Studly art-world charlatan Matthew Barney’s ritualistic, mythology-making esoterica has always played better as gallery installation than projected on a screen, as his seeming ignorance of (noncompliance with?) cinematic language only emphasizes how superficial and wildly self-indulgent his imagery tends to be. But with his hour-long featurette De Lama Lâmina, a hypnotically rhythmic collaboration with Brazilian-guitar wunderkind Arto Lindsay, the key to appreciating the filmic Barney has finally been made as clear as boiled Vaseline: It’s better in tiny doses.
Shot after the completion of The Cremaster Cycle and before Björk’s legs were carved off with a whaling knife in Drawing Restraint 9, De Lama Lâmina (presented at the IFC Center this week with two other Barney shorts) is named for a Lindsay-led “trio-elétrico,” who were invited to perform at 2004’s Carnival. Joined by a literal parade of local percussionists and singers, their stage was an oversized forestry truck with an uprooted tree as its hood ornament, a monstrous set piece melding Ecology with Industry via Barney’s inexplicable cultural symbolism. (How are we supposed to know that the set evokes Candomblé deities and represents either war and iron, or leaves and herbal remedies?) However, with the shorter run time, Barney offers multiple approaches to a singular theme (technology vs. nature), rather than half-cocked presentations of far too many ideas. The guy should experiment with reductivism (excuse me: “restraint”) more often.
The film is framed as a traditional concert doc whenever Lindsay’s wonderfully skronky sambas are in the aural foreground. But when the music fades, Barney turns his lens on the dialogue-free, experimental adventures of his characters, “Budding Greensman” and “Blooming Greensman.” The former (based on eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill) lives in the tree, while the latter rests under the truck with his sleeping/dead monkey, masturbating with petroleum jelly and repeatedly buffing his penis against the spinning axle as if it were a lathe. It’s like a variation on a musty joke: How do you get to Matthew Barney’s studio? Process, process, process.