To thematically, if not chronologically, kick off his five-film Cremaster cycle, sculptor/filmmaker Matthew Barney made Cremaster 1, a forty-odd minute long look in, above, under, and around a complex visual metaphor. It’s the start of the series that, among other things, 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.
Because this is the first entry in that cycle, representing the time that exists between conception and the determination of sexual identity, it begins in an idyllic state. It is the only segment of the series that does not feature Barney in any of the roles, instead attempting to convey the state of gender neutrality by featuring a cast composed entirely of similar looking, platinum blonde women. They seem to represent the chromosomal pool of X chromosomes before the entry of a Y, and the definition of maleness, became a possibility.
Set on and above a football field where a gaggle of women perform elaborate, Busby Berkeley-style dancing routines, seemingly at the whim of a controlling figure who floats in a pair of blimps above, Cremaster 1 acts as an introduction to the heavily coded symbolism that Barney employs. The environment is a macrocosmic system that represents the first stirrings of an organism’s development.
The blimps, each emblazoned with the Goodyear logo, represent the gonads (not yet either male or female at this time, they could become either testicles or ovaries). The girls on the field below seem to stand in for the chromosomes, their dance an organizing cellular process. Within each blimp, there are similar contents: a table laid out with grapes (red grapes in one blimp, green in the other), a sculpture that resembles the gonadal structure (either of female ovaries and fallopian tubes or the male testes and vas deferens), several nearly identical flight attendants, and, most significantly, a woman under each table who seems increasingly in control of the
Cremaster 2 (1999), a hallucinatory work featuring writer/director Matthew Barney as Western outlaw Gary Gilmore and Norman Mailer as Harry Houdini, is an eclectic mix of gender-bending sexuality and athleticism, obscure historical references, high fashion, remote locations, lush music and a range of category-defying mythopoeic imagery.