Monday, March 14, 2005

Cremaster Cycle 1 & 2 (Film Society Screening)

(Dir: Matthew Barney, with Norman Mailer as Harry Houdini, 2 Goodyear blimps and the Mormon Tabernacle Quoir as themselves.)

People came out of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive going "what the...?". Compared to the Cremaster Cycle, Lynch's effort was about as unclear as a Colgate toothpaste advert. I have absolutely no idea what #1 was about, although I do have some vague idea that #2 was about metamorphosis - we had Norman Mailer (!) telling us that when he wants to escape from somewhere, he goes through some sort of metamorphosis so that he becomes one with the padlock and can thus get himself out.

But start at the beginning - the only coherent thought I have about #1 was that it was 41 minutes long. What we had was a woman, dressed in skimpy underthings, lying underneath a pedestal table, it had a smallish shelf half way up the pedestal on which she could lie. Now this table was actually two tables, one in each of two Goodyear blimps: she was under both, they were side by side at the same time but there was only one woman. On the table was a tablecloth and a big pile of grapes - white in one blimp and red in the other. Around each table were four different air hostesses, very bored: they'd get up and steal a grape every so often, or have a smoke (in a blimp!). There were no apparent passengers.

The woman under the table cut her way through the table cloth to get some grapes, which spilled onto the floor under her in various patterns. Under the blimps, in an astroturphed stadium, were a number of very elegantly dressed dancers - they would form into the same pattern as the grapes formed. This went on for 41 minutes. The director explains himself thus:
Gliding in time to the musical score, the chorus girls delineate the contours of a still-androgynous gonadal structure, which echoes the shapes of the two blimps overhead, and symbolizes a state of pure potential.
It is possibly worth knowing that the title, cremaster, may refer to the muscle which suspends the testicles, or equally may refer to the appendage which suspends an insect's pupa. It is also possibly worth knowing that Mr Barney is a former quarterback, and has made this film in his home field: Boise, Idaho. I agree with the critic who says that the film makes no sense but looks intriguing with its repetitive shapes and colours.

The second film had lots of action and even some dialogue, but again there was a lack of connection between the scenes, well none I could see while I was watching the movie. There was Mr Mailer, as Harry Houdini, being incarcerated in a locked cabinet - while we didn't see it, over the course of the film he freed himself. There was some pretty graphic sex, with a prosthetic penis (the maker is named in the credits). There were lots of bees which, in an interesting morph, became heavy metal music - although there millions of bees on the singer as well. We then switch to a fellow listening to the music in his car, which is joined to another by some sort of tubing. They are parked on a forecourt. He moves around restlessly, trying to sleep. Eventually, he gives up, gets out, robs the service station attendant and shoots him in the back of the head. Twice. Lots of blood. We never see them again - instead, we get a lake, soldiers on horses in a corral, a prisoner riding a bull to death, bison... It is possible that they were all showing different ways of being a drone - there are lots of hexagonal beehive images, including a wonderfully sparkly glass hexagon coated saddle - and right at the end, the Queen Bee talks with Mr Houdini/Mailer about the drones. Ah - there is stuff on the Cremaster website that helps - the film is a kind of homage to Gary Gilmore, who took death by firing squad as punishment for robbing and shooting a forecourt attendant twice in the head, to whom Johnny Cash is reputed to have made a phone call on the day of his execution. Apparently, Gilmore was related to Houdini and is being portrayed as the classic drone. And Mailer wrote the book about Gilmore. Huh - if I'd known this BEFORE the movie, it might have helped. And a critic says this is the MOST plot-driven of all the 5 cremaster movies.

For some reason #3 is not being shown, although it is in the library - I might take a look before the other 2 come round. They feature, in turn, the Chrysler Building, the Isle of Man motorcycle race and a lyric opera in 19th century Budapest. Now that I know how to find clues before I go, I might even enjoy the next ones (and wish I could see #2 again - #1 I think I remember!).


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