaster cycle is a five film series funded by the Guggenheim in New York and other museums. Shot and released out of order, the film does not have a cohesive plot…er…any plot. It does however have a series of visual motifs that repeat.
Cremaster 1 was shot on video and involves dancing girls in a football stadium going through a routine while the good year blimp hovers over head/ Inside it four women sit around a table smoking and talking and occasionally looking out at the dancing below. Under the table another woman writhes around and puts a hole in the table so she can steal grapes. It’s forty over long minutes of a film that appears to have been made by a man who doesn’t know how to make a film.
Cremaster 2- is interesting, but still rambling. We have Norman Mailer as Houdini and Barney himself as Gary Gilmore.
Cremaster 3- is the best section, which explains why this film had a long life when it was released to film theaters. It has something to do with earth gods, cars, a may pole in the Chrysler building and assorted other strangeness. The last of the three hours is a section called The Order (this is the only portion available on DVD) about the order of life. It’s set in New York Guggenheim and involves Barney climbing around on the inside of the museum, punk rock bands, animal people and a long line of dancing girls. The hypnotic images of the first two hours of the film are kind of tossed by the way side by the stark nonsense of this last hour.
Cremaster 4 is an hour or so of strange nonsense with a goat man in a white tux dancing while motorcycles with side cars race around the countryside. It’s more drawn out tedium.
Cremaster 5 is operatic, literally. A woman in an opulent dress sings opera in an empty theater while an orchestra plays, a man scurries around the proscenium, and another man rides a horse into a European city and stops on a bridge. There are some beautiful shots here but the images go on and on and on.
By this time you’re either enthralled or bored to tears. I was mostly bored to tears since this is one of the most pretentious pieces of twaddle I’ve ever seen. The thought of sitting in a theater for 8 hours to see again this makes my skin crawl.
And yet I’m begrudgingly recommending the film…whats up with that?
Simply put this is a classic example of an unseen film. The film as a whole is apparently never going to be released on home video (short of the one segment) so you'll have to attended an occasional screening at an art house theater or art museum.
I'm mentioning the film because some people love it while other people hate it. I think there is some good things in it but the thought of sitting through 8 hours of it kind of blows my mind.
This is the ultimate viewers choice film.
Read on it, research it and determine your tolerance for the ultimate art film experience and then make your decision based on that. If you do want to try it, but aren't sure aim for the third part and go with that. It's the most "normal". If you want to see more (most of which is close to the last section called Order) then watch the rest.
No it doesn't matter what order you see them in. Barney shot and released them out of order. And since there is no plot, only repeating motifs, you're not missing anything.
Your choice-I'm just mentioning it's out there.
(For details on Metrograph screening schedule of the Cremaster cycle go here)
Posted by Steve Kopian at May 17, 2023
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