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Monday, June 27, 2005 

Cremaster 3 - Three hour Masonic art film

This has to be one of the most astonishing, visionary and enthralling films ever. It's called "Cremaster 3" (unfortunately only a portion of the film is available on the dvd on sale at Amazon), and it is crypticly enough the final fifth film in the Cremaster Cycle from avant garde artist Matthew Barney.

Matthew Barney was born in San Francisco in 1967. After graduating from Yale in 1991, Barney entered the art world to almost instant controversy and success. He is best known as the producer and creator of the CREMASTER films, a series of five visually extravagant works created out of sequence ("CREMASTER 4" began the cycle, followed by "CREMASTER 1," etc.). The films generally feature Barney in myriad roles, including characters as diverse as a satyr, a magician, a ram, Harry Houdini, and even the infamous murderer Gary Gilmore.

So what makes Cremaster 3 so interesting? It is a 3 and a half hour meditation and meticulous look at Masonic ritual and rites, allegory, and history. Previously the only Freemason stuff I had seen in films were more of the sinister plot devices like From Hell. Unfortunately a lot of Freemasonry in movies is treated as either a sinister plot (From Hell), or trivial (National Treasure), so it is odd to have a film like this that goes above and beyond to capture the essense of FreeMasonry (eternal brotherhood, dicipline, secret trades, etc) yet it still somehow comes off as slightly uncomfortable.

What intrigued me about this film was the extreme dedication toward the evaluation and study of Masonic lore. The film revolves around the figural entered apprentice, adorned in an apron who tries to ascend the Chrysler Building to reach the architect, Hiram Abiff. Every single second and detail of the movie revolves around mythology in FreeMasons, as well as a few things borrowed from Celtic mythology.

The film starts off on the Isle of Giants in Ireland, but quickly goes to underneath the Chrysler Building in the 1920's where de Maloy boys are helping to carry a body to the upper level with older Masons. This is where the more esoteric elements come into play, as repeated throughout the film.

The movie is literlaly obsessed with geometric and architectual redundance, but such is to be expected in an art film...tasks and even the most ornate of things are performed ad nauseum (such as the layering of cement in an elevator shaft, or the forming a cement like Solomon's Temple) .

The hubris of the entered apprentice is followed up through this unusual of settings...the actual Chryslter building (some of th emost stunning visuals are here not seen since Koyaanisqatsi, as may poles give way to hundred foot stremaers coming out the sides of the building).

The overall feeling is one of uncomfortable sinister dread, although I feel it treats the Masonic subject with respect in its painstaking detail. An entire scene of 33rd degre geometric ritual is gone over and over in almost complete banal repetition toward the end for instance.

In sum, this is definately the more cryptic of the art films I've seen, it no doubt will make anyone who sees it curious about older Freemason ideas and thought.

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