The road trip story has been a standard and venerable genre almost from the beginning of time. Whether it’s a Greek hero taking twenty years to return to his wife and home or Hope and Crosby singing their way around the world the road trip has been a favorite vehicle (no pun intended) for as long as man has been telling stories.
The thing is real life road trips are often tedious journeys across mile after mile of the same scenery.
Brown Bunny, the latest and most controversial work by actor/director Vincent Gallo, captures this tedium all too well in the first two thirds of the film.
Gallo plays Bud Clay, a broken down motorcycle racer that becomes disenfranchised with the racing circuit and takes off on a meandering trek cross country to see his old flame, Daisy (Chloë Sevigny).
After losing a race he packs his cycle into his van and leaves. On the way he goes through such exciting things as driving, pumping gas, chatting to strangers and driving some more. He has numerous encounters with women, all with flower inspired names, in a vain effort to dull his angst over the estrangement of Daisy.
The only notable aspect of these encounters is when he picks up a waitress, Lilly played silently by Cheryl Tiegs.
When watching a film, especially for a review, I like to try to pick out some significance in the plot lines and themes, here that is almost impossible as most of this film is an almost endless travelogue shot through the van’s dirty windows.
The Brown Bunny does pick up emotionally at the end when Bud is reunited with Daisy. He finally let go of his frustration in an emotional outburst that almost makes it worth while sitting through all that came before.
This is a textbook case where there was more drama surrounding the making of The Brown Bunny than in the actual flick itself. When the original 117-minute version of The Brown Bunny was displayed in the 2003 Cannes Film Festival a much-reported feud between Vincent Gallo and film critic Roger Ebert made headlines.
Ebert called The Brown Bunny the worse film ever made to which Gallo responded with a voodoo curse wishing colon cancer on the critic, referring to him as a ‘fat pig’. Ebert responded with a comment that his colonoscopy made for better viewing than The Brown Bunny. Ironically, Ebert was diagnosis with thyroid cancer.
Between its opening in Cannes in May and being shown in September in the Toronto Film Festival Gallo went back into the editing room and trimmed The Brown Bunny by almost half an hour. Upon reviewing the new edit Ebert relented and gave the film a 'thumbs up’.
Normally, that would be enough external drama for any independent film but no, there is more. Perhaps the reason most people know anything about The Brown Bunny is the part of the end where Chloë Sevigny provides Gallo with oral sex while he degrades her.
According to all reports from the Oscar nominated actress there where no photographic tricks used here. The sexual act was real. If this is the only reason you are interested in The Brown Bunny, about five minutes on Google will take you to a plethora of sites where video files and stills are available.
This humiliation of an actress possessing real talent is just one of the very sad aspects of The Brown Bunny. The scene was completely unnecessary, seemingly added solely for the shock value it ultimately did garner. All it managed to do was to degrade an actress and add fuel to the fire over the growingly explicit and meaningless sexually scenes in so many films released in recent years.
As he did in his first opus, Buffalo ’66, Vincent Gallo cast himself in the lead as well as writing and directing the work. Unlike its predecessor The Brown Bunny lacked the imagination behind the scenes and the ability to hold the audience’s attention on screen.
Gallo appears to be completely self-absorbed here, the camera usually on his angular face when not scanning the bleak scenery. While his performance did strive to show the isolation of Bud Gallo could have done it in such a way as to emotionally engage the audience instead of the repetitive use of angst filled close-ups.
To her credit Cheryl Tiegs was excellent here. There was a sadness she conveyed in her eyes that I found captivating. Here is an actress that can say more with a look than most can do with the best-written script possible.
Chloë Sevigny has talent; there is no denying that fact. Her performance in ‘Boy’s Don’t Cry’ was one of the best I have seen in years. Sevigny has also been in some of the worse films ever; does anyone out there remember Gummo? It would appear that Ms Sevigny is swayed all too easily by her romantic attachments to young Indy writer/directors pulling her into films not worthy of her abilities.
Many actors are willing to take a chance with smaller roles that fail to hit but here The Brown Bunny is a discredit to her as an actress.
Vincent Gallo does have talent. There, I said it. I was completely engrossed by ‘Buffalo ‘66’ with its almost surreal use of camera angles and lighting. With The Brown Bunny Gallo tried something different, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but as with any experiment sometimes you miss the mark.
To be fair, Gallo did hold to his artistic integrity not caring about what people thought about his work. There is boldness to that, trying to be novel. Gallo uses a lot of grainy shots to invoke in the audience a sense of isolation and the mundane nature of life. Where this falls a bit short is you need some punctuation in these scenes to at least give the audience some hope of connecting with the despair that Bud feels.
The Brown Bunny DVD was produced by Columbia/Tri-Star although some sources site Sony. The UPC is more frequently used by Columbia so let’s go with that.
Since there are numerous versions of The Brown Bunny a choice had to be made as to which one to put on the DVD. The choice was the director’s cut. It would have been interesting if they also provided the original Cannes version so a comparison could be made and students of film direction can see how important editing is to a movie.
The video is anamorphic 1.66:1 and does exhibit, by choice, a lot of grain.
The Dolby audio is typically clear and well balanced. This is part of the Superbit line of Columbia although it is not really a disc you will use to show off your home theater.
While The Brown Bunny is not a film for every taste, The Brown Bunny will be of interest to those that collect the more esoteric flicks out there.
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