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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.
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