Erstwhile J.Crew model and father to Bjork’s children Matthew Barney is renowned as one of the strangest, most ambitious and certainly least thrifty artists in the world. His gorgeous, nauseating, head-scratchingly avant garde ‘Cremaster Cycle’ is a series of five feature length films that allegedly cost four million dollars to make.
And now he’s back with something even bigger: ‘River of Fundament’, a staggeringly vast five hour opera/film/thing that’s been touring the world’s premier festivals and arts venues for the last few months, and finally touches down in the UK for one date only, at London’s biggest theatre, the Coliseum.
We were lucky enough to catch it last month at the Adelaide Festival, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious theatre festival, where ‘River of Fundament’ featured on a typically amazing programme of work that ranged from another epic, Toneelgrup Amsterdam’s mind-blowing six-hour Shakespeare mash-up ‘The Roman Tragedies’, to a residency from legendary avant garde composer John Zorn.
1. It’s completely mental
You really have never seen anything like ‘River of Fundament’, a three-act film/opera that is sort of based upon Norman Mailer’s novel ‘Ancient Evenings’. We haven’t read Norman Mailer’s book, but we doubt it’s exactly the same as this, seeing as the main character in ‘River of Fundament’ is the late… Norman Mailer, who reincarnates three times throughout the three acts of ‘RoF’, to an increasingly decaying New York and Detroit, that also appears to be populated by the spirits of the ancient Egyptian dead. Oh yes.
2. It’s incredibly filthy
Both literally and metaphorically. Norman is always reborn though a river of actual shit – ‘fundament’ being a polite way of putting it – and though the first two parts of the show are actually comparatively tame compared to some of Barney’s work, part three makes up for it in spades. Chockablock full of weird, scatalogical sex, it is almost certainly the filthiest thing that has ever been put on in the London Coliseum. Definitely don’t go with your parents.
3. There are famous people in it
There really are, most notably Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ellen Burstyn as different incarnations of Hathfertiti (a medium) and Paul Giamatti as Ptah-Nem-Hotep (a pharaoh). They’re only present on film, but it is strangely delightful/reassuring to see such familiar faces in the midst of all the lunacy.
4. There is singing
The show’s musical composer/director Jonathan Bepler has done a remarkable job of pumping ‘River of Fundament’ full of strange and alluring musical styles, from gorgeously haunting folk songs, to a sort of weird hip hop summary of whatever the hell is going on, to actual operatics. It’s strange and beautiful.
5. It is literally awesome
‘River of Fundament’ is a five-hour slab of ravishingly shot madness with unsettling songs, batshit mental celebrity cameos, a baffling plot and some of the least family friendly images you will ever see. As it’s all on film, it doesn’t react to you, or respond to you – it’s simply there, a monstrous thing, the likes of which you will probably never see again. It is one of the weirder things to happen in London, and it is happening for one night only. If you’re at all curious, buy a ticket: the chance won’t come again.