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Drawing Restraint 9

Posted by martinteller on June 11, 2013

Multimedia artist Matthew Barney certainly has a flair for arresting images.  The visual spectacle on display here is… well, spectacular.  It’s consistently a feast for the eyes (and the ears, thanks to Bjork’s unusual score) as Barney plays with Shinto rituals and iconography in the form of a repeated symbol of his own design, an oval shape with a bar across it.  Compositions are clean and balanced, and there is a sense of poetry to the movement and editing.  The “climax” involves some genuinely disturbing interaction between Bjork and Barney.  Despite the knowledge that it obviously involves special effects, the visceral effect is still unsettling.

The content, on the other hand, is a lot of incomprehensible claptrap.  The film — and the mysterious symbol, which is throughout the film being constructed out of petroleum jelly and ambergris on the deck of a Japanese whaling vessel — is supposedly about the restrictions one imposes on oneself in art.  With that in mind, parts of the movie make some kind of sense, but you wouldn’t guess it from the work itself.  However, the film is only one part of a series of art pieces (hence the “9”) so it probably means a lot more in context.

Definitely wouldn’t recommend this to most people.  It’s the type of movie that makes you want to call it “pretentious” (indeed, many critics have).  I try to avoid using that word, but it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to anyone but Matthew Barney.  Still, it’s visually compelling and there’s a feeling of wanting to see what will come next.  Rating: Fair (67)

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