Cremaster 2

The fourth installment of this rapidly evolving series is also the first one shot in HD, with a lot more money, displaying another step forward in Barney’s command of his visual craft: the images are slicker, more gorgeous, more tactile, more emotionally charged as they push their abstract narrative forward. It’s also the first installment to employ dialogue, though whether that helps or hurts the narrative is subjective and debatable. Regardless, it’s yet another fascinating attack on your senses, bombarding you with images and actions that enjoy lodging themselves into your mind.

There’s a detached, barely-perceptible sense of humor to Barney’s work that saves it from getting too heavy-handed. He serves up a lot of his favorite motifs here, including biological fluids and sex, as well as his regurgitation of Americana’s detritus: classic 60’s cars, cowboys, heavy metal. And bees- lots of them, everywhere. Barney collaborator Norman Mailer joins the fun playing the role of Harry Houdini (don’t ask) performing his escape act, guarded by a troupe of Royal Canadian Mounties. Watch enough Matthew Barney and you realize the guy loves men in uniform- all sorts of uniforms, costumes, outfits- especially when they are out of their natural context, awkward and surreal.

Cremaster 2 is Barney’s take on Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, kinda sorta the way his insanely long River of Fundament is based on Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. Apparently, the story is about a real-life Mormon who committed murder, though I would never have been able to tell you this without our good friend the internet. And while it’s always fun to poke fun at someone who’s able spend millions of dollars committing his oddball obsessions and sexual fantasies onto tape (funded by the checkbooks of rich people everywhere,) you have to hand it to the guy- the Cremaster Cycle remains a compelling, challenging body of work.

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