Flux Gourmet started as a joke. Peter Strickland (49) saw Bohemian Rhapsody about the mega-success with Queen and rocket man about Elton John, and he thought, what if we made a movie like that about my own band?
Only: The Sonic Catering Band is a very experimental company that makes music only with the sound of cooking. Strickland was one of the founders of the band in 1996, which has since performed sporadically and in varying compositions and released several albums (or: collections of recipes). “I think maybe a hundred people know us, so it’s a crazy idea to make a biopic about us.”
A traditional music biography is Flux Gourmet everything else than. Instead, Strickland adds another completely idiosyncratic film to his outlandish oeuvre, following films such as Berber Sound Studio (stylized as Italian seventies gypsy) and In fabric (fashion horror where a department store turns out to be a haunted house).
Flux Gourmet revolves around a sound collective very loosely based on Strickland’s band, who are invited to a residency at the Sonic Catering Institute, which focuses exclusively on sound performances around nutrition and food. While their work sessions are as absurd as fascinating intermezzos in the film, it primarily revolves around the power struggle that soon breaks out. Between the band members themselves, but especially between band leader Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed) and the director of the institute Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie); both actors were also already seen in In fabric.
“It’s a film about any process of making something with others,” says Strickland. “If you look past the absurdity of the food sound art, you see the same process as making a film. It’s about egos and power struggles and rivalry. And also about how you abuse other people’s suffering as raw material for your art in a creative process. It is, of course, a moral quagmire, especially in these times of identity politics.”
That argument is attended by potboiler Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), who guides us through the film. All the food on stage doesn’t help him, because he suffers from extreme flatulence – an ailment for which he is being treated by a downright sadistic doctor.
When he made the connection between food and air in the stomach, Strickland knew he had an idea he wanted to work with. “Socially, there is almost no mention of these kinds of intestinal problems, and there is enormous ignorance. At most it will be laughed at. Whereas things like celiac disease, which Stones suffers from, or allergies can be very intense.”
So it was Flux Gourmet a personal challenge to take extreme venting, a subject that usually only appears in comedies, completely seriously. “I think it worked out,” Strickland says. No doubt people will still laugh at it. That’s fine too – I’m not trying to lecture people. In the right context, a fart is also funny. But if it’s a symptom of a disease or if it damages someone’s social life, then the joke’s over.”
It also touches on something that Strickland has been interested in for some time, which his previous films demonstrate in every possible way: films that break taboos. “I like filmmakers who push the boundaries of what is acceptable: Pier Paolo Pasolini, John Waters, Gaspar Noé. And I don’t mean shock for shock’s sake. It’s a dead end – a game for cocks, directors outbidding each other by being as shocking as possible. I’m preoccupied with things that shouldn’t be shocking at all.”
On a whim – or as in his previous films In fabric, a scene involving menstrual blood — is much more violent than the gruesome murders in horror movies, Strickland says. “What people find shocking is measured by double standards. There is a lot of hypocrisy.”
That the sound collective is based on Strickland’s own band does not mean that he identifies most with those characters. “I’m also a potboiler, just like the Stones. I prefer to make my own films, but I can’t make a living from that alone, so I sometimes also write films for others. In a way, it’s very liberating: You get a concept or a book that needs to be made into a film, and you know exactly what it needs to be from the start.”
For example, there is something of himself in all the characters, says the director. “And they all have sides that I don’t recognize. The doctor’s sadism, I also have that as a director. But I also recognize the Stones’ masochism. By the way, I don’t mean that sexually – but as a viewer, I like it when a filmmaker hits me, gives me a hard time. And so as a filmmaker, I’m a bit of a sadist.”
Flux Gourmet can be seen in Eye, Kriterion and Lab111.
After Berber Sound Studio joins Peter Strickland Flux Gourmet again a film where the creation of sound is central. Sound design is therefore one of his favorite parts of filmmaking. “Writing is my favorite thing – then anything is possible. On set it’s a bit disappointing, it’s never quite what you had in mind. When editing, you have to accept what you have. And then comes the sound design, which is just as creative as the writing.”
For the soundtrack to Flux Gourmet his Sonic Catering Band went back into the studio, though the collective hasn’t been active in years. “We agreed that we would actually eat everything we made during the filming. Unfortunately, everything wasn’t really edible, so I’m afraid I ingested some pieces of microplastic. But hey, that’s everything these days, I guess.”
While many filmmakers use existing sounds, Strickland and his crew create everything themselves – right down to the sound of a fart. “It’s me,” Strickland says. “It was a deal with Makis. He had to bare his bottom during the shoot, figuratively speaking, so I promised him I would bare myself too.”