06 May 2007

Drawing Restraint 9

Seriously, it's not that I hate art. But this movie just pissed me right off. I enjoyed the first hour ok, when it seemed to essentially be a pastiche of neat looking things. There was a strong interest in texture and movement that I quite enjoyed. Maybe it's just me - I'm the kind of person who can watch the donut assembly line at Krispy Kreme in rapt fascination for 3 hours. I really like watching machines work. And I'm likewise willing to sit around and watch a big tub get filled up with water. 5 minutes of footage of some mysterious oily substance swirling around? No problem. I think that buried in these lovely shots, there was a kind of reflection on man and machine, contrast and collision. It was kind of like looking at a really incredible photograph, except with movement over time thrown in. I mean, I guess that's what film is, but wow, first time i really thought about it that way. So that was all well and good, though honestly, I could just as well have been watching it in the background of some kind of weird space age type of bar or while lying supine and totally bombed at some swanky artsy party - generally a place where one would be more free to come and go.

But then it shifted focus. Previously, Björk and her husband were occasionally sighted amidst the action, cruising around in boats, dipping their fingers in streams, stomping around in big puffy jackets, whatever. They weren't of much interest in comparison to everything else, but hey, whatever. But then, they became the centerpoint of the movie. They get to the boat - a Japanese whaling ship. The get bathed. Some mysterious dude shaves a stripe down Matthew Barney's head, and removes one of his eyebrows. In one of the most fascinating scenes of the film, Matthew Barney's big bushy beard is shaved off with something that looks sort of like a straight razor, except it's curved and thicker, and wicked sharp. My god it's incredible. The same tool later shaves off Björk's eyebrows. Let me just pause here and say that it turns out that shaved eyebrows _really_ creep me out. There's something distinctly unsettling and eerie about them. I don't like it. Anyhow, they get all cleaned up and decked out in some pretty intense outfits, then they trip on down the hallway in their crazy whalebone shoes and have tea with a japanese guy who tells them a little about the ship. Then they lock themselves in a room that is filling up with some kind of liquid - blood? fat? water? who knows? and start carving fat off each other's bodies and eating it. There's a really big storm. And uh, I think that's basically it? Interspersed with this is a subplot following this big thing on the deck of the ship that is apparently a vaseline sculpture? I dunno. It's kinda neato though. There's also a whale spine. Yeah.

Ok, so while i am totally thrilled to watch machines work for hours, I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit there and watch Björk at her goddamn toilet for 25 minutes. Fuck that. Especially when it's coupled with a godawful yowling soundtrack of her own composition. Sweet christ. I mean, I don't know why really, but the thing is, people just aren't as interesting to me. And it seems to me that they can't be treated in the same way as a tub of water, because in fact, they're not like that at all. What's the point of filming someone sitting silently for 15 minutes? They don't do anything interesting. Flowing water changes, it moves. Björk getting dressed, not so much going on there. I can imagine that it might be interesting to just watch a video of a person who doesnt realize they're being taped and is doing their own thing, whatever, but when you're watching people who seem to be trying their damndest to be sculptures, it gets kind of lame.

You know what ultimately really annoyed me though, was the obnoxious Orientalism of it all. It was like oh wow, those crazy lovely Japanese people and that wacky world they live in. Let's be Occidental tourists and immerse ourselves in their bizarro culture. Blech. It just seemed offensive to me by the end, like a free-for-all fetishization of Otherness.

And what in the hell was the point? The Onion says, "What's it all about? Per Barney's press notes, "its core idea is the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity." Well, maybe. But it works even better as a long, somber, hypnotic, only occasionally dull depiction about how rituals like marriage and impulses like sex change us, and how those changes can be simultaneously scary, liberating, and a little grotesque." Uh, really? Hmmm. I suppose I can see the ritual thing, but it requires a significant supplement from the viewer. I'm not even gonna touch Barney's statement - what a prick. Newsflash buddy - being vague is not the same thing as being profound. Ugh.

At the end of the day, you're better off renting Koyaanisqatsi.

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