By Jon Courtney
Screenings Programmer, SPACE Gallery
I won’t pretend that I’ve actually seen Matthew Barney’s entire Cremaster Cycle, relatively few people have, but that’s largely why SPACE Gallery has been excited to work with the Portland Museum of Art to bring The Cycle to Portland. Outside of a run at Boston’s Kendall Square Cinema this past summer, this will be only the second screening of the The Cycle in New England. Distributors claim the films will never be made available for mass home video distribution to preserve their artistic value (a 30-minute excerpt from Cremaster 3, filmed in the Guggenheim Museum, was released under the title The Order and 20 limited sets of DVDs in original packaging were sold at $100,000+ prices.) The screenings at the PMA will be a rare, yet comparatively affordable way of accessing the work.
Over nine years in the making, spanning from 1994 to 2002, the five Cremaster films have gained a near-cult status and vaulted Barney from former high school football player and male clothing model to art world icon. If you search for reviews of the films, you’ll find opinions that range from dismissive charges of self-indulgence to high praise that ranks the films among the most ambitious and creative exercises in the history of avant garde film. Barney claims his opus is meant to be seen as part of a sculptural practice which exists outside the films in a body of sculpture, books, installations, and musical compositions. Appearances by author Norman Mailer, sculptor Richard Serra, Bond girl Ursula Andress, and paraplegic athlete Aimee Mullins as well as references to Henry Houdini, the freemasons, Gary Gilmore, and a host of other characters, locations and visual symbols are woven into Barney’s epic. I’ll say from having seen Cremaster 5 several years ago in New York and The Order that Barney may employ the best portrayal of dream logic on celluloid as any contemporary director outside of possibly David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky.
If you’d like to read more from people who have seen the Cycle, I’ll refer you to a pair of complementary reviews in The Portland Phoenix by Annie Larmon and Christopher Gray. There’s a trailer from I Die Daily , a documentary about the making of The Cremaster Cycle which will give you a taste of the visual scope of The Cycle and some of Barney’s thoughts about the inspirations for the films. Likewise, exploring The Cremaster Cycle website also yields synopses, stills, and video trailers for the exploring. It’s unlikely that The Cremaster Cycle will screen again in the area any time soon, if you’re curious, you may want to catch the first block of films, Cremaster 1 & 2 on Thursday night and see if they appeal to you. If so, there will be options to see the rest of the Cycle on Friday and Saturday evenings or on Sunday. Those who are committed in their resolve to see the nearly seven-hour full Cycle (as it is likely best intended) may want to opt for a hearty brunch and some stretching before settling in for the 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday run. At $20 for a five-film pass, this may be one of the most affordable opportunities to access this storied work of art. In a synchronistic twist, Sunday also happens to be the birthday of Barney’s wife Björk, the eccentric Icelandic singer, so we’ll be featuring her music during film breaks that day.
The Cremaster Cycle will run Thursday, November 18 through Sunday, November 21 at Movies at the Museum. Click here to purchase tickets.