Monday, June 05, 2006

Drawing Restraint 9 (Barney, 2005)

Drawing Restraint 9 picks right up where Drawing Restraint 8 left off, bringing back all the zany characters that you’ve come to know and love.

OK, that’s not true.

Matthew Barney’s latest excursion into film is indeed a sequel of sorts, but not to any other film. Rather, it is a continuation of a series of art installations made earlier in Barney’s career. How many people have actually followed the series up to this point is not known to me, but no matter. Barney’s film, at the very least, works as a stand-alone experience. I can’t imagine that the keys to unlocking this film’s mysteries are somewhere lurking in a pivotal moment of Drawing Restraint 3 for example.

Two people, a man and a woman, visit a Japanese whaling boat, participate in a ritual that seems to draw equally from Eastern religion and - oh I don’t know – Mars, and then consummate their relationship in a rather unorthodox manner that I will not reveal. And that’s about it. What I have just described takes places over the course of 135 minutes, with Barney’s pacing fluctuating between ‘slothful’ and ‘tortoise-like’. To be sure, this insistence on an exaggeratedly slow pace creates a feeling that is distinctly Barney. There is no mistaking his hand at work. I gather that he is shooting for an experience that is meditative and which allows us to consider and digest the imagery that he has to offer us. This is all well and good, except for the fact that Barney doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain by giving us enough to chew on. I do not think I would have minded the pacing if Barney’s visuals were considerably more evocative.

In reviews that I have read, critics have declared that they did not much care to try to decipher Barney’s symbols. Having now seen the film, I find this strange as almost all of them are fairly straightforward abstractions of sexual intercourse. I mean, jeez, how hard do you have to work to interpret long, protruding objects entering holes, canals or otherwise penetrating? Barney repeats the pattern using different objects and occasionally throwing in various fluids for good measure. The problem is not that Barney’s symbols are impenetrable. It is that they are too transparent.

Fortunately, there is the occasional Bjork song to perk things up once in a while and a bathing scene that adds a welcome dose of genuine eroticism. In between, unfortunately, is a lot of stuff that would be a stretch to describe as meditative. Instead, let’s be honest and call it what it is. Filler. I admire Barney. I honestly do. I root for his films because I hope they will open up a path for a cinema that is highly symbolic and which de-emphasizes the textual. Would it really be such a compromise to cut a half hour or so out of the film in order to make it merely ‘ponderous’? I don’t think it makes me a philistine to suggest as much. Together, Barney and Bjork could be quite a team, with her serving both as his Giulietta Masina, but also his Michael Nyman. However, to do so, he will have to repay his patrons’ patience with much more substance than he offers here.



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