This week our film picks are all ones in which context weighs heavily on the experience. While two of these movies are rendered incredible beyond their usual bounds by some seriously insane soundtracks, whether it’s a live one or a rescued one, the remaining two would be nothing without considering seriously their place within the current state of things. None of the films would function properly on their own without their other pairing. Boom. If that all sounds vague, it is — but I’m taking this opportunity to practice my powers of divination so that when I’m reading my friends’ tarot cards later, they’ll look deep into my eyes and be all, ‘Holy shit.’ Here’s to hoping that’s your reaction, dear reader, when you obediently check out each and every one of these movies and decode for yourselves their star-crossed connectivity.

The Cremaster Cycle

Artist Matthew Barney spent eight years completing a five-part film series that runs over nine hours – The Cremaster Cycle, a reference to a muscle peculiar to the male anatomy that lives in some body thing known colloquially as the tunic– and now you can spend either minutes or the full nine yard-hours soaking it all up. Of the nine films, the first is regarded as the most “ascended” (get it? because the cremaster muscle pulls the testis in and out of the body?) and the final the most “descended” (in other words: dangled).

If you’re familiar with anything that Matthew Barney does (which is to say freaking crazy shit, literally, see: River of Fundament) then you know to expect to find a lot going on here. Most of it is focused on subjects that can be as yawn as male sexuality and man’s primitive nature, but some moments are as twisted as Richard D. James’ smile while others are as aesthetically pleasing and dare we say beautiful as a Brian Eno ditty. While some critics have panned the film set for being a paean to Mr. Barney’s ego, others have found it utterly irresistible.

The cool thing about a screening at the Guggenheim is that you’re not really locked in — getting up and leaving is not an admission of defeat as it might be perceived at art house screenings elsewhere, nor is it an automatic sign that you just can’t hang. It’s kind of choose-your-own-adventure in the sense that you can get up and come back. Regardless of your capacity to handle even part of the whole nine hours, keep in mind this ain’t no Criterion Collection rodeo. You’re likely not going to have another chance to see this many places elsewhere. After all, the only venue that can really handle a screening of this massively ambitious… thing… is a big ol’ musuem like the Goo Goo Heim. Two dates remaining: August 8th and September 5th: 10:30 am to 7:40 pm at the Guggenheim: Free with museum admission. 

All Magic Sands / Chappaqua 

Talk about limited chances to see something amazing– All Magic Sands/ Chappaqua (2012) is a bizarre blend between a soundtrack-that-never-was and two films. The 1966 cult film Chappaqua was understandably close to filmmaker Conrad Rooks’ heart, as an experimental, semi-autobiographical feature based on his own experiences with drug addiction. Rooks hired legendary jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman to write the score for the film — but after hearing the product he subsequently scrapped it, guessing (probably accurately) that Coleman’s incredible sounds would overshadow Rooks’ own work.

But flash forward to 2012: Andrew Lampert fuses Coleman’s visionary work with a little-known and incomplete “Christian children’s adventure” 16mm film, All Magic SandsThe idea was to take what are two effectively unfinished works and put them together. The result is a hypnotic take on these two very disparate things, and a meditation on how brilliant music can transform images that could otherwise be perceived as mediocre or maybe passé into something transcendent, even radiant. Saturday July 18th (7:30 pm), Monday July 20th (10 pm), Wednesday July 22nd (7:30 pm) with filmmaker in attendance at Spectacle Theater: $5 at the door

Cartel Land

There’s no better moment than now for this film. For one, El Chapo is on the lam again after escaping from the most secure prison in Mexico and, secondly, we’ve reached a point where most people can agree the War on Drugs has by and large been a complete disaster of epic proportions. This documentary, which gets closer to the front lines in the battle between one vigilante justice group and the cartel than probably any filmmaker or journalist has managed this far, probably seals the deal on that last one.

The Mexican government, police, and even military have had a hard time protecting Mexican citizens from the drug cartels which are notoriously violent and well-known for slaughtering and oftentimes dismembering anyone who gets in their way. But at least one group of people has come together under the name Autodefensas, led by a guy known as El Doctor, to fight back against the cartel’s encroachment into their community.

What lends Cartel Land real complexity is the filmmaker’s focus on both sides of the border. It’s doubtful the audience will see a vigilante American group, Arizona Border Recon, focused on the ouster of cartel influence from an area known as “Cocaine Alley” in the same light as the Autodefensas. But you might begin to wonder if what they’re up to is at all similar. Thursday July 16th through Thursday July 23rd at IFC Center: $14

Phase IV

There’s something so old timey and spooky about live-scoring films that it feels like we’re only treated to them around Halloween time. Well, Hallow’s Eve has come early this year, kids: Nitehawk is hosting a special screening of Phase IV accompanied by a live performance of the soundtrack by Morricone Youth, a local band specializing in old TV and movie soundtracks, and probably named after legendary composer Ennio Morricone, master of Spaghetti Western OSTs, et al.

This visually arresting film was directed by graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass. It features closeups of creepy ants that put Honey I Shrunk The Kids to shame, but unlike the bugs in that particular film, the ants of Phase IV have evolved into a super-species hellbent on eradicating human life. Can the humans and their fancy computers beat the ants at their own hellish game? Stay up till midnight and find out. Midnight Friday July 17th and Saturday July 18th at Nitehawk: $16