|Horizontally-divided field emblem. Used in Matthew Barney's films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Inspired (I refuse to say “loosely based”) on Norman Mailer’s most heavily criticized work, “Ancient Evenings”, written in 1983, this is a three part/seven act hybrid of opera and various other art forms. Using some structural concepts from the work, the story is largely set around a wake being held for Norman Mailer at his house and the decline of the American car industry. Whilst at the wake Mailer returns from the dead in seven different forms, representing what the ancient Egyptians believed to be the seven stages of the soul. The decline of the American car industry, symbolized by the systematic destruction and decay of a single car and those that work in the industry around it, is itself symbolic of human death. At least that is one interpretation, but who knows?
“Why doesn’t someone just say ‘no’ to this guy!” was the strained response from a dear friend of mine when I reported back my viewing of this work. We often hear the old cliché that one must suffer for their art. However, it would appear that Matthew Barney wishes to share this feeling with his audience. Forgetting for a moment that he might owe something to anyone outside of his fellow sycophantic artists who pray that they might get his kind of sponsorship, “River of Fundament” is an ordeal – a six hour ordeal of self-indulgence and excess. This isn’t to say that it isn’t often beautiful or clever in parts. I would contend that the film contains some wonderfully shot scenes and some great ideas. It is inspirational, but as I sat watching its premier at the English National Opera House I couldn’t help thinking that the inspiration I was getting might be a coping mechanism, justifying my time spent there. You are provoked to think beyond the numbing of your gluteal muscles and the bemusement of the various hipsters in attendance because you are bludgeoned into doing so.