Matthew Barney: No Restraint
R1 - America - IFC Films / Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Pat Pilon (7th May 2007).
The Film

When talking about art, one thing to ask is how much meaning can be attributed to a work of art. Charles Dickens, for example, knew nothing of deconstructionism or post-modernism, but studying his works using these views might bring new meanings to his novels. Obviously, these new interpretations were never intended by the author, and so are the new meanings attributable to the work? Conversely, what if the meaning the artist intended in a piece of art is never acknowledged, discussed or even found? Would the work of art be a failure?

This is the feeling I get when I view some works, especially media arts, and this is definitely what I think would happen if I had the chance to view some of Matthew Barney's works. In this documentary, you never get to see a complete work, the clips you do see are a bit strange to say the least. Even with himself, his girlfriend, Björk and a few others explaining what he's doing on a whaling ship, I'm at a loss to figure out what 'Drawing Restraint 9' is really about. Granted maybe a viewing of the work would help.

The movie follows Matthew Barney in his journey to make/film 'Drawing Restraint 9', and tells you about his youth, his growth and his works. You learn about his rise and importance in the art world, as well as his working process. In the very first scenes he talks about wanting to tell the story of the history of the petroleum jelly of a piece he's making, talking about prehistoric animals. This seems like an interesting thought, but it's never discussed or referenced for the rest of the doc.

Most of the movie doesn't talk about Mr. Barney's life, but follows him on the journey of making his then-latest work of art. A few shots are really interesting. The shots of the whale being cut up are oddly mesmerising. A few scenes from his earlier works, as well as his present one, are shown to illustrate points made about hypertrophy, limiting oneself and creativity.

The documentary is pretty short and goes by quickly. It is, however, very interesting to watch, and serves a nice bit of advertisement for Mr. Barney's works. There's nothing particularly special about the doc's structure, which is surprising considering how Mr. Barney seems to work. The idea of physically restraining himself while he paints or draws is an interesting one. The doc says that there's something very physical about his work. I suppose for him, art is something physical and challenging. It's not easy to understand because, perhaps, it's not easy to make.


1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on DV, the only problems come from the lack of a high quality source. The picture is clear enough, though detail could be a bit better and the picture is a bit rough. Colours also seem a bit faded, or at least not as bright as they could be. On the plus side, there are no compression problems at all, and the picture looks clean and clear, with very good contrast. Edge enhancement and noise is never a problem. The picture is good, but not perfect.


The only audio track is a functional English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, helped out with English (hard of hearing) and Spanish subtitles. The most important part of the track is obviously the dialogue and everything is heard very clearly. There's no muffling or anything of the sort. The other little sounds here and there are likewise clear, with nothing being out of the ordinary. The range isn't so big, but the documentary really doesn't demand something big.


The DVD has a few nice extras to watch. You get presented with two choices, Interview Gallery and Time Lapse.

The Interview Gallery has a few brief bits of interviews. Matthew Barney has seven little interview snippets, where he expands on: 'His Early Inspiration' (1:07), 'Early "Drawing Restraint": Satyrs and Rams' (5:00), 'Early "Drawing Restraint": Guillotine' (0:30), 'Drawing Restraint 8' (4:28), 'Drawing Restraint 9' (1:36) '"Drawing Restraint 9" Challenges: Using Shrimp' (0:52), '"Drawing Restraint 9" Challenges: Storytelling' (0:25). Frankly, pretty much everything he said went over my head, and without seeing the particular works, I'll probably never understand what he's saying here. The talk of satyrs and rams looks interesting, though.

'Björk on Japan' (1:24) has the singer talking about singers and getting the right one for 'Drawing Restraint 9'. One last short interview is '"The New York Times' Chief Art Critic Michael Kimmelman on Barney's Early Work' (2:53), where the critic talks about an early show of Mr. Barney's he saw. It seemed interesting, but a bit strange.

The two Time Lapses are 'Time Lapse #1: Brooklyn Site' (2:45) and 'Time Lapse #2: Japan' (0:18). They’re pretty interesting, especially the first one. It shows some petroleum jelly congealing, which sounds a lot more boring than it actually looks like. It does, really.


The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: B Extras: C+ Overall: B-


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