Thursday, March 30, 2006

Interesting Movie?

As I seem to be the only person reading this blog lately I might as well use it as a scrapbook holder of stuff in the arts I want to follow up on. This from the NYTs yesterday reminds me how much I'd like to go home to San Francisco to visit this summer...

March 29, 2006

'Drawing Restraint 9,' a Film Steeped in Ritual, With Whales and a Wedding

Near the end of Matthew Barney's visually spellbinding film "Drawing Restraint 9," a work that might be described as his "Moby-Dick," the voice of his co-star, Bjork, repeats a life-affirming motto in broken musical phrases: "From the moment of commitment, nature conspires to help you."

Those are some of the few words heard in this stately, ritualistic film, which takes place mostly on the Nisshin Maru, a Japanese whaling ship afloat in Nagasaki Bay. The ship looms as a metaphor both for a whale and for Japan. "Drawing Restraint 9" is steeped not only in Japanese seafaring lore but also in centuries-old Japanese ritual, which is compared in the film's earliest scenes with more frivolous examples of contemporary pageantry. Frivolous or not, all human activity in the film is informed by a ceremonial formality, and no task is undertaken casually.

A good part of the film follows Mr. Barney and Bjork, who are welcomed aboard the ship as Occidental guests and undergo elaborate preparations for a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony. Their union, however ecstatic, quickly leads to a solemn, stylized Liebestod that embodies the film's depiction of life as a series of passages in a relentless cycle of creation and destruction.

These scenes infuse "Drawing Restraint 9" with an overt spiritual dimension that is a new element in Mr. Barney's work. If that spirituality is an outgrowth of his relationship with Bjork, it is a welcome addition in an oeuvre whose obsession with athleticism, competition and fertility rites has sometimes taken on fascistic overtones. Bjork's chant encapsulates the film's call for human beings to recognize, revere and surrender to the principle of change.

Like Mr. Barney's "Cremaster Cycle," "Drawing Restraint 9" is a cinematic component of a larger exhibition, opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on June 23, that will embrace videos, sculptures, drawings and photographs. The complexities of such a multimedia work will perhaps be best scrutinized by art critics and historians. But the theatrical release of "Drawing Restraint 9" as a feature film now invites its contemplation as a stand-alone movie. And as a mostly nonverbal series of interconnected images with a soundtrack composed by Bjork, "Drawing Restraint 9" represents a significant advance from "The Cremaster Cycle." The uninitiated viewer can admire it simply for the majesty of its visual poetry.

Its rhythms are solemn but never static; the color glowing; the largely ambient score evocative. Even the most enigmatic images, shot from many different angles, are arresting. The camera repeatedly returns to the deck of Nisshin Maru, where sailors in a choreographed assembly line fill a mold with 25 tons of hot petroleum jelly that hardens to resemble a giant hunk of cheese that is later sliced. Vaseline has been a constant (and, to my mind, witty) symbol in Mr. Barney's work. For all the solemnity surrounding the preparation of this mutable sculpture, it lends "Drawing Restraint 9" an undertone of zany humor.

Everything that happens on deck is reflected in what happens below. After the wedding ceremony, Mr. Barney and Bjork cling together while a thunderstorm gathers. As the ship is tossed on the water, liquid petroleum jelly begins to leak into their cabin. As the newlyweds, still completely in each other's thrall, become immersed, they pull out flensing knives and slice away pieces of each other's lower bodies, which mutate into creatures with whale-like tails. The storm subsides, the sculpture is reassembled, and the ship is last seen among ice floes approaching Antarctica.

That describes just the shell of a film that acquires more layers the more familiar you are with Mr. Barney's work. If his auspicious collaboration with Bjork has little in common with that of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who met on the border of pop music and fine art, there is one fundamental similarity. Bjork infuses Mr. Barney's architectural concepts with emotion in much the same way that Lennon's emotion warmed up and helped popularize Ms. Ono's abstractions.


Blogger Julie Carter said...

Hey, some people are reading. :)


6:07 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

If you like that, you might check out Michel Gondry's collection of rock videos, there are about half-a-dozen Bjork ones on there. They look like what this review makes this movie sound like.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read
Julius Bell (aka Flagman)

11:21 AM  

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