Choke me if I sound too pretentious…

Perhaps those words should have been uttered by Matthew Barney or his female life mate Bjork. I for one really enjoyed the film. Having learned a great deal about Barney’s work when I TAed an Art History class (for which Nick was my student) I had expected something different. I never goes into an avante garde art film expecting to fully enjoy it. As with a lot of Andy Warhol movies; films as exercises in aesthetics are intriguing in concept but dreadful in execution. There are usually moments of beauty and excitement in the first 20 minutes and then 1.5 hours (longer in Warhol’s case) of just going over and over in my head; “When is this going to end?” I have to admit that Drawing Restraint 9 did drag a bit towards the end. But everytime I found myself chanting the “is it over yet?” mantra something else would come on the screen that would recapture my interest.

For me it was amazing to see the use of texture to evoke emotion. I had expected this from Barney but I had expected a far more putrid and violent example of it. The deployment of ooze and the contrast of ooze with stone and hard metal is enjoyable to watch. Since the film is so beautifully shot it almost feels at times that you are watching a series of picture slides, well-composed and with a commanding sense of color.

It’s hard to explain what the movie is “about” per-se because it is not a traditional narrative by any means. There are hardly more than 10 words of dialogue in english or subtitled. But what works so well about the film is its sense of balance. Rituals, strange as they may be are performed and then repeated. There is a kind of balance, a symmetry as actions are repeated in twos. Watching the film it occured to me that it was a visual symphony. There are structured parts that evoke emotion and can be followed for a short time before they die out and give way to a different repetition. There are major themes; the “symbol” which is carried through-out the film… the oval with a line accross it. Also important to any piece of music is the timbre which was the texture of the different materials at play within the film. The interplay of ritual/structure and texture evokes emotion in the same way a string section might differentiate itself from the brass in a symphony performance.

The film had an interesting musical soundtrack in itself as well. Being as though Bjork stars and co-produced the film it isn’t hard to imagine that she would provide the score. I find very often that if I am not forced to I have a very hard time listening to Bjork. This isn’t to say I don’t like her music. I quite enjoyed the diverse, complex and beautiful pieces she prepared for the movie. It’s just that if they were not mirrored but equally bizarre and esoteric visuals and I was not sitting down in a theater locked in one place I doubt very much I woul volunteer to listen to the tracks. Within the film, however, they work beautifully accenting moods and strengthening the textures of the materials within the film.

I have to say that I’d be hard-pressed to want to convince anyone to do as I did and drive up to San Francisco at 10 PM on a work day to see this movie. But if you get a chance to rent it or it comes to a theater near you I would recommend it as an exercise in visual attunation. It’s a kind of thick brew for the visual vocabulary which doesn’t insult the viewer but doesn’t by any means pander to them either. Think of it as going to a photography exhibit in a gallery. You wander around piece to piece, some things appeal to you, others don’t but walking out you feel refreshed at having putting forth the effort to expand your intelligence. Or if not at the very least you can brag to your friends about having seen a Matthew Barney film…

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