Review: River of Fundament

Capri Theatre

Capri Theatre

The controversy surrounding Matthew Barney’s seven-years-in-the-making five-and-a-half hour epic is completely justified – but the film is no more dangerous than any other piece of art. To give a sculpture or painting a rating out of five seems superfluous. Therefore, River of Fundament can’t be rated, just as it can’t fit in within the classification system of mainstream cinema. While gratuitous violence and sex are coupled with a focus on bodily fluids and functions, Barney does so in a way that is completely unsexy, removing any erotic meaning that could line it with pornography. River of Fundament is a loose interpretation of Norman Mailer’s 1983 misunderstood novel, Ancient Evenings. A central narrative of the happenings at Mailer’s own wake, with Mailer attending as an ‘undead soul’ who reincarnates to reach his final form, ties together stories of Egyptian Gods behaving badly – Isis, Osiris, Horus and Set among them. Much of this narrative is set against the fall of a motor vehicle industry in Detroit, a novel representation for the main theme of reincarnation and rebirth. The narrative is driven by Jonathon Bepler’s exceptional score; making the piece more like an opera than a soundtrack. Anything from the gargle of water to children tinkering on Hasbro toys to exotic sopranos are utilised by Bepler to tremendous effect. Hyper-realistic and stooped in thick layers of symbolism, it’s impossible to take all of River of Fundament in at first watch. This is high art in its most confronting form. Even though Hollywood arthouse royalty Paul Giamatti, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ellen Burstyn grace their presence, it’s in no way a ‘movie’ – it’s performance art. The actors are all performance artists; one of the hardest elements to process is just how much of the life-endangering sequences and graphic sex acts are stylised, and how much are real. The fear of the unknown is at times completely overwhelming. At any moment anything can happen – there are literally no boundaries to how far Barney will push his performers – a fear completely foreign in mainstream cinema. The true triumph of River of Fundament is just how gripping it is. Even as the hours tick by, it is utterly watchable. You fear missing a single scene will render the whole film a redundant mess – wasting all your time and effort thus far. Surviving the film is a test of endurance. You leave moved, exhausted and affected. Considering this impact, provoking reaction and discourse, is the goal of any form of high art, Barney has succeeded. Just don’t ask me to watch it again. Rating: NA River of Fundament screens today (Monday, March 3) at 5pm at the Capri Theatre

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