Jul 24, 2013

The Brown Bunny

Maybe it was because he was a staunch and groveling Spielberg apologist or perhaps because he was the man responsible for co-penning Russ Meyer’s pseudo-sexy, scatological satire Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) thus lacking a serious appreciation for cinema as an art form, but the late and less than great film critic Roger Ebert must have been suffering from serious cases of both penis and artistic envy after initially smearing Sicilian-American Renaissance man Vincent Gallo’s second feature-length film The Brown Bunny (2003) by describing it as the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. Of course, it would take a cancer hex put on Ebert, who inevitably died from the disease after a long and miserable battle that forever silenced his catty voice, for the rather rotund (or as Gallo himself described him, a “fat pig with the physique of a slave trader”) film critic to drastically change his opinion of The Brown Bunny, which had been reedited (cutting 26 minutes of what was originally a 118-minute film), ultimately giving it 3 out of 4 stars and a “thumbs up” rating despite his ongoing war of words with the film's director. While I never had the opportunity to see the infamous Cannes cut (which was apparently an uncompleted workprint that Gallo’s Japanese producers forced him to screen) of The Brown Bunny, I did recently watch the film for a second time (my initial viewing was around the time of the original DVD release) and can safely say it was no less a harrowing yet hypnotic experience than my initial viewing of the film about a decade ago or so and I can see the work being regarded as an unsung masterpiece in decades to come. Although most (in)famous for its doubly climatic conclusion featuring writer/director/editor/producer/star Vincent Gallo—a misunderstood man who, despite his rather unflattering reputation, is undoubtedly one of America's few great artistic polymaths—receiving an unsimulated blowjob from his real-life ex-'lover' Chloë Sevigny (who Gallo claims was never actually his girlfriend, but they did previously date/fornicate), The Brown Bunny is about as far from erotic as films come as a maliciously melancholy ‘fever nightmare’ that slowly but surely gets under one’s skin and eventually tears at one’s psyche via the director’s startlingly naked reflection of his own terribly tormented and undeniably provocative soul. Featuring many cryptic autobiographic nuances from Gallo’s own life, including scenes shot in the small Pennsylvania town where the director’s mother grew up (but which the director never visited previously), authentic footage of the auteur doing his own ‘stunts’ on his motorcycle (Gallo was a professional Gran Prix motorcycle racer in the 1980s), and graphic sexual acts between an ex-partner, The Brown Bunny is nothing less than indisputable proof of the validity of the auteur theory. Indeed, Gallo may be a neurotic 'narcissist' with delusions of grandeur as is oftentimes libeled against him by his mostly jealous detractors, but such seemingly negative qualities make for unwaveringly uncompromising filmmakers who bend the knees for no one, especially in regard to people—namely left-leaning American and British film critics, as well as the majority of the American populous—who have no respect for the medium of film as an art form, but instead see it as the modern equivalent of a peasant circus. The superlatively somber and dispiriting cinematic tale of a motorcycle racer who carries around conspicuously crippling memories of a great love perennially lost due to tragedy, chance, and—most importantly of all—inaction on the protagonist's part during a moment of emotionally-charged self-doubt and disgust, The Brown Bunny is the American heterosexual equivalent of what German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder cinematically achieved in regards to sensitively depicting the emotional torment and cognitive dissonance of women, homosexuals, and transsexuals in a manner that mere words cannot express. 

 Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo) has just lost a motorcycle race in New Hampshire and is headed on a one-man road trip to Los Angeles, California to compete in another race, which also happens to be near where he once shared a small home with his lost great love Daisy (Chloë Sevigny). A lost soul grudgingly treading through life, Bud will do anything to relieve his inner torment, which includes approaching three random female strangers on his trip in what will prove to be futile attempts to fill the gaping metaphysical wound that was left by his oh-so dear Daisy. Like Daisy, all three of these women superficially share flowery names, hence Bud's initial yet self-deceiving interest in them. Bud’s first victim/sexless fling is a ‘homely’ (Gallo himself described this girl that way) gal named Violet (non-actor Anna Vareschi), who the melancholy motorcyclist meets at a New Hampshire gas station and convinces to join him on his road trip to California. Upon dropping Violet off at her house so she can collect her belongings for what was suppose to be a romantic road trip between two strangers, Bud coldly drives off and leaves her behind without looking back. Positively possessed by mostly bittersweet memories, Bud makes the mistake of visiting Daisy’s parents’ home, where he grew up in the house next door, but he is in for a rather awkward surprise when he learns that his great love’s mother does not remember him at all, but at least he gets to see her pet brown bunny. After the visit with his could-of-been parents-in-law, Bud goes to a animal shelter and learns from the clerk that bunny rabbits only have a life expectancy of 5-6 years, thus realizing even the cutest of creatures eventually perish and that when Daisy's brown bunny dies the last physical remnant of their relationship will disappear. While making a brief pitstop at a public bathroom, Bud seems magnetized by the glaring misery of a blonde milf named Lilly (played by veteran model-turned-actress Cheryl Tiegs) and proceeds to comfort and kiss the crying stranger, which causes him to cry and leave abruptly, never looking back again. After racing at Bonneville Speedway in a scene that looks like a man fading into a beauteous abyss of nothingness that recalls the hopeless yet breathtaking atmosphere of Philippe Garrel's The Inner Scar (1972) aka La cicatrice intérieure, Bud drives through a seedy Las Vegas ghetto and picks up a seemingly untainted streetwalker named Rose (played by real-life working girl Elizabeth Blake) due to his fondness for her flowery name (which she wears proudly on a necklace), but the miserable motorcyclist wastes no time in kicking her out of his van a couple seconds later.  Undoubtedly, Daisy's ghostly presence has damned the sad speed-racer to a lonely life of romantic disconnections and miscommunications as she has become the irreplaceable model for which Bud will judge all future prospective lovers.

 After dropping his motorcycle off at a LA garage, Bud heads to Daisy’s small suburban home, which is clearly abandoned, and hangs a letter on the front door. Bud spends some time in her driveway reminiscing about kissing Daisy and subsequently checks into a hotel in a hapless manner as if he has finally accepted defeat. While lying around depressed all by his lonesome, Bud is magically visited by the seemingly elusive Daisy and the source of the melodramatic motorcyclist's paralyzing misery finally begins to unravel in a dreadful fashion akin to a mortician's scalpel cutting through a rotting corpse during an autopsy. After nervously running into the bathroom and taking a couple hits from a crack pipe, Daisy asks Bud if he wants to get some beer, which he flatly turns down because he does not drink anymore due to ‘what happened’ the last time they were together. Daisy professes her undying love to Bud, but he starts an argument with her for supposedly “kissing other boys” in the past. Bud proceeds to undress Daisy and she passionately fellates him, even sensually swallowing he seed, but he flips out upon climax and verbally assaults her by stating, “You’re a fucking whore. You’re a whore…You fucked them. You fucking asshole. I hate you so much. I hate you so much.” Bud then starts an argument with Daisy accusing her of having sex with other men at a druggy hipster party the last night they saw one another. Daisy tells Bud that the men seemed friendly and they offered her some bud to smoke, but that she had no intention of sharing carnal knowledge with them. Bud accuses Daisy of killing their unborn child due to her drug use and drinking at the party, but things are much more complicated than he wants to remember. Apparently, what really happened, which is revealed in a series of stomach-churning flashback sequences, was that Daisy passed out at the party and the men took her into a bedroom against her own will, stripped off her clothes, and took turns raping her while she was unconscious. Although Bud walked in on the rape, he figured the worse and did not intervene, but instead left the party, only to discover Daisy's dead corpse being hauled into an ambulance when he returned. It is revealed that Daisy was DOA before she was ever raped after she choked on her own vomit (thus making her rapists unconscious necrophiliacs) and that she never really appeared in Bud’s hotel room and his nasty night with her was merely a figment of his imagination as a man who carries a crippling burden of guilt for not only failing to save the love of his life, but also that of his unborn child and sole progeny. 

