My Dinner With Vincent

The end comes too quickly in the trim cut of Gallo's 'Bunny'

Before I yield the floor to another self-indulgent narcissist (that's a term of endearment, by the way), let me tell you a little something about...me. For weeks I've been struggling with my sense that Vincent Gallo's Brown Bunny--a film I saw twice at Cannes and held close to my heart like a kid cradling a newborn rabbit--has suffered greatly for the trimming of its fat, the shearing of its bushy tail. I've been painfully aware of how pretentious it's going to sound: This criminally abused movie that I alone adored at the world's most prestigious film festival--in the two-hour version you can no longer see--is a bona fide epic and a masterpiece, while the 90-minute cut that's opening here on Friday is but an imposter, a pale imitation.

But there it is: the awful truth. I do feel a mite soothed by the fact that Gallo himself, in between bites of escargot at Nicollet Mall's Vincent (where else?), acknowledges my grief as being appropriate to his movie's subject. Like Hitchcock's Vertigo (believe it or not), The Brown Bunny broods over the failure of an inferior substitute to replace a love that's pure and true, a love that's lost forever.

"If somebody sees the film in the rough cut version first," Gallo tells me during a suitably elongated meal, "it's extremely difficult to adjust to the short version. Extremely difficult."

Here he comes: Writer- director- actor- editor- producer- cinematographer Vincent Gallo in 'The Brown Bunny'
Wellspring
Here he comes: Writer- director- actor- editor- producer- cinematographer Vincent Gallo in 'The Brown Bunny'

In either cut of his tragedy, Gallo plays Bud Clay, a professional motorcycle racer who has been spinning his wheels ever since losing his beloved Daisy (played in flashbacks and dream sequences by Chloë Sevigny). Piloting an old Dodge van from the East Coast to his next big race in California, the sullen, hypersensitive Bud meets, woos, and abruptly abandons a string of surrogate girlfriends who seem to fall for him instantaneously. (As in his first film, the infectious Buffalo '66, Gallo the writer-director-editor-producer-cinematographer doesn't explain how the scruffy loner played by Gallo could be such a proficient ladies' man. Apparently unearned arrogance is an aphrodisiac in some quarters.)

The allegory, intended or not, is unmistakable: The Brown Bunny is a movie about a guy who can't get it up for anyone but his first love--a movie made by a guy whose desire to revisit the broad appeal of his debut renders him all but impotent. So Bud starts cuddling and kissing a woman (played by Cheryl Tiegs!) whom he meets at a roadside rest stop, but soon collapses into tears because...she isn't Daisy.

Gallo, speaking not in sentences but paragraphs (this prodigious talent rarely comes up short), continues to pontificate articulately on the topic of loss:

When you make a film, you become very attached to it. So to take something out of a film that you thought at one point was good? It's brutal: brutal, brutal, brutal. You, I think, are more like me--because I, too, have an attraction to films in their more challenging state, in their more methodical state. For example, I never like the single that's on the radio; I always prefer the LP version. However, there comes a point where, if the single is perfect, a complete work in its own right, it can be better than the LP version. That's what I felt happened: The "radio version" of the film became clearer. When I go back and look at the other version now, 'cause I have it on tape, it seems...intriguing. It plays into all my sensibilities, all the things that I like--especially the part when my character pulls over and puts on a sweater. That was exactly what I've been trying to do my whole life as an artist--to express that insight.

At this point I reach into my satchel, pull out my year-old review from Cannes, and begin to read: "One of many critics who fled the late-night press screening early did so after Gallo's character pulled the van over...to put on a sweater." Gallo laughs.

See? They freaked out at that. But I mean, it's so beautiful! Why would they interpret that as self-indulgent? Or pompous? Or narcissistic? It's beautiful! And the execution of it: I've never seen a film that captured the mood of the highway like that--that weird thing when the door opens and he's, like, out of the cocoon, and he puts a sweater on because the time of day is changing. It's that transition from day to night--that really melancholy, beautiful moment. I loved including it as part of the character's experience on the road. The only problem I had was that it didn't sculpt his profile in exactly the way that I wanted it; it only worked on its own, by itself. You know what it did? It made the end seem trite somehow. It diminished the end of the movie.

The original Bunny ended on a note of exhilarating absurdity: Bud's dead body being visited by a cute little rabbit--the hero's petite mort having given rise, perhaps, to a new kind of animal magnetism. The truncated Bunny, in which the human Bud survives to face another day, might be more "optimistic," but it's a lot less funny--another loss for his former lovers to lament.

My film is about the beginning of the process of healing, in a sense--of moving past grief. Because I think that grief and guilt had gotten so heavy for the character that he sort of bottomed out. The film is about his bottom, in a way. And from his bottom he's going to slowly...move forward.

Gallo, I gather, is having a hard time moving on himself. He has come to Minneapolis on a cross-country PR tour that reads as a compulsive repetition of his Bunny man's own wayward search for love. The blow job that...uh, climaxes our hero's journey in the film goes on and on and on--extending beyond the frame, you might say, to the one-on-one service that Gallo has been enjoying from his recent interviewers. The difference is that, in the film, the fellatio turns out to be a figment of the poor fellow's imagination--that is, all in his head. Thus The Brown Bunny--provocatively, even poignantly--is an act of mental masturbation for the character and maybe the filmmaker as well.

Flashback: Gallo is meeting the press at Cannes, 2003, in the wake of what he called the "single worst experience of my life"--the most disastrously hissed and hooted screening in festival history.

Early in elementary school, I was Mr. Popular. I had a little moment where I got a lot of response from adult women--my mother's friends--and young girls my own age. Then at some point my hair got darker; it got curly. Before that my hair was straight and blond, my nose was little. But when I transformed into a less Scandinavian-looking type, my reaction to it was to protect myself: I chose not to be open to friends, to love--so as not to be rejected. It's sort of like the way that I'm always late for an appointment--because if I come early and the person doesn't show up, it's really upsetting to me. So my approach is always to get there a little late. These are the basic behaviors of a small-minded, petty person.... The reason I never directed anybody else's screenplay is not because I'm narcissistic or whatever it is you all say behind my back. It's because I don't have the energy to get familiar with something that's foreign to me. I've never read a book in my life. I try to do the best I can with what I know. So yeah--it's a very personal film.

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