In May of 2003 I walked out of the press screening of Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" at the Cannes Film Festival and was asked by a camera crew what I thought of the film. I said I thought it was the worst film in the history of the festival. That was hyperbole -- I hadn't seen every film in the history of the festival -- but I was still vibrating from one of the most disastrous screenings I had ever attended.
The audience was loud and scornful in its dislike for the movie; hundreds walked out, and many of those who remained only stayed because they wanted to boo. Imagine, I wrote, a film so unendurably boring that when the hero changes into a clean shirt, there is applause. The panel of critics convened by Screen International, the British trade paper, gave the movie the lowest rating in the history of their annual voting.
But to reveal how it works on a level more complex than the physical would be to undermine the way the scene pays off. The scene, and its dialogue, and a flashback to the Daisy character at a party, work together to illuminate complex things about Bud's sexuality, his guilt, and his feelings about women. Even at Cannes, even after unendurably superfluous footage, that scene worked, and I wrote: "It must be said that [Sevigny] brings a truth and vulnerability to her scene that exists on a level far above the movie it is in." Gallo takes the materials of pornography and repurposes them into a scene about control and need, fantasy and perhaps even madness. That scene is many things, but erotic is not one of them. (A female friend of mine observed that Bud Clay, like many men, has a way of asking a woman questions just when she is least prepared to answer them.)