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DVD Reviews for 8/19: Special Electric Boogaloo Edition

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful scribe waxes ecstatic about old television shows, older musicals and shamlessly recycles old material instead of coming up with something new.

It is likely that more people have heard of Vincent Gallo’s infamous “The Brown Bunny”–mostly because of the media feud that broke out between Gallo and Roger Ebert following its fairly disastrous debut at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival–than have actually seen it. When it played in America last fall, it received only a tiny release that attracted an audience consisting of art-house goons, pervs attracted by the gossip surrounding the final scene (when the film played in Chicago, I was told by the theater manager that ushers had to go up and down the aisles during the final reel after some unpleasantness on opening night) and precious few others. Some people–myself included–recognized that there was more to the film than just the sight of two semi-famous faces engaging in graphic on-screen sexual behavior but it was never able to overcome the controversy in order to be judged on its own merits.

Now that it has been released on DVD, in a Sony Superbit edition, no less (though it is hard to imagine a film where a DTS track is less necessary), it now has a chance of being seen by a wider audience. Therefore, I am now going to reprint the original review of the film that I wrote last fall for what shall be referred to as “another website.” For those who actually slogged through it when it was published last year, all you need to know is that I still feel the same about it–it is a strange and haunting film that is poetic and alienating in equal measure and definitely worthy of a second look. Just make sure the kids are asleep before you put it on.

Vincent Gallo’s "The Brown Bunny" has already received such negative press since its debut at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival-both for the presentation of an unfinished rough cut which was immediately deemed to be the worst film in the history of that festival by many commentators (in the same year that also featured "Dogville", mind you) and for the final scene in which Chloe Sevigny graphically performs oral sex on Gallo-that anyone offering words of praise runs the risk of being dismissed as just being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. However, I assure you that when I say that "The Brown Bunny" is actually one of the better films to emerge this year, I am not doing so because I am trying to call attention to myself (in the way that some of the early critics seemed to be) but because Gallo’s film is one of the most fascinating and hypnotic films of the year, a stunning tone poem on grief, loss and romantic obsession unlike anything else you are likely to see in a theater anytime soon.

The plot is simple. Gallo plays Bud Clay, a motocross racer who is driving across the country to a race in California. Gradually, we begin to discover that the other purpose of the trip is to get some kind of closure to his relationship with former lover Daisy (Sevigny). Most of the largely-wordless film shows him driving across the land (good portions are shot through the dirty windshield of Bud’s van) with an occasional pit stop where he encounters a series of women-the unreal nature of their appearances, coupled with the fact that they also have names associated with flowers, suggests that may be in Bud’s mind as representatives of various aspects of Daisy. Finally, in a drab motel room in California, Bud and Daisy reunite and, after the now-notorious sexual behavior (which does not go on for as long as has been rumored), Bud is forced to confront both the incident that separated the two of them and his own feelings of guilt over what happened.

Clearly, narrative fireworks are not what Gallo has on his mind here. As he showed in his previous directorial effort, "Buffalo 66", he is more interested in creating a mood and examining the behavior (especially the emotional traumas) of his characters rather than putting them through the paces of a conventional story. To that extent, "The Brown Bunny" is a striking success; all of Gallo’s choices as a filmmaker-from the drably beautiful photography to the extended length of his takes to his soundtrack choices (both musical selections like a key Gordon Lightfoot cue to the equally striking silences) serve to reinforce the emotionally barren character of Bud. To do anything differently-to speed up the pace of the film or to make the visuals more conventionally attractive-would simply seem out of place and destroy that mood.

