The Brown Bunny (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
This film is quite famous, albeit for three things somewhat unrelated to the appeal of the project.
After a 118 minute version of the film was roundly booed at Cannes, Mr. Ebert told a TV crew outside the theater that The Brown Bunny was: "The worst film in the history of the festival. I have not seen every film in the history of the festival, yet I feel my judgment will stand."
With the wit and grace of Oscar Wilde, Mr. Gallo responded: "If a fat pig like Roger Ebert doesn't like my movie, then I'm sorry for him."
"It is true that I am fat," Ebert rejoined, "but one day I shall be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny."
Responding to Ebert's oblique reference to a noted example of Churchillian wit, Gallo fired back a Shavian bon mot of his own: 'Oh yeah, well you tell that bastard I curse his prostate and I hope it blows up to the size of a cantaloupe.'
This turned out to be a particularly unfortunate comment, because Mr. Ebert was soon diagnosed with colon cancer, but Roger took it in stride and joked, "I am not too worried. I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny."
If you missed it all, you can catch up on the whole feud here
The story has sort of a happy ending, I suppose. Gallo recut the film to 92 minutes for its theatrical release and Ebert awarded three stars to the revised version, while praising Gallo for recognizing that much of his footage needed excising.
Here is the famous billboard. If you click on it you
can see a much larger version.
Given today's moral climate, many passing motorists seemed to find it objectionable, and the "powers that be" soon took it down, much to Gallo's chagrin.
"I'm extremely disappointed. I
just wanted to make what I thought would be the most beautiful
billboard in the world. I used very extreme, bold composition
and font and imagery because I felt that it related to the aesthetic
sensibility of the film. Unfortunately, the billboard was reduced to
something that it really wasn't."
Well, what is there to say? Vince takes out a good size wang, keeps it constantly hard as if he were an experienced porno trouper, and Chloe gobbles it. The money shot is in her mouth, so we can't tell if that is simulated, but the rest of it is obviously very real with everything shown on camera in real time.
Ah, yes. The film.
It's existential cinema verité, European minimalist style, (deliberately) close to a home movie in style. It could easily be a Bruno Dumont film. Vince rides from New Hampshire to California, haunted by the grief of a painful betrayal and his loss of the betrayer. As he viewed it, his beloved Daisy had turned out to be no truer to his mental picture of her than had Jay Gatsby's famous Daisy.
Along the way he rides a motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats, stops in a pet shop to ask about the life-span of bunnies, stops and talks to some hookers and convenience store clerks, stops and provides wordless consolation to a kindred spirit (former supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, once one of the most famous women in the world, now making her acting debut at age 56). Mostly he just drives, while the camera watches traffic through his front window. Lots of traffic. There's highway traffic, small-town New England traffic, Las Vegas traffic, interstate highway traffic, wet traffic in the rain, dry traffic in the desert. Anonymous cars. Anonymous people. The film must be about 50% "windshield cam". Sometimes, for a real change of pace, there are no cars; just an open road. Ah, but would not the true existentialist counter that the absence of cars is just another form of traffic, just as a musical rest is another tool of musical composition? Occasionally the camera switches to close-ups of Vince's pained face, but then we get right back to traffic again. Even when the camera is on Vince's face as he drives, we can see traffic in the background. Even if we can't actually see it, we can sense its presence.
It's the Citizen Kane of traffic films.
Luckily the stretches of filmed traffic are exactly long enough for the kind of background songs in which singer-songwriters wail their mournful phrases about lost happiness, while strumming eerie, hollow acoustic guitar chords.
I'll bet it's been a while since you heard Gordon Lightfoot.
In fact, the last time you heard Lightfoot, other people were actually making films like this, films which tried to strip away the conventions of mainstream commercial filmmaking and just show something genuine, with the camera apparently recording real life in real time. My guess is that every single student film at NYU in 1973 resembled this film. In some ways, this is the classic late-60s-early-70s contemplative road movie about a search for some peace of mind, some quiet for a troubled soul inside a soul-destroying world. There's lots of regret, sadness, grief, and thoughts about roads not taken. You will see at the end that the action does not drift aimlessly. In fact, if you really pay attention, the ending of the film will clarify what has gone before, and even show you why the hotel room scene and the BJ seemed to be told from a subjective POV, in contrast to the stark objective realism of many other scenes.
Is there catharsis? Resolution? Does Vince's character find the peace he seeks?
"He's a destroyed soul, he will continue to act out until he peters out and dies. There's no epiphany, no catharsis, no awakening." - Vincent Gallo, speaking of his character Bud Clay in The Brown Bunny
Unless you enjoy "the art of the moment" - the capture of and lingering indulgence in a mood in a moment of time, this is not the movie for you. To call its pace slow would be tantamount to calling tectonic shifts slow. If you reduce the story to essential narrative, devoid of atmosphere and mood, it would be less than 30 minutes long. If necessary, it could easily be cut back to a 30 minute episode for The Hitchhiker. And even at that length it would not be particularly satisfying. Or particularly economical!
Gallo is a unique filmmaker. He's the classic auteur pouring his passion out from his soul. He does not travel with an entourage or employ much of a crew. His ending credits, excluding the mandatory music credits, must be about the shortest in history. He might have just substituted "it's all me." Nothing wrong with that really. People have interpreted that as narcissism and egomania, but I don't buy that interpretation. It's just a guy producing and directing his own personal movies the way he wants to make them and controlling every aspect, including cinematography and editing. Don't writers do that? Gallo is simply doing with his film what Dostoyevsky did with the printed page - crying out in personal anguish, and making every word and comma his own.
Is the film worth watching?
Well, Gallo's film has many defenders among those who enjoy a certain type of alternative minimalist filmmaking. The critical scores were not bad overall (43% at RT, 49 at Metacritic), although the mediocre overall score does not accurate reflect the love-hate polarization of the critiques. Some find it unwatchable, some find it offensive, others call it a masterpiece.
Do not count me in that latter group.
I didn't enjoy The Brown Bunny. Yes, there is some emotional payoff in the last five minutes of the film, but I just can't imagine that more than 1% of you could ever make it that far. The first 70% of the film is so slow and so tedious that you'll give up unless you just have to see that blowjob.
Oh, yeah, the title. Well, if I get where he's going, the brown bunny he sees in the pet shop is something that looks beautiful and sweet but has a very short life-span. Like love. I suppose that the anticipated death of the bunny foreshadows not only the end of love after a short time, but also the end of Daisy after a short life.
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