Recently, a copy of Matthew Barney's 2005 movie Drawing Restraint 9 leaked onto the Internet. Barney's been bootlegged before, but, as far as I've seen, never like this: the copy of DR9 is virtually pristine. Where as the contraband copies of his Cremaster cycle are washed-out, improperly framed, point-the-camera-at-the-screen-and-press-record affairs, this copy of DR9 is clearly a dub. When played via DVD on a TV, it looks perfect -- this is the at-home experience that Matthew Barney doesn't want you to have.
Barney has been adamant about not releasing his art films on DVD. I'm fairly sure that he's said this for years to a number of interviewers, but here's a fairly compact run-down of his philosophy, as told to Glen Helfand in an SF360 interview from last year:
They cannot be distributed as DVDs because they originally sold as limited-edition art objects. If a sculpture is in an edition of six, you can't make more of them. It's not right for them to be available to be owned in an unlimited way after they've been sold in a limited way. I have the right to do theatrical distribution of the films, which I've done with 'Cremaster' and 'Drawing Restraint 9.' In Paris, they have now, for the second time, brought back the series. It's certainly a better condition to see it than on a monitor.
First of all: no shit, it's better to see movies in the theater. It goes without saying that home-viewing isn't ideal -- why is it that everyone else can deal with this and Matthew Barney can't? But really, what bugs me the most about this is the equation of sculpture and film, simply because a sculpture is not a film, and shouldn't be treated as such. Different media call for different measures, DVDs are not art objects, and if you're working in a popular field like film, you should respect its order and not impose your pseudo-iconoclasm on it.
Besides, upholding art-world elitism and cultural segregation isn't very iconoclastic at all, now is it?
In this year's IFC documentary Matthew Barney: No Restraint, Barney's live-in girlfriend and DR9 co-star Björk explains that Barney sees himself primarily as a sculptor, and that his films are made to serve his sculptures (much like, to use her example, the way magazine photo shoots serve her music). If only he had the same level-headedness! Barney's unilateral vision of media exhibited in his quote above makes so much sense when viewing his films -- when he stopped merely documenting the athletic process of his early work (he'd set up a sort of endurance obstacle course that would require him to, for example, scribble on a piece of paper on the ceiling while doing a pull-up) and started creating narratives, he seemed to take on the assumption artistry yields filmmaking, and not the other way around.
Because really, he's not a filmmaker, he's an image compiler. His film work, while full of stunning, singular images, is arrogantly long-winded. The leak of DR9 is the best thing that could have happened to it, as it allows you to watch it on DVD on double speed, and gives you the chance of appreciating a movie that unfurls slowly enough to make it too long by half. Seriously, weeeeee getttttt ittttttt. And if we don't, directing as if you're suspended in the goo that's so often the center of your art will not helppppppp ussssss.
If you haven't noticed, I'm happy that DR9 is now out there for whomever wants to see it (it's not like there are droves on pins and needles who can't wait to watch a two-and-a-half-hour abstract concept piece in which two people may or may not transform into a whale, anyway). Ultimately, I think it serves Barney right for setting himself above the pop culture that his film really is a part of, obtuse as it is. The quote from the SF360 piece that drives me the most crazy, isn't the one about why his films can't be distributed on DVD. It's this: "At the end of the day, I want to communicate." Ha! By sequestering his art, he's "communicating" by talking under his breath. Only those in his immediate vicinity can hear him. His main folly is thinking that he could pull off withholding his film from so many -- he essentially thought that he was exempt from technology. Again, it's the unilateral vision that's his downfall. You can't trade sculptures via BitTorrenet. Films are an entirely different matter.
And so, I wonder, now that we can view a nice, clean copy of DR9 in our own homes, is this gooey clam no longer art?
How about this crab?
Is Björk's bush now lacking that artful tang that it had when it could only be appreciated in galleries and arthouses?
Frankly, my favorite thing about DR9's leak is that I now have a hard copy of Barney's wang (NSFW) that I can look at any time I want. Now I can masturbate right along with him! Yay, mutual!
I'm just kidding -- I really don't hate Barney. I'm curious what his response will be to the leak, if he responds at all. I wonder if it'll show him how ultimately silly his decision was to keep it intangible in the first place. Will the translucent and thick jelly ever be wiped from Barney's vision?
P.S. This fake commentary on the DR9 trailer is best thing to come from Barney's work that I've ever seen. There is a place for art in pop culture! I learned that from YouTube!