2007_05_arts_barneydvd.jpgMatthew Barney: No Restraint (directed by Alison Chernick)

Love him or hate him, Matthew Barney's artwork is always provocative. Dressing in elaborate costumes and makeup, constructing baroque tableaux and often involving petroleum jelly, Barney's moving and still film works are less like a conventional movie and more like sculpture. If you attended any of the massively popular exhibitions of either his Cremaster series at the Guggenheim museum or a marathon screenings of his films, surely the thought "how does he do it" crossed your mind.

Chernick's fascinating documentary about the construction of Barney's most recent film project of a tea ceremony aboard a whaling ship called Drawing Restraint 9 begins to answer some of those queries, yet still allows Barney and his romantic partner and artistic collaborator Björk to stay delightfully enigmatic. From the opening establishing shots of an enormous truck pumping petroleum jelly into Barney's Brooklyn studio, it's definitely a cool project Chernick's undertaken cataloguing the nuts-and-bolts of a Barney piece. As the film unfolds on the sailing ship in Japan we come to understand how important the process of making the art is to Barney, and the concept of placing restrictions or "constraints" on how he makes the work essential to his artistic cosmology.

The documentary also features a nice overview explaining the rise of Barney's star shortly after his graduation from Yale. In particular it's fun to see Barbara Gladstone, Barney's gallerist and early supporter talking about her first meetings with him, as well as seeing Barney's father giving a tour of his home complete with a Barney original on the wall. Another great moment in the film is after listening to yet another "arty" explanation from Barney to the camera about the shot they're about to compose, Chernick holds just a bit too long on Barney after he stops talking and we glimpse an embarrassed smirk from the artist. In that brief facial expression, it becomes possible for fans and detractors alike that Barney is not just a self-important creator, but actually in on the joke.

Other movies being released on DVD this week include the Oscar favorites Little Children with Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson, the musical Dreamgirls as well as a collection of the short films nominated for Oscars last year, the suburban teenage gangster movie Alpha Dog, and the cult classic El Topo.

[Pictured: A bearded Barney offers direction to crew members in Matthew Barney: No Restraint.]