Friday, May 15, 2009

DVD of the Week: "The Brown Bunny" (Vincent Gallo, 2003)


by James Hansen

With the Cannes Film Festival starting up this week, I think it is a good time to look back at maybe the most notorious film shown at Cannes this decade. Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, a film that seems to be talked about more than actually seen, premiered at Cannes, unfinished, in 2003 at a running time of 118 minutes. Though that version has not been seen since Cannes where it was shredded by critics, the 93 minute final version of The Brown Bunny, released in theaters in the US in 2004, is both a beautiful and profound exploration of self imposed guilt, isolation, and wounded masculinity. That The Brown Bunny takes the form of a road movie, where a melodramatic path to self discovery is a must, and inverts the methodology in such an effective manner is a credit to Gallo’s direction, editing, and performance. His sly, somber glances, whether on the bike or sitting at a table, are heartfelt and devastating. Underscored perfectly by the spare, low key sound design, The Brown Bunny is not a controversial one trick pony. It’s a great American film.

For those of you who think this must be some sort of trick, I assure you it is not. It may still be a divisive film (although I am still slightly baffled why other than its use of real sex, which some find objectionable), but one that, at the very least, is worth actually being seen. If you watch The Brown Bunny with an open mind, rather than pigeon holing its depths by dismissing it as the movie where Chloe Sevigny actually gives Vincent Gallo a blow job, you’ll find an inspired, intricate piece of work worthy of high praise.

9 comments:

Chuck Williamson said...

Excellent recommendation. While my appreciation for this film is eclipsed somewhat for my crazy-mad love of Buffalo '66, I still think The Brown Bunny got unfairly shafted. It's miles better than its post-Ebert reputation would have us believe.

Maybe I need to re-watch this one sometime. :)

Jeremy Richey said...

Wonderful..just wonderful. I love this film (and Buffalo 66) so much and I am so happy to read some positive praise for it. It is going to be part of my favorite films of the decade soon...also, let me know James if you are interested in hearing Gallo's commentary track that is only on the Japanese disc. Thanks again for paying tribute to a really special film.

Joe said...

I also quite like the film, although I think there's a near fatal choice later in the film (and, no, not that) that almost ruins the experience for me.

Jeremy Richey said...

Hey Joe,
I'm really curious. What is the later moment in the film you are referring to? I think I might already know but I was just wondering...

Erich Kuersten said...

Great post! It's always encouraging to read someone stick it all on the line in favor of some critically out of favor movie (for me its OBSERVE AND REPORT and GHOSTS OF MARS).

I still think it''s draggy and pretentious, but no more so than any later-period Antonioni film. If Gallo had put "directed by Antonioni" the critics would have praised its "delicate alienation" and "hypnotically languid pacing" but Gallo's too pretty for them, I myself was jealous of all his hair, which at his and my age we are generally starting to see thin out. (gallo generously includes lots and lots of footage of the back of his head as I'm sure you know) and of course that he's hung like a thermos, as my friend Max used to say which wont make some of us jealous, but the some of us who wont be jealous generally aren't uptight enough to hold down staff posts and bullshit midstate newspapers. And the COUNTRY SUFFERS FOR IT!

James Hansen said...

Glad to see positive feedback for this one! I think Buffalo 66 is great too, but I think I actually like this more overall. You'd think people would remember Ebert liked the movie in the end, but they have a hard time thinking that editing can really change things that much. Anyone who has made a movie knows it can.

Jeremy- I'd love to hear the commentary track and am thrilled that you love the film as well. :)

Joe- I'm interested to hear what the issues are too, if you don't mind going into them here.

Erich- Every movie deserves someone to champion it! (Well, maybe not EVERY movie, but the ones that put themselves out there certainly deserve the cred). Couldn't agree more about the Antonioni comparison. Maybe this should have been shot in black-and-white and foreign. That can get away with critical championing without all the "pretentious crap" calls coming out, but as soon as its an American movie that style isn't allowed. Super frustrating. Thanks for the funny (yet always sharp) comment/commentary.

Joe said...

The shot I'm referring to is the one where Chloƫ Sevigny goes into the bathroom of the hotel to smoke crack (or meth, I don't really remember). I wrote about it a while ago, but I remember that being the only shot where Bud isn't present and almost takes the film out of rhythm and out of Bud's psyche.

Chuck Williamson said...

Not to change the subject--but holy shit! Have you guys been reading about the recent reactions to Lars von Trier's Antichrist?!? I think we have a new contender for most controversial Cannes selection in recent years. Perhaps even more than The Brown Bunny or Southland Tales.

Meaning: I cannot wait to see this movie.

Jeremy Richey said...

I posted my tribute in stills to the film earlier today and linked to both this and Joe's post. I hope you enjoy the shots I selected...I find the film so incredibly beautiful.