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There are absolutely no boundaries on his art

`Matthew Barney: No Restraint' provides insight into the artist's unconventional work.

February 14, 2007|Robert Abele | Special to The Times

The notion of a movie capturing an artist at work might immediately conjure up images of something confined to a paint-splattered studio: a chamber documentary of sorts. When the subject is boundary-bursting Matthew Barney, however -- whose work comprises sculpture, film, painting and seemingly every possible medium -- you might just find yourself on a Japanese whaling vessel for weeks, as director Alison Chernick did for "Matthew Barney: No Restraint."

Her film documents the creation of Barney's 2005 film project "Drawing Restraint 9," part of his ever-evolving series on aesthetic constrictions.

If Barney's process-oriented, fantasy-laden work (which includes the epic, colorfully strange "Cremaster" film cycle) screams "confounding" or "inaccessible," Chernick's film has a recognizable making-of structure: an Ahab-bearded but still model-handsome Barney directing Japanese men in the pouring of 40,000 pounds of petroleum jelly into a mold; the soft-spoken Barney discussing the aspects of Japanese culture and ritual he wants to honor in the film (and, of course, tweak); and Icelandic pop idol Bjork, Barney's wife and costar, explaining how her music will mesh with his vision.

There are also art-world talking heads who give an overview of the Idaho native's meteoric rise after graduating from Yale, clips of earlier work and even footage of high school quarterback Barney arcing a beautifully spiraling pigskin into a receiver's arms, as if to say, yes, there was even art in his athleticism.

In other words, this is hardly a probing look at a sometimes controversial artist -- Barney has the mild-mannered air of a conflict-free soul, anyway -- but perhaps this movie's intended audience is the Barney follower seeking a little clarity about the bold, unusual parade of symbols in his art.

To that end, there are rewards. But the overall effect is of an attractive catalog one might flip through after an exhibition, which may explain why the Cinematheque has also scheduled a few showings of the 135-minute "Drawing Restraint 9" throughout the run of "No Restraint."


"Matthew Barney: No Restraint." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes. With "Drawing Restraint 9." (2 hours, 15 minutes) Today through Sunday, exclusively at the American Cinematheque, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-3456.

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