Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The epic art film of the century (so far) THE CREMASTER CYCLE (dir. Matthew Barney,  USA, 1994-2002, 540 minutes, approximately - who's counting?), Matthew Barney's seven hour opus to the cremaster (the muscle which controls the descent of the testicles) returns to San Francisco at the Roxie Theatre, after it's huge engagement at the Castro Theatre seven years ago. It will be accompanied by his latest film, DE LAMA LAMINA (commented upon below), but frankly I'd pass on that just to make more energy and room and time for The Cycle! 

Since Matthew Barney is an ARTIST, people generally love him or loathe him.  If you love him, you probably need not read further as you already have your Cycle Tickets and are going, unless you want to read another, though brief, interpretation of his work here.  If you are new to Matthew Barney, fear not!  You do not need to see the entire 7 hours in a gulp.  I would suggest, if you were to pick and peck at the Cycle, that you begin with Cycle 5. Yes, the ending.  The music by Jonathan Bepler, who scores the entire cycle, is glorious, the visuals are (unusually) accessible and there is even Ursula Andress to look upon to add to the beauty of the piece. It is also one of the hour long episodes.

If you are a newbie and feeling adventurous, then dive into Cremaster 3, the longest of the Cycle at three hours. The production values and artistry are jaw dropping!!  The musical score is dreamy and chaotic. It is a mammoth piece, taking place in the Chrysler Building as well as the Guggenheim Museum, and features Richard Serra, Aimee Mullins and the punk band, Grand Masters. (The Guggenheim Museum sequence is the only section of the entire Cycle that is or ever will be (legitimately) available on DVD.)  It is not quite as accessible as episodes 5 or 1, unless you are familiar with Celtic and Masonic rituals. However, it fits quite nicely in the Cycle as a whole, compared to episode 2.  I would NOT recommend episode 2. Actually, if it weren't so early in the cycle, it would make for a nice dinner break for even some of the Barney-heads, I'm sure!

So, what is all the commotion about?  Yes, I could be somewhat snide and say that Matthew Barney has created a seven-hour art film about his testicles dropping.   However, it does dig deeper into the psyche of his view of masculinity and 'manhood', in all it's forms: biological, psychological, emotional, spiritual. His performances (he appears throughout the Cycle) are quite athletic and robust and, quite often, features himself in the nude. Cycle parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 follow this interpretation quite nicely.  Cycle 2 (aka the Gary Gilmore episode) feels out of place at best. Even after reading quite a bit of analysis of Cycle 2, I still fail to grasp what Gary Gilmore and his Mormon upbringing (HOW did Matthew Barney get the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to cooperate?!) have to do with the cremaster.

I would have switched the sequence of parts 2 and 4. The films were not made in numerical order, but rather in the order of 4 (1994), 1 (1995), 5 (1997), 2 (1999) and 3 (2002).)   Cycle 4 is generally regarded as the most biological interpretation, with the racing of two motorcyclists around the Isle of Man, their target is Matthew Barney as a satyr waiting for them on a pier, and it would fit quite nicely after Cycle 1's dueling Goodyear Blimps. Cycle 3 features Barney having to test himself in Celtic and Masonic rituals: sort of the coming of age of a man. (Then I would have inserted Cycle 4, featuring the murderer, I guess?)  Cycle 5 is definitely the most romantic and spiritual piece, as he reaches a climax. Literally.

Overall, I am gobsmacked at the enormous production values for an 'art project'!  It is nearly Wagnerian in scope.  The Roxie is offering "Marathon Passes" for the weekend screenings.  The theatre has also broken it down into consecutive mini-cycles during the week for those unsure of taking it in one big 7 hour gulp!

For the TRULY DEVOUT Matthew Barney fan, The Cycle is being accompanied by his DE LAMA LAMINA (dir. Matthew Barney, US, date?, 55 mins.)  However, if you ARE truly devout then you have probably seen his HOIST (included in shorts compilation DESTRICTED) which is cut into this document of his performance of the piece at the Carnaval de Slavador da Bahia, Brazil. Though probably the most exhibitionistic of his works that I know of (yes, it features a full erection), I also feel it is the most mundane, if not provocative for its own sake, of his works.  Find HOIST on DVD and save yourself an hour.

Maxxxxx says re THE CREMASTER CYCLE:  "Is it time for shower??!"

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM


Chris said...

Nice overview. My wife goes all out researching all of Barney's references and everything after each one of the films. While I thought them to be an elaborate practical joke initially, she's shown me that there's actually a lot of meat there (no pun intended).

She actually did a huge writeup on De Lama if you're interested. Article here:

Oh, while we caught all the films in their previous run in the city, if your readers are unlucky enough to miss them, Amoeba does have bootlegs. They're VHS rips though, so it's definitely nowhere near as nice as seeing them in the theater. But yah, interesting stuff all around.

Jay, aka The Angry Little Man said...

Chris, thanks for stopping by! And thank your wife for keeping you "interested"! ;)

I'll check out HER De Lama reaction.

Oh, I know where to find the CYCLE dvds, which are unfortunately, illegitimate, so I didn't want to get them (or myself for that matter) in trouble. >:) My little space here doesn't attract that much attention, so I hope we all come out of it unscathed by the Guggenheim/Barney/etc.

I SHOULD have mentioned that these are new 35mm prints that are on 'tour', and the press preview (of Cycles 1 and 5) looked and SOUNDED incredible at the Roxie!

I hope you make it there!

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