Film

Wading in Matthew Barney’s River of Shit

by Jillian Steinhauer on February 14, 2014

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, "River of Fundament: Ren" (2014), production still (photo by Chris Winget) (© Matthew Barney)

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, “River of Fundament: Ren” (2014), production still (photo by Chris Winget) (© Matthew Barney)

In the opening of his review of Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament for GalleristNY, Michael H. Miller writes that “it feels perverse to attempt to review, or even summarize” the six-hour-long film (including two intermissions), which premiered on Wednesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I’m not normally prone to be suspicious of an artist’s intentions, but part of me suspects that this is what Matthew Barney wants. It may even be subconscious, but Barney’s basic idea with this new film seems to be that if you throw enough shit (pun intended) together, and stretch it out for long enough, and make it suitably incoherent, most everyone will be too overwhelmed and swayed by hovering notions of “genius” that they won’t bother to object.

In fact, if Barney had made the film shorter, or more coherent, I would feel far more forgiving. Instead, as River of Fundament dragged on and descended further into its pit of self-indulgent ooze, I found myself increasingly indignant at being made to sit through it. (Yes, I know, no one was forcing me to stay.) By the very end, when the story had finished and given way to a few minutes of gorgeous, generic shots of nature — followed by a few shots of dead nature (birds, fish), because yes, life and death are connected and it’s all such a deep revelation — I was ready to walk out. I didn’t, partly because I was with someone and partly because I figured that if I’d made it this far, I should stay until the credits rolled.

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, "River of Fundament" (2014),  production still (photo by David Regen) (© Matthew Barney) (click to enlarge)

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, “River of Fundament” (2014), production still (photo by David Regen) (© Matthew Barney) (click to enlarge)

Miller is correct on one count: to attempt to summarize River of Fundament would be futile; there’s somehow too much plot and no plot at the same time. The BAM program does a surprisingly excellent job, but short of quoting the whole thing, it’s useless to try and replicate that here. Here are some basics (I think): the film concerns Norman Mailer, who is dead, but whose soul has been attempting to achieve immortality by crossing the river of feces three times. A wake is being held at his apartment, filled with famous people (actual ones, like Fran Lebowitz) and also some Egyptian gods and pharaohs, who are represented in the film as people covered in shit, since they seem to inhabit and guard the river (which flows beneath Mailer’s apartment). Norman has various spiritual manifestations and helpers, including two kas; Hathfertiti, who acted as his medium during his lifetime; and three cars that become protagonists of a sort (one manages to impregnate a woman, after it’s been crashed into a river and rusted to pieces!).

This scenario — give or take the cars — is based loosely on a book by Mailer himself, the 700-page Ancient Evenings, which he worked on for more than 10 years and published in 1983. Mailer’s protagonist is actually a nobleman named Menenhetet I, but Barney chose to replace him with the author based in part on his reading of a review of Ancient Evenings in the New York Review of Books by Harold Bloom. In that piece, Bloom writes:

But I don’t intend to give an elaborate plot summary, since if you read Ancient Evenings for the story, you will hang yourself. There is a lot less story than any summary would indicate, because this is a book in which every conceivable outrage happens, and yet nothing happens, because at the end everything remains exactly the same.

That applies to River of Fundament as well. If you see it, you will see many things: a man licking a woman’s shit-smeared asshole, a woman giving birth to a bird, men fighting and tearing out each other’s eyes out and each other’s balls off, much vomiting, many penises, Barney himself (playing one of Norman’s kas) covered in shit and anally penetrated by another shit-covered man (whose penis is wrapped in gold leaf), a woman arched in a backbend peeing prodigiously on a dinner table. Barney is apparently one of the few artists left who still believes in shock value.

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, "River of Fundament: Khu" (2014),  production still (photo by Hugo Glendinning) (© Matthew Barney)

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, “River of Fundament: Khu” (2014), production still (photo by Hugo Glendinning) (© Matthew Barney)

All of that, mind you, is shot impeccably. The visuals are stunning. Shit has never looked so good (except for maybe in Andres Serrano’s Shit series; there’s enough shit to go around, apparently). And in a few scenes, most notably when Barney films the smelting of a car at a steel plant in Detroit (which was abandoned before he took it over), rivers of deep gold fire jumping and running into puddles and sculpted towers looming ominously in the air, you understand his talents as an artist — they are formal.

