The Order, from Cremaster 3 (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Matthew Barney is one of the current darlings of the New York art world, thanks mostly to a five-part epic film saga called Cremaster, which is "based on the evolution of form." It is named after the cremaster, the muscle that regulates the height of the male testicles in response to temperatures or emotions, although Barney means to apply to the term to the early period of human fetal development when a life is not yet sexually differentiated.

Well, anyway, that is what it is about in theory. Mostly it is a succession of images presented in dream-like free association, although the artist did have some kind of underlying narrative in mind. One critic wrote tellingly that Barney "makes Peter Greenaway look like Joel Schumacher," which translates into street American as "he is one arty-ass motherfucker." If you would like Barney's official synopsis of this nearly impenetrable work, here is the official site of the Cremaster Cycle, which summarizes each of the five parts in depth. For a shorter version, here is the Wikipedia entry which gives a nice clear synopsis, although in this case clarity presents no path to understanding or appreciation. The power and artistry of the project is in the images, so if you'd like to see a sample of what the cycle is like, here is the trailer. Finally, here is a review written by one of the few critics who has actually sat through all five films.

If you would actually like to see this saga, or any of the individual parts, you'll probably have to wander to New York or Oxford or Berlin, or some other place where pretentious exhibitions are attended by artsy swells, because you won't be seeing this at your local film-n-ale. The film or films are presented in conjunction with exhibitions of related drawings, sculptures, and photographs, and there have been only two screenings of the entire cycle so far this year (2005)

  • Leeuwarden, The Netherlands – Fries Museum, Feb 27

  • Oxford, England – Grove Auditorium, May 2

Apart from these exhibitions, there is no other way to see all five films together. None of the five are on DVD in their entirety. As far as I know, there are only two ways you can see some examples of the work:

1. You can buy a mammoth eight pound book which summarizes the project using hundreds of illustrations. (Preview it at the link below by using's "look inside this book" feature.)

2. You can buy a DVD called "The Order," which is a thirty minute segment within the three hour centerpiece of the film series, Cremaster 3.

Here is the official summary of "The Order" from Barney's website:

"At this point in the narrative the film (Cremaster 3) pauses for a choric interlude, which rehearses the initiation rites of the Masonic fraternity through allegorical representations of the five-part Cremaster cycle, all in the guise of a game staged in the Guggenheim Museum. Called “The Order,” this competition features a fantastical incarnation of the Apprentice as its sole contestant, who must overcome obstacles on each level of the museum's spiraling rotunda."

Here is my own description:

Five babes in thongs and pasties bathe in bubbles, then emerge and parade around (right).

A guy (who sometimes seems to be a chick) wearing a Scottish kilt and a big pink beefeater hat must climb around the Guggenheim Museum with a bloody red napkin in his mouth, all the while avoiding obstacles like a rave contest, the Rockettes, a guy splattering Vaseline around, and a legless woman who turns into a jungle cat.

For the purpose of this particular recap, our major interest is the legless woman, who is played by the paralympic champion Aimee Mullins (right), who also works as a fashion model (below).

I don't suppose anyone else in the world could have played this role since Aimee's prosthetic legs look very much like a cat's hind legs to begin with, and this comparison could not have escaped Matthew Barney when he created this role for her.

 In Barney's surreal world, Aimee also allowed herself to be decorated in various other bizarre costumes to create various austere and outré images (below left).


Depending on your attitude, you may call this project either pseudo-artistic hooey or an ambitious artistic undertaking. I think one of the New York art critics called Barney the most important living artist. You may or may not agree that he's the real thing, and you are probably more likely to despise his work than love it. I will admit that it can look impressive, and the strange images can sometimes even entertain. On the other hand, the whole thing is utterly incomprehensible and not a little bit pretentious. I assume there is some audience for this kind of material, but it must be miniscule, and I am not in the group.


  • No features except the original theatrical trailer
  • the widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced (16x9)


Aimee Mullins in topless in The Order. There are also brief looks at her pubes and bum.

Five other women are seen in thongs and pasties.

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus out of four stars: two stars. Independent 2/10, Guardian 8/10, Times 2/10, BBC 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • It is screened in museums and special exhibitions.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, I suppose. Frankly, I have no idea how to score it, and critics were all over the board.

Return to the Movie House home page