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Drawing Restraint 9

Directed by Matthew Barney

Giddily juxtaposed somewhere halfway between pretentious performance piece and legitimate cinema, Matthew Barney - the modern-day minimalist Duchamp (although Barney has replaced Duchamp's dirty urinal with the industrially smooth and spotless, and equal audacity of a phallic universe full of erotic comedy and the ritualistic Orientalism of petrified whale shit and solidified petroleum jelly) - has created a surreal near masterpiece with equal parts uselessness and gorgeousness.

Full of the typical Barney-esque bravura of satyriasis, Drawing Restraint 9 - the long anticipated movie-azation of a decades long sculpture installation - flecks along with a questioned attitude of why and/or what for (a random sampling of comments from the frustrated and somewhat irritated audience members leaving the theatre acts as a sort of Rosetta Stone of the uninitiated and unimaginative) but it is quickly overcome - almost coup d'etat like - by the visual and audible power of art for art's sake. As much as some critics want to toss it off as an unnecessary enigma of a film, I have the overwhelming desire - a satyriasis of my own - to hail the film as a trumpet blowing, Jericho tumbling triumph of over-sensory titillation.

The story - which is far less important in literal terms than in allegory and symbolism - involves an occidental couple (and this is how they are billed in the closing credits) played with a divergent orthodoxy by Barney and real life wife Björk (who also supplys the films jaunty haunty soundtrack), who are invited aboard a Japanese whaling ship for some ill-known reason - that may or may not be revealed by film's end.

Both bizarre and beautiful, Barney's film - full of ritual baths (Björk naked in a pool of water, bobbing for oranges), oyster diving (a Busby Berkeley style cacophony of heavy breathing and far away drumbeats), the creation of a large symbolic mold of petroleum jelly aboard ship (rebirth symbolism perhaps?), Japanophilic parades and meals served with a Cronenbergian palate - insinuates itself as a visual vicissitude of surreal comedia and an erotic transformation from almost Earthly to otherworldly - all wrapped up with the knife-wielding metamorphosotic finale between Barney and Björk, where they both figuratively and literally dine upon each others flesh as if it were sushi.

Unnecessary? Perhaps, but then the beauty of art needs no validation to concrete itself into a necessary reality - for art is its own validation. [04/17/06]

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