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Ending the Cycle prematurely 

I tried --- mostly on a dare --- to watch Matthew Barney's entire six-hour-and-thirty-seven-minute Cremaster Cycle (also previewed by Alex Miokovic and Heidi Nickisher on page 18) over the course of one evening after being told it was a virtually impossible task. For starters, there's the whole time commitment issue, and there's some question over which order the films are supposed to be viewed (the five films were made out of sequence). More troubling, I was warned, was the film's content, which might be too much to take in over several viewings, let alone one.

            I'm not sure if this ever happened, because I bailed about halfway through the epic Cycle, which will screen, in much friendlier chunks, over three consecutive evenings at the Dryden Theatre beginning this Friday (December 12). Cremaster isn't for everyone. I'm not sure exactly who it is for, but more power to them. What I've written below is what I experienced while watching Barney's films.

            Cremaster 1, which runs 40 minutes, looks like a 1930s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with two Goodyear blimps providing similarly sterile, white interiors and a chorus line of dancers below kicking it Busby Berkeley-style on a blue-turfed football field. Inside the blimps are bored flight attendants and a table containing a pile of grapes and an odd-looking sculpture. Under the table is an extremely pale blonde woman who digs a hole through to the grapes. The dancers below the blimps begin to form patterns similar to those that the fallen grapes form. Is it the same woman in both blimps? Could be. The grapes are different colors in each one, though. And I have a feeling this is only the beginning of the confusion.

            On to the 79-minute Cremaster 2, which contains the Cycle's first dialogue around Minute No. 7 (soon followed by its first nudity --- a full penetration shot involving a penis with a beehive for its head --- and its first song). Other seemingly unrelated snippets involve three people sitting at a table, a death metal band in a recording studio, Vaseline sculpting, and a convict with a very strange Mustang in a '50s-style service station. Toward the end, there's a bull ride through a giant field of salt, something that resembles the Revolutionary War, and a staggeringly boring scene in a big, empty cathedral.

            Cremaster 3, Barney's most recent film and the longest by far at just over three hours, is the nicest-looking of the three I managed to stomach. It's all Art Deco-y, reminding me of more enjoyable cinematic experiences involving the Coen brothers. That's after, of course, the strange opening that looks like it was taken out of lost footage from The Lord of the Rings. David Cronenberg would be pleased by the big demolition derby inside the lobby of the Chrysler Building, but my cats weren't at all impressed by Cremaster 3's piercing music. They hid under the bed, even after I turned it down, and reemerged around the time the woman with a triangle-shaped cookie cutter attached to the sole of her shoe was trying to make perfect wedges of raw potatoes.

            It was at that point that I hopped online and tried to figure out exactly what I was watching. The first thing I found was a review of Cremaster 1 that claimed that the series "metaphorically chronicles the biological process from the sexually undifferentiated state that exists at conception to the full realization of the sexual identity, which occurs with the maturation of the gonads." I'm too dumb to even understand what that means when it's spelled out for me, let alone thrown at me in cryptic snippets.

            I pressed the stop button when I read that the three people sitting at the table in Cremaster 2 were supposed to be Barney's parents and Houdini's girlfriend (apparently, Barney thinks the magician was his grandfather) and the guy with the Mustang is really executed murderer Gary Gilmore (played by Barney). I don't need stuff spoon-fed to me, but a couple of hints might be nice.

            Now you'll have to excuse me, as I'm late for a screening of Stuck On You.

If somebody gave me a pop quiz about Sylvia Plath, I'd probably fail it worse than Barry Bonds taking a steroids test. Aside from knowing enough to cut a wide path around those weird girls who read The Bell Jar in high school, I couldn't tell you one thing about Plath. Don't know where she lived. Don't know when she lived. Don't know if she looked anything like Gwyneth Paltrow.

            So, in a way, I was the ideal viewer for Sylvia (opens Friday, December 12, at the Little Theatre). A fresh slate. No preconceived notions about anything, and completely without the lofty expectations a big Plath fan might have as they eagerly await the release of their idol's big screen story.

            Sadly, all of that goodwill ended fairly soon into my Sylvia voyage. The film follows Plath's life from her college years at Cambridge through the day she put her head in the oven and checked out for good. While one can't fault the story --- it's yet another typical biopic about a tragic dead person, complete with self-important, leaden pace --- for being too agonizingly gloomy, one can threaten to brain the filmmakers for making it all so excruciatingly dull (I shouted, "Hurry up and ice yourself already!" more than a few times). Paltrow plays Plath, and does a decent job acting sufficiently crazy, but in a slightly more likable way than, say, a movie about Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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