Wednesday, November 02, 2005

'The Brown Bunny' ...

Roger Ebert panned this film when he saw it at Cannes. He walked out of the screening, as did hundreds of others.

When he reviewed it a year and a half later, he gave it three stars.

I just watched "The Brown Bunny." Actually, I fast-forwarded through "The Brown Bunny," and not because I was in a hurry to get to the scene "The Brown Bunny" is famous for.

Ebert's overarching criticism of the film was that it was too long. But Vincent Gallo, the film's creator in every sense of the word (he wrote it, directed it, edited it, produced it, starred in it, photographed it as director of photography, and filmed it, literally, as a camera operator), edited down the Cannes version and in the process, created something Ebert felt was very worthwhile.

(Here's a question for Ebert's Answer Man: Does the existence of the two versions account for the continuity issue in the hotel room, when Daisy's hair, from one scene to the next, goes from hanging loose to being pulled back? For those of you still unsure what the famous scene is about, you now have two clues: hotel room and a woman with her hair pulled back. Ahem. OK?)

But even with 26 minutes cut out of the original version, I still found this film laborious until the final scene, which is exceptionally well done. As I scanned through it, pausing from time to time to watch a scene and see if something was starting to hang together (no pun intended), I thought that this film would surely be enhanced with a commentary track by Tom and Crow from "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Most of the movie feels like Gallo was *trying* to make an arty film. Some who have seen it might assert to know what Gallo was trying to say: "As we watch Bud driving, his hand in his hair, the scenery passing outside his window, we're reminded of man's solitary journey through life's landscape, alone, unremarkable, unnoticed" or "The camera's view of the darkened road curving continously to the right reveals that we are blind to our life's path, sure only that it is leading us away from where we believed we were going."

That said, I don't have exclusively bad things to say about this film. I think Vincent Gallo is hauntingly beautiful. He strikes me as a cross between Viggo Mortensen and Joaquin Phoenix. As I mentioned, the final scene is exceptional in explaining all the film that's come before it and Gallo's acting - yes, there's acting - is raw and painful and real. There are a few moments along the way, such as when Bud encounters Lilly at the rest stop, that I thought were brilliant. But the pacing of the film, even the improved pacing of the second cut, distracted me. I spent too much time trying to figure out what he was trying to say, trying to predict what was going to happen. In the opening racing scene, was he going to crash? No, we're just watching the whole race. At the gas station, is a new character going to be introduced? No, he's just pumping gas.

I suppose what I saw was the point Gallo was trying to make: That Bud goes through his life in mostly unremarkable ways. He doesn't win his race. He drives across the country to the next race. Along the way, he puts gas in his van. He stops for Chinese food and gets back on the road.

It's his anguish that makes these tasks in any way remarkable, simply that he accomplishes them, that he continues to exist and move through the world.

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