As a storyteller and writer, on the other hand, Barney comes up far, far short of his five and a half hours of screen time. The script is of mixture of his own writing and passages pulled from Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William S. Burroughs, and Mailer (all men). Despite the strengths of those names, it never amounts to anything, with disjointed texts turned into operatic chanting at the hands of Jonathan Bepler, who composed and directed the music. The music is ever-present and actually quite terrific in places — strange instruments made of metal and played in a factory in Detroit, an atonal marching band in a parking lot in LA — but the opera decision starts off suspect and becomes comically bad. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a great actress, but nothing can save her from having to talk-sing the phrase “fuck yes!” while kneeling before her shit- and boil-covered father.

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, "River of Fundament" (2014), production still (© Matthew Barney)

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, “River of Fundament” (2014), production still (© Matthew Barney)

The lack of strong writing is, I think, what damns River of Fundament — and not so much the lack of plot so much as the lack of … anything. The movie becomes almost six hours of mixed-up images and references and scenes without any seeming purpose or point. The many ethnic groups that make appearances as musical accompaniment start to feel like weird tokens in a movie made by a white man about another white man: Mexican guitar players, a Ranchera singer, an R&B singer, a group of singers and drummers who all look Native American, an African-American girls’ step team?! (Also, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, Mailer’s arguably most famous essay is called “The White Negro,” which makes his second incarnation in River of Fundament as a black jazz musician both logical and particularly hard to swallow.) This kind of postmodern mishmash can work for an hour, maybe two, but not six.

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, "River of Fundament: Ren" (2014), production still (photo by Chris Winget) (© Matthew Barney) (click to enlarge)

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, “River of Fundament: Ren” (2014), production still (photo by Chris Winget) (© Matthew Barney) (click to enlarge)

But who are we kidding? This is Matthew Barney. He is a Male Artist. He makes Big Artwork filled with Spectacles like car crushing; in fact, Barney “conceived River of Fundament as a premise for more immediate experiments and events to be presented on stage,” Andy Battaglia writes in The Paris Review Daily, which perhaps explains its inability to come together. A macho artist obsessed with sex, shit, and violence has made a six-hour film adaptation of a macho writer’s (also really into sex and violence, shit maybe a little less) 700-page novel, and no one knows what either of them is about. Lucky us.

Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament continues at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM Harvey Theater, 30 Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn) through February 16.

Editor’s note: We asked two writers to review Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament. The other post is here.

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  • Beau Toutant

    In reviewing this movie, I’m not sure why you, the author, feel the need to validate your review by beginning it with a quote from another current review. Your opinion should be able to stand on it’s own. (That being said, recent subjects of “farts”, “porn” and now “shit”…I don’t know. ‘Interesting editorial choices.)

    • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

      I think that has to do more with the online format which is more about accumulating info and continuing discussion rather than stand alone piece. I personally believe, for instance, that stand alone texts are a thing of the past, since all “texts” etc have contexts.

      • Beau Toutant

        I’m aware that a lot of reviews on this site “accumulate info” and concur or disagree with others’ opinions before they state their own. However, I, as a reader, enjoy and appreciate virgin reviews that support their unique opinions. I don’t think this is old-fashioned, just smart.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          Ok, we can disagree, I’m cool with that. I’m actually just sharing my own viewpoint on the text today.

        • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

          I like how you ‘quote’ his reply to start your own comment.

          • Beau Toutant

            Uh, huh.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      I wasn’t using Michael’s quote to validate my opinion at all–I was using it because it struck me as something to be discussed. I’m of the Hrag school (obviously) that we are all having a conversation. And in fact, that’s not a new, online idea; after Mailer’s “White Negro” can an excellent essay by James Baldwin. And then more essays on race by Irving Howe, Ralph Ellison, and others, all in conversation with each other. Good criticism doesn’t just sit on its own in a vacuum. As for the editorial choices: tell artists to stop making work about/with farts, porn, & shit, and then we can stop writing about it!

      • Beau Toutant

        Oh, Jillian. Your article could stand alone. Someone should tell you that. It’s just that the quote was SO new, not the idea. Maybe every now and then, you could disagree with Hrag.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          Who said she couldn’t disagree and she certainly has? I’m simply wading into (the river of shit) considering I edited the article. I didn’t add the quotation, etc. Perhaps you should ask questions before assuming.

