The mysterious soundtrack has been out for months.
I’ve been waiting patiently for this obscure collaboration between two of the most bizarre, innovative and envelope-pushing artists out there: Bjørk and Matthew Barney. For fans of Bjørk’s meaning-drenched, highly emotive music, and Barney’s near-unfathomably symbolic (from what I’ve heard) Cremaster Cycle, the time is now to feast on their viscosity, which happens to gel quite nicely.
I’ve been told by a few people that Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9 is “self-indulgent crap” and basically “one of the most painfully boring, pointless films”¦” I’ve received few glowing reports. Even The Stranger’s film review of DR9 read more like a taut warning than anything else.
Well, I went to see it tonight. I don’t usually like to use this word in this kind of context, but I have to say that this film really resonated with me. The soundtrack, the sculpture, the symbolism, the meticulous and methodically drawn-out ceremonial quality of every image and swath of sound: I got all wide-eyed despite myself. Plus, I grew up in Alaska so the arctic/aquatic/whale symbolism was potent, and anyone who has ever smelled ambergris, the strangely sensual whale biproduct that is burned as incense or worn as perfume, knows how devastatingly potent it is.
In the interest of disclosure, I’d never seen any of Barney’s films all the way through, just bits and pieces of them. Nor was I familiar with his sculpture. I think I’ve been turned off by the thought of his work for the most part, waving it off as pretentiously over-produced “high” art.
But I was shocked by how accessible DR9 actually is. Sure, it’s long, there’s only a few lines of dialogue, and lots of strange shots of Barney’s signature Vaseline-like substance, but the film and its soundtrack reveal very strong themes, including the Japanese concept of “mono no aware” and humanity’s need for primal transformation.
What the hell is mono no aware? It’s the second time in the last month that I’ve heard this phrase. In the film, the concept of mono no aware is described as a solemn state of “impermanence.” In the film, the Japanese people are said to realize that they are one with nature, which helps them accept the burden of cycles of life and death.
The film and its soundtrack are supposed to be representative of “the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity.” No traditional culture develops more on this idea than the Japanese, in my opinion. Everything is structured and composed, yet everything is grounded in nature and its uncontrollable creative forces.
The garish climax of Bjørk and Barney’s surreally self-inflicted metamorphosis, the scene in which they take ceremonial knives to one another underwater and under animal flesh-and-pelt kimonos, is heightened by one of my favorite points in the soundtrack: the track titled “Holographic Entrypoint,” an a cappella sung by Shiro Nomura in a traditional Japanese vocal style known as Noh. It’s highly controlled, yet gut-wrenchingly expressive. The voice struggles with each note, holding it so tight that it is no longer held, but trembling there in anguish until the next note follows. This music accompanies the transformative massacre taking place between the two main characters after what seems like an eternity of tension-building “restraint.” And the fact that Barney and Bjørk are lovers “in the real world” makes the spectacle all that much more engaging.
This film and its score are a reminder of how it’s necessary to devolve into a primal state in order to counterbalance culture’s acquired anal-retentiveness. It reminds me of something a friend of mine said to me recently:
“But don’t you think you’re over-intellectualizing it? Remember to be in your body.”
Drawing Restraint 9 plays for just one more night at the University District’s Landmark Varsity Theater.