Friday, September 22, 2006

Drawing Restraint 9

I've been fascinated and repelled at the same time by the work I've seen by Matthew Barney. I've never seen one of his films, however, so I've felt like I've been missing out on the real culmination of the Matthew Barney experience. I have a new friend who was interested in it, so the two of us attended the showing of Drawing Restraint 9 here in Grand Rapids at the UICA.

In case you know nothing about the film, I'll tell you that there is very little dialogue, and it seems to be about some sort of Marriage ritual (between Barney and his real life wife Bjork). It's a very deliberate film, very self consciously arty, and very weird, but in it's way, very beautiful, and also at times very epic. Each shot is obviously staged to the nth degree. Nothing looks accidental. Each step choreographed, not a second is throwaway. It is at times truly incredible to watch.

It's set on a Japanese whaling ship, and there seems to be a very Japanese attention to detail both on and behind the camera. This film is the opposite of slapdash. There are some really amazing sequences of really ritualistic activities. many of which may be very tied to traditional Japanese rituals, some others, probably not.

Now, I may have piqued your interest, but I've said just about I can about the film's upside. Now for what I didn't like.

Everything else. It's a shame that some obviously talented people put so much time and energy into a piece of art that seems to carry so little in its innards. Barney's work may strike a chord, with some, but for me, his tainted appeal has always been tied to his weirdness and his disturbing imagery, which always seems not only foreign and not resonant, but indeed dissonant. Dissonant and disconcerting. I came out of this film feeling very tense.

Afterwards my friend and me went to Vertigo records right up the street and got into a conversation with someone else who was at the same showing. He liked it, but his friend thought it was boring and pretentious. We got on a bit about Barney's other work and this guy mentioned Barney's other famous film series, The Cremaster Cycle. He said it's 6 hours, and there is a sense of accomplishment to reaching the end. I imagine it's more like sheer relief.

I've talked to a few people about Barney. I used to know a guy who really loved Barney's stuff, but everyone else seems to just be amazed by the guy's weirdness. Now I've seen it, and while I don't feel much richer for the experience, at least I know what people are talking about. Is that an endorsement? Hardly. In fact, I'd really like to tell you that it would be a total waste of your time, as I thought to myself a few times in the theatre, but some of those images are etched in my brain in such a way that I can't bring myself to urge you away from this film. But let me give you one caveat: go in with absolutely no expectations. I do think there is something here, if you are open to it, but I also wouldn't blame you if Barney is just too crazy for you. He may just be too crazy for me.


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