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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Context: River of Fundament

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler's six-hour epic River of Fundament screens at the BAM Harvey Theater from February 12—16. Context is everything, so get even closer to the film with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

From BAM

"River of Fundament: Spotting Symbols and Icons" (BAM Blog)
Sometimes a muscle car is more than a muscle car.

“Matthew Barney: Fluid States” (BAM Blog)
The 1967 Chrysler Imperial in River of Fundament? That would be the god Osiris.

"How Time Flies: Epic Productions at BAM" (BAM Blog)
A look back at BAM's longest productions.

River of Fundament World Premiere (Facebook)
Highlights from the star-studded opening night of the film.

From Around the Web

Article + Video
"Art Matters: Sexy Beast" (The New York Times)
"It was extraordinarily peaceful inside the cow," insisted Norman Mailer's son. Read other perspectives on RoF from the diverse cast.

"Matthew Barney's Singular New Film" (The Paris Review)
Barney's film involved recreating Norman Mailer's famed New York apartment on a river barge and smelting 25 tons of metal in custom-made furnaces.

Live from the NYPL: Matthew Barney with Paul Holdengräber (
Barney discusses his approach to filmmaking, the origins of River of Fundament, and more.

Behind the Scenes of River of Fundament 
The RoF director of photography took these behind-the-scenes photos of Barney wrangling an Ibis, early-morning filming in Oregon, and more.

Matthew Barney Talks With Jonathan Bepler (Interview Magazine)
"I love all people," says RoF composer Jonathan Bepler. "And I love to make them squirm if possible."

Matthew Barney: “It’s What’s Outside the Frame That’s Scary” (The Guardian)
“I’m interested in cliché,” says Barney about RoF, “in how much power [it] carries.”

Harold Bloom Reviews Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings (New York Review of Books)
The eminent critic's review was as important to Barney's project as was the actual novel.

Worthwhile Words

Matthew Barney on rivers:
[New York's waste management is] along the waterways but barely visible. [...] You see it in a flash on your way to the airport—you look down and see the recycling plant, waste water management, the natural gas and sanitation department. But the view from the waterways [...] I was interested from the start in framing the city through these waterways. [...] Working here on the East River and seeing it every day, watching the current change the way that it does, moving both directions, has a lot of power. The rivers are big working rivers. Once I started exploring the water, it changed my perspective on the city as a natural landscape. —Matthew Barney in The Paris Review
In “Ancient Evenings,” the river is a colon. It’s a river of feces. In order to transform, you have to pass back through that river, the fundament. The way the novel transposes the body and the landscape is one thing that attracted me to it. Bodily functions are interchangeable with the primordial ooze of the earth. —Matthew Barney in The New York Times
Now Your Turn. . .

So what's your verdict? Interested in pursuing your own scatological reincarnation? Tell us what you thought in the comments below.


  1. Umm, thanks for asking me what I thought of the "The Fundament," but I don't possess ESP. We are seeing the film tonight, so you might want to resend your email tomorrow.


    1. Our apologies! You should not have received the email yet, then. We'd still love to know what you think after the fact.

    2. I found part one intriguing as I happen to know more than I realized about Mailer and I liked the ambitious melding of his life with his protagonist's reincarnation journey. Norman I climbing into the belly of the beast was a wonderfully layered metaphor. The visuals were striking although the tin dialogue took away from the attempted narrative for me. Although I applaud Barney's ambition in using Detroit's economic and physical decline, part 2 swallowed up the reincarnation saga for me and I found the Trans Am focus tedious although I think one of his point was that machines defecate waste as much as humans. I wanted to stay and see Part 3 but was so disappointed with the middle intensely abstracted and redundant section, that I passed on the final relay.


    3. P.S. The music was wonderful.--Blick

  2. I found RIVER OF FUNDAMENT a telling and at moments beautiful piece of art! I was so glad to be a part of it - C.G. Reeves

  3. I really enjoyed the work. I became entranced. My only complaint was just how asleep my ass became, not as a result of duration, but because of the very uncomfortable ''seats'' on the balcony at Bam. A little padding would not go amiss.


  4. Where do I begin?? There was a lot to absorb. And I was apprehensive about making it to the end but I wanted the full experience, so I held on. And I feel proud about that. LIke I'm an art badass. Part I, with it's memorial service, Elaine Stritch!!, stunning cinematography, river of feces, Norman I crawling into cow. Intermission one came and I felt relieved. Relieved because the film was beautifully weird, funny and gross and I wanted to see more. I'm still sorting out all the imagery, metaphors, dialogue -- for me it's a film that needs to be thought about a lot. The music was amazing. The sound was amazing; nice work with the sound system, BAM! I agree with another comment that the seats could be better, especially if you are asking people to sit through what was basically an opera. Thanks for the amazing experience, Barney, Bepler and BAM. - CC

  5. I found it tedious, baffling, revolting, disconnected, the sound system at times painfully overwhelming, and I voted with my feet as many others did at the first intermission.

  6. I've been coming to BAM since you first started in the early seventies, with the great operas by Glass and other real innovators. I must say the River.... was really a low point in your programming. Sure, some of the images of cities in ruin were stunning, but even though the film was inspired by Mailer (male-er) it didn't have to be a semi-porn flick for males, with overwhelming touches of grand-guignol disgust. If Barney's a hot name, you could have done us the favor of insisting that it be cut radically, an hour would have sufficed. Now Barney is no film maker for sure and a Wagnerian wannabe, and the music... well very painful for the ears.

  7. The minute I saw the announcement of the premier, I got the ticket and was very looking forward to it. I was very disappointed, disgusted, had to leave after second act. Unfortunately, it was waste and not only artistic endevour but of time. Better do better next time!

  8. River of Fundament had moments of unbearable beauty along with long stretches of incomprehensible excess. It was like watching the Ring for the first time. Barney is the new Wagner.

  9. I was surprised how closely the film followed Mailer's Ancient Evenings, even to the anachronistic tomatoes in the Pharaoh's garden. Using Mailer's son for the reincarnated Mailer was a courageous act of insanity.
    I felt that Part III could have been cut by about an hour, though. The very last bit seemed sappy, repetitious, and a bit too much like a National Geographic film. The rest was marvelous, though. I felt that the automobile metaphors worked with the plot very well, and the images were awesome!