Thursday, September 01, 2005

Rabbit Season

The other night I rented The Brown Bunny, the movie that critic Roger Ebert famously called the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.

I had passed over the multiple copies collecting dust on the shelf of my local video store for weeks before finally giving in Sunday night, figuring it was something I could watch while reading the paper.

This turned out to be a sound plan as during the film’s protracted driving sequences, which felt like a cross-country drive filmed in real time, I was able to balance my checkbook and groom my dog in addition to catching up on the news.

Though essentially Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop inter-cut with drivers-ed footage, and with a porno kicker, it had moments of real pathos and a melancholy charm.

Aside from this, the solemn, largely silent film turned out to be unexpectedly funny because of the extent to which it resonated with the phantom chatter of all the critical voices that had panned it.

While the brooding lead character (played by the film's director, writer, editor and producer, Vincent Gallo) drove from New Hampshire to L.A. stewing in thoughts of his lost girl, I found myself recalling hilarious jibes like, 'I will one day be thin but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of 'The Brown Bunny.'-Roger Ebert

The high-profile critic fired the first shot in Cannes essentially declaring open season on The Brown Bunny and with last year’s theatrical release hundreds of hired cinephiles took aim and let fly at the film’s pretension (“What [Gallo] has to say is less deep, less original and less riveting than he imagines,"-Mary F. Pols, Contra Costa Times): naiveté ("so autistic, so painfully sincere that it goes off the so-bad-it's-good scale into something else entirely,"-Peter Bradshaw, Guardian): and Gallo's self-absorption (“This is a movie that takes place mostly in the tangles of the director's hair.”-Richard von Busack, Metroactive).

In one of the most entertaing reviews, Slate’s David Edelstein riffed on the film's intensely personal nature to formulate a detailed psychological profile of an infantile jerk.

Even the highbrow critics who refused to sink to taking the cheap shot could not resist a yank at Gallo’s chain. “In brief, The Brown Bunny, however antagonistic and borderline tedious, is an art work of sorts,” wrote David Denby in The New Yorker. “And Gallo himself, though an egomaniac of staggering solemnity-a priest of art longing for a cult-is not a fake.”

The critical shit-storm reportedly led Gallo to cut the film by a quarter (26 minutes of the original 118-minute film) and drive across the country (yet again) to personally deliver prints to theaters and, ostensibly, to run damage control at early screenings.

I had to smile when I heard that. Who could dislike a guy whose narcissism is so sincere?

In addition to producing a film as zinger-ready as the Rocky Horror Picture Show (also panned by the critics and loved by the French) and generating enough buzz to make it - and his name - the stuff of cinematic legend, he managed to remain true to his artistic vision and to publicly martyr himself for his art.

That's an impressive coup, but what a way to make a living.


posted by cherrybomb @ 9/01/2005 10:44:00 AM |


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