          • Beau Toutant

            Good lord! From the beginning, I was trying to tell Jillian that she wrote a good review and that she did not need, in my humble-but-honest opinion, a brandy-new quote from another reviewer on the exact same subject. Her premise stands by itself. That’s a complement. (Take it, Jillian! You’re welcome.) My saying she should disagree with you now and then was in reference to her “obviously”. It frankly had nothing to do with your editing (how would I know?) and I certainly did not imply that you added the quote. I do not assume. I never do.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I’m going to stay out of this. I think there’s some misreading of intent or words going on … I was simply responding to stuff since Jillian is traveling today and I didn’t think she’d be able to respond to comments.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            I used Michael’s quote because I thought it was perfectly illustrative of the point I wanted to make, that the movie’s sort of made to be unreviewable. I do think criticism should be in conversation, and I don’t think being in conversation precludes also standing alone as a piece of writing. But, all that said, thank you for the compliment.

          • Beau Toutant

            Amen, Jillian! I have no problem with conversation but I heartily endorse strong stand-alone pieces, even on-line. On-line articles have to be strong because they’re the texts of the future. Print media is diminishing so on-line is no longer throwaway or dismissive. Seriously, good for you, Jillian! (My personal peccadillo is with the placement and very, very recent date of Barney’s quote. To me, at least, it gives more weight to his opinion than yours. Do with that what you will.)

      • http://churchofeuthanasia.org/ HypGnotist

        “Pornography: The name given to any kind of sexually explicit material that someone is trying to suppress.” – Alex Comfort

    • Quasimodo

      very dumb comment — the biggest problem writers face, a shortage of intelligent readers

      • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

        Thanks for commenting, but let’s try to keep the conversation civil with no name calling.

        • Quasimodo

          Sometimes a little name-calling is useful in making a point. If a child refuses to behave after being told, aren’t they sent to sit in the corner?

      • Beau Toutant

        Why, bless your heart, Quasi! May I say, in reference to your comment (not this article), it has been my experience that intelligent writers are followed/read by an equally intelligent audience. The opposite is also true. In my humble opinion, “the biggest problem writers face” is compensatory pay.

  • http://gnomebooks.wordpress.com gnOme

    Why does Barney bother? Why did you review it? Why did I read the review???

    • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

      And why did you comment? So many unanswered questions!

      • http://gnomebooks.wordpress.com gnOme

        Precisely! Must all be part of the flowing of the river of fundament.

    • Den Hickey

      Why does Barney bother? Money… relevance… ego.

  • Daffodil Finesmith

    I watched his Cremaster Cycle. It was torture to sit through at the time, it made no sense and felt completely self indulgent. But now, many years later, I have to admit that a number of the scenes have stuck with me, memorable for their beauty and sheer weirdness.

    • pcmxa

      I had the same experience, which makes me wonder, if he presented the works as Individually projected vignettes (one per shoot /scene), would I loath the works less or perhaps even enjoy it?

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        I’ve been wondering about this, too—he’s clearly so good at certain things, I feel like he could just play to his strengths instead of weaving these epic, elaborate films that don’t make sense.

        • Michael Blum

          i’m curious what form these undiluted strengths of his would take–i mean divorced of all this tedious flotsam (literally and figuratively), the running times, the overbearing symbolisms (like the Celtic junk in the Crem. movies), etc. ultimately i’m not sure if these aspects–his strengths and weaknesses–are so dissociable. thinking about the Cycle, i find myself censuring it for the same things that I find most uncannily forceful about it. barney’s kind of like a richard wagner–joseph beuys character in this respect: there’s something very holistic and closed about his work, which gives off a smell of pretentious charlatanism but also provides for the nearly unforgettable mystery that makes barney’s name at all worth remembering or talking about. and i think economy (editing) would only attenuate this mystery. which also kind of makes him a horrible filmmaker, then, doesn’t it?

