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Photograph by Wellspring

Roger That, Rabbit: Chloë Sevigny gets up close and personal with Vincent Gallo in 'The Brown Bunny.'

The Nasty Rabbit

Vincent Gallo's heart's on his sleeve, what a bloody mess: 'The Brown Bunny'

By Richard von Busack

RENOWNED as the movie that gave Roger Ebert cancer, The Brown Bunny is perhaps less toxic than its rep: director/writer/chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66 was far more arduous. Ebert himself backpedaled, claiming that Gallo's edited version was a different movie. Spoken like a man who has a Gallo disease threat hanging over his head. What's next in the arsenal: leprosy? Mockery's entitled, nay, demanded by a film with this utter solemnity going for it. Underneath its avant-garde crust and behind its famous ending, is a criminal mawkishness that Gallo's sometimes effective technique can't conceal. Bud (Gallo) leaves New Hampshire in his van for L.A. in preparation for a motorcycle race on the coast. On the way, he stops to smell the flowers. First, there's Violet, a gas-station cashier he sweet-talks and then abandons—why? out of sudden distaste, or reluctance to drag her down into his personal hell? Later, he encounters Lily (Cheryl Tiegs), a ruined beauty from whom Bud wordlessly steals a long kiss, than departs. In Las Vegas, Bud reluctantly picks up a prostitute named Rose, but he shrugs her off. His true date with fate is in L.A., at a Best Western motel. Here, Bud re-encounters the love of his life, former girl next door, Daisy (Chloë Sevigny). But this flower's wilted. She's lost a few petals and picked up a few parasites.

In between these failed trysts, Gallo's Bud does a slow-speed cruise through the country, on the lines of Robert Frank's experimental film A1. The passage where Bud slowly, slowly approaches an interchange outside Chicago, in a driving rain, as Gordon Lightfoot's tune "Beautiful" plays in its entirety is—well—beautiful. The drama of America's landscape is heightened by Lightfoot's uncharacteristic decision to use some minor chords. (The unaccustomed sharps and flats must have drawn blood from the ears of his hard-core fans.) Mostly, Gallo aims the camera into the back of his head, the better to show us what he's thinking. This is a movie that takes place mostly in the tangles of the director's hair.

The title, like the flower names, refers to the sweety-sweet side of love. There are three signifying bunnies: a chocolate rabbit Bud once gave his love for Easter, a brown bunny seen in a cage in a Midwestern pet store and Daisy's left-behind pet rabbit, still dwelling in her childhood home, never to be retrieved. "How long do these bunnies live?" Bud asks, but he's really asking, "How long does love last?" and he's chilled by the pet-store owner's answer: "Five or six years at the most." Despite this schoolboy Valentine card-style view of love, Gallo's opinion of women is always brusque, patronizing and creepy: they're there to reflect his narcissistic glory, and he anticipates their eventual act of rejection. The sex finale has heat to it, true. But Sevigny's usual blasé fascination is turning stale; she's not the ethereal love object she was in Boys Don't Cry. Under Gallo's stolid direction, she can't really float. As for the final scene's impact, I'm less certain that it works because of emotional heat or because of the good old reliable physical response that porn evokes. I was staring, yes, but take the scene apart and there's just one person in the scene, and he's both a sucker and a wanker.

The Brown Bunny (Unrated; 92 min.), directed, written and photographed by Vincent Gallo and starring Gallo and Chloë Sevigny, opens Friday at Camera 12 in San Jose.

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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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