Though Vincent Gallo’s second feature may never escape the crippling legacy of its Cannes premiere, it’s worth noting that the re-cut version, which played several festivals last fall, is an astonishing improvement on the original version (reviewed in Variety, May 26, 2003). With 27 minutes excised, pic emerges from its mind-numbing undergrowth as a memorable — if still highly specialized — exercise in personal, ’70s-style American filmmaking, with a cohesive feel and rhythm that marks Gallo as a distinctive indie talent. Critical debacles traditionally have no second acts, but given a fresh start, pic could attract niche biz.
Most importantly, film no longer plays as a vanity project centered on Gallo himself, as shots of the actor have been radically pruned. Swathes of endless driving footage are gone, along with risible scenes like Bud (Gallo) stopping to change his sweater or sequences prolonged beyond reason (notably, the Bonneville Salt Flats one, which now ends halfway, as Bud’s motorbike disappears on the horizon).
Final half-hour, which appears unchanged, is now both poignant and powerful, with the clear impression that the appearance of Daisy (Chloe Sevigny) in the hotel room is simply Bud’s fantasy. Aside from one tiny shot, all other flashbacks to Daisy — including the much-derided bicycling sequence — are gone.
As a result, pic plays as what it was seemingly meant to be: a melancholy road movie (in which the songs-and-driving sequences take on greater import) centered on a man in search of substitutes for the lost love of his life. Final, post-fellatio, scenes still seem emotionally overstated, but up to that point, this re-edited version of the pic is akin to watching a new movie.
The whole experience of “Brown Bunny” should also serve as a powerful lesson — to both filmmakers and festival programmers — in the potentially destructive habit of using high-profile events as glorified test screenings.