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            This is a great comment/thought. I’m still working through it,

          • Michael Blum

            my apologies if i was being a bit arcane. and the experience with barney’s work is definitely, at least for me, unique insofar as it’s a work that i have SO many reservations with, but one that persists in haunting or remaining with me nonetheless. for this reason i find it difficult to think or speak about.
            my point was that i really don’t think a separation of the essential and the inessential in his (of course: ridiculously, monstrously bloated) video works is possible. that so much of their impact derives from the trained study of these deliberate and no doubt tedious rituals (like the scene in the elevator, the scene in the guggenheim). that repetition serves an invaluable purpose in his works. i could go on.
            i should note, however, that i can’t possibly speak on the Fundament–haven’t seen it and i’m definitely gonna take your word for it that it blows (chunks).

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            It wasn’t arcane! It was smart. I’m just trying to figure out if I agree.

          • elgati

            That “mystery” is what García Lorca lived on. We call it “duende” in Spanish (lit. ‘elf’). As García Lorca explains, in the old days, when we mostly retold stories, all the energy went in how to portray them because everyone knew how they would end. The magic was in the “how” it was told. When the emphasis shifted to originality at all costs, some of that duende was lost. I think Barney is trying to do both. He’s fabricating folklore (a contradiction) and trying to give it the appropriate pomp and layering that You need to validate it. Sometimes that can blow up in your face, royally. With Cremaster it worked. I haven’t seen this film yet, but maybe that’s what happened?

    • Den Hickey

      Yes, they were beautifully shot, no question. But beyond good cinematography, what is there to the whole bloated, juvenile affair?

      • Daffodil Finesmith

        I’m not sure Den. It’s certainly not story telling in any traditional sense and I’m ok with that. The ambiguous, dream-like nature of his work is appealing. I just wish his weirdness felt less macho/arbitrary, as in, “I’m gonna do this ’cause it’s fucking awesome dude!” and more deliberate and considered as in, “The juxtaposition of the scene where I poop teeth from my butt hole with the Chrysler Tower demolition derby is a metaphor of familial dysfunction.”

        Of course both extremes are tedious, balance is good, as is knowing when *not* to do something. Apparently ‘not doing something’ isn’t in Barney’s catalogue.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          Very well said. I was trying to not put too much emphasis on plot and push for traditional storytelling, because I don’t think it needs to be that way either. But I’ve been trying to figure out what that would be/look like (if it were ambiguous and dreamlike but also good).

  • Daniel Larkin

    When you wrote Barney is apparently one of the few artists left who still believes in shock value… I was like yes you are so right… it’s just well I think we all feel like frankenstein… we’ve had enough shocks and want to get away from the shock machine and explore other currents… but why do you think shock value doesn’t appeal like it once did?… Am I the only one seeing a lot less artists going for shock value than ten years ago?… Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for subversive… but I don’t know… i think things are morphing… it’s just when imagery starts to get too harshly confrontational… it starts to feel hacky… I’d be so curious to hear if you think shock values stock is down and why… or if this is just my own lens…

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Well, I don’t think shock value=subversive. In fact, in some ways, I think they’re antithetical, because shock value is a quick burst of LOOK AT THIS CRAZY SHIT!, whereas subversive really gets under your skin and stays with you. So maybe artists aren’t going for shock value because it tends to be superficial.

      • Daniel Larkin

        I love this distinction between shock value as short term and a quick burst… and subversive as more long term…. and haunting… you’re right that shock value has it’s limits for lots of reasons…. and yes, i do find it to be superficial in many cases…

  • ideated_eyot

    Very near to all the seemingly incoherent/incomprehensible imagery comes straight from Mailer’s book ‘Ancient Evenings’, which is mentioned repeatedly during the wake sequence early in the movie.

    Mailer was, in fact, very obsessed with scatological matters in that book. He wrote pages-long accounts of messy sodomy and very highly detailed descriptions of the Pharoah’s bowel movements; plus lots of other stuff, too.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Thanks for commenting. How is “Ancient Evenings”?

      • ideated_eyot

        Well, you gotta consider that reading about that subject matter takes more time and effort than watching it. But you can take breaks whenever you like, eat what you like and sit how you like when you do it.

        • Superman2010

          In Barney’s interview with Charlie Rose he indicated that RoF is as much influenced by that review as it is by the text itself. Hit the nail on the head there.

