Drawing Restraint 9 (IFC Films, NR)

I love Björk, but both her screen presence and most of the music she made for the film leaves something to be desired. Barney is a more apt subject for his opuses of gaudiness, perhaps due to his seemingly unflagging interest in himself.

 

When Matthew Barney's five Cremaster films (collectively known as the Cremaster Cycle) screened at the Tivoli back in 2003, I ignored them. At the time, I didn't know who he was, had barely heard of the films, and generally didn't care too much. During the week they were there and then after they were gone, though, I had tons of friends asking if I had seen them and what I had thought. Still, they weren't my usual movie friends, but art student types who couldn't usually be bothered to go to the movies. So, when I had the opportunity to watch all five Cremaster films back to back (to back to back to back) I jumped on it, and despite the sore ass I received as a result of the seven-plus hours I spent in the theater subjected to Barney's every whim as an artist, it was one of the better moviegoing experiences in my life. Sure, the films are uneven, and I didn't really like parts 2 or 5 at all, and Barney is very narcissistic and pretentious. But still, I had never seen anything so relentlessly full of ideas, nearly all carried off brilliantly. Plus, he's a master of production design, costume design, art direction, makeup, and pretty much whatever else you've got (with the possible exception of cinematography, which isn't bad so much as it is utilitarian).

After his successfully weird and Barney-ish short in Destricted, a portmanteau of erotic films that premiered at Sundance, I finally caught up with his first feature-length film since the Cremaster Cycle, Drawing Restraint 9, which is Cremaster-like in its more or less lack of plot in favor of focusing on the visual aspects of film as a medium. Except that this time, much like my problems with Cremasters 2 and 5, the whole mess is unengaging and kind of disappointing. When dealing with movies like this (I'd like to call it an experimental film, but that doesn't seem quite right; it's more of a mainstream experimental than a hard-edged experimental-think Koyaanisqatsi or Begotten and you're getting close, or maybe if Guy Maddin and Carlos Reygadas collaborated on a non-narrative film) it can get sort of hard to describe why you like one and not the other, short of saying that you simply didn't react to it, which is the case with me here. Barney's longtime partner Björk (I could have sworn that they are married, but I can't seem to corroborate this fact on the Internet; regardless, they have a kid together) joins Barney in the duties of the film's equivalent to a main character. I love Björk, but both her screen presence and most of the music she made for the film leaves something to be desired. Barney is a more apt subject for his opuses of gaudiness, perhaps due to his seemingly unflagging interest in himself. But Björk dominates the screentime, so perhaps this is why the film didn't work for me in the way that I wanted it to.

Drawing Restraint 9 is just shy of two and a half hours long; somewhere around the two-hour mark it started to turn around, and Barney again nailed the weirdness and visual grandeur that he achieved in the better Cremaster installments. In fact, I'd put the last 30 to 45 minutes of 9 up in the tier of the best work that Barney has ever done; it's just a shame that you have to wade through two hours of a film that doesn't really work before you get to it.

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