Matthew Barney is big in Japan, notably so in Alison Chernick's documentary companion to Barney's 2005 film, Drawing Restraint 9. Chernick traces the creation of Barney's "narrative sculpture" with open curiosity. As Barney, the venerated athlete-cum-model-cum-artist-cum-bohemian jet-setter, filmed off the coast of Nagasaki on a Japanese whaling vessel with his wife, co-star, and composer, Björk, Chernick plunged into the collaborative goo of the film's gestation; if indeed Barney's work emphasizes process over product, No Restraint asserts itself as a vital arm of his finished piece. And speaking of goo: If your inner 4-year-old has ever longed to make a whale out of 45,000 pounds of Vaseline, Matt Barney's your man. Chernick's footage of the polite but confused Japanese shipmen, enlisted in Barney's unrelentingly wacky shoot and earnestly pouring obscene amounts of liquid petroleum jelly into a huge steel mold, speaks volumes about the ritual of deference Barney strove to capture. In an interview, the politely bemused Japanese whaling commissioner admits that despite having no idea who Barney or "Mrs. Björk" might be, he is happy to accommodate their bizarre requests; who is he to question art? If you, however, are bold enough to do so, Chernick eloquently traces Barney's inspiration and intention in a way that naturalizes rather than neuters them.
"Vaseline ahoy!" Barney on the bridge.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., March 23–Thurs., March 29. Not rated. 70 minutes.