          • Superman2010

            and Jillian…. “The many ethnic groups that make appearances as musical accompaniment start to feel like weird tokens in a movie made by a white man about another white man: Mexican guitar players, a Ranchera singer, an R&B singer, a group of singers and drummers who all look Native American, an African-American girls’ step team?!”

            Did you really have to go there? You killed some of your credibility with that……

            “a group of singers and drummers who all look Native American”??? A little research like reading the BAM press release would’ve cleared that up for you.

            I respect your opinion….however this film seemed to leave you in a mess….which I’m sure it was intended to do. MB 1- JS 0

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            Perception is part of art, if you need to look at a press release… well, that’s a problem right there …

          • Superman2010

            Or maybe you both got busted with a lazy line that does nothing to add to the review.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            If you’re answer is “read the press release” I don’t think we’re going to agree. Thanks for commenting.

          • Superman2010

            Actually you missed the point entirely.

            To me, the review basically reads like someone who didn’t want to go sit through a 6 hour film, spent their time reflecting on the shocking stuff…but seemed to miss the rest of the movie.

            But, onto my point….What do Native American drummers and singers “look” like??

            See what I mean…that’s lazy. It’s just left up to the mind of the readers….what about them “looked” Native American or didn’t “look” Native American. A quick check of that press release (and it is short) would’ve confirmed that the singers in that scene are, in fact, Native American….

            If you’re gonna include racial commentary and tokenism as part of an argument against the music of the film….you gotta at least look like you know what you’re talking about. That line was a clear punt. Something missed in the review is that Native Americans appear throughout the film….the protagonist reincarnates in his final form as a Lakota WWII veteran (and incidentally….the actor portraying Norman III, David Beautiful Bald Eagle, is in fact a Lakota WWII veteran). Norman Mailer loved to immerse himself in all cultures as a way of rebellion (he always saw himself as somewhat of an outsider). Something also missed….Norman Mailer was a huge jazz fan, which makes the jazz percussionist who plays Norman II not the stretch the review paints it to be.

            As I said…I respect the author’s opinion…this film is clearly not for everyone so she can write it off as much as she wants. I have absolutely no problem with that. I just saw some clear laziness in the writing, which killed the gravitas of the opinion….in my opinion. ;)

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            Actually, I understood your inflated opinion quite well. Thanks. It’s pretty clear you’re a big Barney fan.

          • Superman2010

            So….back to the question. What do Native American drummers and singers “look” like again?

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            Are you the same Chris Newell who is also in the Barney film as one of the Mystic River Singers? Is that why you are so passionate about this one point?

          • Superman2010

            See what a little research can do for you? ;)

            I’m not gonna hide that I’m a Barney fan or that I’m a fan of this film…it should be self-evident. My experience with them was nothing but positive.

            And, yes….I am passionate about representations of Native Americans by non-Native media. That line stuck out to me like a sore thumb…in fact, I found it bothersome. However, this is an attempt to communicate that. You may see my opinion as overinflated, but I think I got my point across.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I really appreciate your comment, I really do, but it seems like a small point in a larger discussion, that’s why I used “inflated.”

            I understand your sensitivity, but I think the reviewer’s perception is valid and she did not state it as fact but highlighted that it was a perception in the midst of a six-hour marathon. I think that perception is also an important historical document, when people look back it will be interesting to see how a viewer perceived one aspect. My issue with the press release comment was that too much art relies on an artist’s statement of what something is rather than what it is to the audience. That was my sensitivity.

            I wish all commenters were as thorough and intelligent as you, even if I don’t agree with them.

          • Superman2010

            “but I think the reviewers perception is valid and she did not state it as fact but highlighted that it was a perception in the midst of a six-hour marathon.”

            That was another of my points….the review comes off to me as someone who was doing something against their will and then writing about it.

            Why it was not evident to the writer that the singers are Native American is a valid point to discuss, however. What would lead her to the conclusion that we might not have been?

            I wish you could put yourself in my shoes. On a daily basis I’m subjected to portrayals of Natives by non-Native media, much of which includes the same uncertainty or lack of knowledge displayed in the review. I hope to be one of the voices to change that and I’m hoping that as one of the people contributing to these portrayals…..you’ll listen.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I’m sorry that’s what you heard in the article, but she was illegitimately excited to see the film and experience the whole thing. I spoke to her before and after, and I didn’t even ask her to review it (btw, we have another review by someone else running this week). In terms of what lead her to believe that is a really good question that I hope she addresses.

