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Richard Serra is my brother and....

nick kallen

Comparing cremaster and donkey kong interesting, and I think some of the parallels are pretty strong, which you do well to point out. Still, I think ultimately the analysis lacks force for two reasons: because some of (what I thought) the most interesting filmic innovation is ignored by your analysis; and many of the parallels are simply superficial.

I felt one of the most interesting aspects of the first half of Cremaster has to do with character identity; the film opens with that silly vince lombardi quote; and goes on to challenge the notion of character introduced therein, by asserting a continuity of character outside of space and time: despite, for example, the cutting back and forth between the bar scene and the race track, where the entered apprentice differs in costume, mannerism, and so forth, and yet the violence done to him is transposed back to the top of the building. Or the various guises of Mullins... There are relavent comaprisons to video games--you can talk about transformation, teleportation, etc.--but I think that misses the point; it's better to compare to something like Bunuel "That Obscure Object of Desire" where the same character is played by two actresses.

In addition to this strange and new sense continuity of character in the first half, the strength lies from Barney's incredible mis en scene in the second half; his ability to compose into camera shots these sculptural 'performances' (e.g., the braiding of the fabric at the top of the chrystler building, the construction of the winding slats by the architect, and best of all the disgustingly fantastic dentist scene where the teeth transform into a phallus). I really think, with this, Barney has come up with an entirely new film grammar in the second half of Cremaster 3. It is narrative, but not by traditional story telling conventions--it is simply the articulation of symbolism in performance. Fantastic! (maybe you can tell I much preferred the second half to the first!)

And as for the mythology, I don't really need to talk about that so much, since many others have addressed the issue... But generally I would discount the argument (not necessarily yours) that the mythology is so unusual here, or 'just like a video game'. Mythology in film is not particularly unusual. Consider the Matrix's judeo-christian mythic elements. I could name a million films with judeo-christian mythology--on the bunuel tip consider all of his work circa l'age d'or, un chien andalou, etc. Anyway, that's not to say that myth isn't an important part of the film, because it's vitally central, perhaps more so than the 'sculptural' parts of the film. But what makes this like a video-game? Yes video-games employ mythology, and japanese video games often employ western mythology (castlevania and zelda come to mind--donkey kong was before my time!), but then so do japanese films (evangelion).

Anyway, I hope this isn't too caustic of comment on your essay--I liked it for the most part.

(Aren't you amazed how successful the film is?--I saw it at the Castro and the theater was packed! Only a handful of people left during intermission. Applause wasn't super-enthusiastic afterwards, but still. This is a fascinating marketing phenomenon.)


I think your criticism of the article has validity. It's not focused enough, too long and yet at times is only a surface examination of both the film and the game.

Re: The "Lombardi" quote, "Will is character in action." It's unclear whose quote that really is. The internet says it is William McDougall's. I would assume Barney thinks it is Lombardi's. And I don't think he intended it as a joke or to be "silly." From both his background and the work, I think the quote is meant to be taken in earnest.

I don't see any new film grammar in Cremaster 3. The dentist scene and some similar scenes in the other Cremaster films are inspired by the 80s horror films ("Evil Dead," et al), those moments that are disgusting, scary and very funny at the same time. Unlike those films, I think Barney has problems dealing with humor and irony in the Cremaster films.

Regarding "sculptural performances," I think you are correct that this is the area of film grammar he is working in, but I don't see how he has significantly altered or added to it. In terms of using characters as sculpture, I think of "L' Anne dernire Marienbad." And spaces, architecture and symbolism in performance, in the style and rhythm of these performances, what comes to mind first is Kubrick.

I think some of the popularity is a result of supply and demand. None of the films are on video and there is a lot of "buzz" about them. San Francisco has a dedicated art audience (the sfMoma has more members than the nyMoma). While it is lacking in art events compared to L.A., SF people are generally eager to turn out when they get a chance.


Holy Crap! This is too surreal. I am an avid old school 2D gamer, and did an article recently myself on the avant garde Cremaster Cycle's "Cremaster 3"(after a viewing in the bay area) comparing it to a video game. I am launching a retro gaming publication soon, and included a review of Cremaster 3(I only got to see 1-3 sadly) So when I saw this article, I was pretty stunned and elated to see someone else "got it", heh. Here's *my* review I did a few weeks ago just hours after I saw it.

"Giant orges on an island. Punk bands dueling in the Guggenheim museum . Secret orders in New York's Chrysler building. Welcome to the ornate world of Cremaster 3, the third act in the Cremaster Cycle that plays out like a twisted old school video game meets a David Lynch film on crack. At 3 and a half hours; with no dialogue, the pacing of a glacier melt, and some of the most jarring and horrific scenes ever captured on film…this one is definitely for the more patient art house film buffs. Directed by avant garde artist Matthew Barney, this film gives new meaning to the word cryptic.

Think Mulholland Drive, Lord Of The Rings, and Koyaanisqatsi meets The Cell, From Hell, and a Marilyn Manson video. With some of the most rich cinematography ever, beauty is juxtaposed with labor and shock. Cremaster 3 is at once grotesque yet intriguing…a film that I found at times to be both hypnotic, funny, tedious; yet at other times downright frightening. Using a highrise as a metaphor, with each layer revealing yet another painstaking piece of the aria, the film comes full circle. Director Barney takes his sweet time meticulously building his final masterpiece of the series…and at completion, it cannot be denied. However; baffling, cryptic, and exhausting would be just some of the lingering words for this mad narrative. The kind of movie that would make your friends never speak to you again, Cremaster 3 stands as one of the most unique and challenging cinematic experiences to hit the American landscape in awhile."-//cory, IKU magazine


I have been inspired to make a parody webcomic strip of Matthew Barney's "Cremaster 3" film, with some 80's actors and video game bosses for good measure;)

Carol-Ann Murray

je voudrais avoir un logiciel de Donkey Kong le jeu


I think these parallels are pretty obvious as a kind of baseline assumption through which Barney's film needs to be viewed in order to be understood, but beyond that "no duh" element I have to wonder about someone who puts these two media (what necessitates this comparison, aside from the fact that it has never been done before?) next to one another and claims a revelation of some kind. Furthermore, beyond and outside the obviousness of this argument lie the really strange and moving aspects of this film, once of which is how the violence is made to seem unreal through a kind of enshroudment in musical atmospherics, not to mention the fact that the absence of character and narrative interaction is acutely felt -- the relationships between the characters don't seem real. It is if they were filtered through some kind of lens that saw interactions between people in a very thuggish way.
As for Donkey Kong, I played it, I got bored with it very quickly. Much as I got bored with the reductiveness of this article's argument.


Tim, you a are an asshat.


Was just looking for a site like this, thanks

Nick Koik

Greedy folk have long arms.




I've always held the opinion that video games are art in much the same way as movies. You can have a big budget blockbuster picture, or a labour of love. Much like movies, you need to look at the people making games because they love them, not because they want to make some cash. Although money is a hard thing to avoid... Personally I think some of the best games come from people who are interested in telling a good story. ZZT is a game/design tool you should check out to see some games where the designers self is represented by the story and the type of game they make. The text adventure scene is also a good place.


I've found this download site for old Donkey Kong game (PC version):
Donkey Kong download


I've found this download site for old Donkey Kong game (PC version):
Donkey Kong download


Y'know, my first thought upon seeing that section of the movie was "wow, that was the weirdest episode of Double Dare I've ever seen."

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