River of Fundament

Director: Matthew Barney
Year Released: 2014
Rating: 0.0

Performance artist Barney takes novelist Norman Mailer's somewhat maligned (or is that misunderstood?) 1983 novel Ancient Evenings - about life in Egypt around 1122 BCE - and tries to tie together the book's themes of reincarnation, spirituality and filth with elements of its author's life ... except he sets it in modern day America (filming sections in New York City, Detroit and Los Angeles) in the form of a very unorthodox opera (Jonathan Bepler provides the score).  Although several well-known actors and actresses make appearances - including Paul Giamatti (as Ptah-Nem-Hotep), Elaine Stritch (as a eulogist), Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ellen Burstyn (each as a different version of Hathfertiti) - and was filmed with professional movie equipment it, like the Cremaster Cycle, is not technically speaking a "feature film" (which allowed me the loophole of screening it in pieces) but rather a non-linear "visual experience" that will challenge the nerves of a good deal of its prospective audience: to quote the Yale graduate (and football player) himself, "it's not for everyone."  That being said, I can't think of another current "filmmaker" more devoted (or truly serious) about examining the very act of performing a ritual - everywhere, people are methodically assembling or transforming this or that - or as entranced by symbolism (except maybe David Lynch): the gold leaf all over the place (even wrapped around a turd ... and a phallus) is a reference to the work of the conceptualist James Lee Byars (who passed away in Cairo in 1997), Mailer's physical manifestation is played by three separate actors (his real-life son John Buffalo Mailer, percussionist Milford Graves and soldier/stuntman Dave Bald Eagle) and his "soul" (or "Ka") is represented by three distinct automobiles (the first by Chrysler, the second by Pontiac and the third by the Ford Motor Company).  Although it might be easy to condemn Barney for trying to make too big a statement about "existence" or trying to mesh together elements that don't really "gel" (a stomp team? a poop dildo? a woman having sex with a car?), it allows plenty of room for discussion: what if, like Hemingway before him, Norman realized the only way to achieve anything resembling immortality was through your "work" ... and that alone?  And how "shaken" should we be to "realize" - also pointed out by Belgian provocateur Wim Delvoye - that our bodies are fundamentally speaking mostly machines for producing caca? [Rating Not Applicable]