          • Beau Toutant

            I think you meant to say “legitimately”(?). Anyway…Superman2010 seems very knowledgable and informed. He could possibly be a good candidate to write a well-researched review in the future. Listen to your commenters, Hrag, and you may find a talented writing genius among them. (One more thing: In my opinion, there’s a vast difference between an artist’s statement and a press release. One is intent; the latter is descriptive and factually informative.)

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            If you don’t see a conflict of interest in asking somebody who is in an artwork to review it then I don’t know what to tell you. And yes, it was a typo …damn autocorrect on the go.

          • Beau Toutant

            He’s in it? Are you sure? Anyway… Relaaaaax, Hrag! There are some intelligent responses on your site. Over-and-out.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I’m sorry, I thought you saw that comment earlier. We discussed he had a role in the film. That’s why I was confused by your comment and reacted that way. And thanks for saying so.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            By the way, I was very excited to see this film. I think that actually contributed to my extreme disappointment much more than not wanting to see it would have.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            Also, by the way, to draw this out: the tokenism matters because it increases my perception/takeaway that the film was self-indulgent and lacking purpose/direction. It was yet another series of choices that Barney made that he failed to articulate clearly.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            Ah yes, and honestly, I thought the drummers were Native American and simply doubted myself and felt nervous about getting it wrong. And, as I said above, looked for confirmation and didn’t find it. But thank you for calling attention to this as something I need to be more aware of and careful about.

          • Superman2010

            Thx for the reply. I hope you’ll excuse my snarkyness in my other posts. It’s not my natural state of being and I’m not very good at it, so, in all honesty….I apologize and thanks for listening. :)

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            I did actually look up the drummers, in the program. I combed through it and couldn’t find the confirmation, so I hedged the line because I didn’t want to be wrong. I thought I did my due diligence, but you’re right that I was rushing and didn’t do enough. I will definitely keep that in mind for the future.

            I do, however, stand by the rest of that line. I know Mailer was a huge jazz fan, and I know that a Lakota chief played Norman III. But to me, they didn’t add up. I think it comes back to purpose–what started out as seeming somewhat logical or thoughtful, after 6 hours, turned into a jumbled mess. By the time we got to the step team, the various groups and appearances felt like a postmodern diversity parade rather than thoughtful choices. (It’s possible I didn’t article this well enough in the review.) And this is on Barney–to make the meanings of his choices, their connections to Mailer clearer.

  • Jillian Steinhauer

    YES, the man needs to learn edit. But I’m glad you liked it! I don’t want everyone to be as angry about it as me.

    • Superman2010

      Edited by Katharine McQuerrey according to the credits…..seems this bone needs to be picked somewhere else…. ;)

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        SOMETHING tells me Barney had final say. Just a hunch.

  • tobor

    hahaha! i don’t get it so it must be smart! sane ‘ole schtick from the x-fashion model

  • Fitzroy Jones

    This is a very weak review, seemingly based on aggravation and frustration rather than a considered response to what is a challenging work. Yes, the film is too long, and (for me at least) it fluctuated wildly from being interminably boring to something approaching transcendent, but who ever said it had to be coherent and make any sort of sense?

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      I saw/felt no moments of transcendence. And if you work on a movie for years, then yes, when you unveil it in its final, 6-hr form, sorry, but it needs to be coherent (and I don’t necessarily mean in terms of plot).

  • eastvillagesiren

    Alissa, excellent comments, especially your complaint re: seating. It wasn’t the film(s) that tempted me to flee after the first section, it was the punishing chairs and neck-wrenching side-screen view.

  • Quasimodo

    really useful review — grateful you sat through it to make your report. Telling are the hall- monitor comments of Superman2010 (sic) — n.b. we all know what Native Americans look like, at least when they’re wearing that identity, and nobody should have any problems with mentioning it, unless you’re playing some kind of PC “gotcha” game, which we should be beyond in this forum, honestly — which suggest that esthetic appreciation of works like this turn on being an insider who knows all the details. Not much to hoist you art-expert flag on, it seems to me. That Mailer loved jazz or was into American Indian culture does not a compelling artwork make, however. Better are the questions of just what’s going on here — why these two straight guys are so obsessed with buggery, why these two grown men are so consumed by feces. My old pal Donald Kuspit has written several times on shit and its discontents; here’s one example:
    http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit9-11-08.asp

    PS, my pal Linda Yablonsky saw much of the actual production, and she kept saying how incredible the whole thing was, which would be I guess a measure of sublimity — the artist making something that no sensible person would ever make. That certainly is a motor for avant-gardism, cf Wade Guyton making a 44-foot-long painting of basically blank black or white canvas (with undistinguished and barely distinguishable details that people love to cream over).

