Drawing Restraint 9
I realize that I’m wandering in to some extremely pretentious, almost inconsequential film territory, but I can’t keep myself away from Matthew Barney’s work. Especially when it involves my first favorite Icelandic singer, Bjork, who proved her acting prowess with Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. Which made his 2005 project, Drawing Restraint 9, almost irresistible to me (he directed, produced, wrote, and starred). What made it more intriguing, is that although the feature length film is part of a massive exhibition including scultpures, paintings, and photographs, the fact that it was allowed to be picked up by IFC for minimal distribution in a few north American markets allowed the film to be judged as a stand-alone movie. I’m guessing a private investor owns the distribution rights to DR9 because a DVD version has never been released and doesn’t seem likely.
The project was commissioned by a museum in Japan. And the story mostly takes place on a whaling vessel. It’s an unconventional love story between two Occidental Guests (Bjork, and Barney). Two stories take place simultaneously on the whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru on it’s annual trip to the antarctic. The first story concerns the construction of a large ‘field’ symbol (representating restraint, conflict, and atheleticism) made up of 25 tons of petroleum jelly by the crew of the Missin Maru on the deck. The second involves and intricate wedding ceremony on the lower decks that involves aspects of the Shinto religions and the history of whaling.
Bjork composed the entire soundtrack, and has been released under the title ‘Drawing Restraint 9.’ It’s a strange and mildly inaccessible album, with tracks ranging from the eerie, to lyrics based on real letters to Japanese government officials concerned with a past moratorium on whaling, to a track celebrating the hyperventilation practices of pearl divers.
The film culminates with the two stories reaching a breaking point. On top, the ‘field’ symbol is broken to represent removing the unnecessary restraint individuals put upon themselves in the creative process. The center is removed and replaced with a strip of ambergris (nearly fossilized whale vomit). Between the two Occidental Guests, the wedding ceremony is complete. While their chamber fills quickly with petroleum jelly, the two lovingly, and passionately start stripping away the lower limbs of each other, until, it seems, they’ve morphed from land mammals into sea mammals.
If you’re still reading, I completely sympathize with the urge to write this off as out-of-control, irrelevant post-modern bullshit. I felt the same way at first when I started discovering Matthew Barney. One who’s fame has both boosted his career, as well as breeding a huge number of naysayers. I will admit that a huge amount of the symbolism and significance of this film has escaped me. But I can offer this in an arguement for Drawing Restraint 9. I’ve only seen two of Barney’s other films, and DR9 marks a turn in his work. There’s a certain spiritual aspect that was lacking in The Cremaster Cycle which focused on, well, I haven’t made the effort to crack what the hell that was about. DR9 is more meditative, and thought-consuming. Second, everything in the film would have been lost on me if I hadn’t seen the documentary Matthew Barney: No Restraint shortly before hand. The doc follows Barney mostly as he produces this film. If anyone can take these lofty, artistic ideas, and bring them down to an understandable level for the layman, it’s Barney himself. As a precursor, the documentary made Drawing Restraint 9 into an entertaining (even if it still is an exercise in patience), and thought-provoking piece that I won’t soon forget.
The trailer is posted below if you want to get a brief look into Barney’s weird-ass world.