Cremaster 5 Synopsis
Cremaster 5 (55 min, 1997) is a five-act opera (sung in Hungarian) set in late-ninteenth century Budapest. The last film in the series, Cremaster 5 represents the moment when the testicles are finally released and sexual differentiation is fully attained. The lamenting tone of the opera suggests that Barney invisions this as a moment of tragedy and loss. The primary character is the Queen of Chain (played by Ursula Andress). Barney, himself, plays three characters who appear in the mind of the Queen: her Diva, Magician, and Giant. The Magician is a stand-in for Harry Houdini, who was born in Budapest in 1874 and appears as a recurring character in the Cremaster cycle.
The film begins with an ominous prelude that presents the three locations where the opera will unfold: the Hungarian State Opera House, the Gellert Baths (envisioned in the film to be underneath the Opera House, although in fact located below a hotel some distance away), and the Lanchid (Chain) Bridge (the first bridge to span the Danube, the Lanchid Bridge joined the then-separate cities of Buda and Pest). During this overture, we see the Queen ascending the staircase of the Hungarian State Opera House followed by her two ushers (who are identical twins). The Queen’s dress is made of a rigid plastic, and Barney had to make a full-body cast of Ursual Andress for the costume designer. Because of the inflexibility of the material, three dresses had to be made: one for standing, one for sitting, and one for the scene at the end when the Queen lies on the ground.
The Queen sits on a flesh-colored throne in the back of the opera house and her ushers arrange seven white Jacobin pigeons around her (the pigeons were provided by Barney’s then-wife Mary Farley, who raised exotic birds). In the Gellert Baths, Fudor Sprites swim underneath a layer of floating pearls. The Magician, dressed in black and riding a black horse, begins to cross the Lanchid Bridge. The Jacobin Pigeons are pulled downwards through oriifices in the throne and flap into the Baths, streaming long satin ribbons behind them.
The curtain rises on the stage and the opera begins. The opera house appears to be empty, except for the Queen, her ushers, and the orchestra. The Queen’s Diva appears appears and lays ribbons across the stage. The Queen, wearing a veil (as does her Diva), sits on her throne and begins to sing. Her Diva begins to climb a vine at the “proscenium” of the stage - the border between the actors and the audience. The Queen’s Ushers sing a duet and remove the Queen’s veil, revealing a crown made of two linked transparent orbs. Her Diva reaches the top of the proscenium and begins to climb along a crossbar high above the stage. The ushers lay ribbons on the stage and unveil the Diva.
The Queen flashes back to memories of the Magician. She remembers kissing him goodbye in the woods and then sees him preparing to dive into the Danube River from the Lanchid Bridge. The magician is naked and places white plastic shackles on his limbs and weighted balls between his toes (referencing the manacled “bridge jumps” performed by Houdini). For the Magician, the jump from the bridge symbolizes transcendence - a chance to go beyond the possibilities offered by mortality - but the queen misunderstands, only seeing that he wants to kill himself.
Back in the Opera House, the ushers uncover an opening in the Queen’s throne so that she can see down into the Gellert Baths. The camera moves under the Quees skirt, showing similarities between the shape of her throne, her crotch, and the baths below. The Queen rises from her throne, revealing a pink lining at the center of her otherwise black gown. Her ushers guider her to the opening in the throne and she looks into the baths.
In the baths, the Giant holds the pigeons. He wades into a trough that connects the two baths (which Barney refers to as the Queen’s perenium - a middle-ground). The Fudor Sprites swim around the Giant and attach the ribbons from the pigeons to his nascent genitals (recalling the cords attached to the Loughton Candidate’s scrotum at the end of Cremaster 4).
After the sprites attatch all of the ribbons, the pigeons fly upwards trailing the ribbons (formerly blue and yellow, now green) and the Giant’s cremaster muscle relaxes, releasing his testicles into the water. At this moment of release, the Magician leaps from the bridge, the Queen swoons from the horror of the memory, and the Diva crashes to the stage, his head smashing into a viscous pink puddle. The Magician, still shackled, lands on a flower bed at the bottom of the river. Two water sprites caress his body and place a black pearl in his mouth (a black pearl was often placed in the mouth of a dead nobleman).
The Queen sings a sorrowful aria, preparing to join her Magician in death. At its completion, the Queen loses consciousness and a small trickle of liquid begins to seep from her mouth. The fluid drips down her chin, along the throne, and finally into the baths below. As the liquid falls, it splits into two two separate streams. Two drops fall from her hem, striking the water at the same time. Circular ripples move out from the droplets, and a later of pearls slowly glides over the surface. Barney leaves it to the viewer to decide whether these ripples signify final death of the organism or rebirth and a return to the possibilities offered by Cremaster 1.