Monday, June 1, 2015

‘The MMº as you’ve never seen it before’

And from our Just for Fun Department….

The highly bizarre (I don’t think “avant garde” really suggests enough) Cremaster series of films by Matthew Barney will return to the Guggenheim this summer for four dates of complete screenings beginning Saturday. That’s a lotta Cremaster. I’m not a customer here. Probably.

I saw Cremaster 3, which actually is the fifth and final of the series, on its release in 2002, and I related this description to the members of the ML group on May 21, 2002:


About two weeks ago I brought to your attention a new movie titled Cremaster 3 that the director said was based on the Master Mason Degree.

Well, I saw it on Sunday and it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. This is what you might call an “experimental” work. If you like the films of Warhol, Anger, early Lynch, etc. then you may like this one. If your tastes are more normal, then stay away from Cremaster 3.

It runs about three hours and has a 10-minute intermission. There is no dialogue, no speaking at all. Only the unbearable musical score and the sound effects are to be heard, but still the movie theater had the volume turned much too high.

There is a character named Hiram Abiff. There is another character named the Entered Apprentice. There even are characters named Grand Masters and Rainbow Girls. But this movie has nothing to do with Freemasonry; it seems the guy who wrote and directed (and appears as the EA) may have learned something about our ritual and decided it was unusual enough to incorporate into whatever story he is trying to tell here.

In fact, one review (I think in Newsday) called this movie “wonderfully esoteric.” This must be the polite way of saying that only the people who made this film are aware of what it’s about. I was probably the only one in the (sold out) theater who was in on the references to the Craft. Without even that little understanding, I cannot see how anyone else would be able to follow this movie.

Some of the scenes show:
1) a demolition derby of classic Chrysler New Yorkers
2) two hardcore punk bands playing
3) the EA filling an elevator car with cement
4) the Grand Masters having a few pints and cigars
5) a giant and a dwarf battling in Scotland

and hours more of nonsensical imagery that is not worth seeing unless you’re a fan of that kind of stuff.

I’m sorry I even brought it up. It’s at Film Forum in Manhattan (Houston near Sixth) if you’re interested.

After thirteen years, I would like to think I’d bring more understanding to the screening room, but I can’t imagine returning to see this film. Or the others. Especially when shown together in a daylong marathon.

From the publicity:

The Cremaster cycle, created and produced by Matthew Barney, is a series of five visually extravagant films made out of sequence (Cremaster 4 began the cycle, followed by Cremaster 1, 5, 2, and finally, Cremaster 3) but presented here in the order of their creation. The title of the cycle refers to the muscle that raises and lowers the male reproductive system according to external stimuli such as temperature or fear. Taken in sequential order, the films correlate to the height of the gonads during the embryonic process of sexual differentiation, with Cremaster 1 representing the most “ascended” state, and Cremaster 5 the most “descended.”

As the cycle evolved over eight years (1994-2002), this biological model was joined by other paradigms such as history, autobiography, and mythology that have added to Barney’s fantastical narrative constructs. The resulting cosmology is both beautiful and complex, with densely layered and interconnected symbols and images.

The films are screened here in chronological order of their production to reveal the development of Barney’s relationship to the material and of his creative process.


10:30 a.m., Cremaster 4 (1994), 41 min.
11:15 a.m., Cremaster 1 (1995), 42 min.
12:15 p.m., Cremaster 5 (1997), 55 min.
2:45 p.m., Cremaster 2 (1999), 80 min.
4:30 p.m., Cremaster 3 (2002), 178 min.

Free with museum admission.

More dates: July 11, August 8, and September 5, all from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

For each of the films comprising the Cremaster cycle, Barney appropriates a different theatrical or cinematic genre.

Cremaster 1, 1995
35 mm film (color digital video transferred to film with Dolby SR sound)
Produced by Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Barney

Starring Marti Domination as Goodyear, Cremaster 1 parodies the musical extravaganzas of Busby Berkeley as filtered through the lens of Leni Riefenstahl’s Third Reich athletics. Chorus girls form shifting outlines of reproductive organs on a football field, their movements determined from above by a blonde starlet, who miraculously inhabits two Goodyear blimps simultaneously and creates anatomical diagrams by lining up rows of grapes.

Cremaster 2, 1999
35 mm film (color digital video transferred to film with Dolby SR sound)
Produced by Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Barney

Starring Norman Mailer as Harry Houdini and Barney as Gary Gilmore, Cremaster 2 is a gothic Western premised loosely on the real-life story of Gary Gilmore, who was executed in Utah for the murder of two men. Gilmore’s biography is conveyed through a series of fantastical sequences, including an occultist séance enacted with ectoplasm and bee pollen to signify his conception, and a prison rodeo staged in a cast salt arena to represent his death by firing squad. The film’s plot unfolds to question the inevitability of man’s fate as it is reflected in, and witnessed by, the expansive landscape.

Cremaster 3, 2002
35 mm film (color digital video transferred to film with Dolby Digital sound)
Produced by Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Barney

Courtesy Gladstone Gallery

Starring Richard Serra as Hiram Abiff, Barney as the Entered Apprentice, and Aimee Mullins as the Entered Novitiate, Cremaster 3 is part zombie thriller, part gangster film. As the final installment in the cycle, the film is a distillation of the artist’s major themes and signature aesthetic devices, filtered through an elaborate symbolic matrix involving Freemasonry, Celtic lore, and Art Deco design. Set in New York’s Chrysler Building, the film also includes detours to the Guggenheim Museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright building, to the harness track in Saratoga Springs, to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and to Fingal’s Cave, on Staffa, an island in the Scottish Hebrides.

Here, in Cremaster 3, the Architect and the Grand Masters do a job
on the Apprentice. Somehow, I can relate to this.

Cremaster 4, 1994
35 mm film (color digital video transferred to film with Dolby SR sound)
Produced by Artangel, James Lingwood, and Matthew Barney

Starring Barney as the Loughton Candidate, Cremaster 4 is set on the Isle of Man—a topographical body punctured by orifices and passageways—where a feverish motorbike race traverses the landscape, a dandified, tap-dancing satyr writhes his way through a treacherous underwater canal, and three burly fairies picnic on a grassy knoll. Part vaudeville, part Victorian comedy of manners, and part road movie, this film portrays sheer drive in its eternal struggle to surpass itself.

Cremaster 5, 1997
35 mm film (color digital video transferred to film with Dolby SR sound)
Produced by Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Barney

Starring Ursula Andress as the Queen of Chain, and Barney as her Diva, her Magician, and her Giant, Cremaster 5 is set against the Baroque backdrop of the Hungarian State Opera House. Performed as a lyric opera complete with ribboned Jacobin pigeons, a lovelorn queen, and her tragic hero, this narrative flows from the gilded proscenium arch of the theater to the aqueous underworld of Budapest’s Danube River to humid Gellért baths inhabited by hermaphroditic water-sprites frolicking in a pool of pearl bubbles.

So there you have it. The Guggenheim has a long history with Barney and his films, and 3 actually debuted there, if I recall correctly. I suppose on a very hot day these screenings could provide a comfortable escape. Maybe you’ll love these films, I don’t know.

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