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To Stay Alive: A Method
A Feel Good Movie about Suffering
To turn an early pamphlet about art and depression into a film does not sound like an easy feat; Erik Lieshout masters it by choosing an unlikely duo as protagonists for his unconventional and entertaining film essay. Michel Houellebecq, the Bad Boy of French Literature, and Iggy Pop, Godfather of Punk.
With his sepulchral voice and weathered face, in recitatives, performance sequences, concert recordings, and interviews, the punk veteran guides us through Houellebecq’s “survival-handbook” for artists. Therein, he recognizes a mirror image of himself and his mental chasms. He sees the author as soulmate; Houellebecq’s statement that art must touch and squeeze the sore spots of society could easily be the motto of his own work.
In parallel, the film tells us about the lonely struggle of three fameless artists against their demons, the very story that had inspired Houellebecq’s essay. Beyond success and recognition, these three artists are connected by their art, which, for them, is a matter and a way of survival.
Lieshout creates a punchy ending: Accompanied by Schubert tunes, the existentialist duo meets in person at last. In the house of his deceased grandparents, a petty-bourgeois suburban nightmare, Houellebecq appears as a character from his own text - a depressive, tatterdemalion artist who, in his basement, works on a sculpture titled “The Enigma of Life”.
Erik Lieshout was born in Utrecht in 1961. He began his career working as an art journalist for the NRC-Handelsblad, a nassistant to Jean Tinguely in Paris (1979-80) and directing performances of Ruth Kligman in New York (1982). After working as a researcher for Dutch television, he directed his first short films „The Essence of Life According to Marcel Proust“ (1983) and „Journey to the End of the Night“ on L.F. Céline (1984). He was the director of the VPRO program „Atlantis“ (1985). In 1987 he directed a feature-length documentary on W.F. Hermans, „I’m Not Longing Back for Anything of the Past“ and started a career in commercials one year later. In 2001 he returned to filmmaking, directing the short documentary „The Room“ with Rutger Hower, which won best short at Paris Filmfestival. In 2010 he directed the feature-length documentary „Last Words“ on writer Michel Houellebecq, which was shown at DOKUARTS as a work in progress in 2008. Lieshout worked again with Michel Houellebecq for his 2016 film „To Stay Alive: A Method“.