21 July 2009

The Decade List: The Brown Bunny (2003)

The Brown Bunny - dir. Vincent Gallo

[Note: So, this is really just a re-post of a defense I made for Vincent Gallo's notorious follow-up to Buffalo '66 (with a few edits). I know many of you have read this already, but I needed to get the Decade List rolling in some form. Original pieces to commence starting later this week]

This blog is dedicated to Eric. [I don't think I'd suggest reading this unless you've actually seen the film]. The Brown Bunny, as I'm sure you know, has a bad reputation. When it premiered at Cannes twenty-six minutes longer than the version any of us have seen, Roger Ebert called it the worst film to have ever played at the prestigious festival. Gallo claims the twenty-six minute longer version was a rough cut, as he hadn't finished it in time for the screening. A vile word war ensued between Ebert and Gallo, eventually ending in a truce, as Ebert gave the ninety-three minute long version three stars. This is hardly where the controversy ended. While critics sort of came to a consensus that The Brown Bunny was hardly the disaster they were lead to believe, the fact still remained that Chloë Sevigny gives Vincent Gallo a very real blow job at the end of the film. This, after the Cannes fury had died down, then spread just as quickly (if not more) to the United States movie-going public. A bunch of people who had probably never heard of the prior controversy went to see some fellatio and likely found themselves terribly bored until that point. When I saw the film for a second time (I had seen it previously abroad), a couple of people clapped when Sevigny put Gallo's member in her mouth. I heard one of the guys behind me sigh, "finally." If ever there's a need to defend the theatre experience, this is it. You cannot truly understand The Brown Bunny as an entity through home viewing. A girl walking out of the theatre told her boyfriend, "God, if only the rest of the film were that exciting." If only...

So what is The Brown Bunny, the Film? In some ways, it's not much different than The Brown Bunny, the Entity. It's an hour-and-a-half long masturbation for Vincent Gallo. Seldom do we encounter a creature like Gallo himself, a shameless megalomaniac whose actions and words are often beyond description, or belief. So to say that The Brown Bunny is simply Vincent Gallo's cinematic masturbation is not a criticism. Gallo's masturbatory fantasies are far more fascinating and complex than any old guy who wants to get a girl to blow him in front of a camera. When you actually see the film, no matter how you feel about Gallo or seeing him receive a bj, you must realize that there's more going on than a simple mouth to a dick. Melancholy, despair, sexual and romantic anxiety trace throughout the film, and while these emotions may be key to a number of repressed men's attempt at fantasy, it's far more fascinating to watch than a frat boy who dreams of seeing his girlfriend go down on another girl.

As most masturbatory fantasies are, The Brown Bunny, the Film, is completely interior. The only real show-stopping fault of the film is when Gallo's camera ventures beyond what he can actually see or imagine to show Daisy (Sevigny) smoking crack in a motel bathroom. Most people will find the long, single-take shots of the road through Gallo's windshield to be completely boring, but these scenes are essential to an understanding of this interior prose. The road itself is, surprise, a metaphor. As Bud (Gallo's fictionalized self) returns to California after a motorcycle race across the country, we're literally taken into a track through his memory and fantasy. It's never really understood whether the women he encounters on this trip are women from his past or simply fantasies; it is, however, understood that the encounters with these women, whether the ladies be real or not, are all created inside of his mind. Each woman is adoringly named after a flower (there's Lilly, Rose, and Violet) and have their names literally written on them in some manner, whether it be a name-tag or written on a purse. Each encounter begins promisingly, but due to a not-so-underlying anxiety on Bud's part, he leaves them and continues on the road. The anxiety is never made bluntly clear, though we know it has something to do with this Daisy. In fact we never really understand what it is about Daisy until the final "twist," which is peculiarly given away during one of the teaser trailers for the film.

It's probably necessary to also defend that scene. To some people, the scene is pretty unnecessary. It's Gallo's masturbation fully realized without the pretense of artistic expression (which I think is untrue). It doesn't matter whether we see Lilly, Rose, and Violet as memories of women post- or even pre-Daisy or fantasies of women; it matters that Bud cannot follow through with these women. Whether these women existed before or after Daisy or not at all is beside the point. Though he did not give himself to these women, for whatever reason, he wanted to and could not. If they're post-Daisy, we can see that because he gave himself so fully and vulgarly to Daisy and that things did not work out, he can't bring himself to open himself that way again. If they're pre-Daisy, we see that there's something quite special about Daisy that Bud would allow for such an intimate exposure of himself. Either way, he's broken, and he's broken because of this exposure. One could say the gruesome nature of Daisy's death could be equated with the obscenity of the fellatio scene. Or perhaps it's just intensity. It certainly isn't romantic. The sentence I'm about to type sounds terribly ridiculous, but I could think of no other way to put it. When Bud ejaculates, Daisy swallows, and it's here that we see the transfer of himself into her. She receives him and, not literally (to most viewer's relief, I'm sure) rejects this offering. As it's difficult to say whether what we see is a fantasy or a memory, it's not easy to say how Daisy rejects this offering. If it's a memory, she rejects him by going out, getting drugged up, raped, and murdered. If it's a fantasy, her rejection comes with her revelation that she's no longer alive. It's rejection either way, and this is where the melancholy, the despair, and the anxiety stems.

I find my ability to dissect The Brown Bunny, the Film, in such a way to be a bit distracting to my adoration. The films that truly resonate within me do so because of my inability trulyyly comprehend them. When a film leaves me at a loss of words, that's note-worthy, because, whether I'm completely wrong or not, I usually have something to say. The Brown Bunny left me with many words, as you can see. I struggle with calling Blow-Up Michelangelo Antonioni's masterpiece because I can read it far easier than I can L'avventura or L'eclisse (La notte is often regarded as the least of the trilogy for similar reasons; it's too easy to swallow). Yet, my ability to decipher Blow-Up does not hinder my love for it, as it still leaves me a bit unsettled and haunted. The Brown Bunny works like this as well, which is why it has stayed in my mind for so long, despite this proper dissection.

With: Vincent Gallo, Chloë Sevigny, Cheryl Tiegs, Elizabeth Blake, Anna Vareschi, Mary Morasky
Screenplay: Vincent Gallo
Cinematography: Vincent Gallo
Country of Origin: USA/Japan/France
US Distributor: Wellspring

Premiere: 21 May 2003, as a work in progress (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 27 August 2004 (New York City, Los Angeles)

Awards: FIPRESCI Prize [for its bold exploration of yearning and grief and for its radical departure from dominant tendencies in current American filmmaking] (Venice Film Festival)

2 comments:

Slayton said...

I love this film, and I love your write-up. In my opinion, film is more than story and character - it is the distillation of a mood or an emotion. That is what this film perfectly represents - feelings of inadequacy, alienation, the yearning to be worthy of someone's love. A really heartfelt film from one of the USA's greatest working talents. ("Buffalo '66" is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the 90s - and both that film and this one show that Gallo's feelings towards women aren't exactly black-and-white)

As for Gallo's public persona, I think it's just that - a "public persona". I'm sure he's just a generally "normal" guy having a bit of fun with his image.

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