If you’re considering taking a pass on The Brown Bunny because Roger Ebert called an earlier version one of the worst movies ever made, you’re missing out. If you’re going to see it for the much-reported fellatio scene, you will be extremely disappointed. You will not have an opportunity to revel in director/writer/actor/ producer/camera operator/infamous weirdo Vincent Gallo’s demise as an artist. Nor will you be shocked, overwhelmed, titillated or horrified by one of cinema’s most powerfully sad and moving endings. To put if bluntly, the hype surrounding this offering from one of America’s most interesting auteurs is pure bullshit.
The reality is that Gallo has produced a quietly powerful film, a film that’s more often than not sentimental and old-fashioned in taking its time to tell a story. The Brown Bunny is refreshing in that it lacks extraneous, maudlin dialogue and easy explanations. It’s a film that Gallo can be proud of, alongside his other self-made and equally fine Buffalo 66.
The Brown Bunny features a guy named Bud Clay (Gallo) who races motorcycles for a living. The film opens with one of these races; the scene isn’t a montage of quick edits that suggests a motorcycle race — we’re talking the whole race here. That’s the kind of thing that characterizes the film. Some might find the pacing plodding or self-consciously avant-garde, but it’s neither. The race scene is the first piece of a puzzle that is Clay’s life.
Next thing you know, Clay’s at a suburban service station, refueling for a cross-country trek back to California. He meets eyes with a young girl behind the counter, soon asking her, “Please, please come with me.” She does, but due to Clay’s eccentricities she doesn’t stick around for long.
We know Clay is looking for something and we soon find out what it is when he visits his hometown and has a stilted yet revealing conversation with his ex-girlfriend’s mother. It’s here that the meaning of the film’s enigmatic title is revealed.
Back on the road, Clay bumps into a woman named Lilly (Cheryl Tiegs) at a highway rest stop. With nary a spoken word, Clay and Lilly reveal an aching loneliness in a scene perfectly played.
Eventually, Clay runs out of road, reaching Los Angeles, and meets up with the object of his angst, Daisy (Chloe Sevigny). Their stay in Clay’s motel room and the secrets that are revealed, and how they are revealed, are testament to the mature and knowing hand of a brilliant filmmaker. No one in my memory has utilized a blow job in a film to unleash emotional truth and an almost unbearable heartache. The scene is a masterstroke (forgive the pun) in a film with many other deceptively simple but powerful images.
The Brown Bunny won’t suit some people’s tastes. Its rhythm and primitive, grainy cinematography will test some peoples’ patience. For the rest of us who’re sick of the shiny, million-edits-a-minute explain-everything template that’s shoved down our throats, The Brown Bunny is a breath of rarefied air.
Showing at the Main Art Theater, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak. Call 248-263-2111.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].