Don't bother scratching your head over this video tone poem by Matthew Barney; most of its images are deliberately antiseptic and enigmatic, and as with Last Year at Marienbad
or the final reel of 2001: A Space Odyssey
, they're not meant to be elucidated so much as savored. The supposed kinship between Utah murderer Gary Gilmore (Barney) and escape artist Harry Houdini (Norman Mailer, who chronicled Gilmore's crimes in The Executioner's Song
) frames a tantalizing melange of dreamlike riffs on the desolation of the American west, the empty poses of male ritual, and the bloodlust of macho fetishism. Barney's preoccupations with physical transformation (Houdini's stunts) and the body (the cremaster is the muscle that suspends the testicles) emerge from tableaux of sex, murder, and bronco busting, which are filmed with a symmetrical, elegiac grace by Peter Strietmann.
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This week the Music Box presents all five installments of Matthew Barney's "Cremaster" cycle of avant-garde features, plus the Chicago premiere of his latest, De Lama Lamina.