The Cremaster Cycle

July 11-24 at the Varsity. See movie times, page 77.
The hype surrounding the five Cremaster movies makes them out to be important, impenetrable, overly symbolic works of art. Knowing a little bit about them will keep you from feeling totally overwhelmed, but being overwhelmed is part of the experience, so don't worry if you don't feel like you "get it."

Cremaster 1

(1995, 40 minutes)
Set in Boise's Bronco Stadium, where Barney played high-school football, the movie cuts between a field of choreographed dancing girls in Isaac Mizrahi-designed hoop skirts and two Goodyear blimps floating overhead. Inside each of the blimps, a team of hostesses dressed like stewardesses from 1967 (the year Barney was born) alternately look down on the field and at a table where a white Vaseline sculpture (which looks like ovaries atop fallopian tubes) is surrounded by grapes. Under each table is Goodyear (Marti Domination), who pulls grapes through the tablecloth and makes them into patterns on the floor, which directs the choreography of the girls on the field. A joyous romp full of pleasing surfaces, it is without the sense of conflict that informs the rest of the series.

Cremaster 2

(1999, 79 minutes)
The beehive is the symbol of the state of Utah. Harry Houdini is rumored to be the grandfather of Utah's most famous killer, Gary Gilmore. Norman Mailer wrote The Executioner's Song about Gilmore, and Mailer plays Houdini while Barney plays Gilmore. Dave Lombardo, the former drummer of Slayer, has a drum-playing cameo while Steve Tucker of Morbid Angel, covered in swarming bees, barks into a telephone, possibly referring to Johnny Cash's alleged phone call to Gilmore on the night of his execution. The elements of a standard Hollywood drama are filtered through Barney's abstract sensibilities: Before committing his murder at a gas station, Gilmore crawls between two 1966 Mustangs in a semi-organic tube, and the symbolic execution takes place in a rodeo ring built out of tons of salt in the flooded Bonneville Salt Flats.

Cremaster 3

(2002, 182 minutes)
After a prologue with a couple of goofy Celtic giants, the movie shifts to New York in 1930 as the Chrysler Building nears completion. Below the building, the now-female corpse of Gary Gilmore crawls out of the ground and is carried to the back seat of a Chrysler Imperial New Yorker. Five 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperials (each bearing one of the five Cremaster emblems) crush the car into a small hunk of metal in the lobby of the building. Meanwhile, Barney, as "the Entered Apprentice," reenacts a Masonic myth by ascending the tower to kill Hiram Abiff, the Architect (played by venerable minimalist sculptor Richard Serra). Masonic and Irish references abound. After the intermission comes the wonderfully bizarre dental scene, and then the "game show" segment where Barney climbs the ascending levels of the Guggenheim Museum and tries to overcome obstacles that loosely represent the five movies: a chorus of dancing girls, metal bands and their mosh pits, a cheetah woman (played by model, athlete, and double amputee Aimee Mullins), a bagpipe sculpture, and Richard Serra as himself. Ultimately, the movie is about hubris, failure, and the inability of an artist to completely finish a work.

Cremaster 4

(1994, 42 minutes)
Two motorcycles with sidecars race around the Isle of Man in opposite directions, one "ascending," the other "descending." Meanwhile, the Loughton Candidate (a satyr played by Barney) tap dances through the floor of a white room on the end of a pier. He then crawls through a strange underground tunnel and reunites with three androgynous (female) bodybuilders who play the three faeries of the island.

Cremaster 5

(1997, 55 minutes)
In Budapest, the birthplace of Harry Houdini, a magician (played by Barney) attempts an escape routine by jumping shackled into the Danube River. In this five-act opera, Barney also plays a diva who climbs the proscenium arch of the opera house, and a giant wading through the waters of a sprite-infested bathhouse. Ursula Andress, the beauty from Dr. No, plays the Queen of Chain. She observes as the diva collapses, the magician jumps to the bottom of the river, and the testicles of the giant descend (but are also drawn up by ribbons attached to the Queen's Jacobin pigeons). As she dies of grief, a stream of liquid emanates from her mouth, which divides into two droplets that strike the water simultaneously, and the waves that resonate suggest an expiring system or eternal renewal. Either the Cremaster Cycle fails or starts over again. You decide.