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Cremaster 2

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Don't bother scratching your head over the meaning of this video tone poem by Matthew Barney, the fourth and latest installment of a five-part experimental cycle; most of its images are deliberately antiseptic and enigmatic, and as with Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad or the final reel of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, they're not meant to be solved so much as savored. The supposed kinship between Utah murderer Gary Gilmore (Barney) and escape artist Harry Houdini (Norman Mailer, who chronicled Gilmore's crimes in The Executioner's Song) frames a tantalizing melange of dreamlike riffs on the desolation of the American west, the empty poses of male ritual, and the blood lust of macho fetishism. One visual connection plays on Utah's nickname (the "Beehive State"), stringing together swarming bees, dripping honey, interiors suggesting honeycomb, and the "queen bee" gown worn by Gilmore's grandmother during a seductive encounter with Houdini, but it also suggests fecundity and fear of female domination. The filmmaker's preoccupation with physical transformation (Houdini's stunts) and the body (the cremaster is the muscle that suspends the testicles) emerges from tableaux of murder, sexual intercourse, and bronco busting, filmed with a symmetrical, elegiac grace by Peter Strietmann, Barney's frequent collaborator. Shot on high-definition digital video, Cremaster 2 will be shown as a 35-millimeter film. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, Friday, October 29, 8:00 and 10:00, and Saturday, October 30, 6:00, 8:00, and 10:00, 312-397-4010. --Ted Shen

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