Drawing Restraint 9

Drawing Restraint 9

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Drawing Restraint


            Werner Herzog once said that even in its short history, film is already running out of images. Matthew Barney, while not necessarily giving us typical dramas, is at least giving us things we haven’t seen anywhere before.

I know little about Shinto marriage rights and the intricate traditions involved with Japanese whaling, so I’ll have to take Matthew Barney’s word for it when he insists in his strange performance art piece Drawing Restraint 9 that they are strongly connected. And that they have a lot to do with his 25-ton petroleum jelly sculpture that he is building on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, a super-secret real-life Japanese whaling ship. Matthew Barney, for those not in the know, is an ex-model who has spent most of his life becoming the country’s premiere “pretentious artitse,” proven by his epic and insanely compelling five-film Cremaster cycle. The cycle, to give a brief rundown, involved his favorite things: petroleum jelly, freemasonry, ancient Irish myths, murderer Gary Gilmour, Houdini, opera, architecture, and the onerous struggle one must go through to create. Barney is also the boyfriend of wacky Icelandic pop imp Björk, who is now collaborating with him on his projects. Drawing Restraint (only the second in the series, despite the 9) is not as compelling as Barney’s Cremaster cycle, and, oddly, not as original (I’ll explain in a bit), and in some bits excruciatingly slow and oblique, but it still does heap us with some of those much-needed images Herzog referred to.


The film starts with a beautiful and elaborate wrapping ritual. Björk’s otherworldly music floats in the air. There’s a parade onto the Nisshin Maru, the petroleum jelly is shunted into a big mould. Barney and Björk arrive and are dressed in heavy fur costumes that resemble the Shinto marriage outfits. The petroleum hardens. There’s a large coral log floating in the sea and pearl divers examine it; It’s eventually hauled out of the sea. There’s a tea ceremony (the only scene in which we’re treated to spoken dialogue), in which the history of the ship is explained to us. Then the ship begins to fill with water, and Barney and Björk painlessly carve large strips of flesh off of one another’s legs. Then they become whales.


The Cremaster cycle was so large and combined such new ideas with such odd sources that it became something that was patently Barney’s; his created something that was truly vital and original. By relying so heavily on Japanese culture in Drawing Restraint 9, Barney seems to be taking steps away from himself. Oddly, by making the images more familiar, he has taken away what made them interesting. It’s still too interesting to pass up, though.

 -April 21st, IFC Films

Published in: on March 29, 2008 at 1:32 am  Leave a Comment  

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