Tag Archives: Matthew Barney


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Reader review by Enar Clarke

The Cremaster cycle defers any definitive conclusion.”–from the synopsis of “Cremaster 5”


FEATURING: , Norman Mailer, Aimee Mullins, Richard Serra, Matthew Barney

PLOT: Over the course of five films, through a series of loosely interconnected stories in various film genres, characters metaphorically portray the drama of sexual differentiation in the human reproductive system during the early stages of fetal development.

Still from the Cremaster Cycle

COMMENTS: As has been remarked on this site before, the Cremaster Cycle, directed by and starring visual artist Matthew Barney, is a nigh-legendary series of films. The Cycle tends to be screened once approximately every ten years, hence its mystique. Aside from a highly-priced limited edition run of DVDs, only a 30-minute cut of Cremaster 3 (The Order) is readily available on disc. The films were originally elements of an art installation that also included drawings, photographs, and sculptures; for this reason, they are usually screened by contemporary art museums.

With that in mind, the question readers of this site are probably asking is, are these films weird enough to be worth the effort of trying to see them?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. The five films in the Cremaster Cycle are undoubtedly weird, an endless progression of strange and inscrutable imagery that can honestly be as boring as it is compelling. Each film has at least two settings and sets of characters, but only the most threadbare of plots. Barney’s minimalist website provides the basic details, which can be useful for interpreting the subject matter. To avoid spoilers, I would recommend reading the cast lists prior to viewing, and saving the synopses for afterwards. All of the films, except Cremaster 2, are dialogue-free, and until the credits roll, it can be impossible to identify who, or what, the characters are supposed to be.

Like the best weird movies, the Cycle has divided both critics and viewers. New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman famously declared Barney “the most important artist of his generation.” Film scholar J. Hoberman, in his book “Film After Film,” dismissed the Cremaster Cycle as “an overwrought 57th street yard sale.” Viewers on IMDB have variously described the films as “flamboyant,” “bizarre,” “campy,” “grotesque,” and most commonly, “pretentious.” Directors Barney has been compared to include , David Cronenberg, , , David Lynch, , and Ken Russell—all of whose work is represented on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies. Fans of these directors are just as likely to detest the Cycle, however, as they are to Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: THE CREMASTER CYCLE


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DIRECTED BY: Matthew Barney

FEATURING: Anette Wachter, Matthew Barney, Eleanor Bauer, Laura Stokes, K.J. Holmes

PLOT: In remote Idaho, Diana and her two assistants hunt, observed by an Engraver.

Still from Redoubt (2019)

COMMENTS: A dialogue-free exploration of the myth of Diana the Huntress set in Idaho’s ridiculously beautiful Sawtooth Mountains, Redoubt is a level beyond art-house; it’s art installation. Diana (played by U.S. National Rifle Team member Anette Wachter) is a mysterious sharpshooter camping in a tent in the wilderness. She’s accompanied by two female assistants, contortionists who sleep together in a hammock tied high in the pines and who express themselves solely through interpretive dance. Meanwhile, an Engraver (Barney himself: the character seems to be both a forest ranger and an artist) ventures into the mountains and etches landscapes. At night, he returns to his trailer, where a woman (presumably his wife) electroplates the day’s metal engravings; she’s also working on an abstract sculpture based on a constellation. We observe every step in the creative process. At one point the Engraver watches a Native American woman perform a hoop dance at an American Legion building in an otherwise deserted town. The “action” is divided into a series of “hunts,” although there is little story development. Eventually, Diana catches the Engraver spying on her, shoots one of his engravings, and finally sets a pack of wolves loose in his trailer. Unlike the mythological Acateon, who was transformed into a stag and killed by his own hunting dogs after catching a glimpse of the goddess bathing nude, the Engraver merits divine wrath simply by the act of creating his art, as if act of trying to capture nature is itself a transgression.

There is some fantastic imagery here, capped by the National Geographic-style mountain cinematography (at one point, it captures an avalanche) and the finale which shows the artist’s lair chewed over by lupine chaos. If you enjoy the kinesthetics of the human body in motion, the limber dancing (by professionals who are often clad in long johns) will have an additional appeal. The austerity of the glacially-paced, low-narrative presentation, accompanied only by minimalistic music and the sounds of footsteps in snow and occasional bird calls, is as cold as an Idaho morning, however, and will limit Redoubt‘s appeal. Nonetheless, this is Matthew Barney’s version of an accessible art-house film.

At this point, you might be wondering, “where have I heard the name Matthew Barney?” Barney is the sculptor/filmmaker responsible for the celebrated/infamous films that comprise the Cremaster cycle (which featured hermetic symbolism, bizarre costuming, and such provocative imagery as a bee flying out of a man’s penis). He followed that performance up with the 330-minute scatological film opera River of Fundament. His films incorporate his sculptures and other multimedia (a book accompanies each), and are typically screened only at museums. Only once[efn_note]Not counting the super-limited (20 copies) “Cremaster cycle” DVD sets sold at auction at Southeby’s for six figure sums.[/efn_note] has Barney allowed his work to appear outside of a museum setting: The Order, a 30-minute re-edit of Cremaster 3, which was printed in limited quantities and commands a premium on the secondary market. Redoubt represents, to my knowledge, the first time he has worked with an actual film distributor (Grasshopper). It’s being released this winter to a few select art-house cinemas as well as the usual museums, which is a welcome development. (You can check out the screening schedule at Grasshopper’s website). The scarcity of Barney’s work contributes greatly to its legendary status, but let’s hope that the increased distribution of Redoubt represents a loosening of the artist’s strictures. Maybe as he ages and mellows he’ll break his vow to never release the Cremasters commercially. Or at least let us poor schlubs see River of Fundament on Blu-ray. Probably not, but hope springs eternal.


“…an eminently accessible version of the avant-garde.”–Pat Brown, Slant (contemporaneous)


Here’s an alternative seasonal viewing list for the weird, that goes beyond the usual vampire/zombie/demon/slasher fare (although some favorite characters make appearances).

1. Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle 3 (2002) . Only the third of Barney’s epic Cremaster Cycle, made over an eight year period, has made it’s way to any type of video release, which is criminally unfortunate. The Guggenheim Museum, who financed it, exhibits the Cycle and describes it as a  “a self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore the processes of creation.”  Trailers are available on the Cremaster website; www.cremaster.net. The third movie is available via Amazon and other outlets, albeit at expensive prices [Ed. Note: the version of Cremaster 3 that’s commercially available is not actually the full movie, but a 30 minute excerpt that’s still highly collectible as the only Cremaster footage released].  The Cremaster Cycle is complex, challenging, provocative and not for the attention span-challenged.

Still from Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002)2. Guy Maddin‘s Dracula-Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002). Guy’s Dracula ballet, choreographed to Mahler.  Just when you though nothing more could be done with this old, old story.  Of course, we are talking Mr. Maddin here.

3. Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968). Bergman’s ode to German Expressionism has been labeled his sole horror film. Hour is a further continuation of frequent Bergman themes—the defeated artist, loss of God, nihilism—and stars Bergman regular Max Von Sydow.  Some find this dull and slow, others find it mesmerizing and nightmarish.

4. Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant (1976) returned this consummate craftsman back to the territory of Repulsion and remains one of his best films.  Polanski is now facing extradition charges for having sexual relations with a willing, underage girl thirty years Continue reading OCTOBER 31ST FRINGE VIEWING LIST