Movie Review: Cremaster 3

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
According to the New York Times, Matthew Barney born in San Franicisco in 1967 is considered one of the most important artists of his time. He has created five out of sequence videos which are performance art pieces that play to the contemporary art scene at museums and special cinemas. The suggested format for viewing the entire suite is in one setting which requires the bladder of an ostrich. The title Cremaster represents the development of the seven week fetus into a male or female. If want a taste of his work there is Cremaster #3 , a three-hour DVD. It requires Cliff notes and having them doesn't make the film more intelligible. The DVD is divided into five sections including a piece where Barney explains his work. You need to listen to it several times, which I am not sure is worth it as the visuals are nowhere as fantastic as the explanation.
Here goes: In the Order and there are five degrees, and each represents a game. A group of Busby Berkeley-like play bunnies are the 1st degree, sort of a girl scout Masonic group as Barney calls them.
Two early rival 80's NY male hard core bands: The Agnostic Front, vs Murphy's Law comprise the 2nd degree who do a lot of agitating with microphones and playing grunge music.
Aimee Mulllin, a model athlete who won the 100-meter in the long jump on fiber legs in the paraolympics is the 3rd degree. Five points of fellowship comprise the 4th degree and the 5th is sculptor Richard Serra.
Matthew Barney plays the Entered Apprentice in full Scottish bagpipe regalia without the bagpipe (which we learn comes from the bladder of an animal). He is the chief game player of the five degrees. For example, when he plays in the 3rd degree with Aimee Mullin they embrace as an androgynous entity, both dressed in white evening gowns and see through high heels. She bites him in the neck and becomes a leopard. Later he bludgeons her with a hammer, one of the sacred tools of architecture. All of this transpires on the ramps of the Guggenheim museum in New York.
There are other aspects to the games that Barney reveals, but I can only tell you that visually I had problems with the pieces. For starters, he consistently use women as fetishes who are always dressed in evening gowns, tight skirts, high heels or bathing suits, and they all act like airheads in group formation. He claims the group thing if about the power of the collective. Meanwhile the two NYC hard core bands and Richard Serra are fully clothed. There's a lot of Mathew Barney as the ringmaster to all his pieces as serial killer Gary Gilmore in Cremaster# 2, Diva, Magician and Giant for # 5, and the Loughton candidate in # 1.
Secondly, it would appear that Barney suffers from major birth trauma in the process in which the fetus becomes a male and female. In the first piece of the Cremaster Cycle suite made in 1994 Barney plays a Loughton candidate satyr with two horns that represent equilibrium. A He compulsively digs a hole in the floor wearing tap shoes only to fall into the ocean and then desperately crawls through a tunnel back home.. My reaction is that things were going fine for this Loughton candidate until he fell through the floor and into the ocean. Now he has to get back under the sea bed and go through all that birth trauma to become differentiated.
Although Barney seems to invent modern mythologies he relies heavily on old tropes to represent sexual differentiation particularly for females such as a wild female leopard with sexual energy and dainty male transvestite fairies who picnic in culottes.
His male figures are more problematic with lots of petroleum jelly and artificial accouterments. There is no doubt that Barney has gone to a lot of trouble to assemble his Cremaster Cycle with fabric, choreography, set design and intricate fables.

For Movie Magazine, this is Moira Sullivan, Stockholm SWEDEN
More Information:
Cremaster 3
USA - 2002