The vast open spaces of the West, where the rough terrain has not yet been overtaken by hordes of humans, are beautiful, desolate, and ultimately forbidding. Matthew Barney was raised in Idaho and Cremaster 2: The Drones' Exposition, his disturbing sculpture-and-film installation that opened last week at SFMOMA, reeks of the cold, thin air of isolation and impotence. Inspired by the demented saga of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore -- or more precisely, by Norman Mailer's 1979 book, The Executioner's Song -- Cremaster 2 is a disorienting travelogue of bees, mustangs, snow-packed ravines, and power drumming. A well-financed collection of breathtaking sets and grotesque images, Cremaster 2 is the quintessential experimental narrative: Help yourself to any of the many sensations and meanings evoked during its enigmatic 79 minutes.
Notwithstanding the half-dozen films he's made, Barney considers himself a sculptor. Hence, the display of artifacts (a mirrored saddle, 10 flags with Hebrew writing) that he designed and created for the film. "I'm interested in making a piece that can move back and forth in scale," the shy Barney explained at the press preview. He added that Cremaster 2 started as a landscape piece; he was interested in what was left behind after the glaciers retreated. Barney is also intrigued by the way that myths are built, with arbitrary, insignificant details taking on increasing importance as the years pass. He imagines Gilmore's life that way, fashioning a riveting chunk of Cremaster 2 from the poignant ceremony of a death row rodeo. At its chilling best, Cremaster 2 delineates how detached we often are from our own experience.
Local animation wizard Timothy Hittle is the latest beneficiary of the current (and primarily Internet-driven) frenzy over short films. His eight-minute Oscar-nominated triumph of stop-motion animation, Canhead (1997), began airing this month on United Airlines as part of a two-hour shorts program brokered by the Sundance Channel with Atom Films. When queried about the less-than-ideal viewing conditions for his work (low-res video screens, tots kicking the back of your seat), Hittle found a silver lining. "It is an odd film for an airliner," he mused. "It could be a pleasant distraction from the narrow seats and bad air. It also works as a silent film, and can be enjoyed without headphones." Hittle's been working of late on Henry Selick's latest blend of stop motion and live action, Monkeybone, which wraps production any day now.
In April 1991, the producers of Basic Instinct obtained a temporary restraining order to keep the S.F. lesbian and gay community from noisily disrupting location shooting. In a case of (pick one) terminally short memory or mass enlightenment, the S.F. International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival has slotted Joe Eszterhas' ice pick thriller into this year's lineup. Granted, B. Ruby Rich will present a clips-and-commentary program dissecting the cinematic allure of lesbian serial killers, and cult faves Bound and Butterfly Kiss will also screen, but I can't help wondering what the late Vito Russo would have said. ... If you're scouring the program for hidden treasure, Jon Shear's Urbania is a wholly unpredictable urban fable that wowed discerning Sundancers. Meanwhile, look for the festival to pay tribute to gentleman filmmaker Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul), who died unexpectedly two weeks ago. Bartel adored San Francisco, not least because his films sold more tickets here than anywhere else.
Michael Fox is host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. and Saturdays at midnight on KQED (Channel 9).
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