As with most crossover artists, multimedia auteur Matthew Barney brings wholly unique references and expectations to cinema. Those who relish his sensibilities (most famously on display in the five-part Cremaster Cycle) are intimately familiar with his fetishistic use of petroleum jelly, affection for obscure symbolism, and chronic focus on flesh and bodily functions.
Open-minded Barney virgins should sample this dialogue-free program, which includes two short films that bookend his career. The first, 1988’s “Scabaction,” intercuts shots of industrial welding with his routing of an ingrown hair using a pair of pliers. The other, 2006’s “Drawing Restraint 13,” transforms a reenactment of MacArthur’s landing in the Philippines into the artist’s own signing of limited-edition drawings.
The marquee attraction, though, is 2004’s De Lama Lamina, wherein Barney turns an industrial tractor holding a dead tree and a rock climber into a parade float during Brazil’s Carnavale. Barney, naked and ass-reamed with a giant turnip, is strapped to the underbelly of the tractor, rubbing his engorged penis against the machine and squeezing feces out of a stuffed monkey onto his abdomen (some of this appeared as a short titled “Hoist,” in the 2006 omnibus Destricted). It all has to do with biomorphic transformations and defying the second law of thermodynamics—obviously—but the clueless will be equally mesmerized.