Cremaster Cycle Synopsis
The Cremaster Cycle is a series of five films directed by artist Matthew Barney, with a total running time of just under seven hours. Biologically, the cremaster is a muscle that raises and lowers the testicles. Barney uses the descension of the cremaster muscle as a symbol for the onset of male gender (which appears about nine weeks after a fetus is conceived). The five films progress from a state of undifferentiated gender (a fully ascended cremaster muscle, represented by the floating Goodyear Blimps and other symbols), through the organism’s struggle to resist gender definition, to the inevitable point where maleness can no longer be denied (complete descension of the cremaster and release of the testes).
Matthew Barney directed all five films and appears as an actor in all but Cremaster 1. The Cycle was conceived of as a five-part epic - an early drawing shows a bagpipe-like form with pipes emerging in five different locations:Bronco Stadium, White Sands / Columbia Ice Field, The Chrysler Building, Ireland, and Bath House/Istanbul. Over the course of the project, Ireland became the Isle of Man, Istanbul was changed to Budapest, and other details were adjusted. Barney also creates photographs and sculpture (he considers himself to be a sculptor, not a filmmaker) that reference and expand upon the themes of the Cremaster films.
The films were shot and released out of order; Barney first filmed Cremaster 4 (1994), then Cremaster 1 (1995), Cremaster 5 (1997), Cremaster 2 (1999), and finally ended in the middle with Cremaster 3 (2002). The films frequently reference one another, but each film follows a different set of characters (although Gary Gilmore and Houdini appear in multiple films). Barney has stated that the films not only trace the formation of sexual definition, but also the creative process of the artist: Cremaster 1 is the spark of an idea, Cremaster 2 is the rejection of the idea, Cremaster 3 is the artist falling in love with the idea, Cremaster 4 is panic at the knowlege that the idea is about to come to fruition, and Cremaster 5 is the final resolution.
The films also contain many references to Barney’s own biography, and he has said that taken together the films can be viewed as a self portrait. Cremaster 1 is shot at Bronco Stadium in Boise, where Barney played high school football, Cremaster 2 is set in a nuber of locations Barney visited as a boy, and Cremaster 3 takes place in New York, where Barney currently resides.
Matthew Barney’s filmmaking is abstract and there is little dialog in the Cremaster Cycle. The films communicate in a highly-symbolic language and the storylines can be hard to follow on the first viewing. You can read one poor movie critic’s attempt to decode the films here. With this in mind, CremasterFanatic.com presents a guide to the films of the Cremaster Cycle. Click on any of the links to the left for more information.