What may come as a surprise to viewers-especially those whose notion of Gallo is that of some crazy wild-man artiste thanks to his frequent gossip-column appearances and his famous post-Cannes war of words with Roger Ebert-is just how sincere and nakedly emotional Gallo’s film truly is. Take one of the early scenes, in which Bud goes into a convenience store and awkwardly talks with the counter girl. After he tells her he is heading to California, she says that she would love to go there sometime and he immediately invites her along. She demurs and he responds with one of the neediest uses of "Please?" ever seen in a film. The "please" is so unexpectedly awkward that it gets a laugh. However, he proceeds to repeat the word in his efforts to beg the girl to go with him and a strange thing begins to happen-it ceases to be funny and Bud’s need for human contact is so apparent (considering that he just met this relatively average-looking girl just a few moments before) that the scene becomes both uncomfortable to watch (it feels like if she continues to refuse, he is just going to crumble away) and strangely touching.

This nakedly emotional approach is also apparent during the unforgettable final scene with Sevigny. Many have written about the surface details and have speculated on the mechanics of the sexual material involved but few have mentioned the fact that the considerable impact of the scene comes not from the fact that it involves two reasonably familiar actors performing a seemingly pornographic scene in a non-porno context, but from the mood that Gallo and Sevigny create. Thanks to the cramped quarters of the motel room and the barely-heard snatches of dialogue muttered by them as they go about this personal act, the scene takes on an intimate context that is impossible to shake or ignore-for me, it felt less like a notorious, attention-getting movie moment (like the ear-slicing in "Reservoir Dogs") and more like walking past an open motel room door and seeing two strangers performing an act with psychological implications that I could only guess at. This is the aspect that makes the scene so memorable and I suspect that it was the reason why so many critics have objected to it-they simply are unable to handle a sex scene that is more about the behavior of the participants and less about the choreography of the body parts.

"The Brown Bunny" is not a film for everyone-it doesn’t play by the rules of conventional filmmaking and most will just write it off as psuedo-artistic nonsense in which nothing happens for 87 minutes. I can understand that point-of-view and I suspect that even Gallo would willing admit that most viewers will probably react that way. The best way to approach "The Brown Bunny" is to look at it as less of a movie and more of a piece of art. Like a painting or a sculpture, the film is an intensely personal work in which he is using film, as opposed to paint or clay, in order to express deeply held feelings and sentiments in the only way he knows how. Taken that way, "The Brown Bunny" should more easily reveal itself as a fascinating work that easily transcends the notoriety that surrounds it.

Written and directed by Vincent Gallo. Starring Vincent Gallo, Chloe Sevigny and Cheryl Tiegs. 2003. 93 minutes. Unrated. A Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. $24.95


THE ASTAIRE & ROGERS COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 (Warner Home Video. $59.98): Even if you are like me and would rather stick your face in a deep-fat fryer than watch a musical, this box set of beautifully-restored classics–1935's “Top Hat,” 1936's “Swing Time” and “Follow the Fleet,” 1937's “Shall We Dance” and 1949's “The Barkleys of Broadway”–is a must-have. The immortal “Top Hat” alone, with its classic “Cheek to Cheek” number, is worth the full purchase price all by itself. The set also includes commentaries on “Top Hat,” “Swing Time” and “Shall We Dance” as well as shorts, cartoons and featurettes on the histories of each film.

THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.98): Rebecca Miller’s tedious and overly symbolic coming-of-age story about the strange and potentially perverse relationship between a dying hippie idealist and his oddball daughter living on an isolated former commune has exactly two good things going for it–the electrifying performances by Daniel Day Lewis and newcomer Camilla Belle in the lead roles. Other than that, it is the kind of draggy and pretentious junk that is the kind of thing that people are referring to when they talk about how they hate independent films.

]THE BREAKIN COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.98): You know that thing you do when you hear about a pointless sequel and decide that it would be amusing to affix “Electric Boogaloo” to its title–“Barbershop 2: Electric Boogaloo,” for example? It isn’t funny. It has never been funny and it never will be funny. The only thing less funny than that is the fact that MGM has issued this box set–collecting the previously released titles “Breakin,” “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo” and off-shoot “Beat Street”–in an edition that only provides the latter title with a widescreen transfer. How are we supposed to appreciate the genius of Boogaloo Shrimp in a cropped format?

