Reviews of The Brown Bunny
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I’ll never argue with someone about whether or not Vincent Gallo’s “controversial” 2nd feature; ‘The Brown Bunny’, is boring or not. It is. But there’s plenty of great movies out there that are “boring”. People just love to hate this movie. They don’t hate ‘The Brown Bunny’ because its slow or boring or has minimal dialogue or…well, ok…maybe some do, and they have a point, but other people hate it because it was made by Vincent Gallo. And that’s understandable considering some of the things he’s said and done over the years. But lets not kid ourselves; had Gus Van Sant directed the SAME EXACT film it would have gotten so much praise its not even funny. You all know this is true. And that statement isn’t THAT far fetched given his somewhat recent slowly paced works like ‘Elephant’, ‘Last Days’, ‘Paranoid Park’ and ‘Gerry’…especially ‘Gerry’. Or look at a movie like ‘Two Lane Blacktop’. In NO WAY do I put ‘The Brown Bunny’ and ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ on the same status, but at some point you gotta ask yourself; “why do people love one movie but hate another movie that’s kinda similar so much?”
Another reason why people dislike ‘Brown Bunny’ is because the last Vincent Gallo film they had to reference was ‘Buffalo 66’ (sorry but this movie is a modern day cult classic whether you like it or not). Rarely do I come across people who dislike ‘Buffalo 66’. But upon the release of ‘The Brown Bunny’, all the die hard Buffalo 66 fans felt let down when they saw that Gallo’s follow-up was NOTHING like his feature debut (outside of the grainy/vintage “feel” that both films have). But you cant expect a man to keep making the same thing over and over again, right?
‘The Brown Bunny’ falls into the same category as other misunderstood films about love & angst like; ‘Trouble Every Day’ (also starring Vincent Gallo) and ‘Fear X’ (Nicolas Winding Refn’s forgotten about film which caused him to go bankrupt). But it became difficult for people to support or defend ‘The Brown Bunny’ when co-star; Chloe Sevigny made a statement about the film (specifically the infamous blow job scene at the end) saying:
“When you see the film, it makes more sense. It’s an art film. It should be playing in museums. It’s like an Andy Warhol Movie”
Sometimes its better to just say nothing. In my opinion, comparing a film to Andy Warhol’s overrated work doesn’t help your case at all.
In ‘The Brown Bunny’, Vincent Gallo (who also directed, wrote, edited & produced the film) stars as “Bud Clay”; a motorcycle racer (something Gallo use to do in real life) on a road trip to Los Angeles for his next race. This films draws some comparison to ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ because like James Taylor, Dennis Wilson & Warren Oates, Bud Clay doesn’t seem to be in that much of a hurry to get to his destination. He makes various stops to seduce random women (one of which is played by former model Cheryl Tiegs), picks up a prostitute in Las Vegas (but doesnt do anything with her) and makes a stop at his ex-girlfriend’s parents house. This is when we learn what the film is really about. In addition to going to L.A. for his next race, he’s on a quest to try and find his ex-girlfriend (played Chloe Sevigny). After almost giving up his search, she tracks him down at his hotel and we learn what drove them apart a few years back. *SPOILER ALERT* (for those that actually care at this point) As it turns out, his ex died a few years ago from a drug overdoes (which also caused the death of their unborn baby) at a house party (while cheating on him with multiples men). The woman that we see who has tracked Bud Clay down in his hotel is actually a ghost. I completely understand if someone were to find that stupid or pretentious. I actually use to struggle with whether or not I even liked the idea of a ghost coming to visit our main character, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.
As much as I actually enjoy this movie, I still have some criticisms. The biggest criticism is that the film could have been edited down. After a while you grow tired of endless shots of the highway or extra long unedited extra close shots of the side of Vincent Gallo’s face. And depending on what mood I happen to be in, sometimes I feel like the film could have used more dialogue, maybe another character or maybe a little more development or back story on Sevigny’s character.
As we all know, ‘The Brown Bunny’ drew a lot of attention due to the real blow job that Gallo gets on camera from Sevigny. But is it really that big of a deal? Lars Von Trier (The Idiots & Antichrist), Catherine Breillat (Anatomy Of Hell & Romance), Michael Winterbottom (9 Songs) and plenty of other directors have had real scenes of sexual intercourse, oral sex and ejaculation, yet its such a big problem when Vincent Gallo does it? I’m just saying, if you’re gonna hate on something at least be consistent. I’m still trying to kick around in my head what exactly the blowjob scene meant (or if it actually meant anything at all). Was it his way of saying “fuck you” to the women who not only cheated on him but caused the death of their unborn baby? There’s a myth floating around that the main reason Gallo cast Chloe Sevigny in the lead female role was because she was the girlfriend of Harmony Korine at the time (one of Vincent Gallo’s many enemies), and he wanted to have her give him a blow job on the big screen as a kinda “fuck you” to Korine. If that was the case (and I say if because there’s also stories about how Chloe Sevigny wasn’t even the first actress considered for the part), then that’s pretty low and he deserves all the hate he gets.
