Oh, give me a home

Diving into the River Of Fundament with John Buffalo Mailer.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Jingoist and Blind screenwriter John Buffalo Mailer
The Jingoist and Blind screenwriter John Buffalo Mailer Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Cremaster and Drawing Restraint 9 (with Björk) mastermind, Matthew Barney, adapted Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings to create River Of Fundament. Cornelia Parker staged The Maybe with Tilda Swinton at MoMA and now her Alfred Hitchcock Psycho inspired Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) is on The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Roof Garden - the perfect setting for a John Buffalo Mailer on Norman Bates, Houdini, Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes on Gay Talese's The Voyeur's Motel, Michael Mailer, Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore and Dylan McDermott conversation.

Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Giamatti, James Toback, Elaine Stritch, Debbie Harry, James Lee Byars, Lawrence Weiner, Salman Rushdie, Luc Sante, Cinqué Lee, Jonas Mekas, Fran Lebowitz, Dick Cavett, Jeffrey Eugenides, Aimee Mullins and Sam Nivola are among the River Of Fundament dwellers. Buffalo Mailer, Milford Graves and Lakota Chief Dave Beautiful Bald Eagle reincarnate as Norman I, Norman II and Norman III, respectively, through Hathfertiti (Madyn Greer Coakley, Gyllenhaal and Burstyn) incarnations.

Cornelia Parker's Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)
Cornelia Parker's Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Matthew Barney's Cremaster and a David Cronenberg Naked Lunch Mugwump with some Dead Ringers "cutlery", used by the twins played by Jeremy Irons, are conjured up when you come upon an Iris van Herpen 3-D-printed dress by Materialise in the Costume Institute exhibition Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology on view at The Met through August 14, 2016.

On a beautiful spring morning in New York with the Red-tailed Hawks of Fifth Avenue, Pale Male and Octavia, and their two eyasses a few short blocks down from The Met Roof Garden, we started out with his father's book, the one that inspired Matthew Barney for River Of Fundament.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Here we are on the roof of The Met across from Cornelia Parker's PsychoBarn. What do you think of it?

John Buffalo Mailer: I think it says it all. I read about it and really appreciated the simplicity of it. And then as we walked around to the backside and she leaves in how it's just a facade. It kind of says a lot about the entertainment business, doesn't it?

AKT: It does. You brought up Matthew Barney when we came up here. You are an actor in his nearly six hour River Of Fundament.

Gay Talese, the author of The Voyeur's Motel:
Gay Talese, the author of The Voyeur's Motel: "One of the coolest people walking this planet." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JBM: I think, it's technically five and a half hours. It was inspired by my father's book Ancient Evenings. It was incredible. The difference between Matthew Barney and this [PsychoBarn] for instance, is, he built my childhood home in a one to one scale in his studio and that was our set. Everything was real. The fridge opened, the drawers opened - things that he didn't have to do.

AKT: Your childhood home - from what age?

JBM: In Brooklyn Heights. I guess from when I was born until I was sixteen. It was extraordinary to be going to set every day. I was playing an amalgam of the lead in Ancient Evenings and my father. The idea was, I'm Norman, I died, and I realize that I didn't make up Ancient Evenings. It was a past life.

AKT: Just now, it crossed my mind for the first time, when you said "Norman" and we are sitting in front of PsychoBarn. There's another Norman.

JBM: I know. My father never forgave Hitchcock for naming Norman Bates, Norman.

AKT: Really? Did they ever meet?

JBM: They probably would have met. I just remember my father saying that he killed the name, so no one is going to name their kid Norman for three or four generations.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is Hathfertiti in River Of Fundament
Maggie Gyllenhaal is Hathfertiti in River Of Fundament Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Your father was in Cremaster and played Houdini.

JBM: He did. I was pretty young then. It looked incredible. I said it before, but Matthew Barney and my father are the only two geniuses I've ever met. It's not surprising to me that they felt kindred spirits.

AKT: Talk a bit about your role in River Of Fundament.

JBM: I play Norman I. In this world to reincarnate you have to climb into an animal and then you come out as your reincarnation.

AKT: Tell me more about the animal.

JBM: It was a cow, a real cow. We really did it. You see The Empire Strikes Back, you see The Revenant, but when you really do it, it's a different beast. There was two cows, actually. There's one I had to cut open and one that was cleaned out, as much as you can clean out a cow. That was the one I climbed into. That was day one. I thought that was going to be the most intense thing.

AKT: But it wasn't?

Iris van Herpen 3-D-printed dress by Materialise
Iris van Herpen 3-D-printed dress by Materialise Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JBM: It was not. Day two, we had the cow that I was going to cut into and it was bloated and it's big and large. I am pushing it through the waters up to a bank. I had cut my hand on a nail on the set, so I had it covered. So Barney's up there and he is cutting around. And he says "What is this?" and out pops a hoof. And we realised there's a dead calf inside this dead cow.

AKT: Oh my god!

JBM: Highly illegal. They should not have sent this cow out. Sending it to a movie set, they thought they could get away with it but they had no idea what we're going to do with it. You could feel the chill rush through everyone. And Matthew Barney said: "We have to use this." You know, this movie is like a poem. Linear narrative is not the most important thing in it.

You know, it could have been worse, it could have just been wrapped in plastic behind fluorescent lights in a supermarket - now you are going to be immortalised in a Matthew Barney movie. It was so touching. Everyone was silent. It suddenly became a Hindu parable. Magic happens, when you're talking about the magic of cinema, things that are out of your control.

AKT: Apropos, watch out for Pale Male and Octavia, the Red-tailed Hawks that live on Fifth Avenue. They might come by and check out the art work.

Ellen Burstyn is Hathfertiti in River Of Fundament
Ellen Burstyn is Hathfertiti in River Of Fundament Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JBM: Wow, just approving, making sure that everything is alright?

AKT: Yeah. It's their park [Central] and their roof garden. You have a special bond with Leonardo DiCaprio now. Both of you having this insider animal experience?

JBM: I certainly know what I am going to talk to him about … Once I got inside it was very peaceful, very calming and I felt this total connection. And I was thinking, when was the last time I've had an experience like this?

AKT: In your mother's womb?

JBM: Exactly. It's crazy, the next day I went and had a burger immediately. Like ravished it, took it down. I guess, I'm not the type that goes vegetarian from that.

AKT: I'm vegetarian, so I can't relate to that. Let's round this up by talking about Gay Talese.

JBM: Gay Talese, one of the coolest people walking this planet.

AKT: Absolutely. Who introduced us. His upcoming project [The Voyeur's Motel] sounds exciting. Steven Spielberg, Sam Mendes ...

OMA's Shohei Shigematsu and Andrew Bolton, Costume Institute Curator in Charge at the Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology press preview
OMA's Shohei Shigematsu and Andrew Bolton, Costume Institute Curator in Charge at the Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology press preview Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JBM: The Sam Mendes project? It's very exciting.

AKT: You got the PsychoBarn. I walked the China: Through The Looking Glass exhibition with Gay, talking about fashion and China.

JBM: Because we love the way your mind works and makes the connections.

Coming up in the future - Screenwriter John Buffalo Mailer on Michael Mailer's Blind, starring Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore and Dylan McDermott, and Charles Kopelson's The Jingoist with Peter Cambor, Thom Bishops, Lacey Dorn and JB himself.

Gay Talese's The Voyeur's Motel will be published in the US and UK July, 2016.

Cornelia Parker's Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Roof Garden through October 31, 2016.

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