THE CREMASTER CYCLE Rating: NNNN
Matthew Barney makes art museum films on Hollywood budgets. He's likely the most important American artist of the past decade. He used to be a quarterback. With a pedigree like that, Cinematheque Ontario's launch of all five of Barney's Cremaster films counts as the film and art event of the year.
The cremaster is the muscle that controls the raising and lowering of the testicles. In 1994 Barney began the series - Cremaster 4, then 1, then 5, then 2 and finally 3 - that would use that bit of biology to launch a far-flung series of spooky-euphoric films.
Building his own symbolic system from scraps of psychobiology, European myth and American junk culture, Barney orchestrates a procession of sometimes startling images. Transformed bodies and unknown rituals feature killers, satyrs and cheerleaders.
Barney's films thrill thanks to his epic scale, bizarre imagination and unique soft-macho approach. They're also just a little ridiculous. Each Cremaster film moves to a commercial run at the Carlton after its Cinematheque screening. (April 23-May 2 at Cinematheque Ontario; from April 30 at the Carlton)