]THE GLASS SHIELD: COLLECTORS EDITION (Miramax Home Entertainment. $19.95): When it was released in 1995, Charles Burnett’s drama–inspired by real events–about the lone black officer in an all-white police station trying to do the right thing when an innocent black man (Ice Cube) is framed for murder–was essentially dumped by Miramax after reported disagreements over the editing. Ten years later, they have finally decided to give the film its due with a DVD release featuring a commentary by Burnett. Not the best work by Burnett, who also made “Killer of Sheep” and “To Sleep With Anger,” but he is one of those directors whose weakest efforts tend to be more interesting than the best efforts of most filmmakers working today.

MY LEFT FOOT: COLLECTORS EDITION (Miramax Home Entertainment. $19.95): One of the films that put Miramax on the map finally makes its DVD debut. In the performance that won him an Oscar, Daniel Day Lewis gives an amazing portrayal of Christy Brown, a man who went on to be an internationally acclaimed writer despite an affliction that left his left foot as the only part of his body that he could control. Refreshingly unsentimental, this film also put director Jim Sheridan on the map as someone to watch–a path that would eventually lead him to direct the upcoming 50 Cent movie.

THE OFFICE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Universal Home Video. $29.98): No, this American adaptation of Ricky Gervais’s brilliant British television show isn’t anywhere near as great as the original. However, it does have some virtues of its own–chiefly the hilarious central performance from Steve Carell (whose “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” just happens to be coming out this week) as the eternally clueless manager of a paper-goods factory whose inability to lead and inspire his workers will inspire terrifying flashbacks in anyone who has ever been stuck working for a dolt in a dead-end job.

]THE SIMPSONS: SEASON SIX (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.95): This latest full-season collection highlights one of the peak episodes in the history of the long-running series. In these 24 episodes, Bart pisses off all of Australia and falls in love with Reverend Lovejoy’s daughter, Lisa finds herself in competition with a younger and smarter rival, Marge conquers her fear of flying, Homer is accused of sexual harassment, lazy writers slapped together another clip show and a lot of famous people ( Winona Ryder, Meryl Streep, Larry King, Anne Bancroft, Patrick Stewart, Mel Brooks, Susan Sarandon and Tito Puente) cashed comparatively small paychecks while making guest appearances. The best thing about this season was that it gave my favorite character, the twisted billionaire C. Montgomery Burns, his greatest moments to date–he gets to run the hotel from “The Shining,” attempts to win a film festival, sings about his desire for a wardrobe made entirely from endangered species and gets shot after attempting to block out the sun.

SIN CITY (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.95): Given that this DVD of the eye-popping adaptation of Frank Miller’s neo-noir graphic novels, co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez (with a one-scene assist from Quentin Tarantino) and starring the likes of Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio del Toro, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Jessica Alba’s assless chaps and Mickey Rourke (in a career-reviving role that really deserves Oscar consideration), is a nearly bare-bones edition–only a brief making-of featurette–it is pretty obvious that a more fully-loaded special edition is on the horizon (rumors have suggested that it may hit as early as December) and some of you may want to skip this release to avoid double-dipping. The only problem–the film is so compulsively entertaining and watchable that many will find it impossible to resist the urge to buy it in order to savor it over and over again even knowing full well that they will wind up buying it again sometime down the road.

]UNDECLARED: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony Music Video. $49.98): Another great television show from Judd Apatow (the creator of “Freaks and Geeks”) that was cancelled before its time finally gets its DVD due. The set covers all 16 episodes of the series, chronicling the adventures of a group of freshmen attending a California campus, and features such extras as commentaries, deleted scenes, a cast and creator Q&A and concert footage featuring Loudon Wainwright, who had a great supporting role as the father of the central character (played to perfection by Jay Baruchel). Even if you never caught this series when it appeared on Fox in 2001, this smart and funny set is a must.

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originally posted: 08/19/05 14:21:09
last updated: 09/23/05 14:18:34
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