IT'D BE EASIER if Matthew Barney's films came with a short set of notes. While his oblique, personal symbolism doesn't necessarily make sense once you know about it, it at least gives you something to attach to the still-mysterious forms that appear and reappear throughout his work. In this particular movie (second in a series of five, but shot out of sequence, so that this is actually the fourth he's made), the key symbols relate to bees. It'll take me a second to explain why.

The movie loosely wraps itself around the life of the murderer Gary Gilmore, as depicted in Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song. Gilmore was raised by a couple of weird Mormons -- if that's not a redundancy -- and went on to become famous for killing some people and then resisting efforts made to save his life before finally dying in front of a firing squad (his chosen method of execution). He's here in this movie because of a story, probably untrue, that Gilmore's father was conceived out of wedlock by Harry Houdini (played in this film by Norman Mailer!). Houdini, the great escape artist, is interesting to Barney as a trickster figure and as a stand-in for Barney. This may or may not relate to the theme of Barney's series, which is titled after the muscle which regulates the height of the scrotum, primarily in response to cold. Why bees? Well, the beehive is a central symbol of the Church of Mormon.

All clear? Of course not. This is supposed to be art, not a philosophical treatise. Best to have some of this information in mind, but then to let Barney's beautiful images (photographed on high-definition video by Peter Strietmann) work on you. This movie is largely set in the American West and combines stunning, slow-moving images of glaciers, mountain lakes, and the Bonneville Salt Flats with gorgeously overdesigned interiors, including a computer generated invocation of the Mormon Tabernacle, choir and all. If that's not reason enough to go, an interlude where Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo plays an extended drum solo accompanied by 20,000 bees should surely appeal to anybody.

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