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Blown Opportunity

By chicago_chris in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 11, 2004 5:48PM


Has the funniest director-film critic feud in history (er... the only funny director-film critic feud in history) been resolved? New City's Ray Pride reports that after the recent Chicago critics' screening of The Brown Bunny, one of the most critically maligned films in history after its Cannes Film Festival premiere, director/asshole extraordinaire Vincent Gallo and Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, perhaps the film's most vocal opponent, emerged from a closed-door meeting "with quiet smiles, seeming to have buried the scalpel."

This saddens Chicagoist, because we were really getting a kick out this feud, which featured pointed barbs from Ebert ("It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny") and characteristically hilarious actions from Gallo (putting a curse on Ebert's colon). As much as we hate to admit it – we tend to disagree with Gallo's wacko conservative political views, if not admire his willingness to speak up and ridiculous public persona (see this self-interview and you'll understand) – Gallo is in the right on this. The Brown Bunny, which opens locally September 3, is a worthy follow-up to the filmmaker's amazing Buffalo '66.

2004_08_movies_brownbunny2.jpg A little side-note, Chicagoist attended Cannes in 2003 and that legendary first screening of The Brown Bunny. Yes, the audience laughed, yelled in derisive French (is there any other kind?) at the screen, and walked out in droves. But once the film concluded, there was a healthy round of applause and a small ovation. We were among those standing. The movie, a victim of misplaced expectations, is pretty great for what it is – an elegiac Monte Hellman-esque road trip that accurately approximates the feeling of driving cross-country while heartbroken.

When Chicagoist walked out the Palais, stunned by the movie and the reaction, we actually ran into Roger Ebert waddling into the American Pavilion and asked him for a quick review, probably the first he ever gave for the movie. He replied, "That was... one of worst films I've ever seen." We laughed and proceeded to argue the merits of the film to Ebert, but to no avail – Roger is, if anything, set in his ways and convinced of his own opinions. Ebert led the press's uproar against The Brown Bunny – while the French critics, of course, adored it – beginning the feud with his infamous zero-star review. (Let it be said that Monsieur Ebert doesn't have the most sparkling record when it comes to reviewing slow, challenging movies at Cannes. See his one-star reviews for Dead Man or Taste of Cherry.)

The film went to on to the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals in a new, shorter version, winning acclaim and a spot on the Village Voice's Critics Poll as one of the year's best undistributed films. Its controversial ending – which features costar Chloe Sevigny performing unsimulated fellatio on Gallo – reportedly remains intact, even if the city of Los Angeles won't let it appear on a billboard. Like that billboard controversy, Chicagoist is starting to think this whole battle with Ebert was an Andy Kaufman-style set-up. If so, you are a brilliant publicity hound, Mr. Gallo. Chicagoist loves/hates you even more.