 Describing the film as being ‘in the tradition’ of classic ‘adult cinema’ like Last Tango in Paris (1972) and Midnight Cowboy (1969), Vincent Gallo certainly achieved something much more honest, visceral, and stripped down with The Brown Bunny than Bertolucci and Schlesinger did with their respective Hollywood-star-driven films. Not only does The Brown Bunny display deep aesthetic influences from European arthouse films of the 1970s, but it also shares similar aesthetic/thematic similarities with obscure Italian art-sploitation films, especially the lurid libertine tragedies of Alberto Cavallone (Quickly, spari e baci a colazione, Blue Movie), whose wickedly wanton and patently forlorn work Zelda (1974) centers around a suicidal motorcycle racer whose weakness for women ultimately leads to his downfall. The Brown Bunny, which features blatant aesthetic influence from the films of Paul Morrissey/Andy Warhol (the trailer for The Brown Bunny featured a split-screen technique like Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966)), also seems innately influenced by the European period films of Italian-American actor/Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro, especially Walerian Borowczyk’s titillating yet terribly tragic erotic arthouse flick The Streetwalker (1976) aka La marge and Aldo Lado’s homoerotic motorcycled-themed crime flick Born Winner (1976) aka L'ultima volta. Indeed, as an auteur piece with the artistic integrity of the great works of old school European arthouse cinema, The Brown Bunny was bound to repel not only a good percentage of the American film-going audience, but also pathetic perverts looking to see a cheap smut flick featuring a famous diva devouring a dick. By combining an unsimulated sex scene with merciless melodrama between two ill-starred and irrevocably severed lovers, The Brown Bunny, not unlike the films of Paul Morrissey, is more anti-pornographic than pornographic, because the last thing a porn addict wants to see during a strikingly sordid and steamy sex scene is a wounded man moan in lovelorn agony like a dying animal while having his manhood mouthed. As Gallo stated himself regarding the scene in an old interview with Rebecca Murray at About.com, “Matthew McConaughey does 600 pushups before he does his shirtless scene. I haven’t even worked with a fucking make-up person in films. You think I made myself look great? Do you think it’s fun to show your cock in a film for ten billion to scrutinize for eternity? Do you think I get off on that? I was interested in the film for the purpose of the film, and I moved past my insecurities, my self-doubt, my self-hate, my incredible privacy that I value. I pushed that aside to achieve the goals that I had in the movie. And I think they’re very clear in the film. I think if you see that film, it’s clear that my intentions were to create disturbing effects around intimacies – both metaphysical and personal intimacies with this character’s life.” An amazing mirthless metaphysical melodrama and allegorical 'ghost story' that is like a healthy medium between Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Philippe Garrel's The Inner Scar (1972) aka La cicatrice intérieure, Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984), and Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t'aime moi non plus (1976) aka I Love You, I Don't, and Cavallone’s Zelda, yet totally idiosyncratic and tragically transcendental in its own right, The Brown Bunny is a positively pinning yet crippling celluloid road trip to purgatory directed by one of America’s few true auteur filmmakers. As Gallo stated in an audio commentary track for the Japanese DVD release of The Brown Bunny, he “didn’t spend 3 ½ years making a movie to get a blowjob from Chloë,” despite what beta-male and fecund-free feminist film critics want to believe.  Unlike most films, The Brown Bunny has a heart and soul, but also a famous chick choking on a self-described right-winger's cock, which makes for an irreconcilable combo when it comes to Hollywood liberal types, sexually repressed feminists, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola fans, and other culture-distorting rabble.

-Ty E

1 comment:

665+1 said...

Damn it Ty E, you've done the impossible. Because of this review, I plan to re-evalute this film. Bravo, nordic superman.