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Can’t wait to read about the triumph of shit! Thank you for sharing.

      I can see how the actual making of certain scenes in this film, particularly those three staged events/spectacles around which it’s built, would be pretty incredible (far more, IMO, than Guyton). It’s a shame that those potentially sublimities get lost in the larger swampy mess of the final product.

      • Quasimodo

        The shaman thing is interesting, I suppose — Beuys played it as a pointedly political role. But Barney? Mailer, Detroit, ancient Egypt … Is this the myth of the spectacle? Of Capital converted to pure myth? We can ask some questions … does it reveal the real conditions of ordinary life, or does it disguise them? Does it offer hope? Is it madness, and if so, are we running an asylum?

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          I like the idea of the myth of spectacle, but if anything, I think Barney’s selling it. I also like the idea of capital converted to myth, but a lot of the good car stuff in the film gets lost in all the convoluted mythology. In other words, there are strands that could have been pulled out, ideas that might have become something, but they end up not going anywhere. I think that’s part of the reason I was so disappointed.

    • Superman2010

      Quasi…my point was to educate. The line was a clear punt…Jillian has admitted that. She did attempt diligence in her work, but she missed the mark. I was hoping to inform rather than complain (hence my apology to her for the tone of some of my remarks).

      I still stand by my original thought….the racial commentary/tokenism argument she presented loses its punch because basically she elucidates her argument with a lack of information (i.e. “a set of singers and drummers that look Native American”). I know she sees it differently and that’s perfectly ok with me, but this was not the pc police coming down on her by any means. She doesn’t articulate her point very well….that’s what I was getting at.

      • Quasimodo

        My feeling is that playing “gotcha” is juvenile … To add to the conversation you only need to say “by the way they are Native American” … this approach is blog ideology … everyone has something to say … plus you could also go deeper … It’s Barney who’s playing the Indian card … why? … how PC is this? … see the Native American casting in “House of Cards”? … they are free agents themselves, political players not pawns … they don’t really need our protection .. . it denies them they’re own agency … where’s Barney in this? Somewhere other than Central Casting? ….

        • Superman2010

          I’m not sure if you’ve followed the entire conversation. I’ll admit my tone was inappropriate for a useful conversation. That’s why I apologized and thanked her for listening. So if you wanna prosecute me for it…I’ll save you the time. I’m guilty.

          Im not sure what the second half of your comment has to do with anything….it’s a little all over the place…

  • Andrea B Good

    First thing I will follow the example of Superman2010 and I will also excuse myself for my bad words against Jillian in some tweets after I read her article. Maybe I was as angry as you after watching the film, but sorry. I don’t think I used the proper way to express my discord, so I hope you’ll accept my apologies.

    Secondly I will say that I enjoyed reading the entire comments so much. It made me think of what Jonathan Bepler explained in an interview with Barney (http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/matthew-barney-and-jonathan-bepler) about dissonance. This whole debate seems to me something similar to what dissonance music is to Bepler.

    I haven’t seen the film yet and who knows when I’ll have the chance to. I read some reviews and to me it seems a very achieved work. I specially enjoy the idea of having different disciplines coworking together creating something like an opera, and maybe is true that this

    Gesamtkunstwerk is too pretentious, but I see it in a different way: maybe this long and complex creations avoid the fast and easy consumerism of art. I don’t mean art is just for a few “entendu” but is true that he doesn’t make it easy and that helps on making the brain work. I don’t think there’s a lack of cohision in the work (and again, I don’t know cause I haven’t seen it yet) but I repeat again (because I think it is really important) that the piece works as the music does, with this dissonance which obviously doesn’t make it clear or easy.

    I’m not sure if I made myself clear, it is difficult to think that in my language and even more in english.

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