In the second film of the five-part Cremaster cycle (chronologically the fourth made), Matthew Barney indulges his obsession with Gary Gilmore, the murderer who made legal history by insisting that his execution proceed in spite of efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union and others to postpone it, if not rescind it altogether. Does an individual have the right to insist on his own state-sanctioned death?
The film opens with Gilmore's parents visiting a medium of some sort, segues into a heavy metal/Goth band with lots of bees, moves on to the reenactment of the first of two murders Gilmore committed in Utah (that of gas station attendant Max Jensen; ironically, it was the second murder for which Gilmore was tried, convicted, and executed), and effectively ends with Gilmore's symbolic execution. Interspersed throughout are scenes involving Harry Houdini (Norman Mailer), from whom Gilmore's mother claimed descent.
Although Gilmore was intelligent (reputedly with an IQ of 130) and artistically talented, he was also an alcoholic habitual criminal completely lacking in impulse control. Barney himself plays the role of Gilmore (what a surprise!) and the casting of Norman Mailer is inspired. Some may remember that Mailer was instrumental in securing the early release from prison of Jack Henry Abbott who authored "In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison." Mailer felt such a talented individual should be given special consideration. Shortly after his release, Abbott stabbed a deli worker to death because he had the temerity to tell Abbott he couldn't use the employees' bathroom. Thanks, Norman.
With panoramic shots of the Utah salt flats, the western setting is reminiscent of the surreal films of Alejandro Jodorowsky set in Mexico (e.g., "El Topo (1970), "Santa Sangre" (1989)) as well as the latter part of David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" (1990), and there are hints of David Cronenberg's influence in the early scene involving Gilmore's parents. In one scene, the viewer is treated to some fine Texas two-step dancing by a couple who clearly know their way about it, and there is one notable use of theremin and modern synthesizer music that slowly climbs in pitch, reaching a physically uncomfortable sonic range before ascending to the frequencies privy only to dogs and bats. Very artsy and a bit overwrought, Cremaster 2 is the kind of work one expects from Barney. Rating: 6/10.
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