Cremaster 4

Cremaster 4 (1995): United States/France/United Kingdom – directed by Matthew Barney

Not rated by the MPAA – contains odd sexual content and artistically presented sexual themes

Cremaster 4 is video art at its most intellectual and strange.  Knowing Matthew Barney’s overall ideas help make this interesting piece more accessible, though it’s difficult to tell how the themes presented here coalesce with the rest of his ideas without seeing the other segments of the Cremaster Cycle.

There are happenings in Cremaster 4, though not much of a plot.  But this is to be expected in a work of art more akin to performance art than the movies.  Two primary sequences unfold; the first involves a satyr creature tap dancing in a room on a pier over the water.  The second is a race between two motorcycles with side cars.

The satyr thing (played by Barney himself) is strange and hideous.  Its nostrils are split open, its hair odd and barely covering the head wounds where it appears horns used to grow.  Its ears are long and pointy.  And it tap dances, around and around on the floor of this room, until finally a hole opens in the floor of the pier he occupies.

He is surrounded by a trio of androgynous people, totally unlovely and yet hyper-sexualized.  They appear to be nude men, but with genitalia tucked away out of sight.  They fawn over the dancing creature, even providing it testicles to place in its pockets.  Eventually the creature falls through to the sea, where it must begin a crawl through a tunnel under the sea floor back to the surface.  The journey is long and difficult, taking place in a sterile white tube with odd polyps and smeared with some sort of bodily fluid.

Simultaneously, a yellow and a blue motorcycle square off against each other.  Each is piloted by a two-man team, and they face various obstacles as they navigate the British countryside.  As the drivers reach higher speeds oblong sacs, appearing to be testicles, slowing creep out of their pockets and climb up their driving suits.  Eventually the two vehicles meet up at the pier alongside the room containing the lumpy and revolting sex symbols.

But this is just what happens in Cremaster 4.  What is intended is another matter, and what is inferred is different still.  Without extensive study of Barney’s themes, I was left to contemplate his appreciation for male sexuality.  References to male sex organs abound, ranging from a three legged, spinning symbol used as a transition to a tire with testicles hanging from it.  There are a number of the androgynous nymphs, some of whom have a picnic on the cliff side while wearing flirty yellow skirts.  There is even a bizarre goat/sheep, sexually ambiguous and very strange in appearance.

There is no dialogue in Cremaster 4, just a soundtrack to accompany the various occurrences.  This entry is around 43 minutes long and rather watchable.  There are no extraordinarily dull or repetitive moments, and the sights are bizarre enough to keep an audience’s interest.  With further insight into Barney’s intentions and schemes, Cremaster 4 would prove to be an interesting piece of avant garde video art.  On its own, out of context, it is still full of interesting symbolism and strange sights.  It is not for everyone, as many will be turned off by the overt sexual imagery and the odd construction.  But remember that this is video art and it becomes clear that deeper thinking may yield some interesting insights.

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