The Cremaster Cycle: A Conversation with Matthew Barney

The Cremaster Cycle: A Conversation with Matthew Barney


Dir. Matthew Barney. 1995-2002. N/R. 6hrs 38mins. Barney, Norman Mailer, Richard Serra.

Matthew Barney’s five-part video-art opus, now being revived for two weeks at IFC Center, is a mostly tedious succession of striking but vacant imagery whose effect diminishes the longer you look at it. A multimedia cause célèbre, it strains to create its own dream-logic mythology, all of it organized around principles of ascension and descension (the cremaster is the male muscle that raises and lowers the scrotum).

It’s compellingly crazy in some respects: Goodyear blimps and a tap-dancing satyr share space with Harry Houdini (Mailer) and an opera-singing queen played by Bond girl Ursula Andress. But though the grab-bag nature of Barney’s references is intriguing (it’s safe to say that his schweddy balls have no conceptual limits), his filmmaking is consistently plodding. He lingers for so long on several of his sculptural creations—like a conjoined set of cars or the totemic Chrysler building—that any sense of mystery or wonder is drained. Like Part three’s Frankensteinian “Entered Apprentice” (the kilt-adorned creature who scales and defaces the interior of the Guggenheim Museum is played by the director himself), Barney would rather run rampant on the art-world playground, teasing his audience with unrewarding symbolism and leaving a colossal mess in his wake.—Keith Uhlich


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