So, I went to see Drawing Restraint 9 last night. Devo and a friend of his named Alex joined me unexpectedly, and we went downtown to encounter not only a long line but a number of folks I knew, including Kate, Jay and Laura, and Aki, the Reed Digital/Photo professor.
Luckily, the line wasn't so long to prevent our entrance, and we went in to get fairly good seats in the second row of the balcony, accidentally just behind Aki. I was glad he was there, because being Japanese gives him a more in tune view of the film, and being aware of and proficient in art dialogue made him a good conversation partner afterwards.
The nature of spoiler in this film isn't like others, since it's not a plot driven film, but if you like taking things on their own terms instead of having the analysis of others hanging overhead, don't read this.
So, the film was a definite continuation of Barney's previous work. He hasn't abandoned the cremaster symbolism, whether this film is technically linked to them or not, and it seems perhaps he may even be a bit stuck. However, Barney pulls off what seems a positive addition to his Cremaster cycle, by adding not only another bit of cultural tourism to his body of work, but by making what seems to be a love story that is in fact not that at all. Instead, it seems Barney has cleverly disguised a work on cultural interchange and regurgitation as a love story. He compares the breakdown of cultural divisions to that of the division between the fabricator and the progenitor, the new west and the old west, and the relationship between man and woman set against the differing view of the east as played by Japan as the West's most developed addition to the fold (which he claims still maintains its differentiation through a reverence for the cycle of birth and decay). The film moves in a long arc from fine and dainty historical reference through the process of fabrication to the breakdown of symbolism such that it becomes impossible for the ship to moor? I am still processing, which is what makes the film successful. Barney keeps his imagery on the cusp of accessibility such that it is as much a statement as a puzzle that puts the audience inside the process he addresses. The distance between the fabricator and the consumer which takes place inside the film also takes place between the film and the viewer.
Aki seemed concerned about the appropriation of traditional symbolism, but acknowledged it as such, and thus granted it the same kind of leeway as I. He said the tea ceremony seemed fake: the cups, the set, etc. I think this might be an important aspect of what Barney is doing. His appropriation of cultural mythology seems to mimic his appropriation of the fabrications of his factory. The distance between them seems to be reflected by his recurrent symbol of division between parts. In this, the removal and replacement of the center strip with the regurgitation represents the concentrated effor of this film. And, while the tea ceremony and Barney and Bjork's performances are stilted and regrgitated, this is informed by the slow and culturally created fabrication process which preceeds, just as is said. Their lines aren't well delivered, but I'm not sure they're supposed to be.
One of the things which Barney forces is the taking of his work at face value. In order to get anything from it instead of purely feeling left out, one has to accept his world and attempt to make sense of it instead of casting it off as nonsense. I found the film compelling and intriguing. No, it's not a straightforward analytical dialog. No, it's not an academic text, and if you're looking for some kind of manifesto you're in the wrong place. Barney presents an attempt to merge a multitude of artistic endeavors, and chooses his subject matter accordingly. The struggle, the transition, and the process of changing information is very informed by what is essentially an attempt to mesh performance and film. His performance art is not a lecture. It is an attempt to physicalize and symbolically represent confounding relationships, and in this he is successful.
I can't say it's the most amazing film ever, but I still applaud his attempt at moving film in a different and diffident direction. As a way to spend ~2.5 hours, I can't say I have any real complaints, and really, I recommend it.