The Brown Bunny
January 14, 2006
After the critical acclaim of Buffalo ’66 (1998), there was a certain amount of anticipation for what its writer/director/star Vincent Gallo would do next. He responded with The Brown Bunny (2003), a film that, to put it mildly, polarized critics and audiences at the Cannes Film Festival. It met with harsh criticism and cited by some as the worst film ever to be shown in competition. This was largely in response to the film’s ending that featured co-star Chloe Sevigny performing oral sex on Gallo that outraged many. The film’s deliberately slow pacing also didn’t endear it to audiences. Gallo, not one to back down from a fight, engaged Roger Ebert in a highly publicized war of words that got quite nasty. Now that the dust has settled and the film has been quietly released on DVD, people can see for themselves what the fuss was all about.
Bud Clay (Gallo) races motorcycles for a living. He’s just finished a race in New Hampshire and is heading cross-country in his van for another one in Los Angeles. He also hopes to be reunited with the love of his life, Daisy (Sevigny). The structure of the film consists primarily of a series of interactions Bud has with various women, some of a romantic nature (Lilly) and some not (Rose).
As he did in Buffalo ’66, Gallo is able to convey touching vulnerability. In one scene, Bud asks a young woman working at a convenience store if she would go with him on his trip. He asks her in an almost pleading tone that is kind of heartbreaking and makes him a sympathetic character much as his Billy Brown character did when he found solace with Layla in Buffalo ’66. The Brown Bunny is about lonely people trying to find each other and seek comfort in one another. Bud meets a woman named Lilly (Tiegs) and they kiss each other passionately as if they are long lost lovers embracing each other and then Bud moves on to the next place.
Where Buffalo ’66 was populated by name actors (Christina Ricci, Anjelica Huston, Ben Gazzara), Gallo has opted for the less is more approach with only a couple of recognizable actors. Much of the supporting cast seems to be non-actors, as if they’re playing themselves and this gives their scenes an authenticity.
Stylistically, Gallo favours long, static takes, often holding on a shot for as long as he feels is necessary. In some respects, it’s a throwback to the minimalist cinema of Monte Hellman, specifically Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) with its judicious use of dialogue and no frills production values. Gallo certainly has an ear for the right piece of music for the right scene, like the sad, wistful music of Gordon Lightfoot (“Beautiful”) and Jackson C. Frank (“Milk & Honey”) playing over shots of the road to create a particular mood.
It would be so easy to dismiss Gallo’s film as a vanity project run amok. After all, he wrote, directed, edited, produced, shot and stars in it. The Brown Bunny lacks Buffalo ’66’s humour and this seems to be a conscious decision on Gallo’s part. In every respect, this movie is the antithesis to anything Hollywood is producing. Like Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2002), Gallo’s film is a cinematic endurance test—can you watch a man drive around for close to 90 minutes with the occasional interaction with other people? Yet, there is a certain poetry to The Brown Bunny, a certain simple beauty in observing every day things, like someone eating dinner or shopping for a rabbit or just driving cross-country. There are no intense car chases that defy physics or CGI-generated worlds—just plain, ol’ filmmaking that very few people seem to appreciate anymore.