Review: Matthew Barney: No Restraint

This static primer on Matthew Barney’s work amounts to little more than an intermittently illuminating DVD extra.

Matthew Barney: No Restraint
Photo: IFC Films

Consider Alison Chernick’s Matthew Barney: No Restraint skimpy Cliff’s Notes for both the eponymous Vaseline-loving sculptor-filmmaker’s career and, specifically, his most recent act of cinematic self-infatuation, Drawing Restraint 9. Charting the production of that film aboard Japanese whaling ship the Nisshin Maru, Chernick’s documentary is a slight, idolizing affair, full of prominent talking heads (including his benefactor Barbara Gladstone, girlfriend and collaborator Björk, and New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman) and unrewarding footage of the artist watching gallons of petroleum jelly pour into an enormous molding tank not once, but twice (first in his Brooklyn workspace, later on the Nisshin Maru’s deck). Barney and his admirers repeatedly explain the guiding principles behind the Drawing Restraint series, which—influenced by his participation in high school and Yale athletics—involves the placement of obstacles in the creative path, with the triumph over these manufactured interferences supposedly enhancing the final product. Yet since a film like Drawing Restraint 9 is interesting less for its thematic profundity or complexity than for its disturbing, art installation-style production design, the clarification of such underlying objectives proves less invigorating than deflating. Barney remains front and center throughout but, even when directly addressing the camera, comes off as strangely detached from this portrait, his mind seemingly less immersed in biographical exposition than his beloved tubs of congealing gelatinous goo. Shots of Nisshin Maru’s crewmembers partaking in synchronized morning exercise routines are Chernick’s valiant attempts to mirror her subject’s preoccupation with ritual. Still, for a mainline view into Barney’s twisted, highly personal, and indulgent psychosexual spectacles, one need look no further than his five-part “Cremaster Cycle.” This static primer on the artist’s work, meanwhile, amounts to little more than an intermittently illuminating DVD extra.

 Cast: Matthew Barney, Björk, Barbara Gladstone, Michael Kimmelman  Director: Alison Chernick  Distributor: IFC First Take  Running Time: 72 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2005  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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