Brooks hosts rare screen­ing of no­to­ri­ous art film ‘River of Fun­da­ment’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MOVIE LISTINGS -

Trav­el­ers come to Mem­phis to lis­ten to mu­sic, eat bar­be­cue and visit his­toric lo­ca­tions.

Luke Thomp­son is com­ing to watch a movie.

He is driv­ing to Mem­phis from Tulsa, Ok­la­homa, to catch the 11:15 a.m. Satur­day screen­ing of “River of Fun­da­ment,” a seven-act, 350-minute movie by San Fran­cis­coborn con­cep­tual art star and provo­ca­teur Matthew Bar­ney. The screen­ing takes place at the Mem­phis Brooks Mu­seum of Art

In­spired by Nor­man Mailer’s novel “An­cient Evenings” and con­ceived as an opera, the film in­volves Egyp­tian gods, reinca rna­tion, Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal, the dis­mem­ber­ment and melt­ing of a 1967 Chrysler Im­pe­rial, and ma­te­rial that a Brooks news re­lease warns “may be too graphic for some view­ers,” due to its “ex­plicit” de­pic­tion of “sex, vi­o­lence and bod­ily func­tions.”

“River of Fun­da­ment” re­peats at 11:15 a.m. Sun­day. For now, these two Mem­phis book­ings rep­re­sent the end of the movie’s “world­wide” tour.

“Bar­ney’s films are no­to­ri­ously hard to see, and I had nearly given up hope of an­other North Amer­i­can screen­ing,” said Thomp­son, 21, who works in a bank. “I could hardly be­lieve my eyes when I saw Mem­phis on the list.”

He said com­ing to Mem­phis is not a hard­ship, even for just a day. “My wife and I are big fans of Mem­phis in gen­eral. Mem­phis is a very cul­ture-cen­tric town, and the fact that they’re show­ing a six-hour ex­per­i­men­tal art film is tes­ta­ment to that.”

Se­ri­ous Mem­phis cinephiles may re­mem­ber that Bar­ney’s pre­vi­ous mo­tion­pic­ture ex­per­i­ment, “The Cre­mas­ter Cy­cle,” a sur­real five-film event that fea­tured such won­ders as a dou­ble-am­putee model out­fit­ted with chee­tah legs, played at the old Mu­vico Pe­abody Place 22 for a week in 2003, cour­tesy of In­die Mem­phis.

In that film, Mailer had a small role as Harry Hou­dini. The author died in 2007, and a reported high­light of “River of Fun­da­ment” is a re-imag­in­ing of Mailer’s wake, end­ing with the un­dead Mailer emerg­ing from a river of fe­ces.

“The im­agery of ‘River of Fun­da­ment’ grows ever more ag­gres­sive, un­til a third act that’s al­most an as­sault,” wrote re­viewer Glenn Kenny in The New York Times. “Suf­fice it to say that it makes ‘Pink Flamin­gos’ look like ‘The Sound of Mu­sic,’ and if that sounds hard to be­lieve, don’t say I didn’t warn you. That said, it’s clear that Mr. Bar­ney’s pur­pose is en­tirely se­ri­ous ... and the web of al­lu­sions and cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tions Mr. Bar­ney weaves is, on a cer­tain level, stag­ger­ing, and some­times mov­ing.”

“It’s a unique spec­ta­cle,” said An­dria Lisle, as­so­ciate cu­ra­tor of film and pub­lic en­gage­ment at the Brooks. “It’s a very rare op­por­tu­nity for us to bring this level of art in the Egyp­tian funeral rites and Detroit mus­cle cars meet in “River of Fun­da­ment,” a 350-minute movie (with two in­ter­mis­sions) in­spired by a Nor­man Mailer novel, “An­cient Evenings.”

medium of film to Mem­phis. “Bar­ney him­self ac­knowl­edges that the film is some­thing of an or­deal, but it’s al­ways sur­pris­ing. It should be like go­ing on a jour­ney that af­fects you phys­i­cally.”

Lisle said sev­eral outof-town­ers in ad­di­tion to Thomp­son have bought tickets to the movie. One such per­son is Stacey Rathert, 28, ad­junct pro­fes­sor in art at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­sis­sippi in Ox­ford. Rathert’s ea­ger­ness has a per­sonal el­e­ment: She worked on the movie. Even so, “I never thought in a mil­lion years I’d be able to see it.”

In 2010, when Rathert was a stu­dent at Fort s State Uni­ver­sity in Hays,

Kansas, she and some other Kansas metal artists trav­eled to Detroit in an­swer to Bar­ney’s call for skilled par­tic­i­pants on a huge set in­side a for­mer auto in­dus­try steel foundry. “I was on a scaffolding above a huge fur­nace, toss­ing in tons of cast iron in pack­ets that would melt and come out as this very beau­ti­ful molten or­ange flow­ing liq­uid. It looked like lava.”

She said she was one of about 50 metal work­ers in the scene, throw­ing iron into the fur­naces for close to 13 hours. “It was in­sane. We ob­vi­ously had a very spe­cific job to do so we had to pay attention, but our ‘acting’ di­rec­tion was to act as if we were at a funeral, very somber and sad.”

Thomp­son said the im­pact of the “Cre­mas­ter” films ex­plains why he con­sid­ers “River of Fun­da­ment” a must-see.

“It was shock­ing to me, just the fact that it was such an am­bi­tious un­der­tak­ing,” he said of “Cre­mas­ter.”

“It’s like (Bar­ney) cre­ates lit­er­ally his own world, and his own rules that the peo­ple in that world play by.”

He said he’s aware he may not en­joy “River of Fun­da­ment.” “I wouldn’t be in­ter­ested in it if I knew I was go­ing to love it,” he said. “The risk that I might hate it is part of the fun.”

Not ev­ery­one is will­ing to take that risk. “My wife’s com­ing with me to Mem­phis,” he said, “but she’s not go­ing to watch the film.”

Tickets to “River of Fun­da­ment” are scaled to match the movie’s epic length: Ad­mis­sion is $22, or $15 for mu­seum mem­bers and students. Each screen­ing will con­tain two in­ter­mis­sions. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit brooksmu­seum.org. .

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF THE LAURENZ FOUN­DA­TION

Stag­ger­ing im­agery on a colos­sal scale is a sig­na­ture of Matthew Bar­ney’s epic art film “River of Fun­da­ment,” which screens Satur­day and Sun­day at the Mem­phis Brooks Mu­seum of Art.

JOHN BEI­FUSS

SCREEN VI­SIONS

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