Matthew Barney: No Restraint Directed by Alison Chernick
IFC First Take, opens December 20
Matthew Barney is big in Japan, notably so in Matthew Barney: No Restraint, Alison Chernick's documentary companion to Barney's 2005 film Drawing Restraint 9. Not merely an above-average "making-of" DVD extra, Chernick's film traces the creation of Barney's "narrative sculpture" with open curiosity and an alert, amiable eye. As Barney, the venerated athlete cum model cum artist cum bohemian jet-setter, filmed off the coast of Nagasaki on a Japanese whaling vessel with his wife, co-star, and composer, Björk, Chernick plunged into the collaborative goo of the film's gestation; if indeed Barney's work strives to emphasize process over product, No Restraint asserts itself as a vital and illuminating arm of his finished piece. And speaking of goo: If your inner four-year-old has ever longed to make a whale out of 45,000 pounds of Vaseline, Matt Barney's your man. Chernick's footage of the polite but confused Japanese shipmen, enlisted in Barney's unrelentingly wacky shoot and earnestly pouring obscene amounts of liquid petroleum jelly into a huge steel mold (without a titter), speaks volumes about the ritual of deference Barney strove to capture in his film. In an interview, the politely bemused Japanese whaling commissioner admits that despite having no idea who either Barney or "Mrs. Björk" might be, he is happy to accommodate their bizarre requests; who is he to question art? If you, however, are bold enough to do so, Chernick's documentary (and her subject) eloquently trace Barney's inspiration and intention in a way that naturalizes rather than neuters them.