River of Fundament
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River of Fundament
River of Fundament
Film poster
Directed by
Produced by
Written byMatthew Barney
Based onAncient Evenings by Norman Mailer
Music byJonathan Bepler
CinematographyPeter Streitmann
Laurenz Foundation
Release date
February 12, 2014 (United States)
Running time
330 minutes
CountryUnited States

River of Fundament is a 2014 operatic experimental film written and directed by American artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney, and co-directed by longtime collaborator Jonathan Bepler. It was produced by Barney and the Laurenz Foundation and is loosely based on the 1983 novel Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer. The film features Barney, Dave Bald Eagle, Milford Graves, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Giamatti, and Aimee Mullins.


River of Fundament was produced over 2007 to 2012, being the final product of a series of performances that accumulated into becoming the film's narrative. The film follows Norman Mailer (played by three different actors over the course of the film) as he travels through three different reincarnations, enduring the seven mythological states of his soul, loosely based on his own novel, "Ancient Evenings" (1983).[1] Along with the main narrative, it includes other elements from performance, sculpture, and opera. It has been described as an "eulogy for [Norman] Mailer."[2]

The film was released on February 12, 2014 in a limited theatrical release and through exhibitions at museums in several countries.

Plot and narrative

Writer Norman Mailer, becoming a protagonist of his own, reincarnates three times during and after his wake into three separate bodies, the last failing to survive through the womb and body of his wife, Hathfertiti (a character in Ancient Evenings). Each reincarnation, he wakes up in a river of feces running beneath his Brooklyn Heights apartment.

Simultaneously, Mailer's body is represented as three generations of American cars: a 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperial (referencing Barney's Cremaster 3), a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and finally a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. All three cars are transmogrified through modern industrial processing and recycling to symbolize the regeneration and reincarnation of Mailer.

Through this, the narrative also follows American car dealerships, drum and bugle corps, 'stomp teams', James Lee Byars' piece "The Death of James Lee Byars", Los Angeles culture, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and alchemy.


  1. ^ Barney, Matthew. "Synopsis". River of Fundament. Retrieved 2018.
  2. ^ Benns, Sway. "This 6-Hour Film Will Test Your Patience, Thirst, and Expectations for Art". Vanity Fair. Retrieved .

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Music Scenes