River of Fundament
In 2007, Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler began a new collaborative project inspired by American author Norman Mailer's 1983 novel Ancient Evenings, set in pharaonic Egypt. The project was conceived as a nontraditional opera with a series of one-time-only live acts performed across the American landscape. The film River of Fundament combines documentation of these three live acts with scenes set in a reconstruction of Norman Mailer's brownstone apartment in Brooklyn Heights. Barney and Bepler's script reimagines Mailer as his own protagonist who reincarnates three times in three different bodies by magically entering the womb of his wife Hathfertiti. With each incarnation the undead Norman emerges from a river of feces that runs beneath his Brooklyn Heights apartment and enters his own wake. Imagined as a memorial gathering attended by figures in the New York literary world, the wake takes place inside the Mailer apartment as it is ferried down the river. Guests eulogize Mailer and offer condolences to his widow. As the evening wears on, the wake gives way to a scene of carousing and revelry, in which characters from Ancient Evenings play out their incestuous struggles for power and their insatiable appetite for pleasure as the music gains momentum. Each incarnation of Norman joins the wake for a time, haunting the guests and challenging the ancient undead figures of gods and demigods. He endures two rebirths but fails to be reborn a third time, thus ending his attempt to ascend to a higher, more powerful state. The powerful pharaoh Usermare evokes the spirit of Ernest Hemingway and engages Norman's three incarnations in a struggle for dominance. In a parallel narrative, River of Fundament replaces the body of Norman with the body of an automobile in the American landscape. The automobiles' story begins with REN, a live performance staged at a car dealership in south Los Angeles. A 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperial undergoes its first death and is prepared for rebirth as a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. The second performance, KHU, unfolds along the River Rouge and Detroit River. KHU brings the Chrysler back to its birthplace Detroit, where it is dismembered and melted in five monumental furnaces. BA, the final live act, takes place at locations along New York City's East River, culminating in a battle at a dry dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the conclusion of BA, the automobile is further transformed into the 2001 Ford Crown Victoria.
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