If you haven’t actually seen ‘The Brown Bunny’, don’t blindly take the opinion of people who hate the film just because. See it for yourself. You might actually like it (or certain aspects of it).
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
The Brown Bunny
(Directed by Vincent Gallo)
“Highway to the Twilight Zone”
Film review by Stephen Cosier
Vincent Gallo has only directed three feature films, but has made some brave steps in those choices, disregarding the typical Hollywood path and doing things his own way. The Brown Bunny is even more personal than the brilliant Buffalo 66. It’s a deceptively simple story about a man making a lonely cross-country trip through America, encountering a few women along the way, and finally meeting the woman he’s been yearning for. Almost a decade on from its infamous Cannes debut, The Brown Bunny still stands as one of the boldest independent American films, and places Vincent Gallo as a true maverick – an artist with a complete vision.
This sparse, moody story is about Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo), a motorcycle racer, who spends a few solitary days crossing America, contemplating a recent life-changing experience. As the journey progresses, we learn that Bud is suffering. Bud has some brief, bizarre encounters along the way. He manages to momentarily seduce a female service station attendant into coming along for the ride; visits the mother of a woman named Daisy (in an awkward Lynchian scene); wanders around a pet shop, seeming intrigued by the little bunnies; comforts a distraught Cheryl Tiegs at a rest stop; and cruises the back streets of Las Vegas, before finally arriving in LA to meet Daisy (Chloe Sevigny).
Vincent Gallo has made a slight detour with this road film. He has stripped it down to the bare essentials. The context of the story is only revealed in the final scenes, leaving the audience with an ambiguous study of one man’s behaviour. Gallo has proudly claimed his original approach to movie making, but in one interview, he did admit that Bobby Deerfield was a tonal inspiration for The Brown Bunny. I found that the film covered some of the same emotional terrain as past classics, such as Last Tango in Paris, Solaris, and Paris Texas – with a dose of The Twilight Zone sprinkled on top. The use of the song, “Come Wander With Me”, was also the name of a Twilight Zone episode, where the song is hauntingly sung by a doomed lover. Like those past tragic figures, Gallo has created another portrait of a lost soul, navigating his way through grief, guilt, and isolation. The Brown Bunny is a morality play, showing the consequences of a neglectful relationship.
The film was shot on 16mm, giving a nostalgic glow to the beauty of the American landscape. There are spacious takes, focusing on the nuances of Bud’s solitary trip. The journey is from Bud’s subjective point of view, giving the audience a front seat ride. Bud is often in close-up and askew in the frame. The elliptical nature of the editing, chops the backstory fat away, adding to the sense of mystery. Part of the fun of a first viewing, is in trying to work out what this guy’s problem is. Gallo uses repetition as a device to explore Bud’s grief and his compulsions. The sound editing and the use of silence creates an impression of time standing still and memories washing over Bud’s conscience.
The small cast give brief performances, with minimal interactions and no real connections being made. Gallo is a ghost of the character he played in Buffalo 66. He is still a loner, but this time the charisma and bravado has been stripped away. Only the sadness remains. Gallo used non-professionals to play some of the brief roles, and even applied a candid approach in some scenes, filming the “actors” when they were unaware, giving a documentary feel to the scenes. Chloe Sevigny’s performance is both brave and complex, playing a sweet young woman, who is troubled by an addiction. The characters in this film all seem lost and confused. There are lonely hearts full of sorrow at every stop on this road trip.
After multiple viewings, there is still a certain mystery surrounding this sad story. There is no certainty that our narrator’s mind can be fully trusted. It could be possible that Bud is experiencing the fresh stages of raw grief, but he could also be deep in the madness of a downward spiral, reliving those fateful moments over and over, like a Mobius strip. Bud’s mind seems stuck in a loop, unable to escape his compulsions. Bud has a lot of time to reflect on his problems, but by the time he reaches LA, they have only manifested, and finally he has to confront them. . Maybe the infamous climactic scene was seared onto the retina by Gallo to shock the audience, the same way Bud was shocked when he witnessed his life changing moment – to take us deep into the despair that was born in that instant. He certainly shows the paradox of those sensations, and the fine line between ecstasy and disgust.
