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Wellspring Media

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Director: Vincent Gallo

Producer: Vincent Gallo

Written by: Vincent Gallo

Cast: Vincent Gallo, Chloe Sevigny, Cheryl Tiegs, Elizabeth Blake, Anna Vareschi, Mary Morasky


In rare instances, films transcend themselves and become oddity, mostly by way of controversy. In 1932, Tod Browning’s Freaks shocked and appalled audiences because of Browning’s decision to cast actual sideshow freaks, ranging from Johnny Eck, the man with no lower body, to Daisy and Violet Hilton, authentic Siamese twins. In 1975, Pier Paolo Passolini’s Salò graphically chronicled the atrocities committed by a group of fascists at the end of World War II who kidnap children from a small village and torture them in myriad darkly sexual manners; most noteworthy is the indescribable feces banquet scene (thought to be a sensual delight by the fascists). In 2004, Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny was released theatrically, bearing an endorsement from Roger Ebert as being “the worst [film] in the history of Cannes [Film Festival]” and containing a full-on blowjob scene between Gallo and Chloe Sevigny, for which, like the freaks, like the feces, it shall always primarily be remembered. And that is shameful, for just as in Freaks, just as in Salò, there is some substance amongst the novelty.

Bud Clay (Gallo) is a motorcycle racer. He must drive cross-country from New Hampshire to California for his next race. On the road, he is sad. He ruminates about a girl named Daisy (Sevigny). He meets three women (Blake, Vareschi, and an especially haggard Tiegs) along the way and has an awkward exchange with each of them. He stares sadly out the window of his van. Sometimes he cries. He arrives in California. He washes his face a lot. He meets Daisy. She fellates him. There is a revelation. The end.

I don’t mean to undercut the plot of The Brown Bunny, but, truthfully, there really isn’t much of one. It is a spare, non-linear film more concerned with evoking emotion than logically getting Bud from point A to point B. It is also a troubled film, on nearly all levels. It is repetitious, both thematically and visually. It is too meditative, too maudlin, at times. It is concerned unflinchingly with Bud, who is the focus of every scene, and yet Bud is nothing more than one achingly sad face for the majority of the picture; we never know more about him than we do from scene one, shot one. It is poorly edited. It is poorly shot. For 85 of its 93-minute runtime, nothing happens. And when the big something does happen, it is an uncalled-for and unjust something, and something totally out of context with the rest of the film (and I don’t just mean the oral sex). It does not bother to set up the ending, causing a discord that is ultimately irreparable. It will leave viewers confused, if not infuriated, searching for anything to latch onto, grasping to apply unwarranted symbolism upon every aspect of its small, lonely world, hoping that things will click together after analysis, that it will all make sense. But it won’t, and that’s not the point.

Many will immediately label The Brown Bunny an ego project for Gallo, given its sloppiness, its lack of structure, his appearance in nearly every moment of the film, the blowjob scene. And while that argument is warranted, admittedly, there is a sincerity within The Brown Bunny that, should one be able to look past the challenges that Gallo seems to deliberately assault the viewer with, is rewarding and devastating and true.

Where The Brown Bunny works most is in Gallo’s few brief encounters with the denizens of the desolate landscapes which his Bud scowls through. Predominantly wordless (like the rest of the picture), they are snapshots of stark loneliness and disconnection from humanity and, more specifically, from the opposite sex. They illustrate how affecting being separated from the person you love the most can be, how everything in contrast is muted and cold and just wrong, the film’s central theme. Bud’s reunion with Daisy is uncomfortable and almost impossible to not turn away from. Following the fellatio, Bud is angry, disgusted, guilty and heartbroken all at once; in that moment, before the film’s ultimate and unnecessary twist, Gallo is fragile and overwhelming to watch. It is the nearest conveyance of the contrasting mix of emotions stirred by reality that I have ever seen. It is brilliant, as is Gallo throughout the film, but it is not enough to elevate The Brown Bunny to complete effectiveness. Within it are too many ill-advised decisions, too much that it deliberately challenging, too much that is excruciatingly repetitive and draining.

I may be one of the few viewers of The Brown Bunny who have connected with Gallo’s vision (well, parts of it, at least), and who, despite its countless faults, would recommend it. It is something different, a mostly failed experiment, but I respect Gallo for his courage and the cinematic heart which he wears upon his sleeve. In spite of itself, this film deserves to be remembered as more than just “that blowjob movie, bra!”

In 1932, Freaks resulted in the banishment of Tod Browning from the Hollywood studio system. In 1975, Pier Paolo Passolini was mysteriously murdered shortly following the release of Salò. In 2004, The Brown Bunny has just been released theatrically, and somewhere Vincent Gallo sits in his hermitage, probably with that disconcerted, hurt look upon his face, awaiting his fate, perhaps his unjust punishment.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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