The Cremaster Cycle


Don’t let anyone tell you that I don’t work hard for this site. On the 24th of July 2004 I went along and saw the ENTIRE Cremaster Cycle just so my fellow Hooplarians would be well informed about Matthew Barney’s epic sequence.


“But Stuart”, I hear you say, “don’t you annually go to the 24 hour marathons at the Westgarth”? Yes that is true, but they are normal films I’m watching, not The Cremaster Cycle.

For those who don’t know, Matthew Barney has made five weird and wonderful films over the course of eight years. The films were made out of sequence, have almost no dialogue, and the only thing linking them seems to be some white gooey stuff that keeps appearing.

At best, these films are astounding visions, at worst painfully boring and arty film student movies. To view these films in narrative order can be quite annoying, mainly because Cremaster 1 and 4 are quite boring to say the least, whereas 2, 3 and 5 are at times superb.

There is a strange visual style to these films that features an almost complete lack of cinematographic techniques. Barney (and/or his cinematographers) seem to love a good slow zoom. Later on he seems to have a thing for those slow tracking shots, but that’s about it. I could have done with some astounding cinematography to go with the physical creations we were witnessing. At times it is like watching avant-garde theatre rather than film.

These films also had the potential to be beautiful works of art, but they rarely attain this. They are often poorly lit and filled with ugly, washed out colours. I imagine this was the intention, but all the same it was a shame to witness moments that hinted at incredible beauty which they never attained. It’s a pity because the stills they produced at the same time (many of which you see on this page) are much more beautiful than the product itself.

I know I have a strict policy of no spoilers here at, but I’m not really wrecking anything for you here since there is very little in the way of coherent plot in these films. I jotted some notes down on my phone in the cinema after each film, so here’s a quick rundown just to give you an idea of how weird Mr Barney is:

Cremaster 1 (1995) Answering the age old question: how does one pull grapes through a tablecloth?

Cremaster 2 (1999) Featuring Dave Lombardo on drums and a whole lotta bees.

Cremaster 3 (2002) The Freemasons built the Chrysler Building (maybe?). And a bar tender has some trouble pouring Guinness.

Cremaster 4 (1994) I think I was just subjected to a close up of a scrotum…

Cremaster 5 (1997) Pigeon Castration: The Opera.

Hmm, yes… you see what I mean?

Don’t get me wrong people, this is cinema history in the making, but it’s also a little fucked up.

Barney himself appears in 3, 4 and 5 (and maybe 2, I can’t remember) and is certainly suffering for his art. You gotta respect the determination and focus this guy has sustained over eight years.

You remember watching the last 25 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where you spent most of your time going ‘ooh, pretty!… uhuh… okay… huh?… what the?’ Well that’s what most of The Cremaster Cycle is like, except you occasionally go ‘eeew gross!’ as well.

The best way to describe (and maybe even understand) these films is to realise that they are following the logic of dreams. Once I realised that these are the kind of strange things one may dream about, I was a lot more satisfied. There are occasionally horrific moments, and occasionally disgusting ones (he does seem a little obsessed with the ano-genital region), but this is a sequence of films that certainly amazes.

I don’t think I’ll review each film separately, except to say that 2, 5 and especially 3 are astounding and worth a watch, and 1 and 4 are only for the diehard fans (or the extremely perseverant – i.e. me).

It should be noted at this point that the cremaster muscle controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli – gee, you really want to see these films now, don’t you?

Overall this is an incredible sequence, if a little hard to watch.

Rating: 4 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 27th July 2004
Hoopla Factor: 3 stars

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