Cremaster is Matthew Barney's five-part film cycle, running some six and a half hours, about, among other things, gender, the nature of creativity and the amazing versatility of Vaseline. Shot out of sequence (4, 1, 5, 2, 3) over ten years, the cycle has been compared to everything from Star Wars to Wagner. In other words, it's next to impossible to summarise or describe. If you sit through the sequence to try to absorb the narrative gist, you may end up with a forehead as wrinkled as your backside. Barney has called the Cremaster cycle a 'narrative sculpture', so watch them in any order and look for visual motifs. In 2, Barney uses the Columbia Icefields (a glacier in the Canadian Rockies) as a piece of sculpture or character in the film, and its creamy, textured surface resonates with the molten Vaseline that Richard Serra scoops and splatters in 3. In 5, the rising white doves tethered with ribbons to Barney's testicles (in one of his many guises) chime with the Y-shape of American football goalposts in 1. These details should provide a taste of the scope and strangeness of Cremaster. They are also the kind of visual links that give the cycle form where dialogue and narrative hooks are, for some, frustratingly absent. The images are, of course, loaded with symbolic potential, and may provoke an urge to find a code behind the lush surface, but the films suggest the futility of system-building. Reducing the imagery to text would miss the point of creating an elliptical structure that celebrates eternal delay. While parts of Cremaster feel wilfully odd or painfully slow, its wit and pageantry might, one day, represent its era better than most contemporary film.
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