Some people subscribe to the theory that you’ve got to suffer for your art. Two such individuals include the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop and the best-selling French novelist, Michel Houellebecq. In To Stay Alive – A Method the pair share a meeting of minds in a film that is artistic, experimental and semi-autobiographical and it’s one that will make you think twice about the idea of the starving artist.
The film is directed by three guys, Erik Lieshout, Arno Hagers and Reinier van Brummelen and it seems that Misters Pop and Houellebecq did not need much convincing to work together. Houellebecq was a teenage Stooges fan while Pop read Houellebecq’s eponymous essay and recognised himself in this powerful work. At the time Iggy was into self-mutilation and writing songs like, “Open Up & Bleed” which features strongly here.
Iggy Pop reads excerpts from Houellebecq’s essay in his dark and gravelly voice. This lends an intenseness to some of the stories, especially those that were already rather full-on. These different plots are treated like separate episodes starring different marginalised artists who are suffering from a range of mental illnesses. Houellebecq also appears as one of the characters – Vincent – when he and Pop aren’t meeting at his grandparents place to dissect their respective art forms and the meaning of it all.
This film is a nuanced and slow-burning affair that is punctuated by black humour, a smooth jazz soundtrack and lyrical text. It looks at some existential questions and even offers some pearls of wisdom to artists. Perhaps the best gem of all of these is to keep going and not give up because that is the easy route when you’re downtrodden. And Pop knows this all too well because he describes how his “classic” album once sold for 80 cents.
To Stay Alive – A Method is a quiet and thoughtful piece. It’s one where you can sit comfortably in the shadows of another person’s art, revel at your similarities and enjoy the fact that you’ve come out the other side in one piece. On paper, To Stay Alive – A Method may not have seemed like an obvious partnership but in practice Iggy Pop and Michel Houellebecq prove that they’re a perfect match. To Stay Alive is ultimately a meeting of minds that includes the good, bad and the ugly for what it’s worth.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
To Stay Alive – A Method screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival.