Cremaster 1 & 4

11 May 2002

Cremaster 1 & 4
directed by Matthew Barney
at The Bloor Cinema, April 19 2002 as part of the Images Festival

There was a time, almost ten years ago, when Cremaster, like MS Windows 3.2, was cutting edge. Yet, by now, mainstream video media as caught up with it. For example, the checkerboard dream sequence in The Big Liebowski, which came out two years later. It is slick and straightforward, easy to recognize as a dream sequence vignette, and in the use of chorus line girls, reminding me of Cremaster 1. But Barney’s work remains famously ambiguous, rather lushly endowed with production values that make his narcissistic narrative intriguing. While these films seemed a little Windows 3.2, they still benefit from its non-linear artiness.

Cremaster 1 (1995)

This one seemed like an apocryphal segment of a the 1986 James Bond film, A View to a Kill. The Sexually Suggestive Named Female Lead (SSNFL), is an Aryan goddess, part of a world wide conspiratorial elitist Nazi movement, who despise the more conventional white supremacist punk skin heads as being too proletariat. Trapped aboard one of Zoran’s blimps, one of two which hovers over the football field in Boise Idaho where Barney played college football (while he studied pre-med with ambitions to be a plastic surgeon) SSNFL considers escape, and stretches to keep her muscles from seizing up. In typical James Bond fashion, she’s absurdly trapped under a fruit laden table. Evil stewardess’ smoke and look out the windows, mindlessly obedient to Christopher Walken’s character, who is busy with Grace Jones and the planned flooding of Silicon Valley. SSNFL remembers radio grapes that are planted amongst the cornucopia, and gets a hold of them while the stewardess’ aren’t looking. Activating them by passing them through her shoes, they fall to the floor, and she begins arranging them, signaling choreography to the elite Nazi chorus line below. I think the plan must have been to entertain the world to death, or put everyone to sleep with the waltz music. This was certainly evident in the theatre, for when intermission came, everyone awoke from their daze, yawning and stretching.

As she communicates with the chorus line, she daydreams of taming Roger Moore’s cheatin’ ways. She imagines herself as the ultimate controller of his testicles, which are symbolized by the blimps. They are helium filled balloons to her, and she holds them by the leash.

Cremaster 4 (1994)

This was the first Cremaster film, made way back when OJ Simpson went from being and ex NFL player to becoming the scandal of the decade. Filmed on the Isle of Man, which is famous for its motorcycle racing, this one featured Barney as a tap dancing satyr dressed in white. He lives out on a pier. He tap dances around a white plastic tile. He wears a hole in the tile and falls through to the ocean below. Meanwhile, two motorcycles equipped with sidecars, race around the island.

Having fallen through to the ocean, he makes it back to the shore, boroughs under the beach, until he reaches the rocky cliff. He finds a tunnel through which he can make it up to the cliff top. This tunnel is shaped like the contour of a daisy. Squirming up the tunnel, he encounters vast amounts of Vaseline, which Barney has stated is a metaphor, a way of lubricating between concepts and scenes. He considers his films to be sculpture, something which must be viewed in many directions, and which moves slowly. I kept thinking of how long it would have taken to wash all of it off, yet Jon Sasaki, whom I saw the film with, more astutely summarized it as, “Matthew Barney as a giant sperm”.

In the meantime, the racing motorcycles converge as a ram. Their testicles, which had moved away from their bodies, and become characters of emotion and thought (like Sesame Street’s orange and black striped Wormy), remind us adults of spending our early lives watching and empathizing with puppets. The racers converge on and are replaced by the figure of a ram. The satyr emerges unto the grass of the cliff top, greeted by his smiling attendants. At the end, the satyr is enthroned triumphant at the pier, his attendants are as happy as always, and bag pipe music swells to a painful level as the credits roll.

I feel that Barney’s films benefit from their exclusivity, by the fact that we’ve all read about them, but not all had the chance to see them. Like the dream sequence in The Big Liebowski, they would become trivial rather quickly if Barney exposed their ambiguous symbolism and made them available at Blockbuster. Movies with line-ups rule, cause at that point they’re an event. These two had quite a lineup, and participating in this must see aspect I found more enjoyable than the films, which were mediocre.

Rating: 6/10

(orginally published in the Instant Coffee Saturday Edition)

Instant Coffee Saturday Edition

  1. May 2002: Appeared in Instant Coffee Saturday Edition Issue No° 7
  2. 2002-2015 Archived on my websites & blog
  3. Sept 2015: this version produced