The Queen of Chain sits atop her dais on a golden balcony at the helm of a velvet theater auditorium, with her doll-like ushers at each side, and watches as her Diva, decked in Shakespearian peach garb, twists himself up a vine to her balcony.
Meanwhile, the Queen’s Giant, a centaur-like being with a crown of bubbles, submerses his lower half into pearl-covered pool. These are just a few of the inimitable characters featured in a rare five-part film series that has brought students and staff to the Cal State Long Beach campus for screenings every Saturday evening for the month of October.
According to the Film and Electronic Arts Department Chair Jerry Mosher, the “Cremaster Cycle,” an abstract collection of films and art pieces by Matthew Barney, is being shown in conjunction with the current exhibit at the University Art Museum — “Gabe Bartalos: Abhorrence and Obsession.”
The exhibit features several of Bartalos’ highly detailed, full-prosthetic character creations that were also used in the films. Some of the characters include the Queen’s Diva and Giant, as well as other monstrous beings such as the Entered Apprentice, which has a head of organ-like confetti and a gaping, bloodied mouth stuffed with an enormous funnel.
“We thought that screening the series was essential to showcase how [Bartalos’] work appears on film and contributes to Barney’s cinematic vision,” Mosher said.
The film project, coupled with Barney’s sculptures and drawings, took eight years to create, beginning in 1997 and culminating with an exhibit at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 2002, according to the event’s press release.
Between Bartalos’ intricate craftsmanship and Barney’s cinematic eccentricity, the Cremaster Cycle series captivates viewers with interpretative art on film. Through unique and graphic representations, the conceptual series delivers a visual spectacle coupled with music and architecture, as well as minimalist dialogue. Scenes vary from being as seemingly normative as a gas station in Utah to as bizarre as an ornate pool within another dimension.
“As abstract as the narrative may seem, to [Barney] it makes perfect sense,” Bartalos said of his experience working with filmmaker. The Cremaster series is a vision combining biology with mythology and fine art, deriving its name from the anatomical cremaster muscle that is used to lower and raise the testes. The film series is a metaphysical representation of the formation of this muscle throughout the embryonic process, although viewers’ interpretations tend to vary.
“The films are really visually striking and bizarre,” senior film major Tim Kranyak said, “I think there is a lot of exploration about gender issues.”
The Cremaster Cycle is a special film project because of its non-traditional and existential approach, according to Mosher, who said the films “offer a way of thinking about how film can communicate ideas that are more associative or symbolic rather than story driven.”
Mosher said the series is not available for purchase and is rarely screened in the United States. He added that many students are relishing the chance to experience the Cremaster art, both through the screening of Barney’s films as well as the display of Bartalos’ creations.
“Our school has never really [shown] anything this non-linear and experimental,” Kai MacKnight, a senior film major, said. “Events like these help us appreciate the more abstract quality of the [media] and leave the meanings open to interpretation.”
The imaginative and dark quality of The Cremaster Series, including Bartalos’ contributions in creating Barney’s otherworldly characters, seem to evoke deeper responses in viewers.
“The Cremaster Cycle challenges our assumptions about what film and art should be, and to me, that’s what education is all about,” Mosher said.
The final screening of Cremaster 3 will be this Saturday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the University Theater.