Cremaster 4 Synopsis
Cremaster 4 (42 min, 1994) was, in fact, the first installment that Barney filmed. It was produced on a shoestring budget of $200,000 (largely paid for by London arts organization Artangel, New York dealer Barbara Gladstone, and the Foundation Cartier in Paris). The film is set on the Isle of Man -- an small island (about three times the size of Washington, D.C.) in the sea between Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales. The film incorporates imagery from the island’s folklore, wildlife, and annual Tourist Trophy motorcycle race. Biologically, Cremaster 4 deals with the organism’s desire to return to a state of neutral gender as its male identity is formed.
Cremaster 4, like other films in the series, has a circular structure and begins and ends in the same location: in this case a white padded building erected on Queen’s Pier, which juts far into the Irish Sea. The building has a white Cremaster field emblem painted on the roof. Inside the building, the Loughton Candidate combs his bright red hair in a mirror.
The Loughton Candidate is the central character in Cremaster 4. He is the descendent of a Manx satyr named Phynnodderree and wears an Edwardian suit with a Manx heather corsage. As he combs his hair, we see that he has four impacted sockets on his scalp. These will potentially grow into the horns of the Loughton Ram, a species native to the Isle of Man. The Loughton Ram has two sets of horns -- one pair rises upwards, the other grows downwards. For Barney, the Ram’s horns symbolize a state of equilibrium, where ascension and descension can coexist together equally.
Meanwhile, two motorcycle sidecar teams (each team is played by two brothers) are preparing for a race around the Isle of Man. The “Ascending” team is outfitted in yellow and will take the clockwise path, beginning in the lowlands and then ascending into the mountain section of the race. The “Descending” team wears blue and takes the opposite path. Both teams bear the insignia of the “Manx Triskelton” (the symbol of the Isle of Man: three legs around a central axis) superimposed over the Cremaster field emblem. Barney employs the Triskelton as a symbol of the three separate possibilities offered by the Loughton Candidate and Ascending and Descending teams.
Inside the building, three fairies attach white plastic tap-dancing “taps” to the bottoms of the Loughton Candidate’s shoes with long pins and place large pearls into his pockets. Each of the three fairies is linked to one team/character (the Loughton Faerie wears its hair in four buns, mirroring the horns of the Loughton Ram/Candidate, the Ascending and Descending Fairie’s wear two buns in corresponding locations). At the start of the film, the faeries are naked and we can see that they have no genitalia (the faeries are played by female bodybuilders, whose physiques are naturally androgynous). In later scenes, the faeries appear wearing yellow or blue to show that they are operating in the zone of the Ascending or Descending Hacks. The faeries’ role is to both assist and mirror the Loughton Candidate and the two sidecar hacks.
The hacks rocket off in opposite directions from the starting line. The film intercuts scenes of the speeding hacks and the Loughton Candidate, who is now tap dancing in front of the faeries inside the white building. The floor begins to wear away underneath his feet, forming a hole that grows gradually larger.
The camera moves in close on the torsos of the motrcycle riders as a pair of testicle-like appendages sprout from slits in their leather jumpsuits. On the Ascending Team, the blobs climb from two waist-level slits towards two openings about seven inches above. On the Descending Team, they drop from the upper slits over the rider’s body and towards the back of the sidecar. The Ascending Team hits a flooded stretch of road and is forced to take a detour.
On the pier, the Loughton Candidate taps through the floor and falls into the sea below (symbolizing the moment of genital descent/division in the organism, this moment also refers to the “escapes” of Harry Houdini and the Queen’s Magician in Cremaster 5). At the same moment, the Ascending Hack collides with a stone wall (the front rider’s helmet appears to be filled with Vaseline as it hits the wall and rolls across the grass) and the Descending Hack pulls off of the road for a pit stop where the faeries have marked the road with a field emblem. The faeries (wearing blue jumpsuits) tend to the Descending Hack, propping it up with a phallic hydraulic jack and white plastic wedges. They remove one wheel and replace it with a flesh-colored tire outfitted with a set of testicles. The Descending Hack has attained masculinity but it cannot drive with testicles hanging from its wheel.
While the Loughton Candidate walks underwater towards the Isle of Man, the three faeries (wearing yellow hoop dresses) are shown picnicing atop a bluff. Their picnic, bowls of large tapioca pearls, is spread out on a yellow athletic mat. A gust of wind blows their picnic away and they unfasten the hoops from their skirts. The faeries thenplay a game of football that is a symbolic representation of the struggles of the two hacks and the Candidate (the pattern they run is called the “triple option”) using the hydraulic jack in place of the football.
When the Loughton Candidate reaches land, he begins to tunnel towards the interior of the Isle of Man. At first the tunnel is fairly wide and appears to be filled with large granules of tapioca. Eventually, the tapioca is replaced by Vaseline, which makes the Loughton Candidates Journey more difficult. As he makes his way towards the finish line of the race, the tunnel grows narrower and sprouts soft protusions.
The faeries remove the pink wheel from the Descending Hack and replace it with a functional rubber tire. At the same moment, both teams resume their race towards the finish line.
Inside the tunnel, the Loughton Candidate has become covered in Vaseline but has almost reached the finish line. He lights a Zippo and reaches his hand up, where it breaks through the ground at the foot of a cliff. The picnicing faeries ring bells to direct the Loughton Candidate towards them. He continues through the soft tunnel and can hear the engines of the Hacks approaching him. Marking the finish line is a Loughton Ram with yellow and blue ribbons woven around its horns and its wool dyed red (like the hair of the Loughton Candidate and the faeries). It appears that all three teams will reach the finish line at the same moment, resulting in a horrific collision. However, the screen fades to white just before the moment of impact.
For its conclusion, the film returns to the building on Queen’s Pier. The Ascending and Descending hacks (showing no sign of a collision) are parked on a green ramp which extends from the interior of the building. A white curtain opens to show a pair of testicles suspended in Vaseline. Metal claws marked with the triskelton pull at blue and yellow cords that pierce the scrotum, freeing the testes.
Finally, we see the hacks framed between a pair of spread legs, presumably those of the Loughton Candidate. His crotch bears a semi-formed scrotum. One end of a cluster of long wires is clipped to the scrotum, the other attached to the backs of the revving hacks. Although it is implied that the hacks are about to drive off and stretch the scrotum out, the film closes leaving the final release of the testes for Cremaster 5.