Vincent Gallo is a maverick amongst American filmmakers, bold enough to trust his vision completely. He is not afraid to display the vulnerability and insecurities of men, rarely shown onscreen. The Brown Bunny is a sincere and heartbreaking film, and worthy of revisiting. New layers of meaning are revealed, with each hypnotic viewing. It’s a rare and great movie. At the end, there does seem to be some resolution for Bud Clay. I just hope he kept driving and didn’t glance into his rearview mirror.
Vincent Gallo recently brought Promises Written in Water to Venice for the 67th Mostra del Cinema di Venezia. Perhaps anticipating outbursts of emotion in the press conference after it’s screening, as done at Cannes in 2003 for Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, the film was completely sold out. That did not prevent a couple hundred spectators from leaving once getting the coveted ticket at “Palabiennale”, the huge makeshift theater behind the main festival area. Perhaps as a gesture of defiance, smugness or devil may care, the restless filed out. At another screening at “Sala Grande” they stayed put and applauded lead actress Delphine Balfort for over five minutes. Vincent Gallo was conspicuously absent. But if Promises Written in Water extends the Gallo repertoire beyond the realm of The Brown Bunny road movie, maybe it is worth it to revisit the Cannes enfant terrible from 2003. The film won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2003 Viennale. It is a fascinating specimen of cinema language and worthy of reappraisal.
The scene that got the most attention was the fodder of a major scandal. Yet it was not the entire film, and other parts were never addressed.
The Formula motorcycle racer Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo) gyrates round and round the track, finally coming to a halt. This gyration is experienced as excessive as it is the opening scene. As Bud takes off his helmet he prepares for a trip to another race – a race to keep him going to forget something unforgettable as we later discover.
Bud’s road trip is observed through a dirty windshield. This is appreciated for its grittiness in contrast to the silence of the vehicle as the van makes its way west. The trip could have been noisy. There was some thought put into this. How gritty and how silent should these scenes be?
Bud asks a girl named Violet at a gas station to come with him “Please? Please?” implores blue-eyed Bud. And she does. And later he drives off leaving her behind. He passes up young prostitutes on the way but comes back for one of them. Then lets her off farther up the road. He even makes out with former supermodel Cheryl Tiegs. But he can’t forget or remember what is unforgettable and we understand later why.
It looks like this Bud is a total loser or a serial murderer or both. He visits some neighbors who have a bunny that don’t remember him. He also wants to buy a bunny. “They only live a few years, no way around it”, says the shopkeeper.
On arriving at a lime green house he calls for Daisy and there is no answer. He checks into a hotel and Daisy (Chloë Sevigny) arrives. She keeps on ducking into the bathroom to pop pills or smoke crack.
Daisy and Bud have been friends since childhood, are married and are expecting a child. In a raw and graphic sex scene Daisy has oral sex with Bud. “That’s enough”, he says at one point. Strange scene for long lost lovers being reunited. Suddenly Daisy says she’s dead. And you realize she is. Bud let her die, chocking on her own vomit, gang raped by two men at a party where she does drugs with them. Bud flees, only to return to Daisy who is on an ambulance gurney, a sheet covering her face. She died. This road trip is Bud’s return to the unforgettable, which he finally remembers and we will always remember.
It seems like a tough role for Sevigny to play: explicit sex, drugs, gang rape and death. The kind of role that always seems to involve some kind of award afterward. And Bud gets to travel across country and pick up women and stay in hotels, taking his bike out for a drive in salt flats along the way. Women shouldn’t have to endure so much on screen.
The Brown Bunny is an atonement film. Probably the sex scene was chosen to crudely illustrate Bud’s loss, for death and sex are always intimately connected. In the Japanese film Departures, and in the HBO series Six Feet Under, we see sex is the life force that helps us transcend death. Gallo continues with this theme in Promises Written in Water. Exceptionally toned down, but the connection is there.
Bud’s memory lapse exceptionally conveyed cinematically is why The Brown Bunny has an impact. Maybe Roger Ebert who hated the film and expressed this to Gallo at Cannes and was told he had the physique of a slave owner by Gallo may never get thin. And maybe Vincent Gallo should always be remembered for making The Brown Bunny. Maybe Vincent Gallo should be remembered period for how he makes films, iconic, laconic and indifferent to dialogue and continuity editing. And for his tweets.